January 19, 2017

Now Playing

Hacksaw Ridge
(Reviewed November 21, 2016)

A fine war movie in spite of its being pitched to an audience with a pacifist predisposition

American Pastoral
(Reviewed November 4, 2016)

An adaptation which brings out the worst in Philip Roth’s novel

(Reviewed September 22, 2016)

Is it unreasonable to care about Clint Eastwood’s mild falsification of what actually happened after "the Miracle on the Hudson"?

Hell or High Water
(Reviewed September 15, 2016)

A sometimes amusing but morally illiterate "neo-Western" which seems likely to spawn numerous imitators

ENTRY from January 10, 2017

Irony is the principle by which the meaning of words is affected and often radically altered according to where, when, in what context and by whom they are spoken or written. It’s pretty basic to all human discourse, but it is something that Americans, in particular, have never been particularly comfortable with. A few years ago, a young man named Jedediah Purdy, raised in the West Virginia woods by hippies, wrote a whole book under the misapprehension that irony was something you could either take or leave alone. On the whole he was in favor of leaving it alone. But instead of being laughed at, he was lionized in the media — itself an irony of the first water. He subsequently became a lawyer and wrote more books with loopy first premisses — as, for example (in A Tolerable Anarchy), that both anarchy and utopia sounded like pretty good ideas to him.

Ironically, no one seems to have taken his lucubrations as harbingers of the irony-blind world we, or at least those of us in the media, inhabit today. As always, if you’re looking for examples you can’t do better than the pages of The New York Times. "Deficits Matter Again" ran the headline to Paul Krugman’s column in yesterday’s Times. Well, whaddya know? And just in time for the new administration too! Obviously, no one said to him, "Paul, that headline looks bad for you — makes you look like a partisan hack. Could that be because no New York Times editor has any more sense of self-irony than Professor Krugman himself? The whole point of the column was to take the Republicans to task for hypocrisy. Their former alarmism about budget deficits seems to have lasted only so long as there was a Democrat in the White House. "This sudden turnaround comes as a huge shock to absolutely nobody — at least nobody with any sense," writes the Professor with typical rhetorical abandon.

All that posturing about the deficit was obvious flimflam, whose purpose was to hobble a Democratic president, and it was completely predictable that the pretense of being fiscally responsible would be dropped as soon as the G.O.P. regained the White House.  Full Entry

Media MadnessMy book Media Madness, is available for order from Encounter Books. Less a polemic than an attempt to understand the origins of the mass media’s folie de grandeur, the book is a warning even to those who are deserting the big networks, newsweeklies and large-circulation dailies not to carry with them into the more attractive world of niche media the undisciplined habits of thought that the old media culture has given rise to. To order this book, click here.

Honor, A HistoryAlso available, now in paperback, is Honor, A History, which was first published in 2006. A study of Western cultural artifacts, from the epics of Homer to the movies and TV shows of today, it is focused on explaining why Western ideas of honor developed so differently from those elsewhere — and especially from the savage honor cultures of the Islamic world. The book then goes on to trace the collapse and ultimate rejection of the old Western honor culture from World War I until the present day and to suggest the conditions that would have to prevail for its revival.

Recent Articles

Groovin’ on the Shock December 31, 2016.
First, cartoon movies; then, a cartoon election. Seems logical. Yet the media affect surprise — From The New Criterion of December, 2016 ... Full Article

Press & Prejudice November 30, 2016.
At least this election has taught us to get our priorities right. From The New Criterion of November, 2016 ... Full Article

After the Fact October 31, 2016.
Just whose "truth" is it we are now all supposed to be "post"? — From The New Criterion of October, 2016 ... Full Article

eResources ©2000-2017 James Bowman