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Culture Briefs

- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2010

Elitism on TV

"When I was growing up, 'The Honeymooners' had a reputation as television at its best: sentimental, spontaneous, and side-splitting. And like the best art, the show has always been a tangle of contradictions. ... When [Jackie] Gleason settled on a working-class public servant as his primary mouthpiece, it seemed in a way like a triumph of populism, giving a voice to the people.

"But what kind of voice? Clearly the title 'Better Living Through Television' is meant to be ironic. (As is 'The Honeymooners,' for that matter.) If this episode proves anything, it's that if you let a couple of ordinary guys have five minutes to say whatever they want on TV, there's a good chance they'll come out with something incoherent and embarrassing. Really, that's the lesson over and over on 'The Honeymooners': the working man can't get ahead, not because the system is stacked against him, but because he's just not clever enough. It's a despairing vision of The Way Things Are (at least according to Gleason and company).

"Yet it's also entertaining. The Kramdens and the Nortons are likeable folks who make failure funny. And Gleason, [Art] Carney, and the rest did encode a little subversion into 'The Honeymooners' just in the way the show was produced, with a seat-of-the-pants approach that makes those 55-year-old TV episodes crackle with potential for the unexpected. Corporations and bureaucrats may fight over who controls the airwaves, but when Gleason flubs a line or accidentally sends a prop flying, he answers the question more simply. Who controls the airwaves? Whatever slob is standing in the right spot when the light on top of the camera turns red."

- Noel Murray, writing on "The Honeymooners, 'Better Living Through Television' " on March 11 at the Onion AV Club

Elitism in coffee

"Like Seattle's other great cultural export from the early 1990s, Nirvana, Starbucks has always been most vital, most interesting, most revolutionary when at its most commercial. ...

"In choosing to locate his outlets in busy downtown locations, [CEO Howard] Schultz was expanding the world of high-end coffee - diversifying it, in fact, by taking it beyond its insular, self-conscious subculture. The decor of his stores amplified this process. They had the clean and slick streamlining of a fast food restaurant but were more comfortably appointed. Instead of walls lined with old books, there were gleaming espresso machines for sale, packages of whole beans, ceramic cups. They felt a little like a Williams-Sonoma store crossed with an unusually tasteful airport lounge. They were cafes for people who would never set foot in a bohemian coffeehouse, people traditional coffeehouse entrepreneurs had completely ignored.

"For less than the price of a Whopper, you could hang out in a sophisticated middlebrow lounge/office for hours on end. And they were popping up everywhere. Exclusive, elitist? Starbucks was exactly the opposite, introducing millions of people who didn't know their arabica from their robusto to the pleasures of double espressos. Finally, good coffee had been liberated from the proprietary clutches of hipsters, campus intellectuals, and proto-foodies and shared with bank managers and real estate agents. In offices across America, it suddenly smelled like 'ffeine spirit."

- Greg Beato, writing on "Starbucks' Midlife Crisis" in the March issue of Reason

Elitism in writing

"Now of course I am not entitled to conclude from the change in the tone of criticism that I received that the Internet has filled the world with hate that was not there before. It is possible that the kind of person who used to write letters to the authors of newspaper articles had fallen silent, while those seething individuals who fired off derogatory or insulting e-mails had previously been silent. But I rather doubt it.

"The immediacy of the response which the Internet makes possible also means that people are able to vent their spleen in a way which was not possible, or likely, before. The putting of pen to paper, to say nothing of the act of posting the resultant letter, requires more deliberation than sitting at a computer and firing off an angry e-mail or posting on a Web site. By their very physical nature, then, letters are likely to be less intemperate than e-mails.

"The question now arises as to whether it is a good thing that people should be able now so easily to express their rage, irritation, frustration and hatred."

- Theodore Dalrymple, writing on "Thank You For Not Expressing Yourself" in the March issue of the New English Review