The Revenge of “Poshlost”

In a 1967 interview with Paris Review, Vladimir Nabokov was asked to elaborate on the Russian concept of “Poshlost”—a kind of smug philistinism that he had first discussed in his collected Lectures In Russian Literature. “Now if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing,” Nabokov observed, “we must look for it in Freudian … Continued


Zsa Zsa: A Testament to Current Kardashian Culture

After school during the 1970s, you’d find me most days curled up in front of the family RCA, snacking on some Ring Dings (washed down with Sprite) and settling in for two hours of talk-show fun: Merv Griffin first, followed by the Mike Douglas show. Week after week, I absorbed a parade of seventies grand … Continued


Before the Kardashians, There Were the Mitford Sisters

In the winter of 1949, Nancy Mitford wrote a letter to her friend, the novelist Evelyn Waugh, declaring: “I am having a lovely life—only sad that heavenly 1948 is over—except for Bobo’s death which I MINDED—one of the happiest years I ever had.” (Bobo was her nickname for her notorious Nazi-friendly sister Unity, who referred … Continued


What Shirley Jackson Can Teach Us About the Virtues of a Messy Life

Shirley Jackson loved children, eating and drinking, sports cars, big old houses, cats, smoking, books, and writing scary tales and domestic memoirs. Her unsettling 1948 short story, “The Lottery,” first published in The New Yorker, would become one of the most anthologized stories in the history of American literature. She was also a miserable, sad … Continued


JT Leroy and the Limits of Postmodern Deception

In the early 1980s, my family and I, living in Newton, a suburb of Boston, were victims of a hoax. A scruffy, boyish young woman, wearing a red hockey jersey emblazoned with the letters “CCCP,” her hair cropped and uneven, “popped out of nowhere,” in my father’s words, while he was conducting a practice for … Continued


How Government Bureaucrats Ruined American Food Culture

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are,” the great French gastronome and essayist Anthelme Brillat-Savarin famously declared. The history of cuisine—what people eat and why—provides a mirror into the manners, beliefs, and aspirations of particular societies. It is in this spirit that food scholars Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe … Continued


Patty Hearst: The Original Celebrity Radical

It’s been over 40 years since the world heard Patty Hearst tell her parents, via tape recording, in her affectless rich-girl voice, “Mom, Dad, I’m OK. I’ve had a few scrapes and stuff, but they washed them up, and they’re getting OK. . . . I’m not being starved or beaten or unnecessarily frightened.” Thus … Continued


White Trash Will Always Be With Us—Thank Goodness

Most of my friends recognize that summer has officially arrived when I come sailing into their backyard barbeques with my incredible brownies in one hand and my “White Trash Potato Salad” in the other. It’s the salad that gets everyone excited: baby white potatoes, chunks of bacon, and scallions swim in a dressing of mayonnaise, … Continued


Does a New Novel Glorify the Manson Murders?

Has there ever been a generation in human history more devoted to self-mythology than the Baby Boomers? Casting themselves as idealistic revolutionaries, the privileged, largely white, college-educated Boomers were going to remake 1960s America into a utopia of love and brotherhood: “We are Stardust. We are Golden,” Joni Mitchell sang. Sadly, or so their mythology … Continued

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