Friday, August 20, 2004

LIFE AMONG THE LIBERALS. For some time I've been a connoisseur of right-wing "life among the liberals" narratives. These wish-fulfillment pieces, typically showing a stalwart conservative (always the author) easily rebutting a bunch of liberal hippies out of old Mannix episodes, are as formally distinctive as Roman colloquys or medieval morality plays: neither the godlike central figures nor their moronic interlocutors have any discernible character traits, and all the pleasure comes from childlike caricatures of opposing thought.

I do what I can to spread awareness of these lulus, so that some future archaeologist may have a less cold trail to follow to these clear indicators of this parlous phase of our once-great civilization. "Behold!" he will say, "They had a highly developed dramaturgy, yet millions preferred these crude Punch-and-Judy shows -- and all for politics! No wonder the assholes got wiped out."

A few months back I discovered one Alan Bromley at OpinionJournal, and recognized him as a master of the form. Well, he's back at it again, and his latest, "No Holiday from Hate," is a peach. One day I expect I will teach a class on propaganda techniques, and "No Holiday from Hate" will be one of the seminal texts.

Bromley is on holiday, sitting on a porch with his family in Cape May, N.J. (Though his characters are mere cyphers, Bromley is always very specific with town names, perhaps from awareness that localities cannot sue for slander.)
One day, sitting next to a couple from Philadelphia, I was asked what I thought about the Democratic Convention and who would win the election. Being in a state between relaxation and boredom, I wasn't sure if I wanted to enter this discussion, so I replied by asking them what they thought the biggest issue was.
Note that Bromley, like other classic heroes of the LATL Narrative, never provokes the argument, and always has some dandy Socratic way of undermining his adversaries' clearly malevolent intent.
"Restoring trust to government," the wife replied, sounding like a Kerry bumper sticker. Her husband, munching a cracker with cheese, nodded in agreement.
"Munching a cracker with cheese" is very good (well, by the standards of the form); no one looks good munching a cracker with cheese.
I sensed my 17-year-old daughter's ears perk beneath her black hair and my wife's spine straighten, both sensing a political storm brewing.
The tension suggested here is merely a vestigial literary device; as in the novels of Horatio Alger, there is so little real danger to the hero that even his loved ones seem to be play-acting their symptoms of concern.
"You don't mean the legend on our currency, 'In God we trust,' do you?" I teased.

"No!" the husband, who had swallowed his snack, sharply responded. "We're in favor of separation of church and state, and would prefer that those words not appear on our dollar bills, just as we want 'under God' removed from our pledge of allegiance. And you know what we mean," he continued, ratcheting-up the tone. "Bush lied to us about the war in Iraq!" The chairs rocked faster.
Bromley's remark would, in company of even normal intelligence, draw perhaps a polite chuckle and a return volley of badinage, but the liberals in LATL narratives always explode upon contact with conservative wit.

Bromley thereafter delivers to his audience of seaside vacationers a long, long Republican speech ("We had Ted Kennedy, who lied about trying to save Mary Jo Kopechne. We had Hillary Clinton, who lied about her billing records..."), and the liberals' only responses are literally these: "Screw you!" "Speaking for myself, any news that helps defeat Bush makes me happy" (this referring to unemployment), and "You're a fascist! We're leaving!"

There is some passing resemblance to versimilitude here -- if I were taking the sun on a porch in Jersey, and some asshole suddenly started raving about Mary Jo Kopechne, I might leave, too, just as I might leave a subway car occupied by a bum who smelled strongly of human excrement. But as portrayed by Bromley, the liberals' retreat is a rout, his tendentious speeches are a blow for liberty, and his family is deeply proud of the spectacle he has made at the beach house (whereas the real-life version suggests a thought-balloon reading, "Another vacation ruined.")

Isn't this what cultural studies are all about -- trying to understand people whose ways of life are otherwise incomprehensible to us? My understanding of conservatives has been greatly enhanced by my study of their culture. And through my close attention to their LATL narratives, I have even developed some sympathy toward them. That is to say, if they need crap like this to make themselves feel smart, they're even more fucked than I thought.

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