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Culture Notes

Culture

Issue: "Lyons thrown to Baptists," Sept. 20, 1997

Serve somebody

Bob Dylan, the iconoclastic icon of the 1960s,will be performing before Pope John Paul II. He was invited to be part of a concert for youth at the World Eucharistic Congress at Bologna, Italy, on Sept. 27. The pope plans to be in attendance. A Vatican spokesman said that Mr. Dylan was invited because his songs have "spiritual value." Mr. Dylan converted to Christ in the late 1970s. For a while he recorded exclusively religious songs, but his zeal seemed to fade. As his concerts reverted to his more secular material, many fans assumed his "born-again" period was just another passing phase. Mr. Dylan is recovering from a near-fatal heart infection, which made him postpone much of his European tour. In a rare interview with USA Today, Mr. Dylan gave no indication, however, that the Vatican gig was in any way connected with any flirtation with Catholicism on his part. At any rate, Mr. Dylan's participation in the Catholic youth movement event-with its overtones of a conservative moral crusade-once again confounds the politically correct elite who yearn for the "old Bob" and who wax nostalgic for the values of the '60s. But , as Mr. Dylan said in an earlier context, they shouldn't criticize what they can't understand. For the times they are a-changin'.

Veith's believe it or not

The romance-novel industry has been deeply shaken by the confession by one of its best-selling writers, Janet Dailey, that she plagiarized from a rival novelist. One of the steamier writers in the genre, Ms. Dailey-who has published 93 books that have sold 200 million copies-admitted to lifting long passages from three novels by Nora Roberts, another best-selling romance writer. Though Ms. Dailey blamed a "psychological problem,"critics are asking if it is possible to plagiarize formula fiction. Prisoners have a right to pornography. A ban on sexually explicit material in federal prisons, passed by Congress last year, was declared unconstitutional. The "Ensign Amendment," devised by Rep. John Ensign (R-Nev.) was contested by Playboy, Penthouse, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Federal judge Stanley Sporkin ruled that the law served no rehabilitative purpose. Another big secular player is cashing in on the lucrative Christian market. TimeWarner,Inc., announced plans of a joint venture with Reader's Digest to distribute music in Christian bookstores. The media giant, whose rap division has come under fire for anti-social lyrics, will use the Reader's Digest label to sell CDs such as Highlights from the Messiah and Christmas music.

Desperately seeking a new taboo

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"Transgressive" is a new term of praise in contemporary aesthetics. A work is considered good if it boldly breaks society's taboos. But how can an artist be transgressive if there aren't any taboos? Consider the career of songster k. d. lang. First she transgressed against the conventions of grammar by insisting that her name be spelled in lowercase letters. Then she violated the norms of then-fashionable pop music by going country, making her career by skillfully emulating the sound of the great Patsy Cline. She alienated country radio, though, by becoming an animal-rights activist and advertising against eating beef, which did not go over well in cattle country. Next, she came out as a lesbian, which only managed to rejuvenate her career, though with a different audience. But her latest album, Drag, has once again found a way to be transgressive. In it she celebrates a vice so shocking that its practitioners are still scorned and driven out into the cold: cigarette smoking.

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