a jim jividen blog

Here's the thing. I'm watching one of these shows on the Cooking Channel featuring food trucks. There's a Scottish expat making fish and chips; in a thick brogue he somewhat wearily explains his irritation with Americans who habitually order a side of tartar sauce: "tartar sauce is basically gherkins." That's this blog. I claim no particular insight, no revelation. If you enjoy the flavor, great, but this blog is basically gherkins.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

1st and Ten: The Weekly Tendown August 8-14 2010

Dear Internet:


Sure hope the check cleared.

Let's do Tendown 39.

First: Via ovicipitum dura est

My favorite general election Presidential candidate from either of the two parties in US history was Adlai Stevenson.  Here he was accepting the nomination in 1952:

Let's talk sense to the American people! Let's tell them the truth, that there are no gains without pains, that we are now on the eve of great decisions, not easy decisions, like resistance when you're attacked, but a long, patient, costly struggle which alone can assure triumph over the great enemies of man - war, poverty and tyranny - and the assaults upon human dignity which are the most grievous consequences of each.

Adlai got his clock cleaned  by Ike in both '52 and '56 - and had to wear the appellation hung on him by Ike's running mate Nixon --- egghead.

The way of the egghead is hard was the first of Stevenson's retorts.  Of course he said it in Latin.  His second was a joke: "eggheads of the world Unite!  You have nothing to lose but your yolks"

I'm guessing in 2010, a national politician couldn't say either.  Latin would be unpardonably elitist and a joke referencing Marx would feed the right wing hate machine for weeks.  In '52, Nixon called Stevenson an egghead to portray him as overly intellectual, out of touch with the common man; today, it isn't just politicians who succeed pandering to the least common denominator, running away from thoughts which need to be expressed in polysyllables seems to be a virtue across our national landscape.

Here's a piece from the NY Times this week about the current rock star on the Food Network, Guy Fieri:

“You feel like he has that same background just like you do, never pretentious, nothing fancy,” observed Ami Wilson, who went to the Atlantic City event with her husband, Matthew, a police officer in central New Jersey.


Kathleen McCormick, who brought her two teenage sons to see Mr. Fieri from their beach house nearby on the Jersey Shore, said, “He’s the only one who never talks down to anybody.” (She said that other cooking shows were “too preachy” for them.)

Congratulations, Kathleen.  You're quoted in the New York Times, almost certainly the single moment in your life in which your ideas reach their greatest audience - and you criticize television chefs for thinkin' they're all big. 

The premise of the piece in the Times is that the same vein of anti-intellectualism tapped into by Sarah Palin (nothing should be too complex that you can't write it on your hand) runs its way throughout our culture; my argument would be its pumped by the muscle of economic anxiety.  In times perceived as more prosperous,  it was Simon Cowell grabbing our national consciousness, condescending and snide; slapping us around like a hooker Don Draper hired on Thanksgiving in '64.  But post economic collapse, foreign accents render you suspicious (and foreign accents plus dark complexions will get you a demand to see your citizenship papers in Arizona); what we want is affirmation that ours are the correct values and choices (let's return to founding principles!) and what we need are scapegoats.  The immigrants are taking our jobs.  Obama's policies are designed to help blacks.  The democrats are turning welfare and unemployment into a virtue.  And when people with advanced degrees talk about global warming (or evolution) as factual; when they note that a committment to reduce the deficit can't be reconciled with the desire to continue the Bush tax cuts for those who make over a quarter million dollars a year; when instead of bowing to anti-Muslim bigotry they point out that, as opposed to the US being a "Christian nation" it was specifically designed by those founding fathers to whom the right gives lip service as governmentally godless;  they are called out of touch with the concerns of real Americans.  For over a decade, my boots have been on the ground in what should be our national war against ignorance, against supersitition, against know-nothingness, but each year, my ability to reach my students depends less and less on what I know and more on more on how personally and emotionally relatable I can be.  It's not exactly the life of the mind I signed up for.

My favorite quote from Stevenson was in his concession to Ike in '52, "it hurts too much to laugh and I'm too old to cry." 

And that's where we are here, at the end of the American empire.  August 2010. 

After the jump - the rest of the tendown.