Thanksgiving Death Porn

|

This Thanksgiving, while reading the crappy Reno Gazette-Journal on a lonesome stretch of Highway 395, I gave renewed thanks that I do not, and hopefully never will, live in George Will's world.

NEXT: Two to Bookmark

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. You see this sort of thing in National Review a lot. Desensitizing people to others suffering through repeated graphic depictions of their deaths seems to be an important part of certain righty activist writers’ efforts to sell their political vision.

    “How can you worry about 1300 troops dead in Iraq, when thirty bazillion died in 14 minutes in some Civil War battle? America needs to be tougher!” That sort of thing.

  2. Oh yeah, pointing out that once upon a time people’s biggest problem was not the size of their credit card debt is desensitizing.

    I call it perspective.

  3. It seems a long logical leap from hearing about people freezing to death in a blizzard to an attempt to desensitize people to a (stupid) war.

  4. Yeah, that would really blow…a syndicated column in over 150 newspapers, a 20+ year gig on ABC, books that sell very well, wads of cash for speaking engagements…I’m not sure how I could stand it.

    Joe: you’re getting warmer, but the “sort of thing” you describe is more like: deaths in the American Civil War and deaths in Fallujah, while hideous beyond description, are rooted in causes that are fundamentally just.

  5. I’ll take a Vow of Lifetime Poverty over having the kind of mind that reacts to Thanksgiving by reciting grimly detailed and turgid accounts of a January 1888 blizzard in North Dakota.

    Then again, the children’s books spinoffs are tempting … “A Donner Party Christmas,” perhaps, or “Flayed on the Fourth of July”….

  6. Matt, I’m not sure where you’re coming from, but I think you’re in agreement with joe, who is a frickin idiot. First of all, I don’t think you can blame Will since he’s just regurgitating what another guy (Laskin) wrote. And second, if *history* skeeves you out that much, you need, as Toxic sez, some perspective. If your objection is to an alleged melodramatic rendition of historical fact, then OK. But are you actually insinuating that Will, Laskin, or anybody shouldn’t write about historical tragedies? I can’t imagine you are.

    Occasionally we have that argument around here that liberals tend to know less American history than conservatives, which would perhaps be suggested by joe’s post. Are we resurrecting that discussion now?

  7. I have trouble seeing the problem.

    As for Joe, he’s just upset Barbara Boxer wasn’t around then to issue winter safety instructions on her website.

  8. Eighteen dollars for a homestead? According to the “Little House” books I devoured as a child, it was fifteen.

    Joe-
    I’m not sure I see your point here. I mean, if right now there were a national epidemic of poor people freezing to death in their homes because of the high price of heating oil, and Will responded by telling this story as a segue into why modern poor people shouldn’t complain, I’d agree with you wholeheartedly. But. . .are you saying that we shouldn’t ever talk about the hardships suffered by people in the past? At least not until after the war is over? Do we limit ourselves to talk of artificial, man-made hardships like wars and genocides rather than natural hardships like storms of volcanoes?

    I strongly doubt you actually think any of this, so I’d like to know what you DID mean. I’m left-wing too, and disagree with about 85 percent of National Review and TownHall.com, but I don’t see what’s bad about telling tales of the past.

  9. “storms OR volcanoes”

  10. I think the lesson to learn here is that history sucked, and I’m glad I’m not living in it. Credit cards rule, and mines almost back at a zero balance. And it’s comforting to guess that this “perspective” issue may extend to the point where my great-great-great grand children can say, “Man the turn of the mellinium was stupid. People’s lives sucked way more than now.” Also it’s nice to think I might be part of the process that makes that possible.

  11. I really want to see a video of a storm of volcanoes. I bet it will be on a Fox special sometime in 2005.

  12. Slag — At the risk of explaining myself, I find it bizarre to write a Thanksgiving column like George Will’s. Not because of Iraq (?), or the National Review, or because History creeps me out … but because it’s friggin’ Thanksgiving, and he’s writing lines like

    In minutes nostrils were clogged by ice. Eyelids were torn by repeated attempts to prevent them from freezing shut.

