[AUTHOR'S NOTE: The header here was originally “Everybody’s in show biz/Everybody’s a star”—Ray Davies of the Kinks, from the album and song of the same name. That was when it was simple. But nothing is that easy. The new title came as the work-in-progress began to coalesce, and it became clear that a lot more was required. Then came the next inspiration, a quote attributed to Richard Burbage, Shakespeare's go-to actor, a last gasp that has come down to us, through the ages, as either perfectly formed or adapted and adopted, whatever, of the apocryphal summation of art: "Dying is easy; Comedy is hard."]
Today marks a peculiar anniversary, one that is probably only familiar to those obsessed by the Yankees/Red Sox feud ongoing since they traded the Babe to the Bronx. In 1774, two weeks after the other one, the NYC branch of the Sons of Liberty threw their own tea party, chucking crates of Tetley, Lipton and Earl Grey into the Hudson. Do you think anybody in the present world of “the rabble” (as many have self-labeled their groups, in honor of the King George view of our rebel forefathers) would care? After all, that is one of the two home fronts (the other being California) of the species Liberalus Elitus, their sworn enemies. Mind you, one supposes that they can now accept the other one, marginally, as South Boston was one of the districts that helped elect Scott Brown.
The Tea Party umbrella covers a legitimate, grassroots, honorable American protest movement…and also a ginned-up, astroturfed, shameful display of wanton childishness and egomania, blind to the assets of the opposition and too forgiving of their own lunatic fringe. These seeming polar-opposite opinions are not given to appear either indecisive or “fair and balanced”. The reason for saying so is only that within these extremes there is very little latitude for compromise or discourse, and it is much the same as our view of the Muslim world and its tepid response to our fears of terrorists. Here, the people with a desire for restrictions on Big Government and grievances at the loss of civil liberties cannot be debated because the only ones being heard, or having attention paid to them, are those who are the loudest, shrillest and generally the most obnoxious of the group.
When my friend Ed pointed out to me that Arlo Guthrie had given some reporter for the NY Times (for the feature “Five Minutes With…”, I think it was called) a reference to support of Ron Paul, he was dismayed to find the son of Woody had gone conservative. I pointed out that it could also be that the reporter was being young and snotty (or “snarky”, if that is the proper neologism—assuming that it is NOT the Lewis Carroll word but more the combination of “snakey” and “arch”) and Arlo just decided to flip-off with a curt blurt. When canvassing during at the last election, there were instructors who told us how to handle lawn signs as indicators of whether or not to approach houses (in that area) and the mention of Ron Paul supporters always brought a laugh (as being so rare) but also was encouraged as these were people who actually THOUGHT about the issues; who made a choice based upon what may be thought of as ultraconservative, but is, as well, almost radically Libertarian. And Libertarians are not people to be scoffed at—ever. Some of my best friends…
What I like, and what everyone must acknowledge, is that these are people who SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. That’s in uppercase for a good reason: it needs to be set off as the most important thing that we, as citizens and registered voters and taxpayers—whatever label you wish to apply—should do in order to participate in governance. When you talk with these people, it is safe to say you can readily admit that the Healthcare bill is flawed; that regulation is necessary to curb excesses that violate sound business practices but should not be a bar to competitive trade; that the President is not the Messiah or even the Pope; that you take orders from your conscience as much as they do, but will—knowingly—have to bend it, at times, in order to accommodate your ideals to practicalities. At its best, this is truly Democracy in action.
That’s also a discussion that is impossible in the present climate.
In an attempt to get away from the noise of overheated rhetoric and virulent images and evening news clip-loops of rally-monkeys, I read. First, a New Yorker piece on the movement, then a lot of blogs, then a Times piece, and then some more blogs. The best of the bunch was the NYer one. While it did not entirely avoid the kooks, it presented a lot of the arguments from the perspective of ordinary folk, and—outside of being suspicious of anybody from that city—mostly provided a look at it from their side of the fence, and, as well, its evolution (though many would dispute the use of such a Darwinistic verb) from a CNBC reporter’s shout-out on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange into the activist campaign that could replace Teddy, the Lion of the Senate, with Pick-up Truck Scott. What it did offer of value was an historical perspective and some links for investigation.
