As gaffe culture emerged: We self-defined, self-impressed "human beings" can be amazingly dumb.
Let's make that observation a bit more interesting. The intellectual leaders among us humans can be amazingly dumb!
Wittgenstein sketched one of the ways that dumbness can work among the highest academic elites. This morning, though, the New York Times seems to go out of its way to showcase this hard-wired dumbness.
How dumb can the dumbness get? Consider the way this letter begins. The New York Times chose to publish this letter at the very top of today's letters column:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (5/29/20): Amy Cooper is surely a Karen (an entitled white woman), and a bad dog owner, and probably a little racist, but does she deserve to have her life ruined over this incident—and perhaps be permanently banned from the park, as the Central Park Civic Association has asked?So the letter begins. It begins by normalizing a mocking, derogatory term which is applied to a wide swath of people on the basis of race (and gender).
In fairness, this writer says a "white woman" is only a "Karen" if she is "entitled." Only a fool would think that a group denigration of that type can be contained in such ways.
This morning, the Times helps enable the current superspread of this derogatory race- and gender-based term. In doing so, it joins The Atlantic, and the Central Park birder himself, along with that Harvard man's sister and a growing cast of thousands.
(Stating the obvious: in terms of misogyny and woman-hating, the term plays a role similar to that of the previous term, "dumb blonde." You'd think that anyone could see that, but our brightest lights routinely won't.)
In The Atlantic, a Kaitlyn offered this chirpy analysis back on May 6. (She referred to the term as "a popular joke.") Her piece was linked to this very week by a David Graham.
It should be hard to be this dumb, but our high-end journalists are up to the task. Such observations help us recall the birth of the modern-day gaffe.
Michael Kinsley explained the emerging phenomenon in the trivia-pimping year of 1984. The whole point of the gaffe, he claimed, was that the much-maligned statement in question had to be trivial, pointless.
In that sense, the ensuing pseudo-discussion had to be defiantly dumb. The ensuing bafflegab would therefore, by definition, be an imitation of discourse, even perhaps of life.
Back in 1984, modern gaffe culture had begun to emerge. Today, it helps define the simple-minded world of our upper-end press corps, many of whose silly-Bill members have "gone to the finest schools."
(Stating the regrettable: When Bob Dylan presented that phrase in what may be his most famous song, he was, by fairly obvious inference, perhaps and possibly tilting toward the denigration of women.)
Today, the press corps [HEART] gaffes! Over the past three or four decades, gaffe culture has expanded to include a wide array of monumentally pointless missteps.
As we've noted, the press corps will seize on the spoken gaffe, but also on the wardrobe or hairdo gaffe.
They'll note the cheese on the cheesesteak gaffe. For decades, they've discussed the gaffe which involves asking for the wrong type of beverage when in a bar or saloon.
In 2008, the Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick discovered the "too skinny to get elected" gaffe. In a sensible world, this would have meant that no serious newspaper would ever have wanted to hire any such Amy.
In our world, the reverse was true. When the New York Times saw her "too skinny" piece, they knew they had to recruit her! (Or so perhaps it went.)
We've listed many kinds of gaffes this week, but we haven't yet mentioned the etiquette gaffe. According to a report by Gay Jervey, that gaffe was invented by a Maureen. It happened in 1984, the year of Kinsley's excavations.
Jervey's report was sourced to Bill Kovach, Washington bureau chief at the New York Times during the era in question. Kovach's story appeared in Jervey's profile of Dowd in the late, lamented Brill's Content.
Kovach had a major career. But good God! This story:
JERVEY (June 1999 issue): Even as a young reporter Dowd had an eye for telling detail and nuance...“We were on deadline,” Kovach explains. “Mondale and Ferraro had just been nominated...As the candidates stood on the platform, Maureen jumped up and grabbed me and said, ‘Look! Look! There is the story. Mondale doesn’t know whether to hug his wife or Ferraro. He doesn’t know what to do.’ She saw that signaled a new era, with women playing a whole new role in politics and men not quite knowing what to do.” That keen observation...crystallized for Kovach just how clairvoyant a reporter she was.In this way, Dowd's brilliance was discovered by her newspaper's power brokers. Sixteen years later, she built seven (7) columns around Candidate Gore's bald spot.
Candidate Bush won by a hair, then sent our army into Iraq. People are dead all over the world because of the gaffe of the bald spot.
Concerning Mondale's etiquette gaffe—he didn't know which Karen to hug!—please consider the following:
On that same evening, Candidate Mondale was caught in public making an accurate statement. During the speech in which he accepted his party's nomination for president, Mondale said that he would have to raise taxes—and that his opponent, Ronald Reagan, was going to do the same thing, although he wouldn't tell us.
In this emerging age, this was the ultimate gaffe. No, it wasn't a trivial statement, but it was an accurate statement—and according to Kinsley's various definitions, a gaffe occurs when a politician says something that's actually true.
This spoken gaffe dealt with a major policy topic. For many years thereafter, Mondale was ridiculed, by reporters and pundits, for having made that accurate statement.
That said, up in a sky box, a Karen had reportedly spotted a gaffe—in this case, an etiquette gaffe. It didn't get a lot of play as campaign reporting unfolded, but it presumably led to this Karen's ascent, and onward to the "Creeping Dowdism" which came to engulf the Times.
It was a Katherine, Katherine Boo, who stood up on her two hind legs and tried to warn us about that creeping investment in trivia. In the years which followed his disregarded warning, trivia may be their most important product as the Samsons of the guild proceeded to dumb the world down.
Regarding Aperol Spritz and Taylor Swift, you can check the original document here.
We don't want to offer that document as a criticism of the youngish reporter who wrote about Candidate Biden's gaffe last week, linking it to Candidate Clinton's previous "hot sauce" gaffe. Boo tried to serve the nation well, and so will that youngish reporter.
To us, that document showcases something else. It documents the way New York Times editors seem to love our nation's trivia and those who pursue it well!
No, you can't run a modern nation this way. In the words of a famously average Joe, just "take a good look around."
Tomorrow: The Family of Man, the book