A thin collection of broadly informed but curiously uninspired millennial musings. The danger inherent in cultural criticism, especially in an era whose sprawling, polyvalent culture seems to be transmuting ever faster, is that you mistake the fad for the trend, the incidental for the monumental. And while Dery (Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century, 1995) seems to know the price of everything, he is a lot shakier on the true value. In this collection of essays, most of which have appeared previously in a variety of zines and webzines, he delves into such ephemera as Jim Carrey, the Heaven's Gate cultists, and the Home Shopping Network, seeking profundity but usually coming up short. Though he is good at sounding dull warnings about the hazards of consumerism, media culture, the World Wide Web, global capitalism, etc., he is remarkably unprescriptive. His usual style is to amass a clever bricolage of facts, figures, and relevant quotes, weave them expertly together, then wrap up with, at best, an original thought or two. Dery is most noticeable in the slightly shopworn theme that draws the essays together: "the pyrotechnic insanitarium of '90s America, a giddy whirl of euphoric horror where cartoon and nightmare melt into one." Dery does have an agenda (a rather doctrinaire blend of post-Marxism and post-New-Leftism)—if only he had an angle. He is an intelligent observer and has read and watched widely. His first essay, comparing our millennial situation to the massive social changes inaugurated and furthered by the opening Coney Island (the century's original "pyrotechnic insanitarium—), is probably his most successful, perhaps because he is able to transcend mere clever collage. As firework shows go . . . a few sparklers and lots of duds.
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