Friday, May 08, 2009

1/20/09 + 5/8/09 = COOL AGAIN

There's a quote going 'round the web today by Slate's Dana Stevens. It's from his review of the new Star Trek movie, and it goes like this:

“Yet in a weird way, Star Trek’s cheerfully square naiveté makes it the perfect film for our first summer of (slimly) renewed hope. It’s a blockbuster for the Obama age, when smarts and idealism are cool again. In fact, can’t you picture our president—levelheaded, biracial, implacably smart—on the bridge in a blue shirt and pointy ears?”

I haven't seen Star Trek yet, and I have no beef with reviewers tying films in with a current zeitgeist (I enjoy doing it as well), nor do I fault President Obama for the way certain media figures choose to slobber over him, but a few things bug me about Stevens' quote.

1.) "our first summer of (slimly) renewed hope"-

I'm guessing many of you will disagree with me here, but if you're looking to a politician for any kind of emotional renewal then there is something in you that I just can't relate to. Sorry, but I don't want politicians to influence or inspire me, I want them to shut up and get to work.

2.) "It's a blockbuster for the Obama age, when smarts and idealism are cool again" -

Oh boy. Now this is something that really irritates me, this idea that people suddenly aspire to be "smart" now that we've elected a politician that's popular with the public. Was "being dumb" fashionable during the Bush years?

This has nothing to do with whether you thought Bush was dumb, or whether you find Obama to be intelligent... I don't care about that. This is about Stevens' thinking that the election of one man could signal an age where people start kickin' philosophy in the office breakroom once again. Plus, if our culture's so newly "smart", then how does Stevens account for last week's X-Men Origins : Wolverine?

As for "idealism" being cool, well, I've never thought idealism was cool. Cute and admirable, yes... but not cool.


Jason Bellamy said...

Fox: I think you're twisting Stevens' words a bit.

1) As far as such things can be measured, by polls and elections, I think it's pretty much a fact that Americans have renewed hope. Another fact is that we are in the Obama age. Thus, if people have renewed hope right now, for any reason, they have renewed hope in the Obama age. Period. Either Obama is a beacon of hope guiding the way, or he's just a historical marker. So I'm not sure there's much to rebut in Stevens' "renewed hope" line. If you were just taking the opportunity to mention that you don't want to be inspired by politicians, fair enough.

2) Uh, yes, I'd say Bush made "being dumb" about as "fashionable" as such a thing can be. Honestly, is this debatable?

Remember, Bush was the president everyone wanted to "drink a beer with." He embraced his inability to speak properly. He and his administration made it a selling point that every issue could be made black-and-white, for-us or against-us, etc. And for a number of years, his supporters flat out loved him for this. And he won two terms, which suggests he had more supporters than not.

Further proof? Over at Fox News they're still trying to paint Obama as an elitist for wanting, gasp, spicy mustard on his burger! In their world, things are chocolate, vanilla or elitist.

Also, remember that Kerry lost the election in large part because he wasn't simple-folk enough, couldn't answer a question in an aw-shucks 10-word sentence. Kerry's image (notice I said image) was one of smarts. How'd that work for him? Bush's image was one of at best goofiness -- even in his first campaign. The result? Two terms.

Now, there are dozens of other very significant factors that led to Bush's two terms. Kerry wasn't an effective campaigner; Bush and his team were brilliant. Bush got huge backing from some one-issue religious voters who didn't care if he was stupid so long as he was "smart" enough to agree with them in certain areas. Etc.

But would you really disagree that the defeat of Team Palin (hardly the sharpest tool in the shed) was in many ways an indictment of dumbness. And would you really disagree that Obama ran on the image of intelligence? And thus wouldn't you agree that the cool value of smarts has seen an increase based on Obama's win and popularity?

In your rant, you say it isn't about Obama and Bush. Trouble is, Stevens never says that Americans are suddenly smarter than they were. All Stevens implies is that intelligence is now cooler than it was under Bush. Sounds right to me.


uh. YES. being dumb was definitely fashionable during the Bush years. Didn't you notice how absolutely inane everything was getting?

I agree with you that it's disheartening that people look to politicians for anything other than WORK.. but they do. The nation reflects the president. You saw it in the Reagan years. You saw it with Clinton. We saw it during Bush and hopefullly now it IS considered worthwhile to be smart. Because anti-intellectualism was RAGINGLY strong just a few years ago.

Megan said...

I have to think on this, but those are a couple of great comments, there...

bill r. said...

Didn't you notice how absolutely inane everything was getting?...

