DISCLAIMER: I curse a bit more than normal in this post, namely because David Brooks really chaps my ass.
Wow. Don’t get me wrong, I love a little pretentious ass-hattery every now and then, but David Brooks has gone off the deep end today when he laments the transformed nature of cultural elitism. That is, the transformation that has left culture hoarding elitists like himself sidelined by the availability of information over the internet. Like other columns which seem reasonable at first glance, Brooks grasps desperately to preserve a conservative notion — in this case cultural — by dressing his argument in less menacing verbiage. This one is even more ludicrous than most, starting with Brooks playfully pretending to answer a “Dear Abby” style letter as Soren Mother Fucking Kierkegaard.
Dear Dr. Kierkegaard,
All my life I’ve been a successful pseudo-intellectual, sprinkling quotations from Kafka, Epictetus and Derrida into my conversations, impressing dates and making my friends feel mentally inferior. But over the last few years, it’s stopped working. People just look at me blankly. My artificially inflated self-esteem is on the wane. What happened?
Existential in Exeter
Holy fucking shit. Now I realize that Brooks is trying to be funny, but since he spends the rest of his column wistfully bitching about how the iPhone and the Kindle and other information aggregators have ruined culture, I’m not entirely sure he really thinks this is too funny. If anything, he’s probably dismayed he can no longer impress women with witty channellings of Camus into discussions about corporate tax cuts. (Has this ever worked in the first place?).
Anyway, I can’t quote all of his bombast, so I suggest you read it yourself, but here’s his main point:
On that date [when the iPhone was released], media displaced culture. As commenters on The American Scene blog have pointed out, the means of transmission replaced the content of culture as the center of historical excitement and as the marker of social status…
…prestige has shifted from the producer of art to the aggregator and the appraiser. Inventors, artists and writers come and go, but buzz is forever. Maximum status goes to the Gladwellian heroes who occupy the convergence points of the Internet infosystem — Web sites like Pitchfork for music, Gizmodo for gadgets, Bookforum for ideas, etc
Umm…really? I’m pretty sure guys in rock bands, famous authors (apparently not Brooks, though), and actors–you know, “cultural producer” types–still get laid like they have the last cock on earth. Certainly more than the guys who run Gizmodo, anyway. Besides, even if this were true, it doesn’t change the fact that Brooks’ argument is one protracted complaint that the democratic expansion of information ushered by the internet, and yes, the iPhone, has undermined his status as a snob. What a fucking douche.
(As a side note, I’m not entirely sure that the power of the cultural aggregator is by any means a new phenomenon. Magazines, newspapers, and other books have been compiling, reviewing, and criticizing culture for as long as culture has existed. That the internet has allowed for speedier digestion and more robust compilation is a good thing, if you’re in to that. Anyway, back to the post.)
Brooks’ evidence of this “tectonic shift” of all things cultural is explained in this fallacious bromide.
Today, Kindle can change the world, but nobody expects much from a mere novel. The brain overshadows the mind. Design overshadows art.
No, you dense, pointy-headed pedant. The Kindle can change the world because it can help facilitate exposing more people to more books and more authors and more art. Why is this bad? Ultimately it means that Brooks’ knowledge of obscure Greek plays is devalued, culturally speaking, by the ability of a greater number of people having access to them. This of course threatens Brooks, who as a conservative shill, relies on disguising his ideas within pure, unadulterated pseudo-intellectual bibble-babble. If more people are able to cut through the bibble-babble, his job will get a lot tougher.
And I never thought I’d see the day where I defended the iPhone phenomenon.