Bach and before, Ives and after

by Kieran Healy on October 19, 2009

From a 1949 issue of Life Magazine, your guide to the “three basic categories of a new U.S. social structure—and the high brows have the whip hand”. With the rise of the cultural omnivore still well off in the distance, this is your must-have guide for the vagaries of mainstream culture in postwar America. Click for a larger version.

{ 95 comments }

1

Sarah S. 10.19.09 at 6:50 pm

can’t read — larger, larger! (please)

2

Scott Spiegelberg 10.19.09 at 6:58 pm

When I was teaching at U. of Minnesota, Phil Ford had this up in his office. Since his office doubled as the printer room, I saw it almost every day as I waited for class materials or my dissertation to print.

3

Chris 10.19.09 at 7:01 pm

I thought “bach and before” was odd, but then I realized this was before Glenn Gould’s 1955 Goldberg Variations LP.

4

alex 10.19.09 at 7:05 pm

Well, maybe it’s just me, but the ‘high-brow’ life looks like no fun at all. Maybe you have to be born to it…

5

Aaron Swartz 10.19.09 at 7:07 pm

What’s “The Game”? Charades?

6

Aaron Swartz 10.19.09 at 7:13 pm

The comment from their resident highbrow is pretty great too:

The thing that burns up high-brows like me is that the dominant feature of our mental and spiritual life is the overwhelming flood of cultural sewage that is manufactured especially for the tastes of the low-brow and lower middle-brow. It is difficult even for a high-brow to escape its influence. Only eternal vigilance keeps it from converting us into 100% low-brow people. This flood exists for only one reason. The oafish classes, being overwhelmingly numerous, are the biggest consumers of everything from salad to music, and an investment in their tastes is correspondingly profitable. They therefore dominate taste in nearly all our big industries where taste is factor, the most horrible examples in point being the radio and Hollywood movies.

Sounds rough.

7

kid bitzer 10.19.09 at 7:24 pm

apparently the authors felt no compunction in talking about the “three basic categories” in spite of the fact that they then go on to detail four.
granted, the three are presumably high/middle/low, but from the chart there is no evidence that the upper/lower subcategory of the middle-brow is any less “basic” of a split than any of the others.

indeed, by content i would say that the upper-middle has much more in common with the high than it does with the lower-middle. looks to me like the three “basic” categories, if judged by the average distances between nodes, would be 1) high+upper-middle; 2) lower-middle; and 3) low.

but i think this really just shows that they had not thought much about basicness, or about the naturalness of the categories. middle is just assumed to be the natural triplet alongside low and high. and in a separate move, middle is also just assumed to be the largest demographic, and so the most amenable to subdivision (after all, the middle class is the most numerous here in postwar america, innit?)

8

will u. 10.19.09 at 7:40 pm

awwwwwww man, I like tomatoes in my salad. guess that makes me a vulgarian.

9

Mo MacArbie 10.19.09 at 7:50 pm

I like the honest-to-goodness albums, but I never would have thought of “Have a Holy Jolly Christmas” as highbrow.

10

ben 10.19.09 at 7:53 pm

“Decanter and ashtray from chemical supply company” was undoubtedly the most unexpected item on the list.

Too bad the MAD feature describing the differences between conformists, ordinary nonconformists, and MAD nonconformists doesn’t seem to be online.

11

John Emerson 10.19.09 at 8:01 pm

I just barely remember that stuff from 10 year old magazines lying around the house (there was also U and non-U, and Dwight McDonald’s midcult and some other cult) , but Jesus that seems dated and silly now.

Lowbrow has worn pretty well.

Some of this stuff comes from the New York Intellectuals (their own term), who also now seem dated and silly, even without considering that they gave birth to John Podhoretz and Bill Kristol. How many of them doesn any one read any more?

12

Eric Schwartz 10.19.09 at 8:03 pm

Did the editors of “Life” see their publication as an upper-middle brow “quality magazine” or a lower middle-brow “mass circulation magazine”?

13

Tom Hurka 10.19.09 at 8:52 pm

I like to drink 90 cent gallons of red wine. Does that make me a highbrow?

14

yoyo 10.19.09 at 8:55 pm

Hm, i like things from all categories except for low-middle, though if i had some partners i might like bridge again. Pulps are my sole like from the lower brow too. i don’t have any idea what ‘lite opera’ is, maybe i should try getting into that.

