Tag Archives: McSweeney’s

SYNDICATED COLUMN: “90 Days” of BS, “90 Days” to Sell Out

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IN WHICH I CALL OUT HIPSTERS AND CELEBRITIES FOR THE RIDICULOUS ARGUMENTS THEY GAVE FOR VOTING FOR OBAMA

Politicians get called to account for their broken promises. So too should their celebrity supporters. When boldface names convince the hoi polloi to punch the chads that put their favorite candidates into positions of power, they must assume responsibility when their pitches and talking points turn out to be low-grade bullshit.

One of the most notable pairings of electoral politics and celebrity of the 2012 presidential campaign was the website/happening “90 Days, 90 Reasons.” Each day during the last three months running up to Election Day, one liberal Democratic actor, writer or musician recruited by Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s literary empire supplied an essay urging us to reelect Obama along with a reason to do so.

Disclosure: Eggers and I were friends during the 1990s, when I was a contributing editor to his Might magazine.

From New York Times esoterica compiler/”Bored to Death” actor John Hodgman to children’s author Lemony Snicket to “Mr. Show” comedian David Cross, the contributors to “90 Days” reads like a who’s-who of Gen X-meets-Millennial NPR-safe middlin’ liberalism. Which is fine — them’s Obama’s people.

What’s a little not fine is that so many of the arguments given in favor of The One are redundant: gay marriage, jobs for veterans, and abortion rights come up over and over. What’s a lot not OK is that so many of these pro-Obama talking points turn out, with a little hindsight (and in many cases none whatsoever), to be lies.

Lies lies. Not in-my-opinion lies.

Reason 24 to give Obama a second term in 2012, according to “The Kite Runner” author Khaled Hosseini, was that “Obama demonstrated prudent and effective leadership in helping bring about the fall of Muammar Gadhafi.” I…wow.

It’s not much in the news these days (gee, I wonder why?), but Libya is pretty much universally regarded as a failed state in the mold of Somalia or Afghanistan during the 1990s. Libya’s government is so weak as to be useless, there’s a civil war going on, and it has basically stopped producing oil. What Bush did to Afghanistan, replacing an oppressive regime with anarchy and lawlessness that was even worse, Obama did to Libya.

Obama doesn’t brag about Libya, and with good reasons that don’t include Benghazi.

Yet here you have Hosseini claiming “President Obama proceeded wisely, in allowing the U.S. to be a key player in a multi-national effort to support the rebels without committing to American air strikes.” Wisely. How does that include U.S. backing of radical Islamists? No airstrikes? Except for the most important one, ordering the airstrike that killed the Libyan leader, who might have met a different fate had he not been stupid enough to dismantle his nuclear weapons program.

Anything Hosseini says about politics should henceforth be regarded as fiction.

Then there’s Win Butler, singer for the band Arcade Fire. “Barack Obama is perhaps the greatest president of modern times at communicating directly with foreign populations,” Butler writes in Reason 86. I love that phrase “foreign populations.” File it next to that British imperialist classic “the natives” and the more contemporary “the locals.”

The thing is, even when Butler wrote that, it was the exact opposite of true. “Global approval of President Barack Obama’s policies has declined significantly since he first took office, while overall confidence in him and attitudes toward the U.S. have slipped modestly as a consequence,” Pew Research’s widely respected Global Attitudes Project, which measures global public opinion, reported in (cough) June 2012, about four months before Butler’s essay appeared. Approval of Obama’s foreign policies plunged between 2009 and 2012: down 15% in Europe, down 19% in Muslim countries, down 30% in China, down 17% in Mexico. No increase anywhere on the planet. Sorry, “foreign populations.”

The fact that the world hates us more under Obama than it did under Bush is not hard-to-come-by info. It was widely and repeatedly reported. If Butler didn’t know, he was a Google search away — as were his editors at McSweeney’s.

Many of the “90 Reasons” are so vague as to be hilarious. “President Obama is steady at the helm,” said ex-comedian/silent senator Al Franken. So was Edward Smith, captain of the Titanic. Shepard Fairey, the plagiarizing poster artist responsible for the 2008 Hope and Change posters, said he was “voting for Barack Obama because I believe evolution is real and possible. I want to see this country move forward, not backward.” “Forward, not backward” was Obama’s infamous soundbyte announcing his amnesty for CIA torturers. We are paying attention to these vacuous celebs, um, why?

