Informed, controversial, ranging from a melancholy study of rock and roll's descent into show business to a hilarious look at the spectacle that is the Jerry Lewis Telethon, these twenty essays offer an unusual and (ironically) entertaining study of American media by one of its foremost critics.
In these provocative essays, Miller, associate professor in the writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University, brilliantly employs the techniques of New Criticism to ``read'' TV commercials, game shows and the news, in order to expose television's pernicious effect on American life and culture. Miller persuasively argues that TV advertising sponsors seek to reduce viewers to a state of semi-hypnotized consumerism, and that qualities that might threaten this condition, such as individuality and critical awareness, are discouraged by everything on the tube. For example, Miller not only describes with devastating wit the game show Family Feud 's, stupidities and its host Richard Dawson's ``oleaginous noblesse oblige,'' he also proves that by rewarding contestants for giving the most common answer of 100 people surveyed, the show celebrates not family identity but the sameness of consumer households that advertising has helped to create. Even the news is governed by a desire to sell the viewer. The author's analysis of the 1984 Democratic primary news coverage demonstrates that TV journalists strive not to ``inform the public,'' but ``to tell the public what the newsmen think the public is already thinking.'' A handful of essays on rock music and film, while interesting, seem out of place in this collection devoted primarily to TV, and occasionally Miller's acerbic blows are below the belt. Photos not seen by PW. (September)
These two books of media criticism could hardly be less alike. Kitman has been writing TV criticism for 17 years, currently for Long Island's (N.Y.) Newsday . As his title suggests, his comments on the TV scene are played mostly for laughscheap ones at thatand he usually gets them. He is serious, however, when discussing drug use among celebrities, such as John Belushi and Stacy Keach. In all, he covers a lot of territory in mostly brief, rather disjointed and haphazardly arranged pieces. Like TV itself, this is lightweight entertainment. Miller, on the other hand, is a heavyweight. In his thought-provoking essays on the media, he has written a powerful indictment of televisionits all-pervasive hold on our society, its relentless sales pitch, and trivialization of important issues. Included are Freudian analyses of two advertisements, as well as the game show Family Feud ; an analysis of the fatherly images of both Bill Cosby and Ronald Reagan; and comments on the dehumanizing effects of news coverage. Miller also includes essays on rock music and cinema. One of the cinema pieces is particularly dated in that it reviews several Hollywood biographies, including Mommie Dearest and Lauran Bacall By Myself . Miller (Writing Seminars, Johns Hopkins), has written a book appropriate for college media courses. It's pricey for public libraries. Marcia L. Perry, Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield, Mass.
Mark Crispin Miller is the author of the best-selling books Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order, The Bush Dyslexicon, and Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too. An expert in propaganda and media, he teaches at New York University.