George Orwell is known for his fiction, but Politics and the English Language is my favorite of his writings. This essay should be read by all. In addition to highlighting my own incompetence as a writer, Orwell shows how stale imagery and vagueness are used to deceive others.
Both major political parties do it. Hazy-speak is at least 95% of all political communication; the best way to lose an election is to directly state your intentions. And so listening to politicians is a tedious exercise in deciphering code. A favorite example was Bill Clinton’s 1992 announcement of a “New Covenant,” which he called “a solemn agreement between the people and their government based not simply on what each of us can take but what all of us must give to our Nation.” Translation: fork it over.
This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.
Orwell’s observations about “tacked together phrases” and Strunk&White’s famous epigram (“Omit needless words!”) ring in my ears louder than my ability to silence them. It is an ongoing struggle to be clear, to edit away. Clarity is a headache, but muddled thoughts betray a lazy lack of understanding. Generally you understand something when you can explain it so that others understand it. If you can’t, then the roast needs more time in the oven before it is ready to serve.
The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases ”bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder” one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine… This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases… can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.
A warning to those who have not read this essay before: It may infect you for life. You may find yourself recalling its words often, perhaps while watching political hacks argue on TV, or listening to a company presentation, or reading a mission statement.
Angelo Codevilla recently noted something alarmingly simple: claiming that you can determine your own gender is worse than the Orwellian notion of 2+2=5. Think about that for a minute. It’s true.
This inanity is being pushed by a power elite whose overriding goal is to control others and dethrone Christian influence. It almost seems like a joke to see if they can get rubes to swallow another whopper. In any event, they have activated those, many in our own families, who want to dethrone the rule of God in their own lives as well. People delude themselves with nonsense because they are like moral driftwood flowing down a flooded road. As long as it enhances their autonomy in their own eyes, they are content to enjoy the ride. We can see the powerful effect of endless propaganda and its ability to corrode the most basic facts.
Cue this conversation in the video, where the DNC guy informs us that determining one’s own sex by a matter of will is “settled science” (those familiar with arguments over everything from human climate change to evolution will recognize this phrase, which is progressive-speak for “my theory is right, argument over”). Carlson effectively pushes against this absurdity in a way rarely seen on television. It may be illegal to do it in 10 years.
I rolled my eyes at one thing Carlson said in the otherwise fine interview. He asked his guest to name one scientist who believes as he does. In this unbelieving age, theoretical scientists are the high priests and ultimate authorities, unfolding the mysteries of life for us all… and when the “science” changes and it’s mostly different in 50 years and they’ve thought up new concepts (like the “multiverse”), well never mind that. Suffice to say that official “science” has made more false predictions than Harold Camping and the Watchtower Society put together.
Dear Tucker: They’ll find scientists to affirm “man is woman” soon enough. Where there is monetary advantage, there’s a way.
How great, therefore, the wickedness of human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God. -Martin Luther
Tim Bayly wrote today about something I mentioned in passing a few months ago. When abortion is raised, we almost instinctively now think about the president, Planned Parenthood, and assorted other scoundrels. We don’t really look to the main problem: the women having them. That’s ground zero.
I think this is another outgrowth of the success of feminism and focus-group demagoguery. Women are a victim class to many, and so the pro-life movement likes to play a victimhood tune that the world knows by heart. (For me, it’s more like an annoying jingle that I can’t get out of my head).
This kind of dealing in politically-correct PR may have its short-term advantages, but I think it does more damage than good. Its muddies instead of clarifies. It’s a form of dissembling that plays into a phony victim narrative. It does get politicians who aren’t going to do anything about the matter some fired-up campaign volunteers, though.
Unlike government-directed slaughters which are an ever-present facet of this world, abortion is millions of individual decisions. We can rightly scourge the assassin (Lee Roy Carhart) and his driver (Planned Parenthood, politicians, etc), but the one(s) who orders the hit is most at fault. After all, as abortion’s guardians and the (unjust) law itself tells us, it’s “her body.”
[He] delivered his speech, self-consciously Kennedyesque, full of words like sacrifice, challenges, bold, vision, summon, change, determination, resolve, renew, rebuild, revitalize, rededicate, and the trendy reinvent. … Though short, it was longwinded. [He] was careful to be brief. But in this case brevity wasn’t the soul of wit. He was straining for grand effects he didn’t know how to hit off, and he fell back on a vocabulary he deemed inspirational.
