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February 22, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A question for you.

Here’s the first half of my question’s given. Over the last 40 years or so, the range of cultural material that’s taken note of in the mainstream press has grown much broader. If you look at TV shows or magazines of 40 or 60 years ago, the narrowness of what was discussable can come as a shock. Was jazz worthy of the attention of respectable people? Were movies? Cultural arbiters puffed sombrely on pipes, brushed tobacco off tweedy sleeves, and expressed the gravest reservations. These days, the culture-sphere is a giant supermarket-bazaar. Almost everything is allowed notice: pop music, TV shows, web phenomena, porn.

FWIW, I take this development to be a Generally Good Thing. A ton of cultural material is being produced, and of uncountably many kinds. For an individual, this means that it can take mucho effort to find work that you resonate to, let alone to clear away the space to relax with and experience your finds. (That's a good discussion-topic too: in a clamorous marketplace, how do we manage to find what we enjoy? And what's the process of searching, sifting, and enjoying like?) But for those who follow and discuss cultural matters professionally: Why pretend that all this material isn’t out there? Why behave as though it doesn't have an audience? And why make believe that there isn’t talent at work in all these fields?

There are other elements to be taken into account, too -- cultural significance, for instance. You may despise ads, or argue that they shouldn’t be considered serious art. But how can anyone claim that advertising art and graphic design have no cultural significance? They’re big business; they influence fashions and trends; they reflect tastes; the people who make them are often very gifted. Why not discuss the field?

Here’s the second half of my question’s given: at the same time that the range of what's acknowledged has opened up, the level of discussion about cultural matters has gone down. I have no desire to make the claim that, long ago, we inhabited a paradise where civilized gentlemen carried on noble discussions. At the same time, it’s undeniably true that mainstream discussions of the arts were once surprisingly substantial. V.S Naipaul, for example, appeared on the covers of wide-circulation magazines. That's inconceivable today.

The attitude towards the goodies -- the gossip, the showbiz, the money -- was completely different than it is now. These days the goodies are often all you get. Mainstream cultural coverage is driven by popularity, box office, personalities, career-scorecarding, political controversies, release dates, exclusives, and cutesy conceptual ideas. Editors and producers form a daisy chain, trying to outguess each other as to what’s going to be hot and smart five minutes from now. Back in the day, the goodies were seen as the the spices that helped sell the meal. Today, once the sell is over the show shuts down. The meal never arrives.

Arts coverage now sells a fantasy of endless excitement. OK, maybe the last "Matrix" was a disappointment -- but the next one will be great! Oh, and isn’t it incredible what’s become of Kirstie’s figure and career? Hard though it is to believe, trend pieces and theme pieces were once used sparingly. Writers weren’t under pressure to invent trends just because an editor felt a need to run such a piece. Behind-the-scenes pieces were rare too; they were felt to be ... a bit unseemly. And business/career/tech news was mostly left to the trade press -- magazines and newspapers meant for insiders. Downmarket tabloid/fanzine-style carrying-on was the domain of the downmarket. It wasn’t a style wholeheartedly aped by the mainstream.

Mainstream coverage of the arts these days is driven by editors’ (and producers’) desire to ride the coattails of pop-culture popularity. These gatekeeper-wannabes are no longer creating their own product, consisting of coverage-opinion-and-discussion-of-the-arts. Instead, they’re doing their best -- and they’re being paid to do their best -- to grab a piece of the bigtime pop-culture action for themselves.

Where then to turn for substantial (or even amusing) discussions of the arts? Even the small-magazine world has changed. Today's small magazines are nearly all politically-driven. Good as The New Criterion and City Journal are, the likelihood of finding in their pages writers reacting to cultural matters in politically-independent ways is about as great as finding a conservative artwork getting a positive review in the Village Voice.

(Odd, isn't it, how hard it can be for some people to come away from a movie, book, or art show with more than one reaction? Saying, for instance, “Well, I wouldn't vote it into office. But I found it beautiful/moving/funny anyway.” Yet you’d think the ability to react to (and discuss) works of art and entertainment in many-layered ways would be one of the first qualifications for anyone covering the arts. Otherwise you aren’t primarily an arts person. You’re something else instead -- a sucker, maybe, or a media operator, or a Primarily Political Person.)

BTW, I know darn well that the old ways of thinking about the arts were ‘way too exclusive. And, as always when making hyper-generalizations, particularly about something like the arts: tons of exceptions allowed for -- the blogosphere for one big example.

