Stereotypes, the “N” word, and our decadent popular culture

It’s a long post title, but actually quite a short post.  What I really have is a matched set.

First, an image that’s been circulating on the liberal side of facebook:

For those of you who aren’t too conversant with popular culture, the one on the left is Snoop Doggy Dogg, who has avoided arrest, while the one on the right is Martha Stewart who was, I think, unfairly convicted on a very technical financial technicality.

Stewart has dedicated her life, obsessively so, to bringing beauty into people’s homes. She believes that every aspect of home-making can be made meaningful. She has a charming screen presence and, apparently, an . . . um . . . assertive off-screen presence. People resented Stewart’s success, especially because they felt that someone who was a harsh-task master and arrogant should be brought down a peg. Me, personally? I think she has uplifted American culture.

Snoop? He’s a gangsta and proud of it. Indeed, he’s one of the original gangsta rappers. He may have avoided the law, but everybody but gang members, wannabe white boys, and record executives, knows that Snoop is a profoundly damaging influence on American culture. Considering the lives he’s probably destroyed, jail is too good for him.

Don’t believe me? Check out Zombie’s latest (serious content warning) which takes a look at what our children are listening to and seeing, courtesy of Snoop and the gang(stas).

Crazy people, the Zeitgeist, and cannibalism

Crazy people have always reflected their own society’s pathologies.  In a pre-modern era, crazy people thought they were the Devil or, perhaps, the Hammer of God.  In the atomic/space exploration age, insanity tended to involve aliens.  People thought they were abducted, thought aliens were among us, or thought that they were themselves aliens.

What are we to make of modern crazy people, though?  They’ve taken all of the old pathologies — Devil worship, hammer of God, aliens — and added a new twist:  cannibalism.  Just in the past few days, we’ve had one guy eat off another’s face, although he didn’t live to tell the tale; a Maryland man dine upon his roommate; and a Devil-worshipping gay porn star film himself murdering his lover, whose flesh he later ate.  A few years ago, a Canadian man killed and ate a fellow traveler on a bus, claiming his victim was an alien.  Richard Fernandez has collected other recent cannibal stories that are impossible to ignore.

What the heck zeitgeist is this that sees so many insanities end with cannibalism?

Cannibalism is nothing new.  Starving people have routinely resorted to cannibalism.  In the Soviet Ukraine, when Stalin implemented policies that deliberately starved the peasants off their land, “an orphan was a child whose parents hadn’t eaten him.”  The Donner party survivors reputedly ate those who died.  When a plane crashed in the Andes, the survivors also turned to cannibalism.

Cannibalism also has a long medicinal history.  Stealing gold wasn’t the only reason grave robbers pillaged Egyptian mummies.  Powdered mummy was an important part of many pre-modern medicine chests.  Blood from a hanged criminal was also believed to be good for people.

Many religions have also promoted cannibalism.  The Aztecs were notorious for their human sacrifices, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands for important religious festivals.  This not only kept enemies in line, but it also ensured that a society that had systematically stripped the surrounding landscape of animals, was still able to get the iron and protein necessary for survival.  Pagan tribes throughout Europe (and the Americas) also engaged in cannibalism, believing that they strengthened themselves by eating their enemies’ flesh and blood.

The first religion to take a stand against cannibalism was Judaism.  The story of the Sacrifice of Isaac — which, of course, ends without any sacrifice at all — saw the Jewish people put to rest any notions of satisfying God with human flesh.  Jews took that idea and made it concrete when they institutionalized rules that barred body mutilation (no tattoos or piercings for religious Jews) and required that bodies get buried within 24 hours of death, thereby depriving surrounding pagan tribes of the opportunity to mutilate and eat Jewish bodies.

The genius of Christianity (and I have no idea whether this was accidental or on purpose) is that Christians understood, and were able to convince others, that Jesus Christ was the last and best blood sacrifice.  By drinking the wine and eating the wafer at the sacrament, the potency of actual cannibalism was transmuted into the even more potent effect of symbolic cannibalism.  And that was the end of ritual cannibalism in the Judeo-Christian culture.

Proscribed by Jewish law, and elevated to the ultimate non-corporeal mingling with God under Christian doctrine, Westerners not only did not want human flesh, they disdained it.  They’d eat it medicinally or under starvation conditions, but theirs would not be the hands that struck the death-blow.  Instead, the more superstitious or desperate among them might take advantage of an already dead body, be it a hanged criminal, a thousand-year old mummy, or a dead comrade in the Ukraine, the Sierras, or the Andes.  Killing for blood . . . a big Western cultural no-no.  (The recent market in dead babies in Asia shows that this cultural no-no is certainly not universal, but it has taken hold in most parts of the First World, and the pseudo First World.)

