“National Lampoon” (What, Again?!?!)

Almost all of these depressing and catastrophic developments were news to me.  As I said earlier, in what has proved to be the most surprising frequent topic in this blog, I stopped paying much attention to the operation and its spin-offs after 1978 or so. (I’ve never even seen a “Vacation” movie since I regard Chevy Van Chaser as toxic unfunny.) But the NatLamp story is still enlightening on several levels.

One, in the contest to revive a once-notorious outsider magazine, Punk and CREEM now have to give up the Botch Crown to National Lampoon. Obviously no other publication has fallen as far or squandered so much energy.

Two, this is further confirmation of a most peculiar failure of understanding: reviving a brand is weak and lazy. It’s just throwing out an imitation. Inventing a hit brand is a lot harder, but the real task at hand.

Third, the piece touches on a crucial transformation: NatLamp started as a mixture of the subversive and the sophomoric. And it eventually went with the easier option. Part of that whole horrible wave where racist and sexist and generally bigoted humor was considered “bold” or “rule-breaking,” whereas the opposite type of satire was and is the tough way forward.

Yeh, I know — it’s cheap fun to satirize the squares and the Establishment. But those are extinct. The powerful and smug and cruel and hate-mongers and anti-thinkers are the targets of our time, and they can be fired upon.

Presidents and Fantasies

Important piece about, well, POTUS doing the job.

And also the importance of the fantasy pushed by the administration. It was important to the Establishment for the compliant press to present JFK and Jackie as this magic, perfect couple. Of course that made the assassination more shattering, but an odd followup that almost nobody noted was that Jackie seemed to get over him pretty damned pronto. I half expected her to mourn the rest of her life.

It was important to sell the fantasy that pipsqueak Viet Nam was nothing and we were winning, any day now. LBJ was hated more because of the deception.

Now the fantasy of the return of high-paying manufacturing jobs is crucial to scads of people. They just want it to happen — who cares if there’s a plan or a program or even a possibility.

Every time I’m tempted to yield to thoughts of  “Boy, maybe cool careers writing about the arts are gonna come back,” I remember these sorts of insistent fantasies.

The NY Times’ Freaky Fixation on the Clintons

Charlie provides an invaluable reminder of the weirdest case of journalistic fixation I can think of. Welcome note of what a rodent William Saffire was, too. I though he might be the last of a dying McCarthyite breed, but nooooooo.

The broadest explanation I’ve run across is a regional/cultural disdain that grows ever more repulsive: who do these Arkansas lumps — her with the fumpy dresses, him with the fast-food and shades and saxophone — think they are trying to run a country that’s crowned by Manhattan? They’re too seedy to not be guilty of something. And we’ll find out what that is if it takes 50 years and we have to make it all up.

Yech.

The Disappointing Development Beyond Disappointing in My Lifetime

Farhad Manjoo said it best in the Times:

an overall attitude that brutish capitalism is the best that nonelite customers can expect from this fallen world

That is our current condition in America. The anti-materialist crusaders in my youth warned that this was all to possible. Back then, I thought the danger was real, but that awareness of it would be enough to prevent it happening. But then, I thought the lessons of Viet Nam would be learned and we would not stumble into our current state of endless war. It coarsens, and corrupts and gives strength to the pernicious idea that we live in a cursed world where there’s no agency, only fate. And that chaos is only a form of change.

A Wise Old Cowboy Once Said …

As a child I heard a number of then-cryptic or opaque remarks from adults that stuck with me and seem more and more apt.

One came from an ancient ranch-hand who was a permanent resident in one of the rooms of my father’s hotel. He had been around in the late 19th century when there still was something of a Wild West and a Frontier. More than anyone I knew, he seemed diminished by having to spend his days in town and sleeping in a couple small rooms. But he couldn’t even walk down stairs any more. He spent a lot of time sipping cup after cup of weak coffee at the cafeteria counter.

During slack times when I was working behind that counter, the old dude would reminisce about the “Open Spaces” and his years helping herd cattle and sheep. He was especially fond of afternoons when he could be utterly alone — no sign of human activity as far as he could see. That was the real Open Spaces.

He knew that was less and less possible. One day he said something strange:

“When there’s no more Open Spaces, all that will be left is pounding on each other.”