What about our culture was inane during Bush's presidency that wasn't inane before, and is not inane now?

Fox said...

The nation reflects the president. You saw it in the Reagan years. You saw it with Clinton. We saw it during Bush and hopefullly now it IS considered worthwhile to be smart. Because anti-intellectualism was RAGINGLY strong just a few years ago....


I have to strongly disagree with your opinion that the nation reflects the president. Maybe you're right, and I'm wrong, but I like to think the character of our nation is made up of the 300 million individuals who live here, not one single man.

I think the media likes to shape us that way (we were this during the Clinton years, that during Bush, etc.) but I think it's just good TV production. It's like when people blamed Clinton's behavior with Lewinsky for influencing teenage promiscuity. Really!?!? Sure, that made anti-Clinton people feel, but to say that the presidents actions (not policies, mind you) trickle down and affect our culture like that is a big reach.

Fox said...

Remember, Bush was the president everyone wanted to "drink a beer with."...


So is Obama. Remember the beer he drank at the b-ball game, and the burger he ate with Biden, and the bowling offer he made the special olympics kid? It's the same stuff. It just gets reflected differently depending on which media outlet covers it. In Bush's day our President was a good ol' boy redneck on MSNBC, and now on FOX, Obama is being lazy for taking a break to drink a beer. It depends on the bias of the outlet.

I think all this "cool value of smarts" is just a package delivered by a lazy media. Sincerely, I do. I really don't find Obama to be more of braniac than others in Washington D.C. (in fact, my gut tells me that Rahm Emmanuel is the smartest of the Barack lot). The President is articulate and charismatic as hell, no doubt. In that way he is very Reaganesque, but I think the public was tired of a casual, cowboy-style president, and wanted one that looked like a lawyer and have good speeches. I think it's as easy as that. Palin fed more into the 2000-08 "cowboy-style", and that damaged her. That, and her lack of experience.

But I really think it's unfair to call Palin "dumb". Disagree with her stances or policies, sure, but I don't think she's "dumb". She was an easy target after 8 years of Bush, and SNL and co. capitalized on it. Rightly so, I have no problem with their spoofs. They were funny and if anyone deserves to be made fun of it's definitely politicians, but Obama has made just as many public gaffes since he's been in office and you rarely see jokes about him. I really think certain media outlets are still nervous to go there b/c they know the power that they can have on a public that casually follows politics.

But I really think it's lame when the media focus on gaffes so much. As articulate as Obama he's made the "57 states" mistake the "speaking Austrian" mistake, and last weeks "Cuatro de Cinco" mistake. But big deal! When you speak as much as these men do you are gonna screw up.

I think Stevens' comment that "smart is cool again" comes from a guy that's lazily regurgitating a media line. Smart was as cool in 2004 as it is today as it was in 1978.

bill r. said...

Fox is right about everything.

Jason Bellamy said...

Fox: Well, I agree with you that the media is far too gaffe obsessed. But, come on, Palin is dumb, as politicians go. The smoking gun was the moment in the Couric interview when she was asked what newspapers she reads. Palin failed to realize that all she had to do was name the local paper, the NY Times and the Wash Post and then say, "and some other ones," and she was out of the question. Instead, she failed to name something, anything, and got burned. I guess my point is this: If a politician can't even spread the bullshit around, he/she is pretty fucking stupid.

(That said, I think Bush is far more intelligent that people give him credit for. He just has a mental block on the English language and he happens to have some opinions that I think are "dumb," but that doesn't make him dumb. Nevertheless, Bush certainly embraced his simple-mindedness, maybe because he had no other choice.)

I also agree with you that so much of this is media manipulated, regardless of if the outlet seems to have an agenda (MSNBC and Fox) or is merely trying to fill time (CNN, etc). But I still stand by the idea that Obama's intellectual image has raised the coolness of intelligence over the Bush years. Again, that doesn't mean that Americans suddenly got smarter. (Steve McQueen was cool, but America wasn't full of Steve McQueens.)

Marilyn said...

I pretty much agree with Fox's comment and think he's entitled to view Stevens' words as he has, though I do think dumb was, if not cool, better to many people than being smart (e.g., elitist). The funny thing is that they don't come much more elitist than the Bush family - it was Lee Atwater who set the good old boy tone that came to characterize the Republicans.

I, too, don't think Sarah Palin is stupid. I don't read a newspaper and haven't for years. I hate the NY Times. I don't feel dumb, and I don't think anyone would call me dumb. Maybe Palin just got caught in a truth that nobody wants to recognize - newspapers have generally gotten very bad and have been overtaken by other news sources.

