Iconoclasts

Iconoclastic Achievers in Consumer CultureOn billboards all around Los Angeles, mysterious outsiders, people who refused to conform to society’s rigid standards of propriety, are finally getting the recognition and respect they deserve. We’ve learned that creative mavericks like Renee Zellwegger, Brian Grazer, and Sumner Redstone (CEO of Viacom) are mold-breaking, rubric-smashing, trail-blazing innovators who go it their own way, consequences be damned! In a word, they’re Iconoclasts.

Having been subjected to nearly six years of George W. Bush’s double-speak, we’ve grown fairly inured to Orwellian perversions of meaning. But there’s something vaguely obscene about a television program airing on the allegedly counter-culture home of independent film, the Sundance Channel, an outlet that purports to celebrate the libertarian spirit but, instead, apotheosizes purveyors of formulaic dreck.

Whether or not you like the work that these people do — obviously lots of consumers do — to call the program’s coterie of mass-market achievers “iconoclasts” is a feint worthy of Artaud’s Theater of the Absurd. The truth: genuine iconoclasts are the people you never hear about, because they exist outside of the machinery that propels our entertainment and business culture. It may in fact be impossible to be a real iconoclast and succeed on any of the levels that matter in American society.

The Sundance Channel, of course, is no more or less revolutionary than the Home Shopping Network or VH-1. The network is in the business of selling things, like everyone else. It’s peculiar, though, for a station to sabotage its franchise — “We’re the hip outsiders!” — by genuflecting before a gang of cynical insiders.

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