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 Now that the car is no longer the center of our technology, ``What is the new order in the making?'' In the style of Roland Barthes, Blonsky (Semiotics/New School for Social Research) sets out ``to decode a series of American myths,'' and the contents of his interviews with assorted celebrities and thinkers are at once astute and entertaining. Superficiality may be at issue (surface ``is an organizing category of the early 90's''), but Blonsky talks perceptively to and about Madonna and Yevtushenko, fashion models and Stephen King, Armani and Umberto Eco as he considers subjects as diverse as the N.Y.C. subway system, American food tastes, and the charm of John Gotti. Blonsky, for his part, is hip, not cynical, aware of his own posturing with particular individuals and temperate with linguistic special effects as he elaborates on signs from codes often ``unwritten and usually unconscious''--fashion, pornography, advertising, horror stories. Several designers tell him how to dress; porn-star Annie Sprinkle has admirers line up for a speculum show; Ted Koppel acknowledges the edge given by distance (e.g., no eye contact) during an interview. Most of Blonsky's interviews here proceed beyond simple revelation (Merv Griffin says Wheel of Fortune home-viewers are supposed to guess the answer before contestants) to more provocative insights (Mario Rollini on connections between thinking and chair-design, or Costa-Gavras's fear that ``we're losing our capacity to be attentive''). Generally, the author directs and shapes the conversation, aware of a concentration on ``art more than truth'' while offering proportioned comments of his own (``American taste is dominated by advertising, and advertising appeals to the visual and social''). Americans have been cued in to bits of this ever since Vance Packard introduced The Hidden Persuaders; with its broad-ranging ideas and worldly accents, though, this book has a rather specific niche/market of its own--big city, university campus, the coasts- -and don't underestimate its power to stimulate discussion about popular culture. (Thirty halftones.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-19-505062-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991