As Seen On TV

Bubbles is the philosopher of the trailer park. He, like Leo Strauss, cites Plato when advising Julian to use the Noble Lie. He cites Gordon Sumner when telling Ricky that if he loves something, he should set it free. He takes in kitties, as did Lenin and Dr. Johnson. He lives in a tool shed like Diogenes lived in a tub. He’s nearly blind, like Tiresias or Master Po in Kung Fu, and his coke-bottle glasses are an homage to good government philosopher Izzy Stone and musician/s&m philosopher Mark Mothersbaugh. His “Green Bastard” and Conky alter egos are in the manner of James Madison’s “Publius,” Lev Bronstein’s “Trotsky,” and Andy Kaufman’s “Tony Clifton.” He calls Randy a “cocksucker” and a “cheeseburger-eating bastard,” epithets frequently spewed, as everyone knows, by Nietzsche during his final days with tertiary syphilis. He was a foundling, like Aristotle and Moses. Like Confucius and Christ, he just wants everyone to get along.

Actually, this is all bullshit, done in mockery of hipster douchesnorkels who write wanky articles on the internet celebrating their own folly of digging far too deeply into perfectly shallow – yet perfectly decent and authentically artistic for that shallowness – pop culture material. Digging for the sake of digging, finding fool’s gold, and smugly telling the world it’s the real thing; meanwhile, look at this formerly lovely landscape their mining’s disturbed.

Say, Don’t Be Mean! Mean What You Don’t Say

Norman Mailer, on how vague and euphemistic language became under Soviet totalitarianism (at roughly 17m 57s):

I learned a lot about Soviet society…[we wanted to have the interpreter ask] ‘What year was your father in the gulag?’ since it had come up in the conversation in a roundabout way. And [the interpreter] said, ‘I will not ask that question; it will wreck the interview. You will insult them by such a question; it will not go on.’ So we said, well ask the question the way you want to ask it. So she asked the question and got an answer so we turned and said what did you ask them and she’d say, ‘I say to them: was there a year that was worse for your family than other years?’ And through that you began to get a sense of how aroundabout everything was in the old Soviet Union, that people became….not evasive, but they phrased questions in such a way that they had no sharp edges, there was no handle to the conversation so they could not be repeated definitively afterward in such a way as to incriminate you.

This, he goes on to say, in contrast to the native “brusque approach” of the Russian language which has “no definite or indefinite articles.”

Whenever I encounter someone talking about euphemism (e.g., PC), twistification (e.g., legalese, propaganda), and other forms of linguistic dishonesty, I think of two people who were excellent on the subject, rightly calling such phenomena precinctive to sick societies. George Carlin:

And Gore Vidal:

“Currently, any use of the word “race” in the United States is considered an a priori proof of the user’s racism. Abstract nouns are now subject to close scrutiny to make sure that the noun’s deployer is not a racist or sexist or ageist or bigot. Meanwhile, any word or phrase that might cause distress must undergo erasure while euphemism (the E- — or is it U- or Eu- — word?) is the order of the day, as “body bag” suddenly becomes, in Pentagonese, “human remains pouch” since “pouch” is a resolutely cheery word, suggesting cute marsupials Down Under, while “bag” is a downer, as in “bag lady,” Munich, appeasement, Hitler. A babble of words that no one understands now fills the airwaves, and language loses all meaning as we sink slowly, mindlessly, into herstory rather than history because most rapists are men, aren’t they?

when Confucius was asked what would be the first thing that he would do if he were to lead the state – a never-to-be-fulfilled dream — he said, __Rectify the language__. This is wise. This is subtle. As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: You liberate a city by destroying it. Words are used to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests. Fianlly, words must be so twisted as to justify an empire that has now ceased to exist, much less make sense.

Via Negativa

It’s not exactly that I don’t care what you admire or whom, what you believe, your ideals. It’s just that positivity isn’t nearly as interesting, and just as importantly isn’t as informative, as negativity. Please do not praise unless you’re using sarcasm. Rather, do me the favor of sharing your most rancorous beliefs; rant for me. Tell me what and who you hate, what you think sucks, and why. Mock, sneer, snarl – but be intelligent about it. Condemn and justify! And don’t give me that fake-hippie garbage that hating is wrong, that you don’t hate; it’s bullshit, and you’re lying.

Warren Harding, a boringly sunshiney proto-Reagan said, “There’s good in everybody. Boost. Don’t knock.” Well, fuck a bunch of him. Better is Alice Roosevelt Longworth, his contemporary, whose famous line “if you haven’t got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me” isn’t as much about petty gossiping as it’s a grand critical and artistic statement.

