Kitsch is like pornography: I know it when I see it, and it’s all over my grandma’s house. Along with irony and existentialism, kitsch is one of those concepts that is often mentioned and seldom understood. It is bad, but everybody likes it. It is ineffable but easily identified. “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession,” Kundera wrote. “The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!” Today is Friday, and the ideas that once invigorated us now ease us comfortably along with them toward death. Won’t you rejoice in the commonplace with me?
You there, boy! What day is it? Why, it’s Thursday day, Mr. Scrooge, and that normally means an Indy column by me. This week is the holiday issue, though, so you get a whole damn essay in which I report the unvarnished truth about ghosts, divorce and, of course, Fantasy for Adults Only. It’s a local pornography store. You can probably masturbate in there, but I digress. The point is that I wrote this humorous essay not based on any previously published work, and you should read it. Then you should read the rest of the Indy, which includes delightful work by Sarah Aswell and another holiday essay by Bob Wire. But if you don’t have time, just read what I wrote and lie about it later. That’s more the New Year’s spirit than the Christmas spirit, but I’ll allow it. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.
The scene above is from the “Last Exit to Springfield” episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer becomes head of his union and negotiates a new contract with Mr. Burns on sheer strength of idiocy. Dorks will remember it as episode 9F15 of season four, which my college roommates and I remember as the Era of Big Pupils. This model style roughly coincides with Conan O’Brien’s tenure on the show and, probably not by coincidence, some of its most surreal gags. For example: On a tour of his mansion, Mr. Burns shows Homer a thousand monkeys typing on a thousand typewriters, who will soon produce “the greatest novel known to mankind.” He checks one monkey’s progress. “‘It was the best of times,” he reads, “it was the blurst of times?’ You stupid monkey!” That was your last chance to enjoy this joke, because I’d like to talk about why it’s so funny.
Let’s start with the good news: Congress has passed an omnibus spending bill that will avert government shutdown, ensure that schoolchildren are getting enough salt, and free cattle farmers from greenhouse gas regulations. I guess the good news stopped with the first clause in that list, but still—soluble government! It does come at a cost, though. Remember the financial collapse triggered by an unstable derivatives market that required a trillion-dollar taxpayer bailout to correct? Trick question: we never corrected it. But banks are doing pretty well now, so they’re ready to leverage themselves into risky derivative trades again, and could they please do it with federal deposit insurance? Granted! Thus a key provision of the Dodd-Frank financial regulations is rolled back, and Congress recreates the conditions that preceded the worst economic collapse in three generations—falling gas prices and all.
This weekend, former Vice President and possible war criminal Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press to discuss his reaction to the CIA torture report. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t like it. Cheney insisted that waterboarding and other practices were not torture, and said of the events described in the report that he’d “do it again in a minute.” He meant he’d order someone he’d never met to do it again in a minute, but whatever. The important thing is that what Bush and Cheney told the CIA to do, which we’re just finding out about now in an alarming declassified report, was great for America and definitely not torture. I quote:
Torture is what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation.
And that, dear friends, is the subject of today’s Close Reading.