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Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld Paperback – December 15, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Hibbs has a resplendent knowledge of, and a chagrined appreciation for, popular culture. -- Weekly Standard

The best way to understand the influence of Nietzsche on popular culture. -- Boundless webzine

This is cultural analysis at a high level, and we need more of it. -- National Review

From the Publisher

THOMAS S. HIBBS is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. A native of Washington, D.C., he received his B.A. from the University of Dallas and his Ph.D. from Notre Dame. Professor Hibbs has authored two scholarly books on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and has published numerous essays on medieval philosophy, contemporary ethics, and popular culture. He lives in Hudson, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Spence Publishing Company; 1 Ed edition (December 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 189062635X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1890626358
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,648,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Hibbs has the first fresh perspective on film and TV that I've encountered in a long time. Debates about the entertainment industry are usually so polarized-with "Hollywood vs. America" types on one side and "freedom of expression" types on the other-that they don't get very far. Hibbs' book is different, and anyone who presumes he knows what Hibbs has to say is probably wrong.
When academic philosophers write about pop culture, they're often so abstract and vague it's hard to believe they know what they are talking about. Again, Hibbs is different. His erudition is an asset, and the book is a good read. He understands these films on their deepest level-much better than the average professional film critic. His criticism is balanced: he appreciates the craft and artistry of films and TV shows even when he disagrees with their message. And he surprised me with favorable judgments of films I thought he would not like, though his explanations show that his reasoning is consistent.
The book is on the short side (less than 200 pages) and ends abruptly, and I wish Hibbs had said more about what our (and his own) affinity for these films and shows reveals about us. But I don't consider this a serious defect. His book compelling, and I plan to read it a second time after I've watched a few of these films-and Seinfeld reruns-again.
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Format: Hardcover
Nihilism comes in many forms, a natural result of the democratic liberalism that our culture has enshrined in its desire for individual self-actualization. Such is the assessment of Thomas Hibbs in "Shows About Nothing". In his inimitably prescient perspective, Hibbs sees this reflection of Nietschian thought especially predominant in the kind of entertainment that we watch.

In a particularly rigourous way, we are shown how seemingly disparate films or TV shows exhibit ways that we have approached issues of Good and Evil, ultimately indicating our collective agreement that there is little meaning in either term; instead we are subjected to coincidences and the capricious desires of a dark God who often makes lilfe one great comedy of the absurd. Hibbs shows the link between a movie like Pulp Fiction and Seinfeld, two sides of the same nihilistic coin.
The reader is left wondering where we will go next, once evil is merely and banal as goodness, and God is relegated to a being conspiring to make us unhappy and evil is always just around the corner.
At times Hibbs writes in a way that does not make his point clear. It is not always obvious if he approves of the film or movie he is discussing; on the other hand, perhaps his very ambiguity is indicative of the very problem we face.
What is remarkable is that Hibbs cannot contain his clearly Christian perspective. It is refreshing to see a Christian write a thoroughly engaging and scholarly analysis of where our culture is at. With the death of God comes comic meaninglessness and quests for meanings that ultimately have no end. He convinces us that we may indeed be Nietsche's last men.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you have any knowledge of modern philosophy you will probably find this book an engaging application of Nietzsche in pop culture. Otherwise you may have some trouble getting into it. I liked it well enough but I have read better (Neil Postman and Roger Scruton come to mind). The book will become dated as the examples used pass away into the forgotten archives of memory. But for now it does the trick.

I agree with the theory that influential philosophy (such as Nietzsche) eventually trickles down from its lofty intellectual heights to the lowest levels of society. From the episodes of popular film and TV the author teases out the underlying philosophic assumptions our culture has accepted. Some are overt but many operate below our personal radar--we simply take it for granted.

Overall the book was like a very long but very good film criticism. Fun.
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Format: Paperback
Thomas Hibbs reveals a new dimension to American popular culture with his book, Shows About Nothing. Many people are not going to know what nihilism is, or who Nietzsche was, but they can quote Seinfeld. Hibbs spends much time expanding this common thread, and examines the philosophical undertones of popular movies like Cape Fear and se7en. By doing so, he demonstrates that what the themes these movies teach us are either dangerously close to, and sometimes outright, nihilistic.

Before this book, I thought of nihilism as full-blown anarchy, and modern American society as only 'halfway down the road' to Nietzsche. Hibbs provides a more refined explanation of what nihilism is, and it is not necessarily the nightmarish struggle between 'ubermensch' one imagines. Sometimes nihilism can be quite pleasant, since you are 'beyond their good and evil' and see all morality as mere constructs of man. The flight from responsibility is one possible reason nihilism hangs around - human nature, another - and perhaps is why some dedicate their lives to 'deconstructing' our civilization to a collection of artifices. But there is great danger in this newly acquired freedom. As Hibbs once said in a speech, nihilism brings you both Seinfeld and Columbine.

It seems to me that nihilism, existentialism and deconstructionists are all sides of the same triangle. Many people blow off these schools of thought, because 'who cares what's in some book?' Well, Marxism also started out in book form, and ultimately grew to an opponent in the nuclear stalemate of MAD. Therefore, even bad ideas have power if professors or governments choose to endorse them. We spent thousands of years crawling out of the jungle; nihilism returns us there, and to this I feel there are only two logical ends. One is looking to a lonely sky and merely blinking at what was once God's kingdom to your forefathers. The other ends on your knees, bloodied, looking up the barrel of a gun.
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