Lord of the Memes
Oh, we're off to a great start with this one, I assume this is meant to be some sort of a play on words, maybe a reference to Lord of the Rings, or Lord of the Flies or maybe the Lord of the Dance?
Either way, it didn't land. So on with the column!
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
Wait, what? Brooks is writing a fake advice column now? In the guise of Soren Kierkegaard? And he's calling the fake guy he made up a pseudo-intellectual? Is that what's going on here?
It pains me to see so many people being pseudo-intellectual in the wrong way. It desecrates the memory of the great poseurs of the past. And it is all the more frustrating because your error is so simple and yet so fundamental.
You have failed to keep pace with the current code of intellectual one-upsmanship. You have failed to appreciate that over the past few years, there has been a tectonic shift in the basis of good taste.
Honest to God, who is more of a pseudo-intellectual than David Goddamm Brooks? It's only due to the existence of William Kristol that Brooks isn't the stupidest pundit in the mainstream,.
You must remember that there have been three epochs of intellectual affectation. The first, lasting from approximately 1400 to 1965, was the great age of snobbery. Cultural artifacts existed in a hierarchy, with opera and fine art at the top, and stripping at the bottom. The social climbing pseud merely had to familiarize himself with the forms at the top of the hierarchy and febrile acolytes would perch at his feet.
Just like how any simpleton can apparently get a column at the New York Times, toss in a few $5 thesaurus words and be taken seriously as some kind of expert on world affairs.
Also, stripping was NEVER at the bottom of the cultural hierarchy. It goes Opera, non-musical theatre, stripping, musical theater, punditry.
In 1960, for example, he merely had to follow the code of high modernism. He would master some impenetrably difficult work of art from T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound and then brood contemplatively at parties about Lionel Trilling’s misinterpretation of it. A successful date might consist of going to a reading of “The Waste Land,” contemplating the hollowness of the human condition and then going home to drink Russian vodka and suck on the gas pipe.
Ahahahah! Because intellectuals are always depressed substance abusers! Ahahahaha, it's funny because it's a gross stereotype!
This code died sometime in the late 1960s and was replaced by the code of the Higher Eclectica. The old hierarchy of the arts was dismissed as hopelessly reactionary. Instead, any cultural artifact produced by a member of a colonially oppressed out-group was deemed artistically and intellectually superior.
During this period, status rewards went to the ostentatious cultural omnivores — those who could publicly savor an infinite range of historically hegemonized cultural products. It was necessary to have a record collection that contained “a little bit of everything” (except heavy metal): bluegrass, rap, world music, salsa and Gregorian chant.
Oh my God, having well-rounded musical tastes? What a bunch of dicks, right?
Also, "world music," that's not a thing. It's a derisive term used to refer to any style of music that does not come from the US or Britain, as if West African High-Life belongs in the same category as Eastern European Klezmer or Brazilian Samba. As if Ali Farka Toure' has anything in common with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or Jaoa Gilberto. It's just that kind of dismissive colonialist attitude that lumps the entire non-English-speaking world into one grouping as the "other." Am I being too pseudo-intellectual for you, David? Oh, God - I am! I'm making myself nauseous re-reading that last paragraph. Ugh!
It was useful to decorate one’s living room with African or Thai religious totems — any religion so long as it was one you could not conceivably believe in.
Right, cause you couldn't possibly believe in something like Buddhism or Islam. Those are just silly old belief systems for the primitive cultures. right? Which, I guess, is why it's okay to decorate one's living room in "cultural appropriation chic."
But on or about June 29, 2007, human character changed. That, of course, was the release date of the first iPhone. On that date, 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.
So. . . the medium became the message? What a radical transformation that definitely didn't occur at all before 2007.
Now the global thought-leader is defined less by what culture he enjoys than by the smartphone, social bookmarking site, social network and e-mail provider he uses to store and transmit it.
Also, get off my lawn you darn kids!
Seriously, David Brooks has made the discovery, in 2017, that people use smartphones to store and transmit information.
And what "global thought leader" is being defined by his "social bookmarking site" or his e-mail provider? Is that why people take buffoons like Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham seriously? Because they're using the correct e-mail or social media platform? And would Bernie Sanders' platform have gotten more traction had he used a Samsung Galaxy 6 instead of whatever he uses to send Tweets, a rotary phone I'm guessing?
Mabel? Get me Instagram! Klondike Five. . .
Today, Kindle can change the world, but nobody expects much from a mere novel
How could Kindle possibly change the world?
Does anyone even think that?
Does Amazon even think that?
I've never heard anyone claim that Kindle has changed anything beyond maybe their reading habits. The World?
This transition has produced some new status rules. In the first place, 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.
WHAT? "Buzz," by it's very nature, is fleeting. People get excited about a thing, then everyone knows about the thing so the thing isn't special anymore and then there is buzz about a different thing and the initial thing is forgotten. Or, to put it more succinctly:
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.
Okay, so people go to Pitchfork to learn about new music. In my day, we went to NME or Spin or BAM or a thousand other print magazines. How is this any different? Other than saving a trip to the newsstand. It's not like people go to Pitchfork, read up on the latest hip bands and then don't go and listen to the new hip bands. No one has ever had a conversation that went "hey, have you heard the new song from the Insufferably Twee?" "Nah, I read about them on Pitchfork, that's really all I want. I don't care about hearing the actual musicians play actual; music."
And you can repeat that same paragraph just substituting Bookforum and the New York Review of Books for Pitchfork and New Music Express.
These tastemakers surf the obscure niches of the culture market bringing back fashion-forward nuggets of coolness for their throngs of grateful disciples.
And this is a totally new phenomenon. There have never been critics before. No one has ever had a television show, for instance, telling people which movies are good and which are bad, possibly with a thumbs up/thumbs down type of system?
Second, 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.
THIS IS NOT A NEW THING!
Back in the 1980s, there was no greater thrill than knowing about a band your friends hadn't heard of. One time, my friend and I were record shopping, he asked the cool record store guy if they had "Treebound Story." The record store guy had never heard of them. It was my friend's greatest moment of triumph.
When you first come across some obscure cultural artifact — an unknown indie band, organic skate sneakers or wireless headphones from Finland — you will want to erupt with ecstatic enthusiasm. This will highlight the importance of your cultural discovery, the fineness of your discerning taste, and your early adopter insiderness for having found it before anyone else.
I don't know how else to say this, Brooks: It Has Ever Been Thus!
If you can do this, becoming not only an early adopter, but an early discarder, you will realize greater status rewards than you ever imagined. Remember, cultural epochs come and go, but one-upsmanship is forever.
That's it? That's the whole column? I still have no idea what point Brooks is even trying to make. And he gets paid for this.
What a racket!