Tom Bissell is a David Foster Wallace man. I mean that specifically. DFW’s essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again contains “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” In that essay, Wallace wrote these momentous sentences:

Most scholars and critics who write about U.S. popular culture … seem both to take TV seriously and to suffer real pain over what they see. There’s this well-known critical litany about television’s vapidity, shallowness, and irrealism. The litany is often far cruder and triter than what the critics complain about, which I think is why most younger viewers find pro criticism of television far less interesting than pro television itself.

It would be difficult to overestimate the relief this sentence brought to many critics under the age of 40. It signaled that we had definitively turned the page on an era in which you had to go through the motions… More…

Are you tired of change? Are you fed up with extreme makeovers, disruptive innovation, the constant pressure to extend your product line? In a world overdosing on frantic novelty, are you perfectly happy thinking inside the bun? You may feel guilty about your lack of ambition, your indifference to life coaches, plastic surgeons, the spiritual handymen, and Oprah-certified hucksters who promise you dynamic transformation. You may feel alone, out of step, defective in a world that prizes self-improvement above all else. But at least you still have AC/DC, the patron saints of high-voltage complacency, to believe in.

Thirty-five years into a career that has seen less innovation than Fidel Castro’s beard, the Aussie rockers are at the top of the Billboard charts. They sold 784,000 copies of their new album, Black Ice, in its first week of release. They’ve just embarked on an 18-month world tour. Wal-Mart, the only place… More…

John McCain was right. Lehman Bros., Fannie Mae, AIG be damned, American workers are strong. They’re still innovative, still entrepreneurial, still willing to spend long hours pursuing their dreams with no immediate reward in sight. Of course, you won’t find them amid all the short-sellers and subprime lenders on Wall Street. Or even in the small towns (unless you count meth dealers as entrepreneurs). But in Hollywood and Las Vegas and the theme parks of Orlando, they’re everywhere: hip-hop fiddlers, flaming baton twirlers, Day-Glo human Slinkys. In 2008, the old-fashioned novelty act isn’t novel at all. It’s commonplace. And that’s pretty amazing.

This is, after all, the reality TV era. If, like Brooke Hogan, you’re the daughter of a famous person, you get your own TV show. If, like Dina Lohan, you’re the mother of a famous person, you get your own TV show. If, like Kim Kardashian, you live… More…

 

The season of popcorn blockbusters, beach reads, summer girls, and boys of summer has arrived. And the only thing missing is the (un)official song of the summer — a ubiquitous pop smash that demands we shake our hands in the air and sing along as though we had not a care in the world.

In 2007 that song was “Umbrella,” by Rihanna; the year before “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley brightened our June, July and August.

So where is this year’s hot, hazy hit? Although New York magazine recently handicapped eight potential summer songs (including Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love” and Coldplay’s “Violet Hill”), a leading contender has yet to emerge. And at this point, we’re starting to run out of summer.

If you wish to play the game of blame, the death of the monoculture has… More…