John Seabrook, The New Yorker's "Buzz Studies" writer, deftly conveys the hubbub of modern pop culture, the blending of highbrow and lowbrow tastes, into a new sensibility he dubs "Nobrow." In Nobrowland, nobody can sell out, because art and commerce have fused like colliding electrons. America used to be split between "stark intellectuality and the plane of stark business," but now, as Puff Daddy observes, "It's all about the Benjamins [$100 bills]." It's not just that an Oxford-bred guy like Seabrook is a connoisseur of Biggie Smalls, it's that everyone, high and low, wants to feel part of the Buzz, to soak up the power of celebrity success. Puffy's rap hit constitutes "merchandising, advertising, salary-boasting, and art all at once," says Seabrook. Nowadays, "commercial culture has to do the work that both high and folk culture used to do--not only enlighten and teach but bond families and communities."
Nobrow is itself a work of Nobrow art, shape-shifting like a Beck tune: it's art appreciation, memoir, social history, high-altitude academic theory, and shoe-leather reporting all at once. Seabrook captures world-historical figures in action: George Lucas, MTV's Judy McGrath, music exec Danny "Nirvana" Goldberg, and kabillionaire David Geffen, who helped bring you Tom Cruise and DreamWorks. The big book on Geffen may be The Operator, but Seabrook can nail him in a phrase: "The boredom in his eyes, which seemed on the verge of spilling over into other parts of his face, was held in check by his lively eyebrows." And no one has outdone Seabrook's jaunty account of his elite magazine's Nobrowification by Tina Brown, who established "a hierarchy of hotness."
Seabrook doesn't score on every shot, but it's fun to watch him play. He's like a kid brother to his cult idol, George W.S. Trow, author of the prescient 1978 classic Within the Context of No Context. If Eustace Tilley, The New Yorker's famous monocled snob icon, got zonked on "chronic bubonic" pot and gangsta rap, he might have written this dizzy yet erudite book. Indeed, one might not be altogether amiss in calling it "da bomb." --Tim Appelo [via]