There’s a train rolling to a stop just outside of town. It’s a long train, and each flatbed carries 20 dumpsters. Each dumpster is filled to overflowing with nuclear waste and flaming grease. As the copter shot pulls away the final credits roll over the first few bars of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” We can all breathe a sigh of relief – all is well now, but just a few moments ago this train was hurtling at top speed toward the city center, its murdered conductor’s body holding the throttle in full-steam position.
This isn’t some wholesome, Focus on the Family-friendly Thomas the Train, folks. No, sir. This is the toxic, Viagra-addled nuclear dumpster grease fire Johnny the Train from Hell, and it came that close to plowing headlong into the unshielded nards of American democracy. Continue reading John, Elizabeth, Rielle and the dumpster fire at the end of the world
Bad attitude and strange bedfellows at the dawn of the Reich, and What Would Hunter Do, anyway?
Ever since five members of the Supreme Court declared the Constitution unconstitutional yesterday morning I’ve been in something of a snit. Along the way, I’ve said a variety of things that struck me as insightful, pithy, even witty. Others, however – bitter, lonely misanthropic types simmering in their own humorless bile – seem to be finding me mostly snarky and cynical.
So here are a few samples. You be the judge. Assuming you’re a corporation with enough spare cash that your opinion matters, that is.
Pulitzer- and Emmy-winner William Henry‘s famous polemic, In Defense of Elitism (1994), argues that societies can be ranked along a spectrum with “egalitarianism” on one end and “elitism” on the other. He concludes that America, to its detriment, has slid too far in the direction of egalitarianism, and in the process that it has abandoned the elitist impulse that made it great (and that is necessary for any great culture). While Henry’s analysis is flawed in spots (and, thanks to the excesses of the Bush years, there are some other places that could use updating), he brilliantly succeeds in his ultimate goal: crank-starting a much-needed debate about the proper place of elitism in a “democratic” society.
Along the way he spends a good deal of time defining what he means by “egalitarianism” and “elitism.” Continue reading Democracy & Elitism 4: equality, opportunity and leveling up the playing field
Part two in a series.
“Elite” hasn’t always been an epithet. In fact, if we consider what the dictionary has to say about it, it still signifies something potentially worthy. Potentially. For instance:
e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism (-ltzm, -l-) n.
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.le
That definition, while technically accurate enough, could use a bit of untangling, because it embodies the very nature of our problem with elitism in America. In popular use, the term “elite” and its derivatives has been twisted into a pure, distilled lackwit essence of “liberal” – another once-proud word that fell victim to our moneyed false consciousness machine. Continue reading Democracy & Elitism 2: performance elitism vs privilege elitism, and why the difference matters
America’s democratic ideal doesn’t work perfectly. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, and in these cases it feeds our cynicism to the point where we’re tempted to conclude that the very possibility of true freedom is a sham. I know whereof I speak, because there are few people out there more soaked in bile than I am.
Still, this whole “marketplace of ideas” is a marvelous concept. Perhaps the most marvelous concept in history. Drawing on the Miltonian belief that if people are allowed to enter the agora and freely state their cases, then “the truth will out” (that is, an educated and informed citizenry will unerringly perceive the truth and that weaker ideas will be disregarded in favor of stronger ones), our nation’s founders crafted a Constitution that assured people the right to voice their opinions, free from government intrusion. Continue reading Why isn’t Rush happy?: Limbaugh inadvertently illustrates democracy in action
Part two in a series
How did it happen? Why did it happen? There’s simply no way to measure how many hours have devoted to these questions in the ten years and four days since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School, and while we don’t (and never will) have all the answers, we do have some of them. Obviously a good bit of the discussion focuses on the individuals themselves, and other analyses cast a broader net, examining the social factors that shaped the individuals. In a way, the question we’re still debating perhaps boils down to nature vs. nurture. Were Harris and Klebold Natural Born Killers? Or are they better understood as by-products of deeper social trends and dynamics?
The answer is probably “All of the above,” but we can’t simply check C and be on our merry, uncritical way. Continue reading Ten years on: was Columbine the rule or the exception?
A couple of weeks ago author and NYU media theory lecturer Douglas Rushkoff penned a provocative essay for Arthur Magazine. Entitled “Let It Die,” the essay explains why we should stop trying to save the economy.
In a perfect world, the stock market would decline another 70 or 80 percent along with the shuttering of about that fraction of our nation’s banks. Yes, unemployment would rise as hundreds of thousands of formerly well-paid brokers and bankers lost their jobs; but at least they would no longer be extracting wealth at our expense. They would need to be fed, but that would be a lot cheaper than keeping them in the luxurious conditions they’re enjoying now. Even Bernie Madoff costs us less in jail than he does on Park Avenue.
Alas, I’m not being sarcastic. Continue reading Let the economy die?! Rushkoff’s goals are noble but his plan needs work
When we launched Michael Tracey’s series on the Ramsey case we frankly didn’t know what to expect. We hoped for intelligent engagement around the essay’s central thesis – a runaway media and what it tells us about the sad state of our democracy. We feared that the place would be overrun by nutters. In the end, though, neither our hopes nor fears have been realized.
Instead there’s been a lot of silence. We know some people are reading – we have access to the stats, after all – but there’s been minimal response.
I think I know why. The other day Lex, one of our most prolific commenters, posted this: Continue reading Up next: Meanings
Few events in recent memory have inflamed the American imagination quite like the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. More to the point, it’s hard to recall a case where passion and profound ignorance of the facts came together in such an explosive mass media cocktail. Ramsey’s death remains unsolved, but how many dollars has it generated for the nation’s “press”?
When push comes to shove, we still don’t know as much about the case and the people involved in it as we think we do, but what we do know is this: JonBenet Ramsey’s murder and the incoherent frenzy it sparked tell us a great deal about America as a culture. Continue reading From Christmas to August: an S&R exclusive on the JonBenet Ramsey case and what it says about America