A Visit from the Goon Squad offers a strong critique of popular culture. Egan accomplishes this criticism primarily through her exploration of the music industry, but film, photography, and journalism are also investigated in her novel. Egan draws attention to the way in which trends come and go, and the effects of these cultural shifts. What is popular in one moment—for example, punk rock—is replaced by another trend soon after—such as overproduced pop music or music for preverbal infants. These shifts in culture often leave individuals who were once successful and famous in the dust. This is true in the experience of several of the novel’s characters. Bosco, for example—the guitarist from the hugely successful band, The Conduits—finds himself fat, alcoholic, and forgotten. Having fallen from fame, he desires so much to be remembered he decides to promote his new album with a “suicide tour” in which he plans to die at some point while on stage.
Egan often writes with intense irony about the ways we respond culturally to popular trends and famous individuals. She recognizes the power that fame holds in our culture. In the story “Selling the General,” Dolly uses actress Kitty Jackson’s fame in an attempt to redeem the image of a brutal dictator. In another story, Jules expounds on the way in which people respond to Kitty, showing the immense power she possesses as an actress. The absurdity of these depictions of fame points the reader to the true power popular culture and fame hold in modern society. “Selling the General,” in particular, depicts the way in which fame can be used to manipulate individuals toward unethical ends.
The novel does, however, have a respect for art aside from the fame and popularity of artists. While fame and popular culture are critiqued in the novel, several characters are depicted in a positive light because of their true love and appreciation for art and music. Though Benny and Scotty both have difficult moments in their careers, they do have comebacks that leave them more authentically connected to their art forms. Sasha also ends up establishing a good life, putting the fast rock-and-roll lifestyle she lived as a younger woman behind her. She begins making art out of found objects, which is a new and healthier outlet that replaces her obsession with stealing. While the novel critiques popular culture and fame, showing the negative power of fame and the sad outcomes of individuals who chase it, Egan maintains a respectful appreciation of art and artistry, and those characters that put aside the pursuit of money and fame often end up much better for it.
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture ThemeTracker
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad
Then the sisters began to sing. Oh, the raw, almost threadbare sound of their voices mixed with the clash of instruments—these sensations met with a faculty deeper in Bennie than judgment or even pleasure; they communed directly with his body…And here was his first erection in months…He seized the cowbell and stick and began whacking at it with zealous blows. He felt the music in his mouth, his ears, his ribs—or was that his own pulse? He was on fire!
I can't tell if [Alice’s] actually real, or if she's stopped caring if she's real or not. Or is not caring what makes a person real.
"I want interviews, features, you name it," Bosco went on. "Fill up my life with that shit. Let's document every fucking humiliation. This is reality, right? You don't look good anymore twenty years later, especially when you've had half your guts removed. Time's a goon, right? Isn't that the expression?"
Mom makes sculptures in the desert out of trash and our old toys. Eventually her sculptures fall apart, which is “part of the process.”
Conduit: A Rock-and-Roll Suicide, by Jules Jones. Mom bought the book, but she never mentions it. It’s about a fat rock star who wants to die onstage, but ends up recovering and owning a dairy farm. There’s a picture of Mom on page 128…Mom’s mouth is smiling, but her eyes are sad. She looks like someone I want to know, or maybe even be.