    About a freak storm that happened 116 years ago in the wilds of North Daktoa. I suppose you either find that loco or not.

  13. I, in general, agree with Reason (and their writers) nearly 100% of the time, but I think Matt just had too much time on his hands.

    I go for “not”.

  14. Matt: We cross-posted, so you’re 5:29 post explains what you meant.

    OK, so it’s a matter of timing. You would prefer a happy-happy-joy-joy kind of an essay on Thanksgiving, but not the boilerplate “the Pilgrims gave thanks because most of them died during the winter” Thanksgiving story, because that’s too depressing. And certainly not Will’s take on maintaining “perspective.” Because you’re all about blaring the Waitresses’ “Christmas Rapping” while sailing down 395, and man, that Nebraska snowstorm shit is a real buzzkill.

  15. A few years ago – when George Will used to have a video editorial on ABC’s “This Week” – Will claimed that the success of the Harley had nothing to do with movies like Easy Rider.

  16. I don’t find it to be the Most Stirring Column Ever Written, but it certainly doesn’t make me wonder what sort of “world” George Will is living in. Seems he was eager to write about a book he liked, and found a handy topical connection.

    I don’t see what’s so off-putting about Will’s being thankful for the hardscrabble pioneers who helped push American progress. If he’d just read a good new book about Lewis and Clark — or about virtually anyone who suffered for America’s future — I could imagine a similarly themed piece.

    So, while we each read the same column, it looks like you zeroed in on the “morbid” part while I zeroed in on the “thankful” part. Makes me glad I don’t live in Matt Welch’s world. Though it must be fun hanging with Ken Layne now and then.

  17. There’s an old tradition of, around the holidays, writing essays about the horrible suffering that other, less fortunate people have had to go through.

    It’s not weird, it’s just kind of cliched and depressing.

  18. All I know is, reading it made me feel thankful, you buncha delicate, coddled p#ssies. 🙂

    For a great book about how liberty leads to the difference between prosperity and starving in the dirt, read The Discovery of Freedom: Man’s Struggle Against Authority by Rose Wilder Lane, written during WW2. Viva la world revolution!

  19. I wonder if part of the point is that there are many places in the red-states where Death itself can reach-out and grab you? It doesn’t take the hand of man to deal death from unexpected places and catch one unawares. Tornado, flood, blizzard and drought are a part of the rural landscape. It affects one’s persepctive on what’s important, and what’s really trivial….even though the trivial can seem all-consuming at the time.

  20. Jennifer,

    I’ve got nothing against remembering history. It’s the way it is being done here that I find distasteful – to use the greater horrors of the past in order to make it easier to dismiss the horrors of the present.

    John Derbyshire does this a lot. If he’d been recounting this story, he would have ended it with sneer at people who are concerned about homelessness, or hunger, or heating costs.

    snake, pushing the number of dead at Appomatox in the reader’s face (or whatever brutal episode the writer chooses) has absolutely zilch to do with the justice of the cause. If you haven’t seen the genre of writing I’m talking about, I guess my comment doesn’t make much sense. OTOH, if you have a passing familiarity with John Derbyshire, Victor Hansen, or some of the other manly men at NRO (no, not Goldberg), it would make more sense.

    Slag, I will guarantee that I have read more history, American and otherwise, than 99% of the American public, or 2/3 H&R regulars, so don’t even go there.

  21. Ted B-

    Very well put, but I don’t think G. Will intends to catagorize severe weather into red state/blue state cliches. After all, the west coast states have earthquakes and the upper-midwest blue states have tornados and floods.

    Having lived in both the rural plains and the west coast, I would posit that nothing is more humbling (and deadly) as the Ocean.

  22. “In minutes nostrils were clogged by ice. Eyelids were torn by repeated attempts to prevent them from freezing shut.”

    Admittedly, I was never in north dakota in 1888, but I did go to college in Indiana and for 5 years I dealt with some pretty lousy weather. It was not unusual to experience 80 below 0 (with the wind chill factor). Lots of snow, ice, wind and sleet.

