Worthy pastimes for highbrow youngsters

Existentialism for tots
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  August 15, 2012

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Hey, nerdy smart kids! This October, a publisher called Bloomsbury will put out a special activity book just for you! It's called Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun, and one of the cool dudes who wrote it, Joshua Glenn, is from Boston, just like you. A long, long time ago — way back in the '90s — he made a zine called Hermenaut. The title is a play on the Greek word for "interpretation." A zine is a magazine like Highlights but way more awesome.

In your lifetime, Joshua made a Web site called HiLowbrow that talks about things like television and songs. Its slogan is "Middlebrow is not the solution."

Joshua and his Internet friends aren't talking about eyebrows. Fun fact: "brow" can also mean forehead. As we all know, cavemen have really short foreheads — think of those Geico commercials. And cavemen are stupid, right? So smart people like you started calling stupid people like your little brother lowbrows. Smart people's foreheads are bigger because they hold bigger brains, so smart people called themselves highbrows.

So way back in the 1930s, smart people were super worried that mean, shouty guys who liked ordering people around could brainwash entire countries through movies and paintings and novels. These movies and paintings and novels seemed really cool to stupid people. Sometimes, these stupid movies and paintings and novels seemed smart, and these were the most dangerous of all. They could brainwash stupid people into listening to the shouty guys, killing their neighbors, and, worst of all, make them think they were smarter than they really were. These movies and paintings and novels were called middlebrow.

For almost 30 years smart people thought every day about what novels and movies and songs were middlebrow. Some people like Joshua are still worried about it.

In Joshua's fun activity book, you learn that "Exercise not only makes our bodies healthier and stronger, it relieves stress, makes us feel happier, and shrinks the risk of getting a chronic disease when we get older." Of course, that doesn't mean you won't get a chronic disease, but you never know! Some other activities in the book include carving spoons and using them to eat homemade sauerkraut instead of buying a new video game, because making things is better than having fun, and so is spending time alone in the woods, like Henry David Thoreau.

In that spirit, we've come up with some activities to make you a highbrow, too. Follow these tips and pretty soon you'll be having magical adventures, just like the kids in a Wes Anderson movie.

1) Go to your bedroom closet. Shut the door. Contemplate your mortality.

2) Take a toy from your toy box. Hold it in your hand. Far, far away in China, another little girl not too much older than you sat in a hot factory and assembled it. You know how your chest hurts when you run really far? That's how the little girl's chest feels every day when she breathes in the factory fumes. No, they don't have toys or playtime in the factory. That Yo Gabba Gabba! shirt you're wearing? Same deal. Sorry,kid.

3) Go to the library. Find the romance section. Look around you: this is dross, which sounds like "boss." Say it out loud: "Dross!" Grab a random book from the shelf. Bring it to the reference desk. Ask the nice lady, "Why do you carry this dross? I don't want my mommy's tax dollars paying for this dross." Run away.

4) Tell all of your friends, one by one, that Santa Claus isn't real. Notice how they act when you tell them. Are they sad? Mad? Scared? If they are any of these things, they are dumb-dumbs. If they cry, do not say you're sorry; you did them a favor. If they punch you, good — being a dumb-dumb hurts worse than your arm. Practice different ways of telling your friends Santa Claus isn't real until they don't cry or punch you. You want their face to look like they just ate a really gross piece of spinach. Find other facts that will make your friends make this face.

5) Find new friends.

6) Go play with your new friends. Look at each of them for a long time. Look at their mommies and daddies. Think: they are playing in a stupid park instead of worrying about the girl with the hurty chest in China. Think: they are playing in a stupid park, not figuring out why the world is the way it is. Pretend they are all very small, and you are very, very big. Keep this feeling with you always.

Eugenia Williamson can be reached at  eugenia.williamson@gmail.com.

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