Come Out Tonight. Paranormal photograph © 2004 JdB.
by Jerome du Bois
Yesterday, Virginia Heffernan of the NYT reviewed one of the few TV programs we watch whenever it's on: "Ghost Hunters," on the SciFi Channel. Maybe she just watched a couple of shows for her piece --a press package, probably-- but the cultural critic sure missed a lot, and didn't give the show a righteous profile. (DVDs of previous seasons are available.) I myself detected the snide, dismissive odor of New York tony irony --a sure sign of laziness and ignorance.
Jason Hawes, a jovial, bald hulk who resembles Vic Mackey of “The Shield,” runs his own vigilante team on “Ghost Hunters.” But unlike Mackey’s fictional rogue cops, the TAPS gang on this Sci Fi reality show doesn’t whack anyone: the quarry is already dead.
It’s funny when you think about it: make-believe cops are maniacs, while real-life ghost hunters — who could be forgiven for being delusional — turn out to be neato team players in oxford cloth and fleece. In the season’s opening episode earlier this month, they looked like nothing more than a men’s a cappella group on a tour of Britain.
No, it's not funny; it's stupid. Instead of comparing Jason to the fictional TV corrupt cop, Heffernan could have more fruitfully compared the whole crew to their British counterparts, the "Most Haunted" group --especially since the season premiere took place in Britain. Basically, the Americans go with the high-tech equipment --their default position is to debunk-- while the British go with mediums, feelings, historical verifications, and traditional spiritualists methods such as table-tipping.
That comparison would have made a better opening; after all, who Jason Hawes resembles is completely irrelevant to "Ghost Hunters," but how his team's methods differ from their British counterparts's methods is relevant. Is this Heffernan's pathetic attempt at some kind of street cred, to link a fringe show with a hit show? Everybody knows what Vic Mackey looks like; everybody made that connection automatically, then dismissed it and moved on; Heffernan (and her editor) should have known that.
There's plenty more.
The ghostbusters are all men but one, and all white, which does nothing to correct the staple joke of black comics that white people are too quick to pursue things that go bump in the night. A typical scene shows one of the TAPS guys racing toward a disembodied face as if it were a birthday cake. (TAPS stands for the Atlantic Paranormal Society.)
Again an irrelevant cultural reference after irrelevant (and racist?) ethnic and gender references. Look at those dumb white folks stumbling around in the dark after some haint, hee hee hee. If Heffernan had paid attention to even one show, she would realize that the machines don't care who's pushing their buttons or plugging them in or aiming their lenses. This is just more thin filler, a mental Post-It Note she had tagged to her cultural mirror.
They also just hang out in the world’s scary spots, sitting and waiting with their gadgets for the dead. Their patience is one of their most unnerving qualities. And when they really freak out, that’s also when they steadfastly stay.
“I started to get real uncomfortable sitting in that ‘wrath,’ ” Grant Wilson, another TAPS member, said in the season premiere, using a term for a fairy domain, in this case essentially a current of bad vibes in an Irish field, with a monstrous-looking ruin on it. “I started hearing various types of humming behind me. And footsteps, and voices. That was something I’d never heard before. After a little while I could start to see little figures moving around.”
Right here, Eddie Murphy needed to appear —dragging chains, if necessary— to remind everyone to get out.
Hey, remind me what fuggin Eddie Murphy has to do with anything! Online, the name is hyperlinked, but it doesn't send the reader to, presumably, a role with Eddie Murphy, chains, and ghosts --you know, to support the sentence. Is there such a role? Don't ask me, because I don't care. But the link only goes to his general filmography, as if we needed to be reminded who Eddie Murphy is. The NYT, Heffernan, and her editors show less internet savvy than a first-day blogger Unless it's the usual advertorial sleeve-tugging. Crass as hell, but, alas, we're used to it. Meanwhile, the reference derails thinking about what Grant testified to, and how calmly he did so. (Again, in contrast to, say, Stuart on "Most Haunted": "Oi've got to [bleep]ing tell yew, Oi've never bean soo froitened in moy loif!")
The Ghost Hunters don't usually visit "the world's" scary spots --mainly sites in the US, and mostly humble homes, with a scattering of derelict prisons and asylums, famous hotels, Tombstone, and lighthouses. Now, we're not devoted fans, but we have seen enough shows to know that Grant Wilson doesn't usually give this kind of testimony, and hardly ever without backup from one of his "gadgets for the dead." ("Gadgets," she said, in that impossible tone, as if a FLIR thermal-imaging camera was a toy from a cartoon show.)
