After six months away, our correspondent finds the U.S. suffocatingly inward-looking — and gauche.
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The most surprising American cliché to emerge recently is the allusion to Proust’s doorstop novel that nobody reads, Remembrance of Lost Time. The madeleine cake scene, in which the taste triggers childhood memories, has been extended, at least in the Boston suburbs, to any memory event. One Sudbury woman tells me, “A certain type of person uses it with abandon today.” I read a newspaper account recently that proves her point. A Canadian Air Force colonel who made a habit of stealing women’s underwear from the neighborhood and videoing himself prancing around in it was re-creating the “Proust moment, the biting into the madeleine that brings back the rich memory,” rhapsodized a Columbia University criminologist. Proust was also in the background when he watched his video of himself strangling his neighbor’s wife. She had caught him hiding behind her furnace.
A peek into the uptight world of newsgathering can be had for two dollars and a look at page 2 of the New York Times, the Corrections section. One can only imagine the shame a reporter suffered for mentioning GLAD instead of GLAAD (two competing gay-lesbian groups), or the reviewer of the book Red Herring Without Mustard who wrongly said a Gypsy woman turned up dead when actually she was only badly beaten. But my favorite is the sloppy cricket writer who referred to Raugarajan Sricharan instead of Sricharan Rangarajan. At least Sricharan cared.
Want to buy insurance in America? Apparently it is a hilarious experience. The Geico pig, the Aflac duck, the Allstate reckless driver, the Flo the Progressive agent all want to let you in on the fun. Insurers used to try to scare you into buying their wares. Now they pick your pocket while you’re laughing.
But coming in from the outside, it’s the mangling of the American language that bothers me most. Next time some divorcée tells me she is “in a better place” I may scream. If a politician or a businessperson tells me of plans “going forward” I just may say I prefer going backward. Beware of anyone who tells you a policy or a budget is “transparent.” And “mashup” now appears in the public prints, even in the prose of the estimable Michiko Kakutani, who apparently was stuck for a real word to compare a new book to three other genres thrust together. Please, can we all go backward together?
Perhaps the word with the most curious history is “suck”, now common parlance among the young but viewed suspiciously by their parents, who know what it really means. A few years ago, as the word was working its way into daily speech, a woman came to McGraw-Hill to sell us her magazine. She said it was worth a lot because the competition “sucked.” I thought six white-shirted, tight-suited McGraw-Hill executives were going to choke. But they agreed with her and she walked away a very rich woman. The magazine was the now-defunct Byte.
Suck has a controversial history. Even Mel Brooks fell afoul of the language police when he made his movie Life Sucks. The studio forced him to change the title to Life Stinks. Now my daughter has to censor her kids when they sing along with Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You.” Kelly is perhaps mild compared to Cee-Lo Green, who leaps straight to the F-word. And what is one to make of his passage, “I don’t know what you came to do but I came to get this thang crunk for you.”
I think I’ll go back to France.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?