The Informer

For any partisan of intellectual journalism, Leonard is a small treasure. Combined with his sheer fecundity, his double specialty in television and literature leaves such fellow progs as Barbara Ehrenreich and Ellen Willis (although not the Alexander Cockburn of the wild and woolly The Golden Age Is in Us) looking rather austere. But while his intimacy with Serious Fiction—the subject of nearly half the book—adds flair and texture to his arguments, which break into literally novelistic detail at the oddest moments, it's also his weakness. Like many left-wing aesthetes before him, Leonard wants to believe that his pet pleasure is the key to human progress. But if indeed "good writers are better citizens than most of the rest of us," constituting "a parliament of hungry dreamers," then they're trickle-down legislators at best. When television's feel-good humanity fails to dent America's real-life social brutality, how are mandarins writing for other mandarins supposed to make themselves felt?


When the Kissing Had To Stop: Cult Studs, Khmer Newts, Langley Spooks, Techno-Geeks, Video Drones, Author Gods, Serial Killers, Vampire Media, Alien Sperm Suckers, Satanic Therapists, and Those of Us Who Hold a Left-Wing Grudge in the Post-Toasties New World Hip-Hop
By John Leonard
New Press, 362 pp., $25
Buy this book

Though Leonard is no snob, he's enough of a climber to forgive elitism in the unforgiving likes of William Gass and Joan Didion (about whom he at least has the perspective to cite Randall Jarrell on T.S. Eliot: "he'd have written The Waste Land about the Garden of Eden"). As a corollary, he's a brazen old fart. Novel lovers of every birthdate share his disdain for the Poisoned Twinkies. But when his essay on the cyberpunks, whom he's sci-fi enough to enjoy, ends by suggesting they read Toni Morrison, fight Viacom, and help the homeless, the burnt-rubber smell of '60s self-righteousness spinning its wheels leaves one to conclude that his sniping at sitcoms in general and Seinfeld in particular has nothing to do with art. And hey, he's not to be trusted on popular music either. But without him I would never have gotten the dirt on James Jesus Angleton, discovered Mating, or had the chance to opine that Monnew is twice the formal achievement Beloved is. Really, who has the time? Somehow John Leonard does. Then he comes downstairs and tells us about it.

« Previous Page