The Ghost Hunter investigation design guarantees multiple simultaneous human perspectives confirmed by live timelines from equipment recording in several modalities. Because of this rigor, only the completely unexplainable, the totally uncanny, gets filtered through, and that's what makes it impressive. I'm thinking of a hunchbacked figure who passes behind a table at the far end of a room, a cloaked thing outside a prison cell that caused the famous "Dude, Run!" clip, a vividly-colored outline of a shadow man in a doorway that isn't there, an imp-like thing cavorting at the top of a spiral staircase in a lighthouse, a FLIR rainbow aura throbbing around Jason like a psychedelic poster come to life . . .
Heffernan wrote more, but I won't fisk it all, since she already left out all the interesting parts, leaving only a pale outline of the principals and their purposes. Just one more paragraph:
While the Sci Fi Channel flashed fake lightning and simulated vertigo and double vision with its camera, “Ghost Hunters” did what it does best: supplied the social history of infamous places. In the case of the prison, the cells —hard mats with bars, really— looked as if they would atrophy an average-size prisoner within a year. “I couldn’t imagine why, if you were dead, why you would continue to hang around in an area like that,” Mr. Wilson said.
That's an excellent question --one of the top ten in paranormal circles-- but Heffernan can't be bothered to pursue it. And it's "Most Haunted," not "Ghost Hunters," which more often supplies "the social history of infamous places." (One of their hooks is that the mediums "know nothing of the bloody and sinister history of this castle.") The Ghost Hunters are usually at Darrell and Carol's dilapidated duplex somewhere in New Jersey.
And Heffernan completely ignores the personalities, social dynamics, and motivations of the team, which are what keep me watching. (I don't need to be convinced of the existence of ghosts.) These are real people who apply themselves to their work seriously, without irony, following their curiosity with self-critical professionalism.
Reading her article you would never know that Jason and Grant, the team leaders, are Roto-Rooter plumbers, and the shows often have footage of the two in some rough basement speculating on a paranormal hypothesis while handing each other plastic pipes and wrenches. Sometime in the past, each had had, separately, a powerful paranormal experience. Unlike nearly everyone else in the same situation, especially with a camera around, neither Jason nor Grant will tell anyone what happened to them. To me, that makes them interesting. And both are almost painfully sincere and sensitive. Thus Grant's invariable introductory line: "We're from TAPS. We're here to help."
Then there's Brian Harnois, who was probably called "doofus" and worse as a kid. Earnest and headstrong, he has had the most volatile history with the crew: chafing against authority --"I've forgotten more about the paranormal than he'll ever learn"-- treating equipment sloppily, setting things up wrong, getting distracted with a very demanding romantic relationship (in one show, he was on his cell phone with her almost the whole time). It was this last that led him to leave the series for an extended time. When he returned, you could see he was more mature.
He was still Brian, though. In a clip that always makes the favorites list, he and another crew member get scared by a ghost, and before spinning around and booking it like track stars (all caught on digital video) Brian calls out, "Dude, run!" A couple of episodes later, while he and fellow techie Steve Gonsalves are editing footage, we see Brian has replaced his TAPS gimme cap with one that boasts the phrase, "Dude, run!" And when Steve teases him about it, as if Brian is a fool for reminding everyone about how he ran --"What, are you proud of what you did?" Steve needles him-- Brian stands his ground. What's the big deal? he seems to be saying. Everybody saw it happen anyway. I admire that honesty; also, I think that Brian is more media-savvy than Steve, and the custom cap was a wink and a nod to the audience, as if he knew the running clip would end up on a favorites list. In the next scene, the cap was gone, replaced with a TAPS cap. Brian may look like a mouth-breather, but inside? busy busy busy.
Steve likes to tease Brian. When Brian says he's going to "zeroize" an instrument, Steve goes on and on about it: "Zeroize? Is that a word? Zeroize?" "That's what I call it," Brian stubbornly answers.
Steve is not one to speak of fear and running away, as Brian reminds him. He is phobic about flying, heights, the dark, and spiders --and those are only the ones we know about. He's a policeman. No kidding. Oddly, he is not afraid of tattoo needles; he has sleeves going on both arms and both legs.
