Spent a couple hours we'll never get back watching Extremely Pretty People on screen the other day. They kissed, got PG-13-naked, consumed gobs of yummy material goods, and inexplicably bit their knuckles until it all turned out okay in the end.

The movie in question was The Holiday, with Mr. Jude Law, Ms. Cameron Diaz, and someday-Dame Kate Winslet. Also crazy Jack Black...who if you believe
the folks at Slate -- and we do -- jumped the shark with High Fidelity.

It. Was. Awful. True paint-by-numbers crap. Worst of all, it wasn't even well-done paint-by-numbers crap. In fact, for the last thirty minutes of it, we could do nothing but try to think of a worse movie. We're sure there is one, but...(Even the infamous Ishtar had a trainwreck sort of virtue.) Afterwards, our lamentations were swept aside as snobbery by our companions. "You just don't like that kind of movie." Which deteriorated into us trying to list all the fluffy movies that we do, in fact, love. Or that are at least fine by us...

Jerry Maguire. Singles. Roxanne. About a Boy.

Even Meet the Parents was fine. That one TomHanks+MegRyan movie they kept trotting out under different titles, that was fine too. Hell, Bridget Jones's Diary -- a be-all-end-all chick-flick paragon if there ever was one -- made it past our "fine" threshold. Likewise, we'll gladly shell out eight bucks to watch some Sandra Bullock schtick, and lots of times Jennifer Anniston is funnier than she's given credit for (though we didn't see the Vince Vaughn thing and therefore have no opinion).

So here's why we're bothering you with the parsing of valid versus vapid...

Thinking about all this has led us to an aha-moment regarding aesthetics in general: We love lo-brow.

Love it. Can't get enough of it. Napoleon Dynamite is genius. Where have you gone, Beavis and Butthead? In fact, we think there's far too little really excellent lo-brow stuff out there. And we wonder if maybe that dearth says as much about the shaky state of Western culture as any cockamamie war or corporate scam.

Case in point: Even Shakespeare loved fart jokes and happy endings. Kicker being this: Lo-brow -- or at least that which does not aspire to "High Art" -- is still and always governed by the same criteria as any other narrative endeavor. Probably moreso.

Is it observant? Is it carefully constructed? Does it have the intangibles: Voice, Perspective, Insight, Chemistry, whatever it is you want to call it? Or does it think it can con us into accepting mediocrity based on the subtle discrimination of low expectations (and Jude Law's dreamy baby-blues)?

It strikes us that two of the stories in RMR2 are just exactly what we're talking about here. [How's that for a
subtly capitalist segue?] That is, lo-brow that is spot-on and absolutely necessary. "What About the Bridesmaids' Dresses?" by Elizabeth May and Mark Tarallo's "Don Quixote of New Jersey" are both funny, clever, observant, and o-so-utterly contemporary. One's about an angsty telemarketer, the other references something called "pump fat" (that part of the foot which sometimes bulges out of a too-small pair of pumps). But the sentences are good too. There's clearly an artist -- and, no, we don't mean artiste -- pulling the strings back there.

The value of "lo-brow" (at least as we're defining it) is not so much that it entertains us -- a paper clip and a rubber band can do that. It's that it plumbs the shallow depths of our time and place -- right here, right now -- to tap into a lode of shared consciousness. (And, okay, touche: that's a fairly hi-brow aim. But the so-called developed world is a pretty damned esoteric place, when you finally get down to brass tacks. Mall culture is a helluva lot closer to an Ingmar Bergman flick, for example, than it is to, say, subsistence farming.)

In short, movies, novels, stories, stand-up comedy, or anything else that's funny-cuz-it's-true is fine -- more than fine -- as long as it's funny and as long as it's true. Way easier said than done. Just ask Kate Winslet.

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