After a few weeks in which either the Takes were insufficiently Silly or I was insufficiently rested, here is a week which delivered bounties.
Richard Brookhiser, “Behind the Times,” National Review, 8/22/2019
This is from last week, but I somehow missed it the first time around, so I’m breaking the rules a bit.
This, honest to God, is how historian Richard Brookhiser started this column for National Review, which is usually a magazine about conservative politics:
Call me cis-male. I sing the body eclectic, appreciating women of many ages and shapes. I have standing as an expert witness. What I have been seeing for the last few years on the city sidewalks, from April to October, is butts.
This is perfect. It starts with two separate dumb quasi-literary puns. It mangles legal terminology. (You don’t have “standing” as an expert witness. Standing is about whether or not you can bring a case in front of a court. Expert witnesses are “qualified.” Fed. R. Evid. 702. This joke should have read “I have been qualified as an expert witness.”) It clarifies that our dude is one of those dirty old men who will describe themselves as “connoisseurs of the female form,” rather than just admitting to being horny.
This Take’s thesis is just something like “women are showing off their butts more than they did some years back, and I guess that’s not the end of the world, but it makes me feel weird,” which is not a terribly interesting Take. But, consider how he talks about yoga pants:
“Here is the result. A new order of column: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, meet Spherical: a smooth widening shaft topped by a sphere; always paired. Moguls from a ski slope, in mid summer. Beach dunes, stranded. Kettles. The backs of marmots. The heads of babies. The fenders of Hudsons and Packards. The Blue Angel, as street theater. Everybody talkin bout a new way of walkin. We thought mooning was gross? A curve in spacetime. Snow globes, shaken, not stirred. Bells of cymbals, bowls of lutes, tubing of euphoniums. Fruit (all), vegetables (many).”
baby, i love your euphonium-tube, as all the hip-hop artists are saying
Brookhiser has several theories about why everyone is showing off their butts these days. First he blames the “Ubiquitous Armenians,” by which he means the Kardashians, but then he has two more theories:
“Possibly also at work: cultural appropriation of blackness. As a man of pallor, I tread lightly. But as the song says, baby got back. And where did this emphasis come from? Africa? Or minstrel-show mockery of bustles and hoop skirts? Down the hall of mirrors the appropriations run.
Another possible cause of the rear march: cultural appropriation of gayness. Where does the queer eye fall? As a man of straightness, see above. If my hunch is right, this raises the question, why would women, most of whom are, by the law of averages, not gay, adopt such an aesthetic? But we are all all genders now, so why not?”
The whole piece is like this. Stuff like this is part of why I find National Review to be such a consistently weird publication. On its best days it publishes smart, careful conservative writing. On its worst days, it publishes quasi-fascist gibbering. On most days, it publishes nothing of consequence. But on its most befuddling days, something just slips through the cracks, and National Review publishes weird-ass free-association butt-poetry.
Bret Stephens, “World War II and the Ingredients of Slaughter,” The New York Times, 8/30/2019
So, this one requires context. To be clear, the actual text of the Take is not particularly Silly. It’s still a Bret Stephens Joint, so it’s not free from Silliness, but its general thesis is something like: “it’s bad to refer to people with dehumanizing language. The Nazis did that, and they were bad.” And that’s true! It is bad to refer to people with dehumanizing language. This is why people like me don’t like it when the President refers to people, even MS-13 members, as “animals.” So if you didn’t have any context for why Bret Stephens might be particularly worried about dehumanizing language right now, you’d probably just move right on past this Take, or even enjoy it.
But there is context: boy howdy, there is context.
See, Bret Stephens isn’t just some New York Times op-ed writer. He’s the sort of op-ed writer that professionally annoys large swaths of people. Many liberal, leftist, or even just faintly literate Internet Persons view Bret Stephens’s writing as a waste of column inches: a self-aggrandizing, poorly sourced mess of faulty reasoning and inane “insights” that never amount to anything more than “why don’t Democrats behave like moderate Republicans?” He is routinely mocked on Twitter.
On August 26, an associate opinion editor for the Times announced, via tweet, that the NYT newsrooms have a bedbug problem. Upon seeing this tweet, Dave Karpf, a George Washington University Associate Professor of no particular international consequence, retweeted the tweet, and added this joke: “The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens. ” The tweet received 9 likes and 0 retweets. He did not tag Stephens in the tweet.
Yet Stephens somehow found out about the tweet (read: he name-searched on Twitter and then decided to pick fights with the people he found, which is a particularly masochistic way to spend one’s time) and responded not with a jab on Twitter, but rather by e-mailing Karpf and Karpf’s boss at GWU. Karpf posted the e-mail on Twitter. It’s pretty good: you can read more detail about the whole brouhaha here. (The best line, which sparked innumerable good Twitter jokes, is “I would welcome you the opportunity to come to my home, meet my wife and kids, talk to us for a few minutes, and then call me a ‘bedbug’ to my face.”) Facing even more Twitter-humiliation, Bret quit the service in a huff. Now, only a few days later, here is his column about why dehumanizing language is bad.
