Monday, April 26

I Wake Up Screaming Yawning

Ross Douthat, "Not Even in South Park?" April 25

OVER the past couple generations my extended family has produced two types of late adolescent/ young adult: 1) the conventional, seemingly well-integrated-into-school/ church/ job culture, Future Cube Farmer of America enthusiastic white suburbanite in training, and 2) me. A few years back I had some hope for one of my nieces, a sullen and sarcastic child, but she seems to've grown out of it. I personally put no stock in anyone who has to make it to the nation's hotbeds of campus leftism and binge-drinking in order to notice that Life, at least in some aspects, sucks donkeys, even if it personally gives you iPads and Late Model Vehicles Someone Else Pays For in place of lemons. If your early teen years don't convince you, what's acquired by a little learning is mostly suspect. (The pianist Moriz Rosenthal was once convinced to listen to a child prodigy. "How old are you, my boy?" he asked. "Seven," came the reply. "And what are you going to play for me?" "The Tchaikovsky piano concerto," was the reply. "Too old!" said Rosenthal.)

My Poor Wife's family, though, has in recent decades turned out a number of male children whose adolescence is marked by drug- and alcohol-assisted vehicular mayhem, wanton property damage, and juvenile court appearances, followed by a sort of pregnant pause before they turn into sales reps.

Given the choice I prefer the former. I think that if you're old enough to commandeer a car, and old enough to factor in the likelihood that, as a juvenile offender, you're going to get off light, there's a spiritual dimension that requires you later to commit adult offenses, or one token offense at least, join the military, or become an attorney. And this, of course, doesn't happen; instead this sort of behavior just turns out to be an early warning sign of galloping Republico-Libertarianism and future employment in the Beverage Wholesaling Industry or Commercial Real Estate Market.

The one saving grace, for me personally, is that her family is not the sort to sit down and read Atlas Shrugged, or The Fountainhead, or much other than Sports Illustrated, and that while commode-bound.

It was, then, around Xmas 1997 when the eldest of my Poor Wife's nephews, just entering the febrile stage of the disease and mistakenly seeing in us, the respective family oddballs, a sort of kindred spirituality, asked, "Have you two seen South Park?"

And in a probably unexpected bit of familial bonhomie (it happens, even here; my Poor Wife is so solicitous of her young charges that she once watched Napoleon Dynamite on their recommendation) I tuned in the next week's episode. For ninety seconds. End of South Park interaction.

So sharpest satire in the world today, or longest running fart joke for world's stash of oldest continual 16-year-olds? Dunno. Don't care. Have my suspicions, but they're based on the sort of idiot who keeps insisting on the former. Blind pigs and acorns, y'know. But, finally, in case I didn't mention it: I don't fucking care. If this generation's Gravity's Rainbow played last night on Sci-Fi, or Scythe-Fythe, or whatever the fuck it is now, I don't care enough to wade through it. I suspect that's your audience for a reason. If it's not, and I'm wrong, I'll be dead in a while.

But then, see, I understand why Duchamp would shock the Academy, or why Joyce would flout conventional morality, how Renoir would cause moviegoers to riot, or how it is John Cage can still cause a 23-year-old wonderblogger to break out in Galloping Philistinism. Lighting farts on a program aimed at fratboys seems a lot less challenging. Maybe that's just me.

Oh, look, it's Ross Douthat! everybody:
Two months before 9/11, Comedy Central aired an episode of “South Park” entitled “Super Best Friends,” in which the cartoon show’s foul-mouthed urchins sought assistance from an unusual team of superheroes. These particular superfriends were all religious figures: Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mormonism’s Joseph Smith, Taoism’s Lao-tse — and the Prophet Muhammad, depicted with a turban and a 5 o’clock shadow, and introduced as “the Muslim prophet with the powers of flame.”

Jesus Christ, Lao-tse is not a religious figure. Nor even someone whose adherents insist he was real despite any evidence. This sort of thing just kills the satire for me.

