Friday, September 19, 2008

hideously off target

Reading the rest of DFW's astonishingly insightful and engaging Rolling Stone article written during the McCain 2000 campaign about the McCain 2000 campaign (which i highly recommend you read, as you probably won't find any published article about campaigning that's quite as penetrating and observant as this one, not to mention that it pretty much could have been written during this campaign season—though be warned it is fairly long) has got me thinking about campaign coverage. And listening to some campaign reporting on NPR this morning, i have to ask: why does it seem nearly all of the reporting about the presidential campaign eventually is distilled into a question of how a candidate's actions will affect the polls? That is, why are our news teams guessing at their audience how their audience will react to, for instance, Palin's husband's refusal to cooperate with a subpoena or the sniping back and forth between Obama and McCain about their economic plans or knowledge (or lack thereof)? Surely the audience doesn't need to be told by the media what the media thinks that the audience might be thinking when the audience knows what they themselves are actually thinking. (Which in my case is that neither Obama nor McCain have any idea how to solve the economic mess we're in, but then neither does anyone else really, as economics seems to be based almost entirely on guesses and half-proven theories; and also the McCain 2008 campaign's claim that Palin's husband's refusal to comply with subpoena is legit because the investigation has been politicized is a crock of shit because (a) it was a politicized investigation to begin with as it deals with an accusation of gubernatorial—i.e., political—corruption; (b) the claim by the McCain campaign that it's been politicized implies that the investigation itself has become corrupt and because the McCain 2008 campaign only exists in relation to the dems (as, obviously, you can't have a democracy with only one candidate), implying the investigation has become a tool of the democratic party to make Palin and by association McCain look bad, when in fact (as I was told by NPR's Morning Edition) the investigation was initiated by Republicans and is being carried out by an investigator with a reputation of imparitality; and (c) because of (b) the McCain campaign have further politicized the investigation by implying its now part of some vendetta by the democrats to make Palin look like a hypocrite, which she is anyway, and yet they somehow managed to make the democrats look bad through the implication of a tainted investigation when in fact the McCain campaign are the ones that have fucking politicized the investigation! It's outrageous. And very, very clever. I also wonder why it is that the McCain campaign is speaking on behalf of Palin's husband, when the specific issue of the husband's non-compliance is an in-state, non-campaign issue involving a person, as far as I can tell, not officially part of the campaign.) I wish our mainstream political coverage contained some actual observation and analysis of what's really going on and not the very bland recitation of poll numbers and hideously off target guessing.

Read the article.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More DFW

OK. So I've been reading more about DFW the last couple of days and I found out that he'd battled a 20-year long bout with depression. I also found out he did an interview with Terry Gross in 1997 in which he proved to be as articulate and neurotic as his writing made him appear. If anyone knows where I could stream the complete WHYY Fresh Air interview from 1997, please let me know.

Otherwise I've been reading his article about John McCain from the 2000 campaign trail (Rolling Stone, April 2000). Here are a couple of the more relevant passages I've come across so far:

Such is the enormous shuddering yawn that the Political Process evokes in us now, in this post-Watergate-post-Iran-Contra-post-Whitewater-post-Lewinsky era, an era when politicians' statements of principle or vision are understood as self-serving ad copy and judged not for their sincerity or ability to inspire but for their tactical shrewdness, their marketability. And no generation has been marketed and Spun and pitched to as ingeniously and relentlessly as today's demographic Young.So when Senator John McCain says, in Michigan or South Carolina (which is where Rolling Stone sent the least professional pencil it could find to spend the standard media Week on the Bus with a candidate who'd never ride higher than he is right now), when McCain says "I run for president not to Be Somebody, but to Do Something," it's hard to hear it as anything more than a marketing angle, especially when he says it as he's going around surrounded by cameras and reporters and cheering crowds... in other words, Being Somebody.