So, where are we?  Judeo-Christian culture proscribes cannibalism.  We no longer believe in the medicinal use of already dead bodies.  And none of the killers mentioned at the beginning of this article were starving.  Instead, they were crazy.  So why is cannibalism resurgent?

And while I’m asking that, what’s with the Zombie craze?  This is not an irrelevant question.  Not only are zombies the un-dead, they also dine on human brains.  They’re somehow part of this zeitgeist that has Western culture seeing itself as cannibalizing itself.  But while normal people joke about it, and watch scary movies, the crazy people are on the move, looking for their next meal.

I don’t have answers.  I just have questions.  Do you have answers?

Slouching into slavery

What the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors don’t realize (yet) is that they have been suckered into becoming the agents of their own enslavement.

Orwell had it so right in defining the Left because he was a man of the Left. The term “Orwellian” now refers to the Left’s use of terms to mean the direct opposite of the intention of an idea or act (“war is peace”, for example). Orwell also noted the need for the State to invent enemies as a means of deflecting attention away from its own actions. It’s all about deflection away from true agendas.

Let me explain. Granted that the OWS movement is defined by many grievances, one underlying theme of  the OWS protests is the onerous debt assumed by students. I have sympathy for this because, as many commentators have already pointed out, these students were sold a bill of goods. The idea was that, whether qualified or motivated or not, kids could simply participate in the university experience, supported with “generous” (i.e., taxpayer-funded) government aid, and exit with a paper degree and guaranteed, high-paying job bereft of drudgery. This is the siren song that led to the inevitable crash upon the rocks of debt slavery.

Universities, those bastions of entitlement, have made out like bandits, taking the students money in exchange for worthless promises and worthless degrees. The government financed this process using “free” taxpayers’ monies and, in the end, developed a class of dependents that will spend the rest of their lives working their way out of indentured servitude at the behest their government masters (the Golden Rule is those that own the gold, rule!). For, as these students are slowly realizing, government debt and dependency is forever…there is no escaping their obligations.

It used to be that students could tap loans from private lending institutions that assumed the risk of a student borrower’s success or failure. If the student went bankrupt, the bank suffered. That is how capitalism and free markets should work. Not so with Liberal government. When the Obama administration took over these lending services, it took away failure as an option. Today, neither students nor their parents can escape their student debt obligations and the total student debt outstanding has been estimated to approach $1.0 trillion.

Many of these OWS students are now answerable to their government masters for the foreseeable future and during their most formative years… a period when they should be free to work toward satisfying careers, saving to purchase their own homes, preparing to raise families and, eventually, achieving financial independence. Instead, as long as the government holds their debt, it can now dictate how these students will lead their lives in service to their government’s regime goals (as in, “we will forgive x-amount of your debt if you “agree” to work in only certain prescribed professions or government-approved public works programs under certain given conditions dictated by us, your master) Or, let’s try the Chicago Way: “as long as we hold your debt, you will only believe certain things, work for certain causes, and vote in certain ways” . Their indentured servitude has taken away their freedom to think, to act and to build their own futures. Even more sadly, for many of these students, their expensive college educations amounted to little more than indoctrination whereby to accept these circumstances as a good thing: witness the large number whose goal in life is simply to work for “non-profits”.

The especially egregious aspect of this is that it is poorer students that have so been hooked into government dependency. But then, that has pretty much been par for the course for Liberal government, hasn’t it? Government did this before, with poor blacks and the War on Poverty. Government programs enslave the poor through indentured dependency.  Rich or talented kids don’t have to worry about this: they have parents, scholarships or trust funds to ensure that they never become indentured government debt pawns. The especially pathetic part of these events is that these indebted students and graduates have been led to believe, through Orwellian deflection, that the agents of their servitude are banks, conservatism, political and economic liberty, and capitalism – the very agents that could yet free them – rather than the government and academia that shackled them.

I suspect that, deep down in their hearts, many of the OWS protestors are slowly coming to realize their predicament. They’ve been had. Eventually, I expect, they will come to learn the truth about their servitude. I hope that they will still have the strength to resist.