15

John Emerson 10.19.09 at 9:06 pm

How many gallons at a sitting.

This all relates to the elite-liberal / populist-winger dispute, which is not imaginary. But nowadays, per this chart, it’s really a dispute between the upper middle class and the highbrow.

Minnesota’s Farmer Labor Party, the US’s most successful leftwing party, received support from Charles Ward of Browne and Bigelow, who originated the soft-porn calendars once seen in gas stations as well as the “Dogs Playing Poker” poster. They also were supported by Captain Billy Fawcett of “Cap’n Billy’s Whizbang”, publisher of Cavalier, Daring Detective, Dynamic Detective, Screen Secrets, Secrets, Triple-X Western, True, Woman’s Day, and other lowbrow and middlebrow publications, above all Mechanix Illustrated. (Fawcett Gold Medal pulp fiction came later.)

But the goddamn New York Intllectuals ruined everything.

16

John Emerson 10.19.09 at 9:09 pm

How many g*llons at a sitting?

This all relates to the el*te-liberal / populist-winger dispute, which is not imaginary. But nowadays, per this chart, it’s really a dispute between the upper middle class and the highbrow.

Minnesota’s Farmer Labor Party, the US’s most successful l*ftwing party, received support from Charles Ward of Browne and Bigelow, who originated the soft-p*rn calendars once seen in gas stations as well as the “Dogs Playing P*ker” poster. They also were supported by Captain Billy Fawcett of “Cap’n Billy’s Whizbang”, publisher of Cavalier, Daring Detective, Dynamic Detective, Screen Secrets, Secrets, Triple-X Western, True, W*man’s Day, and other lowbrow and middlebrow publications, above all Mech*nix Illustrated. (Fawcett Gold Medal p*lp fiction came later.)

But the g*ddamn New York Int*llectuals ruined everything.

17

Bloix 10.19.09 at 10:25 pm

#1 – sarah s – after you click for the larger version, move your cursor to the lower right and let it rest for a second – a box will appear with arrow in the corners. Click on that and you’ll zoom in.

18

dsquared 10.19.09 at 10:30 pm

“The Lodge” as the lowbrow equivalent of the PTA interests me more than I can say; there’s an elk on that cross and a crescent at the top of it, but both the Elks and Shriners were surely a lot more upper-class than this would suggest in 1949?

19

engels 10.19.09 at 10:39 pm

Nice.

20

rea 10.19.09 at 11:13 pm

Chairs from my home town of Grand Rapids = Lower Middle brow? That would come as a shock to anyone buying an Aeron from Herman Miller . . .

21

John Emerson 10.19.09 at 11:20 pm

This reminds me of Charlotte Haze in Lolita, who combined social-climbing and plebian defensiveness in one confused mess. A nation of Hazes trying to be as classy as possible, uncertain as to their actual location but hating / fearing everyone above or below them on the ladder.

22

Xanthippas 10.19.09 at 11:34 pm

Ha…wonderful! Thank you. I certainly agree with them about “high-brow” records…the Romantics are grossly over-rated!

23

Natilo Paennim 10.19.09 at 11:51 pm

The two things that jumped out at me the most were “decanter and ashtray from laboratory supply company” which made me want to check out the industrial catalogs sitting behind me for such objects to repurpose; and “pulps and comic books” as low-brow reading material. I wonder what the writers and editors of 1949 would think about the way that pulps and comics have been recuperated into highbrow culture? At my local comic book store, I frequently hear news from the vast array of artists, aesthetes and tastemakers who are also patrons.

Despite its shortcomings, Fussell’s Class at least gets it right with the “X” class, for whom, even in that dim remembering, when man was wolf to man, it was okay to like comics AND Bach. And decent salads. And Westerns.

24

Fred 10.20.09 at 4:09 am

Planned Parenthood? Certainly better than the unplanned kind but somewhat of a shocker.

25

bad Jim 10.20.09 at 4:35 am

The music selection is rather parochial. I would have thought people were still listening to big bands then, and that the avant garde might have been listening to be-bop. Hank Williams sold a lot of records too.

Avocado in salads in ’49 seems comparatively hip; I don’t think I had it until we moved to California in ’61, but I was only ten then and might not have been eating salad yet.