And when Senator John McCain also says—constantly, thumping it at the start and end of every speech and THM—that his goal as president will be "to inspire young Americans to devote themselves to causes greater than their own self-interest," it's hard not to hear it as just one more piece of the carefully scripted bullshit that presidential candidates hand us as they go about the self-interested business of trying to become the most powerful, important and talked-about human being on earth, which is of course their real "cause," to which they appear to be so deeply devoted that they can swallow and spew whole mountains of noble-sounding bullshit and convince even themselves that they mean it. Cynical as that may sound, polls show it's how most of us feel. And it's beyond not believing the bullshit; mostly we don't even hear it, dismiss it at the same deep level where we also block out billboards and Muzak.

but then:

[McCain] chose to spend four more years there, in a dark box, alone, tapping code on the walls to the others, rather than violate a Code. Maybe he was nuts. But the point is that with McCain it feels like we know, for a proven fact, that he's capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self-interest. So that when he says the line in speeches in early February you can feel like maybe it isn't just more candidate bullshit, that with this guy it's maybe the truth. Or maybe both the truth and bullshit: the guy does—did—want your vote, after all.


It's hard to get good answers to why Young Voters are so uninterested in politics. This is probably because it's next to impossible to get someone to think hard about why he's not interested in something. The boredom itself preempts inquiry; the fact of the feeling's enough. Surely one reason, though, is that politics is not cool. Or say rather that cool, interesting, alive people do not seem to be the ones who are drawn to the Political Process. Think back to the sort of kids in high school or college who were into running for student office: dweeby, overgroomed, obsequious to authority, ambitious in a sad way. Eager to play the Game. The kind of kids other kids would want to beat up if it didn't seem so pointless and dull. And now consider some of 2000's adult versions of these very same kids: Al Gore, best described by CNN sound tech Mark A. as "amazingly lifelike"; Steve Forbes, with his wet forehead and loony giggle; G.W. Bush's patrician smirk and mangled cant; even Clinton himself with his big red fake-friendly face and "I feel your pain." Men who aren't enough like human beings even to dislike—what one feels when they loom into view is just an overwhelming lack of interest, the sort of deep disengagement that is so often a defense against pain. Against sadness. In fact the likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians make us sad, hurt us in ways that are hard even to name, much less to talk about. It's way easier to roll your eyes and not give a shit. You probably don't want to hear about all this, even.

Dude was astute.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

DFW Hanged Himself (To Death).

I'm certainly not the number one fan in the DFW fan club, but I read a few of his essays, short stories, and even somehow managed to dig my way through Infinite Jest (in seven months). Some of it I found near impenetrable (so much pseudo-marketing lingo) and some of it wholly compelling. In both cases there was an undeniable sense of the amount of thought and effort that went into the writing. And there seems to be an urge to try and create some kind of homage to Wallace in eulogizing him—a desire to in some small way recreate the dynamism present in his works. While that may be admirable—trying to carry on the spirit of his writing—I'm not sure anyone could quite match DFW in the department of authorial vigor. And really, what is there to say anyway? It seems to me that the best way to remember him is to read the text that he put so much of his life into:

"Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of U.S. lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a nearly hanging-chad scale? For instance, did you know that some modern dictionaries are notoriously liberal and others notoriously conservative, and that certain conservative dictionaries were actually conceived and designed as corrective responses to the "corruption" and "permissiveness" of certain liberal dictionaries? That the oligarchic device of having a special "Distinguished Usage Panel ... of outstanding professional speakers and writers" is an attempted compromise between the forces of egalitarianism and traditionalism in English, but that most linguistic liberals dismiss the Usage Panel as mere sham-populism? Did you know that U.S. lexicography even had a seamy underbelly?"—DFW, from his essay "Tense Present" in Harper's April 2001 issue

Friday, September 05, 2008

Politico notes the media's sexist treatment of Palin. The last five (short) paragraphs pretty much sum up how I feel about it.

As for McCain's speech, I thought it was fairly uninspired. He really likes short declarative statements and showed he isn't so much a straight talker as a direct one. Three quarters of the speech seemed like it was written in sound-bite form: two or three sentences, a repetition of the last couple of words, and then wait for applause (e.g., "We'll attack—we'll attack the problem on every front. We'll produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells off-shore, and we'll drill them now. We'll drill them now."). The comparisons he made between himself and Obama were misleading and his multiple shout-outs to God, whether honest or not, just seemed like pandering to the Christian base. Otherwise his speech seemed remarkably sincere for a politician. And finally, I have to say the Republicans exploited the POW business to an excessive degree, which is just so totally like them. McCain did a great job getting our sympathy.