"Neither highbrows nor lowbrows nor midbrows, but elastic-brows.” — George Orwell
Merit Badge (2)
Categories: Haw-Haw, Kudos, Semiotics

Introducing the second HiLobrow merit badge, Pipe Dreams!

[Badge shown larger than life-size; actual size is approximately 2 inches in diameter]

REQUIREMENTS (complete any 3):

1. Are you now, or have you ever been observed in smoking a pipe? What was in there? Who saw you? Describe your first time.

2. Submit both of the following:

        a. A photo of you smoking a pipe, taken by someone else.

        b. A note from your mother, or other reliable narrator, confirming the pipe-smoking incident. This should be sent in the form of a separate email, and should not be signed, “Joshua’s Mom,” for example.

[René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1928-29]

3. Discuss this painting by Magritte. Is it or is it not a pipe? Why or why not?

4. Leonard Nimoy has written both I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock. How does this highlight the ontological dilemma raised by HiLobrow’s deliberate misquotation of Magritte?

ACTIVITIES (complete 1 or more):

5. Make a pipe cleaner animal. Attach ears and a tail. Googly eyes encouraged.

[Inanimate Objects with Googly Eyes, posted by Lindsay Weber on Buzzfeed]

6. Draw a Venn diagram with the sets “iconic works of Surrealism” and “hit songs by 1980s R&B singers.” Populate the sets to the best of your ability. Identify the member of the intersecting set. Illustrate your example with the relevant image or music video. Karaoke is optional.

7. Write a poem about how terrible orange is, and life. It can be in the form of a 12-panel comic strip, if you wish. Stick some of the leftover googly eyes on it.

SHORT ANSWERS (complete any 2):

8. Name three Surrealist artists. Describe the peculiar combination of realism and fantasy that make up Surrealism.

[Luis Buñuel, Un Chien Andalou, 1929]

9. Provide a short definition of Dada. What was its relationship to Surrealism? Who broke up with whom? What did WWI have to do with it? You may draw another Venn diagram if you wish.

10. What is poésie concrète? Give a concrete example, either from history or compose your own.

11. If words are used as imagery, should they be viewed or read?

12. Draw another Venn diagram with the sets “sardines” and “oranges.” Populate the sets. Identify the author at the intersection.

[Mike Goldberg, Sardines, 1955]

ARGUMENTS (win 1 or more):

13. Is the pipe the bow tie of facial accessories? Discuss.

[Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, 1939]

14. Are images naturally treacherous? Why or why not? Would Werner Herzog agree with you?

[clips from Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, dir. Les Blank, 1980]

15. Using our recent series as a guide, explain HiLobrow’s enthusiasm for the pipe. Or, explain it away. Be persuasive.


Email your name, mailing address, answers, links and any attachments to hilobrow at gmail dot com, with the subject line Merit Badge 2/Pipe Dreams. Please number your answers in order.

Not all of the steps will be possible. But all badges are earnable. Creativity is encouraged. If you would like to submit independent achievements for consideration, then we will consider them. There will be a $10 embroidery fee after the free badges have run out. In all cases, HiLobrow reserves the right of final decision, which will be arbitrary.

Important: by submitting material for this badge, you agree to allow HiLobrow to publish excerpts from your submissions at some future point (either linked to your name or anonymously, as you prefer).


One in a series of HiLobrow merit badges.

[All badges designed by Peggy Nelson, 2010]