Wednesday, March 18, 2009


This opinion column in Inside Higher Ed today is pretty interesting. Scott McLemee is responding to an essay by Washington Post fiction critic Ron Charles. Said fiction critic is attacking college readers for choosing the popular vampire Twilight books over more intellectual reading endeavors.

Charles, I fear, is making the mistake that McLemee says he is. It might be true that juvenile fiction like the Gossip Girl books are popular and low-brow, but that is no different from other forms of popular culture at any point in history. Intellectuals have always been a small and elite segment of society. It may be that popular fiction produces low-brow things like vampire romances, but is that really any different from the yellow journalism or other popular music of the past? If you took a look at everything, and not just the classics that survived time, I think you'd end up with roughly the same proportions of high-brow to low-brow that we have today.

If anything, access to high-brow literature, music, and other forms of entertainment has become easier over time. There are fewer barriers to entry for becoming an intellectual than there were in the past, although intellectuals still tend to be a fairly homogenous group. Rather than criticizing the masses for their love of vampire fiction (some of which intellectuals read as a "guilty pleasure") I think we ought to spend our time thinking about how to increase access to the so-called intellectual society.

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