Highbrow vs. Lowbrow

Sonny Bunch had a smart comment on the latest Culture11 postmortem:

Yeah, but this is a problem with the culture writ large, not just in conservative spheres. Example: In my day job, I’m a film critic at the Washington Times, and my boss just came over and talked about the DVD reviews that generate web traffic (workout DVDs) and the ones that don’t (Criterion DVDs). I bet if you look at sales numbers you’d see a similar trend (and you certainly see a similar trend at, say, Amazon when comparing run of the mill tripe to quality DVDs, like those produced by the Criterion Co). It’s tough to discuss highbrow (or even middlebrow) stuff and be popular.

A fair point. But if you’re a magazine of ideas like National Review or a national newspaper like the Washington Times, there’s something to be said for acquiring a certain highbrow cultural cachet. In much the same way that capturing the 20-35 year old male demographic is more important to ad execs than American Idol-type mass appeal, becoming an important cultural barometer can be more lucrative (and certainly more influential) than churning out tons of workout DVD reviews. The importance of a publication like the New Yorker, for example, can’t be explained by sales figures alone.

I’m sure it’s pretty tough to hit that cultural sweet spot, but appealing to a mass audience has its own limitations. I can’t really take Big Hollywood seriously after reading Dirk Benedict analogize the new BSG series to castration. Is a site that features posts like “Jack Bauer and the Pope” ever in danger of become a real hub for engaging cultural criticism? Or is it simply a culturally-tinged version of RedState or Little Green Footballs? Culture11, at least, had the potential to become an important, right-of-center intellectual publication. The significance of that type of outlet can’t always be measured by comparing traffic statistics.

Liberals seem to be better at appealing to a highbrow cultural audience, probably because their subscribers are already thinking along the same cultural and political wavelengths. But I think there is an audience out there for serious cultural criticism from a right-of-center perspective. Take it away, Mr. Poulos:

“The right has a lot to learn from people who are completely outside of it,” he explained later. If they did that, they “might actually win some latecomers, people who have lived unhappy or unsatisfying lives. And if they show up at the door of the right and say, ‘Gosh, my super-transgressive life is sort of unrewarding, maybe I’ve exhausted this mine of self-indulgence and personal freedom and saying ‘fuck the man,’ and the right is completely disinterested in engaging those people, I think they’re missing out.”

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2 Comments

Filed under Conservatism, Culture, The Media

2 responses to “Highbrow vs. Lowbrow

  1. Scott

    Also don’t forget that people with greater amounts of education tend to be more liberal and more educated people tend to be the market for the sort of high brow consumption you’re talking about.

  2. Yeah, there are a few structural factors that favor highbrow liberal publications. That said, you don’t necessarily have to be a conservative to appreciate smart, right-of-center cultural commentary.

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