These magazines also inflamed a million imaginations. Smart boys and girls got a glimpse of a wider world. The implication was that their current lives were insufficient, but they could read about John Foster Dulles or Georgia O’Keeffe and gain access to a higher realm that they might someday join.
About a generation ago, this earnest self-improvement ethic came under attack. People no longer believed that there was such a thing as a common culture that all educated Americans should study and know. The new ethos valued hipness, not class.
Moreover, the self-esteem hurricanes blew across the landscape. You don’t have to read or listen to boring stuff to possess character. You are wonderful just the way you are.
I won't deny the influence of the cults of hipsterdom and self esteem here, but Brooks is being remarkably obtuse. They're not the reason that smart boys and girls don't read Newsweek anymore. (Believe it or not, I had my own subscription when I was in high school, waaaaaay back in the 1980s.) What happened is that the Internet happened. I've written about this a million times.
Want to know about politics? Well, a smart kid can read Brooks' own New York Times online, every day, the way I never could in the 1980s. Want to learn about or listen to opera? (Brooks laments that Albuquerque kids no longer get much national opera coverage.) You can watch the best opera in the world live on the Metropolitan Opera's website. Want to know more about literature, avant garde dance, indie bands, politics, foreign affairs, fashion? There's no end to the possibilities! Brooks is wrong to suggest there's no audience for this stuff anymore, even if he's right that it's fragmented. The truth is that more people have more access to the high- and middle-brow culture than ever did during his Golden Age. Newsweek hasn't suffered because people stopped caring about self-improvement. It suffered because there were faster, better, more direct ways to do it. Brooks sometimes sounds like a doctor who only knows how to diagnose one disease; it doesn't matter at all what the symptoms actually are.