Friday links! Power of speech edition

Humans are the only animal with the power of speech. That’s probably good, since you don’t want the dog following you around saying hey, are you hungry? all day. It’s also not really true; lots of animals communicate with sound, from birds to monkeys to weirdo meerkats. But man is the animal whose speech moves through time. We talk not just about whether we see a big snake but also about the time we saw it, about what it means that things were once one way they were and how they should be in the future. The meerkat has little idea of should. Talking is rad, is what I’m saying here, even when other people do it. Today is Friday, I have a brand new bite plate and attendant speech impediment, and I’ve also got some bang-on links re: the power of speech. Won’t you stare silently at a screen with me?

Surely everyone knows by now that Andrew Breitbart has died. No word yet on whether welfare recipients did it, but David Frum has written a fantastic…well, I wouldn’t call it an obituary, exactly. It’s more a meditation on the problem of speaking truthfully of the dead, along with the problem of Breitbart himself. Frum credits Breitbart with inventing “a new kind of culture war”—one distinguished not by its theater but by its tactics. As a journalist willing to actively mislead his readers if it made a good story about one of his enemies, Breitbart seemed strangely of-his-time. As Frum puts it:

We live in a time of political and media demagoguery unparalleled since the 19th century. Many of our most important public figures have gained their influence and power by inciting and exploiting the ugliest of passions—by manipulating fears and prejudices—by serving up falsehoods as reported truth. In time these figures will one by one die. What are we to say of this cohort, this group, this generation? That their mothers loved them?

Our fathers, viler than our grandfathers… Horace begins. The appeal of declinism is overwhelming, especially when one considers that dynasties really do crumble, just as they undeniably grow, and therefore some point must exist where they stop one and start the other. For the Indiana Pacers, that point was a single night—possibly a single step into the stands taken by Ron Artest. Jonathan Abrams’s oral history of the brawl that came to be known as the Malice in the Palace—when the rhyming headline has been lost to history, sportswriters will still mumble them in their sleep—is a fascinating study in group mentality. It is also a weirdly touching glimpse of Artest, whose team seemed to regard him with the same mixture of affection and dread given to Lenny in Of Mice and Men.

Back when I used to regularly explain that novella to wealthy high school students, I would get text messages whose terminal words were bafflingly elongaaateddddd. It turns out the senders were trying to render vocal fry, a linguistic trend among young women described in this alternately fascinating and infuriating New York Times article. As usual when the Times describes a trend, you get the feeling this one might not actually exist. Then you watch this video. Exactly what vocal fry does besides buy time is unclear. Probably, like uptalk, it mitigates the oddly aggressive phenomenon that is saying something and then not talking anymore. As any salesman will tell you, you only sound like an asshole when you stop.

We rightly fear the prospect of the state compelling silence, but it is more terrifying when it compels speech. I absolutely disagree with the Cincinnati court that has ordered a man to apologize to his ex-wife on Facebook or go to jail. Mark Byron, who is classy, used his Facebook status to opine that if you are “an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life,” a good way to take his son away is to say you feel threatened by him. Byron is a dick, but his status did not address his wife directly, and she is blocked from reading his Facebook page anyway. That seems like it would complicate his apology, which he must post every day no later than 9am for a month. Nothing says sincerity in an apology like a court order.

Stick with the following video from the Fully Sick Rapper, a man who at that time had spent 55 days in quarantine. It gets better as it goes along, and so does the premise. I am certain that I would be much less productive and more ill-natured after a similar period of time—hell, I spent four days at home with a sore mouth, and I came out a dick. Granted, I kind of went in that way, too. Also, kids can make their own “viral video” pun here.


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  1. I do like Taylor Mali, and it so happens that I have known him for about ten years. I used to do the Urbana slam pretty regularly. As for Mr. Byron, I spoke from a position of uninformed speculation re: his dicketry.

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