A Typical Day in the Popular Culture

Although we strive to keep a forward looking eye on the latest political and economic developments, when it comes to the broader culture we’re content to live in the past. Most of the authors we read are long gone, our movie watching is mostly limited to the black-and-white fare on Netflix, the television is rarely on and only tunes into the ancient reruns that air on ultra-high frequency, the stereo is constantly blasting vinyl recordings of lush pop standards and twangy honky-tonk tunes and rough garage band rants of more exuberant eras, and on a visit to an art museum we will always rush past the more recent offerings to get another look at the paintings of Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent and the rest of the dead white males before the critics have completely deconstructed them. It’s a bad habit, as the latest political and economic developments are so often the dreary result of the broader culture, but our occasional forays into the new stuff are just too disheartening to continue.
Even with the most strenuous effort one cannot avoid some contact with the broader culture, though, and we’re occasionally made aware of the last celebrity contretemps. Our daily examination of the essential Drudge Report is our primary source for the latest tales of Tinseltown and other entertainment capitals, along with the headlines on the tabloid covers that are all there is to look at in a grocery store checkout line other than the tattoos and obscenity-laden t-shirts of the person ahead, so we’re at least au courant enough to know that it’s all as tawdry as ever. Matt Drudge grew up in both Washington, D.C., and Hollywood, and his famously idiosyncratic news judgement recognizes the power that both towns wield, so we’ll often peruse what he finds of interest. On Wednesday he featured a story about the upcoming release of a documentary alleging widespread sexual exploitation of children in the movie industry, some rock stars serenading the crowd at a Veterans’ Day tribute concert with some anti-war agitprop and obscenities, an urban chanteuse we’ve heard of but never heard saying that what she likes best about the president is that he’s black, and some fellow with more money than taste buying one of those kitschy Andy Warhol silk screens of Elvis Presley for $151 million. This is a typically dispiriting day’s worth of entertainment dispatches at the Drudge Report, but with the president off in China for a costume party and the Republican congressional majorities not yet installed we took some interest in the stories.
That documentary about the sexual exploitation of children in Hollywood turns out to rely at least in part on the testimony of a fellow whose lawsuit has been thrown out of court, but we’re inclined to give some credence to the rest of it. The film industry has never been known for its sexual rectitude, after all, and having watched its best and brightest rally to the defense of Roman Polanski after he anally raped a 13-year-old girl leaves us predisposed to believe the worst. Pederasty is of the few sexual behaviors that are still condemned by society, at least for now, so the documentarians have one of the last opportunities to generate a Hollywood scandal. Anything else they allege about Hollywood’s sex life will only generate yawns or envy. No matter how convincing their case they won’t generate the public outrage that followed revelations of sexual exploitation of children in the Catholic church, or even the tale of some protestant evangelist’s extramarital affair, but it would be good if they could make people a little more skeptical of Hollywood’s depictions of villainous corporate executives and repressed homosexual military men and the banality of the suburbs and the rest of the contemporary cinematic cliches.
Those rock stars shocking the squares at a Veterans’ Day are by now a cliche, as well. We’ve never heard of the fellow who let loose with the obscenities, but Bruce Springsteen was the one who unleashed the Vietnam-era protest songs, and he’s been around so long that even we have a copy of his “Born to Run” album, and it’s all too familiar to be shocking. We note that Springsteen, a supposed workingman’s hero who also goes by the name of “The Boss,” chose to entertain the all-volunteer military personnel in attendance with “Fortunate Son,” which is about draftees who didn’t get the reserve gigs that the songwriters did during the Vietnam War and is the only bad song Creedence Clearwater Revival ever did. As for that urban chanteuse who thinks the best thing about the president is that he’s black, we can only say as old white conservative Republican men who prefer Peggy Lee that she’s probably right. The story about somebody shelling out $151 million for one of Warhol’s cliches, even if it did have Elvis, was a reminder that even high culture isn’t holding the bar very high these days.
This is what the masses are taught to aspire to, though, and we’ll keep that in mind as we follow the latest political and economic developments.

— Bud Norman


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