Thursday, January 20, 2011

The paranoid style in cultural commentary

Probably the most offensive thing about this column by Neal Gabler is simply that such an amazingly lazy column could make it into a paper. The argument, about how grassroots democrats are throwing off the shackles of elite taste dictums by not keeping the new Jonathan Franzen book on top of the bestseller list, and how this is also a victory against the tyranny of booooorrrinnggg classical music, or something, is ably and justly busted by both A. Ross and A.O. Scott.

So no need to pile on anymore there. But it is a nice reminder of the strange bedfellows inspired by this kind of thinking. Gabler, judging by writings like this, is no conservative, and I expect he would see little common cause with the dominant conservative rhetoric about "elites", with its suspicion of science, other cultures, vegetables, and of course, pervert art. The disdain Gabler is tapping into (albeit rather clumsily) is left-identified, rooted in an anti-authoritarian impulse to upend the fusty dominant culture that seeks to assert its superiority as a means to suppress authentic experience.

But that doesn't make it any less problematic. People on the left are supposed to have a real analysis about culture and power, but it doesn't work when you just substitute a bunch of posturing and neutered carping about culture you don't enjoy, while blaming a bunch of people that have little actual control. Indeed, Gabler is trafficking in the same rhetoric that allows conservatives to redefine class as a simple matter of aesthetics and cover for the social, political and economic interests who have a real incentive to define culture. Not helpful.

4 comments:

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stray said...

"...culture in America has usually been imposed from the top down."

He should have put culture in quotes, it would have rendered his argument slightly less idiotic.

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