- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

Mad libs

“A fresher observation is that comics, not rock ‘n’ roll, were an intimation of the ‘postwar sensibility’ to come, an outlook that was ‘a raucous and cynical one, inured to violence and absorbed with sex, skeptical of authority, and frozen in childhood.’

“Mad magazine, full of bratty parodies of the products of mainstream culture, has often been cited as the first inkling of that sensibility, and Mad was decidedly born out of the comic book scare. [‘The Ten-Cent Plague’ author David] Hajdu illustrates the rebellion simmering within young comics fans with quotes from people who were pressured into participating in comic book burnings as children. …

“As a story of intergenerational paranoia and censorious media-fueled panic, the comic book scare was a signal moment in postwar American history, the grammar school version of the McCarthy hearings.”

Laura Miller, writing on “Panic in the Pages,” Monday at Salon.com

No ‘whatever’

“Unlike Christmas, whose deeper spiritual meaning has been all but buried under an annual avalanche of commercialism, Easter has retained a stubborn hold on its identity as a religious holiday. …

“So what enables Easter to maintain its religious purity and not devolve into the consumerist nightmare that is Christmas? Well, for one thing, it’s hard to make a palatable consumerist holiday out of Easter when its back story is, at least in part, so gruesome. Christmas is cuddly. Easter, despite the bunnies, is not. …

“Even the resurrection, the joyful end of the Easter story, resists domestication as it resists banalization. Unlike Christmas, it also resists a noncommittal response. … Easter is an event that demands a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ There is no ‘whatever.’ ”

The Rev. James Martin, writing on “Happy Crossmass,” March 20 at Slate.com

Public spectacle

“Recently on TMZ.com, I watched Britney Spears walk into a metal bar for half an hour — the sound of the camera shutters clicking was like an old teletype machine, so constant and furious. Everyone who follows Britney’s story is complicit in her destruction, myself certainly included, but ours is a very old cruelty.

“Why do people go and see tragedy? Why do people need to see the spectacle of a human being destroyed? The great Shakespeare scholar A.C. Bradley, a hundred years ago, gave a reliable description: ‘Everywhere, from the crushed rocks beneath our feet to the soul of man, we see power, intelligence, life and glory, which astound us and seem to call for our worship. And everywhere we see them perishing, devouring one another and destroying themselves, often with dreadful pain.’

“That’s what we’re reading when we’re reading Star or US Weekly: beauty and glory devastated and wasted. The most recent issue of In Touch claims Britney has been calling herself ‘Baby’ for six months. ‘Baby is getting better,’ Britney told her friend. ‘Baby was sad, but now she’s happy.’ You’ll have to go to the Four Seasons Centre if you want to hear things so moving and pathetic uttered by a beautiful woman.”

Stephen Marche, writing on “Tuning in to Celebrity Operatics,” March 15 in the Toronto Star

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