Saturday, April 18, 2009

Working Blue

It's been a strange week. The primary political story of the week was the series of Tea Parties that took place on Wednesday. Much of the media coverage of the events was pretty dismissive, which isn't especially surprising, given the worldview gap between many of the participants and those who work in the media. What was surprising was the persistence of MSM types referring to the participants in these events as "teabaggers" and to describe the events as "teabagging."

I'll stipulate that I'm not always the most sophisticated fellow around -- I grew up in eastern Wisconsin and these days I spend most of my time traveling from my home in one benighted suburb to my job in another benighted suburb. Somehow I'd managed to get through the first 45 years of my life without ever hearing of the term "teabagging," which I've now learned refers to a sexual practice favored in certain quarters that I do not frequent. To my knowledge, teabagging doesn't happen on the turnip truck from which I fell.

So if teabagging means a sexual practice, why on earth would MSM members like Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, David Shuster and Andrew Sullivan refer to those who were exercising their right to free speech as "teabaggers?" Scott Johnson at Powerline has a theory:

There is not only something funny going on here, there is a story here. These supposed journalists and their networks (or publisher, in Sullivan's case) have rather seriously insulted the citizens who colorfully took to the streets to air respectable views in a most civil fashion.
There's no doubt that there was an insult embedded in the messaging, but I think what's really at play here is how fundamentally unserious our media betters are. Sometimes I suspect that the MSMers are jealous of the adulation heaped upon Jon Stewart, the comedian who runs a fake newscast on Comedy Central, and the repeated use of the term "teabagging" gives them the chance to be as naughty as they think Stewart is. Never mind that Stewart is probably the biggest purveyor of conventional wisdom out there -- making fun of hicks is as daring as a Ole and Lena joke. It's the newsman as Bart Simpson, getting the bartender to ask for Anita Mantohug. I understand the impulse -- I once got away with letting fly an X-rated reference over my high school's P.A. system, an especially good trick when you go to a Catholic school. But you'd like to think that trained media professionals would be past that sort of thing. And I would also suggest that people who proffer such juvenile behavior really don't have standing to sneer at the provincials.

Of course, you can go too far the other direction, which brings us to the curious column that George Will let fly the other day. I'm not sure if Will lost money on Levi Strauss, but he came out with a ringing denunciation of those who wear blue jeans:

Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.

You tell 'em, George! I'll get off your lawn, too.

This is such a cavalcade of nonsense that one hardly knows where to begin. Sometimes the best place to begin is with a world-class fisker like James Lileks, who looks at a few of Will's assertions thus:

We can gather much from this, aside from the fact that the tea was tepid when served that morning, which always puts one in a querulous humour. We can assume he hasn’t seen more than two seconds of “King of the Hill,” a very clever show that’s firmly on the side of the folk who share his instincts and understands their culture far better than Mr. Will does. (Hank Hill is a man haunted by Oughts of all sorts, constantly parsing the demands of modern life with the Oughts that arise from being a middle-aged Texan father who deals with propane. And propane accessories.) The self-contented sneer against animation suggests no disrespect for the thing itself, but rather the moving drawings aimed at adults. They should content themselves with the amusing engravings in Punch, which stay in one place and do not excite the blood.

As for allowing gamers to vote - well, tart, puckish disapproval noted, and keenly felt. I admit that I have used my computer to construct large theme parks, defeat Jedi masters, secure nuclear material in rogue states, and slog through Hell itself. Imaginary pursuits all, and hardly befitting an adult. I should sit myself in a large stadium and watch men in striped suits stand around and spit while waiting for another man to hit a ball with a stick, and I should do this 100 times a year, and I should also issue rhapsodic encomiums to the timeless American nature of watching men stand around and sit an wait for another man to hit the ball with the aforementioned stick. This is what adults do. Unless they are doing it in a simulation on a computer, in case the franchise should be withdrawn. (The vote, not the major-league endorsement of the game.)

I should go the game in a suit, of course.
Indeed. That's how they did it in 1947, back when we prized individualism. And I'm guessing George would have more credibility if he didn't wear things like this in public. But I digress.

Why do people wear jeans? They are functional. They are comfortable. They are durable. I wear jeans almost every day. Am I making a statement? Not really. I just figure that linen trousers aren't a wise choice when I'm coaching 3rd base in a Little League game, to name just one thing I tend to do. I've sat in a cubicle in a suit and I've sat in a cubicle in jeans and a polo shirt and the only difference is that I'm more comfortable (and thus more productive) when I wear clothes that don't constrict my movements. I can only surmise that, having failed on his investment in Levi Strauss, George has decided to go long on One-Hour Martinizing.