    Not once did I ever see (or even here of) “torn eyelids” or “nostrils frozen shut” and frankly it sounds like ridiculous hyperbole.

    Anybody else either equally suspicious of this tidbit OR able to coroberate(sp?) it?

  23. madpad,

    Not having RTFA, I would venture to guess that the people who experienced the nostril and eyelid injuries were either stuck outdoors, or indoors with no wood to burn. Obviously, a late 1980s-90s Indiana college was a lot better heated than the typical 1888 North Dakota home.

    And yes, subzero wind chills do a lot of nasty things to exposed flesh. The stuff listed here isn’t hard to believe.

  24. there are many places in the red-states where Death itself can reach-out and grab you?

    Yes, the blue-state/county voters of Duluth, the St. Lawrence Valley of New York, and northern Maine have obviously grown soft, lazy, and immoral due to their temperate winters.

  25. I don’t think any of you read any of the article. The point was that we have a wonderful country in what was mostly a completely uninhabitable wasteland because a whole lot of people had the courage to risk death in search of a better life. Anyone who has spent anytime in places like North Dakota, Kansas or West Texas without modern conviences has to stand in awe of how people were able to settle there in the 19th century let alone build the country we have today. Thank G-d there were people crazy enough to do it.

  26. I thought the headline to this thread was funny, so I read George Will’s piece.

    …Now I’ve finally stopped laughing…Thanksgiving Death Porn…

    …Ha!

    Somebody mentioned Little House on the Prarie; I remember every week something terrible would happen. Someone would go blind or lose a leg or get TB or drown or shoot himself or the crop would fail or they’d have to shoot a horse..

    Ha!

    …They just don’t put that kind of shit on TV anymore!

    Oh Mercy…that was some serious funny!

  27. Didn’t Hit n’ Run deal with an issue similar to this some time ago, where the virtue of suffering was advocated by a conservative pundit?

    madpad could be correct; the early pioneers often exaggerated the pluses and minuses of pioneering life. Just because the source is “old” doesn’t mean its truthful; people lie or otherwise stretch the truth in documents all the time for all manner of reasons.

  28. Not once did I ever see (or even here of) “torn eyelids” or “nostrils frozen shut” and frankly it sounds like ridiculous hyperbole.

    I’m sure there are modern-day examples here.

  29. The point was that we have a wonderful country in what was mostly a completely uninhabitable wasteland…

    Which itself is hyperbole. Folks lived in North Dakota before it was North Dakota (e.g., First Americans, Native Americans, Indians, etc.), so obviously it was never “uninhabitable.”

  30. The Lonewacko Blog,

    Anyone with any sort of alpine experience will tell you that bad weather can put you into a world of hurt.

  31. That day was unseasonably balmy, by prairie standards — some temperatures were in the 20s — and many children scampered to school without coats or gloves.

    Frankly, if the kids were stupid enough to be scampering around half-nude in 20-degree temperatures, we can be grateful they didn’t live long enough to reproduce.

    Or, perhaps, they were all evolutionarily adapted to that sort of thing. In which case, we can be grateful that the prairie states are not now called Bigfootland.

    Either way, Thanksgiving wins.

  32. I don’t think I accurately conveyed the source of my scepticism regarding “torn eyelids” or “nostrils frozen shut”. So here’s the quote in it entirety…

    “In minutes nostrils were clogged by ice. Eyelids were torn by repeated attempts to prevent them from freezing shut.”

    I’m aware that bad weather is a righteous bitch on the body. I’m also aware that in extreme environments (South Pole, Alps, Tibetan Mountains) the assault on the body can reach new heights.

    That the Dakota Plains can produce weather that can kill a person in very short order was never a part of my skepticism.

    In fact, my time in Indiana WAS indeed accompanied by some of the nastiest weather I’ve ever seen.

