Culture postsTuesday December 09, 2008
Two Huff Posts to bring to your attention.
The first, mine, is a look at Barack Obama's book "Dreams From My Father." It will also be in the book review section of this site soon.
In the second, Chris Kelly, a writer for Bill Maher and easily the funniest guy on the site, takes on those chest-beating Kid Rock/National Guard ads that play before trailers in chain theaters. The ad includes a "citizen-soldier" (read: out-of-work actor) in Afghanistan, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spinning the track, and Kid Rock screaming and then singing: "So don't tell me who's wrong and who's right when liberty starts slipping away/ And if you ain't gonna fight, get out of the way." First time I saw it I nearly threw up. Kelly shells the thing with his wit. Check out the rubble here.
But read mine first.
Coughlin Jumps Orwell
So Hendrik Hertzberg, one of the “Talk of the Town” writers for The New Yorker, whom I've blogged about here, here, here and here, was jumped last week by a couple of guys with mics working for “The O'Reilly Factor” and then raked over the coals by the host of that show, who called him “dishonest” and himself “an easty target” for people like Hertzberg. All of which is a little like George Orwell being jumped and called dishonest by Father Coughlin. You can read Hertzberg's take on it here. My favorite bit is New Yorker editor David Remnick's response to a polite e-mail and invitation from the producer of O'Reilly's show:
Dear Mr. Mitchell,
Thanks for your courteous note. It’s an interesting contrast in tone with the the fantastical on-air description of Rick as a left-wing zealot, the nonsense that he had refused a real interview before sending a crew to his apartment building, and the sneering descriptions of Rick, me, and the magazine from Mr O’Reilly on air. Quite a performance. So while I appreciate your note, you’ll forgive me if I pass in wanting to engage this any more. What I said at the start stands: I thought Rick’s piece, considering Newt Gingrich’s language, was, as you might put it, fair and balanced.
Respectfully yours, David Remnick
Didion, Clad in her Armor
Last night, the cover of the latest New York Review of Books — VICTORY!, with a cartoon of Obama in the center, and promises of articles by Joan Didion, Darryl Pinckney and others — made me happy for a moment... until I began reading Didion’s article. Then I went: Oh yeah. This.
Didion was an established writer by the time I began to read serious literature, well-known for her essays, and I enjoyed White Album and others in my twenties but began feeling disappointment in my thirties when I read Salvador. I thought: “Does she only have irony? Is that her sole tool?” After reading all of Norman Mailer’s messy attempts to be engaged with the world, Didion’s ironic distance felt dry and useless.
In the Review she writes about how, in the Obama era, irony is supposedly out. Her essay proves otherwise. She casts an ironic eye less on Obama than on the support he engenders:
Irony was now out.
Naiveté, translated into “hope,” was now in.
Innocence, even when it looked like ignorance, was now prized.
Partisanship could now be appropriately expressed by consumerism.
I couldn't count the number of snapshots I got e-mailed showing people's babies dressed in Obama gear.
Was innocence ever prized in this campaign? Youth, yes, but innocence? As for the consumerism and snapshots, well, maybe she needs new friends. I received no snapshots of babies in Obama gear during this election season. My friends were too busy, among other things, campaigning for Obama. Being engaged.
She goes on:
I couldn't count the number of times I heard the words “transformational” or “inspirational,” or heard the 1960s evoked by people with no apparent memory that what drove the social revolution of the 1960s was not babies in cute T-shirts but the kind of resistance to that decade's war that in the case of our current wars, unmotivated by a draft, we have yet to see.
Must be tough to be one of Didion’s friends — to hear your words later mocked in her essays. Yet wasn’t Obama, certainly on the most basic of levels, transformational? Wasn’t he inspirational? It feels so small, her objections. She stands back, like in the famous David Levine caricature, holding her cigarette aloft, clad in her irony, while the world celebrates. It’s an easy stance because the world is full of fools and she quotes some of them. A commentator who said other nations now “want to be with us.” That’s how she ends her essay:
Imagining in 2008 that all the world's people wanted to be with us did not seem entirely different in kind from imagining in 2003 that we would be greeted with flowers when we invaded Iraq, but in the irony-free zone that the nation had chosen to become, this was not the preferred way of looking at it.
Maybe this was not the preferred way of looking at it because “wanting to be with us” came from a commentator after someone else’s election, while “greeted with flowers” came from the highest officials in the Bush administration before their own invasion. The first, though clumsily phrased, was based upon evidence we could actually see: people around the world celebrating Obama’s victory. The second was based upon evidence the Bush administration didn’t let us see and which they wanted to see: Their policy dictating their evidence, rather than vice-versa. Maybe that’s part of why Didion's way is not the preferred way of looking at it.
Irony isn’t out; it’s simply, as always, an easy way out.
NY Times: A Graf Too Far
A couple of bits in yesterday's NY Times turned me off the paper for the day — both in the Week in Review section. (Loudon Wainwright: "Now who in the hell wants a review?/ Once was enough for me, thank you.")
Peter Goodman's piece — on the Long Island Wal-Mart employee trampled to death by shoppers looking for bargains on Black Friday — went a graf too far. It should've ended with the pinata metaphor ("lots of treats in there, but no guarantee that you will get any"), but kept going to this: "It seemed fitting then, in a tragic way, that the holiday season began..." Fitting? That's some cold shit. And part of the Times' habit to make the news fit the times.
Then in Anand Giridharadas' piece on the Mumbai terrorist attacks, we got this graf on the reaction to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's "emotionless" television address to the nation:
His temperateness helped to keep the ever-present threat of religious riots at bay. But it also seemed to misread the mood of a country that wanted it to be 9/11 — if not in the sense of war and conquest, then in the sense of instant clarity, of the simple feeling that an era had ended and that enough was, at last, enough.
So if the Prime Minister misread the mood of the country, how does a journalist exactly read the mood of a country? The evidence given, in the following graf, is all YouTube commentary. Not exactly an unimpeachable source. More, if this is in fact the mood of the country, why doesn't the paper question it? Two areas to delve into: How are the Mumbai attacks not like 9/11? And where did that supposed post-9/11 clarity take the U.S.? Few things, after all, can be as obfuscating as clarity.
Makng up for all this is David Barstow's must-read piece on retired U.S. generals like Barry McCaffrey working for military contractors and the media at the same time — without mentioning the former to the latter, or to the latter's viewers, or to Congress when testifying on military policy. Even Ike didn't foresee this. A new question to ask when analysts show up on the news or before Congress: Who else do you work for?
I know what I'm thankful for. It happened exactly 23 days ago.