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At the Boston Globe, an Andy Rooneyish rant about the expansion of critical apparatus for ordinary folks.

NEXT: William Turner Huggett, R.I.P.

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  1. Good work. I’m glad I’m not the only one creeped out by the notion of “Legally Blonde 2” with director’s commentary. Then again, we live in a culture where people think Julia Roberts is a real actress…

  2. Holy shit! You got the word “fuck” into the Boston Globe!

  3. why shouldn’t there be a commentary track for legally blonde 2? fuck, the entire movie should be a commentary track.

    besides, libertarians should be the last people on earth to glance sideways down their nose at the arts…the great libertarian bands being…rush and oingo boingo.

    i mean, fuck. oingo boingo. fuck.

    kcuf even.

  4. I think it’s reasonable to see the theme of the piece as tying everything together circularly — The “serious-minded” have long written off much of popular entertainment as frivolous “trash” — in contrast with true “art” which can be analyzed in depth. What the current passion for deconstruction shows is that just because a given entertainment can be microanalyzed doesn’t objectively prove that it’s “good”. Anything, it is now clear, can be microanalyzed if you try. Conversely, just because something is superficially entertaining doesn’t mean it’s frivolous and therefore “bad”. Entertainment needn’t be unpleasant to have value.

    I think there’s also a good argument to be made that the real value of critical discussion is in the intellectual exercise and gratification that it facilitates, quite independent of the ostensible subject matter. The people actively obsessing over the inner motivations of the Gilmore Girls are engaged in a more important and energetic intellectual pursuit than are people who go only to “serious” films and who can offer little comment besides “powerful” or “makes you think”. Without, ironically, being able to provide much evidence of having actually actually done the latter.

  5. Interesting article. Kind of a cross between Virginia Postrel and Ronald Bailey. But there’s no need to despair over the loss of pop culture innocence just yet – the Internet might come to the rescue.

    Sure, the Internet makes it easier than ever to find a litany of bloviations related to a given piece of media, and also provides scores of amateur bloviators a unique opportunity to have their rants read or heard by the masses. But you’re much more likely to find online media – whether video, music, or literature – in a la carte form than you are in the bricks and mortar realm. Think Kazaa or Movielink. Or The Gutenberg Project. Of all the MP3s found on iPods, or all the Divx files found on PCs, what percentage do you think made their way to their owners with detailed analyses or background information on the content?

    As studios and publishers get less squeamish about selling their content online, and as more Internet or PC-connected consumer electronics devices hit the market, we could see content-free content take back some market share.

  6. We’ve had these mediated cultural experiences, to some extent, for some time. The NBC Orchestra, Opera from The Met and Karl Haas’ Adventures In Good Music on the radio, The Book Of The Month Club, Great Books courses, the Durants’ multi-volume history of Western Civ (often a BOMC loss leader), families buying Britannica or World Book a volume at a time, even the New York Times Book Review‘s availability on a separate subscription from the Sunday edition show that middlebrow America has an appetite for self-improvement and knowledge for its own sake. Change the decade under scrutiny and the delivery vehicle of “culture” changes. It could be hardrock miners out West hosting Oscar Wilde and Jenny Lind.

    Sure, much of this questing is as subject to Sturgeon’s Law as anything else, but it beats the hell out of absorbing our entertainment as if it were electronic soma. The pile of dross is immense, but the nuggets of gold are in there, too.

    Kevin

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