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.

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