Saturday, January 12, 2008

Spoiled Rotten America by Larry Miller

Residual affection can go a very long way. Larry Miller is a generally amusing actor who was a fine stand-up comedian -- I remember, in particular, an HBO special he had, fifteen or so years ago, which culminated in what seemed to be a half-hour long bit about a comically horrible ski trip. It probably wasn't as epic as I remember it, but it was very long, very involved, and amazingly funny. Add that to a host of movie and TV appearances, and Miller had built up a great store of goodwill with me.

But I think he's just spent it all.

Let me say up front that Spoiled Rotten America is not a bad book -- not at all. It is bland, derivative, and shows absolutely no original thought or ideas, but Miller's voice is engaging (and very similar to his stand-up voice and the characters he usually plays) and it's pleasant to read.

Miller has been writing columns recently for The Weekly Standard, and this book is probably a fix-up of those columns. (The book itself is slightly coy on the subject.) Perhaps because of the venue, the essays are backward-looking, curmudgeonly, and obsessed with the imagined virtues of past eras. (In Miller's childhood, all men were strong, all women were beautiful, and all children played outside until dark.) His thesis, essentially, is that everything about the modern world sucks. (Once again I must mention the infinitely superior The Trouble With Nowadays, by Cleveland Amory, which had the good sense to know it was a parody of itself.) Miller affects introspection, but his thoughts about anything -- the world, himself, his family -- only descends about a molecule deep. He's exceptionally good at describing the surfaces of things, and talking about image -- he does live in Hollywood, after all -- but never even tries to go further than that.

Miller can still be very funny, and when he's not hitting his cultural talking points, Spoiled Rotten America is great fun. But I found myself skimming more and more as I went on, as the waves of secondhand thought and received wisdom crested higher and higher. If you want conservative cultural criticism, there are fire-breathers like Michael Savage and Bernard Goldberg -- I haven't read them, myself, but from my limited knowledge, Miller seems to be trying to be the Bush 41 to their Reagan. I'm not entirely sure there's a strong need for a book like this, but here it is. If you're a conservative, sentimental boomer who doesn't like actually thinking things through, I highly recommend Spoiled Rotten America.

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