Cultural Omnivores



I’m always ransoming one piece of jumped-up middlebrow shit for one highbrow masterpiece that’s probably lost forever, and one lowbrow experience from a place so doltish, so far down the evolutionary table, that only I and certain neanderthals with opposed thumbs can laugh at them. Kinda joking. The essence of life eh. We’re committed to adventure, to pleasure, to quality, to optimism, to seriousness, to good humor, and to the general raising of spirits – but distilled it would seem. After highbrow comes lowbrow, and thought provoking nuggets for the browser amongst us. Lengthier and more sustained? That’s weathered gravitas roaming free. Some things still come with a jolt across seas and continents; like unexpected subjects and a wealth of arcane information and unusual facts. My recent favorite? How to Make a Mermaid.

The term “highbrow” was popularized in 1902 by Will Irvin, a reporter for the New York newspaper The Sun, who “adhered to the phrenological notion of more intelligent people having high foreheads.” “Highbrow” spawned “lowbrow” and “middlebrow,” the last of these standing for something blandly conventional, lacking either refined distinction or raw energy. Something like: ‘I know people can change their lives. Look at Yusif Islam, or Sammy Davis Jnr., or Shirley Temple.’ Or. Cary Grant started out life as a a stilt-walker at Coney Island. Jackson Pollock was a lumberjack. And Bertrand Russell used to run a seafood stall outside a pub in Leytonstone. In short, give me the ends of the spectrum but, for G-d’s sake, spare me the soggy centre.

Have a read of ‘The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America’, Lawrence Levine’s unusually wide-ranging study, spanning more than a century and covering such diverse forms of expressive culture as Shakespeare, Central Park, symphonies, jazz, art museums, the Marx Brothers, opera, and vaudeville. You’ll see just how variable and dynamic cultural boundaries have been and how fragile and recent the cultural categories we have learned to accept as natural and eternal are. Oh, and you may want to remember this: Speed is imperative, and rumination is out. The brow that’s really in danger of disappearing is the furrowed one.


source: David Lynch Typographic Portrait by Peter Strain |

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