A few years ago, when frankly things looked better than they do now, we started using the word “declinism” to describe the feeling that society was getting worse. There’s already a word for that: pejorism, but it sucks. In addition to sounding like a Victorian disorder, it does not do the important job of implying some recent peak. Anyone can think things are getting worse. A person who believes society is in decline must also believe it had a golden age. To embrace declinism, then, is to endorse the past. It is a patriot’s complaint, which probably explains why it’s so popular among old people. Today is Friday, and if any condition of society can be said to be better or worse than any other, it follows that society is at any moment on an upward- or downward-tending line. Won’t you experience confusion and fear at the new rap names with me?
Here’s how a scandal works in 21st-century America. First, a series of women came forward to say that senate candidate and hairless southern cowboy Roy Moore tried to mess with them when they were teenagers. Then Sean Hannity said they were probably in it for the money, or Democrats. Then Keurig, maker of coffee machines for Air BnBs, stoped advertising on Hannity. This led certain conservatives to boycott Keurig, or do whatever the version of a boycott is where you have already bought the product and simply destroy it.
This is like when Martin Luther King bought thousands of Montgomery city bus passes and then burned them to protest racism. All funning aside, though, it’s a classic example of backlash to backlash. Hannity the conservative icon said something most people found disagreeable; a brand punished him for it, and that brand became an icon of people who find conservatism disagreeable. Enter the iconoclasts, because if contemporary conservatism is about anything, it’s about gleefully defying people who disagree with conservatism.
Maybe that’s why this video of a man throwing a Keurig off a balcony is packaged the way it is. “Liberals are offended by this video of a Keurig being thrown off a building,” young Colin Rugg says. “Please retweet to offend a liberal.” I question how many liberals would describe this video of a man dropping his coffee machine of a balcony as “offensive.” I’m no scientific pollster, but I think you’d get “baffling” and “badass” first. Rugg is sure these liberals have followed the Moore/Hannity/Keurig news as closely as he has, though, and this video has them twitching. He includes “politically incorrect” in his Twitter bio, so the idea that liberals are scandalized by what he does seems like an important component in his sense of himself.
That’s the thing about conservatism today: it feels so self-conscious. Maybe that’s just because we see it through the lens of social media, where everyone performs themselves. Yet lifestyle conservatives consciously identify with particular signifiers—guns, trucks, uniformed service, that goddamned frog—in ways that lifestyle liberals do not. Liberals may be known for their organic diets, effete childrearing, and fuel-efficeint cars, but that’s not how they think of themselves. These signifiers are ascribed to them from outside—not embraced as public expressions of their liberality, as things they do to drive the conservatives nuts. I guess what I’m saying is that liberals don’t have a persecution complex.
Maybe they do, and I don’t see it because their politics is closer to mine. But when was the last time you saw liberals defying conservatism by smashing things? They burned one limo in Washington, and they’re still fretting about it. I don’t see the analog to Keurig-destruction videos on the left. Maybe liberals aren’t doing that because they’re winning, and they feel no need to perform their defiance. Or maybe there’s something antisocial about contemporary conservatism.
When I started Combat! blog, it was a practice—a way to write make myself write every day at a time when my job didn’t demand it. When I made the transition to writing for a living, back in the innocent days of 2009, Combat! was a way to even out a feast-or-famine freelance schedule. Now my schedule is like that scene in the Simpsons where Homer gets force-fed donuts in hell. I love it, and it’s coming at me as fast as I can handle. There is no blog today, because I have to spend all day making money by wiggling my fingers. Don’t pity me. Don’t expect much free content for the next couple of weeks, either, because I am not going to get any less busy until the middle of October. The good news is that I’ll come back with new material about what it’s like to live in a solid gold house. Either that or I’ll spend it all on tubs of cookie dough for the boy’s PTA fundraiser. Further updates as events warrant.
We all know it’s Thursday and that I therefore have a column in the Indy, and I do. It’s about how the University of Montana’s decision to lay off 35 lecturers guarantees it will inflict the most damage to its instructional capacity for each dollar saved. Lecturers get paid less and teach more—in many cases four or five classes a year. Cutting them to keep paying senior professors six figures to teach one and one maximizes the classes lost for each dollar saved. Something I failed to emphasize in the column was that the university is constrained, in this decision, by collective bargaining agreements that require them to fire the least senior teachers first. That policy makes a lot of sense from a labor perspective, but it also forces the administration to lose the faculty that get paid the least and teach the most classes. The university estimates it will save $900,000 by firing these 33 lecturers, at a rate of $27,272 apiece. It so happens that the former president of the university, who was asked to step down after the 25% drop in enrollment that occasioned these cuts, now teaches two chemistry classes a year in exchange for a salary of $117,000. You can read all about it here.
But shit man, wouldn’t you rather read about Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure? Pee-Wee isn’t just a reason to give money to Paul Rust. It’s also a touchstone of our eighties childhoods, which is weird because—even though Paul Rust is great—the Pee-Wee character kind of sucks. He has stopped amusing the modern viewer but remains hilarious to himself. This sense of disaster in the opening sequences makes the film all the more endearing in the end, though. Pee-Wee was never the point. The point was the act of making Pee-Wee: Paul Reuben’s insanely committed performance, a series of confidently campy choices from Tim Burton in his feature debut, the anarchic central character whothat has become utterly tedious and alienating, because he influenced our culture so much. Anyway, you can read even more of my incoherent speculation of Pee-Wee Herman in this essay, also in the Indy.
But why lose yourself in fantasy when real and hilarious shenanigans are happening right here in actual life? Missoulians who have not blocked me on Facebook may remember Wes Spiker from this guest column in The Missoulian, in which he condemns the soft treatment given to bicyclists and transients but praises the mayoral candidacy of Lisa Tripke. “Wes Spiker has been a Missoula city resident and property owner since October 1981, and a business owner since August 1983,” the bio lines say. They do not specify that his business, Spiker Communications, is also a paid vendor to the mayoral campaign of the aforesaid Lisa Tripke. Of the $12,000-plus in contributions the Tripke campaign has raised by July, per near $11,000 was paid to Spiker Communications. It kind of seems like they’re running their campaign, but Spiker assures Derek Brouwer that he doesn’t do campaign strategy:
In fact, media inquiries to the Triepke campaign are routed through a Spiker email address, and the agency sent out two campaign press releases in August. Asked if his firm is paid for consulting services, such as campaign strategy, Spiker initially replied, “Oh, God, no. No, no, not at all.” The Indy later requested to review campaign invoices. Spiker declined to provide copies, but did email a list of services the firm has billed Triepke for, including “campaign strategy.”
You’ve got to read that, right? The Indy rules. Missoula also rules, insofar as it is crookeder than a dog’s hind leg, but no one seems to be very good at hiding anything. We’re lucky to live here. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.
Stubble sent me this video examining the comedic genius of Norm Macdonald, which is a good thing because I am burnt the fudge out. Consider this your Friday link. In its consideration of the moth joke and why Macdonald is not an anti-comic, it touches on some of the same themes as our discussion of the moth joke. Another element of Macdonald’s career that the video points out, though, is how successfully he presented smart material within the persona of an idiot rube. Some of it is the voice. But a lot of it is the way Macdonald manages to cover complex structures in a veneer of meandering confusion. He is doing something very specific and precise, even as he manages to make it seem like he is making it up and/or forgetting it as he goes along. In my opinion, this skill puts him in the tradition of Mark Twain and other humorists who developed the stock character of the wise hick. I don’t know if you noticed this, but I’m super into Norm Macdonald. Also I made a big deadline today, and I feel A) tired and B) good. I’ll see you guys on Monday.