Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G
sinetimore

Ad Hominem Attacking 101 -- Proving Superiority By Establishing Inferiority

There are some people, very few, that I consider beyond reproach.  Usually, people who are admired are admired because the person who admires them doesn't know them very well.  Lots of people, myself included, used to think Mel Gibson was a cool and fun guy.  Then he got drunk, opened his fool mouth, and all the details of his personal life and religious beliefs came together.  No longer could people like me just shrug off the things we disagreed with, we knew too much and turned our backs on him (and it recasts his roles in a new light, as he is basically playing himself).

One of the trickiest things is for an artist to associate him or herself too closely with their art.  Barbra Streisand, for example, has intertwined her political leanings so closely to her identity, it becomes nearly impossible to separate the artist from the art (no great loss as far as her music goes, which I regard as MOR pablum.  It's worse with her early movies like For Pete's Sake, which was genuinely funny).  Bono.  Jane Fonda.  James Cameron.  These are people so determined to make themselves seem godlike through artistic media that you become aware you are not experiencing entertainment, but you are endorsing the self-importance of these people.

Which, naturally, brings us to artistic rivalries.  These can be good.  Tex Avery and Hannah-Barberra, when they were doing cartoons at MGM, were each bound and determined to outfunny the other (keep in mind, this was a friendly rivalry, not a vicious one).  The result was comedy gold that has withstood the test of time and made them legends, Tex Avery with his rampant imagination and HB with Tom And Jerry.  But here's the thing -- the rivalry was born of, "Anything you can do, I can do better."  It was done to see who could make their fans laugh longest and hardest.  Many artistic rivalries are the result of, "I'm better than you, because I get it and you don't".  It uses completely arbitrary measures that apply to only one person instead of going, yeah, it's different, it's popular, it's not what I would do, live and let live.

My favorite writer is Mark Twain.  (Well, okay, he and Douglas Adams are constantly elbowing each other for the top spot in my mind, but you know what I mean....)  Recently, Tom Wolfe wrote a piece for the New York Times to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Mark Twain's death.  I regard Tom Wolfe as a writer and nothing more.  Books like Bonfire Of The Vanities, I got what he was trying to do, but I just wasn't falling into it.  His prose seems more from the point of view of "I have judged these individuals to be worthy or slimeballs."  I didn't get the impression his characters were "alive", that the world existed regardless of them, but that things were just thrown their way, they had to work out a certain way, and his characters were part of the ride.

So Tom Wolfe putting down Mark Twain is a real kick in the nuts for me.  He talks about how Twain wrote stories celebrating the everyman, but never lived as an everyman himself.  (Mark Twain made some coin and decided to live in a nice house?  Why, I can't imagine anyone doing that!)  Bonus points for Twain being a Southerner -- it seems lots of people like to pick on Southerners for no reason other than they are Southerners and can depict them as inbred illiterate dirtballs (look at SNL and MadTV, where this is especially prominent).

Wolfe wrote, among other things....

"From the moment he published his tall tale of the California mining camps, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” in 1865, the name Mark Twain began to romp around the world. He was looked upon as some kind of Huckleberry Homer.  . . . This improbable yobbo, Mark Twain, had risen up from the buried life of the mines and the boiler rooms and done an amazing thing. He had turned the local yokel’s yawping yodels into … literature!"

"Yobbo"?!?  "local yokel's yawping yodels"?!?  Where the fuck is this coming from?!?

Continuing....

"Whether or not Mark Twain ever did a day’s worth of manual labor in his life is debatable. Early on, in Hannibal, Mo., he was a spindly boy with a big head, a little neck, sloping shoulders and not a muscle in his body."

Uh-huh.  If you've ever done manual labor, you wouldn't blame Twain for getting a gig where he didn't have to do it for a living.  I don't see Wolfe returning the $7 mil advance he got for Back To Blood so he can get a lunch bucket, a W-2 form, and trade those white suits for old T-shirts and jeans.

It's one thing to simply not like or hate Mark Twain's work.  That's understandable, just because I think someone is awesome, it does not automatically follow that everyone else will think so, too.  And critiquing others work is a noble tradition, one Twain himself did with scathing parody that was still dead-on in its points.  But when you are to write a piece celebrating someone and all you do is give them a big long condescending pat on the head, you aren't telling the audience anything about your subject.  You are telling them about you, and what an arrogant windbag you are.
Tags: haven't we suffered enough, hypocrisy, infernal gall, stupidity, wtf
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