I think that it is safe to say that slavery, not democracy, has been a defining condition for the great majority of human history. This may not be a point stressed in the Orwellian halls of academia that groomed this new government slave class at these students’ own expense, but it is a historical truism, none the less. It would truly be sad if what we are observing at the various OWS rallies around the country and world is simply an age-old historical evil reasserting itself in modern drag. What we are now seeing as the product of the college experience is the emergence of two classes: a wealthy, highly educated ruling class and a subservient, dependent, servant class that got suckered into paying the Liberal/Left ruling class to deprive it of intellectual and economic choices under the Orwellian guise of “freedom”. The Liberal/Left has done a bang-up job of severely crippling a generation of our children. I would be hard-pressed to conceive of  a more gross corruption of the American ideal.

I hope that I am wrong. What do you think?

 

All About Money

One of the things that I try to understand is the Great Divide between today’s Liberals and conservatives that has left us talking past one another on policy issues. Frankly, I have concluded that discussion with Liberals is often futile because we attribute different meanings to words and concepts.

One of those concepts, I suspect, has to do with “money”.  Let me throw the following proposition on the table for discussion:

Liberal /Lefties view “money” as a fixed, tangible quantity with intrinsic value, like gold coins, for example. Thus, the value of money is intrinsic to the lucre itself, be it coins or dollar notes. Conservatives, on the other hand, see “money” more abstractly as representing “created value”…as scrip or IOU on value created or received. As economists put it, money is a “medium of exchange” for value. So, for liberals, “money” is something tangible to that must be amassed by taking from someone else’s stash. For conservatives, “money” is something more abstract that must to be created (i.e. goods or services) directly (e.g., wages) or indirectly (e.g., inheritance) through the creation of “value”.

How might this color our perceptions of one another?

1) When people like Bill Gates amass a large quantity of money by creating products that many people wish to purchase, conservatives view Gates’ money as a reflection of the value that he created and contributed others. No hard feelings there – it’s a fair exchange. A Liberal/Lefty, however, sees only Gate’s amassed pot of lucre that appears disproportionately high compared to the lucre stored in other peoples’ pots. They see this imbalance as patently unfair, especially since this lucre was transferred from other peoples’ modest stashes into Bill Gates’ already whopping big stash: Bill has more, all of his customers have less.

2) When money is needed to achieve a desirable social or governmental goal, a conservative recognizes that such money needs to be generated somewhere to pay for this goal. This can only be done by either drawing down existing value (confiscating peoples’ lucre) or by creating new  ‘value” that can be taxed (i.e., growing the economy). A Liberal/Lefty doesn’t make this connection – they see the process simply as one of either redistributing the existing lucre from other peoples’ pots or creating new lucre by printing more money. The problem of printing new lucre, of course, is that it is still underwritten by a fixed quantity of value – expanding money supply representing a fixed value means that each dollar is worth less. We call that inflation.

I can’t tell you how many times Liberals have looked at me with puzzlement when I have asked where they expect to get the money for their favored social programs.

3) De-linking “money” from the process of wealth creation makes it easy for Liberal/Lefties to confuse using tax money to pay for unemployment checks, dance troupes or road repair as “economic stimulus”. You are, after all, taking lucre sitting idle in some peoples’ pots and putting that lucre into other peoples’ pockets to spend on purchases. Unfortunately, the fact is that such activities do not in themselves create new value. This cannot therefore “grow” the economy.

What do you think? Am I onto something? And, if so, what other aspects of the Great Divide does this help to explain? Does this help or hinder us in discussing our differences with the Liberal /Left?

30 Rock is subversive — and I mean that as a good thing

I don’t know what Tina Fey’s politics are, and I don’t want to know. The NBC show 30 Rock, which she writes and in which she stars is one of the best social satires around, which includes repeated deft and funny political asides. The show skewers both parties with such a light touch that, merely watching it, it’s impossible to tell with certainty which side of the aisle it favors, and that despite the fact that Alec Baldwin is a vocal Democrat and despite the fact that the show occasionally has Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, make remarks favorable to Democratic policies. With regard to these last, it’s impossible to tell whether she is using the show as a forum to advance these policies, or if she is ridiculing the Hollywood types who unthinkingly spout the can she sometimes throws in.

To the extent she may be a Democrat, or is believed to be a Democrat, Fey is allowed to get away with things that would never be tolerated on some imaginary Rush Limbaugh network. Last night’s show was a perfect example, in that it revolved around the guilt that permeates liberals’ relationships with individual blacks.

