Friday, 4 February 2011
Among the varieties of cloying sentimentality now so frequent in American public life, two stand out.
One type is on display when the President, or someone who wants to be president, or take some other goddam leadership role, in the middle of a speech, in order to make his point with what seems to be tender, message-I-care immediacy, stops to tell a supposedly heart-rending little anecdote about "ordinary people" or "average Americans" (the implicit condescension, unrecognized by both speaker and his audience of fellow swells, disgusts), which is relevant to some position he has taken, some bill he has proposed, and which he wants to bring home to his audience, in the Chamber, or in the hall, or on television where Mr. And Mrs. Average American are presumably watching, and will be enlightened and touched, too, for it might be they he was talking about, or would someday, when he discussess the fate of "Frank, an Iowa farmer who, after a lifetime of hard work" or to that of "Tayesha, who is the first person in her family to have gone to college and who achieved a 3.89 average in her sociology classes her first two years" or to "Bill and Pat Mulligan, whose family hardware store has not been able to compete because of the cost of health insurance that they have been required to buy" or....you get the picture. Usually there is at least one Marine, sitting in the audience, or if not a Marine, a serviceman's family, to be saluted, too, in defense of some indefensible policy of squandering lives in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or some other godforsaken and hideous Muslim place that cannot be changed because of Islam.
The second main type of the rampant cloying thoughtless stupid sentimentality comes with those displays of hysterical enthusiasm exhibited by certain reporters whenever some group called "the people" in some distant and misunderstood land is said to be coming into its own, the "people" (which people?finally throwing off their shackles (to exchange them for what?), their timidity, and dared to challenge the cruel and corrupt powers that be. And it is expressed in the bullying insistence of a phrase of false identification: "We Are All X" or "Today We Are All Y" or "In The End, We Are All Z." The stories pour in: there was the great display of People Power in Ukraine (overthrow of...well, of whom, exactly? You don't have the slightest idea, do you?), and in the Philipinnes (all you remember are Mrs. Marcos's collection of shoes, right? You are not alone). And then there was Iran, in 1979, when the suddenly arch-evil Shah was pushed out -- and who cares about that little business about the fire at the Rex Cinema -- and all of those others too, those Hoveydas and Bakhtiars, should be thrown out with him -- while a man of the cloth, a "fellow man of faith" (as Jimmy Carter addressed him in a letter), the uncorrupt and incorruptible hollow-eyed ascetic -- proof of his incorruptibility -- Ayatollah Khomeini, who had suffered so much for his True Faith, even spent decades in exile, for that faith, returned to an ecstatic welcome by his primitive followers, and Edward Mortimer, about whom you may read here, was particularly ecstatic, claiming, "with Charles James Fox," that bliss was it in that Teheran dawn to be alive, etcetera etceterum.
Nicholas Kristof is a large, beefy, stupid-looking man. In his columns, as I presume in his life, he is incapable of reflection, but what he can do is travel around the world and attitudinize, and tell us how terrible things are here, and things are there, though he has no explanation that might help us to understand exactly why things are so terrible in one place and not so terrible in another. Why, exactly, is Western Europe so very different from, say, North Africa and the Middle East? Why is India different from Pakistan? Why are the Hindus and Chinese in Malaysia so different from the Muslim Malays? And since Nicholas Kristof's biggest story, the one for which he won acclaim, are those about the Sudan, why has he never been able, not once, to explain the role of Islam, both in explaining the mass-murder of millions of Christians and animists in the southern Sudan, and of 400,000 non-Arab black African Musliims in Darfur? Not a word, not a peep.
But today why carp? Today, with Nicholas Kristof, we are not merely all Americans. That's not good enough. Today, he soppily-stern insists --- and I'll bet he's proud of that column, too, and thinks he's done a fine thing -- "we are all Egyptians."
Posted on 02/04/2011 11:55 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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