Sunday’s post about Fancy Men generated the usual excellent commentary, some of which discussed whether the Fancy Man of today was the “fop” of yesterday. At about the same time, I had a conversation about a fellow I know who, having been a massive and undoubted success in a very difficult field, decided that he wanted to be known instead as a leader in a completely different, and much less admirable, field. This seemed like a good excuse for a quick-ish romp through the idea of foppery and why it mirrors, but does not quite envelop, the idea of the Fancy Man. We’ll make this one quick, because I have an early day tomorrow. I promise.
Oh, this is awkward.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, once the darling of every small-town activist librarian aghast at the idea of not making Tropic Of Cancer and Fear Of Flying mandatory reading for nine-year-olds, turns out to have had a few, ahem, controversial aspects to it. In particular, the book railed against a society where abortion is encouraged and children are shuttled off to anonymous daycare.
Don’t remember that part? That’s because you probably read the censored version.
My Monday, March 4th, started off like pretty much every other Monday. I had flown into Miami the night before to meet with one of my largest clients. I was proposing an additional $460,000 of annual spend, which would have made them my second-largest client overall, so I had spent the entire morning reviewing the proposal with my local sales and management team. We felt very good about the prospects of the deal, so I dialed into my weekly team meeting at 12:30 PM with a rather genial mindset.
Until I saw who was on the call, that is. In addition to my boss and my colleagues, my boss’ boss and the VP of HR were dialed in. Text messages started flying immediately between all of us.
“Something’s going down.”
Unfortunately, we were right. Moments after the call started, my boss’ boss gave us the words every upper-middle class worker dreads:
“We’re going to have to let you go.”
I don’t think James Patrick Page was the first musician to understand the power of sharp contrast in a performance; anyone who has ever heard the entire violin section of a symphony start bowing at once, after a period of silence, has experienced and understood it himself. Page’s insight, rather, was that the recording studio and home reproduction equipment had evolved to a point where what he called “light and shade” could be expressed on vinyl. The early wax cylinders of Edison didn’t have enough dynamic range for “Ramble On”, nor did the average unamplified phonograph of the immediate postwar era. Certainly a single-speaker car radio couldn’t handle it. You need “hi-fi” for a Zep album to truly work.
Incidentally, this is why “Stairway to Heaven” loses much of its punch on the radio: it’s heavily compressed by specialized equipment designed to maintain volume and, consequently, the listener’s attention.
Mr. Page was also not the last artist to understand light and shade. The sophomoric mewlings of bands like Evanescence and Limp Bizkit prove that their long-suffering producers, at least, have a grip on the subject. Modern EDM relies on it as well, as a cursory listen to “Feel So Close” by Calvin Harris will demonstrate. In fact, one could make an argument that the intellectual value of music can probably be approximated by its compression level: a Telarc classical disk would score a 9.9 and Ariana Grande would get a 0.1. If you can listen to “squeezed” music at maximum volume for more than ten minutes at a time, I fear for your humanity.
Which brings us, however awkwardly, to the matter at hand.
“Father,” he cries, “have I missed it? Have I missed the battle?”
“You have missed the war.”
Virtually any random scene chosen from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator could be the best part of another film, but I’m particularly partial to this one. The campaign against the savage Germanic tribes has been decided in a breathtakingly bloody and confusing final battle, mostly thanks to the intellectual and physical leadership of the general Maximus. As a dying Marcus Aurelius thanks Maximus for his service, the Emperor’s son, Commodus, rides up on a white charger. He’s been riding in a luxury wagon with his sister for virtually the entire trip up to the front, of course — he’s not some common soldier, doomed to cavalryman’s steed or shanks’ mare — but for his arrival he has switched to a battle horse and a set of shiny, completely undamaged armor.
And yes, he’s missed both the battle and the war, no doubt by design.
Aurelius chides him. Later on that evening, we see Commodus practicing his swordsmanship in a pre-planned demonstration with five of his slaves. “So much,” Aurelius notes with undisguised contempt, “for the glory of Rome.” The viewer is meant to see the contrast between the general Maximus, who fights for moral purposes and who longs to return home to his family, and the cowardly but arrogant Commodus, who play-acts at glory while avoiding danger. That contrast will inform the entire film, all the way to its conclusion in the Roman Colosseum where a weakened, poisoned Maximus fights a Commodus resplendent in blinding-white armor. The real Commodus, by the way, was notorious for fighting crippled animals in the arena, and for killing his sparring partners, but he was strangled in his tub, not beaten to death in the arena. Nor did his death restore the Roman Republic. The end of Gladiator is a complete fabrication, satisfying though it may be to watch.
