You've read Lee Siegel, the New York-based critic who writes for Harpers, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Republic (again). He writes erudite, prickly prose on the subject of American culture – or what counts for it. At one point the New York Times referred to him as "one of the most eloquent and acid-tongued critics in the country." In a nation that enjoys a bit of battering of our neighbor -- and which lives by the adage if you're so smart why ain't you rich? -- even the most liberal-minded of us get both an intellectual thrill and an ignoble shiver reading his work.
There are so many truisms we accept without evaluation. Things our parents taught us, things the minister said, things that were drilled into our heads at Sunday school, over dinner, or in the classroom. Many of these lessons were important teachings on the path to becoming an ethical adult. But not all of them. Some were based on pop (read – unproven) psychology, fear, and the need for social conformance over authentic living.
Erma Bombeck was a genius. Whenever I am seeking a wise bon mot – particularly as it relates to popular culture – I turn to her. I did so today, and as usual, I found what I was looking for.
"Some say our national pastime is baseball. Not me. It's gossip."
Presidential party caucus day has arrived for many of us, and it brings with it a sobering reflection on how the media chooses to exercise its power to persuade. Even more sobering is the related reflection on how we choose to exercise our power to think.
My city's less-than-intellectual newspaper has been distracted through much of the pre-election season by our governor's bid for the Democratic nomination. Not that he was ever a viable candidate, but he was ours and we were treated to interminably long months of evaluating his every expression and calorie. Since he dropped out of the race, the newspaper's ability to shift gears and focus on the larger, more relevant contest has been notably impaired. If our fair citizens know anything about the other candidates, it is due to our own resourcefulness, and not because the newspaper has done an adequate job of reporting on them.
"Mom, are you working? Can you do something with me, like, now?"
"What's up son?"
"I got kicked out of the mall again. I really want you to help me do something about it."
So began our sojourn into the perception and actions of private corporate security guards. An exploration of the mindsets that look on most teenagers as potentially dangerous unless they fit a very narrow range of physical description and demeanor.