That sounds like it was written today, but it’s from a 1993 article by the great writer Joe Sobran on the occasion of Bill Clinton’s inaugural. Rereading it this weekend, and having transitioned from a twenty-something to a forty-something, I think I understand Sobran’s weariness a little better.
When it comes to pop culture phenomenons, the man on the street is often, as Robert Mitchum put it, “like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.” His interest is temporary because it’s based in “reality TV” amusement, not reflection. It’s about excitements and new things instead of sober thoughts and ancient things. And right now, Michelle and Barack are the new thing. I note in passing that MTV is running its own inaugural special. The theme: “Be the change.” Any questions?
Meanwhile, the mainstream media continues to engage in its reflexive worship of left-wing power. The state to them isn’t a punisher of evildoers, it’s god and church and daddy and mommy. Liberals like to fantasize about an inspired citizenry that joyfully unites behind a progressive leader, but this will never be the case because when you force people to fund stuff they wouldn’t voluntarily pay for, you create resentments and factions. Muggers can’t be leaders. At least they can’t be leaders of those being robbed. I doubt us rubes will ever learn to be cheerful givers when it comes to funding other people’s abortions, their banks, their welfare checks, their unions, or their government jobs. I, for one, don’t want pay for state-funded educations, retirement, or health care either, because none of those functions belong to the state.
Liberals prefer not to be reminded that they achieve their goals by the threat of force (namely, imprisonment), but that’s the fist behind any government action. There’s nothing pleasant about it, no matter how pretty it looks and sounds on TV. It’s just a “boot stamping on a human face– forever,” to use Orwell’s memorable phrase. In other words, it’s a raw exercise of power by the Frankensteins in Washington. Render unto Caesar– or else.
Anyway, read Sobran’s witty article. It’ll do you good and maybe repair some brain cells if you’ve spent any time witnessing the endless fawning on TV this weekend.
One rarely hears the word “harlot” today. We still hear the word “whore,” but mostly in a non-Biblical sense (“attention whore”). The implications of fornication and adultery are mostly gone. The decline from “sodomite” (Biblical term implying judgment) to “homosexual” (clinical term) to “gay” (phony euphemism) is now mirrored by the decline from whore/harlot (judgment) to today’s “prostitute” (clinical cf. the TNIV) to tomorrow’s euphemistic heir apparent: sex worker.
Sex worker. What a term! Norm MacDonald, whose vulgarity clouded clever satire, nailed the new morality back in 1997 (and yes, all but the punch line really happened):
In San Francisco last week, a birthday party for one of the area’s leading political figures, attended by the city’s Mayor, Sheriff, and members of the board of supervisors, culminated with a performance in which a dominatrix used a razor blade to carve a satanic star into the back of her male partner, then urinated on him, before finally sodomizing the man with a liquor bottle. After learning of the incident from press reports, San Franciscans expressed shock and outrage that the liquor bottle was not recycled.
Environmentalism is one thing, but the precincts of liberalism that glory in their irreverence and acceptance of degradation are way too precious to deal with anything implying condemnation. This gets the Tolerant crowd downright offended, angry, even violent. That’s not what they mean by free speech, pal. It turns out that the world has its own Puritan (impuritan?) streak.
“Sex worker” seems so bland, so inoffensive, so legal. And of course, the whole point is to muddy the waters and soften the blow. Consider:
How the faithful city has become a whoresex worker. -Isa. 1:21
“You have played the harlotsex worker with many lovers; and would you return to me?,” declares the Lord. -Jer 3:1
Not quite the same, eh?
Even we Christians cringe when hearing “harlot” and “whore” used in their Biblical sense. They aren’t meant for polite company any longer. But isn’t that another mark of our worldliness?
I was quite interested in Adolf Hitler as a youth. I read and reread books about him. With the advent of the History (aka. Hitler) Channel, Hitler is even more fascinating to people. My theory is that much of this interest springs from the occultic and Wagnerian theatrics of his early dictatorship captured by Leni Riefenstahl. It’s the juxtaposition of the gas chambers with the candlelight vigils, the swastika, the salute, and massive demonstrations of spartan order, all done with a painter’s eye. I still remember a high school friend’s funny imitations of a fanatical Rudolf Hess.
