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Monday, May 11, 2009


InstapunkMonkeysuits


    Monkeysuits & Manners


There was a time nobody remembers... apparently.

OLD AGE. Since class warfare has been initiated, I'm prepared to defend the unpopular position of, well, class. Since it's been entirely forgotten by all sides. Just not by me.

It interests me that conservatives are struggling with why they were offended by the White House Correspondents Dinner last night. On the one hand, they know they were offended by Wanda Sykes's monologue and by the fact that Obama laughed at it. On the other, they think they're trying to be fair, trying to put it into perspective, not getting all bent out of shape by it because Ann Coulter is mean too, etc. Oh, and yeah, they're above it all somehow. Or just plain tone-deaf. Which?

Here's HotAir's Ed Morrissey being fair:

Comedians like Wanda Sykes are almost literally a dime a dozen.  They like to make headlines by being outrageous, but otherwise have as little relevance to everyday life as Baywatch does to Shakespeare.  She belongs in the same category as Janeane Garofalo, who apparently can’t gain attention any other way than to play the race card by yelling “White Power” on stage at conservatives.  Neither that nor calling Rush Limbaugh the 20th hijacker is witty, funny, or incisive.  It’s at the same level of intellect as babies playing with their soiled diapers, and about as meaningful.

I’m not particularly exercised by it, although it did lead to an interesting Twitter exchange today between myself, Patterico, Steven Den Beste [see update below], Atrios, and a few others.  About halfway into it I grew bored and watched Night at the Museum with my granddaughters.  It was a much better use of my time.

And Jonah Goldberg:

Anyway, why did I think it was awful? For starters, the hotel is under renovation, so the traditional pre-dinner reception in the courtyard was gone this year. This meant that everyone had to congregate indoors which turned the place into a steam bath. Also, neither The Weekly Standard nor NR had a reception this year, which was too bad.

As for the dinner itself, I thought Obama was fairly good for most of his talk, though I have my quibbles. I thought Wanda Sykes had some funny lines, but was generally pretty bad. Yes, I thought the Limbaugh stuff was particularly awful, not just because it was offensive, but because it was unfunny. Biting humor is fine at events like this, so long as it's humorous. Sykes's schtick was a cliche wrapped in a lefty talking point. There are funnier lines in lefty blog comment sections.

Enough. I could go on citing conservative lack of response, including the weekend and weekday Fox & Friends, who basically had no idea how they felt about about Wanda Sykes wanting Limbaugh's kidneys to fail given that they thought Obama himself was "self deprecating" and "funny." The fact that he was neither escaped them entirely.

I'd probably have let it all go except for Philadelphia talk show host Michael Smerconish, who's as dumb as they come and therefore put it all in perspective for me. (He has a talent for that. Thank you, Michael.)  This morning, he -- impassioned moderate that he is -- was asking his callers to rate the degree of offense represented by 1) the golfing writer who recycled an old lawyer joke to declare that in an elevator with Pelosi, Reid, and bin Laden and possessed of only two bullets, he'd shoot Pelosi twice and content himself with strangling Reid and bin Laden, and 2) Wanda Sykes's jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner. His whole demeanor suggested they were the same and was trying to get his callers to admit it. He seemed (as usual) pleased with himself for having posted a self-cancelling question: Yes, obviously they're both wrong, so harm on both sides means no harm, no foul, net net a lawyer's wash for the attorney Smerconish. BUT: He apologized to a caller who didn't know that the Sykes comments occurred at, uh, the White Correspondents Dinner. He admitted he hadn't been clear about that. Which is why I finally decided to comment.

Context matters. I grew up in the generation between the one that called tuxedoes "dressing for dinner" and "monkeysuits." Pretty big connotative difference. "Dressing for dinner" means you're going to live up to some standard. "Monkeysuit" means you're blindly imitating some standard you don't feel any real respect for.

I imagine the White House Correspondents Dinner once meant that you were going to step things up a notch. If you were a scathing White House reporter, you'd have to elevate yourself by being both polite and witty rather than deadly. An elementary point that seems to have escaped new adherents to the calling: there is more than one gradation of wit. What determines the change in degree? The occasion. The office. The attire. The attire, even if it's at the local Rotary or country club. This is why ladies are important. They are at their goddess best, lovely, gowned, made up, high-heeled, perfumed, and faultlessly polite. The tuxedo is designed as a backdrop to them, as is the repartee. More than one gradation of wit. There's the murderous go-for-the-throat variety of newspapermen and political advocates working in their shirtsleeves in the trenches. Then there's the high-flown variety -- clever, allusive, luminous, numinous, stiletto-like, so light and seemingly benign that it takes days to see where and how it struck to the heart. The kind you do in the company of ladies in their full regalia.

