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Two Americas: Ahmadinejad at Columbia, Tila Tequila on TV

I’ve watched very little TV in the past few years. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not some hacky sack fancier with a “Kill Your Television” bumper sticker and serious concerns about mind control. In Manhattan the service was too expensive, … Read More

By / October 15, 2007
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

I’ve watched very little TV in the past few years. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not some hacky sack fancier with a “Kill Your Television” bumper sticker and serious concerns about mind control. In Manhattan the service was too expensive, and in Greece there was only one English-language channel, which played Stallone movies, like Tango & Cash, First Blood, and Demolition Man, on endless repeat. (I wonder where Europeans get the idea that we love violence?) A consequence of this sporadic viewing is that whenever I do tune in, I’m blown away by how much worse it’s managed to get in the interim. As abysmal programming goes, A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila is the Marianas Trench.

Cast your mind back to December, when Time’s Person of the Year issue sported a mirrored cover honoring “You”—the You of YouTube, the Me of MySpace . . . . The magazine devoted a page to a 25-year-old named Tila Tequila, who had parlayed the distinction of being a popular denizen of MySpace into something like a career in showbiz. While Miss Tequila pursues numerous avenues of artistic expression—wearing bikinis while down on all fours, for example, and singing thuggishly aggressive come-ons in a twig-thin voice—her only demonstrable talent is for raw self-promotion, and Time politely wondered, “Does she represent the triumph of a new democratic starmaking medium or its crass exploitation for maximum personal gain?” Last night, the dating show A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila (MTV, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET) arrived to offer a reply. “Crass exploitation,” it giggled, continuing, “Duh!

A Shot at Love sets 16 men and 16 women in pursuit of the heroine’s affections. Yes, Tila is proud to call herself bisexual. . . . [F]ar be it from me to question the passions that stir Tila’s heart and loins. I’ll leave that to You, the collective author of Wikipedia and its ilk, who has coined the term “MySpace bisexual.” The recreational lexicographers at UrbanDictionary.com bring the utmost delicacy to defining the term: “A girl who makes out with other slutty chicks at parties and then claims to be bisexual because it’s trendy to say so and gets people’s attention on myspace.”

From Ahmadinejad at Columbia to Tequila on TV, why are we solemnly asked to meditate upon questions a mollusk could answer? “Does she represent the triumph of a new democratic starmaking medium or its crass exploitation for maximum personal gain?” Is there even a difference?

I might have overlooked this latest insult to our collective intelligence but for an article in The New Atlantis, “Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism,” which received attention this month on NPR and was condensed in the Wall Street Journal. MySpace.com, the networking site that gave Tila Tequila her fifteen minutes of fame—or should I say shots of fame, since the effects will wear off as quickly and leave as nasty a hangover—caught the attention of the intellectual public, but James Bowman’s essay on heroism, modernism, and utopia, in the same issue of The New Atlantis, is every bit as important. Reading Bowman’s piece returned my thoughts to something I’d just read in Paul Fussell’s brilliant The Great War and Modern Memory (yes, I’m fond of quoting Fussell):

[E]ven if those at home had wanted to know the realities of the war, they couldn’t have without experiencing them: its conditions were too novel, its industrialized ghastliness too unprecedented. The war would have been simply unbelievable. From the very beginning a fissure was opening between the Army and civilians. Witness the Times of September 29, 1914, which seriously printed for the use of the troops a collection of uplifting and noble “soldiers’ songs” written by Arthur Campbell Ainger, who appeared wholly ignorant of the actual tastes in music and rhetoric of the Regular Army recently sent to France.

Granted, Tila Tequila would probably be a hit at a USO show, but her popularity seems emblematic of a widening gulf between soldiers and civilians—though a different one than Fussell identified in the case of World War I. Fussell’s two Britains were the one that had seen trench warfare firsthand and the one that knew it only from the exhibition trenches in Kensington Gardens, which Wilfred Owen called “the laughing stock of the army.” The latter Britain had been misled about the war in many ways: “Few soldiers wrote the truth in letters home for fear of causing needless uneasiness. If they did ever write the truth, it was excised by company officers, who censored all outgoing mail.”

Notwithstanding Brian De Palma’s complaints, Americans have unprecedented access to uncensored news about the horror of war. What many of us don’t seem to have is an interest in the questions, both moral and practical, that this news raises. We grow shallower and more narcissistic as the army’s selflessness is cast in sharper relief. There are times when one can’t help feeling that much of the popular opposition to the war—as distinct from many undeniably well-reasoned criticisms of its conduct—stems from the fact that it offers a harsh and ever-present rebuke to the other America, more concerned with collecting online “friends” and luxuriating in hilariously bad pop culture than with being heroic. Bowman writes:

“Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes,” says the Galileo of that heretical utopian, Bertolt Brecht . . . . He was making a point very much like that of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. We don’t want Tom Doniphan any more than we want Liberty Valance, since both are free men, unconstrained by the laws and regulations of compassionate social engineers. We may have lost confidence in the ability of those engineers to design a perfect system, or even to live up to their own high expectations of humanity, but it is easier to go on clinging to their fantasies as if we believed them to be real than to submit to the despair of admitting to ourselves that life is still for us what it was to our great-grandfathers who believed—or at least pretended to believe—that there was nothing in it more important than being good.

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