We don’t recommend Rachel Maddow: We’ll recommend the new piece by Salon’s Roxane Gay about the latest faux genius.
Gay asks a lot of good questions about the genius Lehrer (no relation). Before we mention another young genius, let’s look at a few of Gay’s clips:
GAY (7/31/12): There is a cult of bright young things, a cultural obsession with genius, a need to find beacons of greatness in an ordinary world. In a December 2002 article in The Atlantic Monthly, Marjorie Garber writes, “At this point in history genius has become a commodity, an ambition, and even a lifestyle.” She also notes that, “Deep within us lies a certain strain of longing for genius, a genius worship, that might be described as messianic: the hope that a genius will come along to save us from our technological, philosophical, spiritual, or aesthetic impasse.” When young people display remarkable intelligence or creativity, we are instantly enamored. We want or need geniuses to show us the power and potential of the human mind and we’re so eager to find new people to bestow this title upon that the term and the concept have become quite diluted.The quote from Garber sounds strong. How about yet another "strain of longing" on our part—the hope that a genius will come to save us from our own manifest dumbness? From our manifest lack of purpose? From our horrible tribalized values?
We live at a time of enormous stupidity. We liberals try hard to blame it on Them. But our side has proven its ginormous dumbness too—dumbness so vast that we’re on the verge of electing a nightmare like Romney.
Sorry. In large part, this is a world of our making. We have spent the last thirty years creating the danger we face.
Gay is intrigued by the culture which elevates climbers like Lehrer. Before we name another name, we’ll recommend this:
GAY: How did Lehrer think he could get away with making up quotations from a singer who is still alive, notoriously reclusive, and obsessively followed? In the age of the Internet, when everything is just a click away, how did Lehrer think he wouldn’t get caught, both when he plagiarized himself and again when he simply lied over and over? What else is fabricated in his books? Does he think that little of his audience?How did Lehrer think he could do this? These people are very young and poorly grounded—and the rewards are gigantic. Regarding the culture that allows this to happen, Gay feels this is only done with and for men. But here’s another name:
The question isn’t really why did Lehrer fabricated those Dylan quotations and then lie about it nor is the question why did he plagiarize himself time and again in his highly visible position as a staff writer for The New Yorker. The question that intrigues me most is how this happened at all, how Lehrer was elevated to a position of such prominence. Are we that enamored by bright young things that they can act with impunity?
Lehrer’s success and this current humiliation, how far he had to fall, is a symptom of a much bigger problem, one that is systemic, one that continues to consistently elevate certain kinds of men simply for being a certain kind of man. Jonah Lehrer fits the narrative we want about a boy genius. He is young, attractive and well educated. He can write a good sentence. He can parse complicated science for the masses and make us feel smarter for finally being able to understand the complexities of the human mind. He is the great white hope.
In many ways, Maddow is one of the frauds of our age. On her cable TV show, she has set records for blatant crackpot dishonesty.
The liberal world simply can’t tell.
Beyond that, the liberal world refused to speak when Al and Lawrence and Charles lied in our faces, week after week, about the killing of Trayvon Martin. (Is there anything these people won't con you about? By the way: making up a quote by Dyulan egst you fired. But in the modern liberal world, making up reams of shit about amurdre is just part of doing your job.)
The truth is, we are very bad people. In part because of our moral sloth, we keep getting played by these frauds. And we've helped create a world where Romney may get to the White House.
Back to Lehrer and his type: The rewards today are very great for these hustling young climbers. Tomorrow, we’ll finish our current series on Chris Hayes’ new book, which proved quite hard to review.
We’ll only say this—we find a great deal of hustle and pop in Hayes’ work now too. We weren’t thinking such thoughts about young Hayes until we tried unpacking his rather odd book, which disappears his own elite and seems to say that the others failed because of their "social distance."
On its jacket, this very fuzzy book is fulsomely praised by the usual suspects of the liberal elite. Do these people know how to read at all? If they do, when do they plan to start?
The world is full of ambitious young climbers. We recommend the Roxane Gay piece. We don’t recommend Rachel Maddow, unless liberals hold her to rules.
Additional bonus point: Some of these youngsters would turn out fine—if we didn’t have the need to get played by them in these ways, the impulse that has Gay puzzled.