Theme From 'A Summer Place'

The products of mass culture are not automatically to be sneered at, first because of their massive presence and second because sometimes they have a certain merit or are somehow amusing. The Creature From the Black Lagoon movies are still symbolically potent, and McDonald's has been known to dispense the best coffee that is easily available. But the movie house (or the video store) and the burger joint are environments we can choose or not choose. Some of the most insidious attacks by mass culture are invasions that we can hardly escape altogether. The grunge rockers, after all, aren't responsible for the vile background music we try to ignore in overpriced restaurants. That stuff is the work of the "grownies," as I have heard them called.

Even in the dentist's chair, the pain caused by "background music" blots out any other. The sense of aesthetic, moral, and even political outrage is more powerful than routine unpleasantness. Though bad music is by definition boring, that by no means implies that it is without significance, for the denial of meaning is itself meaningful. Nonbeing is the essential contemporary assertion. And in a queasy elevator in one of Mr. John Portman's Babylonian atria, the smarmy totalitarianism implied by musical manipulativeness is so obnoxious that it overcomes any proprioceptive anxieties or creeping acrophobia. Who wants to . . . relax . . . in defiance of...

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