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3 A.M. BOOK REVIEWS


John Seabrook's, NOBROW


Yet although there are not flaws in Seabrook's logic, there is one crucial flaw in Seabrook's conclusion as to what is happening... as the dust settles and America's ipso-facto caste system lies in rubble about the denizens of Nobrow, Seabrook is the man left crying and homeless looking for a rent cap apartment.
by James Brundage

Copyright © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


About four weeks ago a character on "Sex and the City" -- itself an example of the prevalence of Nobrow -- remarked on the same-sex sexual experimentation of the twentysomething demographic with the quip "Generation X just ran into Generation Y and formed Generation XY." Such flippant commentaries seem par for the course in modern observation, for we live in the era where unless something wise is intertwined with something catchy, it will not stick.

Thus Nobrow, the new buzzword thesis crafted by New Yorker writer John Seabrook, appears from the bat to be the sort of universally glib commentary: "Highbrow and Lowbrow cancelled each other out, and formed Nobrow." And such glibness is fitting for the thesis: after all, Nobrow speaks to a culture ruled by buzz. "Nobrow" itself is an act of Nobrow, writing a book about buzz culture that attempts to make a buzzword for the buzz culture.

"Nobrow," a personal narrative in which Seabrook recounts "my life under Tina Brown," chooses himself as a fitting subject to prove the thesis. Seabrook's writing style has the modern charm of Urban Hipster Attitude (the current dominant writing style for the Internet)... his writing switches between referencing Kant and the Chemical Brothers within the same paragraph. Seabrook himself is a man who lives his life by Nobrow, confessing more desire to listen to Enemin than Eine Klein Nachtmusik.

The reasoning Seabrook has -- that a market oriented culture lends itself to a culture of marketing where the people really do get what they want and the hitherto holiness of highbrow will disintegrate into a system practiced (or desired to be practiced) by the select few -- is similarly solid. His several examples of Nobrow's niche-market driven world, where anyone who wants to get art out there can get art out there, but not everyone can succeed in marketing their work. In Nobrow the artist recognizes art as a product for a market and art designed for the market is of no more higher purpose than the art designed for art's own sake. In Nobrow selling out is a non-term. All of these points and thesises hold up under strong debate and examination, and Seabrook makes near perfect cases for them. Seabrook's gift for prose makes his points all the better, and the wonderful examples provided by Tina Brown's regime at the New Yorker forms the final nail in the coffin of the Brow system.

In fact, the reasoning in "Nobrow" is so solid that if in 25 years "Nobrow" is not being taught right next to Toffler's "Future Shock" as one of the most important books of modern philosophy, I will be very upset. Yet although there are not flaws in Seabrook's logic, there is one crucial flaw in Seabrook's conclusion as to what is happening... as the dust settles and America's ipso-facto caste system lies in rubble about the denizens of Nobrow, Seabrook is the man left crying and homeless looking for a rent cap apartment.

You see, although Seabrook is one of the upper-echelon writers of Nobrow, and although Seabrook is himself a perfect example of the kind of person Nobrow creates, Seabrook reveals himself to be disheartened at the evidence for his own thesis. Seabrook is the middle child of Nobrow: a man who, at age 38, has found himself caught in between the old world ideals that he grew up with and the new world ideals which he allows to dictate his actions. Yet Seabrook has been too entrenched with the upper-crust to disengage from the brow system, where as he is too disengaged from the rest of the denizens of Nobrow to move back into the building of culture.

And therein lies the only hole in Nobrow's logic. If Nobrow were about becoming a market-oriented culture and if it had the viewpoint that this is a good thing, than the inclusion of Seabrook's personal views would have no place in the thesis. While on the other hand, if Nobrow held the viewpoint that buzz was bad, than Seabrook's 220-odd pages of prose before the revelation of his depression seem to be filler space.

So what is Nobrow's purpose?

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