PRINT April 1997


George W. S. Trow and Daniel Harris

THERE IS AN APPLIANCE in every living room that makes people stupid. This was a widely known fact before George W. S. Trow’s essay, “Within the Context of No Context” appeared in The New Yorker in 1980 (and in book form soon after), but Trow’s impressionistic meditation on the world of television, and the world of television’s effect on mass culture, fingered the beguiling awfulness of the medium, and the medium’s message, with arresting precision—arresting not least because the essay’s form mimicked the fractured pastiche that was, in 1980, only beginning to be called “postmodernism,” a condition of things engendered by television which Trow clearly viewed with fascinated revulsion.

The essay made waves. It was, among other things, the revenge of The New Yorker, as it then was, on a punitive construct The New Yorker called “downtown,” the retort of a vanishing class to the barbarians at

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