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Revision 23 / Serial number 8940726
You are standing in an open field west of a white apartment complex, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.
> go home
You turn to your left and find yourself at an airport. The line of weary parents and unsupervised children snakes around the airport twice.
> stand line
You find the first available line and deposit yourself and your luggage at the end of it. In front of you is a college student of indeterminate age with suspect hygiene. To your right is an incontinent child.
You are unable to ignore the stale sweat with its hints of Adderall and vodka. The child to your right is making a face.
> stop face
You grab the child by the face. Its father lunges at you. He is carrying the child, a camera case, a man-purse, a laptop bag, a carry-on, three large suitcases, his wife’s hat and two pairs of sunglasses.
> fuck him
Are you sure you want to do that here?
> fine punch dad
You strike the father in the face and make contact with one pair of sunglasses, a camera case, a carry-on, one large suitcase and his wife’s hat. The child resumes making a face.
> stop face
You grab the child by the face. Its mother lunges at you. She is carrying a copy of 50 Shades of Grey, a lady-purse, a child’s car-seat and a pet-carrier containing a small yapping animal.
> kick mom
You kick the mother in her lady-purse. She throws 50 Shades of Grey at your head but it strikes the unkempt college student in his. As he turns around she drops the pet-carrier and looses the small yapping animal. The family chases after it as screams of “Rat! Rat!” echo through the terminal.
> cut in line
You occupy the place vacated by the family. A few of your fellows-in-line shoot you disapproving looks but they are too demoralized to care. Five hours later you reach the ticket counter and receive your boarding pass.
> bout fucking time
There is no one here for you to fuck. You walk to your gate and await the initiation of boarding procedures. Hours pass. Centuries. Kingdoms rise and fall. Great men are born and die alone on sodden streets. Women are elected to offices higher and highest. Hot coffee spills from your tilted cup onto your most sensitive parts.
> GET IT OFF
The coffee has soaked through your boxers and threatens to weld them to your skin. Your favorite bits will never work again.
> JUST A DREAM
This is no dream.
> JUST A DREAM
You are wide awake and in unimaginable pain. You begin to imagine life a life without–
> AM DREAMING AND CAN NARRATE OWN LIFE. PRECIOUS BITS ARE FINE. COMPUTER LIES.
You begin to imagine life with–
> GRUE! AM LIKELY TO BE EATEN BY GRUE!
> YES PLEASE GRUE PLEASE NOW!
Because its jaws are fearsome and it loves coffee …
Author Page for SEK
The conservatives currently hounding Erik clearly never read this post. If they had, they’d realize that there’s a difference between a gun control advocate saying someone needs to be shot and a gun rights advocate doing the same. Rhetoric is only “violent” when its intent is encourage violent acts to a receptive audience. Putting the head of a President on a pike in a television show that appeals to violent barbarians is one thing — being a labor historian who “demands” the head of a paramilitary organization “on a stick” is another entirely. Not a single member of Erik’s Twitter audience took his tweet as an incitement to violence. The same couldn’t be said, for example, if Wayne LaPierre had tweeted the very same thing about someone trying to take away his right to bear fully automatic weapons with extended magazines. Why?
Because LaPierre’s audience includes heavily armed people prone to violence, whereas Erik’s consists of pacifistic homosexual tree-huggers.*
The long and short of it is simple: if you come upon a discussion of rhetoric in which people completely ignore the issue of audience, don’t take them seriously because they’re not making a rhetorical argument.
*I must add that I’m impressed: Erik got someone to read his dissertation. That kind of suckering is Internet Tradition-worthy if ever anything was.
The comment of the day goes to Sly:
So I’m a teacher. According to conservative orthodoxy, I’m a parasite on the public’s dime who is only interested in indoctrinating the precious children of America into communism or atheism or whatever. I can’t be trusted to have any control over the curriculum I teach. I can’t be trusted to fairly and impartially evaluate my students, let alone my colleagues. I can’t be trusted to have collective bargaining rights. I can’t be trusted to have an objective view of governmental policy when it comes to my own profession.