But it's Brian who takes home the prize for most original phobia. In one episode he confides to the camera, "I'd rather face a hundred demons from Hell, one by one, than a porcelain doll on the move."
A porcelain doll on the move.
It chills you to the bone, doesn't it? It would easier to explain if he was referring to something like Chuckie, wouldn't it? But no. I told you: busy busy busy.
The rest of the crew --and there are more women than Donna Lacroix, by the way-- are less quirky, and are distinguished, so far, mainly by their earnestness and professionalism. Personally, we'd like to see more of the demonologist twins, Keith and Karl. GH has plenty in the way of tech; a little spooky balance might shake things up a bit.
Finally, I can't leave these people without mentioning their creative use of language, something I'm always on the lookout for. "You've got to take the mentality that . . ." I laugh when I hear these words, not in mockery at the ignorant hicks, but in admiration of fluid imagination and creativity. So we get Jason saying "rationable" and Grant saying "malintent." We have Brian referring to a full-body appartion as "The Mona Lisa of paranormal phenomena." Jason refers to the same thing as "The Golden Grail."
"Ghost Hunters" is one of the few places in any media where irony stays offstage. Maybe that's what bothered Ms Heffernan; she didn't smell its rancid odor, she didn't hear its whining sneer. Just people listening hard for the voices of the dead, and, y'know, once in Tombstone, Jason and Grant swore they smelled jasmine perfume.
Fffffffzzzzz. . . . So sorry, Dougie, but I can't heeeeeear youuuu.
by Jerome du Bois
1700. That's the new number. No matter how much money the Saudi prince donates, no matter how slick and up-to-date their websites, no matter the fact that they report an expansion of offices (from 8 to 33), CAIR's membership has dwindled ninety percent since 2000. The hot air balloon with the sinister side sprung a leak, and shrunk to the size of a hot-water bottle, and now has fewer members nationally than the average local weekly bingo congregation. And if you divide 1700 by 33 you get about 50 lonely souls in each urban outpost, about as many as a late-night crowd in a bar, and just as forlorn.
Of course this is great news. As a bonus, we might see a lot less of that braying pinhead up there.
Red Modern Furniture's New Venue.
by Jerome du Bois
Last October the local coterie of pseudo-cool got the vapors about Jonathan Wayne relocating RED, his overhyped, overpriced furniture (and fashion accessory MINT) store into a --drum roll!-- Ralph Haver building on Camelback near Central. We haven't been there, but we visited his McDowell store several years ago, nearly suffered heart attacks at the purse prices, but still managed to pick up one of my favorites for a reasonable price, a beautiful green wicker thing. (What-- it's okay for a guy to have favorites among his wife's purses . . . isn't it?)
Anyway, we pass this place several times a week as we go about our business and pleasure, and in the middle of May I suddenly noticed that ragged, tattered, neglected U.S. flag you see up there in the left photo. I got out of the car and took a picture; then we went home to think about what we had just seen.
We've never passed more than a dozen words with Jonathan Wayne, so we have no idea of his political leanings. But look at the place. Look how A-J-squared-away it is --one morning Catherine saw Jonathan sweeping the asphalt area between the entrance overhang and the sidewalk --except for that poor exhausted flag, which sticks out like the sorest of thumbs, throbbing red, white, blue and threadbare, like the original barber pole, which was a battlefield surgeon's bloody rags wrapped around a tentpole, as a signal of both the relief and infliction of pain. Wartime.
We wondered if it was a political statement, or just opacity. But Jonathan Wayne is no slob, though his notion of window display and signage --on McDowell, for seven years-- was simplistic, shrill, and lazy. Still, he was neat, he spelled everything correctly, and he wasn't blind to detail. We finally decided that I would saunter in (undercover!), look around at the outrageously priced plastic and fiberglas and leather and chrome, check out the purses (of course --you never know), make small talk, and then, upon leaving, sort of casually turn and say, "Say, what's the deal with your flag? It looks kind of tattered." And see how he, or whoever was there, would respond.
What could they say? Variations of:
"Oh, yeah, we've been meaning to replace that."
"It came with the place. We like it that way."
"Are you kidding? Ralph Haver himself hoisted that flag. What are you, sacreligious?"
