Writing for the Right to be Shallow

In her weekly “Smart List,” of upcoming cultural events, Las Angeles Times entertainment writer Deborah Netburn notes the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of On The Road. Netburn cannot help adding: “OMG, SACRILEGE! The author of Smart List does not love On The Road!! (Not even when I was in college!!).”

These remarks tell us more than we need to know about Ms. Netburn, and less than we ought to find out about Jack Kerouac’s novel. Netburn’s indifference notwithstanding, On The Road remains in print half a century after its first appearance and continues to sell very well.

Commenting on the recent death of Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, Stephen Pollard devoted an entire column in The Times (of London) to calling him an “overrated … purveyor of tedious films.” Pollard is so certain of his own “taste” that he asks, “In fact, do you know anyone who has ever seen a Bergman film? Thought not.”

Proud of even truculent about his limited aesthetic, Pollard takes gratuitous swipes at Lars von Trier (“a maker of terminally dull films”) and Woody Allen, whom he accuses Bergman of having ruined. Pollard does not mention any films he finds pleasing or insightful. Given how easily he finds himself beyond his cinematic depth, Pollard may well prefer “Terminator” and “Jackass Two.”

And that’s fine. Pollard, Netburn and others have a perfect right to their preferences. But what is the point of having such shallow folk inflict their prejudices on readers of “major” publications in search of information? Netburn has no clue as to why Kerouac’s novel continues to resonate in American culture. Nor, apparently, has she any curiosity about it. Where is the editor who will stop this spread of ignorance and opt for the shedding of light?

Pollard enjoys cutting down favorites of the self-styled “cineastes (they have their own word, signifying that they’re a cut above bog standard moviegoers).” But he hasn’t sufficient wit to remain silent, as in “it’s better to be silent and thought stupid than to speak and remove all doubt.” Perhaps Pollard offended the Times Comment editor, who decided to let him embarrass himself rather than try to modify his mindless nattering. As it is, Pollard’s pub squawls are several cuts below bog standard commentary.

Woody Allen provided his own, very curious, obituary of Bergman (“The Man Who Asked Hard Questions”) August 12 in The New York Times. It was all about … Woody. He used the word “I” 29 times in reference to himself and “me” seven times. Allen can only hope, upon his own death, that Stephen Pollard does not decide to eulogize him

But if he does, whether or not he has anything worthwhile to say, it is not likely any editor will stop him.

JAMES McENTEER is the author of Shooting The Truth: The Rise of American Political Documentaries (Praeger, 2006).


James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty DepartmentHe lives in Quito, Ecuador.