Thursday, June 08, 2006

Name that Inanity

Andrew Sullivan has developed a full list of superlative awards, named after the person who best exemplifies the particular qualities that Sullivan finds loathsome, irritating or outrageous in a writer, pundit or political figure. After reviewing a particlarly inane series of posts at the Reactionary Radicals blog (hereafter referred to as the ReRad), I thought that it would be good fun to begin a similar list of superlatives for the Daily Duck, starting with an award that would capture the peculiar variety of inanity that the ReRad crowd represents. So I am declaring a contest to write the copy for the first of the Daily Duck awards, the ReRad award.

Reactionary Radicals is a very new blog, started apparently by a splinter group of writers formerly associated with that most insufferably irritating of new political identity groups of 2006, the Crunchy Conservatives. One of the ReRad founders, Caleb Stegall, was perhaps the smarmiest contributor to Rod Dreher's short run book-club discussion blog at National Review Online. I dissected Crunchy Conservatism, and Stegall, in my post on Dreher's book back in February. Apparently Dreher's brand of faux-authenticism, Luddism and all around dour crunchier-than-thou elitism made too many compromises with the post-feudal world, so the crunchiest of the crunchy removed themselves to a higher plane of purity and righteousness and founded the Reactionary Radical blog, replete with the obligatory book, "Look Homeward, America" by Bill Kauffman. Our first exhibit of inanity, upon which to define the essence of the ReRad award, is from the introduction to the book:
I am an American patriot. A Jeffersonian decentralist. A fanatical localist. And I am an anarchist. Not a sallow garret-rat translating Proudhon by pirated kilowatt, nor a militiaman catechized by the Classic Comics version of The Turner Diaries; rather, I am the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day, conceived amidst the asters and goldenrod of an Upstate New York autumn. Like so many of the subjects of this book, I am also a reactionary radical, which is to say I believe in peace and justice but I do not believe in smart bombs, daycare centers, Wal-Mart, television, or Melissa Etheridge’s test-tube baby.

“Reactionary radicals” are those Americans whose political radicalism (often inspired by the principles of 1776 and the culture of the early America) is combined with—in fact, flows from—a deep-set social “conservatism.” These are not radicals who wish to raze venerable institutions and make them anew: they are, in fact, at antipodes from the warhead-clutching egghead described by (the reactionary radical) Robert Lee Frost:

With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new
Look Homeward, America

These reactionary radicals—a capacious category in which I include Dorothy Day, Carolyn Chute, Grant Wood, Eugene McCarthy, Wendell Berry, and a host of other cultural and political figures—have sought to tear down what is artificial, factitious, imposed by remote and often coercive forces and instead cultivate what is local, organic, natural, and family-centered. In our almost useless political taxonomy, some are labeled “right wing” and others are tucked away on the left, but in fact they are kin: embodiments of an American cultural-political tendency that is wholesome, rooted, and based in love of family, community, local self-rule, and a respect for permanent truths. We find them not at the clichéd “bloody crossroads” but at thrillingly fruitful conjunctions: think Robert Nisbet by way of Christopher Lasch, or Russell Kirk by way of Paul Goodman. Think, always, of things tending homeward.

Not that I have never strayed from home. From Alaska to North Dakota, from visits with pacifist homesteaders to neo-Confederate painters, I have sought what is vital, alive, flavorful, and seditious in American political life. I started in the employ of Pat Moynihan, the most intellectually impressive liberal Democrat of postwar America, and have ended at a homespun anarchism deep-dyed in the native grain, as the sort of typewriter agrarian who, quite unsuspectingly, bakes zucchini bread with cucumbers, somewhat in the manner of blessed old Henry Thoreau taking his wash in from Walden Pond for mom to do on weekends.

My favorite America is the America of holy fools and backyard radicals, the America whose eccentric voice is seldom heard anymore in the land of Clear Channel, Disney, and Gannett. It is the America of third parties, of Greenbackers and Libertarians and village atheists and the “conservative Christian anarchist” party whose founder and only member was Henry Adams. It is the America that is always disappearing but whose rebirth is written in the face of every homeschooled girl, every poet of the wheat fields, every boy who chooses baseball over Microsoft, birdhouse building over the U.S. Army. It is the America of those who harbor the crazy belief that Middle American culture might add up to something more than the oeuvre of Dean Jones.

Yet while I like a tidy Manichean division as much as the next zealot, I readily if glumly concede that as Middle Americans the fault lies in ourselves, as I learned on a sojourn in Columbus, Mississippi, a few years back. We drove into this lovely town of antebellum mansions and magnoliafragrant avenues, stopping at a local eatery. I am a hopeful romantic and expected to find vatic old black men whittling on benches, laconic loafers drawling wittily on courthouse steps, and tomboyish Nelle Harper Lee hiding in the bushes, taking it all down. Eh, not quite, Bill. The first Columbian we encountered was a sullen youth from Teenage Central Casting, playing the usual corporate schlock on his boombox. We entered the diner and were seated behind four ladies with mellifluous Mississippi accents. They spent the next half-hour recounting the plot of the previous night’s episode of Friends, that vulgar and witless NBC sitcom by which archeologists will someday condemn our civilization. I wanted to confront them, plead with them: Look. Here you are, citizens of the economically poorest yet culturally richest state in the union, the state that gave us Eudora Welty, the Delta Blues, William Faulkner, Muddy Waters, Shelby Foote, and yet you not only consume but crave the packaged products of cocaine-addled East/West Coast greedheads who despise you as ignorant rednecks and stupid crackers. Get off your knees, Mississippi!


