A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Little Writer

I need to develop a coherent philosophy of snark.

In the comments section of a recent post, I sort of made fun of expressivists by exhorting a friend from grad school to sing, "Kumbaya, Elbow, Kumbaya." I meant it to be ironic and self-depricating; I mean, who am I--and what have I contributed to composition--to be so flippant about one of our field's most important figures or the pedagogy that he has come to symbolize? But, on rereading, I fear that the comment is much more likely to be received as arrogant and self-satisfied. Ick.

Which is why I'm a little hesitant to register my complaint about this short piece in the latest New Yorker. After all, maybe I'm misreading it in the same way my comment could be misread. But I'm going to go ahead, trusting that anybody with a different interpretation will share it with me.

In "The Talk of the Town" section Jeffrey Goldberg reports that, on the heels of the Colbert disaster last year (what a beautiful thing it was to watch), the White House Correspondents' Association has chosen Rich Little to entertain this year's guests. Yet Goldberg's detached, reporterly perspective is really an ironic vehicle for portraying Little as a washed-up, pathetic old comic. While he might ultimately have his sights set on skewering the press for its continuing meekness in the face of the White House and hence for hiring someone they perceive as innocuous, his choice to run the skewer through Little seems to me unneccesarily cruel. Goldberg tells us, for example, that, "[w]hen asked to name a young comedian he admired, (Little) responded, 'Robin Williams. He’s just off the wall.'" Goldberg goes on to note that Little's "web site features a hundred and sixty-three impersonations including those of eight cartoon characters, three Muppets, and a hundred and fifteen people who are dead. These include Red Skelton, Broderick Crawford, Telly Savalas, and Maurice Chevalier."

It's not as if I'm against snark. If I were, I would have a coherent philosophy of it. I would be anti-snark. But there were times when I couldn't get enough of Le Blogue Bérubé (R.I.P.) knifing into Horowitz with surgeon-like control and precision, expertly retracting the thin layer of feigned sensibility (with a little "victim" thrown in) to reveal a rhetoric so corrupt and putrified that it almost literally stunk. But there are times when it just seems uncalled for, and this is, I think, one of those times. Horowitz, raving madman and weasel extraordinaire, is actively--and I might add successfully--spreading an insidious brand of lunacy across the U.S. Little tells jokes and does impersonations. That's not to say that humor can't have political teeth (see Colbert reference above). But, as far as I can tell, the closest Rich Little comes to political activism is the Ronald Reagan tribute on his website. He's hardly a menace, even to people like me who think Reagan was very, very bad for our country and the world.

If Little really is as old, pathetic, and washed-up as Goldberg apparently wants us to believe, then to target him for snark is to simply kick a guy because you can.



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