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Dowd & Rich’s Gratuitous Pop-Culture References

Perhaps it’s because I write about pop culture and throw in lots of gratuitous references to politics, but I can’t help but marvel at the way that New York Times columnists Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich veer out of their lanes to incorporate references to pop culture.

Rich generally does a pretty good job of weaving these thoughts into his general thesis, as he did in Sunday’s column, which included this brief explanation about differences in how the public views the Big Three auto makers and Wall Street: “Perhaps we’re tempted to give Detroit a pass because it still summons
nostalgic memories of ‘American Graffiti,’ ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ and
certain things we used to do in the back seat of a Chevy. Wall Street
and bankers are the un-aphrodisiac: ‘Bonfire of the Vanities,’ Old Man
Potter of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and, of course, Gordon Gekko of
Oliver Stone’s ‘Wall Street.'”

For her part, Dowd’s TV and movie asides increasingly seem to come out of left field, as if she feels strangely compelled to remind us that she consumes a lot of both. So in the midst of a column about Barack Obama’s trip to Europe and the deft way in which he managed world leaders, we get this doozy: “Gabriel Byrne’s brooding psychoanalyst on ‘In Treatment’ might envy Barack Obama’s calming psychoanalysis in Europe.” (Then again, the attention showered on “In Treatment’s” season premiere relative to its audience size — with sizable spreads in both the L.A. and New York Times in addition to lengthy reviews — suggests that coastal journalists spend more time on the couch than the average reader does, in addition to spending a disproportionate amount of time with HBO.)

Actually, I think both columnists aren’t just showing off but probably reflect a pretty accurate perception of the way that their readers — even the affluent and educated ones that subscribe to the Times — filter their view of the world. Sure, you can cite some book or essay, but odds are they’re more familiar with “The Real Housewives of New York.”

In other words, even with the Times audience, people might have heard of the book, but there’s a better chance that they saw the movie.

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