"It's a political statement! US out of Iraq! Wait! Who are you? Who --did --did Cheney send you? Gonzales? Hey, come back here--!"
Okay, so we're having some fun. I planned to get in there before Memorial Day, whose symbolism we take seriously. But life got in the way, and by the time we got back to this concern--
Whoa Daddy, the flag's gone. Soon after, Double Whoa Daddy, the flagpole disappears. (Proof above right.)
We waited for the other shoe to drop, somewhere. Where were Robert Sentinery and Nan Ellin and all the other urban preservationist tightasses who think every midcentury local building is as untouchable as Lourdes? Surely they are talking to Jonathan --at this very moment-- or will be soon, about his unconscionable, inexcuseable desecration of [genuflect now] the very office wherein Ralph Haver's feet tread (trod?), and where his brainwaves may still reverberate!
We can only hope.
In the meantime, the great country which preceded, supports, and will supersede Jonathan Wayne's minor existence, continues to bless even his thin, twee niche of the economy: raiding the pockets of well-to-do paper-traders and gays in the local fruit loop with thermoplastic nostalgia and overpriced second-market fashion.
While overhead, invisible but visibly --and daily-- and globally-- tested, Old Glory waves in freedom, and waves, and waves, and, waving, overcomes.
[Nota bene:Today is D-Day. But remember, every day is D-Day.]
by Jerome du Bois
For the last two Novembers 2nds, novelist and screenwriter Roger L. Simon made sure to note in his blog that nobody in the film industry has made a movie about the life and death of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, murdered that day in 2004 on the streets of his native Amsterdam by a Moroccan Muslim practicing jihad. (They haven't yet mentioned him at the Oscar ceremonies, either.) One of Simon's commenters last year gently told him to put his money where his mouth is and write the film treatment himself. As far as I know, he hasn't yet, even though his ideal collaborator, who he knows --Ayaan Hirsi Ali-- lives in the US now. Nobody has ventured anything --not a film, nor a play, nor a television miniseries-- and that's what this post is about.
Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, and Stanley Tucci are each remaking in English one of Theo van Gogh's films, which appears to be a nice gesture on the face of it, but such a trilogy is a left-handed tribute to a man who died with a long knife in his chest, the knife blade keeping a several-page Muslim hit list/manifesto from blowing off Theo's body.
Come on --all three of these very talented guys are much more than dumb-cattle actors like Brad Pitt; each one has written and directed films and plays, and each is also committed to live theater. And there's a story staring them in the face. The story of our times. Has been for three years. Why no action? Could it be because of the dagger at the center of the story? the bloody dagger of Islam? Nobody wants to make a movie that criticizes Muslims, much less the devout, murderous Mohammed Bouyeri. Instead, these three guys take material that has already been made --cutting their labor drastically in all areas of production-- just to slide a politically-correct feather in their caps and manage to avoid any mention of the misanthropic religion which took Theo van Gogh down. Smooth move, guys, but admit it --you're cowards.
At the same time, John Landis (Animal House, Trading Places, The Blues Brothers) is slated to direct the film version of "Bat Boy: The Musical."
The graphic above shows what our culture has rewarded nationally in three of our major dramatic media since Theo van Gogh was murdered. Here in Phoenix, what have we got? On stage, for example. We've got "Bat Boy" on stage; we've got "Virginia Woolf" and "The Bad Seed" ("The most conspicuous directorial "innovation," however, is having 200-pound Neil Cohen play the 8-year-old murderer, Rhoda." Innovation!? And Mohammed Bouyeri is a truly bad seed. Yes, he's still alive, and reading the same books in prison which fired him up to kill Theo.) Let's see: we've got some trippy tribute to the Mamas and the Papas, for grok's sake.
And we also had, until May 13, at the most prestigious venue in town, the Herberger, a play called "The Pillowman," which is about murdering children, lots of them --sometimes onstage-- and the best part is, it's funny.
According to Kyle Lawson:
Children die horribly in The Pillowman, McDonagh's Olivier Award-winning play being staged by Actors Theatre. They die in the stories written by the hero, and they die on the streets of the unnamed town where the play takes place, when a killer uses the tales as a blueprint for things too terrible to contemplate.
Worse, they die onstage as the audience laughs, which is the most horrible thing of all.
