Jonathan Mayhew on ‘middlebrow’

Jonathan has been commenting on the middlebrow. But his blog doesn’t allow anonymous comments and I don’t have a blogger account.

I found Starbucks and the designer teapot peculiar examples (not that I know the teapot or teapot shop in question). For me, low/middle/highbrow implies a specifically intellectual judgement. The relationship between your taste in coffee and your taste in literature seems strained to me – it makes it more into a judgement of someone’s social class. Or urbanity. Perhaps the word he’s looking for is ‘sophisticated’ rather than ‘highbrow’.

That’s not the same thing as saying that we are all differently-browed in different areas. I have low-to-middlebrow taste in films, but fairly highbrow taste in literature, and it seems reasonable to make the comparison. My taste in coffee seems a quite different subject.

I also think his description of the middlebrow as ‘addressed to a wider audience that wants to “improve itself”‘ is patronising and misguided. My sense is that the middlebrow audience just enjoys art at a particular level of accessibility and intellectual content. The idea that people watch Pride and Prejudice on the telly because they want to ‘improve themselves’ seems ridiculous to me. Rather, they’ve found the level at which they find art to be enjoyable. Two disclaimers: I don’t think that level is determined by intellectual capacity but by their priorities and tastes. And I don’t think that high-brow art is always better than middle-brow or low-brow art.

[publishers apparently have a category called ‘faux-brow’. Like The Girl in the Pearl Earring, which is romantic fiction, but with a historical, arty theme and a more expensive cover.]