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Über dieses Buch

This book examines nobrow, a cultural formation that intertwines art and entertainment into an identifiable creative force. In our eclectic and culturally turbocharged world, the binary of highbrow vs. lowbrow is incapable of doing justice to the complexity and artistry of cultural production. Until now, the historical power, aesthetic complexity, and social significance of nobrow “artertainment” have escaped analysis. This book rectifies this oversight. Smart, funny, and iconoclastic, it scrutinizes the many faces of nobrow, throwing surprising light on the hazards and rewards of traffic between high entertainment and genre art.



1. Introduction—Browbeaten into Pulp

Nobrow Positions and Oppositions

In our global and eclectic—not to say chaotic—world one might be forgiven for thinking that the opposition between highbrows and lowbrows is a thing of the past. Our introduction sketches the contours of a crossover cultural formation that has always carried—and in times of all-out prohibition, smuggled—goods between the elites and the masses. The nobrow manifestations of our culture are not freaks of nature but the cultural norm. From a critical perspective, going nobrow means acknowledging that highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow are not measures of aesthetic value, but rather sociocultural categories that help organize our cultural creations and lives.

Peter Swirski, Tero Eljas Vanhanen

2. Pop Culture and Nobrow Culture

From Li’l Abner to Discourse Theory and Back: A Culture Critic’s Odyssey

Chapter 2, Arthur Berger’s “Pop Culture and Nobrow Culture-From Li’l Abner to Discourse Theory and Back: A Culture Critic’s Odyssey” offers a personal chronicle of the birth and growth of popular culture studies. It all comes to a head in the early 1960s with the über-popular comic strip L’il Abner and an unwary graduate student, who set out to pen a thesis on it-the first American study on comic books. From the institutional tiffs and personal fallings-out to tales of piqued pride and full-scale prejudice, we get a front-row seat overview of the decades of scholarly controversies over Main Street’s assault on Art Lane.

Arthur Asa Berger

3. Nobrow, American Style

From Goldilocks to the Golden Mean

Chapter 3, Peter Swirski’s “Nobrow, American Style: From Goldilocks to the Golden Mean” defines and refines what we mean by nobrow. Starring in this part of our story are three amicable bears and a golden-curled cutie who, through an act of culinary theft, clarifies the principle that hums at the heart of artertainment. What follows is the story of nobrow as a cultural formation, as a creative strategy, and as an aesthetic reception strategy. It takes us into the inner workings of artertainment through encounters with marvels as diverse as the King of the Jungle, the grooviest of grooves, and the recent raft of award-winning “flockumentaries” spliced together from snippets of YouTube videos.

Peter Swirski

4. Middlebrow and Nobrow

Tracing Patterns Across Culture

Chapter 4, Beth Driscoll’s “Middlebrow and Nobrow: Tracing Patterns Across Culture” sets the stage for the analysis of nobrow by way of its kissing cousin—middlebrow. Where middlebrow operates in a cultural space between the elites and the masses, nobrow is a different kind of animal altogether. How different? We take a behind-the-scenes look at literary prizes on the way to a couple of murder investigations, a love-struck geneticist, and a backyard barbeque gone horribly wrong—all in the name of illuminating the junction where the elites and the masses intersect, as they do more often than many highbrows care to admit.

Beth Driscoll

5. Prequels to Nobrow

Prequels to Nobrow: from Socrates to Cervantes

Chapter 5, Kenneth Krabbenhoft’s “Prequels to Nobrow: Battles of the Brows from Socrates to Cervantes,” dials up a time machine to the beginning of Western civilization. The precursory forms of highbrow, lowbrow, and even nobrow discourse, as we quickly find out, run from Socrates to Cervantes. Moving from potato-nosed philosophers of the agora to the high-minded Don Quixote and his lowbrow sidekick Sancho Panza, we find not only constant schisms between the upper crust and the masses but also constant traffic between them as well.

Kenneth Krabbenhoft

6. Gothic Literature in America

The Nobrow Aesthetics of Murder and Madness

Chapter 6, Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet’s “Gothic Literature in America: The Nobrow Aesthetics of Murder and Madness”, brings up a steady diet of murdered doppelgängers, desecrated corpses, and queer incestuous family secrets, all found in the nobrow thrillethons from two mainstays of the nineteenth-century American literary canon, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. Taught from high schools to the Ivy Leagues, the two out-Goth the Goths in their drive to make money off the Gothic that suspect motherlode of genre fiction that branched out into modern horror, detective stories, science fiction, fantasy, and romance.

Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet

7. Neither Indian Reservation Nor Baboon Patriarchy

Science Fiction as Nobrow Phenomenon

Chapter 7, Nicholas Ruddick’s “Neither Indian Reservation Nor Baboon Patriarchy: Science Fiction as Nobrow Phenomenon,” opens with a strange encounter of the third kind between an alien crash-landed in—where else?—Roswell and that eccentric constellation of genres known as science fiction. By way of talking squids of Saturn and other marvels of nature, we map out the history of a genre successively interpreted as highbrow, then lowbrow, then highbrow again, oscillating between the polarities like a quark trapped in competing gravitational fields.

Nicholas Ruddick

8. Mambo Clothing and Australian Nobrow

Wearable Art for a Global Audience

Chapter 8, Christopher McAuliffe’s “Mambo Clothing and Australian Nobrow: Wearable Art for a Global Audience,” shows that nobrow is much more than just a pulp-magazine, literary, or filmmaking phenomenon. To make the point, it takes on a burning question: what happens when art culture comes to the beach party? For the answer we go to the Australian surfwear company Mambo. Mambo was part fart joke, part political philosophy, and part shrewd business strategy. While informed by high art and sophisticated philosophical and political theory, it played the lowbrow card, reveling in iconoclasm and toilet humor on the way to clothing the Australian Olympic team and ultimately to the art museum.

Chris McAuliffe

9. Guilty Pleasures, or Nobrow Treasures?

Popular Judgment and the Affective Economy of Taste

Chapter 9, David McAvoy’s “Guilty Pleasures, or Nobrow Treasures? Popular Judgment and the Affective Economy of Taste,” moves on from surfwear to the surfers of the Internet, trumpeting their lowbrow pleasures at the speed of light all over today’s digitally supercharged landscape. In the age of nobrow, if the pleasure gained from pure consumption justifies that consumption, where is the guilt in guilty pleasure? The nobrow map of our guilty pleasures includes the affective economies of snorting coke in nightclub restrooms, watching glorified karaoke competition, or posting unbelievably popular YouTube videos of unboxing purchases (way north of a billion views and counting).

David McAvoy

10. The Good, the Bad, and the Nobrow

Structures of Taste and Distaste in the Nobrow Age

Chapter 10, Tero Eljas Vanhanen’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Nobrow: Structures of Taste and Distaste in the Nobrow Age,” brings on the bloodsports. Mass culture at least from the time of the gladiators could always bank on the popularity of violence, with a liberal dose of blood and guts thrown in for a good measure. But what happens when the Indian scalper, the serial killer, the cannibal, or the giant radioactive man—eating rodents insinuate themselves into highbrow—by way of nobrow—culture? The answer has a lot to do with how we react to gross-out shock schlock that has designs on being more than cheap and sleazy entertainment.

Tero Eljas Vanhanen


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