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The Middle Mind: Why Consumer Culture is Turning Us Into the Living Dead

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  320 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Creeping into art, literature, politics and the media, sliding into living rooms and coming soon to a cinema near you the Middle Mind has arrived. Join Curtis White on a crusade against tedium as he takes on this bland, no-thinking-required product' that passes for culture in America and that we've signed up and paid for in full too. It's not about high- or low-brow, it's ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published February 24th 2010 by Penguin Books (first published August 19th 2003)
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Average rating 3.38  · 
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MJ Nicholls
Nov 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: merkins, non-fiction
I have been at war with ‘middlebrow’ novels for a while now, or publishers that sell novels with pastoral covers and wistful bucolic pictures. This stretches into an innate loathing of the acceptance of unoriginal, topical, and content-driven novels, where the author’s life story is of greater currency, and the content is interchangeable (i.e. Arab Spring the same as doomed romantic encounter). White’s entertaining and substantial thesis expands on this notion of middlebrow (Middle Mind) and ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had no real urge to read this, wasn't even considering reading this approaching the weekend turnbuckle, and then one hasty, ill-considered decision made in the leg-hopping throes of imminent dumpage meant that Barrett and Kagan received a notice of postponement while I attended myself (as quickly as possible, mind) to this infuriatingly readable thing, an ode to giving Terry Gross and Charlie Rose and all of their cud-chewing, middle-minded followers an overdue beat-down in the hope of ...more
Aug 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
Curtis White does not clearly define the "Middle Mind" or clearly explain "Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves". For example, he does not define an Upper Mind or a Lower Mind and he does not explain how Americans think for someone other than themselves. Much is unclear in this rambling jumble, which includes little sociological or scientific data to support whatever claims it makes. Basically, it seems that the Middle Mind is represented by a liberal who doesn't challenge the status quo. To ...more
Mar 22, 2010 rated it did not like it
An epically frustrating book. I expected the book to be about the ills of the progressive suburban mind (the thoughts of those people who drive around listening to Terri Gross on NPR or watch to Charlie Rose with rapt attention), and it kind of is, but mainly it's 200 pages - and thankfully not longer - of Curtis White railing against the world. Sometimes, there is some rather insightful commentary. Nice critiques include how the Terri Gross/Charlie Rose interview true artists and hacks with the ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this a long time ago it was a nineties version critique of middlebrow culture back when people at least a dwindling few made such distinctions between highbrow Lowbrow and the middlebrow. Phenomena of iSnobs (intellectual snob) which I sometimes fall into when I let my ego go or my head swell. Enjoyed the book at the time and felt smarter than the unwashed philistines while reading it. And then I let my head unswell I suppose everyone likes an ego boost now and again.
Jun 02, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The first few dozen pages seem really promising, but it's all downhill from there. He comes off as talking out his ass about half the time, and if you don't like the same bands/academic theorists/radio programs as he does, then you clearly aren't enlightened. Heck, he's even disappointed in his friends' level of enlightenment.

He mentions the need not to water important subjects down into easily digestible bits--into sensationalist headlines--for the Middle Minded public to understand, which I
Jeff Bursey
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I re-read this because I liked how Curtis White lays out his argument; I had the same disgust at _Saving Private Ryan_, and the people I saw it with reacted much like those friends White talks about.

This book isn't densely argued, hedged by authorities, or written at a low temperature (though I'm sure it could be more intemperate). It's not meant to be cautious, but to provoke thought (though it can also provoke despair), and it succeeds.
Jul 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
He was my teacher at Illinois State, so a grain of salt.