It's so easy to satisfy curiosity there days: Google any one of the cause camps and visit their websites or blogs and look for patterns. Start with the tech and then check out the chat. As they are also part of the blogosphere of which this site is a participant, assessing the level of manufacture is no trick; we all use the same set of templates, depending upon your particular server’s options. We get frames and fill them with stuff; some of your own generation, others provided gratis to make it look fancier. And yes, the postings are long/short, entered by each date or in one long list [ASIDE: note for all—don’t do that; loading takes too long], with/without graphics, black type or white on colored background but some with differently-colored type mixed in. These are not that sophisticated or loaded with resources (unless you go to something like the big guns, FreedomNow.org or such); they ARE personal. Then, as equals in the world of open journals, meeting them halfway didn't seem like such a stretch.
And we’re not talking Birthers, Deathers, Truthers, or any of those specific phobias. So then you start reading and the first thing that you realize is that the references in the article to Liberty Bell (an early “Tea Bagger”—but with the wrong binding metaphor in her call to arms—is depicted in superhero cartoon) is the same one in the article AND she is cited on almost every site. And the prevalence of Ayn Rand Objectivism as the highest sources of philosophical criticism. And the number of slogans and caricatures of Obama, Pelosi, Reid, etc., as well as the photos of demonstrations, and lots of bumper stickers. Finally, because they are there, you start looking at the Comments fields too. (If I had as many as some of these, I would feel very fortunate indeed.)
Once you are hip-deep in the thickets, it all begins to blur but salient points do emerge. The best of them, after authority, utilize arguments based upon such things as polling data from Rasmussen Reports, “The Most Comprehensive Public Opinion Data”, as they claim. And most authorities say they are that good, except there is also another statistical factor they say is important, what is called the “house effect”: that of the systemic differences in the way polls tend, due to their own search for evidence to support their clients’ desired conclusions. This is not “skewing” data as much as nudging a question towards an answer you prefer. The extreme example of this, from Law School, would be something like, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ (A better analysis might be found here FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right: House Effects Render Poll-Reading Difficult) This does not say they are wrong, but it does indicate that they are probably Right. And if you go to this as your main source of support 5 times out of 10, you aren’t really interested in facts as facts any more than I used to be.
Still, if you are after public opinion, that’s what you do. It gets shakier when you start having to go after independent economic or scientific data, or philosophical slants that are wider afield than your sect. That’s when the volume ramps up alarmingly fast…like the Minutemen on laughing gas. Yes, the rhetoric (if you want to stretch the term to bad English) is nearly 100%, red-blooded, Revolutionary War (or the Colonial War, a designation equally descriptive but with less appeal to virulence and therefore never used in their sloganeering), fire-breathing oratory that wraps itself in all the symbols of the Founding Fathers’ major (ad) campaigns against the British, and talk about uniting again for a “Second” revolution…they just don’t talk about the rest of us. And even though a lot of them use the term “We” a lot (as in, “We, the People”), it sounds just like they’re saying “Me” in the plural.
Short aside for a minor confession. In my salad days, I admit to a similarly rabid turn of mind, albeit from the Left; uncompromising, arbitrary and disregarding as bogus any facts that did not fit in with my world view. (Ok. Almost. Bane of my existence: always looking at both sides of an argument. Only really useful in chess.) I would generalize, sure, but never without some modicum of evidence, and after much analysis and consideration. This is why we were called radicals--our opinions were out of the norm and extreme in their challenges to standards.
What comes through all of the speechifyin’ about the Real America and True Patriots and The Constitution and the Tree of Liberty and Don’t Tread On Me all that, is that the most authentic characteristic they all have in common is a sense of anger and aggrievement. As a rule, this sort emotional character comes from those who have been disenfranchised by a system and only want their fair share of ‘the American Dream’. However, what comes through in the Times article is that these people are better educated, have professional jobs in relatively stable employment areas, and are more affluent than the main. As well, the use of language and tactics is very close to what we used to use, and were often accused of taking dictation from Moscow and Fidel and Mao. When you add it up, then, this is not only co-opting the forms of your enemy but posturing like runway mannequins: they're messages are hollow and empty of any real content; the kind of stuff that's good for marches...but this is no different than what shows up on their blogs. And when you codify this behavior in a psychological/sociological profile, it rates as right up there with spoiled children: petulant and pouting. It is not, as they like to type themselves as the Radical Right, but simply reactionary. This is proven by the plain fact that the Party of No is against everything and proposes nothing new. One might argue that this is the way of any opposition group out of power.
