Imperial Masquerade

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Lapham is unimpressed with American arts and culture, angry with the American media, disgusted with the American government, and impatient with the American public.

With barely suppressed disbelief, he writes about the purchase--for thousands of dollars--at an art auction of an idea for a drawing. American artists--whether they are painters, writers, or actors--are more interested in celebrity and self-laudatory, ghostwritten autobiographies than they are in their work.

Meanwhile, the media is engaged in mythmaking on a grand scale. As an example, Lapham looks at the resurrection of Richard Nixon, who has been transformed from a crook into a wise, experienced political adviser.

As for the “legitimate” politicians governing the nation, Lapham is derisive. While he does not spare the Reagan Administration, some of his harshest criticism is directed toward Jimmy Carter. In a review of Carter’s autobiography, Lapham wonders when the former president was able to govern, since he spent so much time writing in his diary. Perhaps Lapham objects most to Carter’s self-serving tone and the myth created by him and the media that he is a misunderstood, country-boy sage. Carter’s image, says Lapham, is as sincere as the Democratic party machinery that supported him; such a media image has no substance beyond the advertisement on television.

The worst problem facing the United States, according to Lapham, is the low standard...

(The entire section is 416 words.)