INANITY AMONG THE RUINS! Clan members have always believed this way. Its the essence of life in the clan: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 20, 2009
Ruminations on Cather and Burden: For ruminations on Willa Cather, see below.
INANITY AMONG THE RUINS: In this mornings New York Times, David Carr devotes his weekly media column to the cable networks coverage of last weeks Tax Day events. He focuses heavily on Foxbut he does mention CNN and MSNBC, specifically citing Rachel Maddow. This run-down of the three networks appears early in his column:
As noted, the bulk of Carrs column is devoted to Fox; we disagree with nothing he says. We will disagree just a tad about Roesgen; we were more struck by her inability to ask a coherent question than by her contempt for the people she interviewed. On the other hand, Maddow really was contemptuous of the various Tax Day participants, a contempt she expressed (in a juvenile, prurient way) over a five-night period. In our view, Maddow gets off remarkably easy in Carrs column today. Keith Olbermann doesnt get mentioned at all, not even for his ludicrous conduct on Thursday night, the evening after Tax Day.
In our view, MSNBCs treatment of these Tax Day events was stunningly stupidprofoundly repulsive. Last week, we didnt get the chance to mention a few parts of this ridiculous conduct. As we record these last few aspects, just consider how soft Carr was in his treatment of the progressive networks utterly ludicrous work:
Dumbest question in the world: How stupid did the performance by Maddow and Olbermann get? Consider a pair of interviews they conducted on April 15.
For five solid nights, Maddow had ridiculed Tax Day participants as tea-baggers, stressing a slang meaning of tea-bagging. (It was a juvenile, prurient approach, she mused, explaining that she just couldnt help it.) On April 15, Maddow interviewed Wayne Slater, a veteran Texas political reporter who had attended one of the Tax Day events. Maddow endlessly promotes herself as an endlessly brilliant Rhodes Scholar. Finished her interview with Slater, she asked one of the dumbest questions ever asked on cable:
We would have been stunned to see Maddow ask such an utterly foolish question. Except wed already seen Olbermann conduct a similar foolish discussion with poor Howard Fineman, one hour earlier. Like Slater, Fineman had attended one of the Tax Day events. He ended up explaining the fact that the sky is blue:
In fact, the double entendre was very easily avoided, everywhere else these events were discussed. On MSNBC, this juvenile, prurient double entendre defined more than a week of simpering pseudo-coverageand yes, Maddow did invent this theme on cable, despite her (typically) disingenuous attempt to claim that she had not. And so, poor Fineman had to explain the basic facts of life to his liberal host. As if he were speaking to someone from Mars, the gent explained the blindingly obviously: The vast bulk of people at these events wouldnt have known that tea-bagging has a sexual meaning. One hour later, a former Rhodes Scholar made Slater explain the same thing.
One week into her ugly attacks on the deeply stupid tea-baggers, could Maddow really have been this clueless? If so, she was clueless by choice, of course; she was clueless because it worked for her interests. But surely, her question for Slater was one of the dumbest ever asked on cable. And unfortunately, the question captures a stereotypical picture of a certain type of pseudo-liberal. In asking that question, Maddow portrayed herself as someone who was profoundly clueless about the culture of average Americans. She had now been ridiculing them for a week. But she still was in the dark about something as simple as this.
Could Maddow have been sincere in that question? We dont have any way to knowbut it was surely one of the dumbest ever asked. So it goes when a small, dumb, self-impressed pseudo-elite get handed Their Own Rhodes Scholar.
Bring on the dumb: On Friday, we briefly mentioned the astounding performance by Janeane Garofalo on Thursdays Countdown. Were not sure what has happened to Garofalo in the past fewyears. But her previous outing on Countdown was one of the most ridiculous performances in cable history (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/09). In last Thursday evenings rant, she managed to top herself.
Its stunning that any cable channel would put something so stupid and ugly on the air, with its own $5 million man nodding dim-witted approval. As Garofalo continued, she lectured us on the workings of the brainthe workings of the brain of more than 300,000 people:
Things slid downhill from there.
Its stunning to think that any channel would put such garbage on its air. (Perhaps this show should now be called Countdown 911, as a signal that its pure parody.) To his credit, Howard Kurtz challenged this remarkable segment on Reliable Sources this Sunday. Its slightly amazing that Carr didnt mention this in todays column.
The clan will always defend the clan: Its also stunning that liberal bloggers have said nothing about this week-long nonsense. But throughout history, the clan has always defended the clanand these bloggers are part of a liberal clan. (The Clan of the Bad News Cave Bears? The Clan of the Kewl Kidz?) This clan has now made an organizing principle clear: Its OK to show overt contempt for those who are beneath us. Consider the repulsive Ana Marie Cox, dumbly lounging with Kurtz:
Kurtz didnt ask why Cox, an alleged news analyst, would always approach things from a risque point of view. But one key point came clear in Coxs highlighted comment: Throughout history, the clan has always derided those not of the clan. In this wry statement, Cox suggests that the tea-baggers are too lower-class to have access to the Internet. But then, the clan will always suggest such thing about those not in the clan.
