For the high-minded foreigner, traveling in America can be a dangerous business. Look what happened to Bernard-Henri Levy. In January of last year the glamorous and respected French public intellectual — who has accepted the term “anti-anti-American” as a definition of his attitude toward this country — published his philosophical travelogue “American Vertigo” (Random House) and found himself promptly dismantled on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. The reviewer was Garrison Keillor, gatekeeper of the Midwest, and he had almost too much fun: Dewlaps a-rumble, he charged Levy with bombast, grandiosity, and — most witheringly — a “childlike love of paradox.” He quoted mercilessly from Levy’s flightiest speculations and mocked his heaviest thoughts. He used the phrase “term paper.” It was brutal.
Introducing the American edition of his book “The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures,” published last week by Da Capo Press, Louis Theroux makes wary reference to the Keillor/Levy takedown, recognizing that he is to some extent on the same “Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics and Faux Culture Excursion” — the Borat tour, essentially — for which Keillor so derided the visiting Frenchman.
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