Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Middle-brow culture

Reading About You, by friend Dick Staub, I came across a concept I found fascinating as Dick recounts a conversation he had on a plane where the gentleman referred to "middle-brow culture".

"Fleshing out the idea of 'middlebrow,' he described highbrow culture as elitist and academic and lowbrow culture as diversionary and vacuous, adding, 'America once had a thriving middle-brow culture.' In his definition, 'middle-brow individuals' are interested in thinking through ideas and issues, but are turned of equally by both highbrow pretensions and lowbrow mindlessness."

This is the world in which I live, thoughtful but not academic. I have never been in a classroom that didn't make my skin crawl unless I was the one teaching;) This group to me are the culture drivers in any society. They are the ones who can take what the culturally elite are thinking, synthesize (though I'm not sure that is the correct term), and push the populous to engage and/or blindly adopt. It reminds me of the movie, White Squall, from the '90s about young men on a sail boat, and at the moment of crisis 'Chuck' Gieg has realized he does not know who he is. One of the other young men on the boat says, "You are the glue. Don't you get it, we wouldn't be here if it were not for you, you are the glue that holds it together." This group is the glue.

Many times those of us who fall into this group feel like less than masters and more like generalist. Perhaps we are more of generalists but that does not keep us from mastery. May those with this gift and calling move boldly and intentionally into the cultural fray. In a world where the amount of content doubles every eighteen months, the ability to name what is good and not evil is extremely valuable. " C. S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, maintained that there are certain acts that are universally considered evil, such as rape and murder. On the other hand, many acts now considered evil have been termed as acceptable in some societies at different times." This value of this work will be recognized monetarily but also by saving people from despair.


Sam Wheatley said...

Michael, I like this idea very much -- it describes the world I live in and the things that interest me. I wonder what are the middle brow institutions that exist and even thrive today? Media: The Atlantic Monthly, NPR, The New York Times? Social Movements: home brewing, slow food, New Urbanism, knitting, volunteerism? Theology: Ancient-Future, NPP, neo-catholicity... You got me thinking.

michaelstevensrev said...

Sam, Great to hear from you! I can see how this would describe your life. Honestly I think it should describe the life of every parish pastor; connection with the shop owner and the art professor. The cool thing is every town and neighborhood have both.

This American Life on NPR, I think is the best example of this middle-brow media. They are obsessed with those who live the 'average' life, but approach every story with a very sophisticated grid.