That should be reason enough to approach The Pillowman with caution. Yet the play is only marginally about children. It is more about truth, and how one man's version of reality is another man's vision of chaos. It's about censorship and what happens when artists are told what stories they can tell. It's about how the pursuit of justice can result in actions that are as horrific as the crime.
And it's always funny.
Yeah, I could use a good laugh. Excuse me while I call Ticketmaster. Wait, I missed it. Oh, well, they're probably tooling up a movie already.
We live in a culture both weak-kneed and sadistic --a bully culture. It's okay to dwell on the victimization of children, and even laugh about it, but it's not okay to shine a light on the price some pay for truth and true art.
The story of the last two years of Theo van Gogh's life is the story of postwar Europe, both compressed and magnified. It begins with Pym Fortuyn and his provocative television interview of February 9, 2002, with its themes of protecting Dutch national identity, no more Muslim immigration, and his call for rigorous efforts toward Muslim assimilation. A year before he had said, "I'd like to live together with Muslims, but it takes two to tango."
The Muslims didn't want to dance. On May 6 Fortuyn was assassinated by a Dutch non-Muslim, a tight-assed, wound-up, obsessive-compulsive environmental perfectionist with no ties whatsoever to Islam, Muslims, or jihad. He just thought Fortuyn was a bad influence on the nation, and he had to, you know, correct it, like straightening the bathroom towels. But the imams and their followers sucking off the body of the state must have given thanks to Allah, all over the land, for this strange instrument doing their work.
I'm not sure about fate, but Pym Fortuyn's death brought forth two consequences for Theo van Gogh: (1) it inspired in him the desire to attack Islam, and set him on the road to "Submission," the short film which sparked his death; (2) and the public outrage and uproar in the murder's aftermath created a model for the radical Islamists of Holland. Here is Dan Darling, of Winds of Change, writing six days after van Gogh's murder:
the Islamist extremist leadership in the Netherlands (personified by an individual that we know from the Milan wiretaps as an al-Qaeda leader called "Ismail" who has been operating there for decades) already has a perfect model for whipping up ethno-religious discord: the assassination of the Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn.
Fortuyn was killed by a deranged animal rights' activist, but the political unrest that followed from his death gave Ismail and his immediate superiors in London a perfect model for stirring up political unrest in the Netherlands. In addition, the al-Qaeda/GSPC/Salafi Jihad/Lashkar-e-Taiba networks that run through the Netherlands are extensive enough to ensure that if it does come to riots, Ismail will have anywhere between one and several hundred stormtroopers to call upon.
These people created a list:
The Saif al-Din al-Muwaheed (SDM, "Sword of Justice of the Faithful") group that appears to have carried out the Van Gogh murder also planned to assassinate Somali-born VVD MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, independent conservative MP Geert Wilders, Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen, and Deputy Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb. All of these are fairly prominent targets, especially in a country as small as the Netherlands, and had even half of the attempts succeeded they would have unquestionably stirred up ethno-religious strife throughout the country.
Which is exactly what the Dutch (and European) Islamists want: to bring down Dutch society and replace it with shari'a and the other depredations of Islam.
That's just some of the backstory. The rest of the story writes itself, with characters like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Pym Fortuyn, Geerts Wilders, Theo's son Lieuwe, and the fanatics Bouyeri and his cell, and Azzouz, a dark, middle-level puppet master, and at the center the inimitable, Rabelasian, tortured Theo van Gogh, who made everyone uncomfortable, including himself. To me he embodies Holland staring at its own cowardice in the face of the Holocaust, and even though he could be in no way culpable, he spent a large part of his soul trying to get past that national guilt. He did it through caustic humor and brutal honesty. Perhaps he thought Holland could pay the debt by being strong in the face of the new Islamic invasion. And, when he selected the target to attack Islam on film, his aim was true: the way they treat women. It is both the worst aspect of Islam and the most necessary for its continued survival. No wonder the bastards put him on a hit list.
Theo van Gogh wouldn't have wanted his story written in blood, but some murderous Muslims had other plans for him. They have other plans for us all, and the arc of Theo van Gogh's final passion is a cautionary tale for our times. Ask not which heart the knife seeks; it seeks the hearts of all who love the truth.
Right now Tom Stoppard is getting kudos for his three-part stage epic The Coast of Utopia, which he wrote in 2002 and which is about . . . the philosophical debates among Russian intellectuals between 1833 and 1866. (Finally! I says to myself. We've been waiting for that story!) How could that possibly be more relevant than the current war, being waged on all levels, between Western civilization and retrograde, recalcitrant Islam? No way, no way, no way.
