In the April 2012 issue of Commentary, Fred Siegel writes about How Highbrows Killed Culture. It’s your rather standard conservative curmudgeon fretting over culture. I don’t agree with much of it. And I have no nostalgia for the 1950s.
Even so, I think Siegel says something interesting here:
“By 1970 the aim of camp to “dethrone the serious” had all but succeeded. The last remnants of bourgeois morality having largely melted away as part of the national culture, there was little to make even mock cultural rebellion meaningful. The “serious” was replaced by a cheerful mindlessness, and the cultural striving of middlebrow culture came to a quiet end. Why should the well-meaning middle American labor to read a complex novel by an intellectual or try to work his way through a Great Book if the cultural poohbahs first mocked his efforts and then said they were pointless anyway because what mattered was living “life as theater”? Today, if there were a T.S. Eliot, Time Magazine would no more put him on the cover than it would sing the praises of George W. Bush. Time’s literary critic writes children’s fantasy novels and chose a science-fiction book about elves as one of the crowning cultural achievements of 2011. Since the highbrow have been given permission to view the “frivolous as the serious,” why shouldn’t everybody else?”
Let’s ignore for a moment the silly swipe against genre fiction and focus more on the fact that he’s correct in that to a certain extent the highbrow embrace of the lowbrow combined with increasing consumerization of culture led to a shift in the cultural aspirations and consumption habits of the middle class. Assuming this is true (and I think it’s only partially true — in part because the rebellion of the 1960s also led to an opening up of access to higher education which still imparted a certain middlebrow, cultural seriousness to many of its graduates) then I think that it explains something about Mormon culture. Continue reading “The serious dethroned; the middlebrow ceasing to strive”