NOBROW by John Seabrook


The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture
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A New Yorker staffer explores the convergence of highbrow and lowbrow—nobrow—as salesmanship replaces worth. As a prime offender, he cites The New Yorker in its Brownian-Newhousian incarnation. The days when taste denoted power and power embodied taste were disappearing even as Russell Lynes wrote The Tastemakers years ago. Now what rules is buzz. The new buccaneers of buzz, the commercial arbiters of what tomorrow’s fashion must be, are in charge, says Seabrook (Deeper, 1997). Kicking off in quasi-gonzo mode, he soon settles into more traditional reportage. There is even a riff on the old-school haberdashery of his dandy father, hauled out in contrast with the current style of his own expensive T-shirts, which are inscribed with advertising or made not to be laundered. Seabrook takes us along to pay tribute to a 15-year-old quondam rock star and immerses us in the blare and hustle of MTV. We tour the hip emporia of SoHo, check in with the ineffable David Geffen, and visit Star Wars—not the film but the marketing industry, including the elusive George Lucas himself. Content is commotion, melody is cacophony, ephemera is all, and teenage funk rules, man. It’s phat, it’s fly, it’s trash. Seabrook, a thoughtful Ivy Leaguer who recently turned 39, is high on hip-hop. He’s a fan of rap and such enigmatic entities as Rage Against the Machine and Dr. Dre. He sees former boss Tina Brown as Madame de Pompadour in a product-placement society in which the artists formerly known as Mozart and Shakespeare are replaced from top to deep, deep bottom by talentless “performance artists” and gangsta rap. A lively ethnology of a strange society that is devoid of culture in any classical sense, one whose wayward press enthusiastically celebrates what looks more and more like a mosh pit. It’s a report from a cultural black hole.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40504-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2000


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