All that aside for the moment, here’s my question: Does a more-open acknowledgement of culture’s many sizes, shapes, and forms have to bring in its train a drastically-lowered level of appreciation and discussion? When you open the door labeled “democratize this,” does a degraded level of conversation have to be part of what walks through? When you throw out the old hierarchies, are you in effect handing the reins to the cynically-commercial and the primarily-political? I genuinely don’t know.



posted by Michael at February 22, 2005


You might also try reading issues of Popular Science and Scientific American from various decades - if you want a good cry, that is.

I'd like to argue that the market's ideas about what people want, which is based on what people will put up with, which is based on the LCD-area everyone in the market moves toward in their hysteria to defeat all possible competition, is central... but I can't make it gel.

Posted by: jc on February 22, 2005 09:48 PM

I have no explanation either. But another manifestation of the overall decline in the dicussion of serious ideas can be found in pages of Playboy, of all places.

I was looking through their archive of interviews and was surprised by some of the names I found: Albert Schweitzer, Anthony Burgess, Arnold Toynbee, Ayn Rand, Betrand Russell, Edward Teller, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre, Milton Friedman, R. Buckminster Fuller, Salvador Dali, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov. Time was, I guess, that a man was expected to have at least a passing knowledge of some intellectual heavyweights.

Not so anymore. Now, it seems, the interviews tend to be almost exclusively rock stars, movie stars, and athletes.

Posted by: Bryan on February 22, 2005 09:59 PM

Yes, the world has changed with democritization. It's not just limited to criticism either. Look at the quality of work that topped the best seller charts in Hemingway's day versus today, the names there. This is not to say the top work is of any less quality now (it is), there is just now a larger market for poorer quality work. Waldenbooks and Borders didn't get to be huge selling to just the right people.

It's sort of like mystery novels. It's not that the average mystery novel is of worse quality than the novel novel, but, as Chandler said, the average novel novel doesn't get published. The average mystery does. There's just a larger mystery novel market, so standards loosen up to fill the demand.

What does this have to do with criticism? In short, criticism wants to criticize something important (that's what makes IT important). What is important didn't used to be what is popular. It's now more about how many read it, see it. Less about which people read/see it. And when critics ask: is it a cutural trend? What does this say about America? It's not going to be either or say either of those things unless it's widely read/seen.

Besides, criticism, like art, is a more and more business (cliched but true.) Would you rather publish criticism read by the right 5000 or the unwashed 500,000? The answer to that determines the quality of criticism and what it is you're going to critique.

Who had the money in the old days' to spend five dollars on criticism or culture related news? Pretty much those whose interests skewed highbrow. A greater percentage of society now has the disposable dough to blow on such frivolities. Is there any question that's gonna change what/who makes the cover?

Posted by: Ray Midge on February 23, 2005 12:00 AM

My personal theory is that you're describing a wave that's beached and is receding. We've already had enough of Paris Hilton and Puff Daddy. The demand will gravitate to the supply, and the supply will be 2Blowhards and it's progeny. In other words, why buy Playboy when I can get talked down to by ACDouglas for free? Or get free highly-energized philosophy from Aaron Hospel? Or chat about Parisian flicks with Michael and furniture design with Tatyana?

So, like -- quit caring about the editors, m'kay? Don't get a big head, but I'd rather read yall than a bunch of snot-slick magazines.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on February 23, 2005 01:23 AM

I can't tell what you wrote about? You went on for, what, 20 paragraphs? Well worded, concise . . . You must have an education in this stuff? There's some proud beaming parents somewhere. What was the gist? Somethin about the good old days were better somehow? Never heard that before. Nope.

It's sad about Hunter S. Thompson.

Posted by: reader on February 23, 2005 01:59 AM

JC writes, "You might also try reading issues of Popular Science and Scientific American from various decades - if you want a good cry." I've wanted to do that for a while. Have you done so recently? The market thing is interesting. In many ways commercialism can give a field some zing. Dickens wasn't writing to express himself, he was writing to pay the bills. But some kind of cultural framework (some sense of values and quality) seems to need to co-exist with the commercial thrust. Otherwise you just wind up with viciousness. GNXPers have pointed out that quality of life isn't selected for, and maybe that's part of it. Quality of life has to be fought for, otherwise it really can become nothing but a race for the bottom.

