'And when it is spent / You're rarely glad it went / When it is spent'
--Vic Chesnutt, 'Swelters,' (1996)
Or, to quote another song (from Paul Weller's Style Council, remember them?): 'I don't know whether to laugh or cry / the long, hot summer just passed me by.' Regardless, it's time to speak, I guess, of what is past (the Olympics) or passing (the conventions), or to come. What's passing is the summer, what's to come is 'election fever' in the Fall. Oh boy.
No, I didn't watch any of the Democrats' Convention. I don't have television reception. Honest. But that's a cop-out. I wouldn't have watched anyway. The reason has to do with that other great spectacle of August (the past): the Summer Olympics. That I saw plenty of while paying visits in the month of my birth until I was forcibly reminded of why it is I gave up on TV long ago: in a word, commentators. There is nothing in this world more mind-numbing than listening to TV commentators -- whether covering sports or politics, I realized, doesn't matter. The patter is the same. The entire game is the same. It's what Juvenal meant when he said that the people who had conquered the world (in his day, Rome) cared for only two things: bread and circuses. Circuses -- meaning any kind of common spectacle, such as processions, parades, athletic contests, chariot races, and of course political rallies -- are what make commentators froth at the mouth and fall over backward (cf Python, Monty). Drivel. Babble. Sound-bites.
Granted, the political speechifying is bad enough. It's that 'target audience' appeal of TV that each candidate must learn how to use. To out-Herod Herod, as it were. The 'hard sell,' the grab 'em and make 'em listen pitch. But also the sweeping, inclusive 'what the world needs now' rhetoric. What, around my house, is known (cf Brooks, Mel) as: 'Oh, prairie-shit, everybody.' Nothing makes one want to stop being an 'American' faster than hearing 'the American people' appealed to, addressed, spoken for, etc. Much as I wish Obama / Biden well (the latter, THE Senator from my home state! doth recall Roth? Boggs? No, it's been Biden since '72 -- I was still in Catholic school, so of course we cheered), I really don't want to have to listen to them overmuch.
As to McCain: I had to finally stop railing at his TV spot (during the Olympics) which intones: 'Washington is broken...' Which party broke it? It wasn't broken when Clinton left...directionless, sure, pointless, maybe, but broken? And his choice of VP nominee has to be the most shameless act of bad faith politics I've ever witnessed. Ever. As I view the world, that choice should piss off the Hillary supporters way more than Obama's pick. It's so 'thrown them a bone' condescending, and it also seems to me an acknowledgment of weakness. McCain, if he wins, will be as old as Reagan was going into his second term. Does anyone want to hand over, potentially, the reigns of government to McCain's VP, a political non-entity? Granted, maybe not as scary as when Bush the First had Quayle as his 2nd in command, but, scary enough. To put it simply: wtf?
Anyway, the word I really want to come down on here is 'historic.' It's one of the commentators' favorite. As in the quotation from Musil back there a few weeks: whatever is hawked as great, is great. This is understandable. It's such a relative term. It really has no meaning. But 'historic' does. What it means is that something has occurred which the history books (of the future) will have to take note of. It's 'for the ages' in some important or significant or surprising way. But what is historic is ultimately for the historians of the future to decide. It strikes me that a rhetoric that insists on 'historic' and 'classic' in its evaluation of the present is not only in a belated struggle with the past (about which those words can be used accurately) but is also not imagining, really, much shelf-life for its exploits. The history books of these times (if anyone ever gets around to writing them) may possibly note that this or that happened. But who wants to wait for that? So let's proclaim it ourselves.
The point of historic is that it does have shelf-life. When Spitz won 7 gold medals at one Olympics in 1972, it was a first and stood as a record for awhile, so 'historic' from our viewpoint. What Phelps did, in winning one more gold, tops that, but is only really 'historic' if it stands for awhile. If next Olympics or the next, someone tops that, Phelps becomes less notable historically. That's the way it works. When Mondale named Ferraro his running mate it was 'historic' as a first ever (a female VP candidate); what McCain has done is 'historic' (more like 'hysteric') for the Republican party, but not, let's hope, a defining moment of 21st century politics that historians will have to note for ages to come. I'm hoping, in fact, that McCain joins Dole, Mondale, Dukakis, and the other forgotten and forgettable candidates who tried and failed in their pitch to 'the American people,' that collective unconscious that seems to be almost tangible out there beyond the TV and computer screens, but which really isn't. If it ever existed, it's 'historic' now. But if Obama can ride whatever version of it he appeals to to the top, that will be historic, for it will mark a change that makes most of what politics has been 'in my day' (now pushing fifty) 'historic' -- as in old.