In her puzzling role as a major pundit, Cox has long been deeply unfortunate. In the past few weeks, she has eager to tell the clan the things their leaders will always tell them: That the real fools are The Otherthose found in the other clan. Shes a slightly cleaned-up version of Garofalobut she sells the same inane, hate-loving message. Shes always risque because shes a fool. She peddles clan values for the same unfortunate reason.
Historically, these openly condescending attitudes have always damaged progressive interests. It may be that the rules of politics have fundamentally changed in the wake of the Bush Administrations varied depredations. More likely, this wont turn out to be the caseand progressive interests will pay the price, again, for these repellent, moronic attitudes.
Some readers wont understand what we mean. They will believe that Garofalo, Olbermann, Maddow and Cox are of course quite brilliantly right. Clan members have always believed that way. Its the essence of life in the clan.
An attempt at avoidance: In an attempt at avoidance, we had originally penned this post about dear Willa Cather:
Parceling out our respect: Yesterdays Posts Outlook section had a very good spring cleaning piece. Ten prominent people were asked to name something the world could afford to throw out.
Naomi Klein suggested we could throw out Larry Summers; well show you her reasons tomorrow. But we were especially pleased by Marie Aranas recommendation. She said we could do without the Nobel Prize in Literature. They make hackneyed choices, she said:
Willa Cather! Weve never quite known if we should be embarrassed by our love for some of her work.
We especially love Cathers defense, in My Antonia, of the hired girlsthe young Bohemian and Scandinavian women who worked on farms, then as domestic servants, in the Nebraska of Cathers youth. For our money, several bits of recent political history are captured in Cathers ardent defense of the young women she so admired.
Cather tells the story through the voice of Jim Burden, a male alter ego who was perhaps able to express Cathers own reactions to these young women in a way which was more digestible for the place and the time. Burden travels from Virginia to Nebraska as a youth, as Cather did in real life (in 1883). In the fictional town of Black Hawk, Burden comes to feel contempt for the Anglo boys who refuse to act on their hearts attraction to these vibrant country girls.
One summer, a dancing pavilion appears in the town (near the Danish laundry). Saturday night dances begin. Burden sets the scene for one of our favorite passages in fiction:
As Cather starts the next section of her book, her Burden describes the social tension created by the hired girls:
Physically they were almost a race apart, Burden says of these vibrant young women. He starts to explain: That was before the day of high school athleticsbefore the day when young women were expected to live through their bodies at all. Daughters of well-to-do families stayed indoors in winter because of the cold, and in summer because of the heat, Cathers Burden says. In marked contrast, Cather describes the physical vibrancy of the Bohemian and Scandinavian girlsa vibrancy no Black Hawk boy could fail to notice, were told.
And yet, these Black Hawk boys were unwilling to act on what they so plainly saw. For our money, the first paragraph which follows is a bit rough. The second contains a powerful bit of analysis which remains highly pointed today:
The country girls were considered a menace to the social order, Cather writes. Their beauty shone out too boldly against a conventional background. And so, because they threatened a stultified social order, the immigrant girls were gossiped about sexually, Burden goes on to explain. But then, cheap sexual insult continues to be a favorite approach of the dead.
Cather ends this part of her book with a story about Sylvester Lovett, cashier in his fathers bank, who took all the dances Lena Lingard would give him, and even grew bold enough to walk home with her. Poor Lovett! He was daft about her, and everyone knew it, Cathers Burden relates. But alas! To escape from his predicament, he ran away with a widow six years older than himself, who owned a half section. As the section closes, Burden dreams of the day when he can express his contempt for Lovetts cowardice. Decades later, Cather realized that dream when she published this book.
Minor irony: We dont know if any male writer has ever described mens attraction to women as deftly as Cather does here. She doesnt need to deny-through-posturing, as male writers will more typically do. But Cather observed a phenomenon which remains in full force today:
The country girls were considered a menace to the social order. Their beauty shone out too boldly against a conventional background. In essence, Cather was describing the phenomenon Naomi Wolf dissected in Promiscuities, when she described the punishment dished to girls and young women who act on the hyper-sexualized messages society constantly sends them. That girl will find herself trashed as a slut, Wolf accurately wrote. As if to make her into a seer, Wolf herself was sexually trashed, for a long ugly month, when her unremarkable role in the Gore campaign was revealed in November 1999. But no one had to feel any alarm! No liberal ever dared open his mouth to utter a peep in Wolfs (or Gores) defense. The liberal worlds respect for respectability was much too strong to allow for that! As far as we know, only two major pundits defended Wolf during that long, disgraceful month; their names were Safire and Kristol. You mistake the mettle of modern liberals if you find that fact surprising.
Cather described the punishment thats still dished to young women who are perhaps too vibrant. But then, the liberal world loves dishing out punishment too. They also turned to sexual trashing last weekas their kind constantly does.
Black Hawk looked down on these young women, Cather relateslooked down on them in part because their families didnt speak English. Last week, Black Hawk looked down on its social inferiors again. Through inane figures like Maddow and Cox, Black Hawk looked down on them because they dont have access to Googledont know what tea-bagging means.
Olbermann and Maddow served as village burghers in Black Hawk last week. Just a thought: Progressive interests have always been harmed when weak-minded souls of this sad type take their pleasure this way.