Monday, July 25, 2011

You can't tell GOP wingnuts and Teabagging voters and cooking-show contestants and Ring Lardner's Jack Keefe apart without a scorecard


Oh no, Hell's Kitchen is back! At a certain point, congressional Republicans merge in the mind with the people who vote for them and the clueless legions of TV cooking-show contestants and Ring Lardner's Jack Keefe.

by Ken

Not long ago we were told that President Obama's latest "plan" for getting a deficit-ceiling increase included splitting the debt-ceiling and deficit-reduction issues so that "we" would do debt-ceiling increase now and later revamp the tax code -- and I remember thinking what? you're going to let those people tinker with the tax code???

By "those people," of course, I meant the primitive life forms that invaded the 112th Congress. And I had to remind myself that these low-life mental defectives, people you wouldn't trust to walk your dog or sweep out your barber-shop floor, actually have statutory authority to deal with taxes and every other damned thing that comes before Congress. This sounds like really bad science fiction.

I can't help recalling, though, that after all there were constitutionally franchised voters elected these people to public office. And I think back to the time when the Teabaggers were inventing themselves, or being invented, and numbers of my liberal colleagues took us elitists to task for railing at them. Like as if we didn't have the sense to understand that they have grievances. D'oh! Of course they have grievances. But they have walled themselves off from all receptiveness to reality, and it was already clear that once again in their time of troubles they were going to turn to absolutely the vilest people in the universe, who were manipulating them like puppets, only dumber.

Lately I can't seem to escape this thread in human nature: the passionate embrace of the cosmically imbecilic -- and often malignly manipulative. This summer I seem to be watching a crush of those TV cooking-competition shows (you know, Master Chef and Chopped and Chopped and Food Network Star (less egregious than many of the others, I have to say, but still), and now Hell's Kitchen again, and while I've written before about so many of the competitors' staggering lack of self-knowledge and lack of perceptiveness about their rivals, and there it all is again, only now it blends right in with "the busher," Jack Keefe, the "hero" of Ring Lardner's still-sublime "busher" stories.

It's been a treat reimmersing myself in Lardner's You Know Me Al, preparing for its return to in our late-night (9pm PT) comical-writing rotation last night. But it's a complicated sort of treat, because Lardner's understanding of people is so acute Jack Keefe, the big, hard-throwing young pitcher we saw ascend to and quickly fall out of the big leagues when we did Chapter I of You Know Me All, because Jack is, frankly, such a yutz.

To go with that very large natural talent of being able to throw a baseball really hard Jack has, well, nothing. Barely a clue about how to apply his natural gifts in terms of matching pitches to hitters, and as his manager and coaches keep trying to make him understand, a staggering cluelessness (read "indifference") about such hardly subtle phases of the game as holding runners on base and fielding his position. (It's uncanny how exactly Lardner's writing about pitching in 1914 translates to 2011.)

And on a larger scale, Jack takes no responsibility for his actions, and has as little sense of other people's strengths and weaknesses as he has of his own. And nothing is ever his fault. When he pitches, of all the games he loses -- and he loses a lot -- none are ever his fault. It's the fielders behind him, or the hitters' lack of production, or the umpires, or in extreme cases his not being his usual self (which of course happens to pitchers, but they have to go out and keep their team in the game anyway).

And his solution to every life problem, at least in his head, is to want to beat up on the person he's identified as the cause of his problems. It's an interesting question whether Jack is actually a bully or merely has the instincts of one, because there are, as best I can recall, no instances in the stories of his actually doing to anyone the horrible things he imagines -- and not because he really thinks better of it, or rises above it, but because . . . well, as with everything else in Jack's life, there's always an excuse.

One of the fascinations of trying to scope Jack out is that every bit of information we get about him comes from him. Even when he's reporting other people's actions or perceptions, he is after all the one doing the reporting, so it's all filtered through his murky lens.

At least in Lardner's telling Jack's stumbling unperceptiveness becomes entertaining. Unfortunately, there's nobody of comparable talent scripting those food "reality" shows -- and the terrifying spectacle of our social and political realities are all too real. It's fun to have them "written" by someone of a talent I consider Lardner-esque like Tom Tomorrow, but the fact that they're so terrifyingly real only makes it more horrifying.

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