Wednesday, July 15

I Seen It On Teevee *, Vol. I

*OUR title reflects an ongoing, if not rising, concern that the real crisis in Education--other than the one caused by our Constitutional guarantees of input, frequently At The Top Of Their Lungs, from vast numbers of people who themselves would have no chance in Hell of passing a standardized high school degree exam--Reader, George W. Bush wanted to be the Education President!--the real crisis, we say, may be directly traceable to the foolish insistence, seen everywhere, on selling Education for its positive effects. In particular we would personally add to that "on Your Future Earnings Potential", as we believe this, however well-intentioned, simply encourages the worst sort of person to Hold Out rather than embrace his utter hopelessness at a young age, which is quite possibly Tomorrow's one remaining hope. We are suffering from a surfeit of people who once concerned themselves with their future earnings potential, not a shortage. Furthermore, the child of school age who is worried about his future earnings rather than Getting Dirty, Getting High, and/or Getting Laid is the one who bears watching, and any who can have this concern so easily and self-aggrandizingly translated into a sincere interest in The Deerslayer, algebra, or the finer points of the Gadsden Purchase should be considered the academic equivalent of the eight-year-old who's found to have constructed, and secreted away, his own guillotine for beheading small rodents. And dealt with similarly.

We are not trying to fan the flames of despair; to the contrary, we simply believe that the continued American insistence on maintaining a deep and abiding connection, both intellectual and emotional, to that sense of wonder, magic, and abject terror of supernatural beings lurking in every sort of common object which animated our savannah-dwelling prehistoric ancestors--Gallup keeps telling us so, in case you're an empiricist--ought to be manipulated for our own good, if at all possible. I don't know what it's like where you live, but in Indiana every evening's festival of semi-competent teleprompter-following, or "news", brings further examples that disasters, both natural and man-made, all manners of criminal activity, and the various colorful, sad, and bathetic flummoxings that flesh is heir to happen, and are witnessed by--at whatever damage to the psyche--disproportionately--and we're talking near exclusivity, here--to people with no sense whatsoever of how verb tenses work.

Suppose a gas main ruptures in Henryville (or Terre Haute, or Gas City, for that matter); there's no question whatsoever that whatever survivor, eyewitness, or friend or neighbor of the freshly deceased local news digs up and sticks a microphone in front of will explain that he, she, or they "seen a big fireball", that they was caught in the middle of microwaving a breakfast burrito, or watching Oprah, and was lucky to have escaped with their lives. Quite frequently this results in the speaker's day, his possessions, even his life, being ruint. If this is a coincidence it is an almost unprecedently large one. Carjackings, knife fights, industrial accidents, pit bull attacks, non-custodial-parent kidnappings, lightning strikes, fast-food poisonings, even traffic delays and ticket sellouts happen almost exclusively to people who think "seen" is the invariable simple past tense of "saw", and who may actually believe it is the infinitive (the jury's still out there).

I suppose it's not outside the bounds of the Possible that such people actually experience no distinction between the present and the simple past, a condition either limited, or not, to the visual realm; we leave that to some future Whorf or Sapir. At any rate their increased susceptibility to falling, crashing, or exploding objects seems undeniable, at least among Hoosiers, and it seems we could do a lot worse than explain to impressionable school-agers that if they'd like to keep that car, or boat, or front tooth intact they need to master the pluperfect.

This reminds me that what I started out to write about was the latest installment of Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, brought to you by PBS. I happened to catch it, which is how I came to experience Joan Fucking Rivers praising the ground-breaking fearlessness of Lenny Bruce, as though if Lenny hadn't OD'd he be hawking his miracle age-reduction cream on QVC. Joan Fucking Rivers, really. Don Rickles-without-the-good-material Joan Rivers. You see, kids, this is the sort of thing they keep hidden from you about the March of Technology, because it's the latest technological gizmos they have for sale. Back in the days of the old nitrate film stocks, the minute someone sat down to ask Joan Fucking Rivers about Lenny Bruce the film would have spontaneously combusted, and everyone involved would have died a horrible but deserved fiery death.

And then I regained consciousness just in time to hear Bill Maher hawk up the old chestnut about how Lenny "forgot how to be funny." Th' fuck? The guy who became a professional martyr for six months (tops) because Ari Fleischer said something criticizes a man who was hounded to death for saying things because he lost it at the end? Shit. If I had the opportunity this afternoon I'd spend top dollar on a ticket in the knowledge it entitled me to listen to Lenny read his trial transcripts for three hours. As for Maher's show--the one where he can say whatever pops into his libertarian head, secure in the knowledge that either people will line up to defend him, or he can go on air with another of his apologies, emphasizing his abiding respect for The Troops--well, those tickets are free, aren't they?


StringonaStick said...

There is something remarkably odd about this "seen" thing. I come from a middle class family, all but one of whom had at least a year or so of college if not a graduate degree, and we grew up speaking relatively proper American english. Yet one of my sisters speaks Okie english, and she's not being sarcastic or ironic; this is her understanding of modern grammar.

Certain poor life choices were involved of course, but it appears that she took a close look at WT 'Murika, said "that's the life for me Bucko!", ditched her language skills acquired from age 0 to 16, and never looked back. Of course learning to speak hick-ese did wonders for Dubya's political career so perhaps she's got a longer term plan in the works.

Anonymous said...

"Seen" is "done seen" in more formal Midwestern speech.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Nice take on Maher, DR. I always did despise that smug little prick.

Grace Nearing said...

Good Grimm! I haven't really thought about Whorf and Sapir in decades. (Sounds like the name of a law firm now -- slip and fall, mesothelioma, etc. Add "hypothesis" and it sounds like something from primal Star Trek.) I used to assume that people had sliding dialects, ie, they used formal English in business and in writing and were less rigid about subject/verb agreement and verb conjugations in casual speech. I don't believe that anymore.

Julia said...

Thank you. Rivers is the poor man's Phylllis Diller without the self-esteem, and in a perfect world Maher would be fielding heckling from weightlifters on Long Island.

Unlike Maher, I'd prefer not to go to hell (at least because I deserved it), so I won't add "in the parking lot"

CMike said...
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