28 11 11 - 20:44Shades of what happened to those of us who tried to explore masskultur:
Despite his sharp eye for targets, Macdonald often drew a bazooka when a pistol would do. In part, his overblown rhetoric reflects the exigencies of another time, when the world was divisible into axes and alliances, a Manichaean system set on purging itself of the enemies within. âThe enemy outside the gates is easy enough to repel,â he would say in an interview. âBut when you have fifth columnists inside culture, inside high culture, then it becomes more difficult tactically.â Another of Macdonaldâs metaphors has all the charm of a eugenicistâs manifesto: âThe danger to High Culture is not so much from Masscult as from a peculiar hybrid bred from the latterâs unnatural intercourse with the former.â By the end of âMasscult and Midcult,â Macdonaldâs warnings about âthe danger to High Cultureâ are so noisy and distraught that they bring to mind Dr. Strangeloveâs General Ripper, bug-eyed and beaded in a cold-war sweat, squawking about foreign substances poisoning our precious bodily fluids.
Macdonald envisioned two possible solutions to the impasse: conquest or dÃ©tente. Either the masses would be folded into High Culture (an impossibility, according to everything else he wrote) or High and Low would find a way to live and let live (even in this latter scenario, the âfifth columnâ of Midcult was still a problem). What he didnât foresee was how quickly such distinctions would cease to matter. The postmodern blob was coming; artists like Andy Warhol were about to explode the walls Macdonald had been so jealously guarding. Citing the profusion in the â60s of such unclassifiable works as Sgt. Pepperâs and Portnoyâs Complaint, Menand writes:
The old hierarchical schemes didnât work on this stuff, and there emerged a fresh critical mode, articulated by critics like Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael, that was specifically designed to engage with it, to evaluate it, and to make it interesting to educated people. A great river of pop, camp, playful, performative, outrageous, over-the-top cultural products flooded the scene, and Macdonaldâs system of cultural judgment was left stranded on the far shore.
Even before the pop-cultural upheaval of the â60s, Macdonald clung to art created before 1930, unable to appreciate the strains of Modernism that developed in the decades that followed, scoffing at everything from Abstract Expressionism (âglobs and gloobsâ) to the lean prose of Samuel Beckett (âminutiaâ). He also had a predilection, perhaps not surprising for a man of his time, for a certain type of virile authorial presence, which a âlady novelistâ like Virginia Woolf failed to satisfy. (He said he preferred George Eliot, âwhom I really donât consider a woman writer at all.â) In interviews and essays, Macdonald used words like âimpatientâ and âboredâ to convey his reaction to any work that didnât suit his self-described âclassicalâ tastes. - The Nation
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band isn't one dimensional sugar pop, but it's two dimensional pop. It has both simplicity and irony. It thinks it is unique and an outsider voice. Instead, it is like every other voice, calling out "pity me, it's not my fault, it's the fault of... the Others... and don't judge me, I'm equal."