KURT ANDERSEN “Pop Culture in the Age of Obama” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/books/review/Andersen-t.html


The term “pop culture” appeared around 1960, just as its meaning became confused. High-culture up-and-comers were embracing pop imagery and tropes with a vengeance, and the best and brightest creators of entertainment were suddenly producing work of thrilling sophistication and complexity. It was also the coming-of-age moment for the first baby boomers, a cohort defined by its television-saturated upbringing and unparalleled level of college education — a generation, in other words, unapologetic in its love of commercial pop even as it put on arty airs.

But irony of ironies, after literature was evicted from mass culture, pop culture itself began to fragment and lose its heretofore defining quality as the ubiquitous stuff that everybody consumed. In a typical week nowadays, fewer than 6 percent of Americans see the most popular scripted series on television. So we have arrived at a strange new historical moment. Literature is just another (minor) sector of the culture industry, but now even the mandarins agree that certain pop artifacts — “The Sopranos,” “The Simpsons,” Radiohead — are cultural creations of the first rank. Meanwhile, popular culture and mass media are no longer very popular or mass. By and large, both entertainment and art appeal to niches, cultural tribes that range in size from tiny to smallish.
Andersen氏は、”In our Balkanized era, Barack Obama simply is the pop cultural colossus.”として、オバマを大統領にまで押し上げた米国社会における3つの大きな文化的トレンドを挙げる;

First there was the steady blackening of American popular culture. He was 4 when “I Spy,” co-starring Bill Cosby, first went on the air, and 6 when Sidney Poitierstarred in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” In the early ’80s, just as Obama entered adulthood, Jackson released the best-selling record ever, Bryant Gumbel was the new “Today” show anchor, Michael Jordan became the greatest American athlete, “The Cosby Show” was the most popular show on television, and Oprah went national. Then came Tiger Woods and white youth’s embrace of hip-hop. This transformation had been happening incrementally for more than a century, as Leon Wynter explained in his great book, “American Skin.” “The future,” Wynter wrote presciently in 2002, “is not about black people leading black people,” but “about black people leading all Americans.”

Then there’s our turn-of-the-21st-century pop-intellectual zeitgeist. Although most of the seats for serious novelists at the mass-market table were removed, PowerPointable nonfiction books retained their ability to shape the popular discourse. Malcolm Gladwell’s and Thomas Friedman’s books starting with “The Tipping Point” (2000) and “The World Is Flat” (2005), Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s “Freakonomics” (2005) and Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” (2008) have become phenomenally popular by embodying a cheerful, bracing, empiricist rigor without tilting too strongly left or right. They are lucid and accessible, carefully researched but not boring, pop but not too pop. And they have flourished in counterpoint to the harsh, predictably ideological manifestoes — from Rush Limbaugh’s “Way Things Ought to Be” (1992) to Michael Moore’s “Stupid White Men” (2001) — that dominated the pop political discourse during the preceding decade. In other words, the new species of pop-intellectual best seller is like Barack Obama himself.

The third big trend that helped usher in the Age of Obama was the morphing of news into entertainment. During the last decade, with the proliferation of Web news and 24/7 cable jabberfests, the old ratio of news supply to demand was upended. The vast new maw needed feeding, and a charismatic young black candidate and then president was a godsend. “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” finally dissolved the remaining membrane between news and pop culture. What’s more, the Comedy Central hybrids are (like Obama) fair-mindedly center-left, manifestly smarter (like Obama) than their conventional counterparts and hosted by men (like Obama) born in the early ’60s.


And then there’s Obama the tasteful pop-culture-consuming American, redefining presidential regular-guyness. On his iPod, Obama says, are “probably 30 Dylan songs,” “African dance music,” “Javanese flute music,” Yo-Yo Ma, Howlin’ Wolf, John Coltrane, Jay-Z, Frank Sinatra and Sheryl Crow. Having admitted getting high as a young man, as president he met with the Grateful Dead. The first movie he watched in the White House was “Slumdog Millionaire.” He doesn’t just name-check, but convincingly declaims — he prefers Spider-Man and Batman to Superman because “they have some inner turmoil.” And — crucially — he’s even acute and impolitic enough to discriminate between quality and crud: his favorite movies are the first two “Godfather” films, but he acknowledges the inferiority of “Godfather III” and says his wife “likes ‘American Idol,’ her and the girls, in a way that I don’t entirely get.” Yet the democratic spectacle of “American Idol” is of a piece with Obamaism, of course, given that the show is all about the excitement of watching a telegenic, talented nobody transformed by national referendum into a celebrity.