Combat! Junior Crimestopper Ben Fowlkes recently pointed out that, while the rest of us were fixated on ice cubes and Sarah Palin,* Glenn Beck was “shucking and jiving without consequence.” Ben sent me this clip, which he presumably saw while watching TV in the day room:
I love shopping online; it’s fast, it’s convenient, and my anxiety disorder makes any trip to an actual store a crippling ordeal. However, because my obsessive-compulsive disorder forces me to pick up a product and look at it from all angles before buying it, turning it over and over in my hands while staring mutely for several minutes, internet purchases entail for me a certain element of risk. Descriptions are of little value, since virtually every product of our post-consumer economy is described as “revolutionary.” Fortunately, I have access to the only genuinely revolutionary product of the internet shopping age: the user review.
It was with this luxury at our disposal that my brother and I went shopping on the internet for ice cube trays. The ice cube trays currently in my brother’s house—where I live, it should be pointed out, completely rent-free in a very nice neighborhood of Washington DC, with essentially unlimited access to air conditioning and high-fiber cereals—are fucking terrible. They were made by the Ikea corporation, and are heart-shaped and Kit Kat-shaped, respectively. The heart ice cubes are never used, because their combination of points, crevices and rigidity make them impossible to remove from the tray. They will be used as samples of Washington, DC drinking water by anthropologists centuries into the future. The Kit Kat ice cubes are slightly better, but they are designed in such a way as to maximize surface area, which also makes them difficult to remove from a tray that, for added inconvenience, features grooves narrower than the spaces between the bars on the freezer rack. Fifty percent of the time, when you refill the Kit Kat tray and put it back in the freezer, one end of it slips down through the rack, coating the frozen food below with water. This is unacceptable.
So we went on Amazon and typed “ice cube tray,” which yielded fifty results. Fortunately, people all across America have taken the time, after their internet-purchased ice cube trays arrive in the mail, to use them for a few months and then—this is amazing—go back on Amazon and rate them using a star system. Those ratings reflect a stunning diversity of quality in the field of ice cube tray manufactury. For example, the innocuously-named TRAY ICE CUBE 2-PK, a product of the Rubbermaid corporation, gets two stars. In her review—“somewhat stylish design, but lacking in execution”—Erin Lynn Barr of Victorville, California says:
I liked the look of these trays and got two sets at my local
walmart (or somewhere… I don’t remember now) I have
had these for years. The problems with these are as
They do not create equal sized or shaped cubes.
The cubes are difficult to get out.
Some cubes come out, while others are stuck in the tray.
I used these to freeze homemade baby food (sweet
potatoes) and while twisting unsuccessfully, the tray
handle cracked, and still no cubes came out.
Other than that, it makes ice. You can’t expect more from
an ice cube tray, but this frustrated me, so I thought I’d
In addition to inadvertently writing a haiku, Erin Lynn Barr saved us from making a terrible mistake. Despite the attitude of suicidal quietism embodied in her assertion that “you can’t expect more from an ice cube tray,” you definitely can. Check out the 2867–RD–WHT White Ice Cube Tray, also by Rubbermaid, which gets four and a half stars in 24 glowing reviews, like this one:
It may seem strange to rave about ice cube trays, but I
have too much experience slamming my old plastic trays
on the countertop to loosen the cubes, causing crack that
leaked water onto my freezer after I tried to fill them.
These trays release the cubes very easily. One less source
of daily frustration.
That’s from Rob T, who claims he is from Los Angeles, CA but clearly leaves in a Raymond Carver story. His review is titled, “Absolutely amazing,” an outpouring of wonderment contextualized somewhat by the title of the preceding review, “Ice Cube Tray.” Mike and I bought that one, which based on its picture was a white plastic tray divided into several small compartments shaped like cubes. It cost six dollars, which is probably insane.
To borrow a phrase from Richard Nixon, you won’t have Sarah Palin to vindictively masturbate to anymore. The nation’s youngest Republican left her post as governor of Alaska yesterday, but first she delivered a speech to her assembled well-wishers at the resignation picnic. The picnic was mandated by the Alaska constitution, and the content of Palin’s remarks was mandated by what is rapidly becoming the sole unifying element of the contemporary Republican party: populism.
Webster’s Dictionary defines populism as “food poisoning caused by a bacterium growing on improperly sterilized canned meats and other preserved foods.”* Historically, the adjective “populist” has also been applied to political movements seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people. Like a lot of -ism words, though, populism has enjoyed great flexibility of meaning since more people started acquiring/forgetting liberal arts educations, and now “populist” is applied to most any rhetorician who holds the wisdom of the common people supreme.
Enter Sarah Palin.* Her farewell speech was a study in old-fashioned populist rhetoric, during which she praised the patriotic, hardy residents of Fairbanks and set up a series of oppositions between the common person and venal elites: Washington politicians, members of the media, and Hollywood actors who make movies that try to take away your guns.* She didn’t confine her populism to the American ruralist strain, either; Palin also brought in some Germany-in-the-thirties-style militarist populism. Addressing the media, she said that freedom of the press is “a cornerstone of our democracy—and that’s why our troops are willing to die for you. So how about in honor of the American solider you quit making things up?”*
In trope after trope, Palin constructed two Americas: one powerful, deceptive and hell-bent on “tearing our nation down,” the other simple, hard-working and/or dead, and above all proudly convinced that these are salad days. This insistence that everything is super is Palin’s first sharp departure from traditional populism. The most famous American populist movement—the one that actually spawned a Populist Party—emerged in response to the brutal farm economy of the late nineteenth century. By the 1890s, the Populist platform was a full-blown critique—one that railed against an America run by banks, exploiting its laborers, neglecting its farmers and reeling under a full-blown depression. American populists were the “pessimists” Palin decried on Sunday, shouting to be heard over callous governors and senators confident that America was strong.
So Palin’s call for the common man to join together in approving of stuff is one historical incongruity. The second, and more frightening, is in her actual political message. Populism has always been concerned with the interests of the common people to who it speaks; it is a movement of the poor, the uneducated and the disenfranchised, which is why it always tended to get its ass whipped in presidential elections. Palin’s aw-shucks demeanor is certainly a cipher for the rural lower class, but the actual policies she’s urging them to accept—small government, reduced taxes on businesses, deregulation of industry, and refusal of government welfare—is the down-the-pike agenda of the rich. In another political climate, she would be a fake. In this one—at least to hear her enemies in the national new media tell it—people love her authenticity.
It is this profound disconnect between her rhetoric and her message that disqualify Sarah Palin from actual populism. She is a populist speechmaker, for sure, but the policies she urges on her audience are standard upper-class conservatism. There’s a term for someone who employs populist rhetoric in the dogged pursuit of an anti-populist agenda: a demagogue. Historically, demagogues have emerged at times of great discrepancy between the upper and lower classes, when the interests of the rich and the ignorance of the poor become sufficiently massive as to constitute a voting bloc. Those of us who are neither rich nor dumb have no place in Sarah Palin’s America, or in the rhetoric of the contemporary GOP. We are the middle on the outside, not real Americans but the imagined elite whose pessimism is tearing everything down. And gosh darn it, folks, aren’t we just too dang smart to get it?