High-brow vs. Low-brow

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          The phrases "high-brow" and "low-brow" are unique to the English language. They are a matter of perception, and certainly Webster's definition doesn't match my own. I perceive "high-brow" and "low-brow" to be a spin of "high-class" and "low-class". Things that are "high-brow", typically appeal to an affluent portion of society who has the money to spend on goods and services that are higher quality and more expensive. They require an understanding of sophistication and culture to appreciate, and at times may stand as a status symbol. Things that are considered "low-brow" are just the opposite. They appeal to a lower social class and lack quality, which makes them inexpensive. They are also superficial in that they require no previous knowledge or culture to understand or derive entertainment from them. Though, because of the way I have tied their definitions into the idea of high and low class, the phrases "high-brow" and "low-brow" hold positive and negative connotations, respectfully, I feel it is also important to stress that at times "high-brow" does not mean better. We can see in the instances of comics, advertising, recorded music, comedy, and film that often a good or service's definition as "high-brow" or "low-brow" depends on the ideology and goals of the author, brand, musician, artist, or filmmaker. Often, we see, it is not content of the good or service itself that makes it "high-brow" or "low-brow", it is the manner in which it is presented that defines it.
 
          The concept of a comic book fitting into the category of "high-brow" can seem far removed, but according to my definition of what constitutes "high-brow" certain comics can certainly fit the bill. Maus, both book one and two, by Art Spiegelman is an excellent example of a "high-brow" comic. The comic is organized into a bound book which can be purchased in soft cover or hard cover, making it more expensive than comics sold in single magazine-like issues. It won the Pulitzer Prize Special Award, which speaks well to its high quality. The story line is heavy at times, (it's the memoir of the author's father's experience as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust) which limits its appeal to a certain audience, and requires some previous historical and cultural understandings to appreciate completely.  Green Lantern, Green Arrow by Dennis O'Neal and Neal Adams is the opposite. This comic falls under the classification of "low-brow" because it was sold as separate, inexpensive, issues. The story lines are diverse and don't carry over from issue to issue, and the plots are written solely to be entertaining. They require no previous knowledge to understand them, and make no meaningful commentary. It's the approach of the authors that cause each comic to fall into the category that it does; the label of "high-brow" and "low-brow" don't comment on the amount of pleasure or happiness received from reading them. Both Maus and Green Lantern, Green Arrow were well received with they were published, and are still being read. Both were successful despite one being labeled as "low-brow"  
 
          Advertisements, too, are a representation of their respective brands, just as comic books are representative of their authors. Every brand carries a different ideology and appeals to different audiences. Companies that seek to sell more expensive high quality goods must use a more "high-brow" approach advertising to capture their desired audience. Take the new "high-brow" Audi commercial "The Art of Progress", for instance. The good, in this case a car, being advertised carries the price and quality factors of my definition, but the advertisement encompasses the other elements. It shows abstract images of engineers working on intricate parts of a car, images that would be appreciated most with pervious cultural knowledge of how industry works, and it ends with an image of the Audi logo, something that many would consider a status symbol. Staying within the realm of automotive advertising, a "low-brow" example would be considered the Toyota commercial "Swagger Wagon". The commercial, which advertises the new inexpensive (compared to an Audi) Sienna minivan, seeks to promote it as "hip and modern" by reaching out to audiences using an absurd rap--an approach much less intellectual and cultural than Audi's. By the brands using "high-brow" or "low-brow" advertising in accordance to the audience they are trying to reach, they are able to make the important connections that will convince consumers to buy.
           
          When analyzing recorded music, the distinction between "high-brow" and "low-brow" becomes harder to determine. All recorded music is about the same price, and though the quality of a recording can be judged, at times distortion and other 'defects' are an element of the music. The best terms that music can be judged on are cultural understandings. The song "Gettysburg" by the band Ratatat, for example, is a full instrumental piece. It uses symbolic music to interpenetrate the historic battle. It appeals to an audience with intellect, sophistication, and culture, and that makes it "high-brow". On the other hand, songs such as "Low" by hip hop artist Flo Rida appear to be "low-brow" since it appeals to audiences on a more direct, less intellectual base; the sex message in the song is clear and requires no creative interpretation.
 
          Comedy can also be either highbrow or lowbrow, depending in its presentation. Late comedian George Carlin focuses his stand up routines to be "high-brow" by commenting on topics that are rather serious in nature. In skits such as "The Ten Commandments Broken Down," Carlin sends a humorous, but nevertheless intelligent, sophisticated message that requires previous cultural knowledge to appreciate. Comedian Dane Cook, however, shows the "low-brow" aspect of comedy by using obvious, and at time perverse, observations ot make the audience laugh. For example, his skit "Monopoly" reaches out to suggest to the audience that the board game is monotonous in a humorous way.  Neither sophistication nor culture is required to understand it, but that might be the reason why he is so beloved by his fans
 
          As different films send different messages and are intended for different audiences, films can be both "high-brow" and "low-brow".  Even though the film "Outsourced" wasn't a high budget film, I would consider it to be "high-brow" because it revolves around cultural aspects that wouldn't be understood without pervious knowledge of the world's economic situation. The film bridges the gap between America and India and tells the story of an American business professional who has to travel over seas to train a new call center. The film goes on to present the more sophisticated theme of growing understanding between the two countries. "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", despite being a high-budget film, would fall into my "low-brow" category because of the content of the film.  The plot is simply the story of how far a young boy is willing to go in order to impress the girl that he likes, specifically defeating her seven evil ex's. No sophistication or intellect is necessary to understand message of the film, and there is no greater meaning to be derived.
 
          In the cases of comics, advertisements, recorded music, comedy, and film, it is clear that almost anything can be "high-brow" or "low-brow" depending how it's spun. Even though goods or services being defined as "high-brow" implies that they are "high-class" never exclusively means that they are better than "low-brow" good or services. Each classification has their purpose and can achieve success by being good at what they are, "high-brow" or "low-brow" aside.

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