J. Hoberman

  • Baseball

    WHOSE FIELD? WHAT DREAMS? That professional Baseball is in large part a mental construct is suggested by its affinity for abstract representation in box scores, statistics, and Strat-o-matic games—not to mention plummy journalism, popular memory, and the simulated radiocasts that made “Dutch" Reagan a legend among Iowa’s Chicago Cubs fans during the late 1930s.

    Baseball records are such that the least action in a major league game will be preserved—forever. Thus the experience of following Baseball, season after season, decade after decade, is as different from watching any one game as it is from


    SOME MODERNISMS ARE MORE modern than others: the delay with which “advanced” esthetic ideas penetrated the Czar’s frozen empire only heightened the passion with which Russian artists rushed to embrace them. The years immediately preceding and following the October Revolution saw movements that had taken half a century to unfold in the West replayed in Moscow and Petrograd (and even Vitebsk) with a stunning compression—as in a Futurist movie based on time-lapse photography.

    Doubly isolated and oppressed, Russian Jews were the yeast in this cultural ferment, particularly after 1917. But while

  • American Myths

    NO ONE HAS EVER identified him- or herself as a “yuppie”–– at least not recently. Like the tourist or the ideal viewer of network TV, the yuppie is always another. But the yuppie is also a historical construct: after a generation of “young urban professionals” were defined as a designated voting bloc, Newsweek declared 1984 the Year of the Yuppie (thus bearing out the prediction made by the authors of The Yuppie Handbook in the January 9 issue of People magazine).

    Affirmation built into the very term, “yuppie” was conceived in the afterglow of the military action that made Grenada safe for American

  • American Myths

    THE AMERICAN “1988” was a year in continuous comparison with sometime else. The crash of ’87 had everyone thinking “1929,” but the first half of ’88 was devoted to commemorations of “1968.” With the nominations of Michael Dukakis/Lloyd Bentsen and George Bush, the emphasis changed to “1960,” which, once the Duke proved himself anyone but JFK redux, elided the fabled Thousand Days with endless replays of November “1963.” (Bush, it should be noted, continued to run against “1968”—at one point creating a symbolic polarity between Easy Rider and Dirty Harry.1)

    Before “1989” develops its own personality,

  • American Myths

    BY NOW YOU'VE HAD plenty of time to reforget Patty Hearst, the 34-year-old granddaughter of Citizen Kane, a blip on the national radar screen who enjoyed one of her periodic resurfacings late summer with the release of Paul Schrader’s Patty Hearst. It is Patty’s fate always to be the symbol of something—usually two things, often contradictory. Thus: Patty/Hearst, hippie/heiress, became a revolutionary/victim with her 1974 abduction by the terrorist Symbionese Liberation Army, and now—after the crucible of media notoriety, prison, and marriage—reemerges as her true self, a celeb/suburban matron.

  • American Myths

    When a dedicated new management team and a fine union in Milwaukee work together to turn Harley-Davidson around and help it come back to life . . . we are all enriched and ennobled.
    —Michael Dukakis, accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party for President of the United States, July 21, 1988.

    MICHAEL DUKAKIS MAY SEEM like the least likely guy in America to hitch a ride on Harley, but he clearly knows the special place the machine has in the hearts of his friends, the electorate: “I pledge allegiance to the hog of the United States of America and to the concept for which it stands: One

  • American Myths

    THERE'S A CERTAIN IRONY that those youngsters growing up under Ronnie le Cowboy will be the first American kids of the 20th century to reach adolescence without receiving a thorough indoctrination in the ethos of the frontier, the spectacle of marshals and rustlers, the drama of cowboys and Indians—and in this the quality of American-ness will have changed. For the now-defunct western was typically the way that, however honestly or meretriciously (and always refracting the past through the lens of the present), America used to explain itself to itself. Who makes the law? What is the order? How

  • American Myths

    GIVEN THE CULTURE’S current emphasis on designer condoms and anxious obsession with the nuclear family, you might think that the romantic twosome would be making a comeback, that it’s once again time for Fred & Ginger, Nick & Nora, Gable & Lombard, Bogey & Baby, Hepburn & Tracy, George & Gracie, Ralph & Alice, Liz & Dick, Steve & Eydie, Bonnie & Clyde, John & Yoko, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and so on & so forth. But the most passionate love stories in America these days tend toward narcissism. They’re one-person affairs—Vanna White’s, say, or Eddie Murphy’s. Ask your friends to quickly

  • American Myths

    AMERICANS LIKE TO believe themselves unregimented by history, yet we measure our lives by presidents and mark our personal development by decades. For the past fifteen years, the era known as the Fifties—actually the 1954–63 period between the Korean and Vietnam wars—has functioned as a sort of lost paradise, both serious and parodic, within American popular culture. (The consensus is that the Eisenhower-Kennedy years were America's last age of consensus.) As late-night TV spots for anthologies of ancient pop hits define it, the Fifties were “Fabulous.”

    The first movie to periodize the Fifties

  • Hollywood on the Potomac.

    MOVIE-GOING HAS LONG CEASED to be a national habit for just about everyone except teenagers, but the movies themselves remain a powerful instrument in the multimedia symphony of American mass culture. Television is a continuum and pop music a way of life, but each new picture is an aspiring Event—its fatal attraction dependent on stimulating the public’s fascination. Entertainment aside, the movies’ function has been to offer metaphors, showcase possibilities, present new personality types, and provide socially cohesive cocktail-party conversation and intimations of the zeitgeist. More: the

  • Comrades in People.

    IS THIS A TRICK or what? Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost clouds our minds, confounds our ideas of Otherness, and obscures our sense of who they, and hence we, are.

    For the streamlined Manichaean logic of Reaganism demands that the United States always have an Enemy. It’s like a negative form of serial monogamy: at any given moment we’re media-mobilized against the Sandinistas or the Ayatollah or (in a pinch) Japan, each Daily Hate segueing smoothly into the next, however contradictory. Thus last year’s bombing of Tripoli was immediately succeeded by hostility toward those “Euro-wimps.”

    But as Reaganism


    IN PRINCIPLE, THE ARTIST as a ways been identifiable by a trademark. It took Andy Warhol to make the two identical. By calling his studio a factory Warhol blatantly identified his output with that of an assembly line. He used mechanical reproduction not only as a source of ready-made imagery but, just as important, as a means to rationalize esthetic production by adjusting. supply to demand. “Andy Warhol” has become the brand name given a certain recording device—and a means of distribution. The mechanical stare of the camera underscores all Warhol enterprises turned back on itself to photography,