One last thing: the people making teabagging jokes are wearing suits. Draw your own conclusions.


Gino said...

lileks kicked will's but.

i wear jeans because i want to.
i would assume a libertarian minded guy like will should be satisfied with that excuse alone.

besides, i never claimed to have any class in the first place, but i'm know i'm not gay enough to wear yellow slacks and a green polo in public.

BTW: this is one of your best posts ever. well written, with the right amount of nasty that works for you.

my name is Amanda said...

I kept snickering to myself about "tea bagging" even before I knew that the folks as MSNBC were actually saying it on the air (I found that quite shocking/funny). And I wear jeans almost everyday as well.

Aside from the Tea Parties, the concept of tea bagging as a sexual practice is completely silly - nobody actually DOES it. (Do they?!) But to be honest it's a little difficult to be serious about a "movement" that doesn't send out a clear message, doesn't have a clear goal, other than "we don't want to pay taxes." Taxes protect people, taxes build roads, taxes defend the country - and its allies. If they want to revolt about something, maybe focus on how much money is spent where. Not just "Quit taking our money!" I don't want to be demeaning, but I found the majority of the sayings on the posters childish and ill-thought.

Meeting a ridiculous situation with a ridiculous innuendo seems fitting to me.

Mark Heuring said...

Thanks, Gino -- I appreciate the kind words.


I think there's more of a message there than "we don't want to pay taxes." The larger message is how much government do we really need. No one I know really questions the need to build roads and protect people and the country. Where it starts to get stickier is when you ask how using TARP funds to take over banks is a legitimate government interest, and if the people we are protecting in, say, Germany, are really people we ought to be protecting. And that's to say nothing of using money for high speed rail lines between here and Chicago or funding embryonic stem cell research that hasn't been able to find private money, or any number of other boondoggles that you might think of. And that's not even bringing up the huge issue of entitlements that will soon be bankrupting my children.

No one disputes the need for a certain level of government. It's a very legitimate issue to ask if we're at a point where some things government bids fair to do are illegitimate.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Amanda, I think there is another uniting theme for those who have attended tea parties: we are not subjects of the government, instead government derives its authority from citizens. Now you can fairly say that citizens made a decision in November. However, is it really hard to take seriously hundreds of thousands of people who are deeply unhappy with what their government is doing and took the time and the effort to assemble peacefully? No doubt there are some cranks in the bunch, but consider that there might be a lot of regular folks in those crowds who are saying something that should be listened to.

Now even if you feel that they deserve absolutely no respect, do you really want the press to go around insulting people instead of reporting the news? Is that really what you want?

Right Hook said...

A lot of people who went to games wearing suits sixty years ago also wore dorky looking bow ties...

Night Writer said...

I think there are a couple of dynamics at work here. For the past few years there have been those who had an uneasy sense that our financial system was running on smoke and mirrors while the so-called smart people talked about what a great thing it was and told us to relax because everybody was doing it. We've seen the results of that and on the heels of that collapse we're asked to believe we can borrow our way out of debt, that we have to first quadruple the deficit in order to cut it by half and that the additional costs of more regulation, artificially restricted resources and higher taxes on "the rich" and corporations won't get passed on to everyone else.

People with common sense are finally saying, "What, do you think we're that stupid?" and the answer from the leadership and MSM is, "Well, yes we do," as proven by the reactions we've seen. Some continue to plumpher fallacies about "95% get a tax-cut" while others figure that if they're going to answer in absurdities anyway they might as well be off-topic and obscene. It's a desperate effort to keep the smoke machine going and the mirrors polished in the hopes that folks will go back to sleep.

Second, why is such off-color commentary met with a wink and a giggle and non-stop repetition? Is it because of where it's coming from and who's being mocked? What would the MSM reaction be if someone like Bill O'Reilly were to respond to the ramifications of the bailouts and budgets by saying "President Obama wants to raise taxes for the same reasons a dog licks his balls: because he can"?

(Sorry about the language, Mr. D, but it's the only analogy I could come up with that seems to fit. Since you're previewing, it's your right to edit if you see fit.)

Mark Heuring said...

Don't worry about the language, NW. I'm thinking it was le mot juste.And I agree with your analysis entirely. While I question the efficacy of the tea parties, I have never for a moment questioned the sincerity of those participating. And they deserve a lot better than to be referred to in a sniggering way with a term that is best used for sexual deviants. Sometimes the MSM drops its mask. This was one of those moments.

my name is Amanda said...

