Eefin and Hambone, Or, What Is Culture?

Justin E. H. Smith in his blog:

I mentioned recently that whenever I come back to the US (I'm writing from Chicago), I enjoy immersing myself in this country's rich cultural history. This, for example:

My friends imagined that I was joking, that I was being my usual haughty, hi-culture, Europhile self. How can I get the message across? No matter how often I attempt to explain this, no one believes me: I am essentially a lo-culture kind of guy. Or, rather, I deny the legitimacy of the distinction. I do not believe that there is anything more earnest in Ernstkultur than in Unterhaltung. I believe, quite the contrary, that culture bubbles up from the depths, and that its genius is equally distributed across all places and times. And I have no patience, either, for these incessant reminders that Brahms incorporated Slavonic folk dances into his music, or that Copland was influenced by jazz; to those who bring this up I can only reply: don't waste my time, then, but give me Slavonic folk dances, and give me jazz.

What gives the appearance of some monopoly on genius to the sort of cultural output that is housed in museums and Lincoln Plaza and so on is just this: that brainless one-percenters are spending huge amounts of money to put their names on these monuments, and the brainless bourgeoisie makes pilgrimages to them, spending medium sums of money to have a brush with cultural objects that supposedly edify by their simple proximity. The illusion that genius is stored up in sites of high culture is sustained by capital and by the laziness and gullibility of culture's consumers: all the season-ticket holders, all the dupes of the museums' advertising departments, for their part driven ever further, under the compulsion of capital, to make the Ottoman sultan's throne, or medieval armor, or Greco-Bactrian statuary, look like so many things to buy– passing them off as a special class of objects, museum objects, that you can buy in a way just by going and standing in front of them.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get back to Eefin and Hambone. I remarked to a friend (who, again, thought I was joking), that what we are witnessing here (and in general are always witnessing on Hee Haw, the show that perhaps more than any other shaped my earliest thoughts about what culture is and how it works) is a performance of musical virtuosity that unites feigned cretinism with real genius (i.e., not the kind that's only sustained by capital).

More here.

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