But they’ll trust me to keep a gun in a room filled with children.
Even the cynicism-producing neurons of my prefrontal cortex can’t wrap themselves around this kind of stupid bullshit.
The phrase “you don’t think something like that would happen here” is always uttered by white reporters about mass shootings in white neighborhoods, and the implication is that “you” would “think” something like that would happen black or brown people in the inner city.
Only it never happens to black or brown people in the inner city. It’s always a white person in a white neighborhood.
SEK: What you have here is a solid B+ paper. You need to elevate your diction if you want to convince me that this is an A.
STUDENT: So I need to sound more academic?
STUDENT: So I need to predicate the logic of my arguments on rhetorical substance of the visual nature of the dynamic?
SEK: Come again?
STUDENT: If I accentuate the propositional strength of my argumentative units —
SEK: What are you doing?
STUDENT: Convincing you to give me an A?
SEK: Don’t be that guy.
According to Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball is the best album released this year. Why? Because of lyrics like:
Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bill.
It’s still fat and easy up on banker’s hill.
They “rage at corporate oligarchy and economic injustice,” things at which I’m raging too, so I completely understand why Rolling Stone would think they’re good: it agrees with them. There’s only one problem: they’re not. The state of political rhetoric is such that feeble statements of solidarity pass for insight. We’ve traded genius for blandished agreement, resulting in a situation in which we praise people for writing:
There ain’t no help.
The cavalry stayed home.
I wouldn’t be complaining were it not for the fact that, of all people, it’s Springsteen they’re praising for rehashing tired polemic. Because part of the reason I’m lefter than I’ve any right to be is that this same Springsteen fellow once made me feel the anger and hopelessness to which he only here alludes. If you’ve never seen the debut performance of “The River,” do yourself a favor and do so right now. I can wait.
Granted, “The River” isn’t an explicitly political song–it’s decidedly lacking in policy statements–but it’s a far more compelling vision of what lives are like “on account of the economy” than the broadsides found on Wrecking Ball. Let’s start with the titular and abiding image: a river. What are rivers like? To trade one bard for another, here’s John McPhee on the Mississippi in his “Atchafalaya“:
Southern Louisiana exists in its present form because the Mississippi River has jumped here and there within an arc about two hundred miles wide, like a pianist playing with one hand—frequently and radically changing course, surging over the left or the right bank to go off in utterly new directions. Always it is the river’s purpose to get to the Gulf by the shortest and steepest gradient. As the mouth advances southward and the river lengthens, the gradient declines, the current slows, and sediment builds up the bed. Eventually, it builds up so much that the river spills to one side. Major shifts of that nature have tended to occur roughly once a millennium. The Mississippi’s main channel of three thousand years ago is now the quiet water of Bayou Teche, which mimics the shape of the Mississippi. Along Bayou Teche, on the high ground of ancient natural levees, are Jeanerette, Breaux Bridge, Broussard, Olivier—arcuate strings of Cajun towns. Eight hundred years before the birth of Christ, the channel was captured from the east. It shifted abruptly and flowed in that direction for about a thousand years. In the second century a.d., it was captured again, and taken south, by the now unprepossessing Bayou Lafourche, which, by the year 1000, was losing its hegemony to the river’s present course, through the region that would be known as Plaquemines. By the nineteen-fifties, the Mississippi River had advanced so far past New Orleans and out into the Gulf that it was about to shift again, and its offspring Atchafalaya was ready to receive it.
