Sundance Still Embracing A Misnomer


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The Sundance Channel exists to produce sleek, artier-than-thou programming. That is its niche, and, though I personally choose not to watch shows like One Punk Under God and Anatomy of a Scene, I can accept that. What I refuse to accept, however, is the channel’s willful mauling of the English language in service of a puffed up celebrity interview vehicle called Iconoclasts. Each episode pairs together two “iconoclasts” and “explores the intersection where two great talents meet—and where creativity comes alive,” says Executive Producer Robert Redford. The third season wrapped up last night with a show featuring Madeleine Albright in conversation with Ashley Judd. Past episodes have featured Sean Penn with Jon Krakauer, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder with surfer Laird Hamilton, Renee Zellweger with Christiane Amanpour, and Robert Redford himself with Paul Newman. Even aging media mogul Sumner Redstone has been on. The thing is, this is probably a really great show for people who love celebrities—like E! True Hollywood Story for the alternative crowd—but none of these celebrities are actually iconoclasts. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word is (1) a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration or (2) a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions.

Genuine iconoclasts include H.L. Mencken, who made a career out of smashing all manner of popular beliefs and prejudices. There’s a good case to be made for Salman Rushdie as a model iconoclast, with respect to both literature and religion. But Robert Redford? Look, I liked Sneakers as much as the next guy, but when was the last time Redford shattered any contemporary American idols? The point is, mere accomplishment in a given field does not an iconoclast make. I plan to e-mail Sundance about this; pedantic language-conscious Riff readers should feel free to do the same. Resist corporate verbicide!

—Justin Elliott

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