Bryan -- Amazing to think that Playboy interviewed that list of luminaries. I wonder how the Playbo audience would react today if the editors started sneaking some thoughtful stuff into the mix. Or is everyone a q&a-with-Ben-Stiller kind of guy now? Robert Hughes had a good line: Americans have a hard time with the idea of "intellectual entertainment," by which he meant the kinds of books and TV shows he makes. We tend to see "intellectual stuff" as one thing and "entertainment" as another. A function of our lack of cultural confidence? Just good ol' hearty American anti-intellectualism? Yet once upone a time we did have a culture that supported a Playboy that ran interviews with really interesting people ...

Ray -- That's saying a lot! I think you're on to a lot of things, many thanks. I'd tweak one small thing: you write about what's become of "criticism." I'd change that to "coverage." Minor thing, but one of the developments we're looking at is that there's less "criticism" these days and more "coverage." Which isn't to make a big deal out of criticism either, which I also think can be overdone. A good reported piece can sometimes be much more telling than a piece of criticism. But few of the reported pieces around today have an element of thoughtfulness and reflection. They sometimes contain interesting info, but it's up to us what to make of it. Are there critics these days you read with interest? I'm thrilled to give most of that up and pitch myself into the blog-world myself, but I may just be a burnout.

Scott -- Let's hope! And not to forget the fun of learning what the Fat Guy has to tell us.

Reader - I do go on, don't I?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 23, 2005 03:13 AM

This democratization is welcome in that 'the average Joe' is now paying more attention to everything from architechture to comic books, but alarming in that there's no longer any focus. Who can keep up with it all? And why should we?

I once grumbled over a particularly offensive and stupid TV ad and my mother said, "Why do you have to criticize everything? It's just a commercial!" "It's manipulative garbage interrupting the programs you pay a cable bill for!" I said. She just shrugged and said, "It's funny."

I totally agree with your comments about having conflicting reactions to a cultural product. I watched "I (Heart) Huckabees" the other night and found it to be wildly messy, dramatically inert and completely self-indulgent; yet I also enjoyed it immensely as a quirky and humane showcase for a wealth of Buddhist ideas, and a bunch of actors I like clearly having fun. Can I recommend it? I'm not sure, I'll have to see it again but I'll have no trouble doing so since I completely enjoyed it despite its many flaws.

I compare that conflict to so many Hollywood movies -- you come out of them and say, "That was fun," and your partner says, "Yeah, that was fun," and you both realize that there's nothing else to discuss.

Posted by: Scott D on February 23, 2005 10:22 AM

Playboy may have been billed as "Entertainment for Men" (perhaps it still is?), but in the 50s and 60s, it was intended to be something more like The Guide to Being a Real Man. This included being able to converse with your date about intellectual topics - literature, philosophy, jazz. It seems that serious conversation in the 50s generally did not include politics and public policy, except in certain circles (e.g., dinner with Adlai at the Grahams). Am I wrong about this? (I wasn't there... the 50s, I mean, although the Georgetown scene as well.)

And when politics did become a proper topic of conversation in the 60s, those discussions seemed to have real meaning without seeming wonkish or ivory towerish. While the Vidal-Buckley debates of 1968 are often heralded as the last gasp of the era of the public intellectual, there's also something visceral in me that regards both figures as I watch them as intellectual but unmistakeably *male* role models.

Anyway, in that era, the writing scene was domintated by macho figures. Even Gore Vidal, who was quasi-openly out of the closet, was no pansy, shrinking violet fairy. In more recent generations, the closest we've had to tough-guy writers are the ones who are willing to savage other writers publicly. Dale Peck may wield a mean hatchet, but would you want him on your side in a bar brawl? Even at his advanced age, I'd take Norman Mailer in a fight against a tag team of Martin Amis and David Sedaris.

Somehow, being cultured has become... effete. Fifty years ago, Marlon Brando and Richard Burton could don tights and do Shakespeare, and still come off as ladykillers. These days only Kenneth Branagh does that kind of thing, and only a humanities grad student would try emulating his sort of personality in an effort to score with the chicks.

Our separation of intellectual culture and popular culture may be, to a large extent, about getting laid. Outside of certain big city and college town scenes, a guy's gotta pride himself in his anti-intellectualism in order to be a real man. The classless oaf is celebrated in lad mags as the male role model. Maxim has succeeded as the anti-Playboy not just because it is anti-intellectual, but because it has more successfully captured the spirit of the new man as sitcomish doofus.

The only people put forward as public intellectuals today are ridiculous political demagogues. Our only other option is to become the uber-Spike TV guy. We must now all be Al Bundys: fart under the bedsheets for laffs, hate the French, watch wrestling, and never, ever read.

