Terry Teachout continues to get my attention and then do the darndest things with it. In this week's Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal, he seems to mourn the passing of high culture stepping into popular culture.
In reviewing the recent New York premiere of "Me, Myself & I," Edward Albee's latest play, I remarked that "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is "the only one of Mr. Albee's 30 plays to have made an enduring impression on the general public—indeed, it's possible that 'Virginia Woolf' could be the last American play of any kind to have made such an impression." A number of readers wrote to me about that observation, and their reactions can be boiled down into a one-word reply: Really? So I gave it some additional thought, and the more I thought about it, the more certain I became that I'd inadvertently put my finger on something that is of relevance not just to Mr. Albee's career, but to the increasingly shaky standing of high culture in postmodern America.
On the other hand, I'm sure that it can't be good for high culture when none of its practitioners are known outside a tight little circle of connoisseurs. How many Americans discovered live theater a half-century ago because they happened to read about Edward Albee in Life or see him on "The Tonight Show"? And how many of their grandchildren will fail to make such life-changing discoveries because those opportunities have dried up? [link to article]
On many points, I think Mr. Teachout is right. (And for those who are following me following Mr. Teachout, this is the exception, not the rule. Five hundred channels of home improvement and Real Housewives of Wherever has relocated what passes for high culture into a ghetto where Charlie Rose is mayor and presides over a population of just a few. Honestly, I can remember when A&E was a high-minded concept. Obviously that was before Dogg and Cris Angel made their debut. And Bravo too. And it isn't just television, of course. Magazine and newspapers and radio keep a very tight focus of celebrities who are celebrities because they are celebrities rather than serve as a contrivance for the delivering the latest titillation jolting our dopamine receptors. --Yes, it's a pity. Yes we will endure.
(Prize to the first one who knows who I'm riffing on in the previous line.)