Big News Events Make Blatherers of Us All
The New Yorker, reputedly one of America's smartest magazines, exemplifies (and not always in a bad way) some of the incoherence created amongst the chattering (and, alas, governing) classes with big news events that seems to DEMAND REACTION!! and yet are at the same time either too impossibly overdetermined or too obvious–like the decision by one deluded ass to open fire on a crowd–for there to be much fresh, interesting, or relevant to say, or do.
First, George Packer takes one tack. Of course, gajillions both in media and at parties (and at a country/folk show I saw Saturday night, and in any bajillions of social networking posts) were quick to blame Palin-esque anti-Democratic Party politician rhetoric for directly inspiring Loughner's crime. We know for a certainty now that whatever "influenced" Loughner it wasn't that.
And stressing that b.s. point isn't harmless rhetoric either–because attempts to quell political speech are far more popular and far more frequent than attempts to shoot up crowds. So Packer starts off admitting that, sure, there really isn't any connection between Loughner and political rhetoric. But let's use Loughner as an attempt to condemn political rhetoric anyway, because, well, it's always time to condemn political rhetoric! Packer's conclusion: "The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point. Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America's political frequencies are full of violent static." He might as well have written, "The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point. Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, Americans consume too much high fructose corn syrup."
You can call this parasitic commentary. It doesn't say anything about the event or anything legitimately connected to the event. Rather, it illegitimately hijacks our interest and passion in the event to command our attention, and aim our emotions and anger about it where he wants to aim–while maintaining intellectual respectability of a minimal level by admitting up front there's no connection at all.
Another even zanier, and by implication more damaging, such attempt at parastic commentary in New Yorker is from Jill Lepore, promisingly headlined "Jared Lee Loughner and the Constitution." What erudite and unusual line of thought connects these two disparate topics? Read on!
You see, Ms. Lepore has an article about the current uses of the Constitution in political rhetoric in the new New Yorker that she'd apparently like you to read. And she heard that:
In September police had to remove him from a classroom at Pima Community College, after he called the syllabus "unconstitutional" and delivered what his professor called "a rant about the Constitution." In December he posted on YouTube a statement reading, "The majority of citizens in the United States of America have never read the United States of America's Constitution."
So, there you go. I don't hold blog posts to the standard of fully thought out articles, but honestly, there is not only no thought here, there is absolutely nothing worth noting except in the most cynical parasitic bandwagon jumping: "I know everyone is thinking about Loughner this week and not the Constitution. But Loughner mentioned the Constitution once!" The article is either making an extremely shaky and sinister "connection" implicitly–that questioning our current leaders' or citizens' understanding of or fealty to the Constitution is a sign of violent insanity–or it was absolutely meaningless.
Elsewhere at The New Yorker, Ian Crouch takes on "The Language and Literature of Jared Lee Loughner," and realizes all you can rationally get out of it is a confused, conflicted, deranged jumble, nothing to hang any politicized blame on. As he sums up, quoting Laura Miller at Salon, trying to find meaning in it is the usual mental exercise of irrational types such as Loughner himself:
Laura Miller has an incisive piece at Salon about what we can and cannot learn from what Loughner listed on his YouTube profile page as his favorite books, titles that range from "Peter Pan" to "Mein Kampf." Most of the list looks like that of any American schoolkid in his early twenties: "Nineteen Eighty-Four," "Fahrenheit 451," "To Kill A Mockingbird." (Absent, as Miller notes, is "The Catcher in the Rye.") As to political content, the presence of "Mein Kampf" and "The Communist Manifesto" has been fodder for folks on both the left and the right, evidence that Loughner is a Nazi, white-supremacist, a liberal, or a socialist—namely, a member of some other fringe group. Miller rightly insists that this list is less important to consider than Loughner's manifest mental instability, and diagnoses members of the press with a similar kind of madness: "By studying Loughner's book list for clues to the political leanings that somehow "drove" him to commit murder, commentators are behaving a lot like crazy people themselves."
Crazy people, yes, but also people with a felt professional and political obligation to speak when there is not much to be said.