Stalin and Hitler shared many attributes. Both had alcoholic fathers. Both were involved in underground subversion. Both were eccentric, fanatical, paranoid, cunning, ruthless criminals. And yet, for all their shared traits, I think Hitler was, at core, a nut. Stalin was not a nut. And that perhaps explains his enduring fascination for me, perhaps more than any other non-Biblical historical figure.
Robert Conquest’s standard The Great Terror is a good starting point to learn about Stalin. There are the biographies of Volgonokov, Radzinsky, Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen, Animal Farm, Darkness at Noon… the worthwhile books go on and on. Solzhenitsyn’s rapier-like Gulag Achipelago, especially volume 1, provides revealing insights into The Friend of the Working People’s character, as does a keen chapter from The First Circle describing an encounter between the old dictator, circa 1950, and his secret police chief Abakumov. Victor Kravchenko’s I Chose Freedom is a harrowing and sadly forgotten journey of a Soviet technocrat through collectivization and terror. Malcolm Muggeridge’s upward journey from leftism began with his own experiences in early 1930s Russia, recollected in his riotous autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time. David King’s sadly out-of-print coffee table book, The Commissar Vanishes, is an Orwelllian look into the dangers of owning even pictures of Enemies of the People. It also shows ongoing falsification of photographs and history itself (for example, this infamous photo of Stalin, Molotov, and “the bloody dwarf” Yezhov). Imagine being part of the team who brushes out a body and replaces it with background! There are some great photographs in the book, including a particularly sinister NKVD group photo entitled “Murderers.”
On a lighter note, there is the singular East Side Story, a slow but truly odd 1997 documentary on the genre of Eastern European musicals. It includes vignettes from several American-inspired Soviet musicals of the 1930s, including Stalin’s favorite movie, the happy-go-lucky Volga Volga (I have the full version– alas, no subtitles!). Released at the height of the Great Terror, it is said that Uncle Joe saw it a hundred times and even gifted a copy to FDR.
If they appear on Turner Movie Classics, don’t miss the dreadful Mission to Moscow and North Star. These wartime films were created by major studios at FDR’s behest as tokens of friendship toward our Soviet allies. Both are among the worst things Hollywood ever released. The first is just a wonder to behold; the falsehoods are astounding. It even pleasantly spins Stalin’s loathsome prosecutor Vyshinsky, he of infamous lines like “I demand that dogs gone mad should be shot – every one of them!” Meanwhile, North Star, written by Lillian Hellmann (who is skewered in Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals), features a happy, well-fed collectivized village. The depredations of Ukrainian villages fresh in his memory, the defector Kravchenko said that the film “drove me to helpless despair.” “Why, why,” he asked, “did these Americans insist on fabricating a paradise and locating it in my tortured country?”
None of these works, though, answered questions I’d long pondered about Stalin. How did a man sign off on thousands of executions of innocents and then attend the cinema that same evening? How does he send millions to dreadful camps, destroying lives and families? How could he lovingly prune his roses and sing along to musicals and yet casually deport entire civilizations? How could he imprison and shoot members of his own family? His charm was considerable (he charmed even enemies like Churchill). That he charmed the dilettante FDR is no surprise. Nor was his appeal to leftists, including Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Paul Robeson. The ongoing fascination of leftists with Utopian thugs from Stalin to Mao to Che is well-chronicled — hilariously by Muggeridge and in more scholarly fashion by writers like Paul Hollander. (It’s hard to imagine now, but pre-WWII Russia was admired by progressives and the avant-garde. Fellow travelers went to faraway Siberian towns to build socialism. The motherland supposedly offered equality to all races. And if a few million were crushed by the Bolshevik bulldozer, well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.) Furthermore, Trotsky and his followers said that Stalin was a clever politician but an intellectual lightweight. But how did that explain the mordant wit of his epigrams? His diabolical cleverness is seen in this exchange with the Spanish war correspondent Mikhail Koltsov:
Stalin: “How do they address you in Spanish? ‘Miguel’ or something?”
Stalin: “Don Miguel, we honorable Spaniards thank you for your excellent report.”
Koltsov: “I serve the Soviet Union, Comrade Stalin.”
Stalin: “And do you own a revolver, Comrade Koltsov?”
Koltsov: “Yes, I do, Comrade Stalin.”
Stalin: “And you are not planning to shoot yourself with it?”
Koltsov: “No, Comrade Stalin. I never even thought of it!”
