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Monday, June 26, 2006

Against blogofascism

Jamie and I are guests at this exclusive resort, having been invited to an ultrasecret DLC conference as a result of last Thursday’s post.  We got in at 1 am last night—that is, 4 am “our” time.  We flew from Pittsburgh to Seattle, realizing as we did so that we were doing the Super Bowl cities, got in a half hour late, waited a half hour for our bags, got caught in Seattle traffic at 10 pm on a Sunday, searched vainly for this place in the darkness, and so forth.  This morning I learned that for the first time in my life, I packed mismatching dress shoes.  But that’s all right!  Evan Bayh tells me I’ll be welcome anyway.  Besides, they expect bloggers to wear sneakers.

Speaking of bloggers and the DLC: it has come to my attention that people out there, especially those of you who don’t wash very often, have been doing the unthinkable—insulting Lee Siegel.  Just because he called attention, in his characteristically measured and sagacious manner, to the populist crudity, character-assassination, and emotional stupefaction one finds on blogs.  I mean, really.  All Siegel did was describe the blogosphere as “hard fascism with a Microsoft face,” and people started calling him names!

“Moron"; “Wanker” (a favorite blogofascist insult, maybe because of the similarity between the most strident blogging and masturbating); and “Asshole” have been the three most common polemical gambits. A reactor even had the gall to refer to me as a “conservative.”

Ouch!  I hate it when reactors go nuclear.  And as you all know, this blog doesn’t like it when you crude blogoIslamofascists call people “morons.” (About “wanker” we remain agnostic, and we note that Siegel responds to the insult by accusing his critics of . . . wanking!) So I’m here to say that this kind of thing really has to stop.  Now.

Seriously: people should not call Lee Siegel names.  Remember, Lee Siegel is one of the most fatuous and self-regarding writers in the English-speaking world, and as such, he is ripe for parody.  Why, from Jon Stewart to Stephen Colbert to the Witty Leftists of blogofascism, Siegel has been flailing at people considerably more talented than he for months now.  Occasionally he reminds his critics, whom he suavely calls “pissants,” that

I was writing for magazines like Dissent, The Nation, and Radical History Review while you were still worrying whether it was safe to walk around the Upper West Side at night. (Maybe you still do.)

That is so street.  Why, it positively reeks of authenticity!  It is at once leftish and dangeral—a potent combination in any neighborhood.

So please, please don’t get angry at Lee Siegel.  Don’t descend to angry name-calling.  Instead, use the hard Microfascisoft power of the blogofascisphere to parody him!  It’s more fun, and, most important, it’s more sophisticated.  And though, as you well know, this blog is loath to repeat itself, quote itself, or repeat itself, we’ll repost our Siegel parody from early March just to get things started.  Take it away, parody Lee!


Hello, everyone!  Many thanks to Michael for letting me sit in today while he basks in the Pacific Northwest with the captains of industry.  I’ve decided to take to the blogosphere again because it’s come to my attention that there are some people who still haven’t responded adequately to my February 27 essay on Jon Stewart in The New Republic.  It’s available online to subscribers, but I hear that the good people at LBO-Talk have made the full text available on their listserv.  Please read the entire thing right now.  It is critical to the future of comedy in our country.  It takes the form of an open letter to Stewart on the occasion of his hosting of the Academy Awards, and it begins,

Dear Jon Stewart,

As the entire world knows, you’ll be hosting the Oscars this coming Sunday for the first time.

On this august occasion, please allow me to appeal to you as someone who wants to be a fan but hasn’t been able to enjoy you so far. Please allow me to appeal to you as a public service. You of all people know from public service, since you are the very man who has enlisted comedy in the cause of civic clarity. I can’t imagine that what I say will make a difference to you—if you even happen to read this. No matter. Like you, I have a job to do.

First, note my “humility trope” at the end of this passage.  Despite the fact that I am a very important reviewer writing for the house journal of the National Center for Unearned Self-Importance, I say it is “no matter” whether you read my work.  But don’t fall for that little rhetorical feint—it is simply a measure of my craftiness as a writer.  For, in fact, it is critical that my words make a difference to you.  Jon, you have failed to win me over despite my desire to approve of you, and that should concern you.  It should concern all of us.  As I explain later in the essay,

I love comedians who make humor out of current events, out of bad or stupid politics. But the best of them work the stuff into wit. You just point, taunt, make faces. You say something “sucks,” and that’s the joke. You say “sucks” a lot.

Jon, I think the reason you’ve settled into this gross-out expedience is that you think, or you’ve been told, that the young audiences you supposedly draw aren’t up to more sophisticated bits. For one thing, I think you’re selling short the number of people in the magical demographic who have fine senses of humor. For another, I don’t think your audience is that focused on politics anyway. They just like to see people in authority, no matter whether they’re good or bad, torn down. It doesn’t matter whether the deconstruction is funny or not so long as it seems to humiliate the subject. So pretty soon, and especially when politics changes, you’re going to have to rethink your role as the Howdy-Doody Orwell. More importantly, when the chickens come home to roost—yes, the deficit spending on the war—and people start to want comedy with true creative-destructive substance; when they start to crave comic maturity rather than resigning themselves to pandering puerility, you’re going to be in trouble.

Yes, you read that correctly, Jon.  I think you’re condescending to your audience . . . but, you know, that’s my job.  You’re selling short the number of people who have fine senses of humor, whereas I’m quite sure that they’re not very sophisticated politically, and that’s why they’ve resigned themselves to pandering puerility.  But not for long!  Not after they hear from me.

By the way, I have a question for Michael Bérubé’s regular readers: honestly, what did you all think of the “Howdy-Doody Orwell” line?  Pretty good, huh?  When I typed that, I cried, “yes!  Lee Siegel, you have done it again!”

I slay me sometimes.

Now, I admit that every now and then, I’m a party of one in that regard.  No matter.  When I find myself in the critical minority, I know that our nation is deep in the throes of a profound cultural crisis.  For instance, when I informed the world that Eyes Wide Shut was “one of the most moving, playful, and complex movies I have ever seen,” I didn’t simply disagree with everyone else who saw the film.  Rather, I made my disagreement into a Gravely Pessimistic Cultural Statement About Our Entire Culture:

I realized that something that had been stirring around in the depths of the culture had risen to the surface.  After years of vindictive, leveling memoirs of artistic figures; after countless novels, plays, films, paintings, and installations constructed to address one social issue or another; after dozens of books have been published proclaiming the importance of the “great books” and “humanist ideas” to such a point of inflation that the effect was to bury the specificity of great books and of original ideas—after the storm of all this self-indulgence had passed, a new cultural reality had taken shape. Our official arbiters of culture have lost the gift of being able to comprehend a work of art that does not reflect their immediate experience; they have become afraid of genuine art. Art-phobia is now the dominant sensibility of the official culture, and art-phobia annihilated Stanley Kubrick’s autumnal work.

As you can see, I know art.  And I know playful!  So please, Jon Stewart, fans of Jon Stewart, and readers of this blog, take my words to heart.  Read them, repeat them, live them.  For your own good, and for the good of all humanity.  Thank you.


OK, everyone, have at it.  But don’t lose your focus and start talking about other things!  Lee says that happens all the time in blog comments; in fact, he says it’s related to the whole fanatifascistic phenomenon. “The blogosphere’s fanaticism,” he writes, “is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.” So . . . uh . . . what was I saying?  Oh yes. Meat is Hitler!

(Many thanks to an enterprising—and very focused—commenter on this thread.)

Posted by Michael on 06/26 at 11:54 AM
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