By Geoffrey Nunberg
Excerpted from “Ascent of the A-Word” by Geoffrey Nunberg
This is an age of assholism simply because we find the phenomenon and its practitioners so interesting — or provocative, or compelling, or compellingly repulsive, or sometimes all of those at once. I’m not thinking so much of assholes of opportunity like Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson, or of incidental assholes like James Cameron or Brett Favre, whose assholism only adds a colorful sidebar to an independently impressive career. There’s little about those people that’s particular to the age, save that in earlier periods the public probably would have been spared the details of the personal tics and twitches that qualify them for the asshole label. What’s unique to our time is the fixation with certain iconic assholes, who exemplify each in his way the problematic allure of the species....