Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing--The Marketing of Culture

John Seabrook, Author
John Seabrook, Author Alfred A. Knopf $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-375-40504-4
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-413-74480-7
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-375-70451-2
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Culture in America is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Aimed at reinforcing class distinctions, the terms ""highbrow"" (signifying traditionally elite European culture) and ""lowbrow"" (meaning commercial culture aimed at the masses) were popularized by H.L. Mencken and Van Wyck Brooks in the century's first decade. In this breezy cultural analysis and memoir, Seabrook (Deeper: My Two-Year Odyssey in Cyberspace) delineates the subsequent blurring of the genres in U.S. culture. Drawing upon his experiences of writing for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, Seabrook traces how ""nobrow""--in which ""commercial culture is a source of status, rather then the thing the elite defines itself against""--has radically changed how we view both high and low art. Setting his arguments against a tableau of rich and famous buzz-brokers--Talk magazine editor Tina Brown, studio head David Geffen, producer George Lucas--Seabrook manages to be simultaneously gossipy and insightful. Along the way he makes smart points about the role that social privilege plays in establishing taste, how advertising functions by validating social identity and how cultural hierarchies hinge more on power than on taste. Seabrook's mixture of the personal and the analytical is always animated and intriguing, but his analysis is so strong that, by the end, readers may wish for more meat and less memoir. Agent, Joy Harris. (Feb.)
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