03 February 2008

ENOUGH Already About Susan and Annie

Lindsay Lohan © Annie Leibovitz

Cultured types - those who read, say, the NYRB or The Nation or The New York Times, but never, ever openly or un-ironically, read rags like People or worse - regularly tut-tut pop culture celebs who insist on, or are unable to resist, parading their foibles and self-absorption in public. We look pityingly at Paris and Lindsay and Britney and the serial car-wrecks that pass for their lives.

Susan Sontag © Annie Leibovtz

There is a pretty astounding level of hypocrisy at work here though. Instead of the tabloids we obsess over the "memoirs" of heroes, whether literary or artistic, and their survivors. This is a topic I have skirted several times and, in each instance - here and here and here - I've tried to be charitable. But I have really grown weary of the obsession with Susan Sontag, her anxieties, and the exhibitionism of her circle. Her son apparently has a new memoir preoccupied with detailing the difficulty his mom had acknowledging that perhaps she was not quite so special or extraordinary after all. And her "companion" apparently is the subject of a new film seeking to establish that she is extraordinary.

Let's be clear Susan Sontag was a smart, articulate, often insightful woman. Annie Leibovitz is a talented photographer. As for David Rieff, from what I can figure, he is mostly an example of how the smart gene can be recessive. But Sontag also often was an incredibly irritating writer and was wrong about a lot. Leibovitz consistently has chosen to use her talent to shore up what Sontag derisively called our "culture of celebrity." (I am unsure how to calculate the degrees of separation, or if near misses like this even count, but if you Google Spears Leibovitz you will discover that, impressed by photos Annie had taken of Tom and Katie and their baby, a couple of years ago Brit had explored the possibility of getting Annie to photograph her son.) As I have noted here before, Sontag, seemingly unaware of the irony, tossed that phrase as an epithet at those she chose to criticize. This latest round of promotion and self-promotion makes the way Sontag relied on that epithet seem incredibly shallow and shabby.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seems to echo your recent posting on the indulgence of some female artists. I guess the same argument can be made for many female intellectuals, too. Well, at least I always found women like Sontag, and Paglia to be very self-absorbed.

03 February, 2008 16:31  

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