The Unforgiveable Sin of Being Lame

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I want to follow up on the concept of cool-shaming. As we are in the process of airing this place out, this word is a key that can unlock a lot of the rooms, especially the mildewed ones.

After my post on cool-shaming, I was contacted by an alert reader (thanks, Eric), who pointed me to this post responding to the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity. The post is somewhat long, and if you want to read through it, allow me to register a language alert with you. But at the same time, this man’s rant-thrust went straight through the breastplate of the too-cool-to-care.

We are dealing with new permutations of this, but the phenomenon has been with us for a while. Think of the essential pose as one of political and cultural engagement as fashion statement. If a moral plugugly like Che Guevara can become an iconic T-shirt presence, then of course somebody is seriously disordered.

But the point for the practioner is to strike a safe pose, one that cannot be laughed at. And that is why those who figure out a way to laugh at this kind of thing are about the only friends our bedraggled republic even has anymore.

Tom Wolfe is of course deadly with the double barrels, and when he published that clay pigeon entitled Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, this was just his way of yelling, “Pull!” Back in the sixties, radical chic was the practice of wearing radical politics like it was a scarf you could buy on 5th Avenue . . .

Excuse me. I have just been informed that we are living in a post-metaphorical era, and that my use of a metaphor involving a gun may open me up to misunderstanding, and perhaps even to calumny. To all such calumnies, I can only say . . . “Pull!”

Excuse me again. Lest there be any unnecessary distress, allow me to deconstruct my own metaphor and point out that in the illustration the clay targets are the calumnies, which are abstractions, and are not the calumnators themselves.

I want first to make the point that this vice I am talking about is one that Christian moral theology has long been aware of. After that, we can discuss for a moment how this vice has gone viral, and has taken on the widespread cultural identity that it has.

C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, has Screwtape explaining to the junior temptor Wormwood how the simple can be taken in on this point.

“But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it” (The Screwtape Letters, p. 56).

Screwtape goes on:

“If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it” (The Screwtape Letters, p. 56).

When Lewis was addressing this, he was talking about a vice that an individual might fall into, or a set of bad conversational habits that a circle of acquaintances might allow to take over their discussions. Since that time, in the rise of all our virtual villages, we can see what this vice looks like when millions of people are passing it on like a human wave in a stadium. Ten million see a particular sitcom, and they are all cool-shamed into cringing when that unsympathetic and very greasy character makes that homojoke. Do you doubt what I say? Did you just cringe when I used the word homojoke? You may be a very conservative Christian, and you are with me on the merits, but you still do whatever their laugh track tells you to.

The key is in the unproven assumption that “whatever it is” has already been shown to be uncool, unhip, risible, or filled with hate. Communities, including blogospheric ones, are those which share their assumptions. They communicate their assumptions, one with another. They all partake of them. But some of us want to give those assumptions the raspberry.

So, then, back to Sarah Palin. As we get closer and closer to the next presidential merry-go-round season, I suspect we will all be discussing this a lot more. And I believe that there are substantive arguments to be made concerning Palin, both ways, for and against. I think this would be a good place to have those some of those discussions. Grab a cold one and have a seat. I am open to hear from those who would argue that the woman is a ding dong, or to those who argue that certain of her positions (e.g. her brand of feminism) mean that we should not support her. Have at it. But if you just assume that she is a welterweight because that is what “everybody who really matters already knows,” then this attempt at cool-shaming will just make me wonder (out loud) how it is that a welterweight has blackened so many heavyweight eyes so far.

Excuse me. By taking a metaphor from the boxing ring, I am not trying to encourage anyone to resort to violence in the pursuit of their political aims. Don’t punch anybody. Neither am I trying to say that a woman in the boxing ring is anything other than an appalling spectacle of the fruitiest and highest order.

There are some stately cottonwoods down the hill from us. Every year, once a year, the air around our house is filled with fluff that blows by us in the breeze. And that is what a lot of the anti-Palin criticism is like so far.



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