The Corner

Wholesome Fun, and Thoughts on Culture High and Low

Thanks to all the readers who took the time to write in on roller derby! Thought I’d pass along a couple of favorites. From Flint, Mich.:

I went to see the Flint City Derby Girls, and after some soul-searching, took my 11-year-old son along too. I need not have feared exposing him to anything outré; yes, the costumes were a little outlandish, but in reality they were just silly, and the environment was extremely family friendly and would have been blown away in the debauchery dept. by any 10 minutes of TV we might have seen had we stayed home and turned it on (which we never do). You should go sometime. (Next time you’re in Flint, Michigan.)

 And this delightful one, from a proud dad:

This referee in the amateur, all-women, flat-track Memphis Roller Derby league is my daughter! Until about 9 months ago the Director of Production at Opera Memphis. Hence the registered name “AriaScared.”

Opera and roller derby! And why not? I think one of the few things self-conscious “postmodernists” get right is the desire to efface distinctions between high culture and low culture. The distinction between “high” and “low” in this context too often boils down to judging an activity or an art object by which social-class level of people it attracts — which I think does a serious disservice to the object. If you listened to recordings of Ivor Novello or George Formby songs in Britain in 1935, you were most likely a working-class devotee of the music hall; if you listen to recordings of Ivor Novello or George Formby songs in New York today, you are most likely an upper-class aesthete. So are Ivor Novello and George Formby high culture or low culture? And why should we care? The important thing is to grasp and enjoy what they can do.

Similarly, I personally think watching cars driving around in circles is one of the most boring activities imaginable. Does that mean I am an upper-class-wannabe snob, looking down my nose at the rednecks who like NASCAR? Or does it mean I’m a working-class rebel, seething with contempt for the Euro-elite who attend the Grand Prix at Le Mans? High or low — who cares? What’s important is that millions of people have a joy in auto racing that I don’t share; it’s something I don’t “get,” and I am the poorer for it.

The democratization of high culture, and the increased appreciation for the true beauties of pop/”low” culture — I think that both are on the rise in the U.S., and that both are very positive developments.

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