January 23rd, 2005

The fine art of insulting half your audience

It happens nearly every time. I’ll be reading a short story, let’s say, enjoying myself, lost in the experience—when suddenly, there it is: the gratuitous and mean-spirited and out-of-context slap at Bush, or at those who support him. It’s not as though the story is even tangentially about politics, either; it can be about anything at all, it doesn’t really matter.

The Bush-dissing will be thrown in when you least expect it, just to let the reader know—well, to let the reader know what, exactly? To let the reader know that the author is hip, kindly, intelligent, moral—oh, just about everything a person ought to be. And that the reader must of course be a member of the club, too—not one of those Others, the warmongers, the selfish and stupid and demonized people who happen to have voted for Bush.

Back when I was one of the gang, too, back when I was in with the in crowd (“if it’s square, we ain’t there”), did I notice when authors dragged in their political credentials from left field? Or perhaps it wasn’t quite as commonplace back then for them to do so?

At any rate, now it seems positively obligatory. I’m reading along, sunk deep within the story, bonding with the characters—and then, suddenly, it’s as though the author has reached a hand out of the pages of the magazine (OK, I’ll confess, sometimes it’s the New Yorker—yes, I still read it for the fiction, just as some people claim they read Playboy for the interviews) and slapped me across the face.

Authors, do you really want to do this? Because, with a single sentence, you’ve managed to alienate and offend (not to mention insult) up to half your audience.

I don’t think this even occurs to you. I think you just assume that anyone perceptive and intelligent and downright nuanced enough to be reading your fabulous work couldn’t possibly—no, say it isn’t so, Joe!!—support that disgusting, repulsive, lying POS Bush. Or maybe you just don’t care. Maybe you don’t want people like that for your audience.

It’s not just authors. It’s plays, concerts, performances of all kinds, even those given by friends of mine, people I know and otherwise respect, people with good hearts. It’s poetry readings most particularly. It’s gotten so bad that I go to all cultural events girding my loins and waiting for the blow to fall, waiting for my intelligence and judgment and ethics to be insulted. And this from people who consider themselves culturally and morally superior, although this sense of superiority doesn’t seem to reside in their needing to prove themselves to be well-informed or logical or knowledgeable about the issues—just in letting the world know that they’re on the right side of them (which would be the left side, naturalment).

10 Responses to “The fine art of insulting half your audience”

  1. Tawny Says:

    late coming to this, i’m afraid, but i just wanted to add that this DOES come up all too often. even in some of my Christian books an aside to Bush being some kind of idiot is made, ostensibly to get the author on my “good side.” it always backfires, though, and leaves me feeling like the author is a tad childish about his or her politics.

  2. Bezuhov Says:

    “people with good hearts”

    Not all that lurks in the heart of man is good, even in those we love. Indeed that is the test of love, to love regardless.

    Haven’t you been annoyed by someone from an older generation doing the same thing from a different political perspective? I was at a hymn sing today in very mixed political company (I’m drawn to the church as a rare source of unity in my community), and a 75-year-old insisted we sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”. She had to be aware of the painful connotations of this song to many of Neo’s generation, didn’t she? I doubt she was, actually.

    This is hardly unique to the left. What may be unique to the left was supposing they were immune to this very human failing.

  3. eddie t Says:

    Thank you, Neo Neocon and all comment posters! The ubiquity of this unsolicited diatribing is polluting everything. So many us that do business conference calls, for example, will be discussing business and suddenly one of the people in a 4 way conference will start ranting about Haliburton, WMD, Abd Ghraib,the “Christian Right”,etc.,apropos of absolutely nothing! And, it ruins the pleasure of running into or looking up old friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. Instead of catching up and enjoying each other’s company, I often find myself listening to a monologue on Bush. It’s similar to finding that an old friend from my teens is still a total pothead. (this often overlaps, as many are still a pothead AND a bitter lefty) It happens with inanimate things too. Last week I picked up Playboy for the first time in years and damn, it’s packed cover to cover with overwrought Anti Bush bile. AAARGH!

