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Nobrow : The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture Paperback – February 6, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1ST edition (February 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375704515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375704512
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Culture in America is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Aimed at reinforcing class distinctions, the terms "highbrow" (signifying traditionally elite European culture) and "lowbrow" (meaning commercial culture aimed at the masses) were popularized by H.L. Mencken and Van Wyck Brooks in the century's first decade. In this breezy cultural analysis and memoir, Seabrook (Deeper: My Two-Year Odyssey in Cyberspace) delineates the subsequent blurring of the genres in U.S. culture. Drawing upon his experiences of writing for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, Seabrook traces how "nobrow"--in which "commercial culture is a source of status, rather then the thing the elite defines itself against"--has radically changed how we view both high and low art. Setting his arguments against a tableau of rich and famous buzz-brokers--Talk magazine editor Tina Brown, studio head David Geffen, producer George Lucas--Seabrook manages to be simultaneously gossipy and insightful. Along the way he makes smart points about the role that social privilege plays in establishing taste, how advertising functions by validating social identity and how cultural hierarchies hinge more on power than on taste. Seabrook's mixture of the personal and the analytical is always animated and intriguing, but his analysis is so strong that, by the end, readers may wish for more meat and less memoir. Agent, Joy Harris. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Furthermore, it does not even seem to have a thesis.
Good Bye
When I got the chance to read it, I settled in for what I thought would be an afternoon with the book.
brian d foy
Not really bad, this book is primarily a disappointment.
Marcy L. Thompson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Jack Rocher on May 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
I searched amazon under "nobrow" and discovered another book on the same sumject, though infinitely better than Seabrook's self-indulgent musings (see the first 3-4 reviews below, they tell the whole story). From Lowbrow to Nobrow by Peter Swirski is lucid, engaging, intellectually stimulating and funny, on top of leaving Seabrook's superficial analysis in the dust (nobrow literary culture, it appears has been around for a century at least).

In fact I'd go so far as to say Swirski's book (released very recent too) is the ultimate study of the subject, at least according to the dean of popular culture studies, Ray Browne, who praises it in the editorial. Check it out for yourself, you're in for hours of happy reading.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Marcy L. Thompson VINE VOICE on July 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is not as interesting as it sounds. The author has a single insight which he strings out over several hundred pages of gloriously self-indulgent prose.
The book sounded intriguing, so I bought it. The basic idea was interesting so I started to read it. The writing was facile and fluent, so I kept on reading, hoping to find something in it besides self-indulgent reflections on popular culture and how cool the author is to be on the "inside".
I believe that MTV has some kind of deep meaning, but this book's discussion of it fails to uncover that meaning. I suppose there is something new to say about Tina Brown and the New Yorker -- this book fails to say it.
This book holds the promise of explaining what the convolutions of the New yorker in recent years mean as a parable of the changing cultural mores. However, and sadly, it fails to deliver on its promise, and in the end is a self-indulgent memoir of one man's odessey through popular culture.
Not really bad, this book is primarily a disappointment.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on November 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Although the title looked enticing, I was greatly disappointed as I read this slim volume. I was vaguely told what "Nobrow" was, but no whys, no wherefores. Was it a celebration of Nobrow or a critique? The book contains profiles of what the author sees as noted Nobrow figures, like David Geffen and George Lucas. They seemed to be re-edited New Yorker articles, and are nice as they go, but after 200 or so pages, I still don't have much of a clue as to what Nobrow really is. I did, however, learn who the author was. He seems to be the sub-text of this book. We know he is a feature writer at the New Yorker, a Princeton grad, and lives somewhere in Tribeca. If you want to read a book about today's culture and its roots, read Thomas Franks' The Conquest of Cool. If you want to read a book about the New Yorker, try Bright Lights, Big City. At least it's more honest.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In much the same way that Henry Adams skewered the cultural pretensions and greed of America's robber barons at the end of the nineteenth century, Seabrook portrays the status-hungry vapidness of today's fin de siecle media barons. His portraits of George Lucas and David Geffen, alone in their California fantasylands, are creepy, funny, and ultimately damning. Nobrow's surreal opening scene--a walk through Time's Square on Clinton's inaugeration day--perfectly encapsulates Seabrook's larger themes. We now live in a culture where everyone and everything are for sale. This book is superb.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Grant McKee on June 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
John Seabrook's "Nobrow" fails on just about every level. The basic concept of this book is to explain how today's culture no longer separates activities and art into distinctions of "highbrow" and "lowbrow," and that really anything can be for anybody, albeit with slight modifications. As an example (assuming I'm reading this right), you could look at the world of fashion, where fashion icon trendsetters like actors and musicians might throw together an outfit based on stuff they found at thrift stores, clearly a source for lowbrow items. However, because this celebrity has sported this fashion, designers across the world will mimic this style, placing similar clothing styles, with better craftsmanship, in boutiques where the similar article of clothing may sell for hundreds of times what the celebrity paid for their initial outfit. The people buying the designer duds are purchasing them, thinking it's a "highbrow" investment, when really the same thing can be had at a "lowbrow" establishment (the thrift store), thus this item has transcended the easy identification and fallen into the realm of Seabrook's "nobrow."

Regretfully, he never explains what this has to do with marketing, as promised in the subtitle "The Culture of Marketing + The Marketing of Culture." Sure, there are snippets of this, particularly in the chapter discussing the band Radish and the "kid band" craze that also happened to involve Hanson. I'm willing to give Mr. Seabrook the benefit of the doubt, and maybe the publisher just wanted to attach that subtitle in an effort to convey the essence of the book to the short attention span-addled customer at the local Barnes & Noble.

The book succeeds in certain parts.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By JPN on April 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
We all sense a radical change going on in the culture, I think, and it leaves most of us uneasy and confused. Old ways of judging and thinking about art, class and culture seem obsolete. But what, if anything, is replacing the old ways? Should we lament the passing of the venerable but elitist "high-brow, low-brow" distinctions? Or should we feel liberated? Is the ascendency of marketing and buzz leading us to cultural doom? Or are we somehow muddling forward to a new and ultimately richer, more democratic form of culture?
To his credit, Seabrook doesn't deliver pat answers to questions like these. Who can know at this stage? What he does, brilliantly, is to parse the questions and dissect the culture in completely fresh and illuminating ways. The hardest thing to pull off in the midst of swirling change and chaos is to impose a bit of order, to see a few things clearly. This is hard work and Seabrook has done it well - and not just idly from his armchair but by venturing forth into the new world and embracing it and providing us with irreverent portraits of perplexing new avatars like David Geffen, George Lucas and the haunchos at MTV.
The book is also very funny, as it ought to be given the material. There's a lot of Seabrook in the book, which is good because he's as honest and blunt about himself and his high-brow background and his New Yorker peers (especially Tina Brown) as he is about everything else. Like our new culture, the book swirls with energy and challenging ideas. You can't read it and view the world the same way afterwards. Bravo!
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