When I launched this blog a year ago, one of my hopes was that it would support the tendency of our popular culture to serve as a medium of discussion through which people of all ideological stripes comment on issues of the day. Unfortunately, it seems that pop culture is no longer serving this function. Rather, according to a recent Newsweek cover story, our movies, TV, music, and books have ceded this function to our ongoing obsession with celebrities’ private lives.
The article’s author, Neal Gabler, who wrote despairingly of this trend a decade ago in his book Life the Movie, seems entirely too sanguine today about conceding that the morality plays that make up celebrities’ personal lives have become more compelling to us than movies or TV or books as a way of having a national conversation about what matters to us. According to Gabler, our tendency to privilege celebrity gossip is more a function of our fascination with new media (and our boredom with old media) than a reflection of increased shallowness on our part, or on the part of our professional storytellers. But it seems to me that even our best storytellers have fallen down on the job here, and exhibit A is James Cameron’s visually stunning, well-meaning, ultimately unsubstantial message movie Avatar. Continue reading