[SPOILER ALERT: THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS GIVE AWAY PLOT AND JOKES. IF YOU WANT TO SEE FOR YOURSELF WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT, GO HERE AND VIEW EPISODE 16. AND IF YOU WANT TO SEE AN EPISODE THAT HAD BOTH ME AND MY HUSBAND IN TEARS OF LAUGHTER, VIEW EPISODE 15.]

The show’s premise was that Fey’s character went out on a date with a black man, only to discover that they were completely incompatible. When she tried to tell him during dinner that she didn’t feel they had anything in common, he insisted (loudly) that she was rejecting him because he was black. When her friend asked her later how she handled this situation, she confessed that she did it the only way she knew how: some light necking in the taxi, followed by the promise of more dates. She then wondered aloud how many more dates she’d have to go on before she could break up without being accused of being a racist. All the while, in her interactions with black people in subordinate positions (delivery man, secretary), she repeatedly patronized them, being overly friendly or making assumptions about them based on their race.

In the funniest scene of the show, Fey tells the man that she really plain old dislikes him. “Can’t we just not all get along?” “Nope,” he says. Maybe their children or grandchildren can be free to hate each other regardless of race, but they haven’t gotten to that point yet. She’s stuck with him.

[RESUME READING HERE IF YOU DIDN'T WANT TO READ THE SPOILER MATERIAL]

As I said, it’s impossible to imagine this type of humor — and it was really funny — being allowed from a source with conservative, rather than (probably) liberal credentials. Of course, part of why it works is because Tina Fey is, I think, a brilliant comic mind, both as a writer and a performer. Where she’s delicately sardonic and self-knowing, someone else could be grossly crude and offensive.

I did wonder, though, after watching the show, whether it had a larger truth that will affect a potential Obama candidacy. To the extent people are afraid of being viewed as racists, no matter their actual thoughts and motivation, will we see an increase in lying when pollsters call people to find out whether they’ll vote for him, either in the primaries or in the actual election? What do you think?

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Unbecoming Jane

Miramax is releasing a new motion picture called “Becoming Jane Austen,” which purports to tell of Jane’s abortive romance with a wild Irish lawyer. There is no doubt that, when she was young, Austen met Tom Lefroy, a young Anglo-Irish lawyer, thought he was nice, and had fun dancing with him. That’s it. That’s what we know about him. If there’s anything else, it’s long gone, since her beloved sister Cassandra destroyed all of Jane’s letters. From this minute bit of information, the film’s makers have created an elaborate story that has Jane railing against the confines of her ordinary life, setting people’s backs up, and spying on skinny dipping young men (shades of another Miramax film, Room with a View). I’ve read several biographies of Jane Austen and none of them indicate that she was anything but an ordinary young English woman of the time, albeit one with splendid observational skills, a sparkling sense of humor, and biting wit. There’s no hint in the real history that she deviated from the social mores of her times (although one solid fellow citizen in her town did think her silly).

The movie makers seem to be succumbing to an uncontrollable urge to modernize poor Jane. The 2005 movie version of Pride & Prejudice turned me off completely because, within minutes of opening, it had Keira Knightley prancing and preening like a modern girl readying herself for a hip-hop evening. Not content with updating the books, the studios are now trying to update Jane herself. What they seem to have done, though, is turned the whole thing into a generic modern romance, with a feisty heroine who bucks the trends, and finds her true self at the end. It’s a perfectly fine plot conceit, but it offends me that they’ve involved Jane Austen in this effort.

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What’s in a name?

My son asked me how Valentine’s Day began. I explained that, a long time ago, there was a man named Valentine who was known for his kindness to young couples who wished to get married (and he may have given doweries to poor girls so they could marry). He was also a Christian who died for his faith. When he was made a Saint, February 14 became his “Saint’s Day.” Every year, on that day, when people thought of him, they also remembered how he helped bring about marriages. St. Valentine eventually became associated with love, and the cards, chocolates and flowers soon followed. (You can read these and other theories about the holiday’s origins here and here.)

Valentine’s Day, sadly, isn’t what it used to be. While the little kids are still handing out cheesy cards to their classmates and eating candy hearts, big girls across America are castigating rape and having love-ins with their own vaginas. St. Valentine would be rolling in his grave.

All is not lost, however. As an antidote to the paranoid “Take Back The Night” feminist approach to love and romance — a view that equates all men with rapists — the Independent Women’s Forum has launched it’s “Take Back The Date” campaign, an idea aimed at re-romanticizing Valentine’s Day:

Take Back the Date is an IWF initiative to reclaim Valentine’s Day from radical feminists on campus who use a day of love and romance to promote vulgar and promiscuous behavior through activities like The Vagina Monologues.