Also, the fast-paced nature of modern culture must be a major culprit in the demise of public intellectualism. Far fewer people have the patience to read a Naipaul essay in the age of cable.

Ech. I ended up biting off way more than I could chew in this post. My apologies.

Posted by: Nick on February 23, 2005 11:58 AM

Ray Midge's comment about how the spread of disposable income to lower income brackets affects art & entertainment tastes is astute. I'll add to that the spread of leisure time, which is especially noticeable in males. That is, whether or not women have increased amount of leisure time in recent decades is controversial, but men certainly have seen an increase.

Another thing to add is that "network effects" and "tipping points" are important. Solitary enjoyment of art grows wearisome. Being part of a social group where interaction with an art form is part of the social bonding process adds to the enjoyment of the art form. If that social process dies away, the art declines with it as the customer base loses intensity and size. Popular art seems to benefit from both of these phenomena better than high art.

Posted by: JT on February 23, 2005 12:04 PM

I'll also take this opportunity to suggest we discuss Steve Sailer's essay on how straight men seem to be fleeing cultural areas popular with gay men. He linked to it recently on his website.

Posted by: JT on February 23, 2005 12:07 PM

Are you in essence asking if it is possible for the masses to carry on so-called "noble discussions" about pop-culture, or are you asking does bringing the arts to the masses lower the level of its discussion to that of common pop-culture discourse? Or are you asking something else?


Posted by: Steven K. on February 23, 2005 12:31 PM

If there are more areas being paid serious attention, but the available "attention" per interested individual remains the same, less "attention" will be available per area. Also, since serious critical discussion requires a group with the same interests, and the areas of interest considered respectable by the easily led continue to increase, there is less chance that such a group will coalesce.

To a fairly great extent, I think the increase in internet discussion (particularly in the form of blogs like this one) will tend to reverse this trend. The transaction cost of finding a group of sufficiently like-minded individuals has gone down substantially and rapidly.

As to Ray Midge's claim that "... the average [literary] novel doesn't get published. The average mystery does", I have to disagree. I claim that the average published mystery novel is as good as the average published literary novel when each is judged by the appropriate standards.

More broadly, I will agree that the average genre novel is a failure as a literary novel, but I also claim the average literary novel is a failure as a genre novel. I don't take this as an indictment of either type of writing. Each form is written for an audience with different expectations and desires, and the old saw, "Know your audience", is the first commandment of successful writing.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on February 23, 2005 12:43 PM

That's an interesting line of speculation, Michael. As I was reading it, I starting thinking, maybe if critics would write seriously about pop culture we might get better pop culture. Talk about the quality of the artist's output not who she's marrying this week. But they're trying to sell magazines and the dirt is what people want so that's what they publish. I don't get it and I can't think of a viable way out.

Posted by: Lynn S on February 23, 2005 03:52 PM

One thing I've noted is that there are no -- or very few -- first rate critics anymore, especially in literature. Certainly nobody in the class of Edmund Wilson, for instance, whose criticism is itself a permanent part of American literature. How odd, when you think that the English professors for the past several decades have cast themselves in the heroic mold, claiming that what they're doing -- critical theory -- is just as important, if not more so, than what the actual the actual writers of fiction are doing. I happen to think we have some very fine writers today -- Tom Wolfe and Johnathan Franzen come to mind -- but almost nobody who can teach a kid how to read them. I still treasure my days intensely pouring over Cleanthe Brooks's book, Understanding Poetry, while operating my elevator at the Old Senate Office building in Washington. That's the way I learned how to read poetry, and it worked. I did similar things with film and the novel. Of course, as an adult I have little use for criticism much anymore except to point out new talent. When I go see a movie or read a novel, I just sit back and enjoy, with no thought whatsoever to matters of theme, etc. Still, I think it's too bad there aren't more and better guides for the new generations coming of age.

Posted by: Luke Lea on February 23, 2005 03:56 PM

I think the decline of the playboy interview points to some of the reasons for the decline of the highbrow. Highbrow culture was once a strategy to get sex and status.

Here is a quote about Anatole Broyard from the New Yorker:

>Gilman recalls being in Bergdorf Goodman and coming across Broyard putting the moves on a salesgirl. "I hid behind a pillar—otherwise he'd know that I'd seen him—and watched him go through every stage of seduction: 'What do you; think? Can I put this against you? Oh, it looks great against your skin. You have the most wonderful skin.' And then he quoted Baudelaire."

