Leaning on Straws: Further Comments on Jon Stewart

paint brush on canvasYesterday’s post that centered on Jon Stewart in the hopes of making a larger point about our inability to see just how we are “molded and mollified” by our systems of message conveyance instigated a very intense transaction on the Facebook page of my dialogue partner, Kenny Childers.  This conversation created in me a bit of a sense of being ineffectual.  Horrors.

I think often all I want to be is “effectual” in some way.  That’s what we all really want, right?

Also, yesterday we received a comment on the post “An Idle Curriculum as Salvific” that asserted my “blatherings” should be consigned to a poetry blog.  Not a bad idea and one I’ve actually attempted.  But if you look at it you will see that it morphs now and again into Errant-speak and you might see how we got here.  It’s called “This Maundering Yokel”–and that is the real spirit out of which I write.  The title comes from a Wallace Stevens poem, “The Plot Against the Giant”.

The Plot Against the Giant

First Girl When this yokel comes maundering,
Whetting his hacker,
I shall run before him,
Diffusing the civilest odors
Out of geraniums and unsmelled flowers.
It will check him.

Second Girl I shall run before him,
Arching cloths besprinkled with colors
As small as fish-eggs.
The threads
Will abash him.

Third Girl Oh, la…le pauvre!
I shall run before him,
With a curious puffing

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He will bend his ear then.
I shall whisper
Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals.
It will undo him.

Regardless of anything else we might take from this what springs forth is the representation of the a female defense against the Giant “whetting his hacker” (his tallywacker, and an echo of poetic challenge to Whitman’s “tally of his soul”).

How does one “deflate” the erections of war, or the aggressions of the male of the species, even if he’s just a poet or VP of the Hartford Insurance Company?  The smells, the sights, the sounds of the feminine.  These will focus him on his true work–language and the proper conveyance of self and mind.

Besides, how can you not love imagining “Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals” represented by the sounds of the letters and syllables suggesting the act of copulation, of “curious puffing”?

So, this play of words attracts me.  The art of interpretation…the discovery of meaning, of depths of meaning, is what I strive to exemplify but also to encourage.  It is this that is meant by being willfully Errant in approach.  Pushing out and away from received and accepted cultural patterns of thought.

To that end, also from TMY, this post, “Olson on Melville on Democracy” (offered complete):

Moby Dick as America–as production line, as industry; the common man in service to the madness of the leader–yes, this is our democracy.

“A whaleship reminded Melville of two things: (1) democracy had not rid itself of overlords; (2) the common man, however free, leans on a leader, the leader, however dedicated, leans on a straw.”–Olson, Call Me Ishmael (in Ch. “Shakespeare, concluded”)

From MD:
“Through these forms that certain sultanism of Ahab’s brain became incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship.

“For be a man’s intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base.” (ibid)

And this might finally lead us back to the beginning: the Facebook conversation, which really got a bit rancorous as my comments regarding Stewart imply that we are all suckers and marks in the consumption engine of US despotic Capitalism, is only now slowing at over 80 comments.

I’ll let Jim Causey, Facebook friend to Kenny Childers (and now to me as well), have the last word (he won’t likely have it on the Facebook string).

There’s something fascinating about this conversation that I think is worth pausing to examine. I think it reveals quite a bit about the modern liberal movement, and how truly conservative it (and we) is (are).

The suggestion that Jon Stewart might be doing something harmful is “vitriol”. Taking a position on the value of someone’s beahvior/activism/comedy is called out several times as a negative. We compare the radical movements of the 1960s to someone participating in party machines to “get out the vote”. Stewart himself lambastes people who suggest that criminal acts are criminal, and comends us all to be nice, and patient, and “productive”.

All of this belies a distaste for conflict, confrontation, and clear speaking. A belief that we should channel our energies to “positive” change — let’s battle it out in the ballot box! Anger and vitriol and radicalism are counterproductive. The suggestion that some pointed satire is an unalloyed good.

To one degree or another, we all share this essential belief. It is the red thread running through the politicians we vote for, the actions we take (or more commonly, don’t take), and the lives we live. And it is fundamentally a conservative force… one that inhibits change.

If you think about the things that we share in common, it starts to make even more sense. I’m pretty sure we’re all white. Pretty sure we are all (while employed) members of a fairly educated, fairly professional class.

The country has changed, too. None of us will be forced to join, or have family members join, the various wars for empire. Our decisions to wage war around the world have almost no impact whatsoever on us. Drones blowing up wedding parties touch us not one whit.

When the team that launches war, takes care of Wall Street, and ignores the poor and disenfranchised speaks with an accent we don’t like, we’ll donate some cash, write a song or two, maybe even write a blog post. When that team speaks with our regionally approved diction, we’ll tut-tut people who speak out against it, maybe even frown a little, but we’ll likely ignore it completely.