Mark, you (and other bloggers, some media) are the ones explaining the POV of the protesters, because they seem to not be able to cohesively express it themselves. Unfortunately "independent undecideds" who actually need to to be convinced one way or the other aren't going to be trolling the blogosphere. They need to be able to understand exactly what is being protested. I posted a photo on my mini-blog explaining my criticism of the protesters.

Where is your opinion on the fact that many of the posters displayed used the term "tea bagging" in various different ways themselves? They can talk about "tea bagging" Washington, but WE can't refer to them as "tea baggers?"

WBP, I believe that the first goal of media should be objective reporting. Do I WANT the goal of reporters be to insult the people about whom they are reporting? Nope. However, I also don't want them to publically accuse people who speak out against going to war as being unpatriotic or as not supporting the troops. Willful misrepresentation and attack. How is that anything other than disrespect? Please don't speak as if the media is suddenly being disrespectful by not taking taking a particular story seriously. This has been going for YEARS.

And finally, if tea bagging as a sexual act actually exists, I disagree that this is reserved for "sexual deviants." It's an oral activity, like any other, unless you have been given a completely different definition than I.

Mark Heuring said...


It's pretty much axiomatic that people are going to take notice when its their ox that gets gored.

I can only speak for me, but I never found the anti-war protests unpatriotic. Wrong-headed, yes. Stupid, in some cases. And yes, there were elements among the anti-war protesters who were Anti-American - there are people in this country who hate this country and would like to change it into something else entirely. In any population of 300 million, you're going to have people who feel that way. Fortunately, they don't get much traction. And the presence of people who are actively anti-American doesn't make any protest itself un-American. It's important to define our terms. Vigorous debate is completely American. Where we run into problems is when certain viewpoints are proscribed.

And to that end, you can refer to the protesters however you choose. I'm with Voltaire on that one. I reserve the right to disagree with the characterization.

As for your point about bloggers being the ones who actually explain what the protesters might mean -- in some cases, yes, that's probably true. I'm sympathetic to the cause of limited government, although I wouldn't take it to the reductio ad absurdum level that would be indicated by a sign that says "no taxes." That's why I blog -- I'm just trying to make sense of the world.

Here's the irony of all this -- it is your generation that will really get the short end of all this spending that the tea parties are protesting. When the bills come due, you will be in your peak earning years. It's highly likely that you will have to defer things you'd like to do in your life (and potentially the lives of your children if you are blessed to have some) because you and your generational cohort will be on the hook for what is happening today. And we're quickly reaching the point where we can no longer kick the can down the road.

And if you don't mind, I'll pass on the discussion of particulars involving tea-bagging.

Night Writer said...

Amanda, for the record, many of the bloggers explaining the meaning of the Tea Parties are also among those attending same. That doesn't mean all are ready to have a microphone shoved in their face, or that every member of a protest must be Cicero.

When you say a movement isn't getting its message out you need to be aware of who may be filtering that message or how it's being presented. The message got out just fine to those interested in it, via those new-fangled blogs and tweets and emails. Nor was the message easily co-opted; elected Republicans asking to speak at the parties were almost universally denied. I would suspect that many in the Republican leadership want this to go away just as much as Pres. Obama and CNN want it to.

Rhetoric aside, here's a fundamental point to consider that has nothing to do with politics: What means are available to a government to raise revenue? It can charge tariffs; it can borrow money (that needs to be paid back from future revenue); it can sell property (Alaska, for instance); it can sell bonds (another form of borrowing, really); it can "print" more money (thereby devaluing it); or it can raise taxes. Governments can't manufacture anything that can be sold; they can't attract more customers. With the mind-boggling amounts the government is financing now, how will it ever pay it back? (I might also point out that you can't really tax a corporation: any increase becomes a cost of doing business that gets passed on to the consumer. If the price gets too high the consumer buys less and the corporation also makes less and pays less taxes.)

W.B. Picklesworth said...

However, I also don't want them to publicaly accuse people who speak out against going to war as being unpatriotic or as not supporting the troops.Hmm, I would be very surprised if you could find any examples of journalists who made such attacks on anti-war protesters. What you would find a lot of would be journalistic attacks on conservatives alleging that they were questioning the patriotism of protesters. In both cases the media was carrying water for liberals and in that sense you are right, "This has been going for YEARS." I am sick of it too because it is causing serious damage to this country.