But there's more.
The reason for the original title (the Kinks one) was that we all have realized, at some time or other in our blogging experience, that, with few exceptions, this is a trivial, useless waste of time and energy with no hope of any return of value for the time spent on executing our entries. (Take Ed, for instance. The amount of labor he puts into mediafunhouse.blogspot.com far and away outweighs the responses he gets for these little gems. And that isn’t counting the cable access show on which it is based.) At all but the most popular music-dl blogs, you can expect maybe 2-to-5 “thank yous” and are grateful for that, especially the idea of return visitors. In the TP world, it is more like 5-to-10 and better. And neither are these simple thanks; they are solid supports and hearty ‘fight the good fight’, ‘keep up the good work’, ‘don’t falter at the altar’-type-of-exhortations which express a vocal message much more than a written one. (Again: bad grammar; terrible spelling.) As well, these are people who tweet and Blackberry and IM lots too! And if you read the previous post, the attraction to this entire social-media networking is just as palpable. It is not generalizing to say that support-group re-enforcement for every impulse, no matter how ephemeral and trivial, which may add to the Foe’s consternation and frustration is trumpeted to the rafters right alongside Paul Revere’s Ride and The Shot Hear ‘Round The World and other iconographic events of the era.
It is not merely a mutual admiration society, though. This is not a small thing either. The idea of being ‘loud and proud’ may have come from James Brown and filtered through to Gay rights but it is squarely something the former ‘Silent Majority’ want…and they want it NOW! When you read the blogs, and the comments, you immediately notice that they are not out to make any arguments, compile any logical supports, create any plans to supplant that which they oppose (and believe me, this is something I recognize well from my own intemperate past) based in economic or demographic evidence. And, despite the Scott Brown victory (and the Hoffman defeat in upstate New York), they do not want to follow the strictest dictum of the game: ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL. No, they must make an impression on the National stage, otherwise they won’t get their most sought-after prize: a 10-second loop on CNN. Think I’m exaggerating? Try this: one of the people in the New Yorker piece asked the writer if he knew who won the Battle of Saratoga. It wasn’t a pop quiz; it was to get to bring up Benedict Arnold. “One of the reasons he turned traitor was because he didn’t get the recognition he deserved.” (You may now insert a Rodney Dangerfield cut-away of tie-adjustment, shoulder-hitch and the “I don’t get no respect” grumple.)
They want to be famous…just like everybody else, if only for a minute…or 10 seconds.
When you live in a media capital, it is not uncommon for your waitstaff to have both Food Handler and SAG cards. On the other hand, what with the proliferation of “Reality TV” competitions and ‘unscripted’ family docu-soaps, more and more Average Joes and Janes are getting their moment in the spotlight as well. What differs from the past is that when you were on, say, Password or Jeopardy or Concentration, it was confined to daylight, workday hours. (Let us omit What’s My Line?, The Match Game, The Dating Game, etc. and those of their ilk as they would be either one or two a week, tops, or syndicated on the fringes of prime time.) Today, you see schulbs & bubbas, goombahs & goombettes, sluts & studs, nerds & cheerleaders, Six-Pack Abs & Joe Six-Pack, NASCAR Dads & soccer/hockey moms, all having their moment in the public eye. It does not matter to them that they are also being used in the same capacity as a freak show by venal carny barkers/programmers who have figured out how to garner the maximum advertising revenue stream from the least investment of capital. Nor should it matter; if what you want is to be able to sit around with the grandkids and point at a screen and say, Look! There’s ME!—that's fine. Performance art is a good place to start...but remember: drama, comedy, tragedy--it belongs on a stage.
Now to the substance of the subsequent title.
