All Entertainment All the Time

More and more, we Americans like to watch (and not to do). In fact watching is our ultimate addiction. My students were the progeny of two hundred available cable channels and omnipresent Blockbuster outlets. They grew up with their noses pressed against the window of that second spectral world that spins parallel to our own, the World Wide Web. There they met life at second or third hand, peering eagerly, taking in the passing show, but staying remote, apparently untouched by it. So conditioned, they found it almost natural to come at the rest of life with a sense of aristocratic expectation: “What have you to show me that I haven’t yet seen?” —Mark Edmundson [actually credited as “Mark Edmunson” on the website] —All Entertainment All the Time (Poets & Writers)

I agree with Edmundson’s points about the entertainment culture that is prevalent on college campuses… but I disagree that the World Wide Web is part of spectator culture. Students who blog, even if they blog about popular entertainment, are at the very least voicing opinions and (if they are involved in some sort of online community) possibly learning how to defend their positions when challenged. I recently blogged an article by Douglas Rushkoff, who claims that families with internet connections spend nine fewer hours a week sitting in front of the TV; he says blogs give people an alternative to participation in consumer culture.

Next week, I plan to show the PBS Frontline documentary, “The Merchants of Cool” to my freshman seminar. While the pop culture figures it examines are rapidly becoming dated, I think enough time has passed that I can usefully ask my students to extend to the latest rising pop phenomena the argument of Merchants of Cool — that youth culture is not really something that youths own and control; that corporations invest hugely in the commodification of trends (that is, turning emerging and fringe teen fashions into products to market to the mainstream teen).

I’m a bit uncomfortable with how Edmundson uses the colloquial term “cool” in close conjunction with Marshall McLuhan’s term “cool”. It’s not clear to me that McLuhan’s hot/cool terminology has any direct connection to the colloquial use of the term “cool”… this essay is a selection from a longer work, so perhaps Edmundson covered that elsewhere in his text.

There’s apparently a typo in the punch line to the story about the teenaged student of the Viennese music instructor. It should probably read, “What that young man lacks is inexperience.”

Hey… that sounds like Yoda’s rejection of the young Annakin Skywalker. Hold on a second… (Google, google.)

Mark Edmundson, left. George Lucas, right.

Could it be…? Nah.