Shows about Nothing: Is Popular Culture Nihilist?

Last month, Thomas S. Hibbs, Professor of Ethics and Culture and Dean of the Honors College at Baylor University, published the second edition of his Shows about Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture (Baylor), which updates—with reference to new television programs, films, and books—the volume’s first edition (Spence 1999).  Hibbs sees underneath much of popular culture a “Nietzschean framework of nihilism” whereby no ethical right and wrong can be discerned.  In this popular culture, according to Hibbs, we see the fulfillment of Nietzsche’s prediction that moral emptiness is an inevitable result of liberal democracy.  Whether Hibbs is correct—that popular art’s refusal to give morally definite conclusions necessarily implies an abandonment of morality rather than artistic reflection of the moral ambiguity in the world it depicts—is debatable (and perhaps to no end:  Does art reflect life, or life art?—as Oscar Wilde pointedly asked), but his book certainly raises interesting considerations, specifically in relation to a popular culture rarely subject to such inquiry.

Please follow the jump for the publisher’s description.

American media is the subject of constant critique. The seeming exaltation of violence, sex, and illicit themes creates virulent opponents of the media and its content. But could it be that the American experiment—even the quest to fulfill the American Dream—actually encourages media to act in a way that deserves these critiques?

Probing deep into the canon of all things screen, Thomas Hibbs uncovers the disturbing truths about the contemporary media landscape. Beneath the shallow facade of evil lies the Nietzschean framework of nihilism—a nothingness that undermines notions of right and wrong while destroying any sense of meaning or purpose. Yet what makes this nihilism even more profound is Nietzsche’s warning that liberal democracies are especially susceptible to such nothingness. In his examples, Hibbs shows how the popular story lines and characters of our time often rule out any possibility of making a “right” decision. Ultimately, Shows about Nothing toes the line between something and nothing to suggest how popular culture can move beyond nihilism.

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