The best teacher I've ever had. Old school: he talked, we listened. We asked questions, he always had answers. Plus he once called a hairdo he had in the 60s a "haircut of despair." Which is still the funniest thing.
It's hard to know how to rate this book. On the one hand, I think the author's basic ideas are extremely important: we need to "think change" and not just be content to passively consume media in order to feed our human need for creativity. But I would have found his arguments much more convincing had he given more examples. Instead, each point is based on a single rant against some movie/critic/show/etc. that the author doesn't like. I wasn't familiar with many of these, so I could only take ...more
Adam Ross
White is swiftly becoming one of my favorite contrarian thinkers. In this book he takes on the notion of the Middle Mind, what he views as an intellectual and imaginative shallows of Western, and particularly American, life and culture. In essence, the Middle Mind is a place where any thought is permissible, so long as it doesn't matter. In this case, to "matter" means to open up social imaginaries outside of the status quo. Artists and creatives can posit any radical idea they want, so long as ...more
Ryan Mishap
Dec 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
I confess that I only got this because I read that he takes on Fresh Air and Terry Gross and I was excited to read criticism of that lousy program.
Anyway, like other philosophy/etc. books I've read, he seems to say a lot and not really say anything new. If I figured the main thesis right: art is good and beautiful and can save us and the environment (because the thinking and creativity required for art can do anything, yah), but most of our culture isn't art at all but mediocre entertainment
Jan 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
This has been the most stimulating and worthwhile read that I have experienced in a long time. For good reason White is critical of conventional ways in America. In this book he explores and examines the limitations of modern thinking and actions that arise from them. In being Canadian I find America to be a very relevant influence on Canadian lives. In many ways the politics of Stephen Harper are inseparable from some of these troubling tendencies of the American middle mind as White refers to ...more
Feb 13, 2008 rated it liked it

White is really smart. And he's right on target. About half the time.

He can't seem to break out of the indignation that the world around him isn't as avant-garde as he needs it to be. Middlebrow isn't as bad a thing as he wants to make it out to be. Frustrating, yes. Bad, indeed. Harmful, cheap, etc.

But it does give people a more than your daily dose of insight and opportunity for investigation.

I read this so long ago, I can't remember too much of his specifics.

I remember being vehemently in
Gregory's Lament
Mar 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I remember reading this book. I remember enjoying it. I don't remember what it's about. Social criticism of some sort. Quoted a lot of academics and poets. Seemed to make too much of whatever it was about. Or not.
Jun 15, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pastreads
Senility: At some point the wisdom of a fiery veteran becomes the bitter raving of a crazy old man.
Oct 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, art
Let's to describe this book - maybe steaming pile of shit sums it up nicely. In fairness I got what I deserved, because I only picked this up to read his evisceration of the vapid Terry Gross of NPR Fresh Air fame. The author, writing from a leftist ivory tower, posits the 'orginal' idea (note the ironic quote marks) that entertainment is a tool of capitalism to lull the masses and control what they think. (You don't believe this? Just look at Walt Disney.) How an 'ism' can be so ...more
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
I am not sure why I bought this book other than it was half-priced at the going-out-of-business sale at our local independent bookstore and I found the title intriguing. I agree with the main thesis of the book in that culture in AmeriKa is a mindless,and numbing cultural milieu that surrounds us. I think the author believes he is defining the MIDDLE MIND, but I finished the book not really sure of what it is. I guess it is somewhere between the right and the left, the living and the dead, the ...more
Christopher DeMarcus
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
It's hard to only give this book three stars, at the same time I want to only give it two. White's writing is keen and his analysis of the lack of hierarchy in cultural critique, the problem of illusions of equality in all things, should be celebrated. However, even for a crank like me, White is too cranky. His whip lash critique takes on issues with an almost whining, bullied tone. That being said, White is no idiot. But unlike cranky professors that can inject a heavy dose of humour and irony, ...more
Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology, nonfiction
I picked this up, after having seen Curtis White mentioned in the Paris Review, and with the hope that it would explain why so many Americans are enamored with the walking nightmare of Donald Trump. But I was disappointed. As others have noted, the book starts out strong/interesting, and then fails to hold any coherent structure. The main message I got was that White hates just about everything in American culture (especially Terry Gross, Lord, he loathes Terry Gross) and eschews the ...more
Feb 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Curtis White's "The Middle Mind: Why Consumer Culture is Turning Us into the Living Dead" is an interesting critical approach to the American culture through the analysis of the "Middle Mind" - the portion of American culture that White believes is destroying intellectual thought and critical thinking.