And another thing: the sort of person who describes something as "foul-mouthed" ought to have the fucking decency to leave it alone thereafter, unless he wants to complain some more about potty-mouthism.
That was a more permissive time. You can’t portray Muhammad on American television anymore, as South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, discovered in 2006, when they tried to parody the Danish cartoon controversy — in which unflattering caricatures of the prophet prompted worldwide riots — by scripting another animated appearance for Muhammad. The episode aired, but the cameo itself was blacked out, replaced by an announcement that Comedy Central had refused to show an image of the prophet.

Okay, are we finished here? Nothing to see, yet again? Major Corporation Shamelessly Kowtows to Islam, Despite Once Poking Fun At Ross Douthat's Personal Religious Guide. And thereby proves that A) Douthat is the more open-minded, and that B) in these Politically-Correct times everyone bends over backwards to be nice to Our Enemies, but it's always Open Season on decent, God-fearing Americans. Cue the Apocalypse.

Or to put it another way, bullshit. It's you who insisted that 9/11 had to change everything, and you who made Islam the grand perpetrator. If Viacom, or whoever, now finds itself treading that turf, well, you're the fucking landscaper. Second, I know this facile It's Reverse Religious Discrimination! bit has been working for you guys since before you were born, Ross, but stow it, huh? There's not a lot of television out there openly insulting Orthodox Judaism either. Been a while since I've seen a blisteringly satirical cartoon depiction of US military warcrimes or Catholic deaf-altarboy buggery. You watch any weekend for whichever Knowledge channel is carrying the Jesus programming this time, and you'll see absolute credulity piled on absolute credulity with little or no notice of the last two-hundred years of actual scholarship. Damn near everything in the culture is compromised, and most of it proudly so. This is a scandal in the same way Rahm Emanuel saying "retard" is, while Rush Limbaugh saying it qualifies as a joke. Because you blow it up into one, but you soon run out of breath.

We should all make fun of the Prophet. And The Prophet. And Jesus, and Moses, and their various self-appointed terrestrial spokesmen. And at each other. And we should laugh when all those self-appointed avengers rush to the rescue. But in doing so we should acknowledge that our grounds are Just How Fucking Ridiculous the whole thing is; the arbiters should not simultaneously be the people grousing about unfair Times coverage of this week's Vatican Sex Follies. And if you believe the Corporation rules supreme in this country, then how one does or doesn't appease some potential group of customers is none of your goddam business.


R. Porrofatto said...

Our culture has few taboos that can’t be violated, and our establishment has largely given up on setting standards in the first place. Except where Islam is concerned. There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.

I can't tell what our confused Young Moralist is against here; is it censorship or the violating of taboos? Or is he just jealous that "the threat of Islamist violence" (in this case one ex-very-orthodox Jew = Islam) is much more effective at intimidating corporations than Bill Donohue and the Catholic League?

Scott C. said...

That's the point, isn't it? Wingnuts love to ridicule the Muslim ban against depictions of Mohammed, as though it were some primitive, pagan taboo fundamentally different from the Old Testament proscriptions against graven images. Which is a pretty cost-free form of iconoclasm when you come from a tradition so rich in statues and images, relics and tchotchkes that the fucking Byzantines tried to outlaw it.

(Verification word is "Munchout," the yearly Expressionism festival in Løten, Norway.)

Unknown said...

I know this is certainly asocial behavior and a rather personal question, but were you an only child?

LittlePig said...

Lao-Tse would be the first one to laugh at the whole thing. "If you couldn't laugh at it, it wouldn't be the Tao".

Douhat is such a rube.

Anonymous said...

Screw Mohammed -- Napoleon Dynamite is a cultural treasure!


Another Luke said...

re: "There's not a lot of television out there openly insulting Orthodox Judaism either. Been a while since I've seen a blisteringly satirical cartoon depiction of US military warcrimes or Catholic deaf-altarboy buggery."

Well, you did already say that you don't watch South Park, so there's your explanation right there. But yeah, the absence of that elsewhere in the popular culture is one of the things that still makes it shocking when South Park "goes there."