Friday, 8 May 2009

The Language of Adam


The practice of covertly advertising products in educational curricula had reached such an absurd level in l999 that Debra Goldman in Adweek (March 29, 1999, p.54) claimed that "Parents and students served by public schools that defend ad-plugged lessons as "educational" are being defrauded."


One way in which the contrived folksy permeates American popular culture is the "casual enclitic"--Nice 'n Easy".

The calculatedly casual, interestingly, pervades the way we express excellence--Emmys, Grammys, Addies (in Louisville, they're called Louies), Clouties (the Philadelphia Daily News' annual award for the powerful who do foolish things), Ellies (National Magazine Awards)

It is in the American vernacular that we most clearly see our historical impulse to suppress the egalitarian vision. Great mass media like "The Saturday Evening Post" broadcast an aggressively folksy image of the culture that was belied by pervasive realities. Norman Rockwell is not a good guide to how most Americans actually lived. It is an excellent index as to how the industrial managers wanted their potential customers to behave.

One of the most striking ways in which the pseudo-egalitarian mask was and is promulgated is the way we name awards. It can be no accident that the calculatedly casual "good joe" talk pervades the presumably elite category of naming the best in the arts: Emmies, Grammys, Tonys, Addies, the list is endless, with rare exceptions like Oscars, allegedly named after the resemblance between someone's uncle and the award statuette.

Richard Bernstein, in his review of David Plante's "The Age of Terror" (St. Martin's Press, l999), alludes to the main character "called, with American simplicity, Joe". (IHT, 2/9/99,p.8.) I was struck, in teaching American literature, at how often characters were calculatedly casual in their names--Huck, Nick Adams, Carrie, even Walt Whitman.


George Will identifies a central problem in contemporary America in commenting on Williams College sociologist James Nolan, Jr.'s book, "The Therapeutic State: Justifying Government at Century's End". Nolan argues that government tends to expand: that expansion tends to produce a crisis of legitimacy; the therapeutic mission both fuels and legitimizes government's expansion into new spheres of society's and individuals' lives. ("A Compassionate Conservative Embraces the Art of Emoting," IHT (2/10/99, p.9, cc. 5&6.)

Wills implies that such calculated compassion is something new, an invention of a lower lip biting Bill Clinton. But surely the welfare mess originated in the zeal with which big city Democrats cultivated voters with giveaways. Politics has always been a quid pro quo operation. The difficulties arise when calculated compassions generate "poverty industries" or when civil rights agitations results in educational strategies like bilingual education.

Further, Will seriously misleads when he suggests the government originated calculated compassion. The infantilization of our society began in the 1920's when consumer advertising really took off: to be instantly (and continuously) pleased became their mandate, and they arranged that the newer media of radio, movies, and tabloids invented mass distractions--Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Mary Pickford, Jack Benny, Bob Hope.

It's a potentially toxic cocktail when both business and government converge to divert an entire society from growing up. Alas, the true danger of Globalization is that it threatens the same fate for everyone on earth. We need business and government policies that encourage maturity.


Elizabeth Dole's first speech as a presidential candidate (to the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce), "There's been a little speculation that I might run for president. And if I run, this will be an important reason why: Because the United States of America deserves a government worthy of her people."

Countering critics who claim she has no policy positions, she identified herself as a Reagan Republican whose priorities were improved public education, lower taxes, returning control to local governments, and strengthening the military. "Reagan conservatism wore a smile, and it was contagious. It imagined the good in everyone, and brought out the best in millions. It was optimistic, futuristic." IHT, 2/10/99,p.3.)

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