Growing up, I was surrounded by a lowbrow smorgasbord of R.L. Stine, Salute Your Shorts, and Mortal Kombat. Instead of reading Chaucer, I double-fisted Goosebumps and the Babysitter’s Club. I Chose My Own Adventure and got diphtheria on the Oregon Trail. I listened to explicit rap. And though critics may feign horror at my culturally-deficient childhood full of commercial drivel, I thoroughly enjoyed not being a hoity-toity opera kid. (Plus, as a member of the cultural underclass, I was always able to make fun of the highbrows and their pretentious madras pants.)
I mention this background only because I’m about to double back faster than Joe Barton not apologizing for apologizing for apologizing (yes, you read that right). Now, as a slightly-more cultured adult, I’m concerned that true art is dead. In my view, we’re suffering from an ugly, modern-day Dark Ages (or perhaps, Twilight Ages?): hundreds of years later, historians will look back on this era, from the neon parachute pants of the ’80s to the plasticized “real” housewives of today, and they’ll think, “Jeez. What was in the water back then?”
You might not agree with me, but let’s take a look at this era in music, literature, and the arts. In music, Michael Jackson is the singular ray of enlightenment. He doesn’t have the same feel-good story as deaf Mozart or orphaned Bach, but his legend is still comparable. Fine, I’ll give you MJ. Let’s move onto literature, where we’ve failed to produce any seminal work outside of wizards and vampires in the last 20 years. Outside of those two series, I can’t think of any book that has garnered attention as an “instant literary classic.” (Maybe James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, but that only comes to mind because of the Oprah shakedown.) And finally, I am hard-pressed to name a contemporary artist today who works outside of TV or film. Maybe this is ignorance, but I’m guessing that we’ll never see the likes of another famous Picasso or Warhol in our future, tech-centered world. After all, why spend years painting some masterpiece when you can just Photoshop?
So what are the implications of this? Well, I’m worried that kids won’t be able to write sentences longer than 140 characters. I’m afraid that genuine laughter at the theater will soon be replaced by muttering “LOL.” And I’m terrified that Snooki is a household name.
But then again, my fun-killing crossover self is probably just resisting the inevitable change in our definition of art. Perhaps hundreds of years later, we’ll have redefined “highbrow culture” to comprise of scatalogical humor and excessive hair spray. Maybe then we’ll recognize the Twi-Hards as a social and literary movement akin to the Beats.
But I hope not. Because as a card-carrying member of the current cultural underclass, I still reserve my right to make fun of the hoity highbrows. And I won’t be able to do that if I’m one of them.