But Broadway, Hollywood and TV land, with few exceptions, will continue to be wallows of vamping vanity, impoverished imaginations (sequels & revivals), and continuously skanky sleaze. Still, there's no statute of limitations on the story of a brave man murdered by a religious fanatic for standing up for truth, humanity, and the Western Way. Somebody --please!-- step up and tell it.
Illustration by JdB
Rebel against the tyranny of the multiculti hegemonists!
by Jerome du Bois
Late last year syndicated columnist John Leo gave a speech --"On Good Writing"-- at Ursuline College. Last week City Journal posted an abridged version online called "The Office of Assertion." In both versions several sections chimed with echoes of themes we've published here, just one of which I'll get to below.
I don't recall ever reading anything by John Leo, though he's been writing professionally for about 20 years. I'm just not the magazine reader I used to be. I mention this because I have no investment in criticizing the man. But attacking English I take very seriously, and, in defending it, which he does, accuracy is crucial. He quotes George Orwell, which seems obligatory these days if you write about language and power:
At the beginning of his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell made clear that he thought the language had become disheveled and decadent.
In at least one section Leo got sloppy, but in finding that out I saw hints that the multiculti hegemony may have peaked, and now dribbles away its waning energy in defense of increasingly ridiculous positions: "personal spelling" replaces "misspelling." Would that such a withering were so; let it be so; let the governor listeth away from decadence, and turn toward decency; let the Ship of Culture free its propellors from the sucking swamps and stinking marshes of self-loathing, and steam forth proudly again into the Great Living River, with a boiling wake, a high green prow, and bow waves arching like great white wings!
. . . Ahem. So: here's that problematic section from Mr. Leo's October 2006 speech:
Rules, good writing, and simple coherence are sometimes depicted as habits of the powerful and privileged. James Sledd, professor emeritus of English at the University of Texas, writes in the textbook College English that standard English is “essentially an instrument of domination.”
You couldn't find a more damning quote. It's as if the whole title of the textbook should be College English: A Self-Destruction Manual. And it echoes the depressing hegemony we referred to in "So This Is Where They Come From: The Zombie Dispositions." I don't mind reprinting some of my own exuberance:
But, like some kind of recurrent, accursed stain, the professors still foreground the forlorn and discredited "white male oppressor" meme. The first caricature they drug out so long ago to whack us with they now unashamedly abandon as the last one on the stage, rack-ribbed, nearly naked and shivering-- only now they want to extend this rusty voice-vise to the entire English language. English itself, they insist, is an instrument of oppression. Even as they use it, over and over, retreading dead ideas. I guess it doesn't affect them because they know better. They must be immune. Cuz they smart.
Uh-huh. All time kukai moa, I say.
These arrogant dummies claim that the most sophisticated, flexible, accommodating, liberal, capacious, and evolutionarily-stable language for the Western World --English-- the best verbal stew men, women, and children in this hemisphere ever cooked up, and to which we're still adding ingredients-- that this gloriously alive, future-facing, transcendental physiomental organism was whomped up by some wizened old ofays trying to squeeze everybody else's peaches!
And if you believe that . . .
But they do! Thousands of credulous students have been accepting this crap, becoming teachers, and passing it on to other malleable fools. (One vivid proof and result, supported by many posts on this blog: local Phoenix art, culture and writing.)
Think, people, think. What --there's some evaluation committee declaring what is a word, or an allowable word to put into the stream of the Great Conversation? No way. Whereyat, mon ami --France? Since the English language became interesting, several hundred years ago, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, George Gordon, William Blake, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, scientists, philosophers, philologists, and millions of other self-reflective human beings, most of them multilingual, all invented new words that eventually became part of the common coin of English that we all pass around. My own wife creates words in an ongoing fashion, flashy new florins tossed into the stream of the verbal trade; that may seem disjarring to some, but to me it's enlifting, and you don't have any problem deciphering either word, do you, reader?
We gotta get the chin music back into our heads.
That was fun. By the way, I think I could make the case that nowadays English itself qualifies as a victimized, misconstrued minority language, under constant attack and suffering twisted smears by the multicultural hegemony of academic people of color and their fellow travellers! So there.
