Tuesday, February 24, 2015
I make no secret of my love for the TV spectacle otherwise known as "The Bachelor." We have had some incredible journeys together. And yes, I'm in it for the right reasons.
What I love about "The Bachelor" is that it manages to transcend its utterly insane premise (man/woman searches for love by dating 25 people simultaneously, publicly breaks up with each one at a "rose ceremony") with a mix of sincerity, self-awareness and psychological spectacle.
"The Bachelor" is widely regarded as the ultimate of lowbrow culture, and yet there's this strange fact: it's the most widely watched show among 18-49 year olds who make more than $150,000 a year.
As Fifty Shades of Grey dominates the box office and critics largely dispense with trashing it in favor of a spirit of, "Whatever, it does what it's supposed to do well," I'm wondering if we're entering a time when there's no such thing as highbrow or middlebrow or lowbrow.
Is this the era of the unibrow?
I'm not the first to wonder this, a few months back the Bookends column at the New York Times debated just this topic (as well as revealing the etymology of "highbrow," which got its start in the eugenic-leaning "science" of phrenology. Yikes!)
Thomas Mallon argues that culture has benefited from the collision of art at all levels, noting for instance, "does anyone believe that the American short story has improved by making its initial appearance in literary quarterlies never seen by any brows but the highest?"
Pankaj Mishra argues that the profit motive has leveled out the brows, forcing auteurs to be crowd-pleasers, and obliterating individuality.
Personally, I think the explosion of voices in the world brought to us by the infinite choice of the Internet means that anyone hoping to be heard must also, by necessity, entertain. Even those aspiring to be highbrow and express complexity of thought and emotion must also bow to the reality that they need to capture eyeballs.
Think of John Oliver, wrapping serious advocacy journalism in comedy, or the recent trend of literary genre fiction like Station Eleven.
What do you make of this? Are we worse off because it's hard to imagine a Proust, or even a David Foster Wallace, gaining cultural ground in 2015? Or is a muddling of brows a sign that culture is democratizing?
Art: Retrato del Cardenal Inquisidor Don Fernando Niño de Guevara by El Greco