I was on a Sarah “NPR/The Incredibles/McSweeney’s” Vowell kick recently and I read her books Assassination Vacation and The Partly Cloudy Patriot and found them both really great – they were what I would want to write if I was as well-spoken and smart as her, personal but funny and actually educational. It helps that she started out as a music writer, that gives me some hope, although I hardly call myself a music writer, more just a person who found an opportunity to write about one thing I like, not particularly prolifically or with expertise, and have managed to milk it for free admission to shows.
I was also on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer kick for most of 2007, having gotten into the show thanks to TV Watching Companion’s devout obsession with all things Whedon, and now that it’s 2008, our house has become election-obsessed too. (Not my half of the household so much- I’m perfectly happy to keep my opinions to myself and hope that pundits and tv hosts will do the same, but my companion prefers to be informed by news networks at all times so there’s always some kind of coverage being blathered about in the background at Chez Whoisliz.) But the point is, we’re both interested in what’s happening in the country, I just happen to be willing to ignore it until November if I can because spinning people’s words for seven more months may be sport for some, but not one I find entertaining to watch — unlike vampire-killing.
So remember 2 weeks ago where Obama said folks in Pennsylvania cling to their guns and religion and whatnot? Basically everyone with a microphone called him elitist – this was covered perfectly on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart saying “Doesn’t elite mean ‘good’? Is that not something we look for in a president anymore? If you don’t actually think you’re better than us then what the f are you doing?!”. (I tried to embed this clip to no avail, blah. I also censored the F-word for my child readers. ) I think most people kinda got what Obama was saying but of course, there’s no fun in letting it lie, so now we can call this Poor-Choice-of-Phrasing-Gate. Considering the extremists that exist in our country (um, we do have the highest rate of gun violence of developed countries and uhh, then there’s that sect of Fundamentalist Mormons who are giving away their teen daughters to old dudes so they can breed the next generation of Fundamentalist Mormons…) religions and guns are only ok if you know how to use them and I think Obama may have been talking about the people who use them for the wrong reasons.
Back to Sarah Vowell and her book, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, where she discusses her disappointment in the results of the 2000 election between Bush/Cheney and Gore/Lieberman (which, despite the trauma, brought us the bumper sticker “Sore Loserman” which, for punniness I give a B+, congrats Republicans). She discusses how in America, knowledge is basically devalued from an early age – if you were the kid in class with the best paper, “you’re not smart, you’re a smarty-pants”. I remember clearly in my seventh grade Spanish class wanting so bad to pronounce words correctly but if I did, I’d be the only one in class to do so. Hey, I watched Sesame Street until I was like eight, of course I knew how to pronounce this crap (Muchas Gracias, Luis y Maria!), but since everyone else was pronouncing the double L in tortilla, I figured it’d be better to fit in and go with that flow. Then when I transfered schools in the ninth grade and was the only freshman in advanced Spanish, no one thought I was really smart, they thought I was a show-offy nerd, especially the one junior in class who couldn’t figure out why she was in Spanish with a freshman who was kicking her ass at verbos irregulares. Beat that, hermana.
Vowell discusses the fact that Al Gore’s know-it-all-ness while he was running contributed to his loss – he was inaccessible and people thought he was showing off when he would say things about the environment or, say, helping create the internet. He was unapologetic about his causes that he had studied so fervently (why should you apologize for your interests?) but because of that, Americans thought he was arrogant. The following passage from the book so completely struck me when I read it, partly because of the Buffy references but also because it’s so true and depressing. I probably need permission to post this but hey, y’all, I didn’t write it, Sarah Vowell did, credit where credit is due:
(click to enlarge, start with the second paragraph)
I’m not sorry for knowing Spanish the way that Al Gore shouldn’t be sorry for tracking climate change the way that Obama shouldn’t be sorry for not coddling every single voter he can and changing his story when the mood (or primary) strikes. Don’t we want leaders with opinions, preferably ones that don’t change depending on whether they’re guests on The Daily Show that day or speaking to the NRA that night? You might like shooting guns, you might have strong faith, you might hate a candidate for saying what s/he says – GOOD for you. You don’t wake up and think “My co-workers like Obama so today we will talk about the government getting their laws off my body! But tomorrow when I hang out with my fellow McCainiacs, I’m going to pray for those baby-killing sinners!”
News networks are the equivalent of paparazzi these days – I don’t care about Britney not wearing underwear, the same way I don’t care that candidates make off-handed remarks – who hasn’t said something and then wondered “Did that sound rude or racist or snotty?” I’m so over this election and I’m really over stupid people. I toil away at a nothing job so I can live a normal life while rich a-holes on cable news get paid millions to stoke fires of hate and change the course of our history and economy with their incessant verbal diarrhea. Roll of election coverage, hear my cry – I’m tuning you out because you make me hate our democratic system and pretty soon you’re going to make me hate every candidate for one reason or another – tell me how this divisiveness is productive? What’s your end game? Because if we learned one thing from Buffy, it’s that the best episodes are the ones with no words. That, and it sucks to live on a Hellmouth, which is pretty much what we’re becoming.