cover image Are You Serious? How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly

Are You Serious? How to Be True and Get Real in the Age of Silly

Lee Siegel. Harper, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-176603-9

"We spend our days searching for a way to be serious," writes critic Siegel (Falling Upwards) in this shallow investigation of seriousness from its essential elements ("Attention, Purpose, and Continuity") and Renaissance roots to how it has been overtaken by our culture of surging silliness, frivolity, and the celebrity industry complex. It's a compelling argument, but it suffers from Siegel's own puzzling criteria and questionable quibbles (who would agree with him, for example, that John Updike has "become either a target of ridicule or been forgotten by literary culture altogether"?) and awkward prose (Marion Ettlinger, "Serious photographer of the Serious," whose "camera is to a writer what Pierce Brosnan is to an Omega watch"). Siegel covers a wide gamut of contemporary culture and politics%E2%80%94Gary Hart and George Steiner, Oprah and Irving Kristol, modern portraiture and the Tea Partyers%E2%80%94and he is sincere, but his knee-jerk criticisms ("Pixar is to contemporary seriousness what, in the late nineteenth century, Dickens was to literary seriousness") distract and disappoint. (Aug.)