Friday, May 05, 2006
Back in October of last year, this humble blog made a public service announcement.
As you may recall, we asked you to help this man:
Richard Cohen is running out of ways to be wrong. He has almost used them all up! Of the twelve kinds of wrongness Aristotle describes in the Nicodeman Ethics (you remember, predictive, retrospective, substantive, distributive, boneheaded, etc.), Cohen has now employed eleven. He has been wrong about things domestic and foreign, liberal and conservative, major and minor.
It’s not an overstatement to call this a national crisis of wrongness. Unlike, say, the writers of Clownhall.com or Tech Central Station, Cohen does actual damage to the Republic with his compelling and influential wrongheadedness. And in order for him to keep doing that damage, he needs to find new issues and events about which to be wrong.
(And check out the comment thread on that post! One of the four funniest comment threads ever threaded on the Internets.)
Well, for once we have good news, people. Richard Cohen has found yet another way to be wrong! The final frontier! There are no more lands to conquer!*
No, it’s not about Stephen Colbert qua Stephen Colbert. Reasonable people can disagree about Colbert’s performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. I personally thought it was a thing of beauty, a joy forever, like that Keats fellow once said. But chacun à son goût, as we epistemological relativists say in our Frenchified “English” departments. Rather, what makes Richard Cohen’s latest column so brilliantly, spectacularly wrong is its opening paragraph:
First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy. This is well known in certain circles, which is why, even back in elementary school, I was sometimes asked by the teacher to “say something funny”—as if the deed could be done on demand.
Quite apart from the performative contradiction involved in this paragraph, two things immediately come to mind—one tragic, one (appropriately) comic. The comic one is this: do you remember that incredibly pompous doofus in seventh grade who thought he was some kind of Serious Intellectual? The guy who was such an obstreperous asshole that even teachers would ask him to make a fool of himself for general class amusement? It’s a dull day in May in your English class, and everyone’s supposed to be discussing something like “Miniver Cheevy” but they’re really looking out the window or doodling “Yes” logos in their notebooks or thinking about sneaking into Billy Jack on the weekend because it’s rated R and their parents won’t let them see it, and suddenly Mrs. Eggleston at the front of the room says, “Mr. Cohen, say something funny for us, won’t you?” And the entire class snaps to, because everyone knows Mrs. Eggleston meant “say something ridiculous and goofy as hell,” and Richie really does say the most amazingly stupid-ass things you’ve ever heard come out of a human mouth, and sure enough, he does not disappoint: “I think Miniver Cheevy is the kind of hero who could help us turn the corner today in Vietnam,” says little Richie. Half the class bursts into laughter, and the other half thinks WTF? and actually looks at the poem to try to figure out where in the world Richie pulled that one from, and lo! Mrs. Eggleston’s English class is back on track, and nobody’s thinking about Billy Jack any more. It’s dirty pool, pedagogically speaking, but it works.
The tragic one is this: little Richie is still at it today! Right on cue, he opens his mouth and says that Saddam has WMD and that “only a fool—or possibly a Frenchman—could conclude otherwise.” Get it? possibly a Frenchman? That is teh funny, Richie! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Every time the right calls on you—to stump for war in Iraq, to demand that Patrick Fitzgerald close his investigation into the Plame scandal, to defend Bill Bennett, or simply to insist (way back in 2000) that Bush was the man to heal our nation—you deliver. Karl Rove says, “say something funny, won’t you, Mr. Cohen,” and within seconds, they’re laughing uproariously at you. At you, Richie, not with you. They think you’re a buffoon, really they do. In fact, they think they can get you to say anything at all. Now, Richie, why do you think they think that? Go ahead—say something funny! We’re all waiting.
And for those of you who are waiting for this blog’s hockey prognosticatin’: it’ll be right up. But I’ll put it below this post, so as not to mess with the 99.94 percent of you who come to this blog hoping that someday it will no longer talk about hockey.
* Perhaps fittingly, it turns out that I am wrong about this. Applying the principles of Advanced Physical Science rather than those of the Nicodeman Ethics, one intrepid blogger has identified a new state of wrongness. Many thanks to Peter Ramus in comments.