Meet The Tor Johnson of Cultural Critics

LA Timesman Tim Rutten is the Tor Johnson of culture critics: a slow, lumbering space zombie who takes forever to get to whatever inelegant point he's making (typically a coupla-three weeks after it's relevant). And talk about subtlety! Here he is on the RDIB (recent descent into boorishness):

Our recent descent into boorishness didn't begin on the political platform but on the stage—not with our politicians but with our stand-up comics. Sometime in the late 1950s, the taste for comedy based on edgy political satire (think Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl) mutated into shtick based on insult (think Don Rickles and Jackie Mason). People, as it turned out, found it highly entertaining to watch other people being insulted.

It was, in economic terms, the commoditization of incivility.

It wasn't long before foundering AM radio found a savior in the proto-shock jock, Howard Stern, who turned rudeness and transgressive humor of every sort into a morning staple for millions of Americans. Incivility the commodity had found a broad new market, built on the animating insight that people found insults entertaining.

Whole brutish pile here.

Oddly, despite taking a couple of weeks to comment on Rep. Joe Wilson's idiotic and churlish outburst during Barack Obama's congressional address, Rutten couldn't rouse himself to throw in the obligatory Serena Williams comment, perhaps because the role tennis has played in coarsening the culcha upsets his easy morality play (I think it's fair to say that Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Ilie Nastase did as much to legitimize boorishness as Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, and Howard Stern—who, by the way, was funnier and more insightful into the American psyche at his peak than St. Lenny ever was).

Are people more, er, expressive than they used to be? Yes, in all sorts of ways. Are we a "coarser" society than in the past? I'm not so sure. Depends on how you define it (wasn't Joe McCarthy coarse? LBJ?). Does the coarseness flow one way, toward the Glenn Becks and GOPpers of the world? Certainly not, even in Congress, where Dems en masse can boo the president and Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) can say from the floor George W. Bush and the Republicans send our kids to Iraq "to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."

But at least Joe Wilson wasn't wearing flip-flops.

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  • ||

    Most people get their vision of the past through movies. Since movies weren't allowed to have swearing or nudity until the late 60s people think that swearing and lose women were invented then.

    Although I didn't live through it, my impression is that people in the mid 20th Century were more formal, generally dressed better in public, and probably had a little bit better taste and class than people do now. But, they were probably no less crass or borish than people are now.

  • ||

    The guy in that picture looks he's just been told he had to buy health insurance or go to jail.

    But I like the chain. Very Rampage Jackson.

  • Mister DNA||

    "Inspector Clay is dead... murdered, and somebody's responsible."

    There should be some sort of "Only one man can have this last name" battle between Tim Rutten and Bas Rutten.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Boorishness isn't coarsenes,, intolerance is coarseness. And yes, the culture is getting more coarse: zero-tolerance policies are multiplying faster than rabbits.

  • ||

    Rutten thinks Don Rickles and Jackie Mason invented schtick and insult humor? I suggest he read up on the history of vaudeville.

  • ||

    Are we a "coarser" society than in the past? I'm not so sure.

    At least as far as public spaces go, I don't think there's any question at all that we are, in our dress, our manners, and our morals.

  • Mister DNA||

    Rutten thinks Don Rickles and Jackie Mason invented schtick and insult humor? I suggest he read up on the history of vaudeville.



    No shit. As soon as I read that, I was thinking, "What about Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont?"

  • ||

    Rutten thinks Don Rickles and Jackie Mason invented schtick and insult humor? I suggest he read up on the history of vaudeville.



    Or Shakespeare.

  • Jim Anderson||

    After all, the coarsening-of-culture-so-it-implodes-and-makes-the-inevitable-transition-to-alien-rule-that-much-easier scheme is Plan 10.

  • ||

    I've been hanging out here for so long that I can now, with an accuracy rate in the high 90s, identify the author of a post without looking at the byline.

    Appropos of nothing, and there's no reason to think any of you would find this interesting.

    Ok, back to the sex scene.

  • ||

    Tim is so dull, so pompous, and so droning. Why, oh why won't he take a buyout?