The point being that rivers are forces of nature that even the Army Corps of Engineers can only control until the occasional Katrina. Going “down to the river,” as Springsteen’s narrator and compatriots do, is the contemporary equivalent of worshiping a mountain on account of its orogeny. It’s there and demands homage and besides where else are you going to go when that thing is there? The song begins with an idyllic, if limited, vision of life in America:
I know I’m supposed to be covering the conservative insanity beat, but I’m not sure I can do it anymore. I just don’t know what to do with arguments like Jeannie DeAngelis’s, in which she claims that:
- “Gangnam Style,” which all the kids are doing, is dumb because the kids are doing it
- Obama won the election in 2008 because all the kids were doing “Obama Style,” which is dumb, because the kids were doing it
- The man responsible for “Gangnam Style” wrote terrible things about America that the kids didn’t know about then, but should have, but didn’t, because they were dumb and hate America, which is why they fell for “Obama Style,” which has nothing to do with anything because DeAngelis just made it up
- Except that “Gangnam Style” is a horse-dance, which looks like exercise, which could be called “Michelle Obama Style,” which would be an “Obama Style”
- Moreover, horse-dances are associated with the wealthy, which is bad because it is, never mind who was atop the Republican ticket a little over a month ago
- Also, “Gangnam Style” makes money for the man who wrote terrible things about America, which isn’t capitalist initiative in a global market because that’s not the point, he made money
- And he did it in America, with “Gangnam Style,” which is popular with the kids, who are doing it, because it is dumb, and so are they
At this point, I feel like most conservative writers have resorted to digging out their old Culture War Mad Libs and “spicing it up” with topical subjects like “exercise is good” and “Obama isn’t.” It’s disheartening.
CAT limps meekly up to SEK, who is sitting at his desk grading.
CAT: Legs no work.
SEK: You don’t say.
CAT: Wrestled packing tape.
SEK: I can see that.
SEK: Not sure about that.
SEK: Fine, let me just pull that off–
CAT produces a noise unheard on Earth outside of H.P. Lovecraft’s nightmares. POLICE are likely to arrive soon. CAT also now sports hilarious bald spots.
SEK spies an OLD LADY being crushed by the Christmas tree she’s trying to remove from the roof of her car.
SEK: Do you need some help with that?
OLD LADY: Yes, some would be nice.
SEK: Let me take that.
SEK accepts far more weight than this tiny muscles can bear but whatever.
OLD LADY: Thank you. It’s good to know someone has the Christmas spirit.
SEK: I’m not a—
OLD LADY: You have the spirit, whatever you are.
SEK: (well-nigh collapsing) I’m not anything.
OLD LADY: Everyone is something.
OLD LADY: Everyone.
SEK: So I get to choose?
OLD LADY: Everyone gets to choose.
SEK: Then I’m Batman.
OLD LADY: Excuse me?
SEK: If I get to choose, I’m Batman.
Earlier in the quarter, I introduced my students to the anything-that’s-longer-than-it-is-wide mode of psychoanalytic criticism. Not very sophisticated, I know, but it helps explain the historical context of certain rhetorical tropes.* Given that this class is based on Game of Thrones, the discussion inevitably landed on the subject of swords as phallic symbols, and I noted that while there’s nothing necessary or natural about that connection, it is one of long-standing and therefore might have influenced how George R.R. Martin employed them in his narrative. Which the students took to mean “SWORDS EQUAL PENISES,” a not altogether unfortunate development given how the Arya and Needle string undermines conventional gender assumptions. It did, however, make teaching the ninth episode, “Baelor,” a little difficult. The episode opens with Lord Commander Mormont gifting a sword, Longclaw, meant for his son, Jorah Mormont, to Jon Snow. Snow proceeds down the stairs and is immediately accosted by his Wall-fellows:
Keeping in mind what my students think swords equal, consider the eyeline match in this shot. Not explicit enough? Fine:
That man seems a little too excited to see Jon’s sword.
Money is racist [NOTE: This counts as my version of the apparently mandated Wednesday Lincoln post.]
Mine is, at least. The woman at the toll booth said she couldn’t accept it because it’s been “defaced.” Now, it’s racist, obviously, but it clearly hasn’t been defaced so much as refaced:
Of course, I received this unacceptable bill at the previous toll booth. Money that Jeff Goldstein didn’t de- or reface can be found here. I’m particularly fond of this envisioning of Andrew Jackson:
Seems like a natural fit.