I’m in the middle of reading the 3rd of Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe series, Lay of the Land. I tend to think Richard Ford is one of our more underappreciated male authors and having just read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which I thought was decent but not quite as good as people tended to think it was, I find it a bit more inexplicable that Ford gets lost in the shuffle of Baby Boomerish white American authors (from Franzen to Tim O’Brien to younger, impish guys like Gary Shtenygarasfdhasd) while people like Richard Russo, a slightly less talented author in my opinion, consistently have their books made into movies and HBO miniseries. Part of the reason could be, in my estimation, because Ford’s style recommends a kind of stubborn alt-postmodernity that stands amid the clamor of good and bad and brilliant contemporary literature to declare its affiliation with a sort of formal conservatism and ethic that eschews trendy “innovation” or biting commentary in favor of a virtuosic command of the tone and subject matter at hand.
In this case, the subject matter is really quite simple and straightford—manhood, American manhood if you would like to be unnecessarily specific. I am not and have never been the age that Ford’s protagonist, a likable chap named Frank Bascombe who happens to live for most of the three novels in my home state of New Jersey, but I feel and care about this persona in a way I’ve probably only ever cared about Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosley’s heroic black private eye, which is saying something, because I am neither old or (mostly) white but something in Ford’s granular character I find compelling, fascinating and completely sensible. When I read a Nabokov novel I always feel as if the human condition has become a bit more distilled from the muddy incomprehension that I most often feel when considering too earnestly humanity and its manifold discontent worthy moments and realities. When I read Richard Ford I feel more American in disposition and ideology. I know that is a weird thing to say, but I’m not trying to be nativistic or even slightly jingoistic, because I don’t view that notion as being in any way connected to the bellicose, fuck-everyone-else-AMERIKA!!!! geist that seems especially prevalent right now. I just mean that I understand to a degree how I myself am an especially American concoction of motives, faults, strengths and everything else that you could boil down my sense of possibility and self down to. I come to understand with far more compassion than otherwise the petulant, inconsistencies that make me and my neighbors and my countrymen who we are, for better or, often, worse. That to be seems to articulate the purpose of literature at its most banal and, probably, crucial function as a social good.
There isn’t actually a list here, but I felt compelled to give it a somewhat misleading title just because it was the first thing that came to mind.
Colin Cowherd: Radio host, race-baiting huckster
This fall, Colin Cowherd went on ESPN Radio and called John Wall a nigger. A few days later, amid great hue and cry, he went on the air and called him a nigger again. I don’t use this word lightly, but what else could Cowherd have wanted us to hear? He talked about “IQ judgment” and Wall’s “wild, out-of-control style” and said something about robbing a bank and used the phrase “Yo, dawg, look at me” and referred to Wall’s fans as “the wrong people,” and I swear, in the sneering way he said “the wrong people,” in the little bit of English he put on that middle word, you could read the whole damn history of redlining in America, and then a little later he busted on the kid for not having a dad.
I don’t believe Colin Cowherd is a racist. I think he is a radio huckster who understands that there is awesome profit in stopping just short of saying “nigger” on national radio, in letting his audience make all the foul connections for themselves. And because this is America — where Nothing Is Ever About Race, where anything can be justified so long as it moves the needle, and where our media culture operates on the premise that we are all slackjawed morons — he is absolutely untouchable. He is critic-proof. Just think about that: One of the foremost media personalities in one of the most tight-assed, image-conscious, PG-rated media companies in the land — an outfit that suspended Tony Kornheiser in part for talking about Hannah Storm’s skirt, that went into spasms of pretend conscience over airing ads for a slasher movie during a college football game — goes on national radio and whispers “nigger” and no one in Bristol feels obliged to say anything. And of course no one does. Colin Cowherd moves the needle, they’d only point out. Colin Cowherd speaks his mind. Colin Cowherd gets people talking. (So did Ted Bundy. What’s your point?)