And the whole time, we’ll have a couple of jesters and raconteurs to help briefly stimulate our sense of outrage and community, before we roll over and fall back asleep.

Causey echoes what is often said here, “the world is too much with us,” but only “this one kind” of world is confronted and we can’t see other kinds of worlds, other philosophies, other economics, other ways of being, it is not only for lack of looking–there are physical/mental barriers erected around every digital corner.  “One Way” these ideological signs read…the Western Way…the White Man’s way…the Christian way…the Capitalist’s way.

While I certainly understand that decrying the very technology that inhibits thinking while using it to propose a difference might be hypocritical; but I don’t quite know how else I’m even allowed to speak out anymore as our public institutions are now routinely exercising a kind of private control over their operations.  Today, Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction speaks, along with two local superintendents and an IU Ed policy wonk, at our local Chamber of Commerce.  It’s a private affair in that it’s ticketed (discounts to Chamber members) and on private property.  Even though the speakers are all public employees they will not be called on to “answer” to public concerns over the defunding of our public school systems and the aggressive take-over of some of our schools by the state’s choice of private companies.  In other words, you and I have zero input but for the ineffectual act of voting for “party-picked” corporate lackeys every two years.  Democracy.

Another example of how our world is manipulated in front of our faces and without our say: A local school district just bought iPads for it’s 6th grade students to the tune of $500,000.00.  An iPad may be considered “useful” to many of us, but it is also a machine that has one primary goal (outside of getting you to buy it): to be a conduit for consumption.  If we spend time training our children how to use a tool as an “extension” of mind then the tool becomes the “limits” of mind.  The tool delivers unto us truth that we are encouraged to bow in obeisance.  The tool teaches us the way we must be as adults.  We demand “feedback” from it and it from us.  This is the truth of the system privileging the worship of the accumulation of wealth.

You say, the world presents itself to even the least among us via this portal.  Who sends us these cables?  How do we discern their veracity, their sincerity, their honesty?  Education!

We will spend all of our time with the tools while not having the time necessary to “read” what it conveys.  As a character out of Leopardi says in praise of  these “flashes and cables”, “I believe in and embrace the profound philosophy of the newspapers, which by murdering literature and all other studies, especially if hard and disagreeable, are the teachers and beacons of the present age.”

Again, let me stress that an education in human understanding, in thinking, requires patience and observation–these are internal qualities not encouraged by our technology tools–and perhaps a simple way to record your thinking.  I suggest a pencil and paper.  We may “read” nature via all our senses; we may read the mind of humanity via one or two books only.  All stories do come out of very few common texts.  We may express ourselves in music and poetry, painting and dancing, in play.

These are my suggestions for what the “tools” of common humanity might be.  They do not require precious metals or complex software; they do not require promotion and advertising; they do not require competition.

They do not require cash.  After all, as Thoreau puts it, “How trivial and uninteresting and wearisome and unsatisfactory are all employments for which men will pay you money!”

Talk (and song, and dance, and play) isn’t cheap, it’s free…perhaps that’s why we do not value it unless it’s in the service of the sales pitch.


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1 Comment

  1. Eric M. Sargent October 4, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I would like to add a few things based on today/yesterday’s article and comment thread:

    1.) I admire Sarah’s comment: “The problem isn’t The Daily Show, it’s a collective passivity in terms of analysis and action.” I think the key phrase here is “collective passivity in terms of analysis.” As I mention quite often, many viewers of this program are too eager to “believe” the satire as “truths” and fail to think for themselves or investigate any further than the initial joke. In a way, I think people feel more comfortable laughing at something they don’t fully comprehend rather than delve deeper toward the root of the problem. And isn’t that comedy? Readily recognizable “truths”? Freud’s “Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious” is NOT funny because he’s explaining the jokes to you, although at least he digs to the source. Stewart never EXPLAINS things, he just mimics the surface; scrapes the outer edges of deep, troubling, and disturbing news for mere laughter (aka, promoting his own agenda… selling his image as “funny political man”). Shame on him and shame on gullible viewers* who fail to sift through the layers toward something larger, deeper.

    2.) Satire can best be summed up by this excerpt from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”:
    Woody Allen: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? You know we should go down there; get some guys together. Get some bricks and baseball bats and explain things to ’em.
    Party Guest: There was this devastating satirical piece on that in the Times.
    Woody Allen: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks get right to the point.
    Party Guest: But biting satire is better than physical force.
    Woody Allen: No, physical force is always better with Nazis. It’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.

    *I admit that I occasionally watch the show – sometimes with genuine pleasure, other times with complete disdain. More of the latter.


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