As for renewed hope, yes, I think people hope that now that the Republicans don't have a stranglehold on our federal government, some liberal ideas and programs might have a chance of taking root and that business interests might actually be held accountable to someone other than their executives and preferred shareholders.

Keith said...

I totally agree with you. Well said.

Fox said...

Bill & Keith-

Thanks! :)

Jason & Marilyn-

On Palin and the papers...

I have a third, little bit different interepretation of that incident.

First, I agree that she flubbed that moment with Couric and the ENTIRE Couric interview as a whole. As PR goes, it was just bad. We may not like that elections are won on imagery, but they are, and Palin really did a poor job of bringing anyone NEW to the McCain/Palin ticket with that interview.

Now, specifically on that paper incident, I think she caught herself not wanting to appear moderate to a strong conservative base that wasn't so in love with the idea of voting for McCain in the first place. Had McCain chosen, say, the pro-choice Tom Ridge, I think he would have lost even more sizably to Obama than he did.

SO... I think Palin thought that if she said "I read the NY Times" then she may have risked pissing-off conservatives that like to rail against the liberal media.

There was also, perhaps, a bit of condescension in that question from Couric. It came on the heels of our pop-culture mimicing Palin's Alaskan accent and poking fun at her affinity for hunting and her hockey mom MILF-ness, so I can't help but think that Couric was sitting across from Palin with a little "you simple-minded bumpkin" snark in her eye. Not that the question was out-of-bounds. I think (almost) anything is fair game when questioning politicians, it's just that Palin hit whiffed at the serve that Couric gave her.

Jason Bellamy said...

"There was also, perhaps, a bit of condescension in that question from Couric. ... Not that the question was out-of-bounds. I think (almost) anything is fair game when questioning politicians, it's just that Palin hit whiffed at the serve that Couric gave her."

The question was certainly condescending. Couric never would have asked Obama that question, or McCain. Why Palin? In part because Bush used to brag about how he didn't read the papers, and Palin was jumping onto the ticket to appeal to the folks who loved Bush.

Beyond that, though, the story of Palin to that point was that no one knew who she was. For better or worse (still not sure on this), the McCain campaign did their best to control each moment she had with the media. So in that sense it was a kinda-sorta fair question, because the question beneath was: "Prove it." Not just about reading newspapers; about the Palin image. It was like a job interview. Couric was looking at the resume and saying, 'OK, I see you have this written down, tell me about it ...'

And so here's the thing. Team Palin knew that she was going to be asked to prove it -- not on newspapers, but on her 'record,' on her 'bio,' on who the heck she is. Couric's question was condescending, and kind of out of nowhere, and yet it was also a big fat fucking softball for a politician trying to prove her worth. The only reason it doesn't look like a big fat fucking softball in retrospect is that Palin swung at it and missed it. Twice.

I see what you're saying about the Times, but come on. That's a simple question to bullshit your way out of, even if you can't say the truth (which in Palin's case might very well be that she in fact doesn't read the newspaper). To be so unprepared that you can't provide an answer to that kind of a question is like showing up to a construction site without a hammer.

(One last thing that's kind of a tangent, but not really: The media as a whole went easy on Obama. Of course, angry McCain fans should remember that the media went easy on Bush for his first campaign and for the first few years of his presidency. That said, no one ever leaned into Sarah "Now-I-only-do-interviews-with-Sean-Hannity" Palin the way Bill O'Reilly leaned into Obama. Fair game. So if Palin couldn't even stand up to nasty Katie Couric and her eye full of snark, well ...)

Greg said...

I totally missed this on Friday because I was busy with important stuff-like stuff. So anyway, it's a good thing too because you're all wrong and what's needed here is someone comfortable in their intellectual snobbery, that would be me, to speak the truth.

All the back and forth about whether a President reflects the culture or the culture reflects the President ignores the fact that most of the world's population is really stupid. Judging from those I.Q. scores that have been politically incorrect for decades now, 95% of the world's population falls at or below the standard result. I don't. Ha ha! 99th percentile I am!

So what's my point? My point is that Dana Stevens can write what she wants because people are dumb enough to believe it and others are dumb enough to argue it's not true. Ha ha! It doesn't matter fools! All that matters to the commercial televison watchers of the world is that they dumb themselves down and smart themselves up at the properly appointed times selected by the media.

When Bush got elected everyone was like, "Boy, I am sick of being urbane and shit. Or crafty like that Arkansas guy and his shifty wife. I want a beer goddamit!"