There’s an odd but typical confusion of class and cultural stratification at work. Who on earth could afford the high-brow furniture? A typically indigent young high-brow couple would furnish their hovel with cast-offs and used items, while the worldly wealthy might be more likely to pamper themselves with luxurious comfort.

And craps? How about poker instead?

26

bad Jim 10.20.09 at 4:38 am

Is “poker” the magic word?

27

lemuel pitkin 10.20.09 at 5:08 am

I appreciate that Go is highbrow, but from the look of the board it doesn’t seem like you actually need to know how to play.

Is the implication of the last column that both low- and high-brows are only reproduced colaterally?

28

Keir 10.20.09 at 6:15 am

But the g*ddamn New York Int*llectuals ruined everything.

Yes, damn that Pollock and Smith and Greenberg and Motherwell and all.

29

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.20.09 at 8:15 am

Something in this poster reminded me of Niko Pirosmani paintings. For some reason.

30

Kenny Easwaran 10.20.09 at 8:37 am

I like that “Kiss Me Kate” is in the stack of “symphonies, concertos, operas”.

Also, interesting to see how bridge and beer have been reclaimed for the highbrow! I must admit, the chemical supply decanters as highbrow sounds far more contemporary to me than just about anything else on that list (though maybe I hang out with too many hip scientists to be representative).

31

ajay 10.20.09 at 11:05 am

I too would like to know what “The Game” is. It was obviously common enough in 1949 that everyone who read Life would go “oh, right, the Game, yeah, definitely upper-middle-class” but is now obscure enough that it doesn’t even appear on wikipedia. The cartoon isn’t exactly helpful. Charades?

It’s also interesting to see that the chart tends to confuse not only markers of class and income but also markers of class and taste, and, for that matter, markers of class and ethnicity. All those working-class Italians in New York were drinking red wine rather than beer, I should imagine.

32

dsquared 10.20.09 at 11:20 am

I too would like to know what “The Game” is.

A bit of internet research reveals that he was a gangster rapper, popular with upper-middlebrows of the 1940s.

33

Gareth Rees 10.20.09 at 11:21 am

So how did this brow thing work? Did the tastes define the categories (if you liked beer, you were forever lowbrow)? Or did the categories define the tastes (once enough highbrow people started drinking beer, it became a highbrow signifier)? If the latter, where did the brow categories come from in the first place? Were fashions in intellectual tastes like fashions in clothing, where the fashionable people have to keep changing their tastes because wannabe fashionistas are perpetually trying to emulate them? Was there an industry diligently marketing tastes to intellectuals? Was there an intellectual equivalent of the Color Marketing Group, planning the intellectual tastes for future seasons?

34

ajay 10.20.09 at 11:27 am

A bit of internet research reveals that he was a gangster rapper, popular with upper-middlebrows of the 1940s.

That would explain the cartoon. It’s a Truman-era upper middle class white man busting a move.

35

Matt 10.20.09 at 11:30 am

the chart tends to confuse… , markers of class and ethnicity.

I sort of suspect that at this point if you were too “ethnic”, then you were no-brow as far as Life Magazine was concerned.

36

ajay 10.20.09 at 11:36 am

35: that is my conclusion also.

33: Were fashions in intellectual tastes like fashions in clothing, where the fashionable people have to keep changing their tastes because wannabe fashionistas are perpetually trying to emulate them?

Depends – that’s certainly the definition of avant-garde. Highbrow might just mean liking things that are too difficult for most people to understand; there’s no connotation that the rest of the culture will in due course follow the highbrows to Bach.

37

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.20.09 at 11:39 am

If you’re too ethnic, chances are you’re a unibrow.

38

LizardBreath 10.20.09 at 11:42 am

“The Game” is charades, played by the rules most people use now — one person picks a word or phrase and acts it out. If you called it charades back then, you meant something more complicated — several people doing actual little skits.

39

engels 10.20.09 at 12:10 pm

I too would like to know what “The Game” is.

The Game

40

tps12 10.20.09 at 12:12 pm

Whoa, old-school charades sounds awesome.

41

engels 10.20.09 at 12:13 pm

(Either that, or it’s the gangsta rapper mentioned above. Or possibly Lizardbreath is right…)

42

derek 10.20.09 at 12:57 pm

Lowbrow has worn pretty well.

It always does, over scales of a few decades to a century, because one generation’s lowbrow is the highbrow of a couple of generations later. Opera, for example.