The White House Correspondents Dinner was once conceived as the latter -- a dress-up occasion to which newspapermen could take their wives. Sparring with the president, who would don the same lightweight gloves and trade stinging jabs with his foes that might hurt but draw no blood. At least not tonight.

But note what has changed. Women are no longer ladies. Men no longer live up to their tuxedoes. And with the loss of these elemental traditions, all others go by the wayside too. In fact, the whole purpose of the exercise is lost. What's left is mean, political, stupid, crass, and even violent. Clods in monkeysuits. Laughing at viciousness.

In the best of worlds, some gentleman would have taken Wanda Sykes somewhere in dress-up ere this -- a wedding, a graduation, a rite of passage. She would have learned how to live up to an occasion without squatting in her evening gown to shit on the stage for the purpose of attracting attention. In the best of worlds, someone would have done the same with the Obamas, taught them there are times when being polite is the point. In a smarterr world, someone would have briefed the Obamas that watching a woman shit on stage with a big smile on your face is kind of gross.

Pardon me. Pardon me all to hell. We did have a president who knew all this stuff. We chose to hate him for having class. He never laughed at a cruel joke. He never thought it funny to wish for someone else's death, not even a political enemy. We put him to the ultimate test. We forced him to smile through a cruel character assassination at a White House Correspondents Dinner. He didn't even wince. He didn't pretend that his own arrogance was self deprecation. Rather, he was truly self deprecatory and made no self-congratulatory jokes about what he would do after his hundred (or seventy-two) days of creation. He made fun of his verbal infacility without ever reminding any of his critics that he knew how to fly a jet fighter better than any president since the one who saved the planet in Independence Day, the movie.

Class. Class.

You may yet feel nostalgic for it. You won't. But you should. Because mediocre is always better than better. And GWB's secret was always that he was much much better than mediocre. Obama's secret is beginning to look like the exact opposite.




Thursday, May 07, 2009


A Modest Suggestion:

A Statue of Al Gore???

Yes, you could build it. With a few tons of
bronze and all the carbon it would emit...

MOREGORE. It would be hard to make this stuff up:

Senate To Vote On Al Gore Statue
Resolution Previously Passed House Unanimously

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A resolution urging the creation of statues to be built on the Tennessee Capitol grounds of the state's two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Al Gore and Cordell Hull, is on its way to a full Senate vote.

The Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday advanced the measure supporting the privately funded statues on a 9-0 vote. The resolution previously passed in the House unanimously.

Gore was awarded his Nobel prize in 2007 for his work on global warming, while Hull received the award in 1945 for his role in creating the United Nations and improving international trade relations.

Both men served as Democratic congressmen and senators from Tennessee before moving on to the executive branch, Hull as secretary of state and Gore as vice president.

I doubt whether Cordell Hull cares much about the whole thing, but Al Gore should be very concerned. Creating and installing a statue of a man his size could be incredibly wasteful in terms of carbon usage. I mean, what does he weigh now, 350 pounds? Translate his current volume into bronze or granite and you're talking a mega-load of fuel for the trucks and railcars that would have to transport it, not to mention the pollution from the furnace fires required for smelting the copper, tin, phosphorus, manganese, aluminum, and silicon it takes to produce bronze. (Don't even think about the larger-than-life statues favored by most crazed demagogues of his stripe. The mind boggles.)

That's why I'm so pleased to offer a clever and economical workaround that won't waste nearly as much fossil fuel and other planet-incinerating resources. It so happens that there was a doomed project called the President's Park, for which a sculptor named Adickes produced a significant number of monumental statues. One of them was a statue of our hugest president (by far), William Howard Taft.


You see where I'm going with this?

It's true that Taft had more hair than Gore, but otherwise the two of them are, frankly, dead ringers for each other, hugely enormous fat men with giant heads and carefully groomed eyebrows. So all that's really required is "rebranding" the Taft statue and moving it from its current domicile in South Dakota to whatever heavily reinforced piazza in Tennessee the legislators think could bear the weight.

What's more, I think I could also minimize the carbon, uh, footprint of the transport effort. Forget the trucks and railcars. If our aspiration is really to return to a simpler, greener way of life, now would be a good time to get started. Let's transport the Taft/Gore statue the way the Easter Islanders moved their stupid, phony, multi-ton godhead sculptures into place.



That's right. You get a bunch of true-green environmentalists to drag the damn thing all the way from South Dakota to Tennessee. (That sort of choking sound you hear is a cough, probably a touch of the Tennessee Giant Swine Flu. It's definitely not laughter.)



Then you let them figure out how to raise it upright and glue it in place. (Hell, you could charge admission just to watch them try to figure it out...)

You have to admit it's a pretty perfect plan. And all Al Gore has to do to save all the energy that could be saved is to grow a Taft mustache. I feel that a man of his prodigious intellect could just about manage that.

Or am I being too optimistic?




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