    Thanks, however, to Jason Bourne, who got what I was driving at. i.e. I’ve been in serious-as-hell weather before and I find the description in the Will piece to be a bit of self-serving exageration.

    Frostbite I believe. Nostrils freezing shut and eyelids snapping off is another thing entirely and reminds me of some of the other charming tales that came out of the western states…like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill.

  33. “…we have a wonderful country in what was mostly a completely uninhabitable wasteland…”

    Although I am guessing that John was referring to the Dakotas and not North America as a whole, either way, his assertation was incorrect. Before Europeans came to North America, the area now known as the Dakotas was inhabited by a collection of tribal groups that are called Lakotas or Dakotas (sometimes also called Sioux). They didn’t build proper brick houses there, nor did they drive their buggies down proper roads, but they used the land, as did their ancestors.

    As for Will’s column:
    1. I am not offended that Laskin wrote a book about children freezing to death.
    2. I am not disgusted that Will read the book and then decided to share his ideas with us.
    3. What I find creepy is the link Will draws between Thanksgiving (a time of counting one’s blessings and rejoicing w/family and friends) to a period in history when people were willing to travel very long distances, at risk of freezing to death and other discomforts, to displace an entirely different group of people from their homeland, for no reason other than they could.

    As for those who are discussing this column, this book and the Iraq war, I didn’t see the word Iraq in the article, so maybe I should reread it. Or maybe George F. Will was writing about something other than the war.

    Respectfully,
    Tori

  34. Ouch! I think Tori just caught joe’s knee jerking…

  35. I will guarantee that I have read more history, American and otherwise, than 99% of the American public, or 2/3 H&R regulars

    Perhaps, but just how much did you retain?

  36. Tori lives in a teepee. She’s serious about this stuff.

  37. Joe-
    At what point in Will’s column is he using the sufferings of the past to dismiss the sufferings of the present? That’s the aspect of your first post that I can’t figure out.

  38. joe:

    Slag, I will guarantee that I have read more history, American and otherwise, than 99% of the American public, or 2/3 H&R regulars, so don’t even go there.

    First: Shut up bitch.

    Second: In the past, there have been discussions on this board that libs know less history than conservatives. I’m not sure I agree, but these discussions have taken place. What I find interesting about your first post is the non sequitor suggestion that conservatives (NRO, specifically) are fond of “desensitizing people to others suffering through repeated graphic depictions of their deaths” via historical analogy with current events, which obviously you disparage. This would seem to suggest that any kind of historical analogy or even a simple history story like Will’s is opprobrious when done by a conservative because they’re just doing it to back up their loathsome worldview. Therefore, conservatives should never do so. If this is the case, when is it appropriate to draw lessons from history? When it backs up joe’s arguments, but not when it conflicts with them? This suggests a willful ignorance of history, which I find disturbing, and which was a main theme of said previous discussions about libs’ vs. conservatives’ knowledge of history. This is why I wondered in text whether we were wandering back down that road.

  39. WAIT WAIT WAIT. Matt, you were reading the newspaper while driving down the highway?

  40. I’m a recovering conservative myself…

    I think part of what’s so funny about this piece is the conservative longing to go back to a time, but in the time they want to go back to, things were rotten.

    …Whether it’s prairie life or D-day, they seem to be bemoaning the state of America today, and they seem to think that the problem is that we’re not willing to suffer the way we used to…

    …Will seems to be looking back at suffering with nostalgia!

  41. “WAIT WAIT WAIT. Matt, you were reading the newspaper while driving down the highway?” – Lane

    I used to do that. Then someone told me I was loco. So I stopped.

  42. That’s why the Dakota God invented prairie wives…. Thank God she doesn’t have frostbite and a clubfoot!

  43. Here’s what I think happened: Matt was reading and driving his way on Highway 395 (your portal to adventure) and thought to himself “I could make something of this crappy paper.” About then his wife reminds him to watch the road. He doesn’t need or want this advice. Then he gets to Will’s article (gruesome, cold weather stuff), realizes he’s on his way to *precisely the same thing* and loses it.