>Quoting Baudelaire turns out to be key. Broyard's great friend Ernest van den Haag recalls trolling the Village with Broyard in those days: "We obviously quite often compared our modus operandi, and what I observed about Anatole is that when he liked a girl he could speak to her brilliantly about all kinds of things which the girl didn't in the least understand, because Anatole was really vastly erudite. The girl had no idea what he was talking about, but she loved it, because she was under the impression, rightly so, that she was listening to something very interesting and important.

I don't think that would work anymore.

Posted by: joe o on February 23, 2005 04:00 PM

No, Americans' bullshit detectors are far too refined these days.

Posted by: David Mercer on February 23, 2005 06:50 PM

i'll make it easy :D

Does a more-open acknowledgement of culture’s many sizes, shapes, and forms have to bring in its train a drastically-lowered level of appreciation and discussion?


When you open the door labeled “democratize this,” does a degraded level of conversation have to be part of what walks through?


When you throw out the old hierarchies, are you in effect handing the reins to the cynically-commercial and the primarily-political?


heh, so iow, what room for rarified sensibilities in a world of crass commercialism and naked politicking?


Posted by: ai on February 23, 2005 07:00 PM

Michael, you asked above if there were critics these days that I read with interest. Your question made me think a bit, realizing who or what I turn to depends on what it is that I want out of criticm that day. There are about three things I'm looking for.

1. Just a good ol' heads up to a film/book/work I might enjoy. The whole game is here finding someone whose tastes mirror yours and taking a recommendation on trust. I don't get a lot of this out of the mainstream any more. Maybe I do in that I (through culutral osmosis somehow)get a general sense whether a film is gonna be more up my alley, but really, I find a lot of the online computer algorithms do a better job here, especially for stuff that has long since come and gone. I'm talking about those "if you liked..." sites that you train with your preferences. These are especially good for books where there's just so much I would miss otherwise. (Although I have to thank you for turning me on to Mikey and Nicky last week. Glad I saw it.)

2. Criticism as smart conversation. This is when I'm looking for the voyeuristic pleasure of overhearing smart people arguing. "Did they like what I liked?" or "How could he say that, he's missing the whole point!" Occasionally, they even add to you enjoyment by pointing out something you missed.

Again, I turn to this, more and more, online. Look at the wonderful comments above, people tossing thought provoking ideas back and forth. (especially liked what Nick said about the changing notion of 'effete' and Joe 's thoughts re: mating strategies. That's just good stuff). Interesting nuggets that get you thinking. And this is a great place to collect those.

3. Criticism as something greater. This is hard to pin down exactly. Sometimes I want a critic to scream so loudly that things change (in ways with which I agree, of course). Maybe this is what Luke was getting at above, people like Edmund White being great critics, that we just don't have enough of anymore. A culture existed in which these people could influence future art.

The best example of this in my life was that essay by B.F. Myers "A Reader's Mantifesto" I read that and I felt as strong an emotional reaction as I ever had to a work of art. He had given measured voice to all of my muddy complaints about modern fiction: the narcissim, the empty 'cleverness', AND ESP. its glorification of the 'pretty sentence'. Man, what an indictment! For more of this though, I don't know where to turn. And Lord knows not a damn thing has changed.

There doesn't seem to be a central clearing house for this stuff. Society no longer has recognized platforms for these thoughts; no high perch to which 'attention must be paid.' Maybe this is was one of the things behind your thoughts. Maybe not. Either way, great post.

Posted by: Ray Midge on February 23, 2005 07:01 PM

Joe, you meet wrong girls, obviously.

[I'll just close my eyes and cross my fingers in hope what I'm saying will pass right by the involved party] Who am I kidding, it was so plain obvious.

happened..some time ago : I've catastrophically melted, with no cover, on the sidewalk of SOHO street, uncontrollably and quite helplessly for my immune age, having unexpectedly heard my favorite poet's verses from very unlikely quarter.
It's about time I picked up my dropped jaw...

So I guess, you should try - you might be for a spectacular surprise.

Posted by: Tatyana on February 23, 2005 08:46 PM

Our separation of intellectual culture and popular culture may be, to a large extent, about getting laid. Outside of certain big city and college town scenes, a guy's gotta pride himself in his anti-intellectualism in order to be a real man.

A) That first sentence practically screams for evo-bio commentary, Michael.

B) If you had said anti-elitist in that second sentence, I wouldn't be forced to call it a load of horsecrap. You might give some thought to the medium you're using, and it's far-reaching effects.

Overall, I'm kind of shocked that so many people find so much to like about critics. Their agendas seem so transparent.

