THE other day the bookselling guest on Colbert was Nick Carr, who frankly came off as a scold, and impatient with his host's humor injections, perhaps because he's just written the Why Johnny Can't Read of the Google era, and without pausing to consider who'd read it. It's interesting that most works in the genre come from men entering the second half of middle age, when the memory of how literacy was doomed, doomed! because of their own supposed addiction to teevee, radio, the talkies, the flickers, the flivver, or the penny dreadful has faded, to be replaced by a recognition of the illiterate superficiality and sexual attractiveness of Today's Youts. And so on. And I say this as an unfashionable admirer of Marshall McLuhan, if no partner to his sunny disposition; yes yes yes, media shapes the way we relate to the world and our information about it. God and fiefdom shaped the 14th century serf. What are we to do about it? In the short term, given free access to free information, it seems there will always be people who realize that knowledge is complex, pluralistic, and seldom, if ever, easily unearthed, just as there will be those who read Ayn Rand. Perhaps it's a good idea to look up from this IT shit every now and again, and take a gander at the people who actually produce information, rather than just shuffle it around. Have a look at the biologists and paleontologists who give of their free time to combat religion-borne illiteracy. We are not in danger of the whole wide world becoming wikipedia-mired morons with five-second attention spans; we may be in some slight danger of all our morons becoming Google addicts. I'm not sure where the real threat is there. That they'll get tired of Britney Spears that much quicker?
Which brings us to Sarah Palin. The Hunter's Moon is still two weeks away, and she's already all but disappeared; her brief pre-debate return as Slate obsession--she'd been kicked below the electronic fold not only by the financial crises but also the difficulties in selecting the proper household paper shredder and the cultural imperative of buying a Blu-Ray player so you can see The Godfather like you've never seen it before! or, rather, like you haven't seen it twenty times before--has the unmistakable air of seasonal change, or the forced conviviality of a divorced couple at their child's piano recital.
You can't blame this on short attention spans; if anything, coverage of the Palin candidacy has demonstrated the argument for cultivating one in the modern age. Consider that the only time the national debate even touched on the real issue of her candidacy was when Chuck Todd, Mike Murphy, and Peggy Noonan thought they were off-mike. It's not Repetitive Google Disease that makes people anticipate Tiny Fey's appearance on SNL. It's the truncated and trivialized nature of the "real" coverage. It's Maureen Dowd, asking a critic of her public buffoonery whether he thought she should stoop to writing about the tax code. It's the Times and the Post reducing national elections to horse racing tout sheets. It's people who only tell the truth when they think no one's listening.
Okay, so it was partly ill-luck; Palin had become a tabloid story within hours of her nomination. But the problem there is that tabloid coverage itself then became a story, which it assuredly is not. We can talk about whether Bristol Palin's pregnancy is an issue, whether it reflects on her parents, says anything about the hypocrisy of the aggressively pious. We can laugh or scowl or believe every word the tabloids print, but we cannot exercise prior censorship and we cannot proclaim Bristol Palin exempt from Sullivan by virtue (pardon) of dewy whiteness and acute embarrassment, unless we'd like to admit the State of Alabama had a right to attempt to bankrupt the Civil Rights Movement via lawsuit. And, assuming we're all so goddam sensitive about it, maybe back when the President of the United States was being hamstrung over a blowjob would have been a good time to speak up.
But this was not the worst of it, nor the end of it; such things never are. It was followed, closely, by the fact that Palin's palid teleprompter reading to a roomful of GOP conventioneers was cheered wildly. This was news, I suppose, for a night, but it wound up being treated as a coup, and as something of an answer to the criticism she'd received. A group of people who had gathered, not simply because they shared an identification with a political party which faced a serious uphill climb to November's election, but because they were devoted enough to work for it, even volunteer to work for it, cheered a speech which had been professionally crafted to push their (remarkably accessible) buttons, and this was treated as though the issue was in doubt until all the whoopin' and hollerin' commenced. Like we were holding our collective breath waiting to see if they'd stone the vile strumpet or something.
But tell me I'm wrong. Can anyone point to a non-Lefty-blogosphere source which was still questioning the vetting of a backwoods councilwoman and religious crackpot by the following Friday? If so I missed it. By that weekend there was talk of the ticket's real identity being Palin/McCain. (And the people who said this still have jobs.) She was traveling around on McCain's flying supertanker, delivering her red-meat Republican collection of Bart Simpsonesque catch phrases. Convention bounce! Moose carcass! GILF!
Democrats sweating bullets! (Which they were, and which tells you too much about Democrats.) But then, as it sometimes does, the old pre-Google "reality" of rocks and air and plants and ideas came up and smacked what had been such a promising product rollout. The McCain campaign realized she'd need to speak in public at some point. I suppose it's heartening to consider that they still, in 2008, thought this might be something of a problem, seeing as how inarticulate dunderhead had been testing well with Republican focus groups until recently. They tried to take her off the market just when T-shirt sales were really cranking, and when they brought her back she was no better, and some of her savvier fanboys noticed she appeared to be lip-syncing.
Look, inarticulacy is not a crime; lots of people are petrified at the mere thought of public speaking, though few if any of them have degrees in communications from Nearly Random Series of Exit Ramps Community College ("Home of the Lodgers"). But vetting someone who makes George W. Bush look scholarly is. How'd we lose track of that for three weeks, and why did it take not one but two national interviews so utterly embarrassing that the birth of Bristol Palin's first or second child won't make the papers unless the head in the middle is black? * Lack of public speaking acumen is unfortunate in a political candidate when politics presumably still selects for it, but are we supposed to be surprised that Palin turns out to be incurious, ill-informed, and, by all appearances, convinced by a half-lifetime's experience and God's Special Providence that she can simply bull her way through either? Because maybe we should have taken a little closer look at Ronald Reagan's MO, huh? Even though it was hard to see through all the confetti. It's the soft bigotry of Jesus Praisin', Gun Totin', and Tax Cuttin'. Look at the people they've nominated to lead their tickets over the past thirty years. The smartest guy was the one who used to be a football player, and he turned out to be the only man in America who didn't get the Supply Side Economics joke. Fer chrissakes, John McCain had to shed 10 IQ points just to get the nomination. Doesn't anybody in the national Press read The Corner?
The lovely and talented s.z. brings us Palin's recent "interview" with Hugh Hewitt, in which the erstwhile pitbull with cosmetics rebrands herself as the candidate of all Unthinking Americans, not only aligning herself with Joe Six-Pack, but doing so twice in consecutive sentences, in case Joe's train of thought was derailed in a collision with the intervening predicate. There's not even any pretense anymore that she's running for an office serving all Americans. I remind you, Good Reader, that the Democratic candidate for President was roundly criticized for having attended the sort of church where an African-American preacher spoke like an African-American preacher, while Palin is yet celebrated for the seeming congruence of her mental landscape and the surrounding tundra, which few "normal" Americans will ever see, six-pack or no.
So forgive me for not liveblogging the Veep debate, or even watching it. The AP tells me that Palin has an opportunity to "restore her luster" tonight. If reporters are still being paid to say stupid shit like that short-term memory loss doesn't seem half bad, and transient memory eradication by intoxicant seems like a damn fine programming alternative.
* My friend Gary's joke.