From the pluralist vantage of today's academy, a colloquy on the “middlebrow” might seem like an unfashionable proposition. Coined in the 1920s to describe those who fell between high and low culture, the concept harks back to an era openly invested in cultural hierarchies.1 In response to the rise of mass technology, commentators of that era sorted consumers and products into polarizing categories in an anxious attempt to restore order to a shifting cultural terrain. In one camp were the “lowbrows,” whose imagined desire for mindless entertainment was supposedly exploited by shamelessly commercial companies; in the other, “highbrows,” epitomized by the emerging modernists, were said to shun the offerings of...

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