You might say that Commodus is an extreme example of what is now called “toxic masculinity”, being both perverse and willfully cruel. He is almost a parody of Maximus, alternately executing senators with a smile on his face and crying helplessly in the cleavage of his own sister. He has the external appearance of masculinity without its true substance, all the vices and none of the virtues. He’s even a bit of a rapist, although that is given relatively little space in the film. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the Commodus role, other than its larger-than-life portrayal by Joaquin Phoenix; the “weak, cowardly schemer” has been a stock character since the Greeks wrote their first tragedies. We just have a new label for it now.
(A brief aside: A friend of mine from the street-racing days, a smooth-faced ex-military killer with a flat affect, blank eyes, and an unsettling catlike roll to his perambulation, worked for quite some time as a bodyguard for the elite. His happiest days were spent with Joaquin Phoenix: “Dude was a legit bad-ass and never hid behind me, never started anything he wouldn’t finish himself, never said an unkind word to anyone who didn’t deserve it.” No wonder Phoenix is never completely comfortable with Hollywood.)
This past weekend, the Gillette Corporation took some time off from mis-representing their Chinese junk as real American excellence to lecture American men on “toxic masculinity” via a YouTube video. It would be an understatement to call the video “poorly received”; although the “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” meter of the video has been repeatedly reset it has been at a consistently negative ratio. Tens of thousands of negative comments have been scrubbed by hard-working bugmen at Gillette and YouTube, but neither entity is able to control the fusillade of disdain sent Gillette’s way by entities as diverse as the Chateau Heartiste and the Detroit Free Press. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss the live-action polemic here, but as with my Audi go-kart commercial piece I’m far more interested in the subtleties of the messaging than with the general Woke Capital stupidity of the stated message.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, an unusually high percentage of my reader base hails from California. All of you, and anyone who travels to the Golden State for business, might do well to review the 2019 crop of California laws. The law making the most noise — pun intended — is a thousand-dollar mandatory fine for exhaust noise over 95dB. It’s being enforced aggressively now, which would lead any sane person to wonder: We are told on a daily basis by the California-based media that it would be “absolutely impossible” to successfully identify and deport illegal immigrants, and that “profiling” would harass and endanger innocent people while providing no uptick in the amount of arrests. Yet the California police appear to have zero difficulty “profiling” certain types of cars in order to hand out these $1,000 tickets. That’s right: according to the drivers who have already been caught up in this new law, the police aren’t just sitting on a sound meter, Laguna-Seca style. They are aggressively, and purposely, seeking out certain vehicles. After all, if the police were simply to ticket based on their machine reading, they might end up ticketing the ratty old Toyota trucks or ’97 Expeditions that carry that sweet, sweet low-priced undocumented labor out to the farms. Would the drivers of those vehicles pay the fine? Of course not — and why should they, when they can have a brand new identity and driver’s license for $29?
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was at that point that I thought of the man who calls himself “Sultan Knish”.
In the end, it was barely a race. John was ahead by perhaps fifteen feet at the line, having taken the lead at the start before widening the gap over pretty much every jump afterwards. Not only was this John’s second win in two consecutive indoor BMX weekends, it was against three kids who were older and bigger than he was. One of them was a girl, but we have learned the hard way that there is little difference between boys and girls in BMX until they hit the magic age of thirteen, at which point the boys start snapping chains under power and the girls start wandering away from the sport. (There are, of course, some magnificent exceptions to that rule.) So this was a big win, made more so by the convincing fashion by which he’d smoked both his first-moto competitors and the riders in the main event.
As is his usual practice, my son stayed for a minute near the finish line to shake hands with his “friends”. I do not encourage this. “They aren’t your friends,” I hiss at him, “they’re the competition.” To drive the point home, I scheduled an evening showing of Ender’s Game before this last race, with particular attention paid to the scene where Ender breaks the neck of another child. “That’s what I expect to see from you… if, uh, only metaphorically,” I snapped. “Go out there and kill the other children.”
“I don’t know how I feel about that,” was his response. John can be awfully naive when it comes to the down-and-dirty world of pre-teen cycling. Yet he’s also remarkably observant, as he proved yet again as we stood in line for his trophy afterwards. “Did you see,” he whispered, swiveling his head to make sure he wasn’t accidentally upsetting anybody around us, “how the kid who got second… his mom was there… and she kept touching him?” As a matter of fact, I had noticed. It had set me to thinking, even before the race itself was run.