And may I note, speaking from the middle of nowheresville, it's a pleasure to find such interesting chit-chat.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on February 24, 2005 12:56 AM

What a terrific lot of artsyak. I hope y'all will forgive me if I point to it and say, I get a whole lot more out of taking part in conversations like these than I do from scanning the arts/culture/entertainment pages of mainstream publications. I used to be addicted to those pages, yet (despite the stuff that I did enjoy from traditional cultural criticism) I get much more pleasure out of joining in with whatever's emerging online. Which makes me wonder if maybe what I was looking for all along wasn't authoritative judgments or beautiful writing but instead the very direct fun of comparing notes with a band of interesting people.

Does anyone else feel that way? I mean, I'm happy to agree that criticism is its own branch of literature, and I'm happy to agree that it can be enjoyed for its own right, and happy to agree that good critics can be helpful in many ways -- tips, insights, etc. That said, I don't really miss the old culture of criticism (even if I'm fairly appalled by what's replaced it, at least on the culture/arts/entertainment pages). I'm surprised how happy I am to let all that go bye-bye. I wonder if the worthwhile-artsyak-thing is simply going to be happening (95% anyway) online from now on.

Which leads me to wonder what's going to become of the old forms of the essay and the traditional review. Online, they seem a bit stiff and stuffy. Online artsyak seems to want to be more conversational and approachable -- or maybe I'm just imposing my own tastes and preferences when I say that. My hunch is that the old hierarchy (eminences grises, geniuses, titans, authorities, etc) will be replaced by some different, more fluid and informal kind of hierarchy. Maybe instead of a Great Solo Critic, delivering himself of great writing and imposing judgments, there'll be Good Online Places to Hang and Visit instead, where people check in and take part. I dunno, sounds pretty attractive to me. I wonder if solitary genius-virtuosos will emerge from such venues, or if the happenin'-venue will become and remain the attraction. But I suppose that's all parlor-game futurology, although I'm eager to hear anyone else's hunches and bets about this.

A couple of random questions, thoughts, expostulations?

* Is it really true that yakking well about the arts doesn't impress (and soften up) girls any longer? If so, that's really sad. (After my young and cute days were over -- at about 22 years old -- I'm pretty sure that the only thing that ever got me laid was my OK way of talking about culture.) What works better these days?

* That BZMyers essay was terrific, wasn't it? A funny thing about it was that he was saying what a lot of people in the booksbiz were thinking. That was always one of the funniest things about following publishing -- how many of the people in the biz didn't like much of their own business' most high-prestige items, the "literary" stuff. I never knew quite what to make of this. For public consumption, they could all put on serious faces and talk about the greatness of this author or that book. But in private, many would roll their eyes and confess that they'd never read such stuff if they didn't have to. Is that kind of thing common in many industries? My only problem with the Myers essay, FWIW, was that it could have gone farther.

* The gay/straight/macho/male question's interesting, isn't it? Interesting too how often it came up in the course of these comments. Hey, great though the Web-world is, is there something unmanning about life in the world that sustains the Web? (Ie., high-tech corporations, gung-ho gals, gay-friendly, PC educations, global money...) The way "Fight Club" resonated with so many young guys suggests to me that that may be so. But what do I know? I'm a geezer. Any thoughts from the young dudes? Any observations from fellow geezers?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 24, 2005 02:02 AM

MB: "Is it really true that yakking well about the arts doesn't impress (and soften up) girls any longer?"

I'm in my 30s, married and live in the NYC area so this is from past experience and doesn't contradict what Nick says but I don't believe this is true. The problem is that many "artsy" guys are badly socialized and earn no money. Given the choice between two reasonable-looking Big 4 accounting partners -- one who's main hobby is golf and one who's main hobby is attending Broadway plays -- I believe the overwhelming preference among women would be for the latter. The choice is "overdetermined" (I believe I'm using that term correctly).

..."I get a whole lot more out of taking part in conversations like these than I do from scanning the arts/culture/entertainment pages of mainstream publications."

You are right that partly it's because it's nice to socialize with interesting people but the web and web forums are superior ways to promote intellectual growth. On the web, ideas are subject to withering intellectual criticism. Bad ideas are discarded much more quickly; the reader in the end simply learns more.

Posted by: JT on February 24, 2005 09:46 AM

I find more intellectual satisfaction also. I guess on the web you can quickly bypass the crap and find yourself duscussing things that interest you with intelligent self-selecting people (transaction time and costs for meeting and filtering are quite low i suppose)... It's so much harder to find real people to converse with. But then again, something's missing no?

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