Nicholas Kristof writes today, in a column about rising IQ scores:
It's not that our ancestors were dummies, and I confess to doubts about the Flynn Effect when I contemplate the slide from Shakespeare to "Fifty Shades of Grey."This rhetorical trick is far too common. Shakespeare isn't the same thing - wasn't back then. Is Kristoff implying that all Elizabethan writing was like "Macbeth" - or even like "Titus Andronicus"? No 16th century writer turned out smut or trash? All Elizabethans (who were literate) read only 'the best books'? hah. Or is he implying that "Fifty Shades of Grey" is the best writing produced in the English language in 2012? hah again.
As Theodore Sturgeon once remarked, on being asked if it wasn't true that 95% of science fiction was crap: Yes, but 95% of anything is crap.
You don't compare the best of one age with the worst (or even the average) of another and then make a generalization about the two times. Not if you want to be taken seriously, at any rate.