The Magazine

Seriously Flawed

When a cultural critic doesn’t quite comprehend Culture.

Oct 3, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 03 • By ALEC MOUHIBIAN
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But does it? The last time I checked, sensitivity and empathy alone can’t produce a vital novel. They don’t seem at all opposed to the moral consecration of envy, or the staging and ticket-distribution of vast festivals of self-pity. No examination of modern culture can be of much use without facing up to envy and self-pity and how they got to be so popular. “Before the coming of FDR,” wrote Eric Hoffer, who spent the 1920s on skid row, America “was singularly free of self-pity. None of the people I talked with blamed anyone for their misfortune.”

Like many tuned-in culture critics, Siegel is prone to miss the exit for the billboards. Saluting Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed his jet in the Hudson River, Siegel properly idealizes the passion for doing one’s job as the ultimate form of seriousness. But nowhere does he pull over to ask just where that passion was lost. Perhaps it had something to do with all the precious meanings and prideful empathies everyone started experimenting with once college became a national rite of passage. The sincere quest to be serious, after all, does not quite amount to the real thing.

Alec Mouhibian is a writer in Los Angeles.