Stalin: “Well, that’s excellent, Don Miguel! All the best, then, Comrade Koltsov.”
(Koltsov was afterward arrested and shot.)
So these were all vexing questions. But then this decade saw the release of two magnificent books by Simon Sebag Montefiore that have finally begun to answer them. The Court of the Red Tsar (2003) is a fascinatingly detailed look at the intricacies of Stalin’s court after his ascension to power. Young Stalin (2008) covers his early period through the 1917 revolution.
Born in Georgia of the southern Caucasus, Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili ended up in religious schools. The teenage boy was a promising poet who abandoned his Orthodox faith at Tiflis seminary (though he fondly sang Orthodox hymns with his cronies once in power). He went underground around 1900, and never truly resurfaced until 1917. It was during this time that he took his revolutionary name Stalin (man of steel). Young Stalin was always on the run, working his network of terrorists, criminals, sympathizers, party members, and lovers. Two illegitimate children resulted. It was one long period of robberies, agitation, and executions, always matching wits against Okhrana (Tsarist secret police) agents. As young Joseph put it: “To choose one’s victim, to prepare one’s plans minutely, to slake implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed.” It was said that Stalin had an uncanny knack for instantly knowing Okhrana spies. Periods of exile interrupted this existence (such relative Tsarist leniency would not characterize the Bolshevik regime). One such exile was a four-year interval in the netherworld of the sub-Arctic Siberian taiga, where he could catch fish in the bitter cold and break off frozen, raw bits of flesh to melt in his mouth. It was perhaps the happiest time of his life.
Montefiore argues persuasively that Stalin never left the paranoid world of the criminal underground after the Revolution. He shared Lenin’s pitilessness. Lenin would send his Georgian disciple to the areas most in need of vicious repressions in the Civil War, whereupon the shootings would soon begin. After Stalin rose to power, war was continued against “rich” peasants and supposed double agents, industrial “wreckers,” and “hostile party elements.”
Aided by the archives, Montefiore explodes the idea that Stalin was an intellectual non-entity. He was a crucial figure in Bolshevik circles long before the revolution, and indeed was Lenin’s right-hand man for a time after it. He was a man of action with a will to power, a man after Lenin’s heart. Stalin was a voracious reader and autodidact. His preparedness and intelligence intimidated even his smartest underlings. Ruthlessness and brilliance is a bad combination.
Soviet Russia of the 1930s was one of the most bizarre and horrific periods in all of history. Peasants were herded into collectivized farms, with millions killed in the displacement (food was still exported during the resulting famine). The political show trials in the Hall of Great Columns featured witnesses and defendants who were beaten to ensure that all went smoothly. The Western press at the time predictably bought the lie. These sham trials featured those the maestro most despised; many were left pathetically groveling for full communion again with their beloved party. (Solzhenitsyn noted that at Yagoda’s trial, when he begged his life, “a match flared in the shadows behind a window on the second floor of the hall… and while it lasted, the outline of a pipe could be seen.”)
The revolution devoured its children during the Great Terror of the late 1930s. Longtime allies were rounded up and shot, including Stalin’s own in-laws. Former paramours were imprisoned along with the wives of his magnates. He executed the wife of his devoted attache. Scores were settled with old Bolsheviks like Kamenev and Bukharin who patronized or offended the young Stalin. Even most of his secret policemen were tortured and killed after serving their usefulness.
The gulags swelled with untold millions throughout the thirties. These chains of inhuman labor camps, the “sewage disposal system” to use Solzhenitsyn’s term, were put in place by Lenin just as Solzhenitsyn said long ago, back when it was still commonly said that Stalin had corrupted “pure” communism. As the archives show, this is completely false. Lenin was worse than his detractors thought. (As a sidenote, the ruthless Molotov knew both Stalin and Lenin well, and thought Lenin the more severe of the two. For example, a letter from Lenin to Molotov shows how Lenin used the famine of the early 1920s… “Now and only now, when people are being eaten in famine-stricken areas, and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses lie on the roads, we can (and therefore must) pursue the removal of church property with the most frenzied and ruthless energy and not hesitate to put down the least opposition. … [P]ass a secret resolution of the congress that the removal of property of value, especially from the very richest lauras, monasteries, and churches, must be carried out with ruthless resolution, leaving nothing in doubt, and in the very shortest time. The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and the reactionary bourgeoisie that we succeed in shooting on this occasion, the better because this “audience” must precisely now be taught a lesson in such a way that they will not dare to think about any resistance whatsoever for several decades.”)
