“What are words for?,” the pretty lady who never got enough credit wearily asked. As usual, the cynical and correct answer is deception, for wealth and power. A fart by any other name should smell just as rancid but our ADHD addled species overvalues novelty, and so old poisons are rebranded as new elixirs and old problems are rebranded as new solutions – and people passively believe the lie or worse, have become so apathetic they no longer care that they’re being lied to. Blame? “Name”! Game. A paradox: empty, disposable words, full of fraud and menace; Big Lies, ever bolder and louder, falling on an ever more deaf and distracted populace. Blah blah blah. What were you saying? Nevermind. Cf.

Jonathan Meades, ‘On the Brandwagon’:

[Regeneration is] the greatest of contemporary gravy trains; it’s a bandwagon. The bandwagon has been rebranded; the bandwagon is now a brandwagon. Rebranding is a euphemism – for ‘euphemism.’ Call this [holds shovel] a hallmark diversifier and it becomes something entirely different.

Regeneration is an ad hoc-ulation of enterprises, of PFIs, of blusty thinking, traction triggers, helicopter views, round ovalling, meme trepanning, brain swoffing, crisis tablet alerts.

Anyone can jump aboard the brandwagon; clothes designers, record producers, pop singers are all busily regenerating themselves through regeneration.

Babylon 5 Season 3 Episode 4 “Voices of Authority”:

[Nightwatch Commissar Julie Musante]: “All right, so you have some concerns. But there are ways of expressing these concerns which won’t cause problems for our leaders back home…
[Captain Sheridan]: “Lurkers are our version of the homeless. In many ways we have the same problem Earth does.”
[Musante]: “Earth doesn’t have homeless.”
[Sheridan]: “Excuse me?”
[Musante]: “We don’t have the problem. Yes, there are some displaced people, here and there, but they’ve chosen to be in that position. They’re either lazy or they’re criminal or they’re mentally unstable.”
[Sheridan]: “They can’t get a job.”
[Musante]: “Earth Gov has promised a job to anyone that wants one. So, if someone doesn’t have a job, they must not want one.”
[Sheridan]: “Poverty?”
[Musante]: “It’s the same.”
[Sheridan]: “Crime.”
[Musante}: “Yes, there is some but it’s all caused by the mentally unstable. And we’ve just instituted correctional centers to filter them out at an early age.”
[Sheridan]: “Prejudice?”
[Musante]: “Hmm? No, we’re just one happy planet….Well, all right, there’s the Marsies but that won’t change until they stop fighting the Earth rule.”
[Sheridan]: “And when exactly did all this happen?”
[Musante]: “When we rewrote the dictionary. Captain, you’re a good man, you’re a fine soldier, a leader. You understand that sometimes, before you can deal with the problem you have to…redefine it.”
[Sheridan]: “But you can’t deal with problems by pretending they don’t exist.”
[Musante]: “There’s no need to embarrass our leaders by pointing out the flaws in our society that they’re aware of and dealing with in their own way. Some people just enjoy finding fault with our leaders – they’re anarchists, they’re troublemakers, or they’re simply just unpatriotic – none of which describes you, now do you want other people thinking otherwise? These are the areas I want to help you with. I want to feel like I’m needed, that I’m doing my part to help bring the Earth gov back in to the hands of the decent, hard working people that created it. I am here to protect you. I admire your honesty and your record and your attitude and I don’t want to see anyone use those things against you…”

The power to name or rename is the power to do anything but create; it is the power to own or, at least, to lord over, to subdue, transfer, consume:

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field[.]

Thomas Szasz:

The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself. In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. For example, in the family, husband and wife, mother and child do not get along; who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?… [the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.

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.