Seabrook, John M., Jr. 1959-
SEABROOK, John M., Jr. 1959-
Former literary editor for Nassau Weekly; staff member of Manhattan, Inc. (business journal), beginning c. 1983; New Yorker, New York, NY, staff writer, 1993—. Visiting Robbins Professor of Writing, Princeton University.
Deeper: My Two-Year Odyssey in Cyberspace, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing the Marketing of Culture, Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Village Voice, Christian Science Monitor, GQ, Nation, and Travel & Leisure.
John M. Seabrook, Jr., is a journalist whose books thus far have revealed his interest in popular culture. His first, Deeper: My Two-Year Odyssey in Cyberspace, offers observations about the new cyberspace culture that was just taking full flight when he became involved with it in the mid-1990s; his second published work, Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing the Marketing of Culture, argues that any distinction between the elite, sophisticated tastes of the highly cultured and the low-brow tastes of the average joe have been erased by modern business marketing.
Deeper, wrote the author on his personal Web site, "is a chronicle of the first two years I spent on the Internet. It is mostly about text-based interaction with strangers, both through private email and the kind of public email experiences of mailing lists and virtual communities like the Well (where much of the second half of Deeper takes place)." Seabrook began using the Internet in 1995 and was at first a complete neophyte. Working on a story about Microsoft chief Bill Gates, he began fortuitously when he managed to contact the famous executive with only the second e-mail he ever wrote. This initial success encouraged him to get more involved in Internet culture, and he soon joined a group called the Well, "an online service set up by ex-hippies in Berkeley, California," according to an Economist writer. The Well offered a cyberspace haven for liberals to discuss everything from literary theory to how to form a commune. Seabrook thought he had discovered a new circle of friends, until some of the Well's members "flamed"—harshly criticized—him concerning some of his articles. As Seabrook discovered, the relative anonymity of e-mail encourages people to shed their veneer of restraint and become rude and offensive to one another. He also learned about the fascination for and easy accessibility of sex on the Internet.
This education shattered Seabrook's initial hopes that the Internet could create "new utopian communities, uncensored and unedited by the traditional media of communication," as Charles Levin reported in New Statesman. While Jane Garland Katz, a contributor to Executive Female, found Deeper to be "a hip, breezy account of one man's" introduction to the Internet, she felt the book only superficially answers such important questions as: "How do we deal with freedom of speech on the Internet? What is the nature of progress? Why is the Net 'especially good' for pornography? What is community?" Antioch Review critic Ed Peaco similarly felt that Seabrook could have been more on message, and questioned why the author includes so many reprintings of e-mail correspondence, why he is "so wounded by being flamed," and "what all the fuss is about." "Some passages in the book," concluded John Schwartz in the Washington Post Book World, "are laugh-out-loud funny. Elsewhere, you just want to grab the author by the shoulders and say, 'Get over yourself.'"
Seabrook's Nobrow, a sweeping assessment of the current state of American culture, or lack thereof, drew even more critical attention than his first book. According to the author on his Web site, his intent was "to write in a reported and personal way about a subject usually treated academically and theoretically—the loss of cultural hierarchy. The book is about what happened to American culture sometime between the appearance of the first and second Star Wars trilogies, and it's also about what happened to me between the time I received my education and used it." According to the author, marketing in America has resulted in the convergence of high-and low-brow tastes so that everyone now is concerned more with the latest "buzz" about hot products than they are about actual quality. Seabrook supports his thesis in a couple of ways: he discusses the evolution of the management and editorial leadership of the New Yorker from a highly cultured publication headed by Robert Gottlieb to the much more mass-market oriented periodical led by Tina Brown and David Remnick; and he compares the lives of such mass-culture gurus as movie mogul George Lucas, studio head David Geffen, and MTV executive Judy McGrath with the world view and cultured attitude of his own father, John Seabrook. The two aspects seem to merge in the author, who appreciates both gangsta rap and a well-tailored suit.
Variety reporter Jonathan Bing especially enjoyed the author's portrayal of Geffen, "whom Seabrook captures more adroitly in one chapter than Geffen biographer Tom King does in all of The Operator." But the reviewer concluded that although Seabrook proves to be a "stylish writer … his efforts to thread his cultural observations into an overarching theory of Nobrow quickly grow ponderous." Library Journal contributor Steven M. Zeitchik similarly weighed in that "some of his theories tug at credulity," yet added that "his book rarely bores." And Belinda Luscombe, writing in Time, felt that the problem with Nobrow is that Seabrook stretches it out too long: "It would have made a great essay. As a book it includes a lot of interesting but extraneous material."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journalism Review, April, 2000, review of Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing the Marketing of Culture, p. 67.
Antioch Review, winter, 1998, Ed Peaco, review of Deeper: My Two-Year Odyssey in Cyberspace.
Booklist, February 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Nobrow, p. 1000.
Civilization, February-March, 2000, Ali Demos, "Lost in the Supermarket."
Economist, May 17, 1997, "People Power."
Executive Female, Jane Garland Katz, May-June, 1997, "Bytes of Passage."
Fortune, February 21, 2000, Rob Walker, "The End of Taste," p. 308.
Library Journal, March 1, 2000, Steven M. Zeitchik, review of Nobrow, p. 113.
Nation, August 21, 2000, Joshua Gamson, review of Nobrow.
New Statesman, March 7, 1997, Charles Nevin, "Old Fart's Journey"; March 27, 2000, Alexander Chancellor, "The Buzzword," p. 56.
New York Times Book Review, February 27, 2000, Alexander Star, "Welcome to the Megastore."
People, January 6, 1997, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Deeper, p. 58; March 31, 1997, Peter Ames Carlin, review of Deeper.
Publishers Weekly, December 6, 1999, review of Nobrow, p. 61.
Time, February 10, 1997, Julian Dibbel, "Nerd Within"; February 28, 2000, Belinda Luscombe, "The Hierarchy of Hotness: Taste Is Dead. Long Live Buzz and Marketing," p. 97.
Times (London, England), February 17, 2001, "Cultural Choices."
Times Literary Supplement, July 7, 2000, Zoe Heller, "Rap and Rapture."
Variety, April 3, 2000, Jonathan Bing, review of Nobrow, p. 44.
Washington Post Book World, March 16, 1997, John Schwartz, review of Deeper, p. X11.
John Seabrook Web site,http://www.johnseabrook.com (April 13, 2004).