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SHAKE THE CULTURE TOO



Published: Wed, September 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: With few exceptions, the dreamy comfort of U.S. affluence and the absence of significant national challenges or threats in the last decade saw popular culture magnify some superficial and commercial aspects of American life.

During these recent days of nonstop news, did anyone miss the aggressive advertising or obsession with fame, sex, celebrity and beauty? Does the buzz over cleavage at a canned awards show merit even a sigh now? Or the celebrations of gossip and notoriety, misogyny and violence that pervaded our public chatter as recently as Sept. 10? Having seen the obscenity of real violence, does anyone await more of the staged stuff? The earnest debate on gravitas that took place during last year's presidential campaign might now be better directed at the larger society. Now, while we're pained and uncomfortable, is the time to reconsider not just airport security but cultural priorities -- what we as cultural consumers choose to consume.

Pop culture's manufacturers claim they merely provide what we, America's consumers, want. OK, let's redefine what we want. Even mired in the emotional muck of awful death and destruction, we half-expect a boastful 30-minute special explaining how filmmakers accomplished such realistic special effects for our entertainment. We have already seen heroes' images repackaged and fed back to us in quick cuts by advertisers offering a "salute." But those weren't stuntmen on fire falling from the skyscrapers. And we won't see firefighters and office workers stride out of the smoke in slo-mo, soiled but safe, in time for the credits.

Genuine innocents: Should a pretend "Survivor" still sell once we've survived the real thing? And seen so many genuine innocents who did not? In the long run, post-9/11 popular culture may rise to the creative challenge of describing and interpreting the realities of the less secure, more complex world we now realize we inhabit. This won't be easy. It will require real thought, and less formulaic eye candy of the physical-beauty and exploding-gunpowder varieties. The visual shorthand and perhaps tastes have changed drastically. Will the new era produce a new "All Quiet on the Western Front" or more Green Beret movies?

The mental wounds remain raw, as they will for a while. Late-night hosts will control themselves, at least temporarily, while deciphering what we'll accept as humorous or tasteful. All this will be shaped by the anticipated new "war," whatever that drawn-out struggle will look and feel like.

Many urge a rapid return to normalcy. At least in terms of popular culture, individual Americans may ponder, in light of the pains we've shared, whether the normalcy of recent years is what we really want to return to. Or has the real reality show and its agonizing images perhaps cured our infatuation with shallow fame and hollow shocks?




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