- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New subjects?

“The least imaginative response to this lack of good new subjects is simply to go back to the big lives and do them over — and over — again. You can justify this by an appeal to the idea that each decade (actually, every four years might be nearer) needs its own Dickens or Eleanor of Aquitaine. According to this convenient way of thinking, dressing up old subjects in new clothes becomes playful and postmodern, rather than just desperate.

“Yet Jerry Brotton of Queen Mary, London University … warns against being taken in by this sleight of hand. ‘What often happens is that a perfectly solid biography from 1978 gets rewritten with an eye to the intellectual moment, without the addition of a single bit of new information.’ The result: a George Eliot for the New Labour age (I plead guilty), or a queer Queen Victoria for the noughties, or the six wives of Henry VIII refashioned as the post-feminist heroines from Sex and the City.”

Kathryn Hughes, writing on “The death of life writing,” in the June 28 issue of the Guardian

Fantasy life

“Here’s where we come back to Grand Theft Auto. The idea of this and other games that have now graduated to become ‘interactive arts’ is to put their players in a movie. The things that go on in them - stealing cars, shooting at cops, making drug deals — are things that in real life are wicked, fraught with peril and almost certainly unfamiliar. … Change the context and they become, simply, fun. …

“All the terrors of crime and violence, moral and physical, are taken away. No one need fear being shot at in return or banged up in jail for engaging in such exciting activities — which, in consequence, must become somewhat less exciting.

“That’s why I think those who complain that playing these games will lead people to go out and do the things represented in them are missing the point a little. … The problem is not that people of any age will play these games and then become criminals. The problem is, in a way, that they won’t. If they became criminals they would be forcibly reminded of the moral dimensions of their behavior; when they don’t they can go on living in a fantasy world without any moral dimensions.”

James Bowman, writing on “Grand Larceny,” at the American Spectator Web site on June 30

Pulses of America

“In this sense, the absolute best parallel to Rush [Limbaugh] in the cultural firmament is probably Jon Stewart, whose Daily Show is to the weltanschauung of bright young East Coast liberals what the Rush Limbaugh Show is to the worldview of their SUV-driving, self-made uncles out in flyover country.

“What does this mean for Rush’s relationship to Republican politics? Just this: In the same way that every ambitious Democratic politician ought to be attuned to how Jon Stewart covers the news, so every right-of-center politico should keep an ear to the portion of the dial where Rush holds forth — because the Limbavian worldview, and the people he speaks for, represents an important (and valuable) slice of American conservatism, and indeed of America itself.”

Ross Douthat, writing on “Rush and the American Right,” at his Atlantic blog July 6

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