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Yale English Dept. Not the Political Powerhouse Yale Law Is

22 Aug

The bizarre contrarian ramblings of Camille Paglia remind me of the old Larry King USA Today columns, if Larry King were on steroids, a powerful psychotropic, and had an English degree from Yale (for a point of reference, this old Onion parody of King is actually pretty close to the real thing). Belle Waring reads her latest column and identifies everything that is awry in just three paragraphs of Paglia’s musings:

How many things have gone wrong in this passage? From listening to Drudge’s radio show, to facile ecstasies about black people and how they’re so authentic and musical, to finding deep meaning in a Kelly Clarkson song, I can only say: damn, Camille, that was some pharmaceutical-grade sh#t right there.

Her survey of the current political landscape, however, is pure up-is-downism:

The thick-headed Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triad may have grotesquely bungled the Iraq incursion, but Republicans (barring a breakaway third party) will still comfortably retake the White House next year if my fellow Democrats don’t get their act together on the cardinal issue of geopolitics. Terrorism isn’t going to go away if and when we withdraw from Iraq.

They will “comfortably” retake the White House? After two close presidential elections, a fundraising lead for Democrats for the first time in years, and the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006, what exactly leads Paglia to believe that a victory would be a comfortable one? Gotta love political insight from a woman who’s sure the Democrats are going down but voted for Nader in 2000.

First They Came for Sarah Conner, Then They Came for Our Baseball Records

7 Aug

It’s hard to know how to react to this Kenneth Goldsmith post about the “Posthuman future” that Barry Bonds supposedly represents.  Goldsmith so willfully ignores any of the relevant contexts surrounding Bonds (professional sports, bioethics, law) that I’m tempted to regard it as unserious.  Truth is though, in Goldsmith’s postmodern zeal I think he just doesn’t consider these contexts terribly interesting–or relevant anymore.  But really, what are you supposed to say about this:

 More machine than man, chemically enhanced, Bonds is our first mainstream Posthuman public figure. Moving awkwardly, robot-like, festooned with machines — a barrage of cameras following his every move and enormous noise-canceling headphones to silence the jeers — he’s a media-made technologically-supplemented Frankenstein. We dismiss him a as fraud, but we know in our hearts that his way is the way of the future; regardless, we cheer his accomplishment. We disdain his Posthumanism, but we shall soon come to realize that we created the phenomenon of Barry Bonds.

Let’s be clear, Goldsmith sees Bonds as a hero, because 1) Bonds is a martyr for the future and 2) that future is totally awesome.  My problem here is that I don’t know where to start with the laughing and guffawing and whatnot.  Goldsmith quickly replaces what would be an interesting–if speculative–discussion with a serious of fantastic (and reductive) assumptions.  Bonds is a martyr because…we won’t admit we’re heading where Bonds is going?  Even if we all take steroids one day, so what?  Right now, it’s against the rules.  That “we created the phenomenon of Barry Bonds” is fairly axiomatic.  Of course we created Bonds; we also created Ruth and DiMaggio, Mantle and Aaron.  Our demands on athletes and the era in which they play inevitability shapes the sort of game they play.  But how does that make Bonds heroic?  Because his critics lack self-awareness?  That’s a pretty weak standard.

Nor is hypocrisy (the most common unspoken argument) terribly important here, because the oft-repeated rejoinder of “the pot calling the kettle black” always overlooks the fact that, despite the fact that the pot is black, the kettle is still black too.  That Maguire and Sosa got a pass for their home run records after a strike is no consolation for Bonds.  Bonds is paying his “jerk premium” for being an aloof and arrogant ass over the years in the form of scrutiny and disdain.

Goldsmith forgets that much of the appeal of sports comes from the dominant “discourse” of codified justice.  Every game has a set of rules that people agree to play by that are officiated by umpires and referees.  We argue for values like “sportsman-like conduct” because the conduct and rules of a game reflect they way we’d like our world to be, and for justice to achieved on a larger scale.  Bonds represents an affront to that sense of justice, flawed though it may be.