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Would It Kill You to Read This Stuff?

By Mary Ladd

Yes, we sanction activities beyond the scope of this web site…believe it…or not.

Generation X (Tales For An Accelerated Culture) - Douglas Coupland
Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality - Neal Gabler
Why We Watch: Killing the Gilligan Within - Dr. Will Miller
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again - David Foster Wallace
Mystery Train - David Wojahn

Our Bias:

  1. Writers with big…vocabularies.
  2. Writers who are funny. Writers who have a sense of humor about the world and themselves.
  3. Writers who love POP Culture. Or at least acknowledge its existence in our everyday lives. Writers who do not take the easy dismissive way out (see
    number 2).

Generation X (Tales For An Accelerated Culture)
1991 St. Martins Press
A Novel by Douglas Coupland




  • In 1991, Douglas Coupland defined Generation X as the 20-somethings of that decade. Equation: if you were 20-something in 1991, you are Generation X. Despite the blanket marketing definition, we can’t all be Generation X.
  • This man’s POP Culture references are indeed integral to his characters in a way your English professors never believed possible.
  • The Coupland dictionary: margins full of cartoons and new words take his GenX themes mini-multi-media:

    LESSLESSNESS – A philosophy whereby one reconciles oneself with diminishing expectations of material wealth: "I’ve given up wanting to make a killing or be a big shot. I just want to find happiness and maybe open a little roadside café in Idaho."

    MUSICAL HAIRSPLITTING – The act of classifying music and musicians into pathologically picayune categories: "The Vienna Franks are a good example of urban white acid folk revivalism crossed with ska."

    TELE-PARABALIZING – Morals used in everyday life that derive from TV sitcom plots: "That’s just like the episode where Jan lost her glasses!"

  • Major Themes & Sample Chapters: Our Parents Had More; Quit Recycling The Past; I Am Not A Target Market; It Can’t Last; Shopping Is Not Creating; Monsters Exist; Purchased Experiences Don’t Count; Why Am I Poor; Celebrities Die; I Am Not Jealous; Adventure Without Risk Is Disneyland; and more!


"This world has gotten too big – way beyond our capacity to tell stories about it, and so all we're stuck with are these blips and chunks and snippets on bumpers."

"And come spring, after the daffodils and the narcissi have spoken their delicate little haikus to the world and spilled their cold, gentle scent, their crinkly beige onion paper remnants inform us that summer will soon be here and that now it is time to mow the lawn. Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad ever lasts for very very long."


Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality
1998, Alfred A. Knopf
by Neal Gabler





I know quite a lot of people who bemoan the state of television news magazines, the proliferation of entertainment "news" coverage and the twisted psychology of celebrity worship. As I am a victim of all of the above phenomenon, I was quite interested to know that a guy wrote a whole book about it. Why it all came about, how bad it is, whether or not there is any hope for us tube-addicted souls. The book was great. It really rocked my world view. I try to tell people about it whenever these aforementioned topics arise in our conversations. But alas, no one wants to hear it. Their eyes glaze over or they change the subject People want to theorize about their pop-culture pain, they don’t want to read about it…or even really understand it. And when I first started to think about writing a review for this book, I wanted to regurgitate all the wonderful ideas and conclusions Gabler put forth. But I refuse to make it easy for y’all Read the damn book yourself and if I hear anyone else complain about any of these topics again, I will stop listening.

Here are the things you will learn if you read this book:

