- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

Willie’s ‘subtext’

“I heard it again in the car the other day … ‘Beer for My Horses,’ the No. 1 country music single for the fourth straight week. …

“Holed up in a Hampton Inn, I stumbled across a tribute to Willie Nelson in which various contemporary country artists sang duets with the grand old man. Toby Keith … strode onto the stage, and as the two performed the song I thought, ‘Is this an old Willie tune unknown to me? It’s catchy; I like it.’ …

“Two of the best male voices in country music today, Keith’s rich baritone and Willie’s contrarian twang, made an unlikely but oddly charming pair.

“And then I listened to the lyrics.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone less inclined to agree with Toby Keith generally, or with the sentiments expressed in ‘Beer for My Horses,’ than I. … It’s a paean to vigilante justice, a cry for the good ol’ days when a man had to pay for the ‘wicked thing he done,’ usually by swinging from a ‘tall oak tree.’ …

“The text speaks directly to people’s fears, hatred and sense of righteous indignation; the subtext, of course, is pure post-9/11. … In message, the song amounts to masculinist, parochial-cum-nationalist, evangelical eye-for-an-eye, pro-death penalty drivel devoid of social context, lacking any awareness of the systems and structures that induce people to commit crimes on a local level or that make the world look as it does today. It’s nauseating.”

feminist historian Kate Haulman, writing on “Say it ain’t so, Willie,” July 15 in Salon at www.salon.com

Academic nonsense

“The tortured prose common in academic writing often produces both unconscious comedy and literary scandal. …

“Scholars in the humanities spend much of their time writing, and are forced constantly to read the work of superb writers. Yet they pour out streams of gnarled and barbarous sentences and don’t even know they are doing it. Professors in English departments, after lives spent close to the best literature, usually produce the worst prose. …

“Mass culture now attracts the most bizarre theorizing. When moviemakers changed James Bond’s brand of vodka, Aaron Jaffe of the University of Louisville wrote that this ‘carries a metaphorical chain of deterritorialized signifiers, repackaged up and down a paradigmatic axis of associations.’

“We can classify much of this prose as pomo-babble. … In pomo-babble, being incoherent isn’t enough. The best pomo-babble requires a high level of jargon density. One word or two won’t get you there. You need four key words in any major sentence. In pomo-babble it’s appropriate to praise, for instance, a transgressive challenge to the valorization of hegemonic narrativity.”

Robert Fulford, writing on “They Should Know Better,” July 15 in the National Post

Panther Times

“Like many other ex-‘60s radicals, I once made the unfortunate mistake of thinking that the Black Panthers were a legitimate social protest movement. …

“Within a few years, I understood that I should have described [Huey] Newton and his cadres as psychopathic criminals, not social reformers. By now, a torrent of articles and books, many written by former sympathizers, has voluminously documented the Panther reign of murder and larceny within their own community. So much so that no one but a left wing crank could still believe in the Panther myth of dedicated young blacks ‘serving the people’ while heroically defending themselves against unprovoked attacks by the racist police.

“Except, that is, at the New York Times. … [T]he paper’s obsession with white guilt and black victimhood apparently still trumps every standard of journalistic and historical accuracy.

“Where else … could a review of an exhibit of photographs of the Black Panthers turn into a political lecture by a white art critic on the justice of black violence?”

Sol Stern, writing on “Ah, those Black Panthers! How Beautiful!” in City Journal at www.city-journal.org

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