Category: Popular Culture

The Word Fuck

At the World Series of Poker, which is happening in Las Vegas now, players may say anything they like, no matter how distasteful or rude. They may not, however, say the word fuck, either as a noun or verb. Those that do incur a ten-minute penalty away from the table, where they may reflect on...

The Chase

Living in Los Angeles, in a neighborhood that’s near Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, enclaves of wealth and luxury that neatly summarize all that is grand (achievement, possibility, beauty) and horrible (excess, vulgarity, greed) about America, one has ample opportunity to reflect on the pros and cons of consumer-driven capitalism. The question that comes to mind...

Why We Need Celebrities

During his first visit to Hollywood, a friend of ours wanted more than anything else to see celebrities. He wasn’t interested in any particular person, such as the star of his favorite crime drama or the pinup girl action movie heroine whose poster he has hanging in his garage. Any star would do. “I just...

Notes on Les Miserables, La Boheme and Love

The fabulously entertaining stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is sold to consumers as “the world’s most popular musical,” an honorific that seems accurate upon first consideration, since Alain Boblil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s retelling of the novel has been produced in every part of the world (including China) and enjoyed by millions of appreciative...

Mel Gibson’s Christ Porno

Last night, while most of us slept, the most cleverly marketed movie in recent history opened on thousands of screens across America. Before a single megaplex presented Mel Gibson’s “Passion of Christ,” the film inspired more editorializing, hand wringing, righteous anger, righteous pride, and cocktail party theorizing than every other work of creative fiction composed...

Mistaking Commercial Popularity With Artistic Achievement

Not long ago a couple of friends invited us to watch a concert DVD of one of their favorite performers, a woman named Beyonce Knowles. One of our friends, a musician, said that although most fans admire Ms. Knowles for her pretty face, powerful singing voice, and shapely ass, the really impressive thing about her is...

This Mysterious Notion of Quality

People blessed with this amorphous attribute we call “taste” like to congratulate themselves for being able to discern the difference between that which is good and salutary and that which is bad and degrading. (Those who are too busy or distracted to make such distinctions rely on taste consultants known as reviewers.) Books, music, paintings,...

The Voracious Appetite

Recently we spent two weeks away in Central and South America, including a visit to the country of Ecuador, which, among other tourist attractions, offers visitors an opportunity to visit the “Mital del Mundo” — the middle of the world. It’s an obelisk with a painted orange line on the ground bisecting the northern and southern...

Screaming the Loudest

The benefit of teaching young people that the world is a meritocracy is that this enduring myth encourages people to try their best. As long as they believe that the cream eventually rises to the top, they’ll continue to toil diligently, confident that there’s a demonstrable correlation between dedicated effort and eventual reward. Once the...

The Wisdom of Crowds

Currently making the rounds of all the free advertising outlets [read: fawning reviewers], a new book by theNew Yorker columnist James Suroweicki asserts that a big bunch of average people often turn out to be smarter than a small group of experts. Mobs, the author asserts, are often better predictors of the future — whether it’s...