Monday, November 23

They Saved Douthat's Brain Stem

MY Friday night exercise bike viewing was Kill Your Idols, Scott Crary's documentary on the three-point-seven-five minutes of fame Fame granted New York's No Wave scene in the vaunted 70s and 80s, and its tragico-farcical revival in miniature in the Naughts. The thing really gets going in the second half, when middle age descends upon yesterday's iconoclasts and they notice the Kids Today have little concern for the kind of effort a good lawn requires, godamit.

(Full disclosure: at the time I was, by some accounts, the godfather of the No No Wave movement, whose members stayed in the Midwest, declined to pick up instruments we couldn't play, eschewed record contracts altogether, aggressively enjoyed blues-based Rock, and didn't name the bands we didn't form "Fungus" or "Teenage Hitler and the Child Prostitutes" or "Something That Might've Shocked Grandma Fifteen Years Ago". Some of us had actually heard of Edgar Varèse and Iannis Xennakis, or Don Van Vliet, for that matter. Some of the more hard-core among us got jobs. Also, I've never seen what the 70s or 80s had to be so vaunted about.)

I kid, because I love. And it's not like I don't agree with 'em about the cheery middle-class mercenaries who'd rather be famous than posses an actual human soul, or the more cosmic seriousness about the coziness with fame and self-promotion, the placid acceptance of those circumstances, and the self-congratulations for the "maturity" of that viewpoint. (Much of this appears to have been filmed around the heyday of Strokes Hype, and too much of the rest is spent listening, like, to, like, y'know, Karen, y'know, O. like, who may as well, y'know, be the intended target of this from Jim Thilwell:
It seems to me that a lot of the people who are looking back at how things were in 1982…are seeing what the secretaries for investment bankers looked like when they went out on Friday night in 1982.

Which can be writ large to take in, well, the Sixties, say, or the legions of campaign experts who assured us that Obama needed to run to the right to get elected, lest he turn into the George "Che" McGovern of their unlettered imaginings.

Help, I've lost my segue! The next day I was grocery shopping when I was assaulted by some obnoxious ringtone, followed by one side of a personal conversation which took place at roughly the same decibel level, interrupted by the woman ramming her cart into my person, not simply accidentally but evidently from some deep metaphysical assurance that the rest of the cosmos, if real, halts whenever that demonic brass section she carries around with her goes off. She looked up at me for about a half-second, less apologetic than to make sure I'd noticed she was on the phone and was therefore exempt from all other considerations. The conversation never stopped; this had the unexpected result of actually giving pause to my homicidal fantasizing, since the woman was obviously mentally unbalanced. Or was that just my (outdated) perception of someone willing to broadcast the Tawdry Carnival Prize details of her personal life without consideration for audience or tort law? I felt partly to blame; I mean, I didn't actually have to pick up that loaf of bread right that minute, just because I was in the bread aisle, if it was inconvenient for her.

You'd know better than I: is there a cellphone out there which doesn't double as mp3 player, address book, inch-square cinema, or hotplate, but which can shoot a jet of mild caustic solution fifteen to twenty feet? Because I'd love to just hose somebody down under the circumstances, and when they looked at me I'd give 'em a shrug that says, "Sorry, but that's my ringtone. Oh, gotta take this."

And the two fused in my mind while I was driving back home: it's really more to me than just the utter lack of consideration for anyone else on the planet with these things, and it's even more than the depressingly invariable evidence, where none was needed in the first place, that that small portion of the race which is not completely absorbed by events which can only be described as Beneath the Fucking Trivial is, in fact, busy shopping when it is supposed to be working, and thus requires this digital tether to an automatic dispensation dispenser. No; it's that people are so goddam willing to hand over chunks of cash to some Phone Company.

I know. I'm old. I have to admit that it was my one Idealistic, mescaline-fueled adolescent conviction that this sort of thing would be impossible to sell people by the 21st century. Not telecommunications, nor commerce in general, but the Hard Sell, the Useless Tube, the Cult of the Gimcrack. You need a phone. It does not follow that you need the ability to tell Chaz, or Dylan, or Annessa what you're doing On Demand. It's a hard bitter lesson that so many people are so desperately afraid of What's Out There that they'll do anything to cling to the Familiar, the Reassuring, and the Sleek and Convenient.

Which, dammit, I was sure I left that segue here somewhere, brought me to Saturday night and the belated, if that's the right word for something you'd just as soon have never come face to face with, discovery that last week someone at the Times, having possibly realized just how little Ross Douthat was doing for a paycheck, gave him a blog, or "blog".

Now, I dunno about you, but to me a newspaper's "blog" section is like some indie singer with Marlo Thomas' That Girl wardrobe. Whom do you think you're fooling, again? I don't understand how there can be people who reach some level of authority over such things and yet continue the search for the next New Coke™. Fer chrissakes, it's like you're Merchant Ivory and you decide to pepper The Tragic Muse or something with YouTube videos. Y'know, so the kids'll dig.

The man's your columnist. This is damning enough, and maybe you could concentrate on having him produce something original, or thought-provoking, or, I dunno, halfway fucking competent at the grueling pace of once a week. If you've gotta do the Blog bit--and, apparently, you do--Ross Douthat is the last person who should be turned loose to jot. He should not show his work; think Legislation and Blood Pudding, not Math test. In four days the man links to Rod Dreher, Megan McArdle, Ezra Klein, Ramesh Ponnuru, the Atlantic a couple more times, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, and someone else's thoughts on health care, Stupak, and video games. Plus an attempt to do to Chuck Schumer what The Daily Show actually accomplished with Rudy Giuliani, namely, catch him talking out of both sides of his mouth. This Douthat does by conflating Schumer's comments about a hypothetical bin Laden trial eight years ago with what he says today about the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Remember, kids, 9/11 was the Death of Ever Wising Up about anything.

This is the flaky detritus of a prematurely ossified intellect. I don't need to know what Ross Douthat is reading; he needs to figure out how to make something of it for once.


Gary Oxford said...

This is the flaky detritus of a prematurely ossified intellect.

Actually, in Ross' case, I believe it's congenitally, not prematurely, ossified, but since I don't know his parents or actually read his stuff (except by accident or withering citation), I can't be sure. Still, it's quite generous of you to write such a spot-on blurb for his next dust jacket.

Anonymous said...

thank you sir

Grace Nearing said...

The best cure for Douthat, of course, is to ignore him. The best cure for a public cell phone yakker is to make it a 3-way conversation. Just join's fun! Pick up the thread of the conversation -- DUI arrest? herpes flare up? upcoming blind date? -- and start your own commentary. In a way, it's a lot like blogging.

Sator Arepo said...

"...Iannis Xenakis..."

Damn, Riley done dropped the X-bomb.

scott said...

Chaz, Dylan, Anessa? Hmmmm, I'm guessing instead you're talking about Dylan, Skyler/Skylar/Skylir, Tanner, Taylor, Tyler, Conner or Mikala (spelled 14 different ways) and a shitload of other stoopid names spelled funny because their parents are morans.

I usta think this was a Red State phenomonom (my county went 73% for the Old Bastard and Bible Spice last year) until a good friend from college named his two kids Cameron and Courtenay. I would have shot him but I don't own any guns.

D. Sidhe said...

I know it makes me all vapid and stuff, but this (Help, I've lost my segue! ) is why I love you.