  44. Typical, some old coot telling us how bad it was in the good old days and how we should be gratefull to those who came before. It’s all crap, every word. A child in every snowdrift? PLEASE!

  45. That’s why the Dakota God invented prairie wives…. Thank God she doesn’t have frostbite and a clubfoot! > Matt

    There you go! Geez, anybody would be grateful.

  46. Slad, what “lesson” are we supposed to draw from Will’s piece? That is got real cold in the northern prarrie states? Wear your gloves? Somehow, I think Will was going for something a little deeper.

    This genre of writing, which Matt so aptly calls “death porn,” is a staple of the right wing press. In its crudest form, the authors end with an overt contrast with some modern day righty bete noire – liberals, Californians, poor people, citizens who are concerned about certain problems – in order to insult their fortitude and minimize the problem in the eyes of the reader. When written for a broader audience, the sneer at those who oppose the harms of the status quo is kept at the level of the implicit, so that the reader can make the connection himself. But once you’ve slogged through this sort of writing enough, you recognize death porn when you see it.

  47. Shmoe,

    Slad, what “lesson” are we supposed to draw from Will’s piece? That is got real cold in the northern prarrie states? Wear your gloves?

    Gee, silly me — I thought he was suggesting something we should all be “thankful” for. As in, Wow, I’m thankful I don’t live in Nebraska in 1888 — so pass the biscuits! Again, as a change of pace from the annual, tried-and-true, Let’s be thankful we’re not Pilgrimsicles. I guess I’m part of the 99 percent of the sheeple who have smaller dicks than you, joe, because I don’t see the conservative subtext embedded in Will’s little story, you paranoid freak.

  48. You know, it wasn’t so long ago that the majority of people died before they ever saw their third birthday. Hardly anyone lived past 40, and they died not of old age but of being torn limb from limb, trailing bloody organs, under the claws of a gut-crunching bear. But it was people like that who built this country!

    Scant decades later, Joe has nothing better to do than drive from coffee house to coffee house in his heated, air-conditioned Volvo, whining and sniveling about the alleged manipulations of the “right wing press.” Why do you hate America, Joe?

    .
    .

    (OK, I think I get your point. Although I, personally, think Will just meant to say, “You should thank God we don’t have to live like that anymore, you spoiled punks.”)

  49. Yes, people lived in the Dakotas before White settlement, they just died before they were 40. Any of you clowns want to believe the Dances with Wolves, life was so great for the Native Americans until the White man showed up routine, feel free. Me, I wouldn’t last 10 minutes on the Pine Ridge Reservation today let alone 100 years ago. I will take decadent American society any day.

  50. “Which itself is hyperbole. Folks lived in North Dakota before it was North Dakota (e.g., First Americans, Native Americans, Indians, etc.), so obviously it was never “uninhabitable.””

    Obviously it has been “uninhabitable” – just like the the rest of the planet for most of earth’s history – since the earth is billions of years old and life in any form has only been around for a few measly hundreds of millions of years.

  51. “…because I don’t see the conservative subtext embedded in Will’s little story,[blah, blah blah].”

    You don’t see the subtext because there isn’t any. It’s all on the surface.

    Ever see “Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl”? There’s a sketch with geezers sitting around outdoing each others stories about the hardships of their youth. The stories become so exaggerated, they couldn’t possibly be true. George Will’s story is funny in the same way as that sketch, and the fact that George Will’s story is true makes it even more funny still.

    He’s getting a conservative pundit’s equivalent of a hard on over the suffering of real people!

    “Scant decades later, …has nothing better to do than drive from coffee house to coffee house in his heated, air-conditioned Volvo, whining and sniveling about [blah, blah, blah].”

    There’s an old adage in my business that says that you know your marketing is working when your targets start repeating your marketing back to you.

    …You must have swallowed loads of propaganda. Get up off your knees, wipe off your chin and go read something written by someone who disagrees with you.

  52. John,

    Who borught up Dances With Wolves? I never painted it as sylvan paradise.

    Gilbert Martin.