This isn’t just about demanding flowers and candy from men. Instead, as I understand it, it’s about elevating both men and women to a higher plane of conduct that’s not just about random hooking up (read: “casual sex”) and date rape. Instead, it’s about respect, attraction and romance, old-fashioned ideas that might look pretty darn good to young people immersed in the sterile, hostile, demeaning world of modern college dating.

So, if you are in college or know someone who is, maybe it’s time to remind yourself or your friends what Valentine’s Day is really about.

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Hurrah!

I wonder where she’ll go from here? It’s a tough (impossible?) act to follow.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the last of seven installments of the boy wizard’s adventures, will be published July 21, authorJ.K. Rowling said Thursday.

Rowling announced the publication date on her Web site.

The next Frank Rich

In a peculiar way, I’m becoming very fond of David Denby, one of The New Yorker‘s resident movie reviewers. It’s clear that he aspires to be another Frank Rich — Rich, of course, being the former New York Times‘ theater critic who made the leap to ultra liberal political op-ed columnist.

In the short time that Denby has floated across my radar, he’s never succeeded in writing a review that didn’t include an attack against the current administration. (See my posts here and here, for examples.) His latest movie review is no exception, as he waxes ecstatic about Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, which he calls “the most magnificent and large-souled record of a great American tragedy ever put on film.”  Come on, Denby.  Don’t hold back.  What do you really think about the movie?

The review has the obligatory FEMA bashing, and “where were the Feds” statements, but what’s really interesting is the part where Denby gives a laundry list of those people in the movie whom he most admires.  Here it is, and I’ve inserted a few hyperlinks to give a little more background on some of the things he references:

Keeping his own voice largely absent and his presence invisible, he [Lee] finds the city’s tattered survivors. He also consults a variety of lawyers and local politicians, and such luminaries as Harry Belafonte and Al Sharpton; the musicians and New Orleans natives Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard (the latter wrote much of the beautiful music for the film); the historian Douglas Brinkley, who makes impassioned critiques of Bush Administration officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and the Mississippi man (a doctor) who publicly advised the Vice-President, when he visited the area long after the storm, to go fuck himself.

Yeah, that’s quite a cast of luminaries there.  To the extent a man is known by the company he keeps and the people he admires, I’ve just learned a whole lot about Denby, all of which he would have done better to keep hidden from public view.

Wearing your Leftist heart on your sleeve

I’ve become very fond of David Denby’s movie reviews in the New Yorker, largely because he can’t resist letting his politics leak out all over the place. I’ve blogged before about his slobbering praise for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and his compulsion to use Garrison Keilor’s Prairie Home Companion as a forum for attacking George Bush. The same leakage occured when he reviewed Little Miss Sunshine, although to a lesser extent. Although I can’t get my hand on a copy of that review right now, I know that he attributed the family’s impovished state to George Bush’s America. Apparently Denby’s been a bit out of contact with the good news about the American economy.

This time, we’re told that Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center is a good movie despite the fact that conservatives like and praise it. I’m not kidding — that’s precisely what he says:

“World Trade Center” is about courage and endurance as a function of family strength; it’s about suburban and small-town America trying to save the big city. Those are conservative themes, much praised for their appearance in this movie by the kind of right-wingers who have long hated Oliver Stone. Some of the euphoria—Cal Thomas, a columnist and a commentator at Fox News, calls the movie “one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving God Bless America films you will ever see”—is not only inane, it’s enough to turn you off moviegoing altogether. Can “World Trade Center” really be that bad? No, the ideologues laying hands on the movie won’t sink it.

The ostensible review spends only a scant one paragraph talking about the movie before turning to a rundown of Stone’s career, all aimed at assuring us that Stone loves his country:

For all the rough talk and messy action in “Salvador,” Stone was as earnest as any collar-grabbing country preacher: he wanted Americans to confront the country’s sins. The conservatives who began to attack him after “Salvador” had him all wrong. Stone was not some anti-American crank but an anguished patriot with an outsized capacity for anger and shame.

After the hagiography about stone, Denby returns to a couple more paragraphs of movie review. Then we get the last criticism: how can you believe in an ex-Marine who will drop everything, put on his uniform, and go to save people?

