Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing + the Marketing of Cultureby John Seabrook
In the old days, highbrow was elite and unique and lowbrow was commercial and mass-produced. Those distinctions have been eradicated by a new cultural landscape where “good”/b>
From John Seabrook, one of our most incisive and amusing cultural critics, comes Nobrow, a fascinatingly original look at the radical convergence of marketing and culture.
In the old days, highbrow was elite and unique and lowbrow was commercial and mass-produced. Those distinctions have been eradicated by a new cultural landscape where “good” means popular, where artists show their work at K-Mart, Titantic becomes a bestselling classical album, and Roseanne Barr guest edits The New Yorker: in short, a culture of Nobrow. Combining social commentary, memoir, and profiles of the potentates and purveyors of pop culture–entertainment mogul David Geffen, MTV President Judy McGrath, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Nobrow high-priest George Lucas, and others–Seabrook offers an enthralling look at our breakneck society where culture is ruled by the unpredictable Buzz and where even aesthetic worth is measured by units shipped.
American Journal Review
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)
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Formerly the editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf, and before that a wunderkind at Simon & Schuster, Gottlieb had been chosen by Newhouse to replace Shawn -- less than two years after Newhouse pledged he would keep Shawn as editor for as long as Shawn wanted to remain. Gottlieb, whose own cultural preferences ran higher than Shawn's -- he was a famously devoted patron of the ballet -- had taken on the almost impossible job of caretending Shawn's distinctions about what sort of culture was appropriate for New Yorker readers, while at the same time trying to make the magazine more commercial for Newhouse. Gottlieb tried to compromise with camp. Camp was a way of being hierarchically nonhierarchical -- of bringing highbrow connoisseurship to lowbrow pleasures, and thereby preserving the old High-Low structure of culture as status, though it was necessary to wittily invert it. Since taking over Gottlieb had published highbrow pieces about lowbrow subjects like Hollywood divas, Miami Beach, and a convention of the Wee Scots, who collect Scottie-dog memorabilia.
I suggested that forty thousand words might be necessary to convey the complete gold-mining story in all its complexity and to flesh out the many charmingly eccentric characters I was sure to meet in the pursuit of my idea of an old New Yorker piece.
"Great, that would be a two-part article," Bob responded cheerfully.
I asked about the deadline. At the other places I had been writing, deadlines were much on editors' minds.
"Oh, we don't have deadlines around here," Gottlieb said, frowning slightly, as if a faux pas had been committed, although his camp manner made it hard to tell if he wasbeing serious.
"Work on it until you feel it's finished," he went on, "then we'll take a look."
Risking an even greater faux pas, I asked, "And how much will I get paid?"
"A lot," he replied. He didn't say how much. Just "a lot."
If I needed money, I was to call the managing editor, Sheila McGrath.
"Now, it's spelled McGrath but it's said 'mac-graw.'" Vague on all the usually important matters, Gottlieb was very precise on this point, which, although I didn't know it then, involved an elaborate in-house distinction between the people who said "mick-graath" and the people who said "mac-graw."
And that was all. I went away, struggled, despaired, missed my self-imposed deadline, and finally wrote Gottlieb a letter explaining myself and asking for more time and money, which was swiftly answered with a phone call from Bob who told me to call Sheila McGrath. ("Now remember, it's spelled McGrath but pronounced . . .") Eventually I produced a twenty-thousand-word piece, and in less than a week Gottlieb called to accept it. The piece had no peg, of course -- pegs were part of the vulgar world of juuuuurnalism -- but it was an outdoors piece and felt springlike to Bob. In good time it was set up in type, meticulously fact-checked, beautifully edited by Bob and Nancy Franklin, and published in April at something like eighteen thousand words. It all happened just the way it was supposed to happen at The New Yorker. And that was the last time it ever happened quite that way for me.
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