middlebrow again

A post at Whimsy Speaks alerted me to some more web chatter on the middle-brow, including a NY Times column on the subject.

What startles me is that so much of the commentary (in, for example, the post and comments at Pandagon), is quite clearly aimed at the idea of a socially aspirational category, not an intellectual one. So Jonathan’s examples of Starbucks and Target, which I just thought were an odd quirk of his, turn out to be quite typical. Martha Stewart is cited. If Starbucks is middle-brow, presumably my home-ground Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is high-brow. A high-brow cup of coffee. Hmmm. What they really mean is presumably that Starbucks is middle class.

And yet Americans still refer to the British as class-obsessed. Martha Stewart seems to me to be a good example. I’ve never seen anyone who is has so openly built a career on stoking people’s social insecurities and then selling them the cure; and I can’t actually think of a comparable British personality. There are hundreds of programmes on TV about improving your home and garden, what to wear, and what to eat, but none of them seem to have that stifled, buttock-clenching aura of gentility. Which isn’t to say that the UK is a snob-free haven, just that the American self-image on matters of class is sometimes a little skewed.

I really shouldn’t be attempting US cultural commentary, of course – I just don’t know the country well enough.