Most unforgiveable are those who count on their readers’ ignorance to con them. Democrats worried in 2012 that the Democrats’ progressive base wouldn’t turn up at the polls. Lefties were pissed off that Obama hadn’t fought for traditional Democratic values. So Obama and his supporters tried to recast him as a fighter, a kicker of GOP ass, to counter the wuss prez problem.

Toward this end, several of the celebrity Obama bootlickers posted brazenly misleading essays to “90 Reasons.”

Novelist Mona Simpson claimed that “Barack Obama would reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban.” Would, could, should…but not really. As of July 2012, it was clear that the ban was dead. Hindsight: Obama never pushed for it after he won again. Another writer, Karen Fowler, urged you to support Obama because he “opposes the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision.” Alas, Fowler’s implication — that he’d actually try to reverse it by proposing legislation — was based on exactly nothing.

It would be nice if Simpson, Fowler and the actress Molly Shannon, who wrote the words “President Obama’s actions remind me of the words of the great Roman philosopher, Cicero,” were to keep their political word-farts to themselves forevermore.

John Sayles’ contribution pains me most. I love that man’s movies. But he wrote this sentence, and it means he is politically dead to me: “Obama still has some respect for the truth.” Ahem: “If you like your current healthcare plan, you can keep it.”

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The New Generation Gap: Gen X vs. Gen Y

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The Gen X-Millennial Generation Gap

Every 20 years ago, Time depicts people in their 20s as “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.” This time the target is the Millennial generation (Americans born between roughly 1980 and 2000, with Baby Boomer parents). According to (cough cough) the Boomer-run media, twentysomethings/Gen Y/Millennials are narcissists.

Whatever.

Back in 1990, Time was smearing Gen X as shallow, apolitical, unambitious shoe-gazers.

“[Gen Xers] have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They hate yuppies, hippies and druggies. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. They sneer at Range Rovers, Rolexes and red suspenders. What they hold dear are family life, local activism, national parks, penny loafers and mountain bikes.” (Penny loafers? Really?)

Back then we Gen Xers defended our collective honor by alternating between the “we do not suck, at least not in the way you say we suck” and “anyway, if we do suck, it’s your fault, old farts” arguments. Gen Y is manning its rhetorical ramparts the same way.

Here we go again.

Sort of.

You know what’s wrong with young people today?

Not much. Not according to me or my friends. We’re fine with younger people.

Which is weird.

Gen Xers get along well with people in their 20s and 30s — certainly a lot better than those in their 40s did with us when we were young.

We like Gen Y. We respect them. We don’t chafe, for example, at working under a younger boss. We ask them advice. OK, mostly about tech stuff. I learned about WordPress and Hootsuite and Gawker and Wii from 20ish friends. Mostly, we like the same music and movies. (But they download stuff. Don’t they worry about ephemerality?)

Maybe the Millennials secretly hate us — you’d have to ask them — but if they do, they’re doing an excellent job of hiding it. We hang out. It’s good.

Sometimes, though — it’s not like it comes up a lot, just now and then — my Gen Xer cohorts let slip a complaint about our younger friends and colleagues:

Why are Millennials, um…well, there’s no other way to say it: kind of boring?

Young people today! So obedient. They believe politicians. What’s with that? Millennials go along to get along in corporate America. When they get laid off, they don’t get angry (like we did) — they adapt. They reinvent themselves. Gen Y music, movies, even their clothes: so conservative!

The Generation Gap of the 1960s and 1970s referred to the inability/refusal of “tune in, turn on, drop out” Baby Boomers to relate to their stodgy “we survived the Depression and won World War II so turn down that goddamn rock ‘n’ roll” Parents. Though decried at the time as sad and alienating, the dynamic of that demographic divide was as natural as could be. The young were loud, obnoxious, demanding and politically radical. The old were reserved, quiet and conservative, even reactionary. Kids were kids; parents were parents.

William Howe and Neil Strauss’ landmark book “Generations,” which traces the identities of American generation through popular culture and politics back to the colonial era, depicts dozens of epic clashes between old codgers vs. youthful insurgents. The young fight to be heard. The old yell at them to shut up. The old get older and quieter, the young mature and gain influence and replace them.

That’s how it was 200 years, and 20 years, ago. Just as their parents looked down on them, Boomers looked down on us Xers.

The Gen X/Y divide breaks this pattern.

We’re middle-aged and cynical and our tastes run to smart and sarcastic and anti-PC and antiauthoritarian, Tarantino/postpunk. We voted Green Party and never looked back, or for Obama but never expected much. Millennials are old and naïve and earnest and retro.