You get the message. What is needed is a pithy, concise and picturesque phrase that can encapsulate the particular blend of delusional, pompous and pretentious auto-hagiography on display here.

Our second exhibit is this cheerlessly arrogant snub of the everyday patriotism of the average American citizen, from Caleb Stegall:
Thinking about Memorial Day and reading Dan’s quote of Lukacs below reminds me of one of my favorite Lukacs passages, from End of the Modern Age:

[T]he main question of the twenty-first century, the main problem, perhaps especially for Americans: the necessity to rethink the entire meaning of “progress.” … Our “conservatives” care not for the conservation of the country, and of the American land. Yet: more than tax policy, more than education policy, more than national security policy, more even than the painful abortion issue, this is where the main division is beginning to occur. So it is in my township. It is the division between people who want to develop, to build up, to pour more concrete and cement on the land, and those who wish to protect the landscape (and the cityscape) where they live. (Landscape, not wilderness. The propagation of wilderness, the exaltation of “nature” against all human presence, is the fatal shortcoming of many American environmentalists.) Beneath that division I sometimes detect the division between a true love of one’s country and the rhetorical love of symbols such as the flag, in the name of a mythical people; between the ideals of American domesticity and those of a near-nomadic life; between privacy and publicity; between the ideals of stability and those of endless “growth.”

That’s really the central question isn’t it? What do we love, the abstraction and rhetoric of the flag of progress and growth and empire or the real America that is all too often being destroyed in the name of that flag?


The contest will run until midnight on Friday, June 16th. I will be the judge, and to ensure objectivity I will not post my own entry. Enter as many candidates as you wish. Entries should be 20 words or less, and begin with "For ..", as in "For exceptional vapidity in the service of delusional nostalgia". The qualities I am looking for are cleverness, understated sarcasm, originality, creative use of vocabulary, and should capture the essence of the ReRad mentality in a way that is general enough to be applied to other unsuspecting denizens of the web-o-sphere who we may choose to bestow this award on, but not too general as to fit almost any brand of garden variety inanity. I call upon the creative denizens of the Duck-o-sphere to rise to this challenge. The contest is afoot!

10 Comments:

Blogger Brit said...

"For most heroic harking back to an imaginary Golden Age."

"For outstanding contribution to further muddying the definition of 'conservative'."

But for sheer, pithy internal irony, my entry will have to be:

"For services to e-Luddism."

June 09, 2006 1:48 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

For most poetic linking of the highest philosophical and patriotic values with zucchini bread with cucumbers. (Yuck!)

For fastest turn to contempt for those you thought you were celebrating and defending.

For most beautiful rendition of a bucolic middle-aged paradise that would bore any sane child to distraction.

June 09, 2006 2:39 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

For the most relentless abuse of the passive voice.

June 09, 2006 4:21 AM  
Blogger M Ali said...

The ReRad award is for outstanding contribution to the cause of holier-than-thou, self-satisfied, misanthropic agrarian elitism. And egregious name-dropping.

June 09, 2006 12:40 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't have an entry (like Jack Benny, I'm thinking, I'm thinking), but I do have a comment.

That first paragraph from the book introduction was absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt the worst pickup line I've ever seen.

June 10, 2006 12:03 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't have an entry (like Jack Benny, I'm thinking, I'm thinking), but I do have a comment.

That first paragraph from the book introduction was absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt the worst pickup line I've ever seen.

June 10, 2006 12:03 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

So far I like these three:

For fastest turn to contempt for those you thought you were celebrating and defending.

For most beautiful rendition of a bucolic middle-aged paradise that would bore any sane child to distraction.

The ReRad award is for outstanding contribution to the cause of holier-than-thou, self-satisfied, misanthropic agrarian elitism. And egregious name-dropping.

I'm actually thinking of splitting this into two awards, because the Kauffman quote and the Stegall quote depict two different expressions of the same philosophy. With that said Peter's phrase "For fastest turn to contempt for those you thought you were celebrating and defending" would capture the Stegall philosophy quite well.

Kauffman's quote would be a shoo in for Sullivan's "Poseur Alert".

OK, so it is decided. We'll have a Kauffman award and a Stegall award. Same terms. I never liked the term "ReRad" and was considering a contest to rename it, but that would be silly, so it is done. That is my decision, it is mine, and what it is too.

June 10, 2006 3:11 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Oh I see... "services to e-Luddism" not maudlin enough for you, eh Duck?...

June 11, 2006 1:05 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

You got it, Stiffy!

June 11, 2006 7:52 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Times up! The winners are:

The Caleb Stegall award - for fastest turn to contempt for those you thought you were celebrating and defending.

Congratulations Peter!

The Bill Kauffman award - for outstanding contribution to the cause of holier-than-thou, self-satisfied, misanthropic agrarian elitism and egregious name-dropping.

Congratulations M Ali!

I will post a link to these two awards on the sidebar later today.

June 17, 2006 12:00 PM  

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