  4. franco Says:

    I love your blog. These kinds of snipes reveal to me spectacular insularity and smugness.

    But really it is a form of intimidation. It is an attempt to foster groupthink and to ostrasize and demean others.

    I am reminded of Jr. High School when some piece of clothing or hairstyle is considered (for no apparant reason) to be the quintessentially uncool thing.

    Intimidation and a need to have one’s fantasies reinforced ,the need to have “uncool” defined clearly so they can feel superior is what it seems to be.

  5. still realizing Says:

    Required political opinions may sometimes be the results of interference by managers, publishers and producers. Artists often are quite apolitical until they become successful. Although I know of exceptions.

  6. AmericanWoman Says:

    Anonymous – the song you are referencing is ‘The Age of Innocence’ by Don Henley.

  7. AmericanWoman Says:

    neocon – I just found your blog and find myself identifying with you a great deal.

    I recently read an article which was describing President Bush’s vacation reading. One of the books was, “Salt: A World History.” by Mark Kurlansky. When told that he was on Bush’s reading list, the author, Kurlansky replied ‘Oh, Bush reads books?’.

    The main reason I have changed, as you have, from a life long liberal and democrat is my severe disillusionment with both. 911 may have been the catalyst, but on one hand, I think it did a lot of us a favor by opening our eyes.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    It’s everywhere. It has been everywhere for the existence of my conscious existence, (about thirty years) neo, sorry. You did not notice it when you were a “member”.

    It is not only stupid, it has a way of becoming spectacularly dated. I was in the grocery store the other day, choosing veggies, and they were playing eighties music. I really can’t remember the singer’s name — I have this particular way of blocking the names of people I find noxious or annoying — but you’ve all heard the song. It was about Reagan in the same way these snippets are about Bush. The lines “Armchair warriors often fail, we’ve been poisoned by these fairytales” and “While this tired old man was re-elected king” hit me like a slap on the face and I had to resist an urge to pump both fingers up in the air and scream “He was right you mother effers! He was right and your beloved Soviet Union collapsed. You were the ones believing in fairytales, come out of frigging denial already!” (Needless to say I didn’t, but I still wonder what would have happened had I done it. I’ve found more often than not when I get carried away with similar outbursts people grin or applaud.) The point being — that song is now so dated as to be about an alternate reality.
    But they will do it. And the climate in ANY artistic circles, writing included is still “of course, none of us voted for Bush.” It’s an insular and intolerant view of the world. Everything they accuse the other side of, in fact.

  9. Simon Kenton Says:

    Technically, it is a failure of concinnity. I’m so pleased to see you commenting on it; thought I was the only one to notice, etc. Half the time it makes me mildly indignant. But the better the work, the sadder I feel. George Sibley, who is a friend, is as good as anybody ever was in a sort of Thoreauvian way, and dealing with the creation of community in small mountain towns. See his recent “Dragons in Paradise.” But he manifests the same thing – sprinkled here and there throughout the book are these little anti-bush, anti-republican turdlets, pretty much unconnected to the subject of the essay, paragraph, or sentence. Nobody cares about a DU or DailyKos post besmutting itself; all that is in the nature of things. But it’s a special displeasure to see real prose disfigured.

    When I got sick of it, I wrote a nice, boring, academic sort of paragraph – a little insight here, some extraneous learning, a couple of neatly parallel constructions, carefully crafted, as-if-Chestertonian conclusion. Then I went back and larded it with parentheticals: “plus he looks like Lurch,” “he’s big on back-shooting vietnamese and canada geese,” “he never had a foreign policy, just an ego,” “plus his wife is symbolically castrating him all the time.” This I sent to a lefty friend, who was not amused. I told him, bad writing is bad writing, no matter whose, on which side. To establish credentials – I guess that’s a reason – these people are debasing their talents.

  10. Jewel Says:

    The preceding comment was brought to you by spam. And, oh yes, George BushHitlerhalliburton!

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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