Sps's Reviews > Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain

Masscult and Midcult by Dwight Macdonald
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May 07, 2012

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Read from May 07 to 13, 2012

Macdonald was several things, among them:

-Chronicler of the rise of mass culture, with its attendant effects: "The more literature became a branch of industry, the more the craving for the other extreme--individuality. Or rather, a somewhat coarser commodity, Personality." (20)

-Literary critic a la Nabokov, calling out maudlin sentiment, poshlust, and lack of careful attention:
"It is written in that fake-Biblical prose Pearl Buck used in The Good Earth, a style which seems to have a malign fascination for the midbrows--Miss Buck also got a Nobel Prize out of it. There are only two characters, who are not individualized because that would take away from the Universal Significance." (38) (Ha! See also Marianne Robinson, Dostoyevsky, etc.)

-Theorist of midcult, which "has the essential qualities of Masscult--the formula, the built-in reaction, the lack of any standard except popularity--but it decently covers them with a cultural figleaf." (35) When Midcult tries to play social critic it fails: "A soft impeachment--but Midcult specializes in soft impeachments. Its cakes are forever eaten, forever intact." (49)

-Unknowing predictor of future Internet users' behavior: "If the kind of curiousity that Time exploits is not functional, neither is it exactly 'idle' (which implies a kind of leisurely enjoyment). It is, rather, a nervous habit. As smoking gives us something to do with our hands when we aren't using them, Time gives us something to do with our minds when we aren't thinking."(212)

And there are too many other bons mots to record, e.g. the suggested opening verses of Genesis (p.175-176).
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