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Junk Politics: The Trashing of the American Mind Paperback – January 5, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

These essays offer a refreshingly impious denunciation of the movement for "civility" in public life-a movement, DeMott says, toward nonpolitics, in which, for instance, presidential candidates talk about their personal lives instead of addressing large issues. DeMott, emeritus professor of humanities at Amherst College, says that celebrity, consumer culture and "touchy-feely" policy initiatives like faith-based social work and character education work to "personalize" and "moralize" political debate and deflect attention from addressing America's problems and the large-scale programs needed to solve them. Despite DeMott's connective essays, the argument doesn't always cohere across these disparate articles (originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and elsewhere). He leaves loose ends, suggesting but never proving that the civility movement is a red herring concocted by "top dogs" to distract challengers to the status quo. He also lumps together too many unrelated trends under the term "junk politics." It's hard to see compassionate conservatives, the sexual revolution, management gurus, Dave Eggers, George Will and L.L. Bean catalogues as examples of a single phenomenon. Moreover, the notion that the post-Gingrich era is a time of excessive civility is questionable, and DeMott doesn't adequately explain how the trash-talking, ideological wing of the conservative movement relates to this mushy, apolitical "junk politics." In DeMott's defense, his critique is amorphous partly because his target is a sensibility. He is often effective at analyzing the national psychology, especially in his witty deconstructions of everyday culture. Junk Politics hints at a promising new approach to the well-worn topic of Americans' disengagement from democracy, but DeMott could have done more to synthesize and clarify the ideas in these disparate essays.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (January 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156025565X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560255659
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,698,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Benjamin DeMott sets up this book as sort of cautionary advisory to the everyman. I expected this book to establish the most overlooked, yet common problems in American society and political advertising. He does touch base on this, but the points become so lost in unnecessary details, that one might lose interest within the first few pages. As much as I'd hate to judge a book by my own ignorance and limited vocabulary, it is hard to make it a paragraph without needing to break out a dictionary a few times. Not that there's anything wrong with an author using big words, but it is so unwarranted that DeMott's tone comes off as pretentious.

Furthermore, I would say about 80% of this book (which are actually essays, evidently unrelated to each other, yet pertaining to the topic at hand) is totally unnecessary. Demott goes off on tangets about an incredibly specific topics that I can't help but feel just serve as filler for the book. Take, for example, the 40 or so pages where he criticizes the media for attempting to represent blacks and whites equally. And then goes on to complain about magazines showing happy people. Keep in mind that in NO way does he tie any of this back to politics in a logical or cautionary manner.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
A brilliant intervention by cultural critic Benjamin DeMott -- these beautifully written reports and essays identify the malaise at the center of American politics and show how the obsession with character and civility -- the "perils of the touchy-feely" -- are actually a dangerous and reactionary distraction. The book is particulatly sharp about post 9-11 political discourse. Essential in every way.
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8 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Marcus Welch on February 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
Saying that politicians produce "junk politics" is like saying that authors produce junk books or that "cultural critics" produce junk cultural criticism.
DeMott provides a false choice between sentiment and substance and then proceeds to define substance in a politically sectarian way - egalitarianism. Even if we were to accept DeMott's definition of substance, John Edwards is an example of how "substance" and sentiment can go hand-in-hand. Edwards frequently engages in the cheerful and (even worse) civil "politics of personal testimony" on the one hand and offers proposals that address inequalities on the other. Perhaps DeMott would argue that Edward's proposals are not sufficiently radical. He would have a hard time arguing that they are not substantive. (But it would be nice to see him try.)
It is hard to conclude that political discourse suffers from an excess of civility when two of the best selling political commentators are Michael Moore and Ann Coulter. If "teachers" lacking in civility is what DeMott wants in his politicians, then Gingrich is his man.
For a guy who demands substance from others, DeMott is conspicuously AWOL when it comes to his own. If the vapid prose of Benjamin DeMott is an example of the constructive alternative to the horrors of "civility" then I am prepared to be horrified.
DeMott's book is an idea for an essay inflated into the size of a book. At 270 pages, it is about 250 pages too long.
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