You can learn a lot about a society by the things it censors. In 1807, Thomas and and Henrietta Bowdler published a “family” version of Shakespeare from which the Bard’s blasphemy, sex, and violence had been carefully, but not always successfully, excised. Ophelia’s suicide became an accidental drowning, while the various curses and foul language were softened. (One example: “Zounds”, which is frequently lampooned as a equivalent to “heck”, or “darn”, was actually a contraction of the blasphemous “God’s wounds”, referring to the Crucifixion, and therefore about the most offensive thing possible to say.) The idea was to make the work accessible to children (and, let’s face it, women) for whom that sort of content was considered inappropriate.
The Bowdlers would come in for a lot of criticism, if not outright vilification, in the years that followed, but they never meant to actually censor Shakespeare. Their intent was to make it available for a broader audience, the same way that Garth Stein wrote a “young adult” version of his successful racing novel, entitled Racing In The Rain: My Life As A Dog. (The primary “bowdlerization” there is the toning-down of the adult story’s central plot point, a false rape accusation from a teenaged girl that proved to be very controversial with, and triggering for, certain male readers who could never imagine a young woman coming on to, or causing trouble for, a handsome older man, largely because they assume their own repulsiveness to the fairer sex is universal rather than a specific product of their own querulous, creepy personalities and Cheeto-dust-stained, fuggernautical miens.) At no point did Thomas and Henrietta suggest that the availability of Shakespeare be restricted. Rather, they hoped that their efforts would increase interest in, and engagement with, the original work — at the appropriate time, of course.
I’ve never particularly disapproved of censorship on moral grounds, within reason. Rabbit, Run was not materially improved when Knopf changed the phrase “Best bedfriend, done woman” found in the first hardcover edition back to Updike’s original draft of “Best bedfriend, fucked woman” in later paperback reprints. This mild evasion, and many like it, smoothed my childhood’s precocious passage through many an adult-oriented book. It wasn’t always evenhanded. When I was nine years old I found my father’s copy of John Toland’s outstanding The Rising Sun; I finished it understanding the mechanisms of Japanese torture, which were related in gripping detail, much better than I understood the idea of rape, which was mentioned when necessary but always held at a discreet distance. Perhaps it no longer matters in an era where even adults restrict themselves to a diet of young-adult garbage, but there was some benefit in not bombarding children with unrelenting grotesquerie, particularly when the grownups were smart enough to know what was being said between the lines anyway.
Those days are long gone, of course. There is now no sexual practice or perversion so disgusting that we will not cheerfully rub the noses of our children in it, particularly if doing so raises our status in a society that is now far too illiterate to usefully read Shakespeare in the original but which exalts sex-positivity to a degree that would make a fourth-century centurion leaving a vomitorium turn back for another round. Yet there is one bit of sexuality too pungent, too controversial to express in the printed (or HTTPed) page today; namely, the notion that there are two biological sexes and that they may be referred to as such in writing.
The most important lawsuit in the country right now has nothing to do with Horseface Stormy; it’s the one exposing Harvard’s secrets for choosing its next freshman class. Brought forward on the behalf of Asian-American students by a white activist-attorney, it’s exposed some odd media biases. Turns out that racial discrimination is good, even necessary, for society — if it’s discrimination against students with Chinese ancestry. And those Chinese-American kids are really better off taking their perfect high school records and top-rank entrance-exam scores to community colleges, anyway. Who would have thought?
It’s also been insinuated that the attorney behind the lawsuit, Edward Blum, is a racist scumbag who hates black people and who is using Asians as a patsy for his own anti-black feelings. All of that’s just a smokescreen. This lawsuit, the practices it exposes, and the entire affirmative-action movement in higher education, has very little to do with people of color, except as window dressing. Instead, it’s Goodwhite vs. Badwhite, and the stakes for the future are higher than you could possibly imagine.
There it was, right in the lobby of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Sweetwater Sound. (Non-affiliate, non-compensated commercial message: for the absolute best deal on a GOOD example of a musical instrument, as opposed to a Guitar Denter special, call Matt Emick at (800) 222-4700 x1249, tell him I sent you.) ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” coupe. (Strictly speaking, I believe it’s a Tudor, and some of you will know better than I do.) Hard to believe it was just forty-two years old when Billy Gibbons bought it as an unmodified ex-daily driver, and hard to believe it’s been driven across the country without incident.
Three of the video singles from ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” album featured the car as a central character; I vaguely remembered them from my youth, with the one that stuck out being “Legs”. On a whim, I decided to watch it again. Having done so, I asked my Instagram followers if there was any way that the “Legs” video would be considered acceptable for release were ZZ Top to make it again today. The answer is obviously “Hell no,” but it’s not for the reasons you might think. Turns out that “Legs”, for all its flash and sex appeal, is primarily objectionable in the modern context because it is, at its heart, a story of Christian morality.