Montefiore has summed up the dictator up this way: “Stalin is one of those subjects that one never gets bored with. He was incredibly complex and subtle, both diabolical and terrifyingly seductive.”
Mr. Montefiore needs to finish off a trilogy with a biography of the (underserved) 1917-1929 years!
We’ve all experienced the cliches and boredom of a graduation ceremony. There’s that point during the speech where, as Orwell described it, “one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.” That’s what made this Alan Keyes speech memorable when I first saw it on C-Span years ago. It was so strikingly different than the usual flowery nonsense. It spoke of inevitable disappointments and (imperfectly and obtusely) the point of the Christian life.
And at some point in your lives I think you will pass a certain line… where you feel the weight of your past a little bit more than you feel the lure of your future. … [Y]ou will reach a point … where most people most of the time have to acknowledge that all of the wonderful dreams that fill your mind today didn’t quite come true. The books were not written, the films were not all made, the loves were not all enjoyed and somewhere along the way you have to deal with things you already have begun to know. The hard hours and the tough losses, the things that don’t work out and the people who were here yesterday but are gone now, whose love was a certainty that failed, whose hope for you was expressed in ways that you did not understand until it was too late.
I, unlike some folks, I can’t stand up here and say, Well, just go out, dream as you please and everything will happen, success will be yours, all you have to do is believe in yourself!’ This is not true. You can believe in yourself all you like, you’ll still fail, some of you. But in the midst of all of that, in the midst of all the things that go wrong and don’t come out right and don’t quite measure up to what you had hoped would be the case as you sit here today, if you are able to believe in something more powerful, more important, more permanent, more true, more good, more just than you are, then, then you have some hope of real success.
We’ve heard that term “American exceptionalism;” I think many American graduates have great expectations for life. However, then life happens and they realize that they aren’t going to be the center of anything extraordinary in earthly terms. They won’t be St. Augustine, putting an unmistakable stamp on civilization. They likely won’t even attain 15 minutes of fame. Consider, though, that even those obscure fishermen of Galilee, if Christ hadn’t come to them, would’ve lived out their days as obscure fishermen. God raises up and casts down.
And so this, it seems to me, is our purpose: to live our lives modestly, fulfilling our vocations, looking forward to our entry into the presence of God. To not seek fame with the world, but, as Lewis termed it in The Weight of Glory, “fame with God.”
Anyone who works in corporate America is aware of diversity programs. They ban discrimination on the basis of gender, creed, religion, and of course, “sexual orientation.”
Should we harass homosexuals? Of course not. But companies that sound the Diversity bell always — always, in my experience — end up moving eventually from toleration to affirmation. Today’s progressive policy change leads to tomorrow’s sponsorship of agenda-driven speakers and events.
Furthermore, “Diversity” turns out to to be, like an Orwellian ministry, the opposite of what it claims. The stuff about creed and religion remains in these policies as a historical artifict. There’s respect only for a toothless creed and religion, not the kind that would actually draw persecution. Religion is swell as a private matter — a “lift in your shoe” as the quite unfunny comedian George Carlin used to call it — but proclaim a creed that homosexual behavior is sin against a holy God and you’ll be about as welcome at a diversity event as a styrofoam cup.
The road is wide that leads to destruction, but corporate Diversity is a narrow gate and a veiled threat. Any premise is fine as long as you reach the approved conclusions.
A certain blogger has called Barack Obama “a god to the godless.” Which leads to two thoughts. First, Obama may be Apollo right now in the liberal pantheon, but Al Gore is Zeus. Second, the substitution of political figures and political power for God is as old as the hills. Politicians are masters at using blather to masquerade as purveyors of hope.
Politics, like sex, is transcendence for the apostate. Secular mysticism.
Lately I have seen critical articles written in various places about mini-popes with blogs. Indeed, you see a number of sites with widespread influence who upbraid and even call the offices of other ministries, and yet few of the people doing this are themselves ordained. I ask this of blogs aggressively geared toward teaching: What authority do you possess? It is the role of laymen to for web teaching ministries via their blogs? I am not convinced that it is. (And need one mention the number of women doing the same?)
