Then They Came for the Loudmouths
is a war being waged on a minority in America. The fact that
this is a vocal·really vocal·and often unlikeable·even
straight-up unbearable·minority should not excuse indifference
to the persecution.
in fact, our Constitutional obligation to defend and offer
equal protection to them. We Americans must not turn a blind
eye to the War on Cranks, er, the Critics.
it begin? Perhaps it·s been there from the very first.
Pamphleteer Thomas Paine, for all his contributions to the
cause of American independence, died impoverished, shunned
Critics are always in a precarious position: They tend to
have only an ·enemy of my enemy is my friend·
sort of bond with their audiences·and can often be
surprised to find themselves suddenly, unintentionally, nibbling
the fingers that feed. Paine, for example, was on firm footing
in criticizing England, but when he took on Christianity .
. . well, it·s not like he was a Dutch cartoonist,
but, really, you·ve got to be tactful with most of
the earthly incarnations of the monotheistic deities.
So, the danger of critical blowback is a longstanding one.
But there·s been a curious twist in the post-9/11 era.
Though reports of the Death of Irony proved to be greatly
exaggerated, reports of the rude health of earnestness were
the first critical casualties was comedian Bill Maher, who
lost his HBO show Politically Incorrect, of all titles, for
making comments that some took to be complimentary to the
terrorists who took down the towers. The tone was set.
then, the criticism of criticism·if you will·has
come from curious corners: Anarchic Internet trolls and half-mad
Tea Partiers, alike, are regarded and spoken of as threats
to domestic safety and political stability. Granted, when
a teenager harms herself in seeming response to cruel comments
online, it·s a problem; and it·s always troubling
when a politician you dislike gains electoral traction.
we being, well . . . kinda strident, kinda sissy, about the
whole thing? Are we so frustrated with the din of contending
voices that we·re longing for polite silence? ·Cause
that·d be, to paraphrase the Founding Fathers, ·boooooorrring.·
I mean, I like Jon Stewart as much as the next guy. And I
loved his confrontation with Tucker Carlson on Crossfire.
But the cancellation of Crossfire was disappointing. The real
solution wasn·t to kill the show but to stock it with
more guests like Stewart. More, not less, fundamental and
sincere disagreement. (It was the insincerity of the
show that Stewart was complaining about in the first place.)
be careful, I think, not to throw the baby out with the Beck.
Braying entertainers cynically posing as outraged populists
annoy the living daylights out of me, too. But, c·mon,
these guys and gals aren·t subtle enough to be sneaky.
They·re blatant as hell; and should be called on it.
desire for, what, polite society?, has infected not only political
but artistic discourse. In recent months, there have been
fragments of an e-mail interview with author Dave Eggers bouncing
all around the Internet. Eggers offers up a well-written and,
I·m sure, heartfelt mea culpa for having worked as
a critic. He begs people not to be critics, an activity which
came from ·a smelly and ignorant place in [him], and
spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy.·
These excerpts are being posted to blogs in the fashion of
daily affirmations, calling artists, makers, thinkers, etc.,
to say ·yes· more than ·no.· Eggers
drops some hip names·like the Flaming Lips frontman
Wayne Coyne·as examples of those for whom creativity
is an embrace, rather than a rejection. But, uh, an embrace
of this is also a refusal to embrace that, isn·t it?
aside, fine, so that·s how Wayne works, Dave. (We·ll
take your word for it.) But, honestly, I get as much pleasure
out of Chris Hitchens· half-mad renunciations as I
do of Coyne·s half-mad assemblages. If Eggers·
critical work was motivated by pettiness, spite, insecurity
what have you, he·s well out of it·and, praise
where it·s due, we·re probably a better society
for Eggers· embrace of embracing.
are some hands you refuse, some works you reject, some opinions
you reduce to rubble.
you disagree, productively, creatively.
ask the ghost of Tom Paine, there are some things you can
only own in their defense.