Thursday, January 24, 2008

Heh. Heh. Heh.

When I was in high school, I got in a minor scrape for writing obscenity on the men's room wall in the lobby. Not an obscenity, mind you--simply the word "obscenity." It took about 5 minutes for one of the faculty to notice it, realize I was most likely the culprit, and track me down. He figured--not unreasonably, as it turned out--that I was probably the only kid in our small high school whose idea of humor would extend to basing a joke for a toilet stall door on the self-reflexive use/reference distinction from speech act theory.

I didn't get in much trouble for it really; the janitor gave me cleaner and a rag and it took me about thirty seconds to remove it, and that was that. The teacher just shook his head with a bemused little smile and sent me back to class. I could be wrong, but I like to think he was secretly gratified just to see somebody around there trying to raise the bar a little. With one stroke of the Flair pen I let off a little adolescent steam but also implicitly critiqued the run-of-the-mill graffiti in the building--you know, the threadbare stuff along the "he who writes on shithouse walls" line. As I said, though, I could be wrong about that part of it.

That tiny blip on the radar trace of my writing career comes to mind because of this story, via Digby and TPM:

Undead Nixon Administration dirty tricks specialist and swinging/leather enthusiast Roger Stone has formed a 527 group whose purpose is "To Educate the American Public About What Hillary Clinton Really Is," as their singular logo promises. The organization's name: Citizens United Not Timid.

Get it? If you're stuck (really?), take a look at their logo. It'll help if you think like a fourteen-year-old boy.

The marketing plan for this juvenilia is Junior Achievement at its finest:

Stone is counting on T-shirt sales to further serve as "billboard education." He figures the whole thing will end up taking on a viral nature, thanks to the yuks factor....

"The more people go to the site, the more people buy the T-shirts," Stone explains.... "The more people buy the T-shirts, the more people wear the T-shirts. The more people wear the T-shirts, the more people are educated. Consequently, our mission has been achieved." Though neither the word itself nor even the acronym is ever mentioned, "it's one-word education. That's our mission. No issues. No policy groups. No position papers. This is a simple committee with an unfortunate acronym...."

Stone is obviously reaching out to the Beavis and Butthead niche within the conservative base--the ones who snicker when the teacher says "duty." ("Check it out--he said 'doody!' Heh, heh, heh.") Personally, I think this is not a smart move: Even if a significant chunk of the GOP base did draw penises on the photo of James Buchanan in their history books back in the day, could anyone possibly think it's to their advantage to attract attention to that now? But I have to admit it's not the first time they've gone in this direction.

Conservatives struggle with little success to lift their humor out of the primordial sea of Beavis and Butthead jokes to walk erect on the dry land of adult wit. ("Dude--he totally said 'erect!' Heh, heh, heh.") The ability to switch perspectives between Me and Thee, ingrained in the liberal outlook and essential to irony and satire, comes very hard to conservatives, if at all. ("Check it out--he said 'comes!' And 'hard!' Heh, heh, heh.") That's why it never gets far beyond aggressive, hostile imagery ("Liberals should be shot! Heh, heh, heh.") and name-calling ("Chelsea Clinton is the only dog in the White House! Heh, heh, heh."). Conservative humor, all too often, runs to birdshot in the face, or a denied appeal for death-row clemency.

A case in point was last year's embarrassing FOX entry into satire and news parody, "The 1/2 Hour News Hour." Their idea of "sticking it to the man" was typified by a recurring skit featuring Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter in cameos as president and vice president. Intellectually, that runs on a par with an argument about if Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman. Fantasy fulfillment, maybe. But edgy satire, it ain't.

So it's possible that Stone, et al., know how to reach their ideological littermates better than I do and should continue to ignore my advice. (Of course "1/2 Hour News Hour" folded after thirteen episodes, but that could have been for an unrelated reason. Not.)

Certainly, though, there's no subject that brings out the peurile and sexually immature in conservatives more than the continued existence of Hillary Clinton on this planet. The thought of her running for President only multiplies this a hundredfold. Don't take my word for it; check out this piece from the incomparable ongoing takedown of Chris Matthews, a sexually hamstrung man-child who only lacks a tree house with "NO GUЯLS ALLOWED" painted over the door.

A few weeks ago, I sorted through the back copies of Vogue and People while waiting for a haircut, and discovered an article titled "The Hillary Haters" in, of all places, GQ. (Don't laugh; apparently it's not all about where trouser seams will be breaking this season. Who knew?)

