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23 Savvy Writers Find Hidden Virtue in Reality TV, Chic Lit, Video Games, and Other Pillars of Pop Culture

Naomi Schaefer Riley Christine Rosen

Contemporary popular culture, from books to film to television to music to the deepest corners of the internet, has provoked a great deal of criticism, some of it well deserved. Yet for many Americans, and particularly for younger Americans, popular culture is culture. It is the only kind of cultural experience they seek and the currency in which they trade.

In Acculturated, twenty-three thinkers examine the rituals, the myths, the tropes, the peculiar habits, the practices, and the neuroses of our modern era. Every culture finds a way for people to tell stories about ourselves. We rely on these stories to teach us why we do the things we do, to test the limits of our experience, to reaffirm deeply felt truths about human nature, and to teach younger generations about vice and virtue, honor and shame, and a great deal more. A phenomenon like the current crop of reality television shows, for example, with their bevy of "real" housewives, super-size families, and toddler beauty-pageant candidates, seems an unlikely place to find truths about human nature or examples of virtue. And yet on these shows, and in much else of what passes for popular culture these days, a surprising theme emerges: Move beyond the visual excess and hyperbole, and you will find the makings of classic morality tales.

As the title suggests, readers will find in these pages “A-Culture Rated.” This lively roundtable of “raters” includes not only renowned cultural critics like Caitlin Flannigan and Chuck Colson, but also celebrated culture creators like the producers of the hit ABC comedy Modern Family and the host of TLC's What Not to Wear. Editors Christine Rosen and Naomi Schaefer Riley have tasked these contributors—both the critics and the insiders—with taking a step or two back from the unceasing din of popular culture so that they might better judge its value and its values and help readers think more deeply about the meaning of the narratives with which they are bombarded every waking minute. In doing so, the editors hope to foster a wide-reaching public conversation—one that will help all of us to think more clearly about our culture.

CONTRIBUTORS INCLUDE: Judy Bachrach, Megan Basham, Mark Bauerlein, Pia Catton, Chuck Colson, Paul Corrigan, Caitlin Flanagan, Meghan Cox Gurdon, Margo Howard, Kay S. Hymowitz, Jonathan V. Last, Herb London, Stacy London, Rob Long, Megan McArdle, Wilfred M. McClay, Caitrin Nicol, Joe Queenan, Emily Esfahani Smith, Brad Walsh, and Tony Woodlief.


Naomi Schaefer Riley and Christine Rosen ix 

Part 1: Love in a Time of Reality TV 

1. Sex, Lies, and YouTube
Kay S. Hymowitz 
/ 3  

2. Monster Mashup: How Our Culture’s Heroes and Villains Have Traded Places
Tony Woodlief 
/ 15  

3. Chick Lit and the Master/Slave Dialectic
Meghan Cox Gurdon 
/ 23 

4. Lonely Hearts Online: Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Meet My Husband on Match.com
Megan Basham 
/ 35 

5. In My Humble Opinion: Why Americans Still Need Advice Columnists
Margo Howard 
/ 45

6. All the President’s Friends: The Challenge of Loyalty in Politics
Pia Catton 
/ 51

Part 2: Smells Like Teen Spirit

7. An Unnatural Habitat: The Separate Lives of Adolescents
Mark Bauerlein 
/ 61

8. Th e Achievement Trap: How Overparenting Undermines Character
Caitlin Flanagan 
/ 69

Part 3: At Your Leisure

9. Games People Play—Together
Jonathan V. Last 
/ 79

10. Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Why Pro Athletes Aren’t Heroes
Joe Queenan 
/ 89

11. Performance Art: The Faux Creativity of Lady Gaga
Emily Esfahani Smith 
/ 99

12. Project Runway: The Surprising Virtues of Style
Herb London and Stacy London 
/ 107

13. Back to Betty Crocker: Why Everyday Cooking Matters
Megan McArdle 
/ 113

14. In Search of the Next Great American Songbook
Wilfred M. McClay 
/ 121

Part 4: Building a Better You

15. Controlling Our Bodies, Controlling Ourselves
Daniel Akst 
/ 133

16. Public Broadcasting: The Allure of Overexposure
Rob Long 
/ 141

17. Lessons for Life: The Virtues of Continuing Education
Patrick Allitt 
/ 149

18. Death Be Not Chic
Judy Bachrach 
/ 159

19. Th e American Dream, Twenty-Two Minutes at a Time
Paul Corrigan and Brad Walsh 
/ 165

20. Utopian Virtues
Caitrin Nicol 
/ 171

21. Never Having to Say You’re Sorry: The Challenges of Forgiveness in an Age of Relativism
Chuck Colson 
/ 179

Contributors / 189

Acculturated consists of essays in the best sense of the term—always readable and concise, often witty and entertaining, providing unconventional takes on their subjects and illuminating them with flashes of genuine insight. Covering a remarkable range of topics in contemporary pop culture, together the essays offer a composite portrait of America today—with all its sublimities and absurdities. The authors may be critical of pop culture, but, unlike many academics, they show that they actually are familiar with, and have a feel for, the phenomena they write about.

Paul A. Cantor, author of Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization

Sizing up and taking down the things we read, watch, and play, this all-star team of analysts provides a series of delights and surprises that will make you ponder anew the deep structures that inform our lives, even when we think we're off-duty. As one essay puts it, 'Style matters.' Yes, and so does fun.

Kyle Smith, movie critic, New York Post

Acculturated is a collection of brief, sharp-eyed, complex—and in the best sense of that sadly overused and abused term, entertaining—accounts of present-day American sensibilities and daily lives. It could have been titled The Way We Live Now, and there is no one in the country who will not experience the comfort of finding his habits and attitudes reflected in at least some, if not indeed every last one, of its pages.

Midge Decter, author of An Old Wife’s Tale

California Bookwatch

Any college-level collection strong in cultural analysis will consider this a lively, insightful survey.

Book News, Inc—Portland OR—October 2011

Editors and authors Rosen and Riley (Institute for American Values) compile essays by 23 US writers and journalists who examine what popular culture has to teach people about themselves and how society can reclaim popular culture for a discussion of concepts like virtue and character. They consider how reality TV, children’s and teen culture, Facebook, YouTube, video games, Lady Gaga, professional sports, blogs, cooking shows and celebrity chefs, and other pop culture forms teach people about how to behave and treat each other in relationships, including online dating and adultery, and how well those lessons are learned; how it reflects children’s experiences; how it has changed the way people spend their leisure time; and effects on self-improvement, such as in forgiveness and death and dying.

SciTech Book News--October 2011

Editors and authors Rosen and Riley compile essays by 23 US writers and journalists who examine what popular culture has to teach people about themselves and how society can reclaim popular culture for a discussion of concepts like virtue and character.