Monday, September 13, 2010


A few weeks ago, a new flag went up in our neighborhood.
It's the kind of flag local toddlers point out to their mommies: "Look, mommy: 'Ellow flag!"
BRIGHT yellow, in fact.
Plus: It had an animal, always a hit with the under-three crowd.
A snake, to be precise, all coiled up, ready to jump, fangs at the ready, its rattler high up in the air.
It had a caption too, in all caps: DON'T TREAD ON ME.
Not exactly cute, but toddlers can be forgiving -- the 'ellow and the sayk! simply override everything else.

Sultry S and I assumed it was a sporting flag of some kind -- folks here fly big letters T on game days, or flags with elephants and the final four letters of our president's name, or else rather grim-looking honeybees.
But this flag stayed up all the time.
This was either a football team on a perpetual winning streak, or something else entirely.

Turns out it's the unofficial flag of the Tea Party, that delightful extreme-nationalist, racist-but-we're-too-chicken-to-admit-it, let's-not-bother-with-actually-understanding-the-Constitution-we-claim-to-defend oh-so spontaneous pol movement that is emphatically so not part of the GOP.

Mottoes are telling -- that's why we adopt them.

The general slogan of this great nation is E pluribus unum: unity from diversity. (Or: We're all in this together, man.)
This whole don't-tread-on-me sentiment being waved a block from our house thus seems somewhat anathema to the sentiment expressed in the national motto.

Well: to each her/his own, I say.

Still, one wonders exactly what effective statesmanship could spring forth from the tightly wound coils of a defensiveness so clearly mass-produced, yet so uber-individually wrapped in near-frontier-mystique levels of hysteric paranoia?
(Or one shudders to think.)
(But that would be meta-paranoia, right?)

Friday, September 3, 2010


In the whole Franzenfrenzy that has gloriously and expectedly erupted all across this fine nation (with its concomitant Franzenfreude and Franzenenvy in fellow writers and bookbloggers alike, expressed, as (in)appropriate for such high-lingual contortionists, in bad puns on the poor man's name), one thing has caught my attention. Which is that almost all blurbs and blogposts, all articles and reviews take great care to not just size up the man's words, but also to take the exact measure of the girth of his ego and the lengths of his assumed dickheadedness. (If you were unaware of this, just google Franzen and Oprah).

This bothers me.

As far as I know, similar, if not greater circumference of ego and larger heights of arrogance have been achieved (or so the presses tell us) by entertainers of such diverse plumage as say, Lebron James, Bono Vox, Axl Rose, at least one of the Williams sisters, John Mayer, and Sarah Palin -- and literally nobody cares. But when a serious writer or artist takes her/his righteous spot in the limelight -- here I am, see what I did?, look at me! -- we heap ridicule and we demand, we demand humility.


Is what Franzen did -- putting 300,000 or so bloody words one after the other in a breathtaking sequence [dixit the Times, I haven't had the time read them all], a feat of immense improbability -- any less exceptional than writing half of Welcome to the Jungle or throwing balls through hoops with high speed and precision? Why do we accept that rappers and athletes boast, but demand, demand that the serious artist sits back, tsk-tsk's at her/his successes and humbly offers all the glory to the muse?

Why, in other words, do we insist that those who produce art (who hold up a mirror, who tell it like they see it, perhaps even tell it like it T-I-is?) should be our performing monkeys, neatly kept on a leash, to dance only for our pleasure (only for our pleasure; only for our pleasure) and otherwise be quiet, accept our peanuts, and fling no poop?

What matters in a book, a work of art, is the book, the work of art. If you happen to be the creator of an exceptional piece, why not be allowed, once in a while, to express that you feel just that -- exceptional?