I’ve been preoccupied with weighty issues this week: Paris Hilton’s prison saga and the (genius) ending of The Sopranos.
The fact that I’m spending so much time pondering the fate of one of the most superficial pop culture fabrications in recent times (Paris) and the absurdity and high camp that seem as part of her birthright as free booze at any Hilton bar around the planet makes me feel a little icky. Kinda like when you laugh at a joke that’s offensive to someone but funny nonetheless. On the other hand, I’m happy enough to obsess about the greatness of a groundbreaking television series and the parallels between the last episode’s shocking sign-off and Charlotte Bronte’s brilliant and mostly overlooked Villette (any of you agree?) and not at all embarrassed to discuss it.
What these preoccupations with high and low popular culture say about my intellectual life is also something I’m wrestling with. I find myself ruefully wondering what happened to the avid bookworm who couldn’t wait to turn off the world and embed herself in a book (or series of books), finishing one and immediately starting the next like a chain smoker lights a new cigarette from the butt of the last. I can find some solace in the rationalization that, as agents, we have to keep up with events in our media driven society – you never know when a Hilton (or a Hilton hanger-on) will come calling with a tell-all – but I can’t help but worry that so much time and mental energy spent on tabloid stories and on television – the good as well as the cringe-worthy – is relegating books to a dusty shelf in my library of priorities.
A few years ago there was much debate about whether e-books would mean the demise of traditional books as we know them. Those of us who treasure the experience of holding a fragile, musty tome or a crisp new paperback, feel that reading involves much more than a visual or imaginative process. It is truly a sensual experience that e-books, for all their virtues cannot replicate. Well, e-books have been around for a while now and they haven’t taken the place of our beloved traditional books. Turns out, it’s hard to curl up in bed with an e-book and have the same kind of sensory input.
A bigger threat to books, I think, is the pull on our attention by other media, the fast pace of our lives, the tabloid size reduction of the world into uni-dimensional bites of information that fail to tell the whole story – Paris Hilton would have been a wonderful Wharton heroine, no?, but who has time for a 500-page novel when her whole experience is summarized and trivialized by tmz.com, UsWeekly and Barbara Walters.
In response to Adina’s last blog, I think my summer resolution is to pay less attention to what’s on television and the tabloids and go back to my first love.