In the mid-1940s, with budgets tight, the new head of production at Universal Studios decided to change its image towards more "prestige" films. To this end he revived a deal with the J. Arthur Rank Organisation--which had fallen apart just a couple years before when the films were poorly received--to import high-toned British productions.
At lunch one day a group of contract writers and producers were complaining about how their budgets were being cut while the studio spent money to import films such as The Tawny Pipit.
Nunnally Johnson told them they had it all wrong. "That picture's going to be a big money maker," he said. "Why, every lover of pipits in the country will be lined up to see it."
WHICH reminds me: Tina Brown has a new website. It's the one to which drifts of undecided voters flocked to find out who Chris Buckley was endorsing. Don't expect any linkage. I bring it up only because the gang at the XX Factor found an essay there by former Ms editor Elaine Lafferty claiming Sarah Palin is "very smart". Don't expect any linkage. (The egregious headline says "Brainiac", leading us to suspect that Brown's new Dog and Pony operation is so small she's doing all the editing herself. Both the sub-head and the body attempt to add heft by announcing Ms Lafferty's Democratic party affiliation, which suggests that some people operating Big Effing Deal Web Rollouts are actually not aware of all internet traditions. Her self-description comes right before she announces she's working with the McCain campaign, which, oddly, isn't supposed to affect the sort of person who might be persuaded by the piece.)
Now by “smart,” I don't refer to a person who is wily or calculating or nimble in the way of certain talented athletes who we admire but suspect don't really have serious brains in their skulls. I mean, instead, a mind that is thoughtful, curious, with a discernable pattern of associative thinking and insight. Palin asks questions, and probes linkages and logic that bring to mind a quirky law professor I once had. Palin is more than a “quick study”; I'd heard rumors around the campaign of her photographic memory and, frankly, I watched it in action. She sees. She processes. She questions, and only then, she acts. What is often called her “confidence” is actually a rarity in national politics: I saw a woman who knows exactly who she is.
So by "smart" you don't mean what most of us think of when we hear the word--some big, strapping Buck who's overpaid and overpraised for his ability to catch a ball? Lemme just take a moment to get my head around that concept; "smart" and "dribbling" have always gone hand-in-hand for me. Okay. You mean she's "smart" like $100K worth of designer duds from Saks, right?
Okay, sorry. I know that was like shooting fish on bicycles in a barrel.
And this, in turn leads Meghan O'Rourke to grab the wrong end of the stick and start thrashing around her personal life for something to connect with (in fairness, this is apparently something which does not actually require a stimulus):
Does it matter whether Palin is a feminist or not? Isn't it possible that she could be a net benefit for feminism without being one? I, too, am bothered by Palin's politics on a number of women-related issues, from abortion to abstinence-only sex ed. But before I go to the "she's terrible for feminism" place, I think of two 9-year-old girls I know, and I try to see this from their perspective. This is the first election they're really going to remember. And what they'll remember is that Hillary Clinton very nearly was the Democratic presidential candidate and that Sarah Palin was a dynamic, funny, personable VP candidate.
Your lips to God's ears, Meghan. How well I remember my own youth, when Barry Goldwater (our only Jewish presidential candidate) tabbed William E. Miller (the only Catholic ever to run on a Republican national ticket) and the result taught me so much about tolerance.
Really. When you start saying things like "It could be a net plus for Feminism if the children of today were to grow up realizing that a powerful woman could enforce the Bronze Age moral codes that treat them as chattel" it's time to ask yourself: 1) how you got here and 2) how you get back out.
What had brought me to this magnetic storm of cerebral events was my search for the new script addition, the one which insists that Councilwoman Palin is, in fact, highly skilled, competent, and intelligent, despite all evidence to the contrary. This is not the Misunderestimation Ploy of the hardline Right, but, rather, a sort of public plea for mercy, a hesitation about piling on, from people who either have paid no attention to what's actually been coming out of her mouth, who have conveniently developed temporal global amnesia about the Bush administration and the Republican party generally, or who were smitten with her SNL appearance. O'Rourke obliges:
No doubt Palin is smart; but what troubles a lot of voters is whether she's intellectually curious and whether she's open to debate and advice.
I'm sorry, but when did intellectual curiosity become optional equipment? I don't expect it in That Bagger at Marsh, not because he's a bagger, but because he was obviously dropped on his head at an early age. He's not running for office, that I know of. "Intellectual curiosity" is not the same thing as being intellectual, or being an academic, or a pointy-headed elitist; it's the minimum requirement for acceptance into public discourse, among other things. I don't think anyone is asking Sarah Palin to descant on Proust. Sure, she's proven herself smart enough to be a sleezy politician, and to hold wingnut audiences in thrall--in much the same way that crowds at those Bob Hope USO shows thought Loni Anderson was a consummate entertainer--how is anyone supposed to evaluate those positions when she cannot defend holding them? That isn't a question of intellectual curiosity, it's a question of intellectual honesty.
Look, it may be that if one wants to continue as a well-paid editor for national publications one is required, at times, to pretend one knows, appreciates, and has a deep affection for, the sort of Middle American stereotype one uses as a replacement for ever having to dine with those people on their home Surf n Turf. Far smarter people than I subscribe to all of the World's religions; but that doesn't make someone who says Creationism should be taught in public schools smart. Whether it's St. Reagan, Bush the Dumber, or Sarah the Could-Be Feminist, it makes them, not intellectually incurious, but publicly stupid, either because they really are that stupid, or because they pretend to be as a vote-harvesting ploy. Which is worse? Why should we accept any excuses?
I'm sorry, but, we know, y'know? There's no great mystery as to why Sarah Palin has come across so poorly whenever she's not reading a script. She's not that bright. She may be able to work a crossword puzzle, she may be blessed with more native intelligence than average, she may be able to ace the job interview, before you look at her Wonderlic scores. But she's not running for weekend sports anchor. We watch her with Katie Couric and we know. People who have real lives deal with that sort of question practically every day, and if they can't tell chicken liver from chicken shit they either die when their Ford Aspire spontaneously combusts or are crushed to death under mounds of magazines they bought from itinerant subscription salesmen. We know. Nabokov couldn't speak extemporaneously, either, and no one asks about his intellectual curiosity. The excuses come out when it's Reagan, or Bush, or someone we agree with politically or protect with faux balance. And look where that's gotten us.