Sosa and McGwire, Held at Gunpoint!

Kerr and Miller

Sosa and McGwire, Held at Gunpoint!

Kerr and Miller

Sosa and McGwire, Held at Gunpoint!
New books dissected over email.
Dec. 15 1998 2:03 PM

Kerr and Miller

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Dear Mark,

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Well wait a minute now: I think you're implying that Gabler is a corporate sellout, and I'm not sure that's fair.  I'm also not sure why you say he's in the entertainment business, unless you refer to his stint many years ago on Sneak Previews, which I recall as, if anything, a little earnest.  Maybe he's doing some TV work now that I'm not aware of.  If so, is that earnest too? 

We come at this from different angles.  I usually write about books.  You on the other hand study TV and movies, with a special focus on the creeping economic dominance of the corporations behind the product.  You're annoyed with Gabler for giving short shrift to the market forces (basically, government capitulation to greedy cartels) behind the umbrella category (almost meaningless: movies, TV, amusement parks, tabloids, shopping malls, and music are just he beginning) that he calls "entertainment."

I hear you.  Gabler is peddling a facile idea about supply and demand, a nonsensical switcheroo.  He says movie studios and TV networks were just forced to get bigger, not because they saw opportunities for profit, but because the gluttonous public demanded it.  That's just weird, and I doubt even Gabler buys it.  My honest guess?  Halfway through the writing of this book he realized it wasn't very original.  He felt pressured to deliver a catchy thesis.  One night at four in the morning he made it up.

Anyway, Gabler seems much more invested in the other half of his argument, which is that sometime in the last few years, entertainment has jumped the rails and crashed into people's lives-affecting how they see politics, and even their own psychological makeup.  Again, the argument is lazily made, no deeper than a puddle.  But this is not infertile territory.

Can we agree that Gabler blows off the problem of corporate greed, that his book is hard to take seriously because of it, and go from there?  Tomorrow I think we should get into detail about entertainment moments that have struck us lately, and see whether they support or undermine his other thesis.  Real nitty gritty detail--even if you want, down to a news anchor's fluttering eye-tic, or an actor's voice, so silken it's sinister, because these little things are an important element in the way people experience entertainment.  Okay, you probably don't want to plunge into that level of detail, but at least let's sort through some examples, assessing decent intentions or crass dishonesty, talent or mediocrity or worse, and the rare piece of art, which does crop up now and again in the entertainment business.

I have an example: the way the media held a gun to Mark McGwire's and Sammy Sosa's heads this summer, forcing them to call daily press conferences in which they announced their undying love.  This was ugly, bullying, and bizarre.  It seems related, somehow, to today's screams for Clinton to get down on his knees.  What do these demands for our tears and hugs and public professions of decency mean?  Sure they're about ratings, and therefore greed, but why are they occurring now and not two years ago?  How much do the reporters making these demands care about what they're demanding?  How much is the audience really moved?

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Sarah Kerr is a regular contributor to Slate. Mark Crispin Miller is a professor of media studies at New York University and author of Seeing Through Movies. This week they discuss Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, by Neal Gabler (Knopf; 303 pages; $25).