Monday, November 1, 2010

Low Bow to High Brow

Mark Twain famously defined a classic as something everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to read.

The same holds true for movies. As an experiment, George Loewenstein and Daniel Read handed out vouchers for free movie rentals. Some of the vouchers had to be used that very night while others were for the following week. Upon being handed a voucher, each person had to choose a film from either a high-brow category (such as Schindler's List) or a low-brow category (such as Austin Powers).

When the voucher was for next week, participants overwhelmingly picked high-brow films they thought they should see. When the vouchers were for that very night, they overwhelmingly picked low-brow films. In other words, when faced with the imminent prospect of actually having to watch a movie, they chose mindless entertainment. Perhaps they thought something like this: “I’m really highly cultured, you know, but I’m just in the mood for something light at this particular moment. By next week I’m sure I will be my usual weighty self.”

It is hard to begrudge such self-delusions. They cost little and help us feel better about ourselves in a world where most things cost plenty and where our self-esteem is battered at every turn. So, kindly leave unchallenged the cultured poses of our fellow humans. The kinder ones among them will keep mum for us, too.

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