Pop life

A memoirist views his hard upbringing through a lens of low-culture obsessions

Zach Smith

As head writer of the The Onion’s AV Club, Nathan Rabin has become one of the most entertaining and prolific entertainment writers around in recent years. From his film reviews to TV evaluations (his episode-by-episode look back at Saturday Night Live’s first years on DVD is a great resource for fans of the show) to his “My Year of Flops” look at critical and commercial failures, Rabin’s work is insightful, entertaining and profanely funny.

Rabin’s memoir, The Big Rewind, uses his pop-saturated memory as a window into his life and times, with a different piece of cultural detritus prompting each recollection. Some of these involve his work for the AV Club and the short-lived TV review show Movie Club, while others rehash dysfunctional romantic relationships. But the most harrowing passages—and the ones that probably do the most to justify the book—detail Rabin’s harsh upbringing, including a trip to the mental ward, a stint in a group home and an attempt to reconnect with the mother who abandoned him.

The Details

The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture
Three and a half stars
Nathan Rabin
Simon & Schuster, $25
Amazon: The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture

Did I mention that most of this is extremely funny? Rabin is aware that there are plenty of hard-luck stories out there, and he’s just as hard on himself as he is on such targets as a video-store boss, several girlfriends from hell and a Movie Club co-commentator married to the guy who wrote Soul Plane. But the beating heart of this memoir comes from the simple truth that the power of popular culture comes from its ability to inspire people and lift them out of whatever’s going wrong in their lives. In its own way, this book is perhaps the best argument for the shrinking field of film criticism and serious pop-culture writing, even when his stronger insights are mixed with some rather marginal arguments, such as a comparison of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s death to that of John F. Kennedy.


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