Millennial hipsters (who don’t dress hip — their hipsters are dorks) are militant nostalgists. They’ve revived the ancient traditions of our grandparents: martinis, old-fashioned cocktails like grasshoppers and mint juleps and, well, old fashioneds. They golf. They wear clothes from the 1930s. They watch go-go dancers. (Feminist radical lesbian ones.) They grow beards — not hippie beards, but retrosexual Civil War ones, paired with handlebar mustaches. They open restaurants — really good restaurants — whose menus and aesthetics harken back to the 19th century, staffed by waiters who take everything very seriously. You can elicit a dry chuckle. Not a bellylaugh. Certainly not a snide Xer sneer.

Steampunk could never have been a big Gen X thing. We’re scrappy and stripped down. They’re baroque.

Millennials didn’t just expect real Hope and Change. Four years later, they still do. When they got radical, they came up with the blink-and-you-missed it Occupy movement, which had as its centerpiece calls to reenact the Glass-Steagal Act.

Millennial pop culture is about flat affect: mumblecore movies and all-attitude-no-plot TV shows like “Arrested Development,” emo-influenced music, giant dollops of special nostalgia sauce everywhere, every member of every band dressed like they’re showing up to roof your house (but with Taliban beards). Opening concert greeting: “Hey.”

Graphic novels where it takes six pages for a leaf to fall off a tree.

Prose novels about nothing, printed preciously and packaged beautifully, thanks to the influential McSweeney’s empire.

Gentle, chatty movies and TV shows, not a series of scenes, but rather riffs of tone and mood.

Even their taste in cars is boring. And kind of dumb.

Boomers’ countless faults aside, let’s give them this: they knew what they wanted. They loved. They hated. They wanted revolution. Which was one of the things Xers hated about Boomers (Xers hate a lot): they came so close to revolution and they friggin’ gave up. Gen Y revolution? It’s hard to imagine such an — oblivious? unaccountably satisfied? — generation shooting anyone or blowing anything up. That, I think, gets close to the mystery of the Millennials. They’ve been horribly screwed — even more than us Gen Xers, and make no mistake, we were hosed big time.

Millennials are mired in student loan debt.

They will never make much money or get any government benefits or get much of anything out of the system.

After decades of warnings, the planet is finally, really, irreversibly, ruined. Their planet.

Why aren’t they pissed off?

(We need them to be. We’re too busy holding down four jobs.)

Parents, they say, shouldn’t have to bury their own children. It ain’t natural. Know what else is wrong? For the old to see the young as uptight codgers.

Not that Xers blame Yers for being uncool. Gen Xers, a self-deprecating generation from the beginning (what do you expect? society, politics, even the movies hated us — remember all those evil child horror movies like The Omen and It’s Alive?)

Writing in The New York Observer, Peter Hyman argues that Gen X and Gen Y shouldn’t be as cozy as they are. That it’s our (X’s) fault that Y hasn’t made its own mark:

“The old generational identities that once defined us have broken down, and the net result is a messy temporal mashup in which fortysomethings act like skateboarders, twentysomethings dress like the grandfather from My Three Sons, tweens attend rock concerts with their parents and toddlers are exposed to the ethos of hardcore punk.”

And it’s up to Gen X to fix it (like everything else, apparently):

“I know guys whose style of dress and off-duty interests haven’t changed a lick since college. They devote their free time to movies about comic-book heroes, to video games and to fantasy football. No, they aren’t hurting anybody. But perhaps what we really need to do is put on suits and take our wives out for expensive dinners, like our dads before us.”

That burns. I’m wearing skinny black jeans and a (vintage! from back in the day!) Dead Kennedys T-shirt as I write this. But I can’t afford a suit or an expensive dinner, thank you very much, Boomer scum.

Anyway, I don’t buy Hyman’s argument that passing the torch of our old cool (the Ramones, Beastie Boys) to the young “shortchanges” the young and “infantilizes” us oldsters. My fogie parents prosthelytized about Benny Goodman and Benny Hill and the Four Tops and guess what? It didn’t take.

One problem with writing about generational politics is that it requires sweeping generalizations. You can point to million exceptions. And of course there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. These things simply are (if you believe, many many do not).  Another is that you risk pissing people off…people you like.

To be clear, we Xers think you Millennials are awesome. We just wish you’d act your age.

Like, young.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Ted Rall

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