Spend some time with Stewart or Olberman and you will hear the subject of Comedy brought up: by the former as an explanation of what he does; by the latter as a critique of Fox News and their common-taters. Everyone knows that "The Daily Show" is on Comedy Central, but that doesn't stop a lot of people going after it as if it were a newsgathering organization with an editorial division. More than once he has explained--explicitly--that he is NOT "fair and balanced" BECAUSE THIS IS SATIRE. "Countdown" labels Bill-O the Clown, and Rush and Glenn as comedians, saying 'because that is what they are', in the main. So what we have, on one end, is a self-described humorist (I think that's safe enough to tag John, which gives him a point spread from Mark Twain to Will Rogers and leaves room for whatever heaviness may come from dealing in provocative ideas). He gets a lot of laughs, first and foremost, and he's happy. If someone wants to take something he says and start a crusade, he'd be the first one to tell them to seek professional counseling.
On the other, most prominently, are an ex-journalist and two radio-originated broadcasters offering views and opinions on the events and issues of the day, never claiming to have any authority or responsibility. No, they are just asking "why", arent' they? And here's the nut: they may be as described, but nobody treats them like that. When you see their summations, given as blanket statements echoing the deepest beliefs of those people on the aforesaid blogs, you have to wonder "why" as well. When it comes to public discourse, especially on the subject of the future of the governance, the last thing we should pay attention to are such vain, self-obsessed aggrandizers masquerading as patriots. Their broadsides are the permission slips for juvenile minds, inviting them to join a pre-packaged protest movement that looks like the old Vietnam/Free Speech/Ban the Bomb days without bothering to go through critical examination, the questioning of means and ends and motivations and desires, or ever reaching a conclusion on their own that does not eschew all doubt.
This is what reminds me of something I said earlier, about how the most important thing we can do is speak truth to power. If the news organizations want to show them making noise and raising hell, they should also acknowledge that these are empty, unconsidered statements, at best; and no less than professionally-produced simulacra/clones of our best aspirations towards the nobility of humankind and sanctity of the individual via Mad Ave-quality scripts and graphics for end-user industry lobby efforts to increase profits, suppress actual dissent and escape consequences of actions made possible only by continued manipulation of policy and regulatory agencies.
The worst is, these are people who literally do not think. Another generalization that seems too overarching? On Maddow last night, a perfect example: a Tea Party-identified woman was interviewed (or polled) and asked whether or not she approved of “big government”. She, of course, replied in the negative. Then she was asked if she was on Medicare or receiving Social Security. She answered yes. Then she was asked whether or not she approved of them. This caused her an actual conundrum, almost an Orwellian doublethink, wherein she had to confront her blanket statement of the TP line she had dl’ed to her frontal cortex for a knee-jerk response, but at the same time having to face the facts that her best interest lay with two programs that were emblematic of governmental intervention. She then had to say, “I don’t know, but I guess I’m changing my mind as we speak.”
See? These people are not dead between the ears; they CAN think, they just don’t want to ratiocinate. The problem with reading those blogs is how easy it is to feel superior to them, if only for one’s ability to run rings around their arguments. But smugness ill becomes anyone, and I would rather have a dialogue than talk to myself (despite what this particular blog appears to be doing). These are not evil devils doing bad as much as frightened and marginalized everyday folk who want what they see on TV to conform to something in their lives. Warhol’s most quoted line is “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”; most from the ‘burbs would settle for a blurb.
Am I immune? Yes and no. For me, this blog is a means to organize my thoughts, so to speak, in an open forum. I do not invite comments but neither do I reject them. This is first and foremost a journal of what goes on in one mind towards one end that may or may not be meaningful or purposeful. Whatever ‘fame’ I had was in the past; enough so that, in mine own little circle, I found some sort of admiration and popularity. But that’s what youth is about; on a bunch of grey retirees on pensions and middle-age guts and secretary spreads, it looks kinda sad and pathetic. What makes it ugly is that everything they ask for—like not leaving this debt to our grandchildren and such—is only making it worse.
One last quote. “Do not go gentle into that goodnight/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” I know what John Donne meant, but it sure don’t look like they do.
First you have to see the light.