  • ||

    why, oh why, won't the damn paper just go bust already? I wanna dance on its grave.

    does that me a bad person?

  • ||

    John | Although I didn't live through it, my impression is that people in the mid 20th Century were more formal, generally dressed better in public, and probably had a little bit better taste and class than people do now. But, they were probably no less crass or borish than people are now.

    As a geezer I agree with this. I remember when folks dressed up to go downtown in S.F. in the 50s, but since then roller derby, cage fighting, and the glorification of the criminal look have gone along with a general down turn in civility. People can be just as crass and stupid now as some were in the 50s, but now we have all the appearance of it at the same time.

  • TallDave||

    Didn't Adams once call Jefferson the son of a syphilitic half-breed or something?

    And they were friends.

    The RDIB is vastly exaggerated. History wasn't all Lincoln saying "My opponent is a fine man."

  • ||

    Minor quibble, but Howard Stern was only on AM radio for a couple of years at the beginning of his career, long before he hit the big time.

  • ||

    I miss the old days before comedy was based on hurting people's feelings, back in the days of the Three Stooges, when comedy was based on hurting people physically.

  • Garth Strait||

    Tell this ahistorical idiot to go read Aristophanes.

  • ||

    Didn't Howard Stern air primarily (maybe exlusively) on FM stations? How could he be the savior of AM as Rutten claims?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Crap, Garth beat me to it. I was going to say Juvenal, but same idea.

  • ||

    Tell this ahistorical idiot to go read Aristophanes.

    Crap, Garth beat me to it. I was going to say Juvenal, but same idea.

    Crap, Garth and BP beat me to it. Screw you guys, I'm going home.

  • jester||

    Egyptians invented slavery as a form of entertainment.

  • ||

    I didn't RTFA the linked piece (and won't, damn you!), but I got a good 5-10 second chuckle out of the picture and cinematic reference alone.

    One of the few things more boorish than 'cultural critics' (who the fuck elected you to be sheriff?) is their own boorish ignorance when they make yet another idiotic pronouncement of the decline of Rome.

    At least as far as public spaces go, I don't think there's any question at all that we are, in our dress, our manners, and our morals.

    RC--I'll take that as a good thing on balance. Yes, it degrades from the experience in public. I experienced the exact same thing last night in a open shopping/hangout area in Silver Spring, MD. It's particularly bad with the low-class black teens and (gad) 20-somethings around these parts (racist!), who seem to have their own special brand of crudeness that is amplified for all to hear, even though they are standing right next to one another.

    But, it means that we, as a people, have the right to act as we wish, even the right to act a complete and total tool in public, without worrying about The Man coming down on us for some violation of whatever subjective standard is being enforced that day by the state-sanctioned morality police.

    If it gets bad enough, I'll say something sufficiently intimidating to the yowling shitheads to curb the noise or I'll just vote with my feet and the retailers can deal with that.

    Even so, I had a good time out with my son, walking around and listening to a jazz guitarist play in a sandwich shop.

  • Fluffy||

    The change in public demeanor is 90% economic and 10% political.

    There's a leftist narrative that says that people are "less economically secure" now than they were 50 years ago, and that's true for the slice of the population that always only wanted one job, with one boss before whom one bowed and scraped for their entire working lives. That doesn't exist so much anymore.

    But we're MORE "economically secure" in some ways in the sense that for most people there aren't gigantic consequences to losing any particular job. People in the paragraph above who managed to LOSE that "one lifetime job" after investing a decade or two in it were completely fucked.

    People are more crude and boorish and rude because they can afford to be. They were always THINKING crude, boorish and rude thoughts, but kept them to themselves to avoid the negative consequences of voicing them, which were largely economic. Every aspect of your life was under a microscope when you were the man in the grey flannel suit, and facepainting at the Jets game and chanting "Fuck you Brady" when the rest of the community could see it might get back to your "one lifetime boss" and cost you your career track. Now for most people there is literally no one who can make you pay for the way you dress, speak, act, etc. because all the gatekeepers who might have tried have lost their power. If one boss doesn't like the fact that you're a facepainter, you can rudely and boorishly tell him to fuck himself and move on.

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