On a screen in a back room of an upscale Dallas restaurant, a cartoon version of Hillary Clinton veers between bored and apoplectic. In the cartoon, in which she hosts a late-night program called The Hillary Show, her teeth are pointed, resembling fangs. She mocks everyone she comes across (including her “sidekick,” Howard Dean) and exhibits her violent streak by leaping out of a chair to bash Al Gore over the head with a wooden mallet, the “Hillary Hammer.”

“Another loser,” she says.

A knowing chuckle spreads through the audience of about fifteen local Republican activists and donors, including an associate of Karl Rove. Many of the attendees, mostly middle-aged and mild-mannered, wear nametags and anti-Hillary buttons on their suit lapels and silk blouses. The lights come on, and a tall, youthful 60-year-old man steps in front of the screen. Across his gray suit and broad yellow tie the projector beams Hillary’s scowling face and a White House seeped in bloody red.

“Wanted to reach out and involve you in our effort—in our Web site,” Dick Collins, a veteran Republican fund-raiser, says in his languid Texas drawl. He favorably compares his Stop Her Now Web site—a clearinghouse of anti-Hillary news, blogs, and cartoons, all with the mission of “Rescuing America from the radical ideas of Hillary Clinton”—to “the Swifties,” the nonprofit advocacy group the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which mortally wounded the campaign of John Kerry in 2004. He then proudly refers to the Stop Her Now banner, which his group has flown over a number of Clinton’s campaign appearances, as a way to attract potential supporters and irritate Hillary. “I’m sure she said to her aide, ‘We need to get a bazooka and take that thing down.’ That’s the real Hillary that nobody gets to see.”

This wouldn’t be recognizable as a punch line in any other room, but supporters laugh approvingly and put down their white wine and orange cheese cubes to clap.

Collins thinks his use of “humor” will allow his anti-Hillary venture to succeed where others have failed, and that his cartoons and sight gags will ultimately play a major role in preventing Hillary Clinton from becoming president. “You do it with satire,” he explains to his guests. “Because it is a much more effective way to define somebody.”

A fanged Hillary (don't have to be Freud to figure that one out) beating Al Gore with a hammer is satire?

Well, yes, and then again no. Mostly no. Actually, it's completely no. It's interesting that conservative operatives have such facility with the strategic reversal required to turn their opponents' greatest advantage against them (e.g., Swiftboating Kerry in 2004 on his Vietnam war service), but when it comes to the judo-flip of satire, they just can't quite manage it.

The GQ article continues, reeling off a list of attributes that Hillary haters project onto the woman:

A few feet away, Bill Solemene, an advertising executive active in Republican politics, expresses a similar fear. “I think everybody is frightened to death of her,” he says. “She has a mean streak in her.”

Scary? Frightened to death? By now, Clinton’s flaws as a candidate are well-known—the problems giving a straight answer, the warmth and authenticity issues—but they’re also fairly typical for a politician. Here in Dallas, though, and in the rest of anti-Hillary land, the hostility toward Clinton tends to be expressed in bafflingly vague and emotional terms. Discussions with self-declared enemies of Hillary Clinton, prominent and not, across the country yield a head-spinning barrage of motivations for their ill will, but one thing is immediately clear: Few if any have anything to do with the mandated insurance coverage of Clinton’s health care plan (or HillaryCare, in hater parlance), her carefully triangulated position on Iran, or her incremental shift against the war in Iraq.

Instead, they say she is an extremist left-wing flower child masquerading as a moderate, or a warmongering hawk disguised as a liberal. She’s a liar and a lesbian (short hair! pantsuits!), a cold fish and an adulteress. She has no maternal instincts and is hobbled by a debilitating case of insecurity, for which she compensates by acting like a thug. She is the spineless wife of a habitual cheat, and the willful enabler of her husband’s affairs. She’s in politics to keep Bill around, and she ran for the Senate, and then the presidency, to exact revenge for his philandering. She has no God, or her devoutness is frighteningly fundamentalist. She’s a condescending elitist who sees people—even her friends—as steps on a stairway to the presidency. She is a partisan, a panderer, the personification of everything that is wrong with America.

She is, to them, an empty vessel into which they can pour everything they detest about politicians, ambitious women, and an American culture they fear is being wrested from their control.

The story goes on, with more frightened and angry people--who cannot agree on why they're frightened and angry. But they obviously are. (The article also drops some interesting names along the way, including Fabio and Stan Lee, although neither, as far as I am aware, is a Hillary Hater.)

In the end, it's all so juvenile. You want to take them aside and say, You know, it's okay--you don't have to be afraid of vaginas, not even Hillary's. But then you realize it's not about the fear, really. They're having too much fun with their crude graffiti.

("Hey, did you see that? He said 'vagina!' Heh, heh, heh.")

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