The New Status

“In order to cement your status in the cultural elite, you want to be already sick of everything no one else has even heard of.”

–David Brooks, “Lord of the Memes,” in the New York Times.


3 comments so far

  1. MJS on

    I’ve been meaning to bring this up with you at work, but alas we’re all so busy. I love Brooks on politics, but it’s just too easy to hate his writing on culture. This essay is like his books On Paradise Drive and Bobos in Paradise: all three lack the trenchancy of his writing on politics.

    In Bobos in Paradise he embarrassingly confuses anyone who drinks Starbucks coffee or drives a pickup truck (instead of a BMW) with a “bohemian.” Similarly, in “Lord of the Memes” he identifies a tendency, and jokingly, quasi-satirically applies it with a broad brush to everyone using a common technology. It’s a little clumsy, and mildly humorous. But offensive? Only if you compare the relative lack of nuance he achieves in writing about culture to his always unexpected nuance when writing about Washington.

    It’s like politics is a serious subject, so we’re allowed to be “early adopters,” but culture is just for fun, so anyone who takes it seriously enough to try to stay ahead of the curve is just being pretentious. Don’t get me wrong, every trend-watcher is not a serious critic, but that’s my point: Brooks doesn’t distinguish between the two either. His attempt at humor risks painting serious critics (amateur or otherwise) and egregious “cool-hunters” with the same brush. If we apply these criteria to the political scene, Mr. Brooks and Wonkette are equivalent: they’re only trying to impress us with how informed they are, cementing their elite status.

  2. jeffreimer on


    I haven’t read much Brooks aside from his columns in the New York Times, but it seems like you’re at least mostly right. But I’m wondering if he’s actually saying here that “egregious cool-hunters” have erased the distinction you’re talking about. Elitist bombasticity (bombasticness? bombasity?) has been democratized from people who actually went to concerts and read books to anybody with a whit of cultural savvy and a high-speed internet connection. It seems to me that a new demographic has coalesced around, as Brooks says, “Web sites like Pitchfork for music, Gizmodo for gadgets, Bookforum for ideas, etc.” Here’s the lack of distinction you mention: Gizmodo and Bookforum as indicators of the same type of cultural purchase.

    The question is: is David Brooks unintentionally (and sloppily) conflating real cultural criticism with cool-hunting or is he lamenting the popular ascendancy of the latter at the expense of the former?

    But maybe you’re right. Because he does also place the same kind of cool-hunting at the heart of a society that bloviates about Lionel Trilling’s latest misinterpretation of Eliot or Pound (decidedly more sophisticated than a cultural elite that gushes about the latest Andrew Bird album like it’s the height of artistic achievement); it’s just been displaced, and serious discourse can only be transposed into the language of politics. Hmmm. I’m not sure. Either way there’re still going to be cool-hunters glomming onto the hull of the cultural ship. Perhaps he’s simply taking serious cultural criticism for granted in order to take a quick pot shot at a certain shape-shifting banality that will always be with us (and maybe in us). Then again, you did complain about his lack of nuance in his own cultural criticism. Oh, if only we would all talk politics all the time!

  3. timothycairns on

    Hey when are you going to post again!!!!!

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