Fall Break

Ahhh. A few blissful days to regroup, kick off one’s shoes, sip a warm beverage, grade two stacks of papers, read three books, plan two committee meetings, fly to Albuquerque for a conference, finish the revisions on the manuscript, meet with the architects on the building renovation, and otherwise enjoy a few days of… um… calm.

There’s been very little posting here of late (by me, I mean, not by my faithful commenters), which makes me very sad. The falloff has less to do with the fact that I haven’t had time to write than with the fact that I haven’t had time to get interested enough in anything to consider it worth writing about. And that’s just darned sad. So a moment to follow up on a couple of topics raised by earlier comments:

–Mom was in town this past week, and on Wednesday, we caught an episode of The West Wing, the first I’ve seen in just about a year, and can I just say, yawn. Aaron, my friend, you’ve let me down. Where is the pop and fizz of Sports Night, both in the dialogue and in the characters? Where is the obsessive treatment of governmental arcana so fascinating in the first years of TWW’s run? Once upon a time, your show managed to be the foremost public outlet for serious political discourse without being preachy or self-righteous; what has caused this vast decline? Is it simply the never-ending campaign trail? Has the Jeb Bartlett I once wanted to be my president gone the way of Al Gore, self-parodying, bombastic, and impotent?

–Having been taken to task for my gripes with Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and in preparation for a student reading group of same (itself in preparation for a lecture by author of same, here at the College Just South of the No-Longer Flaming Hill), I’m delving into the book again, this time with a new appreciation (thanks to CSA and BT) for the ways that Ehrenreich herself actually does describe the limitations of both her project and its potential for inspiring social change. You’re absolutely right, CSA, that the book is a wake-up call, and you, BT, are similarly dead-on in suggesting that this wake-up call is aimed at those sitting the ideological fence, closing their eyes to the difficulties of the working poor and persuading themselves that the American dream works, because it’s convenient. Ehrenreich never really makes any bones about the fact that the book is journalism, not scholarship, and as such, I think I ask too much of it to ask for solutions. Part of my earlier aggravation, which was really transformed into high dudgeon by the play — which is in effect an extended monologue by “Barbara Ehrenreich,” supported by a cast of amusing and pitiful workers — has to do with the centrality of Ehrenreich’s voice in the book, the ways that the narrative becomes all about her. But then, this is a larger problem with journalism today, I think: the story, as a friend once observed, now transforms with light-speed into the story of the story, and in that story, the journalist is hero.

I think there’s a connection between these two things, but I’m too tired to be able to figure it out right now. Perhaps after a little bit of the “rest” I’m sure to get during my fall “break,” and after a little input from some friends, I’ll take another stab at it.

3 responses to “Fall Break”

  1. Hey KF — worry not over the lag time between posts. P.O. is all about the quality, baby!

    Re Barbara Ehrenreich: my defense of her project notwithstanding, you are 100% right about the way the post-Tom Wolfe/Norman Mailer mode of journalism seems perpetually doomed to getting in the way of its own reason for being. Even when the story is a good one, even when it’s well told, it’s more and more the case that, as you say, the narrator gets top billing, and his/her noodlings drown out all else. And, as I said, I imagine the stage version you described as being an A-1 bad idea.

    You’re also right about the West Wing, which entered serious senesence (sp?) a couple of weeks ago, when CJ was shown MCing some repellent Rock the Vote party at a House of Blues — they had her wearing a short t-shirt, fashionably showing bellybutton.

    Now, I’m the last person to ask Allison Janney to cover up her midriff, but the PRESS SECRETARY OF THE WHITE HOUSE does not show belly. Not in this universe, not yet.

    It was a small thing — and all the faults you’ve named, Kathleen, are much more damning. But for me it was a sign that all quality control has been lost.

  2. Thanks, BT, as always; your comments are much appreciated. I agree with you that some of the foibles of contemporary journalism can be traced back to Wolfe and Mailer and that tendency, in the so-called “new journalism,” to equate powerful writing (i.e., the use of the conventions of fiction within non-fictional material) with the promotion of the powerful ego.

    I think the connection I’m seeking between the Problem with Ehrenreich and the Problem with The West Wing may be something far more dangerous, and not at all literary/representational in nature: I think the issue may well be the general — pardon the metaphor — flaccidity of thinking on the left these days. After all the talk several years back (most of it in white circles, of course) about the vacuum of leadership in the African American community, I think the more pressing (and often unacknowledged) problem is the vacuum of national leadership on the left. Who are we to imagine leading the charge for progressive reform, whether politically — Al Gore? Tom Daschle? Gray Davis? — or, for that matter, culturally — Michael Moore? Barbara Ehrenreich? Barbara Streisand?

    I think my disheartenment (okay, I know, but is there an appropriate actually existing noun?) stems from finding two potentially radical moments of political engagement in U.S. culture watered down by their authors’ self-congratulatory assumption that they’ve already got “right” on their side, and thus don’t need to do anything more.

    But now, of course, I’m re-heartened by trying to picture Ari Fleischer in a cropped t-shirt, maybe with a little belly-button ring…

  3. […] curious why. Perhaps it’s no more than a cyclical thing — it’s no accident that five years ago today I was thinking about much the same problem — feeling unable to come up with much interesting […]


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