Former Hollywood insider Ian Grey turns a critical eye on his former stomping grounds in search of crass over-commercialism, clichés, unscrupulous practices, insipid scripts, an overall standard of homogenous, formulaic, unimaginative product and—Shazam!—he finds it! Along the way, Ian offers up some revealing, often hilarious tales of self-obsession in the movie industry. The conclusions he draws from analyzing the well-documented, narcissistic chicanery of the Hollywood grist empire are less than insightful.

Grey hates the pandering, take-no-risks, lowest-common-denominator tack of the major motion picture studios, and who doesn’t? To this end, he’s compiled a litany of stories that effectively skewer a mainstream entertainment industry bereft of any merit. Interviews with such luminaries as Wes Craven, John Waters, Michael Lehmann, and Julie Strain; Grey’s own first-person accounts of misanthropy; film-geek analyses of just what’s going wrong, and dashes of lively gossip piece together well as evidence of the problem. Where Grey goes off course is in his editorializing, which indicts the state of Western culture as the culprit for misogynistic thrillers; sappy tearjerkers; epic, consumer-baiting, flash-before-script, Taco-Godzilla-Bell moronathons; and… (well, you get the picture). The crux of his sometimes-argued (although never cohesively) thesis is that a corporate conspiracy has turned us into all-consuming zombies, restrained from enjoying life’s greater pleasures, always controlled by a sinister, unseen megalopoly (presumably The Elders of Zion, Inc, or some such). To wit: “In lemming-like fashion, we strive to emulate the advertisements the movies have become. We struggle to acquire the perfect bodies, computers, and other fine products of a media-invented ‘life.’ Inevitably, we find ourselves wanting. Meanwhile, ‘adult discourse’ is systematically squelched in favor of ‘entertainment,’ which is considered sacrosanct…In this process of cultural erosion, the ability to examine, critique, or even take an extended look at any part of real life is worn away by the steady profusion of mediated idiocy.” Whoa! I saw Titanic, and it was pretty bad, but I had no idea I was in for all this.

Furthermore, Grey can’t help but throw his voice behind the now-popular notion that the whole of modern media is controlled by a miniscule number of voices in need of a stern trust-bust. You know the story: Rupert Murdoch, Sony, Disney, and Ted Turner tightly control all the world’s information, and only allow the little people access to what they deem proper. (For reference purposes, Grey has reprinted, courtesy of The Nation, a helpful guide to the feudal lords in this media morality play.) This criticism comes at a time in history when there has never been a greater profusion and distribution of information. A time when doomsayers of another stripe are warning against too much information, coining the term “information pollution.” Whose name from amongst the media pantheon is showing up in videotaped depositions of the President—Murdoch? Turner? No, Matt Drudge, a political gossip fetishist who decided to set up a Web site dedicated to the dissemination of such piffle, which became the talk of D.C. We’re all the media now! In short, the cultural landscape is so wide open at this point in worldwide development that choices in every medium abound.

Sorry to get sidetracked, but unforeseen detour is the tone of this book. Culture critic-types hoping for a balanced, well-researched exegesis on the nadir of modern culture won’t be well rewarded here—this treatment is mostly anecdotal, and in that regard it is an engaging read. Despite my antipathy toward Mr. Grey’s conclusions, I tore through the book in short order, which is the measure of a page-turner. And I’m always game for good Kevin Costner bashing.

-Bo Pogue


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