Key to this is that at one point Stephens references a man watching the burning of the Warsaw ghettoes, and who apparently said “The bedbugs are on fire. The Germans are doing a great job.” Granted, that sounds like a horrible thing to say! But it’s also oddly specific, yeah? This anonymous Pole wasn’t a state figure or a religious leader or really anyone at all. Why is this a particularly good example of the horrible things people said in 1943? I wonder what Bret is thinking about as he writes this column? (Apparently there is some debate in Stephens’s source as to whether this Polish person was referring to the Jewish people who lived there or to literal bedbugs, which makes it even clearer that my dude just Googled “Jews bedbugs Nazis” and grabbed the first link he found.)
At no point in the Take does Stephens explicitly refer to Karpf, or to his recent snitch-email, or to his meltdown about the joke. Instead, he simply grandstands about how the Nazis compared Jewish people to insects, and talks about why Twitter, like the radio, allowed demagogues to reach directly into people’s homes. None of this is inherently Silly; on its own, the Take appears perfectly reasonable. But given the context, this Take is actually just an enormous subtweet, published in the paper of record, unsubtly implying that people being mean to Bret are Just Like the Nazis, and friends: that constitutes a Silly Take.
The Silliest Take of the Week: 8/24/2019-8/31/2019
Matthew Walther, “The rise of mocktails and the decline of human civilization,” The Week, 8/31/2019
Matthew Walther writes for The Week, among other places, and he writes about a variety of things. Much of his stuff is boilerplate political or cultural analysis – reasonable, even occasionally insightful. The rest of his oeuvre is stuff like this. I hate him.
“I hate to start sounding doomsday alarms, especially when candidates are dropping out of the presidential race at the rate of roughly one per week and the wizards at Burger King are performing alchemy, but lately I have become seriously concerned about the long-term prospects for what we used to call ‘human civilization.’
I am talking about mocktails.”
I already hate this. “Some mildly annoying thing is actually the END OF THE WORLD” is a traditional snarky way to start a column, and it’s never funny. Find a new lede. (Yes, I’m pretty sure I’ve done it too.)
“My limited web-based research was unable to produce anything like a definitive answer to the question of why any sentient adult over (or capable of passing for) the legal drinking age would want [a mocktail], but some tentative suggestions include ‘nutrients,’ ‘hydration,’ ‘calories,’ and the fact that they do not make you drunk.
Tell me if I am making any logical elisions here, but I was under the impression that people went to bars to enjoy a few beers or cocktails or whatever in the hope of getting what is called ‘buzzed’ or perhaps even, dare I say, intoxicated.”
Sometimes people go to bars to get drunk! Sometimes they go to hang out with their friends after work and enjoy the convivial atmosphere of the bar, but maybe they can’t or shouldn’t drink booze, yet still want to drink something more fun than Diet Coke! I’m not a mocktail guy, but if you can’t imagine why anybody would ever want a mocktail, you’re not trying very hard!
Ah, but bars are terrible places now, if you believe Walther:
“How I long now for those halcyon days when the worst thing one had to endure at a bar was the affectless conversation of bearded lumbersexuals assigning points to their craft beer ‘flight.’ Now you can bring a dog to your local, order it a fancy snack at the bar, play a board game with your non-four-legged friends, stay for five hours, and run up a $100 tab without consuming so much as a drop of alcohol.”
Buddy, I don’t know where you’re drinking, but I know that if I brought my dog and a board game to the bar around the corner from my house I would be laughed out of the entire county. Those downtown hipster bars have certainly proliferated in recent years, but they have not replaced every other bar in the country. If you don’t like your local bar, go to a different bar.
Also, dogs are great! There is nothing in the world better than getting to meet a good dog when you are drunk. A happy drunk is about on the same philosophical and intellectual level as a good dog. You are happy to see the dog, the dog is happy to see you, and as you unsteadily reach down to pet his head and meet his eyes, you recognize a kindred spirit, a fellow-traveler through this wild and confusing world. I never feel more like Santa Claus than when I walk my little dogs near a crowd of barhoppers on a Friday night.
“Why did this have to happen? What were the non-bar people missing out on when they decided to colonize these spaces? Does sipping on virgin stone fruit sangria really help them to take a load off after a nine-to-five the way it does people who consume actual drinks? (Don’t answer that question if you’re two and a half and your idea of a rough day at the office is going pee-pee on the floor and not being allowed to watch your favorite Thomas and Friends.) I find it hard to believe that the antediluvian pre-mocktail world was experiencing a shortage of public spaces in which sober people could enjoy boring conversations.”
Buddy, if you’re having a hard time making friends in modern bars, consider that it might not be because bar culture is now a degraded and saccharine thing. Consider that it might be because you’re an asshole.
That about does it for the Silliest Take of the Week, folks! I plan to be back next week, and, as always, send me the Silliest Takes you see to firstname.lastname@example.org! Stay careful out there!