Aaron Spelling

By: Adrienne Crew
April 22, 2011

The Texas childhood of AARON SPELLING (1923-2006) was so alienated that he claimed to have developed psychosomatic paralysis due to the taunts of anti-Semitic classmates. Perhaps this sensitivity to social realities animated Spelling’s talent for developing escapist mass entertainment like Starsky & Hutch, S.W.A.T., Fantasy Island, The Mod Squad, The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, T.J. Hooker, Charlie’s Angels, and Beverly Hills 90210. In 1981, Spelling introduced aspirational lifestyle programming via his prime-time soap, Dynasty. The materialistic hedonism exhibited by Alexis Carrington and her minions helped inspire Reagan-era Americans to live large, eating caviar and sipping champagne in designer clothing purchased with credit cards. Not surprisingly, Spelling was not immune to the extravagance encouraged by his own shows. He and his diamond-loving wife, Candy, built a 100-plus room mansion in ritzy Bel Air and threw lavish parties documented by an adoring media; during his final years, Spelling’s TV productions like 90210 and Melrose Place focused primarily on the rich and entitled. Spelling’s schlocky sensibilities dominated American airwaves for most of the 20th century’s final decades and we are only now just waking up to the realities he helped us ignore during those years.

ALSO: read this HiLo Hero item on Tori Spelling.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Charles Mingus.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the New Gods (1914-23) and Postmodernist (1924-33) generations.


Cuspers, HiLo Heroes

What do you think?

  1. I had a dream once in which Aaron Spelling had executive-produced the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

  2. I remember you at least always knew where a Melrose addict was when it was on, at home in front of the tube or at a “Melrose” party. Also, I recall the show was about aspiring 20-somethings (writer’s, bar-owners, etc.) living in West Hollywood. I guess it was designed to be a reaction to 90210 which did focus on the miserable underbelly (divorce, drugs, teen suicide, etc) of the rich and entitled.

  3. This post is attracting a few baffled and angry comments — which we’d post here if they were as interesting as, say, the anti-Spelling comments posted by Mimi and the two Jasons. (“FUCK AARON SPELLING” does not make the cut.) Apparently some of our readers can’t conceive of Spelling as a high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow hero. Since I’m the one who commissioned and edited this item, let me go on record as saying that Spelling is a lowbrow hero.

    In certain respects, the dispositions Highbrow and Lowbrow correspond to Matthew Arnold’s Hellenism/Hebraism dichotomy: “The uppermost idea with Hellenism is to see things as they really are; the uppermost idea with Hebraism is conduct and obedience.” Lowbrow prizes faith, tradition, and authority — no wonder our Highbrow and Nobrow readers despise Spelling’s shows, on which cops are always good guys and our social order is something to revere. Spelling’s shows are markedly lacking in highbrow or nobrow irony; however, they’re not middlebrow, either. They’re not tasteful or clever enough to be middlebrow — they’re crass, obscene, clueless, bizarre. Which means they’re fun to watch.

    Adrienne Crew’s item suggests that many viewers didn’t “read” shows like Dynasty or 90210 as crass, obscene, clueless, bizarre, but instead read them as templates of the good life. That might or might not be the case — who knows? But we like a paranoid theory here at HiLobrow, so we’re happy to publish her argument that there’s a cause-and-effect thing happening between Spelling shows and neoliberalism’s apotheosis during the years of his greatest influence. Why not? We’re open to competing theories, too — post ’em here. Just make ’em interesting, please.

  4. I thought by calling Spelling’s work “schlock” (in the context of a series titled “HiLo Heroes”) that I was making it clear that his work was crass, obscene and socially unacceptable, which is why I love it. He was a genius about taking social anxieties and transforming them into pleasurable entertainment. Women’s Liberation animated Charlie’s Angels, a show which provided consciousness-raising along with tits and ass. Racial anxieties drove The Mod Squad. Swinging and sexual liberation were homogenized by the Love Boat. I guess I should have prefaced the item by saying that there’s lots to despise about Aaron Spelling’s output, but I wanted to focus on his genius.

  5. Mea culpa, Adrienne — I failed you as an editor by not asking you to make this sort of thing more clear. I am semi-allergic to making things more clear, because of many years’ exposure to middlebrow editors in the 1990s and 2000s. But in this case, perhaps, a little more context might have been a good idea.

  6. Josh- it’s safe to say that none of my proposed Hilo Rogues would emerge from Middlebrow (incapable of generating a single real create act), agents instead of some generative alignment swayed into succouring the Dead Centre. JK Rowling is merely the terminal vapours of Tolkien: Tolkien, not Rowling (or post-Bad Taste Peter Jackson) is the rogue. I don’t think the trashiness of Spelling’s output can save him from its consequences (let alone his origins, touched upon by your counter-trolling). The inverse would be Middlebrow Defectors, whose work comes to undermine the parasitic certainties under which they laboured. Can you think of any offhand?

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