Tag Archives: Culture11

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

Larison Brings the Funny


The contrast Homans makes between C11 and Big Hollywood is instructive, and tends to confirm my rather jaundiced view of the inverse relationship between success and quality. Essentially, on one site you would find intelligent cultural criticism, and on the other you would find a lot of the cultural whining that seems especially concentrated among actors who have a political grudge with the rest of their own industry. In the former, there would be smart takes on new films by Suderman, for example, and in the latter you get Dirk Benedict complaining about how feminism corrupted the new BSG or Breitbart going off on another one of his insane rants. One site was challenging, the other flatters its audience’s prejudices. Naturally, the second one survives and thrives.*

And as if on cue, National Review’s John Miller chimes in, pointing to NRO’s laughably bad lists of conservative rock songs (Blink 182’s “Stay Together for the Kids” is number 17) and conservative films (300? Really?) as examples of serious right-of-center cultural criticism.

But shoving round cinematic pegs into square conservative holes is not serious cultural engagement – it’s wishful thinking. This, of course, is precisely the approach that Culture11 sought to correct by dealing with the culture as it is, not as NRO thinks it should be.


Filed under Conservatism, Culture

Don’t leave the light on, baby

I’m under no illusion that the market is a perfect mechanism for sorting out the good from the bad, but it’s a bit galling to find that another crummy mainstream conservative website has just launched in the wake of Culture11’s demise. Adding insult to injury, the New Ledger is helmed by none other than Benjamin Domenech, the same guy who got cashiered by the Washington Post for plagiarism.

On a related note, Andrew Sullivan and Scott Payne put up nice tributes while Josh Trevino and William Beutler offer their own Culture11 post-mortems. To be perfectly honest, a lot of what they say rings true. The name was weird, the social-networking stuff never really took off, and the range of stories and features was ocassionally jarring. But there was a cool, experimental vibe to the site that reflected the editors’ willingness to try anything and everything while offering a platform for an incredibly diverse range of ideological viewpoints. In hindsight, this may not have been the best business model, but it made for a great (if short-lived) forum for free-wheeling political dialogue.

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Filed under The Media

The recession hits home

Can you feel emotionally invested in a publication? It sounds stupid, but when David Kuo and Conor Friedersdorf announced that Culture11 was closing up shop, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I just learned that a secretary at work was laid off a few days ago – she found out when her name was left off the new inter-office call sheet. Now half of my favorite writers are joining the ranks of the unemployed. Economic crises really blow.

It was pretty cool to witness the formative months of a new magazine. I commented over there pretty frequently, and a few of the editors were kind enough to drop by my comments section to explain their mission statement. They even managed to publish an amateurish article I wrote. Getting a check in the mail for something I’d do for free was incredibly gratifying, but I’d give it all back if it would help keep them afloat, plus interest.

Culture11 was a pretty special publication. The editors gave new writers a shot, published authors from across the ideological spectrum, and provided something of a one-stop shop for great blogging. But beyond all that, I felt close to the writers, who always did their level best to respond to interesting comments, reply to our emails, and even solicit reader submissions. So much of this new media bullshit is hype and snake oil salesmanship, but at Culture11, technology actually enhanced the relationship between publication and audience.

At this point, I can only hope that Culture11 becomes the Velvet Underground of 21st century Internet journalism, spawning hundreds of imitators across the blogosphere. For the immediate future, however, I wish the editors all the best. They have a lot to be proud of.


Filed under Culture, The Media

Surrogate Families

Speaking of universal pre-k, John Schwenkler’s latest foray into education policy is also quite good.  I liked this quote from John Heckman, a University of Chicago professor who’s something of an authority on the matter:

” . . . to spend public dollars in such a way as to “try to substitute for what the middle-class and upper-middle-class parents are already doing,” as he put it in a 2005 interview, is “foolish.”

That sounds about right to me. Universal pre-k will always suffer from comparisons to good parenting.  But I think the correct benchmark for evaluating early childhood education is the learning environment of underprivileged children in the absence of any state intervention. Obviously, there are serious questions about the efficacy of universal pre-k, and I think any proposal should be subjected to rigorous cost-benefit analysis. But comparing the results of early childhood education to a stable, two-parent family sets an unreasonably high bar. The goal of universal pre-k is to alleviate the impact of preexisting socio-economic disparities in the classroom. Recreating the benefits of good parenting through the public school system is something else entirely.

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Filed under Culture, Education

Note to Self

Don’t try any of Poulos’s holiday mixed drinks without a chemistry degree. I’ll stick to Boddington’s and Wild Turkey on the rocks, thank you very much.*

Regular posting will resume shortly.

*That said, I’m glad I’m not the only one to recognize the sublime mixability of Pepto-Bismol.

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Filed under Uncategorized

Secretly Canadian

Did you know stuff actually happens in Canada? Because I usually skip David Frum’s posts on Canadian politics, I was blissfully unaware of our northern neighbor’s recent parliamentary dust-up. Fortunately, Scott Payne – the blogosphere’s resident Canuck has done a bang-up job of explaining things.

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Filed under Foreign Affairs