It’s difficult to explain New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix to someone who has never laid eyes on the mag’s “deliberately oversimplified guide to who falls where on our taste hierarchies.” But basically, the folks at New York take sundry pop culture phenomena — the death of Betty Comden, the tights-with-shorts fashion statement — and plot them on a graph according to whether they are deemed highbrow or lowbrow, brilliant or despicable. You should probably just see for yourself. Though things involving x- and y-axes usually cause me to experience sudden bouts of narcolepsy, I am addicted to the Approval Matrix. I pore over it, I argue with it and, most of all, I wish I’d thought of it.
And I’m not the only one who’s a little obsessed. A recent Gawker item about the “Godlike Authority” of the Matrix links to another blogger, Gabe, who has also thought about this way too much. Gabe wants to know, for example, why The Office is more lowbrow than For Your Consideration. In a response, the “matrix editor” explains that the Christopher Guest movie is highbrow “because indie movies are kind of highbrow by nature,” while The Office is “a sitcom, an inherently lowbrow venture.”
This got me thinking: If For Your Consideration occupies one quadrant and The Office another, where, O Matrix Gods, does that place John Krasinski (pictured, left, with Office costar Jenna Fischer), who has a role in both? It seems like the only fair thing to do would be to determine the slope of the invisible line connecting the movie and the show, find the resulting right triangle, and place Krasinski somewhere within that area (giving more weight to The Office, of course, since he gets a lot more screen time). Wow, I really hope my 10th-grade math teacher is reading this entry.
Really, though, that doesn’t satisfy me. It’s impossible to determine the high- or lowbrow-ness of individuals based on the high- or lowbrow-ness (or brilliance, for that matter) of their work. Pop culture has become far too muddled. Roman Polanski has a cameo in Rush Hour 3, for goodness’ sake! (But maybe cameos are inherently highbrow?) If Paris Hilton starred in a Fellini film, you’d have to temper that with Bottoms Up, and the universe would probably implode (assuming it hadn’t already after we smushed the time-space continuum to allow the Hilton-Fellini collaboration).
While the folks at New York probably can’t answer all my paranoid concerns about the Approval Matrix, they have provided me with a fairly satisfying outlet: the DIY Approval Matrix. Perhaps secretly uncomfortable with its “Godlike Authority,” the DIY Matrix designers will allow you, dear reader, to immerse yourself in such issues as: Where do Robert Gates, Charlie Brown, and Godiva chocolates belong on the cultural spectrum? Give it a try, but remember to come up for air.