Tuesday, June 08, 2010

(Re)birth and (forecast) death of a genre

Chris Beam's inspired bit of ventriloquism, imagining What if political scientists covered the news?, has swiftly inspired a spinoff spoof by Conor Friedersdorf in which, as Jonathan Chait retitles it, "A Sociologist Covers the News." Chait groans, "I foresee a progressively less-amusing internet trope" -- a preemptive strike against a newborn bloggy genre within a week of its apparent birth.

Not to worry. Every literary birth is a rebirth. Beam's "What if political scientists covered the news?" is good son to Woody Allen's If the impressionists had been dentists" (1978):
Dear Theo
Will life never treat me decently? I am wracked by despair! My head is pounding. Mrs Sol Schwimmer is suing me because I made her bridge as I felt it and not to fit her ridiculous mouth. That's right! I can't work to order like a common tradesman. I decided her bridge should be enormous and billowing and wild, explosive teeth flaring up in every direction like fire! Now she is upset becuase it won't fit in her mouth! She is so bourgeois and stupid, I want to smash her. I tried forcing the false plate in but it sticks out like a star burst chandelier. Still, I find it beautiful. She claims she can't chew! What do I care whether she can chew or not! Theo, I can't go on like this much longer! I asked Cezanne if he would share an office with me but he is old and infirm and unable to hold the instruments and they must be tied to his wrists but then he lacks accuracy and once inside a mouth, he knocks out more teeth than he saves. What to do?

Compare Beam:
A powerful thunderstorm forced President Obama to cancel his Memorial Day speech near Chicago on Monday—an arbitrary event that had no affect on the trajectory of American politics.

Obama now faces some of the most difficult challenges of his young presidency: the ongoing oil spill, the Gaza flotilla disaster, and revelations about possibly inappropriate conversations between the White House and candidates for federal office. But while these narratives may affect fleeting public perceptions, Americans will ultimately judge Obama on the crude economic fundamentals of jobs numbers and GDP.

Of course, the humor in Beam's borrowed perspective comes from its implied truth -- the joke is on the journalists, not the professors -- whereas Allen's joke runs the other way (we do not want impressionist dentists).  Chalk up the inversion (kenosis?) to The Anxiety of Influence.

As for Friedersdorf: is he too young to have encountered that inimitable sociologist, Charles Schultz's Linus, strutting his stuff in "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown"?  Behold the blanket-toting master:
In examining a work such as Peter Rabbit, it is important that the superficial characteristics of its deceptively simple plot should not be allowed to blind the reader to the more substantial fabric of its deeper motivations. In this report, I plan to discuss the sociological implications of family pressures so great as to drive an otherwise moral rabbit to perform acts of thievery which he consciously knew were against the law. I also hope to explore the personality of Mr. MacGregor in his conflicting roles as farmer and humanitarian. Peter Rabbit is established from the start as a benevolent hero. . .
Compare the metablogging son:

Absent from the dialogue surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began on April 20, 2010 following an explosion that killed eleven workers, are the roles of class, race and especially gender. Due to the environmental devastation wrought by the catastrophe, which is likely to fall heaviest on the working poor, it is understandable that attention is largely focused on efforts to plug the oil well undertaken by British Petroleum, a corporation founded in imperial Britain to exploit the oil resources of people of color.

It is not insignificant to cleanup efforts, however, that even today BP’s leadership lacks adequate gender diversity, its board of directors being made up of fourteen persons, only one of them who self-identifies as a female, and all of whom earn significantly more than the median income in Louisiana, Alabama, and even the relatively privileged residents of coastal Florida.

Stay tuned (or shall the world be spared?) for "If the political bloggers had been literary critics"...

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