  • Why the "overriding objective" of every living American…from performers to housewives to CEOs to poets "is getting and satisfying an audience."
  • Why "no other society has ever had as many celebrities as ours or has revered them as intensely. Not only are celebrities the protagonists of our news, the subjects or our daily discourse and the repositories of our values, but they have also embedded themselves so deeply in our consciousness that many individuals profess feeling closer to, and more passionate about, them than about their own primary relationships."
  • Why the tension exists between the "custodians of culture" and popular entertainment.
    The religious, evangelical, middle class, historical roots of entertainment.
  • About "mid-cult" – the seemingly watered down ‘compromise’ between entertainment and art: "American culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries found itself in a state of turbulence, with the middle class promoting its values by modifying the popular, the lower classes trying to undermine the middle class by reenergizing the popular; and what remained of the elites declaring a pox on both their houses."
  • Why changes in labor conditions, technology and urbanization empowered the rise of popular entertainment over ‘culture’ and how entertainment transformed American thinking, giving each one the idea that they could ‘be anything, do anything, dream anything.’ How we became a nation of constant transformations.
  • The power of images on our attention; The power of images over reason
  • Why and how journalists invent and fictionalize the news. How the press write scripts and how actors perform news in such shows as The Lewinsky Affair and The Falling of the Berlin Wall. How the press orchestrates pseudo-events in league with public relations teams for the likes of movie premiers, award ceremonies, demonstrations, "events that wouldn’t have existed if someone hadn’t been seeking publicity and if the media hadn’t been seeking something to fill their pages….The result is to make society one giant Heisenberg effect, in which the media are not really reporting what people did; they are reporting what people did to get media attention."
  • Why the lives of personalities, like car crashes and skydiving accidents, have become acceptable entertainments.
  • Why television news magazines use "musical overlays, ambush interviews, hidden cameras …lingering on emotional breakdowns" and how "more and more news reports open the way novels do: by setting the scene or establishing characters."
  • How and why every life event is staged for TV.
  • How the ideals and value of motion pictures can be invoked in the political systems because they have become so engrained into our own personal belief systems. How movies have become "the model for public policy.
  • How artists' personalities have usurped their work….from Ernest Hemmingway to Elizabeth Taylor.
  • Why paintings by celebrities like Tony Bennett sell more than paintings by artists. Why art is just a means to celebrity.
  • Why fights are staged on Jerry Springer, Crossfire, The McLaughlin Group and on wrestling.
    Why news has become primarily publicity for entertainment. Why celebrity is "widely regarded as the most exalted state of human existence." "It was all about celebrity; it was only about celebrity; there was nothing worth talking about but celebrity. Celebrity was everything." Why this leads people to feel valueless without celebrity or to do anything to attain celebrity. Why people feel sanctified when a television camera catches them.
  • The evolution of the celebrity interview from Edward R. Murrow to Barbara Walters: including her "interrogator’s anguish, the cocked head, the gentle prodding, the exaggeratedly chatty 'You know what people are going to say' that preceded the most intrusive questions."
  • How the terms super and mega and uber are used to structure a "Orwellian celebrity hierarchy."
  • What the Zsa Zsa Factor is.
  • How celebrity has become the new religion with "easy transcendence, celebrity homilies….icons on their way to apotheosis…pilgrimages to gravesites, shrines, artifacts as if they were relics and seeking exegeses of the lives as if they are sacred texts."
  • How Madonna and P.T. Barnum have conceptualized the art of promotion and performing. How Michael Jackson gives one "the sense that there is nothing underneath it all: no emotional interconnect….no social response mechanism…Jackson is more of a Morbius strip than a person, a solipsist folded into himself…so thoroughly entertainment that he has almost ceased being a person altogether."
  • Why our lives have become all one big show of performing appearances via fashion, movie-affectations in speech and body language, and exhibitions of our purchases: "conspicuous consumption, in which everyone acquired primarily to show everyone else what he or she had acquired." How Martha Stewart sells the art of ‘performing life.’
  • And finally, whether our life delusions are helpful or harmful? Is it fraud or an acceptable strategy for genuine happiness?

Finally, I would like to say that this book had special resonance for me as a struggling poet…it made it crystal clear to me why poets have such a hard time getting an audience for their voice, what historical, cultural and personal forces confront them in their bid to be heard in America. Gabler speaks of the statistical ‘cocktail party effect’ where in order to get heard at a party, one must talk ever more loudly, prompting everyone else to do the same until there is finally cacophony or meaninglessness. Do you really want your life to be about that?

By dissecting the early American ideals, class struggles and most poignantly, our own neurosis about being seen, heard and our futile attempts to thwart anonymity, I was able to finally clarify my values, my goals and thereby reclaim my personal identity. All this and keep watching South Park, too!

Why We Watch: Killing The Gilligan Within
1996, Simon & Schuster
by teletherapist Dr. Will Miller





Why! Oh, why didn’t I listen to MSAVAR51 on Amazon.com Customer Comments before adding this item to my shopping cart??? "While the book offers some fascinating and insightful looks at TV shows, TV characters and our society in general, one must sift through some overworked and tired attempts at humor." So true, MSAVAR51. So very true.

Miller is only good in small doses like expert sound-bites in a newspaper or Nick At Nite commerical blurbs. Paradoxically, he makes you want more. But more is bad. The problem is that Miller doesn’t take himself seriously enough, not seriously enough to be helpful and certainly not seriously enough to be funny. But let’s focus on the positive, shall we?

