There was a time when just about anything — dumb commercial entertainment, ugly clothes, the weird dishes your grandmother used to serve — could be appreciated and appropriated in quotation marks. Strained pulp is not quite that — its celebration of the formerly marginal and disreputable is serious and sincere. The condescension is not overt but is latent in the desire to correct and improve the recipes retrieved from the past, to finish vernacular artifacts with a highbrow glaze. We’re going to make ’em — movies, cocktails, regional dishes, zombie novels, garage-rock anthems — just the way they used to, but a little bit better. This strikes me as a form of snobbery. But then again, maybe I’m the snob.
High-feminine instead of fetishistically masculine, glittery rather than gritty, and daring in its conception of character, “Sex and the City” was a brilliant and, in certain ways, radical show. It also originated the unacknowledged first female anti-hero on television: ladies and gentlemen, Carrie Bradshaw.
Why is the show so often portrayed as a set of empty, static cartoons, an embarrassment to womankind? It’s a classic misunderstanding, I think, stemming from an unexamined hierarchy: the assumption that anything stylized (or formulaic, or pleasurable, or funny, or feminine, or explicit about sex rather than about violence, or made collaboratively) must be inferior.
A mature culture is one which wishes to know more about other cultures, and which values the best examples of what it has of them, and which is better able to appreciate them because it has standards and insights developed in appreciation of its own.
It was the African figures in the Louvre that inspired Picasso. That one fact alone could serve to remind us how porous high culture is, in both directions, and how symbiotic the existence of all cultures is, especially in the globalised world. When receptive sensibilities engage with the artefacts of the past and other civilisations, they are nourished by them and learn from them, not least how to be discerning.
Everyday Tastes from High-brow to Low-brow. Life Magazine, 1949.