    Point taken. But life has been around for more than a few hundred million years on the Earth:

    The earliest known evidence of microbial life on Earth comes from carbon isotope patterns investigated by Mojzsis and colleagues in 3.85-billion-year-old Greenland sediments.

    Now, the zircons from Western Australia demonstrate that continents and water existed 4.3 billion to 4.4 billion years ago, which suggests “life could have had the opportunity to start 400 million years earlier than previously documented,” Mojzsis said.

    http://www.astrobio.net/news/article194.html

  53. You people realize that you’re all going nuts because an opinion writer has an opinion?

  54. You people realize that you’re all going nuts because an opinion writer has an opinion?

    Yes, but I’m having a lot of fun in the process!

  55. “Scant decades later, …has nothing better to do than drive from coffee house to coffee house in his heated, air-conditioned Volvo, whining and sniveling about [blah, blah, blah].”

    There’s an old adage in my business that says that you know your marketing is working when your targets start repeating your marketing back to you.

    …You must have swallowed loads of propaganda. Get up off your knees, wipe off your chin and go read something written by someone who disagrees with you.

    Uh, Ken, ease up, amigo. I was kidding. KIDDING. Although I disagree with Joe’s conclusion about George Will’s “subtext,” I was consciously riffing on his assertion, a scant two posts above mine, that:

    This genre of writing, which Matt so aptly calls “death porn,” is a staple of the right wing press. In its crudest form, the authors end with an overt contrast with some modern day righty bete noire – liberals, Californians, poor people, citizens who are concerned about certain problems – in order to insult their fortitude and minimize the problem in the eyes of the reader. When written for a broader audience, the sneer at those who oppose the harms of the status quo…

    (bold emphasis added)

    I thought ending with “Why do you hate America?” would have been the giveaway, since I’ve seen people here use this phrase a couple of times to lampoon the right-wing view point. But fearing this might be too subtle, I concluded my post with “OK, I think I get your point…”

    PS: Maybe you have a point about occasionally reading someone who disagrees with me. As an anarcho-capitalist, maybe I spend far too much time in my apartment building full of anarcho-capitalists, in my anarcho-capitalist neighborhood, reading my daily anarcho-capitalist newspaper, watching anarcho-capitalist TV, and discussing anarcho-capitalism at work with my anarcho-capitalist co-workers. It wouldn’t hurt for me to be exposed to an alternate viewpoint once in a while.

    PLEASE NOTE: The preceding paragraph was WRY SARCASM REPEAT *** SARCASM *** SARCASM *** SARCASM. It is *** NOT *** to be taken as the literal truth. Please read it as a SARCASTIC TWEAKING with an undercurrent of HUMOR …DO NOT take it too seriously. FYI. *** SARCASM *** SARCASM *** SARCASM

  56. Pardon me Steve…I was out of line. I get carried away sometimes…and earlier today…well… you see, I got some bad…ahhhh…no excuses, you have my full apology.

    P.S. I think I know why “Threadkiller” is gone, but why ” darkly”?

  57. Absolutely no problem, Ken … I should know by now that on-line communication isn’t the best place for attempts at subtle, self-referential humor. I should have stuck in a couple smileys. Upon review, my comeback above was a bit heavy- handed, as well.

    If you received some bad news today … well, I won’t pry, but whatever it was, you have my sympathies.

    In all seriousness, I wish you a better day tomorrow.

    Yeah, I adopted “Threadkiller” after a streak where I always seemed to be the last poster on any thread where I chimed in. I dumped that moniker and adopted “Stevo Darkly” upon suggestion by Joe, as a matter of fact. It all started when I used “darkly” as an adjective instead of an adverb in a bit of verse …

    See 3rd, 6th, 18th, 21st, 22nd and final posts here:

    https://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2004/11/mixed_bag.shtml#comments

    Intervening was my post at November 16, 2004 10:06 PM and Joe’s reply:

    https://reason.com/hitandrun/2004/11/margaret_hassan.shtml

    … and that’s the whole story.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.