Review by Dan Geddes

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The Circle, Dave Eggers’ novel named for a fictitious Google-like company that profits from its users’ data and destroys individual privacy, is a topical and compelling read. The story takes place in a near-future Silicon Valley where cheap video cameras are being deployed nearly everywhere, even in nature. Doctors place cameras in people’s houses to monitor their condition. People are even starting to go “transparent”; to wear a Circle-built device on a necklace that records everything they see and do and broadcasts it via the internet — sort of like Google Glass is supposed to be.

Politicians go “transparent” to show their honesty. You can almost see the appeal of such a transparent society. Maybe everybody would be on their best behavior. The fact that this scenario seems both inevitable and nightmarish explains the topical appeal of this book. …


by Dan Geddes

It will probably be impossible for future generations to understand the special place that J.D. Salinger held in the minds of readers in the mid-to-late twentieth century.

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The Catcher in the Rye remains a classic statement of youth alienation, and continues to attract defenders and detractors. Many of its young readers are grateful to find a book that not only understands them, but also articulates their misgivings about growing up and joining the compromised adult world, where there seems to be little room for ideals.

J.D. Salinger remained one of the great legends in American writing throughout his life even though he stopped publishing in 1965. He enjoyed an era of preeminent literary fame in the 1950s and 1960s, yet, in the spirit of Holden Caulfield or Buddy Glass, he himself dropped out of society, living a reclusive life in Cornish, New Hampshire. Salinger’s “reclusiveness,” however, only reinforced his fame. Here was a writer who practiced what he preached. The implication was that Salinger found society — at least New York literary society — too phony. He retained a strong readership, and even gained new fans, many of whom discovered his books from school reading lists. …


How did Freudianism achieve such a solid foothold in the intellectual life of the West with so little scientific basis?

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Review of Ernest Gellner’s The Psychoanalytic Movement

The Psychoanalytic Movement tries to answer the question: how did Freudianism come to achieve such a solid foothold in the intellectual life of the West, especially in light of the fact that Freudianism has such little scientific basis?

Gellner is sarcastically dismissive of the claims of psychoanalysis, but backs up his claims with a wealth of insight and argument. His premise is that no movement should be studied strictly on its own terms, that a movement’s claims should be verifiable against external societal criteria. Given this premise, it is not surprising that psychoanalysis appears an untenable theory; any religious system would also fail testability tests — but this is precisely Gellner’s point about psychoanalysis. …


No Logo is a now classic book of the anti-corporate movement. Although No Logo was not the original catalyst for the movement, Klein draws together the threads of 1990s anti-corporate activism into a compelling story. The story is the rise of the mega-brand in the 1990s. Business consultants agreed that corporations should focus on brand building and so companies such as Nike outsourced production to contractors in the developing world. Then they lavished money on advertising their brands rather than their products.

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The power of multinationals is now so pervasive that this change of focus affects people worldwide. In the West, brand saturation has invaded many public spaces, including the city streets, schools and universities. Malls now serve the role of public forums, but unlike town squares, malls are privately owned, so any anti-corporate protesters can be removed from the point of purchase. …


Review of Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool

Review By Dan Geddes

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Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool successfully reframes the traditional perception of the Sixties counterculture: that it represented a rebellion against the consumption-oriented values of “mass society.” Frank’s purpose is to demonstrate that Madison Avenue and consumption-based industries such as soda bottlers and men’s wear welcomed the counterculture, realizing that the cult of instant gratification would make the Baby Boomers better consumers than their thrifty parents. Frank even suggests that the Creative Revolution in advertising anticipated and in some ways precipitated the counterculture. Historians of the Sixties have long described the “co-optation” of the movement by the advertising industry: its use of countercultural symbols. …


by Dan Geddes

While conspiracy theorists often imagine billionaires meeting together in secrecy to plan the future of the world, billionaires themselves scoff at this idea.

Based on a recent Washington Chronicle survey of the approximately 1,000 billionaires in the world (81% of billionaires responding), most billionaires claim they have never even knowingly met another billionaire. They also deny that they personally have much influence on things, let alone conspire together regularly in order to run the world.

“The idea that billionaires have more influence on world events than the man in the street is completely ridiculous,” George Soros stated. “Every person, even people who work in Amazon warehouses, can make an enormous difference. Just because Bill Gates’ personal net worth is greater than the gross domestic products of many countries combined doesn’t mean he has any real power. …


by Dan Geddes

NEW YORK — Fox News issued a statement today proclaiming that “yellow journalism is now a thing of the past.”

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Wikipedia defines yellow journalism as “a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.”

FOX’s statement read: “The American media, especially Fox News, has achieved fair and balanced reporting. …


Review by Dan Geddes

Spoiler alert: This review assumes you’ve seen the movie and so contains spoilers.

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Why do so many people love The Big Lebowski?

The Big Lebowski is the Coen brothers’ funniest movie, a smart, feel-good comedy. While all the Coen’s movies feature a dry sense of humor, usually the violence or neo-noir elements dominate and prevent the viewer from relaxing enough to enjoy the humor. While Lebowski has its share of action (mainly involving The Dude getting knocked around), the movie always remains fun.


Review By Dan Geddes

Fargo dramatizes how one small crime can snowball into a series of tragedies. Criminals are often not the smartest human beings, and the law of unintended consequences rules our world.

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But it seems so simple. Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) is a Minnesota car salesman who really needs a big score. He owes his job to his wealthy father-in-law, Wade (Presnell), who bullies him and doesn’t trust him to partner with him in business. Jerry has already embezzled money from the car dealership, and needs to pay it back pronto. So he decides to hire some men to kidnap his wife, Jean (Rudrüd), so he can keep most of the ransom money himself when his father-in-law pays it out. …


After a generation characterized by psycho-criticism and the New Criticism, Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence must have come to its first readers as a balm. Bloom argues that new poems originate mainly from old poems; that the primary struggle of the young poet is against the old masters. He, the ephebe, must “clear imaginative space” (1) for himself through a creative misreading of the strong poets of the past. Only strong poets can overcome this anxiety of influence; lesser lights become derivative flatterers and never achieve poetic immortality for themselves.

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The idea of poetic influence is nothing new, and Bloom even traces the idea of “influence” for us: its origins as divine afflatus (the influence of the stars); its metamorphosis into moral effects on others, down to its more contemporary idea: that poets are decisively influenced by a handful of masterful forebears whose signatures can often be seen in the works of the later poet. But Bloom is offering us something deeper than what he terms reductionist “source-study,” “the history of ideas,” or “the patterning of images.” The struggle between the young poet (the “ephebe,” the “citizen of poetry” as ancient Athenians termed him) and his great precursors is more of a psychological agon, where the young poet’s only weapon against the greats is creative misprision. A successful misreading of past works allows the ephebe room for his own voice to be heard–and if spectacularly successful, he can come dwarf even the precursor, to make us read the precursor in terms of the later poet, rather than vice versa. …

About

Dan Geddes

Editor of The Satirist (thesatirist.com) America’s Most Critical Journal; satirist, critic, standup in Amsterdam

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