A Hard Sell

Dee's ambition is almost as grand as Osbourne's, and it's imprinted all over Palladio. Unfortunately, the novel of ideas is a tough trick to pull off at the best of times, and Dee is struggling to find new insights on a topic already thoroughly probed by nonfiction writers like Tom Frank (The Conquest of Cool) and Naomi Klein (No Logo). Dee is so absorbed with depicting the vapid vortex of the ad industry that he forgets to give us compellingly rendered characters. Ultimately Palladio is a failure of the imagination. In his Harper's essay, Dee argued that the obligation of the artist is to bring "something into the world that wasn't there before" rather than simply to recombine and recontextualize pop-cultural found objects. It's somewhat damning, then, that nearly all of Osbourne's schemes are taken straight from old issues of Advertising Age (for instance, his use of "transgressive images" as a way of "making yourself heard above the cultural noise" is a barefaced appropriation of Oliviero Toscani's notorious, early-'90s Benetton campaigns, with their ads featuring a bloody newborn or a dying AIDS patient). And the real world has already surpassed his own imaginings: Last fall, Bulgari paid Fay Weldon handsomely to write a novel featuring numerous product placements. But the literary community emitted only weak bleats of indignation in response—nothing like the roiling outrage depicted in the novel. Dee should have known that our culture absorbs each new shock as quickly as you can say Enron, and every moment he spent writing Palladio he fell one step behind.

Also in This Week’s Books Section:

Literary darling Jonathan Dee depicts the vapid vortex of the ad industry.
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Literary darling Jonathan Dee depicts the vapid vortex of the ad industry.


By Jonathan Dee
Doubleday, 386 pp., $24.95
Buy this book

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