As with John Leo, I'd never heard of James Sledd --Rhodes Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa-- though his message was tiresomely familiar: the white man oppresses, and one weapon he uses is the English language; therefore, defuse --dismantle-- destroy the weapon. Leo's citation implied that thousands of impressionable freshman nationwide were reading those damning words every semester, and that Professor Sledd was spouting them in the classroom. Two snags in that scenario, though.
Number one: Mistah Sledd -- He dead.
He's four years in the grave now, after living to 88, the last forty-so spent mining the black resentment / English-is-evil veins in academia. Larry Faulkner, President of the U of Texas at Austin, wrote in Sledd's obituary:
His two best known and most widely debated essays are “Bi-Dialectism: The Linguistics of White Supremacy” (1969) and “Doublespeak: Dialectology in the Service of Big Brother” (1972).
(I've only read synopses of these essays, but they manage to insult black people by implying that they can't speak in two different ways --in both Black English and Standard English; as if they're too stupid to switch fluidly back and forth, which millions do all the time, of course. He flaunts this kind of paternalism --aimed at one's own ethnic relatives!-- in the face of the knowledge that most of the planet is at least bilingual. A moment's reflection on those two titles reveal their unintentional hilarity as well. Amazing anyone took --and takes-- this crap seriously. I assume they still do, despite the age of the essays, given Faulkner's use of the words "widely debated.")
Number two, not only is the guy dead, but I clicked through fourteen pages of both amazon.com and booksamillion to try to find the book John Leo cited. I couldn't find it. So if it was used as a college textbook, that was a while ago, or Leo is confused or misinformed. Either way, it's sloppy. For a professional journalist, that's a real misstep, especially these days, and with a crucial subject. Faulkner, in the obituary, cites no such textbook, though he refers to two textbooks on linguistics which Sledd authored.
I have no doubt that Sledd held the sentiment in the quotation, and, along with thousands of other academic cowards, bears responsibility for such phenomena as what immediately follows the Sledd quote in Leo's speech:
English Leadership Quarterly ran an article urging teachers to encourage intentional writing errors as “the only way to end its oppression of linguistic minorities and learning writers.” The pro-error article, written by two professors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, actually won an award from the quarterly, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. So you can now win awards for telling the young to write badly.
Reminds me of the adult baby man who was so proud of retraining himself into incontinence.
So Leo should have picked a more current example of the pomo-decon attitude. There's no shortage of these priveleged, braying bullies, and other language-manglers. No need for straw men like Sledd. You can find plenty of culprits by going through the "Zombie" piece above to our series "Rebarbarization In The Academy," which begins here.
I don't want to leave James Sledd just yet, though, because he was a player in corrupting the language and driving academic credibility down the tubes, and because somebody else just stepped into the picture: Ray Bradbury.
Where did he come from? you ask. Well, he just received a special Pulitzer Prize, and LA Weekly interviewed him. The main theme of the piece was that Bradbury must continue to insist that his best-known work, Fahrenheit 451, is not about government censorship; it's about people voluntarily zoning themselves out on television, and neglecting to read. He puts the onus of responsibility on each person him/herself. Reading the interview right after finding out about Sledd led to inevitable comparisons. A black guy born in Atlanta six years before the white guy in Waukegan Illinois. A lifetime of grim finger-pointing and growling resentment versus a lifetime of glowing, sparkling, vivid stories. Government paternalism versus personal responsibility. The black-clad mortician rattling his keys and chains, versus the heel-clicking magician in the ice-cream suit. But most of all, two men who laid their hands on their native language every day, one to smother its brilliance, the other to hold its multifacets up to the light.
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WINDING UP: If you haven't read Leo's piece, please don't get the impression that James Sledd is a big part of it. He isn't. I quoted the reference in its entirety. Most of the rest of Leo's piece is familiar to those who monitor English: Alan Sokal's fake gravity piece taken seriously by Social Text; Judith Butler's 94-word gobbledygook sentence; Hemingway's admirable brevity; examples of governmentese here and abroad, such as “ground-mounted confirmatory route markers” for "road sign;" and nanny-state nice-talk created to avoid offending anyone, such as "achieving a deficiency" as a smiley-face stand-in for failure, and “unacknowledged repetitions” for plagarism. (Talk about accentuating the positive . . . )