Having Enemies Is The Best

I just watched The Best of Enemies, the documentary of the Vidal vs Buckley feud, now on Netflix. It’s better than I thought it’d be. I’d assumed the worst when it came out and I read the talking head list; only Dick Cavett, Fred Kaplan, James Wolcott, and Sam Tyrnauer (unknown to me previously) would be expected to have any loyalty to GV, though there were a few others like Todd Gitlin who are safely anti-WFB at least ideologically speaking. Mostly I feared slant because WFB is fortunate in his rhetorically slippery and well connected biographer, Sam Tanenhaus, who is heavily featured. Most importantly, WFB has family to defend him; GV, nephew Burr “A Flock of Seagulls” Steers aside (and who isn’t involved in the doc), does not. But on the whole it’s fair.

I like how the filmmakers showed respect for both men’s intelligence and the pop culture value of their debates, while also correctly coming to the conclusion that the debates spawned the whole pundit-crossfire model that now poisons all news programming.

That said, the filmmakers on the other hand seem baffled by extended feuding and genuine hatred between two intelligent men. Like most people in upper middle class, educated society, they can understand ideological clashes and personality conflicts, but genuine visceral extended mutual loathing is considered weirdly alien. But the rationale, of course, is in the biographies: both men were insiders by birth but outsiders by personality. In a certain important way, both men had declassed themselves: WFB because he was a religious fanatic and worse, “Texas;” GV because of his sexuality and socialism. More to the point: as WFB’s brother says in the documentary, their family identified as frontiersmen; while GV’s roots are Southern and Scots-Irish. Both men were of, and believed in, an honor culture. Feuding for them was perfectly natural.

Personally, I think there should be more of it. Rather than rando, shout-at-each-other encounters between pundits on TV, after which they shake hands and have a drink like Wile E. Coyote and Sam Sheepdog, I’d rather see an extended, genuine feud of ideological and personality opposites, provided that the battle was organic and between intelligent, eloquent people.

Quibbles: It does not mention that GV later wrote that he meant to say “crypto-fascist,” not “crypto-Nazi,” but he admitted that the less extreme compound word probably wouldn’t have set off WFB the same way – which would have been, plainly, a loss for everyone. Also, Hitchens is in the flick (apparently taped before he’d lost his hair from his terminal illness), but doesn’t make the point he made in his essays on the debates, which is that it’s important for people to remember mindset, that the first thing to come to WFB’s enraged mind was GV’s queerness; of all the things WFB could have called GV, “queer” was the choice.

I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that WFB tried to sandbag GV with a letter from RFK. It didn’t work, but it was a good try – bonus points for deviousness. Also, Kelsey Grammer does a wonderful vocal WFB (because, after all, no one can be too hammy playing WFB); John Lithgow does a better vocal GV than I expected.

GV is one of my favorites, and of course I’m on his side ideologically, but it’s harder as the years go by for me to hate WFB like I used to. Somewhere, a while back, I saw a picture of a young, smiling, blond WFB that I wish I could un-see because he looks like he could have been my grandmother’s brother. Politically they have a lot in common and even the voice, cadence, and accent are eerily similar adjusting for gender, though my grandmother’s accent is rather less affected. The association with personal kindness has sort of ruined him for me, hatred-wise. Yes, I’m a bit sad about it.

Pop Will Eat Itself

It’s a familiar pattern: visionary figure is eventually harried out of his position — expelled, really; bought out or pushed out — as leader and creator by purist fanboys.

“Purity Control” was a brilliant name for an alien MacGuffin in the X-Files because it’s also, as a concept and mindset, the kernel of fascism. Maintaining purity is by definition reactionary and totalitarian and delusional, because nothing can be pure — not even Ivory soap, which is 56/100% “other.” And therefore it’s doomed to (often violent) failure.

The same process happens in pop culture. Here’s poor George Lucas, who’s anything but poor in the literal sense after the four billion dollar sale of his franchise to Disney, openly bitter about the way he was besieged for years by fanboys who felt that the creative direction of Star Wars wasn’t true to the real Star Wars story and aesthetic, under his — the creator’s — control:

Watching the above reminded me of something Eddie Vedder said years ago about hardcore “ideological” fan(atic)s:

VEDDER:….[Laughs] Yeah, to them I’m the Antichrist. I think when Jello [Biafra] got his leg broken and beat up by those punkers in San Francisco — they were calling him a sellout and kicking him in the head — I think that was almost liberating. I said, “I don’t give a fuck anymore. If they’re fucking kicking Jello, how can I worry about what anybody thinks? How can I expect to still have someone’s respect on that end?” That guy lost his empire, his future, battling that censorship thing [over the H.R. Geiger poster for Frankenchrist]. He ran for mayor. You couldn’t write a movie script with a more ethical antihero. And yet here he is getting the shit kicked out of him.

You were rich, Mr. Lucas; now you’re rich and free.