I enjoyed this book, as White's writing is humorous and cogent. However, his arguments often trail off and devolve into tangents, a style that prevented me from enjoying the finer points of the
White's concept of "the middle mind"--essentially, a new twist on the old idea of "midcult" art or "middlebrow" thinking--ultimately seems both over-simple and over-familiar, and he doesn't really follow it through. Thus, the book lacks a coherent thesis, instead turning into a loose compilation of rants about things that tick-off White about American life today. However, American life today offers him plenty to work with, and few current ranters can boast his wit, erudition, and penetrating ...more
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An invigorating read! White takes on much of contemporary America, attacking the purveyors of entertainment and the "middle mind" before finally concluding with a call to find the new American sublime. Some of his riffs are a bit dated; I found White's broadsides on Terri Gross and Nick Hornby a lot more interesting than the ones against Dick Cheney and the war in Iraq. But these are quibbles. When White declares, "What waits beyond the lie is the sublime," I feel like shouting, "Amen, brother." ...more
Roger Buck
Nov 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps five stars is a tad generous. Still, easily four stars for a penetrating analysis of a grave world problem: Media as a form of social control, eliminating thinking, eliminating questioning. Much of the book is "merely" acute (and often witty, even hilarious). But beyond that is really quite profound thought, I feel. I have reviewed the book at much greater length here:
Sep 14, 2012 rated it did not like it
I just basically plowed thorugh this book like a steroid-fueled, caffeine-overdosed ox on a barren, rocky field. Not sure if I am too dense to understand or the book too dense for me to understand. I have rough inkling of what the author intended to convey, by mere glance at its title and skimming through the pages (the book does have the occasional flash of brilliance), but overall it merits a mere star from me.
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book (hence the 4 stars!!) It introduced me to a lot of new ideas and philosophy that I hadn't know before and made notes on so I could follow up. I certainly agree with White's premise that we're too content not to think for ourselves. And to trust in people and positions that have proven to be untrustworthy. But how do we change it??? I read one review that said the reviewer read this book once a year. That might not be a bad idea.
Apr 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
It is hard to write a review for a book that is filled with so many great ideas. White is funny and easy to read even as he deals with the most depressing and disturbing material. I love his work because he believes that creativity can change the world but he is not a sloppy idealist. He is a pragmatist but refuses to settle for the mediocre. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys thinking critically about the world.
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is more of White's glossy literary roladex than a hearty examination of the mediocrity that is in full force of the American "middle mind." However, it is still useful as an introductory text for influential theoretical thinkers whose ideas have the potential for usurping hegemonic power structures colonizing American mythicized "high-culture".... that is if you can stomach the excessive name-dropping and low grade pop anecdotes.
Jun 11, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'd like to know exactly how much weed this guy burned through while writing this because that's probably how much it would take for me to tolerate reading it.

"Everyone else is a mindless, nonthinking sheep, mindlessly trotting through a haze of capitalist homogenized culture. It is only I who am truly awake!"

If you liked this book, all you need to do is convince every other American who felt this way to write their own. Then you'd have 300 million more to read. :/
Jan 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A lot of reasonable, level headed people identify themselves as moderates. Curtis White believes that identification is not reasonable in of itself, if the position is derived from intellectual laziness. He finds the titular "Middle Mind" at work in all spectra of life.

Look for the public radio excoriation.
Mark Valentine
Mar 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mediocre America would be a better title. White skewers our pop culture and our fads and fetishes and showed me how there is no excuse for sloppy thinking. I particularly enjoyed this book for its vigorous defense of that which challenges us. I recommend it to anyone who wants to make himself or herself better.

Reading White is required.
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“The Middle Mind attempts to find a middle way between the ideological hacks of the right and of the theorized left. Unlike Middle-brow, the Middle Mind does not locate itself between high and low culture. Rather, it asserts its right to speak for high culture indifferent to both the traditionalist right and the academic left. The Middle Mind is pragmatic, plainspoken, populist, contemptuous of the right's narrowness, and incredulous before the left's convolutions. It is adventuresome, eclectic, spiritual, and in general agreement with liberal political assumptions about race, gender, and class.” 0 likes
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