THE REALITY OF SUMMER
The next update of the "Omnivore" page will be Sept. 6. In the meantime, here's a summer omnibus.
SO, HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
Summer began as it ended—with CBS's "reality" show, Survivor. (Click here for Writ.com's unusual appraisal of the series.) In early June, Kurt Andersen, in Inside.com, said: "[ Survivor ] will be huge. This will be epochal. This will be the moment that 'convergence,' the wishful catchall buzzword for the interweaving of entertainment and the Internet, finally becomes real. This summer, the ground shifts." Hyperbolic, perhaps, but prophetic.
A serious dose of summer reality came in the form of an 800-page book by retired professor Jacques Barzun— From Dawn to Decadence. This resolute history of Western civilization spent the entire season on the New York Times best-seller list. (Click here to read Judith Shulevitz and Andrew Delbanco's discussion in Slate's "Book Club.") In a more ideological era—the 1980s, say—Barzun's conclusions might have led to a disputation in the intellectual journals. But ideology isn't as compelling a subject in these years of wealth creation. Why argue when you can get rich—a theme of David Brooks' summer book, Bobos in Paradise—or debate whether Kelly or Rich should have won the million-dollar prize?
INDEED, SUMMER IS ALL ABOUT SPORTS
ABC was sportsmanlike and heeded Al Franken's plea not to make Rush Limbaugh a commentator for Monday Night Football. Tiger Woods thrilled everyone. His latest victory in near darkness suggests that the rules of the old Scottish game may need to be revised to ensure more equal competition. "Reality" golf, perhaps—a game no longer played on manicured fairways and greens, but across the wild fields and rough lawns of America, and in all conditions at all times of the day.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO THE SUBJECT OF …
Oh, puhleeeze. There's nothing more to be said about J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. Let's just say that Brooks was premature when he said, "Novel-writing has become a little sect of people who go to creative-writing seminars and Iowa workshops." Once on welfare, now a multimillionaire, Rowling has probably inspired business-school administrators around the country to consider creative writing as a get-rich-fast program.
DON'T GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF—I WAS GOING TO ASK ABOUT "RIGHTS"
Let's see: Peter Singer predictably said animals have them. The novelist J.G. Ballard said they don't. And Ian Hacking looked at both sides of the argument in the New York Review of Books. Various members of the British government suggested that a pupil who wasn't awarded a place at Oxford had been wronged.
IT SEEMS LIKE AN AWFULLY SERIOUS SUMMER?
Yes, it was. The political scene was very serious (click here for an explanation), while various commentators—in these parts and overseas—suggested that people laugh too easily. Thankfully, Charles McGrath, editor of the New York Times Book Review, came to wit's rescue and cautioned against too much seriousness. Zoë Heller enjoyed herself immensely demolishing Marjorie Garber's Sex and Real Estate: Why We Love Houses. Garber's book, Heller said, is "so serenely silly—so untroubled by any whiff of a serious idea—as to invite a kind of awe." Rebecca Mead reported on a new game doing the rounds on the New York social scene. And Michael Levey, a renowned scholar of art and music, explained that hedonism is the key to a long life.
Hard to say, but you can predict plenty of reality anarchism on the streets of Sydney during the forthcoming Olympics. And the games, like the demonstrations, begin in just three weeks. Maybe there's a Situationist revival going on. In June, Jay Griffiths explained the Situationist influence on the anti-globalization movement. In his history of anarchism, Demanding the Impossible, Peter Marshall says of the Situationists: "At first, they were principally concerned with the 'suppression of art,' that is to say, they wished like the Dadaists and the Surrealists before them to supersede the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life." There we are: back to that question of reality. Who would have thought that the viewers of Survivor and the anarchists who will shortly take to the streets of Sydney—as different as they are—could nevertheless share a common and determined interest: an insistent desire for greater reality. Take it away, Kurt.