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The Slate exchange did let him express what is sounds like his main point:

"There is nothing more conventional—on the left and the right—than the suggestion that the pop culture out there caters to the lowest common denominator. If the reverse is true even for part of the spectrum of intelligence, that's not something to be taken lightly, if only because it inverts a lot of our assumptions about how mass cultures tend to work. "

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A review in the Sunday Times (London) by Roland White:


The trouble is: what are we demanding? Have the success and sophistication of popular culture come at the expense of more highbrow culture? The messages here are rather mixed. Our culture, and especially television, does seem to be afraid of open displays of intelligence: just look at what Dick and Dom have done to Ask the Family. The university-educated middle class, who might once have enjoyed long dinner party conversations about Kenneth Clark and the mysteries of the Renaissance, are now more likely to be reflecting on the fate of Big Brother contestants.
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I hope you guys will stick around for those of us who are (a) slower readers/ digesters/ responders; (b) prefer to wait for the arrival of the magazine in the mail rather than read it electronically; and © find this a fascinating topic that requires extended thought.

bart, did you ever get a chance to read the article? I was looking forward to hearing your opinion....

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I was especially intrigued by Johnson's request that we imagine what people would be saying if video games were the old, traditional art form, and books were the radical new technology. It's a great way to make a point. Here are the possible criticisms of the "new" experience of books:

1) "Reading books chronically understimulates the senses.

2) "Books are tragically isolating."

3) "But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path."

Hey! These qualities happen to be precisely what I love about certain books -- often older books, "classics" -- and what keeps them in my imagination and memory and draws me back to them. They suit my education, personality, values, and my motivation to read in the first place.

I'm glad that "different styles of learning" are getting attention and respect. But there's been a parallel decline in concern about what is actually being learned. I loved Leigh's link to Stay Free Magazine, where the writer expressed this problem quite nicely. Over-valuing the virtues of the swifter, snazzier versions of popular culture is, according to this, "sort of like saying that the 4-year olds who recognize the McDonald's logo -- and who can conjure up all kinds of foods, smells, and cartoonish characters when asked about that locgo -- are smarter about restaurant chains."

Recent sad developments in American political propaganda (sensation over thought, slogans over analysis), as well as expession that focuses only on advancing one's position rather than understanding the problem, suggest some of the negatives that pandering to alternative learning styles can produce.

Kind of makes me want to drop everything and go to the ballet. Preferably something by Balanchine, where amid the immediate sensation of all those "steps, steps, steps" you can find, if you make the effort to attend very closely, infinitely larger meanings.

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