Book Review: Nobrow, The Culture of Marketing. The Marketing of Culture by John Seabrook

I just couldn't get into this book.   I found it completely self-referential with little bits of cultural insight dropped in like easter eggs. 

The book is supposed to be about "The culture of marketing and the marketing of culture," or more specifically how mass marketing has completely removed cultural distinctions, so that there is no longer an elite culture, simply a marketed culture.  

At one point he notes that when you take away cultural distinctions, (wearing a suit is more High-Brow than wearing a T-shirt), all interaction between socioeconomic classes becomes only about the money, and thus more difficult.   But I had to wade through tedious discussions about breakfast with his father, and his navel-gazing guilt about being too tired to argue with him.  I suppose the agonizing description of his father's closet had meaning, but I just found it tedious and drawn out.

At one point,Seabrook brings up President Clinton's use of polls to make decisions, in effect abdicating responsibility for those decisions.  This merits discussion far beyond the class distinctions in culture, to analysis of the lack of leadership and our propensity to replace educated policy with popularity contests.    I also found myself comparing Clinton to Pontius Pilate, who crucifed Jesus after asking the masses. Now there's a discussion to sink your teeth into.

While there may be many more cultural insights buried throughout this book, I, personally do not have the patience to weed through this guy's not-so-interesting life to find them.


Fri, 01/02/2009 - 4:43pm

Sounds like a good subject handled poorly. 

On the "lack of leadership and our propensity to replace educated policy with popularity contests"... I just verbally and publically shot someone at work down for emailing our whole company about Obama.  The guy felt it necessary to point out that Obama was not even in office yet and was asking for ideas on how to handle health care.  He made the comment that Obama had all the answers when he was campaigning.  I asked him how he could possibly find it offensive that our president elect was asking to get the people involved instead of dictating.  I also pointed out that Obama was blasted for speaking in generalities more than once, so he did not "have all the answers."

So, since the book sucked and didn't create any discussion on what it was supposed to be about, let's talk about this.  I see where someone could turn things into a popularity contest, but what is the point for an already-President Clinton?  What is the point for an already-elected Obama?  The job of the President is to be a decision maker.  It does not matter who comes up with an idea, it is who enacts it that is responsible.  If we the people told the President, even unanimously, that we wanted the US to attack Canada, who has the power to make it happen?

Speaking of a popularity contest, does it really help?  How did GWB get in on a second term?  We all know he is dumb, yet he squeaked into a second term.

Back to the book (a little bit)...

I think I may mistake culture as ethnicity.  It is depressing that Americans don't really have any old traditions.  Hmmm, how to explain?  I am driven mad by a beautiful East Indian woman performing a traditional dance.  My heart starts racing to see the Maori of New Zealand perform rituals, whether it be warriors or funerals.  Back to women again, I love watching an African woman performing a traditional dance.  Germans breaking out into song in a restaurant.  The Melanasians singing as they walked along the beach in The Thin Red Line.  I am a "one world" kind of thinker, but it has been pointed out in something I read (probably was something I read because of Daniel Quinn) that we must have cultural (ethnic) diversity.  Just like most things, I can't remember why, only that the point made a lot of sense.

Consumerism and marketing removing cultural distinctions is certainly a bad thing.  I guess I would have to read the book to understand more of what the author is trying to say, but it doesn't sound like it will be high on my priority list.

Wed, 01/28/2009 - 10:02am

In this book, it's more about High and Low brow White culture (champagne vs beer, opera vs yankees), with an occasional foray into white appropriation of ethnic cultures.   Which is another reason I found it tedious, it seemed to be clinging to an out-dated norm while at the same time trying to explain, and lament its demise.