Sunday, April 13, 2008

Prose and Cons

One of the things I've always loved about the internets is how the varied content serves as such a great complement to more conventional sources of reading material. Of course, plenty of the old-school tribe look at the online breed as the unwashed scribbling for the even more unwashed, as if their own professions weren't driven in no small part by trendy, unreadable wankery and tedious fabulism, hardbound so as to grant it some unearned, defiant veneer of respectability.

But there are plenty of "non-professionals" who do damn fine bits of writing, contrasting with paid professionals who peddle junk under this or that corporate banner. An example of the former is Kissing Suzy Kolber's Big Daddy Drew, whose epistle on how sportswriters undermine themselves and shortchange their fans by getting too close to their subjects is both hilarious and spot-on.

Even better, it serves as a fine metaphor for how political journalists routinely betray their own mission with sloppy, lazy thinking and cheap hypocrisy. I mean, I don't how much a waterboy like David Shuster makes, but I know Tweety gets paid north of $4 mil a year, and for them to lob this fucking ofay bullshit back and forth like it means anything is unacceptable, yet par for the course.

That this sort of nonsense is SOP is incomprehensible, until you realize that they're not really talking to us, but to each other. All of them, the "experts", the "consultants", the sinecured douchebags for whom this sort of thing has become a family industry, the morons peddling unreadable books to illiterate ninnies. It's a cottage industry for their little clique, no more, no less. It's a distraction from the fact their defense-contractor employers have a vested interest in keeping us focused on stupid shit like whether or not Barack Obama can bowl a fuckin' strike.

Here's another excellent compare-and-contrast example, where the "amateur" is leagues ahead of his "professional" counterpart. Edward Champion delivers what I think is a devastating kill-shot to sprezzaturda's happy horseshit.

Only a person thoroughly removed from linguistic pleasures would quibble with the semantics of “assclown.” It was a surprise to me to see Siegel taking umbrage with the term. “Assclown is a really funny word, though,” grinned Nicholson Baker, who did his best to try and get through to the pigheaded Siegel. But it quickly became apparent that Siegel would not be moved and I watched with some sadness as the cheery, ruddy-faced Baker shifted to profound and silent empathy for this lost soul.

Exactly. "Assclown" is just one of those cool words, so intrinsically funny I would laugh at it being used directly at me (before, of course, instantly wracking my brain for a comeback). Siegel seems not only joyless but, if what I've read of his and seen of him in his preposterous Daily Show appearance, passionless as well.

Everyone should have something that motivates them to get out of bed and do whatever they do, something that instills them with passion. Music, beer, sex, volubly extemporized misanthropy (in my case, all of those things and much more) -- so many wondrous things to inspire one to punch a metaphorical hole in the wall. But Siegel comes off as so listless in his cynicism, you wonder if he's doing some elaborate Tony Clifton schtick. If so, bravissimo, sprezzatoola. But more likely than not, he's really (as I've called him before) just a preening butthole.

Who makes a lot of money writing, which is a task only marginally more difficult than fucking or taking a dump. Again, we have a sloppy thinker given to petulance and poor argumentation, who is published with presumably a straight face on the part of the people who pay him. Yet the unwashed intartubez heathens who chronicle his jerky words and deeds write circles around him. For free. Strange, that.

One last example of sloppy writing (or perhaps editing), and this only because it pokes one of (numerous, I admit) pet peeves. This article, one of many solemnly chronicling how economic hard times have hit reg'lar folks in the shorts, contained this little nugget o' wisdom:

"I think we're almost in a depression," said Rohnert Park resident Donna Shore, 72. "Like the man in the movie said, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not taking it anymore.' "

Hunh? Even decontextualizing the over(mis)used, hackneyed Network line, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Seriously. You're pessimistic about the economy, and you're angry about it. Fair enough. But in what way are you not gonna take it anymore? Buying less and driving less are not moral stands or expressions of righteous anger, they are necessary adaptations to economic contingencies. This is a difference with a very substantial distinction, which apparently escaped everyone involved.

But get this: this meaningless utterance, which tells you really nothing about the actual subject of the article, was used as the pull quote for the print article. It's ridiculous; it would have made more sense for her to say, "This economy sucks, and I'm going under, and I think that most people are worse off now than they were four or eight years ago." At that point, miraculously, she would almost -- not quite, but almost -- recontextualized the shopworn movie quote.

And this is not the problem of Ms. Shore, who as a regular person being interviewed for a newspaper article should not be expected to be a professional orator. It's not even the problem of the writer, not entirely; the rest of the article actually makes a decent case and stays relatively coherent. But someone at the editorial level apparently thought, "Hey! A movie quote! Let's highlight that and use it as an attention-grabber!" Well, it worked, but in the wrong way. No attention was paid to whether the quote had relevance; it was just something they knew people would recognize.

I think a major factor in the devolution of corporate news media, and how people tend to regard these various media, is a growing incompetence with language, on all sides. At many institutional levels there is deliberation behind this; for example, it is Bush's striking, nearly autistic opacity with his use of language to describe his own reasoning which gives him leeway. By the time one manages to hack through the thicket of stubbed-toe oratory and fractured logic, he's moved on to the next one. It's difficult to keep up, and when the media are already accustomed and conditioned to draw their own boundaries with regard to challenging him on his premises, they end up doing much of his work for him just by sticking to their usual horserace tropes.

This incompetence filters down, inexorably, to a point where important stories get de-prioritized behind celebritard ass-sniffing, or fearful reverence of flawed and perfidious rationales, or an incapability to discern a meaningless quote from one that actually means something. Maybe all reporters -- and all readers, for that matter -- should be compelled to read Politics and the English Language at regular intervals, until those truths are internalized, at least to the point that they sufficiently displace the untruths and the empty assumptions that drive so much of our public narrative.

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