43

Joe 10.20.09 at 1:08 pm

Anyone notice a slight tendency for the top and bottom categories to converge? Both, say, forgo mixed drinks. Les extremes se touche…

44

mds 10.20.09 at 1:10 pm

Gosh darn it all to heck, Vieuxtemps stole my joke.

Anyway, I have completed the test.

clothes: upper-middle
furniture: lower-middle
useful objects: high
entertainment: upper-middle
salads: upper-middle
drinks: high
reading: low
sculpture: low
records: upper-middle
games: high
causes: upper-middle

Apparently, I would have been very confused in 1949.

45

Chris 10.20.09 at 1:10 pm

@derek: Or Shakespeare.

But I would argue that beer isn’t highbrow now, it’s universal. (In fact, you could probably do a whole sub-chart based on varieties of beer, under the now-correct assumption that most people of all brow types now drink *some* kind of beer, but I’m not enough of a beer connoisseur.)

Aside from beer, the rest of the lowbrow stuff (assuming you agree that it was correctly identified) really hasn’t worn all that well IMO — westerns and comic books have both shrunk in importance and coleslaw has not exactly taken over the salad scene, and those are the relative successes.

46

Gareth Rees 10.20.09 at 1:13 pm

Ninteenth-century charades are described in chapter 18 of Jane Eyre:

I wondered what they were going to do the first evening a change of entertainment was proposed: they spoke of “playing charades,” but in my ignorance I did not understand the term. ….

47

ajay 10.20.09 at 1:13 pm

38: Huh. Thanks. … there was also a version in Britain called “Nebuchadnezzar” which involved acting a skit for each letter of the target; so if you had to act LENIN you’d do a skit for, say, Livia, and then one for Edison, and then Nelson, then Ivan the Terrible, then Napoleon, and then do The Whole World for “Lenin”. People had more spare time in those days I guess. The name is of course because that would be the worst possible one to get.
The strategy would be to keep the name as ambiguous as possible; so you might have an obvious one for J, say, and then do the story of Abraham and Isaac (leaving the audience unsure whether that was meant as an A or an I) and so on.
I’ve only heard about it in Dorothy Sayers…

42: also, Shakespeare.

48

Peter 10.20.09 at 3:52 pm

Also, interesting to see how bridge and beer have been reclaimed for the highbrow!

Beer’s social status depends to some extent on the brand. For instance, microbreweries and less-common imports are upscale, common imports (e.g. Corona, Becks, Amstel) are middlebrow, and cheaper domestics like Bud and Coors are more downscale. And then there are a few special cases, for instance Heineken is very popular among Hispanics, while PBR is the beer of choice for urban hipsters.

49

Ginger Yellow 10.20.09 at 4:03 pm

The name is of course because that would be the worst possible one to get.

I reckon a famous speaker of a language with click consonants might be worse.

50

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 10.20.09 at 5:20 pm

Also interesting in that same issue of Life: a goshwow tribute to Evita Peron — by John Dos Passos. “Argentina’s lady boss rouses reformers’ ire — but even in a crisis she’s terrific to watch!”

Aside from its striking resemblance to an Onion piece, that “In Defense of the High-Brow” piece linked to by Aaron Swartz in comment #6 pretty clearly comes from the same world — one in which “only eternal vigilance keeps [the 'flood of sewage'] from converting us into 100% low-brow people” — that produced C. M. Kornbluth’s awful story “The Marching Morons.”

51

Benjamin 10.20.09 at 5:37 pm

@Shakespeare corrections: Probably worth noting that Shakespeare didn’t climb the brow ladder over time- it may have been evacuated from the lower brow tiers, although I doubt that as well because of it’s function as totem of acceptable art. You might argue that plays were considered socially inferior to poetry, but the plays were being performed at court…

52

Wrye 10.20.09 at 6:11 pm

Shakespeare – and theatre itself – has risen and fallen in critical esteem over the centuries, really, though William’s lowest points were probably in the late 18th and early 19th. See Thomas Bowdler, among many others.

53

richard 10.20.09 at 6:26 pm

alas, it turns out I’m upper middle. My absolute favourite thing on the chart, though, is the illustration of coleslaw, which has all the pathos of an Edward Gorey menaced object.

54

Myles SG 10.20.09 at 6:33 pm

“I too would like to know what “The Game” is.”

