Combat! blog has tended inexorably toward politics during the last year, since that is where the worst habits of the age are inflated to grotesques. In our fixation on all things governmental, it’s easy to forget that politics is only one subset of a larger world, and a subset whose lineaments exist only in our understanding, at that. In fact, politics and popular culture and bears and ethnomusicology are all names we have given to elements of one seamless, coherent whole, and that whole is just as stupid and baffling as everything else, which is nothing. This Friday’s linktacular is largely about popular culture, and if you think politics are dispiriting, have a look at those portions of society run by people who are too lazy to keep up with politics. It’s Friday; the week is almost end; up is down; wrong is right and things that should make us angry give us strange pleasure. Unbuckle your seat belt and rest your teeth gently on the dashboard, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The good news about the roiling pot of oversteamed irrelevance that we call a national discourse is that there is pretty much always, through sheer mathematical imperative, one news story going on that is completely hilarious. For the last week it has been Sarah Palin’s and Rush Limbaugh’s public argument over the words “retard” and “retarded.” As is usually the case when a news story centers on something you’re glad the president didn’t do, this one originated with Rahm Emanuel. Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran this news analysis piece about liberal resentment of the chief of staff, including the revelation that, back in August, he dismissed a plan to run attack ads against senators opposing health care as “fucking retarded.” First of all, I sincerely want to believe that if you come to Rahm Emanuel with some idea that turns out not to be so great, he will immediately call you retarded and send you back to your desk. Second of all, everyone can stop accusing the WSJ of conservative bias, because the chief of staff saying “retarded” in a private meeting six months ago has turned out to be hot news. In a Facebook post titled “Are You Capable of Decency, Rahm Emanuel?” Sarah Palin called on the president to fire his chief of staff, saying that “Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities—and the people who love them—is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.” By “God’s children,” she was generally interpreted to mean her own personal child, who—I don’t know if you’ve heard this—has Down syndrome.
It’s Friday, and that means it’s time to fit the irregular detritus of the week into a taught chain of causal, um, links. The problem with contemporary life—if I can just jump right into it here—is that it’s increasingly non-narrative. Ever since the basic unit of work went from stalking a mastodon over the frozen plains for two weeks to franking insurance forms in a cubicle for eight hours, human life has become more and more episodic. That’s great for creating a mood but bad for developing character, to put it in workshop terms. Maybe that’s why the character of our nation has been so moody lately, with alternating factions declaring crisis amid recovery, victory in stalemate, strategem in disaster and vice versa, pretty much anew every morning. There must be a narrative in there somewhere, since yesterday will definitely not be happening again today, but sometimes the story seems hard to follow. Maybe we’re just looking at another week’s episode in the long-running melodrama of stupidity versus sense. Maybe stupidity has won, and the rest of the performance will be a puppet show, with shrieking socks debating each other in the same idiot’s voice. The fact of the matter is that not everything happens according to some plan, and our best evidence for destiny is still assembled in retrospect. This week, retrospect reveals only a startling refusal to cohere. As you move from the structure of your workweek to the short-form improvisations of the weekend, consider Camus’s assertion that meaning is only something we make for ourselves, and therefore so is meaninglessness. It is the edge between our desperate understandings and an indifferent universe where stories are made, and it’s the friction in the joint that gives them heat. It’s a cold morning in the Combat! blog offices, so let’s get a little fire going, huh?
It’s been a bonanza week for news commentators, with earthquakes, tell-all books, people saying “negro” two years ago—everything that makes a vibrant political discourse thrive. The big news, though, was that a certain someone jumped from national electoral politics to the big show: cable news commentating. When Bill O’Reilly welcomed Sarah Palin to Fox News, he told her that she had acquired a powerful tool, a bigger megaphone that she could at last use to shout back at her critics. The implication was that being a Fox commentator was a position of greater power than being governor of Alaska. And was he wrong? Sarah Palin is more popular now than she was when she had the full might of the Republican Party behind her. Rush Limbaugh has outlasted the Contract With America, three Presidents and presumably dozens of minor coronaries. And Glenn Beck can’t think. Powerful men all, and it’s hard to argue that they wield less influence over the American people than do Pelosi, Boehner and Reid. Perhaps that is as it should be. I, for one, welcome our new and increasingly bloated masters, and urge them to form a new government of Real Americans and questionable analogies to Hitler just as soon as they can. Won’t you join me in considering the beautiful world they’re creating? No? Okay, back to cat videos, then. I’ll see the rest of you after the jump.