The Breakfast Table

No Diving: Shallow Water

Unfortunately, as your sublime postings indicate, you may not fit quite as comfortably in the Shallow target demo as would, say, Donovan Leitch (who was probably at Richard Artschwarger’s last opening and might even know who he is). Is Shallow (now incorporating WhateverWeekly) the house organ of slumming post-intellectuals or a picture book for and about the Eloi of contempo celebrity culture? The difference is crucial, since ostentatious shallowness is arguably the new pretension (no offense intended). Revealing your familiarity with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick at a book party at Shine will almost certainly not, as a friend would put it, get you laid. The ability to discourse wittily while leaving just a touch of doubt as to whether you’re serious or not about why 7th Heaven is the best show on the WB actually might (get you laid, that is). Low-culture slumming remains fraught with land mines even for the moderately intelligent (let alone intellectual virtuosos like yourself): being shallow requires you to say “I just like ———-” about ever more relentlessly moronic forms of cultural production. Entertainment Tonight? Check. VH1’s Behind the Music? Check. The columns of Frank Rich? Check. But WWF or WCW or whatever Monday Nitro professional wrestling? Tough one. The new Hollywood Squares, featuring Whoopi Goldberg, where the august Paul Lynde once held court Algonquin Round Table style? This requires serious rhetorical gymnastics.

Which leads to me to another urgent and also shallow query: Who has done more damage to American culture, Whoopi Goldberg or Robin Williams? Here are two “performers” who, by dint of staggering sentimentality coupled with a classic boomers’ overweening self-regard, have made Jerry Lewis’ Send In the Clowns look like a classic of diamond-sharp wit. In a world where Patch Adams (“Laughter is the Best Medicine,” or is it “Laughter is Contagious”?) does $25 million opening weekend, we post-ironistes are truly vestigial.