Brow beaten

It is time for the question to ring out: what's wrong with the Highbrow/Lowbrow rankings in New York's Approval Matrix?

If you're baffled: the Approval Matrix is a weekly feature that appears New York magazine, at the end of the culture section and before the listings. (By the way, this is a stupid location for a cool and popular single-page feature. Why isn't it on the back page? If I want to do a crossword, I've got the Times right here.) It consists of a four-quadrant Cartesian plane of which the horizontal axis represents the spectrum of quality from Brilliant (far right) to Despicable (far left) and the vertical axis represents the spectrum of, uh, browness, from Highbrow (top) to Lowbrow (bottom). Obviously this makes more sense when you're looking at an example.

Robert Fagles's new translation of The Aeneid is in the top right corner, because it's both the height of brilliance and the height of highbrowdom. The Lost board game, assailed for being "even more confusing than the show," is in the bottom left corner. Simple enough and, making allowances for value judgments, perfectly appropriate.

But look more closely at the intermediate items, and compare their vertical positions, i.e. the relative height of their brows. According to the AM linked above, "a Ricky Gervais–Stephen Merchant–penned episode of NBC's The Office" -- i.e. the creators of a BBC critical favorite returning to the milieu of their finest work -- is lower-browed than: (a) sports; (b) James Bond; (c) the new Christopher Guest movie.

It is almost enough to make one suspect that the editor in charge of the Approval Matrix is not taking his or her responsibility -- the responsibility of ranking everything comparably -- sufficiently seriously.