I am surprised that no one has pointed this out after 52 comments, but I thought Life was being bizarrely ambiguous there, as The Game, capitalized, in most contexts refers simply to the Harvard-Yale game, rather than to parlour games.

55

novakant 10.20.09 at 6:41 pm

Hmm, life magazine doesn’t really know anything about sculpture.

56

Myles SG 10.20.09 at 6:43 pm

“@Shakespeare corrections: Probably worth noting that Shakespeare didn’t climb the brow ladder over time- it may have been evacuated from the lower brow tiers, although I doubt that as well because of it’s function as totem of acceptable art.”

Shakespeare has always been, and probably always will be, unmistakably upper-middle class. There is always a mild stench of unseemly social-climbing associated with a lot of the middle-class Shakespeare worshipers, people who likely did not have a good (and exclusive) classical education in Latin and Greek, that would, with exposure to Vergil and Ovid and Catullus and Aeschylus and so on, counterbalance what is really sometimes hagiographic impressions of Shakespeare’s greatness. The same people are also more likely to appreciate Milton, Byron, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and the like, which too requires a moral disposition somewhat distanced from the middle-brow norm. (The Waste Land has always been a genuinely high-brow, but nonetheless ethereally beautiful, poem)

Not to mention that the moral compass of Shakespeare’s plays seems to always have a curious disposition to mirror that of the middle classes.

Note that the time in which Shakespeare was held in the lowest esteem, the late Georgian era, was also the time during which Britain had the most resplendent flowering of high culture on a Continental scale, and with Continental lushness.

57

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.20.09 at 6:44 pm

All my useful objects are from chemical supply company. I am a security guard at a chemical supply company.

58

Marc 10.20.09 at 6:45 pm

The divorce case in that issue is a window into a distant and pretty bizarre past.

59

Myles SG 10.20.09 at 6:47 pm

A basic familiarity with Aeschylus and Euripides, not to mention Sophocles, would render one less inclined to make confidently superlative claims about Shakespeare’s literary greatness and genius in tragic and epic literature. He was a great poet and bard, but he was not much greater than Homer or Sophocles. And that’s why jubilant upper-middle class celebration of Shakespeare sometimes carries the unseemly stench of back-grubbing social-climbing.

60

Substance McGravitas 10.20.09 at 6:52 pm

He was a great poet and bard, but he was not much greater than Homer or Sophocles.

Yes he was. Consider yourself refuted.

61

Walt 10.20.09 at 7:05 pm

Myles SG, you’re a funny man.

62

Ginger Yellow 10.20.09 at 7:25 pm

Yeah, he can’t be that good if he’s “not much greater” than people whose work is studied, admired and performed thousands of years after their death and the extinction of their language.

63

engels 10.20.09 at 7:35 pm

Anyone who makes the effort to read Greek is an upper-middle try-hard at best.

64

Walt 10.20.09 at 7:41 pm

True. I have my servants translate the Greek for me while I lounge in the bath.

65

Keith M Ellis 10.20.09 at 7:50 pm

The divorce case in that issue is a window into a distant and pretty bizarre past.

It left me deeply baffled and very slightly nauseated. It’s on page 91, for those who wish to look—and one really ought to, as the text alone is insufficient. (I’ve also extracted it to a web page here.) There must be some sort of ironic cultural context here that I’m not getting.

Here’s the text:

Barbara Jean Floyd, 18, “Miss New Orleans of 1948″, gave her home-town reporters a field day last week by inviting them to one of the liveliest tussles ever put on public view in that city. The tiff has its origin two months ago in Columbia, where Barbara, stranded on a South American tour, married George Cauthen, 28, a pilot for an airline. Several weeks later, telling George an ex-suitor in Detroit had attempted suicide and needed her help, she flew to Miami. Shortly thereafter, she was in New Orleans denying that she had been married.

When Cauthen arrived in pursuit two weeks ago, Barbara demanded a divorce. “Boy,” George told reporters, “have I been taken.” It was at this point that Barbara summoned up her indignation and the press, and proceeded to hit, scratch and bite George. He responded by pushing her to the floor, giving her a few husbandly whacks and saying she could have her divorce. “I was lucky,” he admits, “to get off with only three weeks of her.”

Photo captions:

DURING A LULL George helps Barbara to her feet. He said he’d call it quits, but she followed him to his room, dared him to “come out and fight”.

THE FIGHT OVER, Barbara Jean indicates spot where she got spanked. “It didn’t hurt a bit,” she said triumphantly, “because I had my girdle on.”

