Monday, October 6, 2008


Thursday, Oct. 2nd: Debate? You betcha!

First of all, there was that debate on Thursday night, which I don't really want to talk about much, except to say the entertainment value of Sarah Palin should not be discounted. I can't remember laughing so hard before at any supposedly serious political broadcast. If (as we can only hope at this point) she and McCain are defeated in November, I see a great career in her future: as commentator on a TV news program. It would be hilarious in the extreme to hear any event that might take place "filtered" through her particular version of bland, cutesy, folksy know-nothing-with-a-vengeance-isms.

To hear words spoken disconnected almost wholly from content, you say, has become commonplace under Bush? OK, I grant that, but I've avoided as best I could every actual utterance by our Commander-in-Chief, in part because he is Commander-in-Chief. Yes, that means living in a constant state of denial, which I'm happy is reaching its appointed end. And the only reason I can laugh at Palin, granted, is because she's only a "public servant" in a state very far away from me. Should that change, well, I won't go there... but there's a special circle of hell for people who let fools run their country. As to what else Palin is at present: it became remarkably clear in this debate that she is the shill, which Merriam-Webster defines as: "one who acts as a decoy (as for a pitchman or gambler)." Her entire manner is meant as a sop to Joe Sixpack and Dolores Soccer-mom, those staunch supporters of whatever they find most entertaining and appealing, never mind that if she actually believed in the principles she paid lip-service to (the middle class, new energy alternatives, a rational -- rather than knee-jerk -- approach to the war) she'd have to switch parties, or at least abandon McCain's ticket.

Here's Mike Taibbi, in Rolling Stone, putting it in proper perspective immediately after the Republican Convention, in terms almost worthy of HST:

Here's the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she's a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed middle-American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin' Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else's, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because the image on TV reminds him of the mean, brainless slob he sees in the mirror every morning.

Sarah Palin is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern United States. As a representative of our political system, she's a new low in reptilian villainy, the ultimate cynical masterwork of puppeteers like Karl Rove. But more than that, she is a horrifying symbol of how little we ask for in return for the total surrender of our political power.

Not only is Sarah Palin a fraud, she's the tawdriest, most half-assed fraud imaginable, 20 floors below the lowest common denominator, a character too dumb even for daytime TV -and this country is going to eat her up, cheering her every step of the way. All because most Americans no longer have the energy to do anything but lie back and allow ourselves to be jacked off by the calculating thieves who run this grasping consumer paradise we call a nation.

And, as Wick Allison notes in this piece, besides mourning the shambles that has been made of this country, it's also fair to mourn what has become of the "grand old party" in the wake of the Bush debacle. I mean, it was canny politics to get him elected in 2000, but after that . . . it was the worst of times in every way, not least in the degree to which the press honeymooned with the moron and kowtowed to his power, to the simple naked fact that he won. From that starting point, with all its bad faith backing of a bad "outcome," nothing good could come, and the record of lip service and ass-kissing in 2003 when the war got launched is one of the most galling facts of recent history. See for instance this review (Sept. 28), by Jill Abramson (former Washington bureau chief of the NYTimes, 2001-2003), of Bob Woodward's The War Within, the fourth installment of his Bush coverage; notice how positive the first book in the series was about Bush's efforts, notice how Abramson herself admits that she didn't work hard enough to publish a piece critical of the incentive for war at the time -- it's not that that piece, if published, would have made any difference in what happened, but it would allow us to look back at a news media that wasn't hidebound, gutless, and gung-ho. That degree of criticism didn't exist in the media at the time. And I submit that it wasn't due to fear of being wrong, it was due to fear of being right -- and of suffering the consequences of telling the emperor he's buck naked. No one with a stake in the system that let Bush take office -- which is to say, answerable to "the public" (i.e., politics) or "the public sector" (i.e., media) -- could risk it. And if the Repubs win again, you'll find, I'm sure, more supposed-to-know better pundits taking the tact of Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review. "I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, 'Hey, I think she just winked at me.' And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can’t be learned; it’s either something you have or you don’t, and man, she’s got it."

As a great, as-yet-unelected presidential candidate might put it: it's lipstick on a pig and this time (unlike when Obama said it) the "pig" is Palin, and it's not just lipstick, it's the full rhetorical make-over. Or, from Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review Online:

"Conservatives are inclined to love Palin. Hard-working, all-American family men and women who don’t have their head full of left-wing theories about Republicans are frequently warm to her — if not outright excited."

"Left-wing theories about Republicans"???

Anyway, sorry for the soapbox, this is more amusing, it's the SNL take-off on the debate.

Friday, Oct. 3rd: I make poetry, and so can you!

