Monday, January 30, 2006

Vive Le Shoddy Journalism

There are few things I love more then a really vicious review. I miss the old Dale Peck, the way Pauline Kael could obliterate a movie in one line.

Well, delicious is Garrison Keillor's review of Bernard Henri-Levy's new book, American Vertigo, the road story of the French "public philosopher" as he travels around our country. Keillor eviscerates Levy's use of the tired cliches and easy stereotypes of America so beloved in Europe:

In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title.

Keillor is right to bristle about the tiring way European intellectuals reduce America to a collection of cheap and easy symbols of the id. Sometimes when I listen to the BBC, I get the feeling that there isn't a Jesus-mad cracker in the entire state of Alabama who hasn't been interviewed by one of their dulcet-toned reporters. It's just lazy when you think about it, like writing a book about France that talks only of ennui, baguettes, and the lovely views of Provence. Or as Keillor concludes:

Thanks, pal... Thanks for coming. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. For your next book, tell us about those riots in France, the cars burning in the suburbs of Paris. What was that all about? Were fat people involved?


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