The media marketplace will always find room for demagogues and controversialists and crypto-bigots, even for especially dumb ones likes Cowherd. They’ve been around for so long that hatred is virtually the grammar of radio. For many years, mass culture kept up an uneasy detente with these figures. They were given their margins, and they kept to them, and there was an understanding on both sides that they spoke to a very devoted fraction — a large one, in some instances, but a fraction nonetheless. I don’t want to give Cowherd too much credit, because I think he’s a stupid man, and I don’t pretend that he’s doing anything appreciably different from whatever goes down during Skippy and Goatface’s Morning Sports Holocaust on your local FM dial, but Cowherd, to my mind, represents the collapse of that cultural consensus. Something in the culture is irreparably fucked when its purveyors of mass entertainment look at a guy whispering “nigger” on his margin and think he trades in common coin. That he’s just like everyone else, an everyman with an everyman’s frustrations about the world. Colin Cowherd has a CBS sitcom. Something is fucked. (Tommy Craggs)
The scariest image on network TV is Charlie Sheen’s smile. It’s the smile of a bland American vampire—an indestructible creature the locals have mistaken for a rakish new neighbor who’s presumed to have a night job because he’s never seen during daylight. Sheen’s smile is chilling because there…
A friend of mine mentioned this today and I thought it was a particularly apt reference. This is from What Are The Iranians Dreaming About by Michel Foucault:
The Inventors of the State
I do not feel comfortable speaking of Islamic government as an “idea” or even as an “ideal.” Rather, it impressed me as a form of “political will.” It impressed me in its effort to politicize structures that are inseparably social and religious in response to current problems. It also impressed me in its attempt to open a spiritual dimension in politics.
In the short term, this political will raises two questions:
1. Is it sufficiently intense now, and is its determination clear enough to prevent an “Amini solution,” which has in its favor (or against it, if one prefers) the fact that it is acceptable to the shah, that it is recommended by the foreign powers, that it aims at a Western-style parliamentary regime, and that it would undoubtedly privilege the Islamic religion?
2. Is this political will rooted deeply enough to become a permanent factor in the political life of Iran, or will it dissipate like a cloud when the sky of political reality will have finally cleared, and when we will be able to talk about programs, parties, a constitution, plans, and so forth?
Politicians might say that the answers to these two questions determine much of their tactics today.
With respect to this “political will,” however, there are also two questions that concern me even more deeply.
One bears on Iran and its peculiar destiny. At the dawn of history, Persia invented the state and conferred its models on Islam. Its administrators staffed the caliphate. But from this same Islam, it derived a religion that gave to its people infinite resources to resist state power. In this will for an “Islamic government,” should one see a reconciliation, a contradiction, or the threshold of something new?
The other question concerns this little corner of the earth whose land, both above and below the surface, has strategic importance at a global level. For the people who inhabit this land, what is the point of searching, even at the cost of their own lives, for this thing whose possibility we have forgotten since the Renaissance and the great crisis of Christianity, a political spirituality. I can already hear the French laughing, but I know that they are wrong.
So is this what America is turning into? A place where tens of millions of the unemployed and the working poor crawl over to Wal-Mart and the dollar store every month to use the food stamp debit cards provided to them by JP Morgan? It turns out that JP Morgan also provides child support debit cards in 15 U.S. states and they also provide unemployment insurance benefit debit cards in seven states. Apparently states have found that they can save millions of dollars by “outsourcing” the provision of these benefits to big financial firms like JP Morgan. So what happens if you have a problem with your food stamp debit card? Well, you call up a JP Morgan service center. When you do this, there is a very good chance that you are going to be helped by a JP Morgan call center employee in India. That’s right - it turns out that JP Morgan is saving money by “outsourcing” food stamp customer service calls to India.
So is this what America is turning into?
A place where tens of millions of the unemployed and the working poor crawl over to Wal-Mart and the dollar store every month to use the food stamp debit cards provided to them by JP Morgan?
It turns out that JP Morgan also provides child support debit cards in 15 U.S. states and they also provide unemployment insurance benefit debit cards in seven states.
Apparently states have found that they can save millions of dollars by “outsourcing” the provision of these benefits to big financial firms like JP Morgan.
So what happens if you have a problem with your food stamp debit card?
Well, you call up a JP Morgan service center. When you do this, there is a very good chance that you are going to be helped by a JP Morgan call center employee in India.
That’s right - it turns out that JP Morgan is saving money by “outsourcing” food stamp customer service calls to India.
COINTELPRO stands for Counter Intelligence Program. This was the program that the Black Panther Party would use against the U.S. government with the help of spooks who would know the tactics of the U.S. government.