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Shows about Nothing

Nihilism in Popular Culture

By Thomas S. Hibbs

Publication Year: 2012

American media is the subject of constant critique. The seeming exaltation of violence, sex, and illicit themes creates virulent opponents of the media and its content. But could it be that the American experiment—even the quest to fulfill the American Dream—actually encourages media to act in a way that deserves these critiques?

Probing deep into the canon of all things screen, Thomas Hibbs uncovers the disturbing truths about the contemporary media landscape. Beneath the shallow facade of evil lies the Nietzschean framework of nihilism—a nothingness that undermines notions of right and wrong while destroying any sense of meaning or purpose. Yet what makes this nihilism even more profound is Nietzsche’s warning that liberal democracies are especially susceptible to such nothingness. In his examples, Hibbs shows how the popular story lines and characters of our time often rule out any possibility of making a"right"decision. Ultimately, Shows about Nothing toes the line between something and nothing to suggest how popular culture can move beyond nihilism.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Praise for the Previous Edition, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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A Fragmentary Philosphical Preface: Frequently Asked Questions about Nihilism and Our Popular Culture

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pp. ix-xiv

The term nihilism comes from the Latin word nihil, which means “nothing.” It is the philosophy or state of life characterized by a lack of meaning or purpose. Nihilism means that there is no basis for distinguishing between good and evil, better and worse, noble and base. ...

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pp. xv-xvii

This book is a revised and greatly expanded version of Shows about Nothing, published by Spence Publishing in 1999. I remain indebted to publisher Tom Spence and editor Mitch Muncy for their help in the editing process and for their enthusiastic promotion of the book. The work they did promoting the book resulted in opportunities to write ...

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1. Nihilism, American Style

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pp. 1-40

In the introductory voice-over to Woody Allen’s film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), the narrator quotes Macbeth’s lines: “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In an interview with Commonweal just after the release of the film Whatever Works (2009) and not long before ...

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2. The Quest for Evil

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pp. 41-81

With the advent of the aesthetics of evil, the allegiance of viewers shifts from victims and societal order to sympathy with the devil. Moral ambiguity and black comedy are not new to the world of American film. Both trends can be found in film noir and in popular Hitchcock movies. What is new is the grotesque brutality that accompanies ...

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3. The Negative Zone: Suburban Familial Malaise in American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, and Mad Men

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pp. 83-105

We turn now from nihilism manifest in the civilization-defying artistry of demonic superheroes to the nihilism of ordinary life. The more common manifestation of the nihilism of ordinary life is in the quasi-tragic dramas about the malaise of the suburban family. Perhaps the most prominent depiction of the American dream turned nightmare, of the family as trap, ...

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4. Normal Nihilism as Comic: Seinfeld, Trainspotting, and Pulp Fiction

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pp. 107-140

In The Plain Sense of Things, James Edwards argues that nihilism is now our normal condition: “we are all now nihilists,” leading “lives constituted by self-devaluing values.”1 Our cultural pathology is a “hangover from our religious and philosophical history.” It is not just that we have yet to find the truth but that the notion of truth itself ...

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5. Romanticism and Nihilism

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pp. 141-156

In interviews about his film version of the P. D. James novel The Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuarón suggested that “our culture is over-narratized” and that “we are missing one of the biggest, probably something more powerful than narrative [to] humans—that is symbols. The ability to interpret symbols.”1 ...

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6. Defense against the Dark Arts: From Se7en to The Dark Knight and Harry Potter

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pp. 157-205

In the film Se7en, officers investigating a series of grisly murders discover odd clues and patterns in the activity of the killer and head to the library to pull out old texts of Dante and Milton. Unfolding a map of Dante’s vision of hell, it is as if the map were a guide to the city inhabited by the investigators. The fleeting hope is that such texts ...

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7. God Got Involved: Sacred Quests and Overcoming Nihilism

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pp. 207-234

As noted earlier, at least one contemporary philosopher, James Edwards, argues that nihilism is now our normal condition: “we are all now nihilists,” leading “lives constituted by self-devaluing values.”1 As a solace against despair, Edwards proposes the cultivation of a secular sacramental mentality. The contrast with Nietzsche is instructive. ...

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8. Feels Like the Movies

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pp. 235-242

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that the influence of TV on our contemporary mode of life is so thoroughgoing that it shapes us unconsciously, without our taking note of it. The role of TV in our daily lives seems wholly “natural.” We rarely advert to the phenomenon of TV itself, its mode of communication; instead, we ...


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pp. 243-249

Index to Movies and Television Shows

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pp. 251-257

E-ISBN-13: 9781602583795
E-ISBN-10: 160258379X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602583788
Print-ISBN-10: 1602583781

Page Count: 267
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 2