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29 September 1998

Life in this celebrity press corps: Did you say “op” or “slop?”

Synopsis: Sometimes it’s hard to believe your eyes when you read the New York Times op-ed pages.

The Relativist-in-Chief
Marshall Blonsky and Edmundo Desnoes, The New York Times, 9/29/98

It’s almost always a thrill when one straps oneself in for a ride with the New York Times’ puzzling op-ed pages, but this morning the analysts were really howling as they tried to fight their way through this piece. Blonsky and Desnoes were doing their best to show us the Real Meaning of the Starr-Clinton stand-off. Would a college freshman even dream of passing in nonsense like this? We pray that we don’t have to wonder.

What’s this whole Clinton thing really about? Let Blonsky and Desnoes start to show you:

BLONSKY/DESNOES (paragraph 1): The Clinton crisis is as much about the rigidity of the past and the flexibility of the present as it is about right and wrong, true or false. It’s about sex, morality, and the law--but seen from two different generations, perspectives, and sets of values.

Huh! We were surprised to hear about the two different generations, because Ken Starr and Bill Clinton are exactly the same age. But still, the authors really had whetted our appetite for an insightful look at what’s Really Going On.

We’ll admit it--we’d dumbly thought that the turmoil around Clinton might be a reflection of different political interests, or might even reflect people’s different opinions about the president’s conduct. You know--we’d thought this might be one of those old-fashioned situations, where some people think one thing, and some people think another? But apparently something Much, Much Bigger Than That is at work in the Mess Around Bill.

So, what are the dueling “perspectives” involved? B & D are quite willing to tell you:

BLONSKY/DESNOES ( paragraph 2): ...The Starr prosecution sustained an absolute definition of sex. “When you show the nipple, that’s sex,” as Jerry Seinfeld said. Mr. Clinton did not sustain such a definition. He smoked but he didn’t inhale.

Intriguing. The Starr boys sustained “an absolute definition of sex.” If you’re like me, and you have no idea what this construction might mean, you might have hoped the authors would quote from the Starr Report to show us. Instead--just our luck--they quote Jerry Seinfeld! How did Jerry get involved in this mess?

And what does it mean when the fellers say that Clinton “did not sustain such a definition?” Well, he “had smoked, but he hadn’t inhaled!” And if you read on, it gets even clearer than that! He’d also “stayed on the surface, the skin of the experience.” And if that doesn’t help you nail down the meaning, he’s been “touching clothing, bantering on the telephone, seldom reaching ‘completion,’ as the report puts it.” And just in case you still don’t get it, the fellers spell it out in the very next paragraph. When you really stop to puzzle it out, this whole thing is about ambiguity:

BLONSKY/DESNOES: It was the same ambiguity he had used politically when he “triangulated” between the Republican agenda and his own Democratic goals. Republicans protested: “He’s stealing our platform.” They wanted things in black and white, and Mr. Clinton succeeded by compromise.

See, that’s this generation’s new “perspective”--forming a compromise. No one else, in previous generations, ever would have thought of doing something like that!

“Ambiguity is everywhere,” the fellers tell us. “Realities instead of Reality. Truth instead of Truth.” Of course, perfume ads are everywhere too, but that doesn’t mean writers should attempt to compose one. And it hardly explains why the New York Times puts patent nonsense like this on its op-ed pages.

We know you don’t like it, when you write things like this, because you think that it makes us sound arrogant. And you may even think that we just can’t process Big Thinking, of the type that we get in this piece.

But we challenge you to read this piece and see if you can begin to explain what it means. And the uber-problem we have with this piece: the same person who thought this nonsense made sense then types up his own views, and they get published, as New York Times editorials! And people around the world, improbably enough, take those opinions--and sometimes they quote them!

No really--we’ve seen this occur.

Anyway, next time you’re reading your Maureen Dowd, and you’re marveling that someone would put her in print, just go back and reread Blonsky and Desnoes, and try to put the whole thing in perspective. It’s just a different sensibility, a new point of view, an ineffable, fully flexible feel of the firmament. When you get right down to it, it’s “the clash between the Christian Coalition and triangulation.” No, it’s true, we’re sure that’s what it is. We read it, right there in the Times.

P.S. The Clinton crisis “also reflects the clash between...Freudian vaginal penetration and phone sex,” by the way. Until we read this fearless piece, we hadn’t seen anyone say that.