There’s only one element in the movie that feels too stiff. A slab-faced ex-marine, Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon), an accountant who lives in Connecticut, hears God’s call on the morning of the attack, dons his old uniform, and moves into the smoking ruins after the official rescue teams have been called off for the night. Stone’s iconic treatment of Karnes could have used a touch of humor—like many inspired men, he seems a bit mad. But Karnes, solemn and remote as he is, may be important to Stone in ways that go deep. The vets in “Born on the Fourth of July” longed for home and for “things that made sense, things you could count on, before we got so lost.”

Of course, we all know that this is precisely the type of thing an ex-Marine will do.

On cultural degradation

My mother and I put our heads together tonight and began bemoaning the absence of charm in our modern world. The subject came up when, a propos something in our conversation, I quoted a line from “Singing in the Rain.” We fell silent a moment as we thought of that most wonderful movie, and then I asked (as one always does), “Why don’t they make movies like that anymore? It was so charming.” My mother’s response, naturally enough, was that our world doesn’t value charm or wit.  We live in more of a sledge hammer culture. The charm I find so, well, charming, is now seen as artificial and cloying. It sometimes seem that, if you’re not vulgar and somewhat mean spirited (especially in the entertainment industry), you’re simply on the wrong side of the pop culture divide.

After we’d mourned the loss of a sweeter past, I came home and, coincidentally, read two things that seemed to highlight both the impediments to charm in our modern world and the wit and delicacy we’ve lost. The first thing I read was Leonard Pitts’ article about a failed MTV satire. Since I’m woefully separated from pop culture (I no longer recognize the people in People), I hadn’t heard about MTV’s little PR disaster. Here’s how Pitts describes what happened:

The cartoon, an episode of MTV2’s recent animated series, “Where My Dogs At?” is not airing presently and the network, under fire from critics incensed by the program, has not decided whether it will ever be repeated. So I’m forced to rely on press reports. But they paint a vivid picture.

“Where My Dogs At?” chronicles the misadventures of two stray canines who offer, or so it says on the Web site, a “hilariously uncensored dog’s-eye view of celebrity and pop culture insanity.”

The episode that created the uproar had a look-a-like of the rapper Snoop Dogg, who strolls into a pet store leading two black women. The women are wearing leashes. They walk on all fours. And from there, it gets worse. The women squat on their haunches scratching themselves and, upon departure, one leaves an odoriferous souvenir — that is to say, excrement — on the floor. This, it seems necessary to remind you, is meant to be funny.

Aside from the ugly racism, the vulgarity is staggering. But about that racism — the black, female MTV executive in charge of the cartoon defended it on the ground that it was satire. The cartoon was meant to take to the extreme the fact that the real Snoop did in fact show up at an awards show with two women on leashes. Pitts acknowledges that there may be validity to MTV’s motive here — satirizing its own culture — put gets to the central point, which is that our culture may have become too extreme to satirize:

I love a good satire — did I mention that already? — but for me, this episode stands as stark evidence that our world is becoming ever more satire proof. Or, perhaps more accurately, ever more self-satirizing. I mean, if satire is defined as exaggerating the real in order to show its absurdities, what do you do when the real is a man who leads women around on a leash? Where do you go with that? How do you make it more ridiculous than it already is?

Satire draws in broad strokes. It argues by caricature. But increasingly the social and political life of this country is nothing but broad strokes, nothing but caricature. From the semen stained dress of a few years back, to the malaprop-ridden man in the White House; to the senator who says the Internet is a series of tubes, to the game show that requires you to eat worms; to Paris Hilton to Nicole Richie to no bottled water on airplanes, real life has become ridiculous and outrageous to a degree that often makes parody superfluous. At the very least it makes parody more difficult while simultaneously giving moral cover to hacks who use parody as little more than an excuse to be mean and crude.

I think Pitts is exactly right. When your dominant culture has itself become a parody, where do you go from there?

In any event, as I was contemplating what I think is a sad state of affairs, I got an email entitled “When Insults Had Class.” I’m copying the email here in its entirety because it does reflect a time when wit, not vulgarity, earned applause and recognition:

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” — Winston Churchill

“A modest little person, with much to be modest about.” — Winston Churchill

“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” — Clarence Darrow

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” — William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” — Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” — Moses Hadas

“He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.” — Abraham Lincoln

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” — Groucho Marx

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” — Mark Twain

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.” — Oscar Wilde

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play, bring a friend… if you have one.” — George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.” — Winston Churchill, in reply

Can you think of any modern personality who has produced even one bon mot comparable to the above?

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