Category Archives: The Media

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.”



Filed under Conservatism, Culture, The Media

Posted Without Comment

From The Nation’s “Liberal Liaisons” section:

PRISON PICASSO. 48, nonviolent marijuana farmer. Seeks progressive Frida/O’Keeffe for correspondence . . .

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Filed under Humor, The Media

Worthy Adversaries

So Katha Politt unleashed a broadside last week, taking the New York Times to task for daring to replace Kristol with another conservative columnist. She also criticized Ross Douthat’s liberal admirers, many of whom had the temerity to publicly applaud his selection. A few quick thoughts:

  1. It’s a bit dishonest of Politt to not only not provide links to the articles/blog posts she’s criticizing, but to include one excerpt from an old college op-ed.
  2. Several of the blog posts Politt criticizes – on female orgasms, masturbation, gay sheep etc. – strike me as examples of the sort of unformed meandering that makes the blogosphere so interesting. Some of this stuff is stupid; some provocative; some completely pointless, but I don’t think the same rigorous standards of appraisal one might apply to, say, widely-published op-eds should be used to assess old blog entries.
  3. I was a bit disappointed by the reaction of two liberal commentators I respect and admire – Matt Yglesias and Ta-Nehisi Coates – to Politt’s criticism. Aside from the value of sparring with a sharp adversary or filling the Times’ mandatory “conservative columnist” slot with a halfway decent writer, isn’t there something to be said for elevating a thoughtful, persuasive advocate of the other side because he might be right? One of the things that really irked me about the Politt column – and, to a lesser extent, other liberal responses – was her absolute certainty that she has nothing to learn from intelligent conservatism. Maybe this is a product of my own intellectual insecurities, but one of the reasons I enjoy reading intelligent liberal outlets is because they may be right, and moreover I’m willing to be persuaded. I wish Politt was similarly inclined.

Note: I’d comment on more weighty matters (the bank stabilization plan), but right now I’m a bit overwhelmed by the scale of the economic crisis. Arguing over the merits of the New York Times’ latest columnist seems trivial in comparison, but at least it’s something I can discuss competently.


Filed under Politics, The Media

The Old College Try

I’m not sure if Campus Progress dredged up Ross Douthat’s old Harvard articles as part of some misguided attempt to derail his move to the Times, but they’re fascinating reading nonetheless (via). Three quick thoughts:

1.) I shudder to think what I would have done with a newspaper column in college. My only contribution to Mary Washington’s abysmal Bullet was “Three Years of Living Dangerously,” an embarrassingly crude (if   occasionally funny) satire of sharing a room with a lacrosse jock for several semesters.

2.) Douthat matured as a writer before he matured as a thinker. That said, many of his worst rhetorical excesses – “It goes without saying that [Saddam Hussein], too, is busy trying to acquire a nuclear bomb” – wouldn’t have felt out of place in any number of mainstream conservative publications circa 2002.

3.) I liked this passage:

“[A]bsent a remarkable change in human nature, it seems unlikely the American multitudes, more concerned with ‘Survivor’ and stock options than with the details of Al Gore’s prescription drug plan, will suddenly bestir themselves, flip on CNN, and catch up on all the politics they have missed during our comfortable, decade-long Gilded Age. More likely, a sudden and artificially induced increase in voter turnout would only mean an increase in the number of ill-informed, poorly thought out and just plain stupid votes. To be blunt, most of the people who don’t vote, shouldn’t vote.”

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Filed under Conservatism, The Media

Better Gatekeepers, Please

TNR has a fun piece on the decline and fall of the (in)famous Pajamas Media blogger network:

Instead, many of the laid-off bloggers have found a different way to express their angst about Pajamas Media’s business strategy: They’re calling the owners of PJM sell-outs. “The initial purpose was to support citizen-blogging as a counterweight to the MSM, but they’ve been getting away from that for years now,” says Goldstein, echoing statements I’d heard from other bloggers like Guy Rado, Rusty Shackleford,and others. “My biggest criticism is that they’ve become what they’re fighting against.”

A voluntary association of freedom-fighting bloggers was a romantic notion, but I think the Pajamas Media experiment is an apt reminder that media gatekeepers – editors, fact-checkers, reporters – serve a pretty useful function. Before blogs (B.B.?), the balance of power heavily favored  the media establishment, but now I’m afraid the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Ironically, the brains behind Pajamas Media have belatedly recognized that an amorphous blogger alliance is a) too prone to crazy conspiracism and b) can’t produce interesting stories with any degree of consistency, and has since reoriented their business model around several A-list Internet commentators. The problem with this isn’t that Pajamas Media is suddenly emulating the dread MSM’s approach to reporting and editing – it’s that they’ve chosen the wrong gatekeepers to helm the new enterprise.

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Filed under Conservatism, The Media

Liberaltarian Bait


Via Tyler Cowen, I see that Daniel Klein and Jason Briggeman, two George Mason economists, have published a paper (pdf) claiming that conservative magazines, including The American Spectator, are not pro-liberty.

They review the records of the Spectator, National Review, The American Enterprise, and the Weekly Standard on pro-liberty stances regarding sex, gambling and drugs. They find that National Review is generally the most pro-liberty on these issues, but that overall all the conservative magazines lean anti-liberty.

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Filed under Conservatism, Libertarianism, The Media

Le Canard

The most entertaining blog post you’ll read all year.

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Filed under Culture, The Media