Highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow and unibrow


If I notice a Louis Menand essay in the New Yorker, I always dig in. And it always rewards me.

I should note that I have piles of old New Yorkers floating around the house–who can keep up? So the article I am enamored of at this moment, Browbeaten: Dwight Macdonald’s war on Midcult, was published Sept. 5, 2011.

It’s an appreciation of critic and author Dwight Macdonald, who had lots to say about how foolish people are when they suffer pretentious art gladly because someone told them it was good. This idea represented a turning point. It suggested that popular culture with ideas was a valid intellectual pursuit. This idea also reflected the explosion of intellectually rich pop culture being made at that time. Menand lists some examples, including Bonnie and Clyde, Blonde on Blonde, and Andy Warhol.

Among Macdonald’s victims, his antagonist Clement Greenberg (Menand quoting Macdonald here): “He had something that was very important: a moralistic approach to everything. He made people feel guilty if they didn’t like Jackson Pollock.” Menand backpedals on endorsing this idea, but I’m really not convinced that Macdonald is wrong or unfair here.



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