Thursday, April 16, 2009

George Will: Stupidest. Column. Ever.

George Will writes what may be his most backwards-looking column ever (which is saying something) today, denouncing Americans for - wait for it, wait for it - wearing jeans.

Yes, you read that correctly. That is not a typo. Apparently this country is going to hell because of denim draping our legs. OMG! He cites an article in the Wall Street Journal which takes the same concern. The author, Daniel Akst, writes what is easily one of the the most inane things I have ever read. He described denim as:

"a powerful force for evil"
And I thot the teabaggers were nutcases. Will's column is riddled with bits of lunacy, starting with this gem. He summarizes Mr. Akst as one who is

summoning Americans to soul-searching and repentance about the plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche.
Mr. Will is apparently unaware that the year is 2009, not 1959. I understand that conservatives believe in preserving tradition, and occasionally vent about the soul-stultifying effects of modern society, but this is beyond absurd. I suppose Bruce Springsteen is doing Satan's work?

Here's another of Mr. Will's damning observations about American society:

Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill").
Because, of course, in the golden era of America's past, we were all entertained by adults acting as adults. Mr. Will is presumably unaware of the cultural significance of Charlie Chaplin.

It is not really denim that is Mr. Will's central concern, but the infantile nature of American society. It's not just movies and TV's, of course.

Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote.
Because, as we all know, pretending to be someone else for the purposes of whacking imaginary bad guys is a sure sign of a retarded adolescence, and an inadequate understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship. Which would seem to call into question the maturity and patriotism of John Wayne.

The hits just keep on coming:

Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances.
Once again, Mr. Will demonstrates not merely his condescending attitude of contemporary society, but his utter ignorance of it. He is apparently clueless about the wide range of jeans available, including the kind that cost hundreds of dollars because of the intricate designs embroidered on them. I know about these partially because I live in Los Angeles, and believe me, "indifference to appearances" is hardly a defining trait of people in LA.

The problem with uninformed condescension is that it can occasionally backfire. Will cites the Batman movies as a symbol of the childishness to which we all succumb when we fail to maintain decent standards of dress:
In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies
He is also apparently unaware that the last Batman movie was a contender for a Best Picture nomination because it was both an action-adventure movie and a serious adult drama, with one of the best portrayals of a villain ever on film. Juvenile? This is a laughable claim, particularly when you compare last year's Batman to the original TV show. That was deliberately juvenile - it was a show for kids. Dark Knight was not for kids. The Batman franchise has grown up. Something Mr. Will might be aware of it he had actually seen the latest movie. Which, somehow, I suspect he has not.

As for jeans being "undifferentiated." Perhaps for the uninitiated. For people who actually wear jeans - I think the only people I have ever known who didn't wear jeans were my grandparents - there are dramatic differences. I also find the charge of "undifferentiated" somewhat odd, given that it is coming from a white guy in a suit, whose choices of colors for his suits probably ranges from dark gray all the way to dark blue.

So what should we wear?

This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.
So after bemoaning the lack of differentiation among people who wear jeans, George Will admonishes us to all adhere to a single standard for dress. Apparently in George Will's ideal America, indvidualism is best expressed by conforming to one idea. No, Mr. Will, I will not be following the model of Fred Astaire, much as I may admire him, for four reasons. First, I'm not sure what Fred Astaire wore. Second, I'm fairly certain that he didn't wear shorts, and that is something of a necessity in Southern California. Third, I have a sneaking suspicion that the styles Mr. Astaire wore are no longer available. And, last, I have the freedom - usually a value held in high esteem by conservatives - to wear what I want to wear. It's almost tragic how clueless this man is.

Finally, Mr. Will, for all his years commenting on politics, still has not learned one lesson: one of the worst things you can do in politics is to conform to your opponents cliched stereotypes. Conservatives have a reputation of being grumpy old white guys who can't deal with all these changes from these obnoxious kids. For a liberal like me, this column is a gift from heaven. Thank you, Mr. Will, for confirming that conservatives are, in fact, exactly what we want people to think they are. Maybe next time you could write a column denouncing the evils of rock and roll?

Conservatives lost these arguments, not years, but decades ago. George Will has not come to terms with something that has been gradually happening since before I was born. I have read enough George Will columns to know that I normally respect his opinion, even when I disagree with it. For all his erudition, for all his eloquent turns of phrase, there is one thing that George Will still cannot do gracefully: admit that his side lost.

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