At the same time, blogs are conversations and thoughts. It seems absurd to seek pastoral blessing to post an article any more than you phone your elder before discussing Christ with a relative. However, at what point do one’s thoughts become teaching? This is something I have thought much about lately, with no resolution (yet). I have left it at this: Resolve to be purposely deriviative in all theological writing on this blog. It’s 99% recycled paper. This is why quotes are common in the land of Pipe. I am not a teaching elder or one given to novel intepretations of Scripture. I’m content to popularize the thoughts of others and stay in the middle of the penguin pack of historic Christianity.
I proclaim freely on Culture posts, aided by Solzhenitsyn, Lewis, Muggeridge, Orwell, various churchmen, Sobran, Hazlitt, Nock, and others. Although interested in political and economic theory, I despise the daily partisan hackery and shilling that the pretentious like to call “political discourse.” Besides, politics is a god of this age. Who but a fool expects much of politicians? Manure attracts flies; power attracts power-seekers. Politicians bring ill-gotten goodies; Christ, eternal life.
Many blog comment sections are overrun by legalists, here’s-what-I-feelers, and other spiritual troublemakers. Whether it’s a sports blog, a political blog, or a Christian blog: erudite commenters are the minority. I don’t want known error being given space on this blog, and that includes the comments, and I’d be compelled to patrol it. It often takes hours to create a simple article for this blog, as the process of writing and editing is a way of coalescing my thoughts. Even brief prose is struggle. Because there is life to live in my local world, comments remain closed.
One goal of this site is to create a reference library of sorts– a searchable compilation of quotes and thoughts. I try to avoid writing endless articles, the exception being when I am creating something for later reference (e.g. the women’s ordination writeup). There are too many blogs posts out there in severe need of an editor; pithy the web is not. A lot of people spend more time writing than thinking.
As a public service, I have pinpointed the acme of American popular music. It occurred in 1956 during the final 1/3 of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” An oboe solo (!) resolves to a joyous, Riddle-led orchestra, and a giddy singer drives it home. Arrangement and vocal: peerless. The great American albums aren’t the White album, “Woodstock,” or “Dark Side of the Moon,” they are “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers,” “In the Wee Small Hours,” “Nice n Easy,” “Jolly Christmas,” and assorted other Sinatra discs from the 1950s.
Classic Sinatra never gets old because, like old school country and bluegrass, it is music for adults. It doesn’t look dumb to see a seasoned Tony Bennett or Ralph Stanley onstage. It does look dumb to see the Stones up there “rocking” while a bunch of gray-hairs bang their heads. I remember bemusedly observing an audience engaged in this while walking by an outdoor Grand Funk Railroad concert back in the late 90s. The hypnosis ended when the singer shooed us along, berating us for not buying a ticket.
How many of us have heard the standard rundown about the rock era, that to appreciate rock you have to get into the blues, and then you have to see the mixture of Gospel, blues, and country that was Elvis, and then along came the British invasion, then Dylan went electric and the Summer of Love happened, Hendrix blew up, and Woodstock showed us peace, love and understanding, and then the punk rockers came along to reinvigorate things when they got stale, and then… OK, you get the point. Folks, trust me, most of this music isn’t worth such scholarship. And why do insular Boomers listen to little but James Taylor, the Beatles, the Eagles, and CCM? Someone is paying $100 to see Dave Matthews in concert.
And now this music has been imported into the churches. Look, I love classic Sinatra, but I don’t want the organist laying down an East Coast Swing rhythm during the liturgy. I like Johnny Cash but must we hear boom-chicka-boom during the prelude? Boomers, listen: It’s time to grow up.
You know, popular entertainment was once aimed at adults. Movie stars were often in their 40s, even 50s: James Stewart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ronald Colman, and my own favorite, the inimitable, but not dreamy, Basil Rathbone. Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and Bing Crosby were the big boys. Today it seems as if everything is targeted to youth, perhaps because someone discovered the buying habits of 18-34 year olds in a wealthy society.
And so the youth movement continues. These youths seem to know almost nothing beyond popular culture, with bits of pieces of knowledge gathered from fifth-rate sources like the Daily Show. Politics is pop culture’s only intellectual endeavor. Not politics informed by economics or political theory or Christianity, mind you, but the kind of unfocused blather skewered so perfectly in Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” What we have in popular culture today is a big self-referential web of half-formed thoughts, like ping pong balls popping about in a lottery tube.
What can I say: This old crab Gen-Xer is ready for the juvenile “Rock Era” to end.