Dismissal and Enshrinement


Adorno and Greenberg were wrong in their sweeping dismissal of popular culture. Adorno’s essay against jazz is hard to forgive, not for being mistaken but for the arrogance of its ignorance. Around the time Greenberg was writing “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Hollywood was making, along with plenty of stuff warranting dismissal as kitsch, such films as Swing Time and History Is Made at Night, Stagecoach and Young Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and His Girl Friday to name a few of the high points attained by a popular art in its classical style. And Adorno and Greenberg were wrong in their belief that the modernism they championed depended on a rejection of the popular as haughty as their own. Although Adorno and Greenberg — the earlier Greenberg, at least — valued the avant-garde as a contestation of bourgeois culture, their rejection of popular art in the name of high art pointed the way to the recuperation of the avant-garde as high art enshrined by the bourgeois culture it intended to contest.

GILBERTO PEREZ, The Material Ghost