66

Keith M Ellis 10.20.09 at 8:07 pm

True. I have my servants translate the Greek for me while I lounge in the bath.

That’s what I did when I was in school, though they knew no Greek—a fact well evident to my tutors and classmates.

Myles, you’re just taking the piss, I’m sure—but having some Greek and being well familiar with Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, I’m still very inclined to rate Shaksepeare very highly. What’s remarkable about his plays is how layered they are and how much there really is underneath the hagiography and “middle-class moral compass”. But I’m not saying anything that everyone here doesn’t or shouldn’t already know.

It is true that appreciation of Shakespeare is a middle-brow aspirational taste similar to that of many symphony audience members and the like. Or fans of high profile literary authors such as Toni Morrison, Salmon Rushdie, or, God forbid, David Foster Wallace. But, DFW aside, being an object of middebrow asiprational taste doesn’t necessarily imply mediocrity.

67

Myles SG 10.20.09 at 8:28 pm

“It is true that appreciation of Shakespeare is a middle-brow aspirational taste similar to that of many symphony audience members and the like. Or fans of high profile literary authors such as Toni Morrison, Salmon Rushdie, or, God forbid, David Foster Wallace. But, DFW aside, being an object of middebrow asiprational taste doesn’t necessarily imply mediocrity.”

Fair enough. And I did exaggerate to make my point that a lot of Shakespeare-worship isn’t based so much on merit as on social aspiration. I liked the movie Richard III (1995) very much. It was strictly Shakespeare in script. But what bothers me greatly is when Shakespeare is elevated to the detriment and ignorance of a great number of other bards of the English language who had influences not quite but nearly as profound and laudable. Like the grand, Latinic tradition of Milton and Pope. Or the evocative, gossamer beauty of T.S. Eliot and Yeats.

Understanding the supreme importance of the Bard is all well and good, but not so when we let his unique brand of spry, witty Elizabethean brawn eclipse all other worthy streams of English culture.

It is a sad day when there are men familiar with every Shakespearean play, but cannot recall even the first few lines of the Waste Land, much less recite any from Paradise Lost. I personally don’t see why we disallow people to go through English class not learning Shakespeare, but yet are perfectly as ease with them not knowing anything from the seminal poem of the last century. Most curricula now include at least some cursory Sophocles, but I have yet to meet anyone who demands the inclusion of the Oresteia.

68

Matt 10.20.09 at 8:36 pm

Or the evocative, gossamer beauty of T.S. Eliot… Yeah, okay, but I still hold him at least partially responsible for Cats, and that’s a lot to have to pay for.

69

Myles SG 10.20.09 at 8:36 pm

And while I am here with the iconoclasm, let’s put down Beethoven too. I was a rather good Beethoven amateur pianist, as far as they come, but I personally thought the Beethoven-worship, like the Shakespeare worship, sometimes veered toward vulgar excess.

Or take art. What is the matter with da Vinci? The crowds that throng toward the Louvre cannot, in most of the cases, even get a decent look at the painting, yet they all crow about its beauty after the most cursory look (if it can be called that) at the genuine article, separated by bullet-and-bomb-proof glass.

70

Natilo Paennim 10.20.09 at 9:32 pm

MylesSG: The poet of them all, who will start ‘em simply ravin’/ Is the poet people call “The Bard of Stratford-on-Avon”

Also, see William Massey’s Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America for a detailed genealogy of Shakespeare’s place in the US literary consciousness. Many 1840s and 1850s Shakespeare fans would be aghast to hear that you think their favorite playwright is a sop for upper-middle class social climbers.

Also, on that particular issue of “Life”: The advertisements! O, the pre-DDB advertisements! Especially for the canned food!
And the article about Nationalists training on Formosa! And the Karen fighting in Burma! It’s like some hellish descent into an alternate history, except it’s not alternate.

71

Henry (not the famous one) 10.20.09 at 10:42 pm

Two points: when I lived in Arkansas in the early 1980s, in addition to playing the home version of Jeopardy(TM), we also played a deep version of Charades, in which you not only had to charade the answer but the category. “Famous Bodies of Water in Hollywood,” for example, included Joan Rivers and Veronica Lake. No surprise that Jane Eyre couldn’t keep up.