Friday night I attended a poetry reading at Yale by Carson Cistulli. He brought along his parents and his sister (who spent most of the reading in shrieks of laughter) and regaled us with over 50 minutes of his poems which, while sometimes very amusing, had the feel of "high school wise-guy makes good." The diction was straight off the street -- via rap and advertising and the lingo of the young (which stuff dates pretty fast, as those of us who have been around more than two decades are well aware) -- and sounded at times like surrealist bumper-stickers, suitable for framing as a banner on any Brooklyn-bound subway. Kewl. But my overall feeling was that the evening was the literary equivalent of "Harold and Kumar Read Poems at Yale," which, I admit, I would probably watch and snicker at from time to time. I mean, Harold Bloom jokes, wow.

And though there weren't stoner references per se, there was the general party (or poeticize) till you puke ethos of frat boys (or iz dat Beastie Boyz?) with its titties and beer, dicks are for chix man-child assertiveness. Grab yers and crow, kids. Granted, scurrilousness can be found in great classical authors like Catullus (whom Cistulli admired for getting to use a Latin verb that means "making someone fellate one") -- the most Catullus-like poem of the evening, to me, was the one when Cistulli argued that some poets of his acquaintance wrote poems bad enough to kill a hornet buzzing around his desk -- but in the classics the scurrilous is couched in Latin diction, syntax and form. To write trash-talk in English is no distinction. What did make Cistulli seem distinctive, at times, was his extreme narcissism in reading on and on, seemingly oblivious to the fact that even his sister's sense of hilarity was dwindling. "I've got a T-shirt that says it all."

Saturday, Oct. 4th: Caved

Saturday night found me at the WaMu Theater (or, as my daughter dubbed it, "the bankrupt theater") to hear Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, who made a glorious noise and offered coverage of the entire career -- "Tupelo" was unexpected and a real treat -- with five numbers from the latest release: Dig!! Lazarus!! Dig!!!. But I have to say I was more than a bit disappointed. For me, Cave has matured considerably as a songwriter, beginning with 1997's The Boatman's Call (from which he played nothing) and continuing through No More Shall We Part (2001; 2 songs), Nocturama (2003; none), and culminating in the twin disc career peak: Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus (2004; one song a-piece: the first song of the former, title track on the latter). A pity; I would've preferred a show of recent stuff with an occasional "classic" thrown in for the diehards. Later, listening to songs from the latter release I realized that one reason the songs therefrom might be eschewed in concert is that Cave's line-up was lacking the back-up singers essential to some of the arrangements. OK, but still, there should've been a way to bring us a more stripped down version of "Abattoir Blues," the song I was most hoping to hear, from the year of W.'s re-election:

The sun is high up in the sky and I'm in my car
Drifting down into the abattoir
Do you see what I see, dear?

The air grows heavy. I listen to your breath
Entwined together in this culture of death
Do you see what I see, dear?

Slide on over here, let me give you a squeeze
To avert this unholy evolutionary trajectory
Can you hear what I hear, babe?
Does it make you feel afraid?

Everything's dissolving, babe, according to plan
The sky is on fire, the dead are heaped across the land
I went to bed last night and my moral code got jammed
I woke up this morning with a Frappucino in my hand

I kissed you once. I kissed you again
My heart it tumbled like the stock exchange
Do you feel what I feel, dear?

Mass extinction, darling, hypocrisy
These things are not good for me
Do you see what I see, dear?

The line that God throws down to you and me
Makes a pleasing geometry
Shall we leave this place now, dear?
Is there someway out of here?

I wake with the sparrows and I hurry off to work
The need for validation, babe, gone completely berserk
I wanted to be your Superman but I turned out such a jerk

I got the abattoir blues
I got the abattoir blues
I got the abattoir blues
Right down to my shoes
--Nick Cave, "Abattoir Blues" (2004); here it is on YouTube


Andrew Shields said...

Can your takes on these three events all be linked together?

I defined "shill" for my students two weeks ago; perhaps I will send them to your blog for further analysis! :-)

Donald Brown said...

hey, what was the occasion of you defining "shill"?

I guess the link is "disappointment."

Andrew Shields said...

We were reading this article:

The article tends to get people to write good things, even if quite a few of the students take the side of the audience in a rather straightforward way.

Donald Brown said...

Apropos article, because the lining-up to vote for lame "mavericks" is much like lining-up to see lame "blockbusters"; the fact of many of those votes and sold tickets is due to the same effective selling, the need for "the shill."

then there's this, from the article you cite:
"our love of movies is sometimes expressed as a mistrust of the people who make and sell them, and even of the people who see them. We take entertainment very seriously, which is to say that we don’t go to the movies for fun. Or for money. We do it for you."

Which remind me of Nick Cave singing, forcefully, his song "Deanna": "I'm not down here for love or money...I'm down here for your soul."