Friday links! A powerful misanthropy edition

"The Misanthrope" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568

“The Misanthrope” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568

A powerful misanthropy came over me last week, and I wanted to do justice. It came over me in the street. I was walking up Higgins Avenue toward the Pie Hole, where I might nervously eat pizza before the comedy show. A drunk man leaned in the doorway of an empty storefront. I passed him at the same time a woman in business casual negotiated the space between us.

“Hey,” he said to her, “can I ask you a question?”

“Nope,” she said and kept walking.

“Well I already did, so ha ha, bitch!” he shouted after her.

I turned and told him not to fuck with women on the street. I did so loudly, in the voice I use to command strange dogs. I walked toward him in a game fashion. As soon as he started to speak, I repeated myself.

“Don’t fuck with women on the street,” I said. We were close now. He stepped back and said all right, all right. I turned and walked away, feeling tall and jumpy.

“Jesus,” he said, “call the cops or something.”

I turned and walked back to him, swiftly. He put his palms up and shrank into the doorway.

“Don’t hit me,” he said.

Reader, I realized what a heel I am. I had been feeling pretty good to that point, expressing my values through bystander intervention and all. I had never thought to hit him. I only thought, I realized, to correct him publicly, before my god and that woman. I wanted to be good: the kind of good that bosses up on a drunk. Today is Friday, and it’s a fine line between bullying and justice done. Won’t you stand athwart it with me?

First the good news: none of the Trump supporters interviewed in this New York Times story is actually going to arm himself and take to the streets when Hillary Clinton wins the election. The bad news is they want to talk about it. Here’s Paul Swick, 42, who volunteered that he owns “north of 30 guns” before telling the paper of record:

If she comes after the guns, it’s going to be a rough, bumpy road. I hope to God I never have to fire a round, but I won’t hesitate to. As a Christian, I want reformation. But sometimes reformation comes through bloodshed.

Let us not forget the Christ of the Gospels, who calls us to occasional bloodshed. Swick is one of the youngest Trump supporters in this article to call for violence if their guy doesn’t win. Most are older than 50. They would be among the first preyed upon in an armed insurrection, which makes such an outcome perversely appealing. Never is our sense of justice so corrupted as when the weak call for might to make right.

Not that the other side is much more likable. When Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman” at the third debate, you knew they were going to run with it. Sure enough, goys with brackets around their names flooded Twitter with declarations of their own nastiness, and the t-shirts followed. It was the “deplorables” cycle in mirror image. Over at The Baffler, your boy Sam Kriss identitifies a kind of Marxian overproduction in the marketplace of ideas:

American politics is one vast crisis of semiotic overproduction: too much meaning is produced in any one moment for anyone to possibly consume, too many talking points, too many sober interpretations of outbursts and body language. The exchange-value of scandals and slogans is continually worn down; the rate of profit falls.

I don’t care for Marxism as a totalizing theory, but I love it as an analog for meaning-making. You could argue that the modern, post-religious economy of meaning creates demand much as the industrial-capitalist markets Marx despised, but doing so would drive away the last two readers of this blog. Anyway, Kriss is my new favorite pessimist. Michele Houellebecq will stay on as pessimist emeritus.

It’s hard to argue things are getting better just now, and you know what the gym bros say: if you’re not gaining, you’re losing. Twitter drove a stake through the heart of the Harlem Shake industry yesterday when it announced that it would shut down Vine during the next few months. What’s Vine, you say? It’s a platform for sharing six-second, looping videos that everybody knows about unless they happen to not work in video production. Here’s my favorite:

Remember the Cleese Principle: Comedy is not watching someone do something funny; it’s watching someone watch someone do something funny. That poor little girl makes this video. Don’t feel bad for her. I’m sure she’ll grow up to do something awful.

That’s the second-worst thing that can happen to you, after growing up to do something mediocre. Did you know The Borowitz Report generates 6% of the traffic at At the Ringer, Rob Harvilla wonders how much of that traffic comes from social media users who mistake his tepid dry gentle satire for news. He recapitulates the accusation of John Herrman, who wrote in the Awl:

When you publish a fake headline that sounds almost real, place it on top of satire that’s soft enough to skim without really reading, give it a URL, and promote it on Facebook, where basically every headline sounds like satire now, you know what you’re really doing.

Unlike Herrman’s excoriation, though, Harvilla’s piece captures Borowitz’s essential niceness. He insists he’s not trying to trick people, and if he were, it would be out of step with everything I understand about him by reputation and interaction. He’s just very funny to a lot of people and unfunny—perhaps anti-funny—to some. Bad satire is bad, but would it be good to stop it?

Yes. Okay, it might not be good, but it would feel good. It would feel good to stop everything, everybody. Fortunately, in moments like this, Killer Mike is there to give voice to our unspeakable urges.

Combat! blog is free. Why not share it?
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Reddit


  1. Borowitz is just awful. I read The New Yorker almost every day and post-D-Barthelme I can’t recall *anything* that was ever genuinely funny over there. Fortunately we have Combat! just a click away…
    Good to hear you’ve still got your Bushwick style.

Leave a Comment.