As for highbrow/lowbrow and Mad Magazine, the other article you can’t find online is “How To Be Cultured.” When they ask you if you saw Eddie Fischer on the Philco Hour last night, the response is “Television . . . who watches television?” Practice that sneer and try it on your friends.

72

Jon H 10.21.09 at 12:41 am

dsquared wrote: ““The Lodge” as the lowbrow equivalent of the PTA interests me more than I can say; there’s an elk on that cross and a crescent at the top of it, but both the Elks and Shriners were surely a lot more upper-class than this would suggest in 1949?”

Hm. Consider Fred Flintstone’s membership in a lodge-type organization. Or Ralph Kramden on the Honeymooners. That’s probably what they had in mind.

73

Jon H 10.21.09 at 12:41 am

I don’t understand the ‘unwashed salad bowl’ thing at all.

74

HP 10.21.09 at 1:08 am

Jon H @ 73: If you have a nice wooden salad bowl, you don’t want to wash it with soap or detergent, ever. Or let it soak in dishwater. Just wipe it down with a damp cloth and warm water. If you wash it, all your salads will taste like dish soap. On the other hand, if you just wipe it down, the oil from the dressing will “cure” the wood bowl over time, making it semi-impermeable.

I invested in a big wooden salad bowl about ten years ago. I’ve never washed it.

75

pseudonymous in nc 10.21.09 at 1:11 am

Myles SG is best known for playing the role of an upper-class Wodehousian twit in Yglesias’ comments. And possibly in real life.

Or the evocative, gossamer beauty of T.S. Eliot

I have to agree: ‘Yes, I’d eat you! / In a nice little, white little, soft little, tender little, / Juicy little, right little, missionary stew’ has such a — may I say? — lilt to it.

76

mcmc 10.21.09 at 1:55 am

I quite like balsam pillows.

77

andthenyoufall 10.21.09 at 4:59 am

“I liked the movie Richard III (1995) very much.”

Indeed.

“Like the grand, Latinic tradition of Milton”

Who, of course, was well-known for disdaining Shakespeare.

“and Pope.”

Oh dear

“It is a sad day when there are men familiar with every Shakespearean play, but cannot recall even the first few lines of the Waste Land, much less recite any from Paradise Lost.”

Every Shakespeare play? Even Timon of Athens? I’ll bet that anyone who is on familiar terms with Timon can rattle off the old ‘Let us go then, you and I/when the evening is spread out against the Starnbergersee…’

“…but I have yet to meet anyone who demands the inclusion of the Oresteia.”

I, for my part, will not sleep soundly at night until I have met someone who insists on De Rerum Natura, as part of earth science.

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Michael Bérubé 10.21.09 at 5:28 am

I just wanted to say that I insist on De Rerum Natura as part of earth science. I mean, who else was proposing an atomic theory of matter at the time? Lucretius is teh rOxxOr of Roman earth science around 50 BCE. And I also just wanted to say that Shakespeare has always been, and probably always will be, unmistakably upper-middle class, except for all the times when he wasn’t.

And now, to sleep, perchance to … dang, I forget what.

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andthenyoufall 10.21.09 at 6:04 am

Praise the void! I have not technically met you, Michael, but I think I can now sleep peacefully. Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.

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John Emerson 10.21.09 at 9:14 am

You know who really sucks? Goethe. One word: Hitler.

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ajay 10.21.09 at 9:20 am

Myles SG is best known for playing the role of an upper-class Wodehousian twit in Yglesias’ comments. And possibly in real life.

I’ll say one thing for Bertie Wooster, he wore his learning (such as it was) lightly – aside from the occasional mention of his Scripture Knowledge prize, of course. Myles’ comments stink of the lamp.

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Bunbury 10.21.09 at 9:57 am

My daughter’s school teaches Lucretius as part of the science curriculum before the division into specialisms. Is that acceptable?

In 1940 GH Hardy wrote:

As W. J. Turner has said so truly, it is only the ‘highbrows’ (in the most unpleasant sense) who do not admire the ‘real swells’.

Since I cannot tell from the above discussion whether a brow level is supposed to be a measure of worth, a proxy for a class system, a measure of one-upmanship, a degree of illumination, a tribal affiliation or something else, I’m not really sure where he wishes to stand.

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John Meredith 10.21.09 at 11:31 am

“Myles’ comments stink of the lamp.”

