Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld. By Thomas S. Hibbs.
reviewed by Doug McManaman
Thomas Hibbs is a professor of Philosophy (Mediaeval, Ethics, and the Philosophy of Science) at Boston College. In this particular work, his prose is simply masterful. One might expect a book critical of pop culture to come across as overly negative and cynical, but the work contains not a trace of evidence of a cynical spirit. The tone throughout is gentle and the analysis of and insight into selected films is both penetrating and vast in scope.
One easily detects a mountainous weight of education and learning behind the pages of this relatively short piece of writing. In it Hibbs traces the gradual changes in perspective on evil (and goodness) that lurks behind the production of American film, and he very carefully demonstrates how these changes insidiously move in the direction of Nietzsche's special brand of Nihilism. The connections that he draws between lines in episodes of Seinfeld (and other sitcoms) and the philosophical implications of Nietzsche's thought is truly astounding and enlightening, so much so that one inevitably has the feeling of being slowly awakened from a partial slumber.
Moreover, there is a humor that faintly runs throughout much of this work, a humor that is difficult to describe. I believe the clue lies in the Latin roots of the word, humus: soil, dirt; and its relation to 'humility'--it is the healthy comedy involved in witnessing one so brilliant descend into the dirt of American film only to very calmly and without losing composure open our eyes to the guile and poison that is becoming part of the life blood of the modern family life.
The book is so rich in ideas that before finishing it, one will likely have made plans to read it again.
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