And Bush filled that need. Then after eight years they were like, "Man could I go for a nice cognac right about now while reading the Harvard Law Review. Problem is I think I'm still supposed to be dumbed down."

Enter Obama and the media signalling to America it's okay to smart up. Perfect timing! Most people were going crazy for that Harvard Law Review.

Now the nineties did present a problem because Clinton was both smart and white trash so what was one to do? Folks knew they had to be crafty and be all European-like with their mistresses and such, but the President's nickname was "Bubba" and he ate Big Macs. So the media kind of dropped the ball there but now we're back on track.

See, it's about Presidents that can be easily classified and Bush and Obama can be. Clinton was difficult and the first Bush was a disaster. We didn't know whether to dumb down, smart up or take a nap. Who knew what to do? It was a scary period in our history I hope we never repeat.

And none of this applies to me! See, that's the best part. Because I'm intellectually superior to 99 percent of the world's population I know when the dumbing down or smarting up is going to happen long before it actually does and can stay ahead of the curve regardless of politics while at the same time using sesquipedalianistic words like... well, like "sesquipedalian."

See, I can go to the bar and say, "I'd like a beer," and everyone is like, "wait, we're supposed to be smarting it up right?" So they view me as a dangerous renegade element. Then I say, "Good day dear sir. How about those scoundrels in Washington. I dare say, I do believe they're mired down in a torpid swamp of nescience and incomprehension languishing in the shadowy recesses of a stagnant intellectual steriliy, yes?"

Now they're like,"Wait. He's drinking a beer but he's smarted up. I guess he's okay."

Ha ha, I'm the king of the world! I'm at the top of the heap! Ha ha! I win again!

Marilyn said...

Jason, You're absolutely right that the media went soft on Obama, that is, the leftist media. Normally balanced media sources like Talking Points Memo went so deep in the bag for Obama I thought they'd suffocate. It was a very disappointing performance, but I think the desperation to end the Bush era rule led to some pretty questionable behavior, including the misogynistic attacks on Clinton and Palin.

Was Palin ready for prime time - clearly not. I'm glad she's not our heartbeat away from the presidency. Nonetheless, she's not dumb, and that smear was about the equivalent of "dumb blonde."

Fox said...


You're (probably) superior to 99% of us, but the sad truth is that you're unelectable because as soon as you announced your candidacy media-types would do a background check and find people like JARVIS to soil your name.

Plus, think of all the inappropriate comments on your blog that they could tie back to you?! It's all really unfair. You have to live in one of those sensory deprivation chambers these days in order to have a clean enough profile to run. If you think our candidates have had it bad now, just wait until the Twitter generation starts running.

Fox said...

I see what you're saying about the Times, but come on. That's a simple question to bullshit your way out of, even if you can't say the truth (which in Palin's case might very well be that she in fact doesn't read the newspaper)....

Agreed. No matter what Palin's intentions were in handling that question, she fumbled it big time.

And isn't kind of sad that not being able to bullshit your way out is considered a ding on a politcian by most of us??? But it's true. Like Marilyn said, you don't need to read newspapers to be smart, or even to keep up with foreign policy or international events or who's in first place in the National League Central, but if a candidate says they don't read them, well, they're screwed.

Running for office is a terrible obstacle course. I can't imagine why anyone would want to do it, and I think it's the reason that some of our best and brightest stay away from it.

Jason Bellamy said...

"Nonetheless, she's not dumb, and that smear was about the equivalent of "dumb blonde.""

Marilyn: I'm not sure if that's directed at me or at the general treatment of Palin during the campaign. To be clear, I'm using the word "dumb" here because it's the word Fox used in his original rant.

That said, Palin sure has provided a lot of ammunition to suggest that she is, in fact, "dumb" as considered against her peers. I mean, this is the woman who was made to look foolish in an SNL skit that quoted her verbatim. And, again, this is a woman who couldn't think her way out of the "What papers do you read?" trap, which as traps go has the vise-like grip of snail.

In other situations, Palin has savvy, which is a form of intelligence. There's no question about that. But I don't think everyone who has questioned her intelligence has done so because she is female, if that's your implication. It sure doesn't factor in my assessment.

Which is not to say you need to agree with that assessment.

Oh, and Fox:

"Running for office is a terrible obstacle course. I can't imagine why anyone would want to do it..."

I agree with that completely.

Marilyn said...

I do not agree with that assessment. I do think she was pilloried as a "dumb blonde." I'm sure I could take a number of Obama's statements and make him look dumb, too.