Or the ‘stench of back-grubbing social-climbing’. ‘Back grubbing’ is a bit odd, isn’t it? Back grubs, if I remember rightly, include the larvae of the rose chafer, my favourite indiginous beetle. I don’t think they are strongly associated with class anxiety.

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novakant 10.21.09 at 1:05 pm

I’m well aware that Myles is only taking the piss, but I have to draw the line when it comes to Beethoven. I don’t care if the people worshipping him are vulgar or not, but that worship is well deserved, since Beethoven ranks only slightly below god and has the the added advantage of actually having existed at a certain point in time.

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Myles SG 10.21.09 at 3:40 pm

“I’ll say one thing for Bertie Wooster, he wore his learning (such as it was) lightly – aside from the occasional mention of his Scripture Knowledge prize, of course. Myles’ comments stink of the lamp.”

All unfortunately incisive and true. But then, I am unlike Wooster not upper-class, so I too am not civilized by the fine and artful nonchalance the aristocracy toward book-learning.

Truthfully, I take no issue with school curricula skipping the classics. I personally cannot imagine enough people taking up Latin and epic poems and so on more willingly than they are currently to take on Shakespeare. It’s not like we need to discourage people further from study of literature by force of sheer humbug.

But at the same time, a lot of what we do currently is humbug nonetheless. For most the unending Shakespeare forced-feeding (one suspects Sparknotes was invented to relieve this very difficulty) in high school is quite bad enough. I personally can’t see how they would be discouraged by a balance of more early-modern authors and poets, who have the advantage of being at least readable, and a bit less Shakespeare. If they are interested they can pursue Shakespeare in college.

My favorite English class reading was by Joyce, followed by Conrad. My favorite Shakespeare play from English class was Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his lighter plays. My least enjoyable English-class reading, ever, is a prize shared by Macbeth and Crime and Punishment, although I suspect Crime and Punishment has the edge here. I hear some have Dickens instead of Dostoevsky in that place, but I would not know.

I am sure a lot of other English students share the same configuration of love-hate.

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Myles SG 10.21.09 at 3:43 pm

“I’m well aware that Myles is only taking the piss, but I have to draw the line when it comes to Beethoven. I don’t care if the people worshipping him are vulgar or not, but that worship is well deserved, since Beethoven ranks only slightly below god and has the the added advantage of actually having existed at a certain point in time.”

I was personally under the impression that God was the Hallelujah chorus in Messiah. Fine, the Ode to Joy too. But my listening as of today skews heavily toward F Couperin, Rameau, Charpentier, and the like, with some Mozart and Franck thrown in. Faure and Debussey-Ravel are great too.

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Myles SG 10.21.09 at 3:44 pm

In fact, if we MUST force people to read Shakespeare, we can shift the balance at least to some sonnets instead of an all-historical-tragedy lineup.

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John Emerson 10.21.09 at 3:46 pm

Students should expected to read The Faery Queen from end to end, and they should be expected to to like it. Real, competent poetry, without the kinds of vulgar distractions and little verbal twists Shakespeare had to put in to keep people from falling to sleep.

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Benjamin 10.21.09 at 5:30 pm

I cannot believe that a high school kid would dislike Macbeth, but only because my memory of it is inextricably bound up with Lou Freakin’ Reed. Dostoevsky really missed the MTV boat.

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alex 10.21.09 at 5:39 pm

This is all very amusing, but as I like to say from time to time, if it wasn’t for the bourgeoisie, most of us here today would never have been born, and a lot of us who had been would be somebody’s serf… Middlebrow, schmiddlebrow, at least know where the money comes from.

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John Emerson 10.21.09 at 5:56 pm

So now we have the [whatever it is that the bourgeois does that isn't labor] theory of value. and even biological existence.

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Chris 10.21.09 at 7:02 pm

And if it wasn’t for the lumpenproletariat and the peasants, we’d all starve to death naked. (Right now, never mind the historical past.)

The lowbrows could muddle through without the middlebrows *much* better than vice versa.

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fish 10.21.09 at 10:21 pm

Is this the place for the Beevis and Butthead marathon?

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Anon 10.22.09 at 5:35 pm

Interesting how we have Bach, Bartok, Brahms, Sibelius, and…Parsifal. Was Wagner a dirty word in the US in 1949?

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Y 10.23.09 at 6:06 am

“The Game” was essentially charades. Here’s another Life article about it:

Life on “The Game”

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