* Susan Sontag's death. I didn't read a whole lot of her work (was more of a Vidal fan in my impromptu adult education), though I did like some of her early essays. Sontag loomed large over the Western educated crowd, and was one of the first Big Thinkers to treat camp and pop culture seriously (Vidal claims that she stole her camp insights from Christopher Isherwood's "The World In The Evening"), granting permission to those who followed to ponder the aesthetic worth of the dumbest topics (someday I'll post online my 798 page dissertation on The Monkees).
Once stood next to her at one of Hitchens's parties (though I was more transfixed by a scowling Ann Coulter, who was the thinnest person I've seen outside of Auschwitz photos, and whose "date" was decidedly on the lavender end). She and Hitch served as an audience to a guy with wild, uncombed hair who ranted in a thick, middle-European accent. I had no idea who he was, but he seemed crazy to me. This was around the time when Hitch began his slide into war frenzy, pre-9/11, so I guess it had something to do with the bombing of Serbia, which he and Sontag supported. Thankfully, Stanley Crouch was there, and we had a delightful chat.
Sontag took hits from swivel chair commandos for her statements after 9/11, which took some guts to say in that environment, and which still ring true. Of course, bringing historical and geopolitical context into the national "discourse" will usually get you heckled and slimed. Kudos to Sontag for braving that. And a tardy farewell to an atheist who's probably (and I hope pleasantly) surprised.
* Ashlee Simpson. After getting booed off the stage during the Orange Bowl's halftime show, you'd think that, finally, the girl would realize that this singing thing ain't working and that she should find another outlet. But this misses what I believe is now an obvious point -- Ashlee Simpson is bad on purpose. Getting "caught" lip-syncing on "Saturday Night Live," the dopey videos, her screeching and growling in front of millions is all intentional. Like her sister Jessica, Ashlee is a pre-packaged parody of pre-packaged celebrity. Their father Joe Simpson has pulled off a brilliant marketing concept that barely masks a trenchant critique of American trash culture (Jessica/Wholesome, Ashlee/Rebellious). Americans love garbage, and love to hate garbage. So long as there's garbage, the country is happy. The Simpson girls reflect this reality while raking in serious dime (profits that reinforce the critique). I think the Lettrists would've approved.