Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Infotaining Ourselves into Oblivion

When I took on A. O. Scott's New York Times review of Charlie Wilson's War, I basically accused him of being oblivious to "contexts and consequences." This week Robert Scheer's column has compiled many of those contexts and consequences in a wonderfully readable form; but, as I read it, I realized that Scott may have tapped into an important principle, which is the tendency of our culture (including, of course, the electorate) to view the objects and events of the world solely in terms of their entertainment value. Teasing out the past and future connections to the Charlie Wilson story leads to a complex web of interleaving strands, which we are more likely to encounter in the pages of Tolstoy than in a Hollywood shooting script. Scott's principle is reinforced when we see the box office numbers of the films that try to do justice to such complexity and still make it as far as distribution. Those numbers usually guarantee that those films will "live" only on DVD and cable. By keeping everything down to a simple yarn with appealingly outlandish characters, Charlie Wilson's War made itself a viable product in a culture that expects its government to deliver similar products just as nicely packaged. Need we even bother to ask why "blowback" (which lies at the heart of Scheer's concluding paragraph) is not likely to be part of the working vocabulary during the Iowa caucus? The answer has come to a theater near you!

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