  • Miller’s moments of insight come usually when dissecting something we, the TV audience, have only subliminally scanned in our normal TV viewing, such as the issue of why Rob Petrie trips over the ottoman in the beginning credits of every episode of The Dick Van Dyke show. "The fact that he trips over the ottoman on the way into his home betrays a discomfort about himself. Who placed the ottoman there? Was it Laura, unconsciously angry at Rob’s devotion at work? Might it have been his son Richie, also wanting more attention from his Dad? Or is it possible Rob is really tripping himself?"
  • Miller did make me laugh one or two times, once while making a half-decent stab at analyzing the complex character of Scoobie Doo. "This animal is in perpetual terror for his life… In essence Scoobie is ever crying out, "We will die! I cannot pretend; I see too much!"
  • And I must admit Miller did illuminate some subconscious angst I have been harboring in my heart for over ten years about my conflict vis a vis Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. I have always secretly sympathized with Sergeant Carter and despised the goofish Gomer. Never understanding why, I kept my awful revelations to myself. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. Miller says Gomer "is a simpleton who ruins almost every task assigned to him. While humorous to some degree, the reality is that Gomer refuses to be accountable for his responsibilities. A consistent bungler, her forces the system to work around his ineptitude…. Volatile Sergeant Vince Carter has scarce tolerance for Gomer. He rightly senses that there is something false and manipulative about Gomer’s famed inadequacy….He suspects that Gomer, behind his shield of naïve innocence, is actually someone who unconsciously chooses to fail. And this in not acceptable."
  • I also kind of believe Millers theory that we are all three stooges: "We all have three stooges within ourselves. First, there is the ‘Moe within.’ He is the assertive dimension…compelled to lash out aggressively…Then there is the ‘Larry within.’ Larry is the often-slapped man, the victim of Moe’s enraged lashing out…. This is the unconscious voice that blames the self for all the difficulties we encounter…And we all have a ‘Curly within.’ Curly is the chaotic, out of control man. He represents the psychotic dimension of the self that cannot manage life…. Each of us fears this ‘Curly-part.’…. Remember, separately they are stooges, but collectively, they are a fused, healthy individual."

If only this book was packed with all the juicy, provocative commentary as above, I could truly recommend it. All I can say is that if the topics above really intrigue and whet your appetite for more such illuminating TV psychology, don’t buy this book! You’ll only be frustrated and disappointed because it just ain’t there.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
by David Foster Wallace






  • Essays! Yes, you, too, can enjoy essays. Be assured, Wallace takes subjects that would bore Alan Greenspan and instead spins witty yarns about Tennis and David Lynch.
  • Contents: Derivative Sport In Tornado Alley (essay on tennis and tornadoes in the Midwest); E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction (a must for irreverent Pop Culture writers); Getting Away From Pretty Much Already Being Pretty Much Away From It All (hilarious essay about the Illinois State Fair); Greatly Exaggerated (dry bit about the definitions of authorship but he crosses the line from being engaging to becoming an academic show-off); David Lynch Keeps His Head (deep, heavy with obscure Lynch references. Difficult for the Lynchless but worth it for section 9a.) Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff About Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness (only lightly touches on the paradigm stuff, mostly a dry tennis essay); A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (witty observations from DFW, the Cruise Ship Expeditioner).
  • Way too many footnotes, but his are the best in the biz
  • He’s superhumanly perceptive with his metaphors and similes. His sentences are long, fresh and musical.


(from the David Lynch essay)
"Quentin Tarantino is interested in watching somebody’s ear getting cut off; David Lynch is interested in the ear."

(from the Cruise Ship essay)
"I have seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled what suntan lotion smells like spread over 2100 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as "Mon" in three different nations. I have watched 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced and a tropical moon that looked more like a sort of obscenely large and dangling lemon than like the good old stony US moon I’m used to."

Mystery Train
1990 University of Pittsburgh Press
Poems by David Wojahn





  • Swell poems in sections one and three but the second part, nicknamed the rock & roll sonnets, is, well, the centerpiece.
  • Arresting POP Culture poems. Funny, critical, stirring. Charmingly, Wojahn shows authentic characters as they navigate through the funhouse of fame and celebrity.
  • An example: "At Graceland With A Six-Year Old, 1985" –

    "Like the living room’s wall of mirrors – rigged immensity,
    Pipsqueak Versailles,
    where Josh makes faces, grinning at me."

  • Sample of Sonnet Contents:
    • Woodie Guthrie Visited by Bob Dylan: Brooklyn State Hospital,
      New York, 1961
    • "Mystery Train": Janis Joplin Leaves Port Arthur for Points West, 1964
    • The Assassination of Robert Goulet as Performed by Elvis Presley:
      Memphis, 1968
    • Turbulence: "Exile on Main Street" Tour, 1972

    ("It’s the stones in here! The FUCKING ROLLING STONES.")

    • Malcolm McLaren Signs the Sex Pistols, London, 1976
    • Elvis Moving a Small Cloud: The Desert near Las Vegas, 1976
    • Francis Ford Coppola and Anthropologist Interpreter Teaching Gartewienna Tribesmen to Sing "Light My Fire", Philippine Jungle, 1978
    • Sandbox, Manchu Nails: Brian Wilson in His Living Room, 1984

    ("the opulent fish tank of MTV")

    • The Assassination of John Lennon as Depicted by the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum, Niagara Falls, Ontario, 1987

    (the first funny poem associated with Lennon’s death. It’s what he would have wanted.)

As you can see his specialty is dead rock stars. This can become a little macabre.
No Amy Grant poems here and for that I’m sorry.

Read any good pop culture books lately? Tell us about 'em.


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