FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2021
...but also, his dinner near Hef: Will Casey Parks' lengthy report generate a discussion?
Actually no, it won't. You've seen it mentioned nowhere but here, and you're going to see it mentioned nowhere ever again.
Her report connects to no prior discussion. The fact is, nobody cares about the topic Parks explored in last Sunday's lengthy, detailed report.
No one has cared about that topic for a good long time. More specifically, no one has cared about that topic here in our own blue towns.
Within our blue political tribe, our journalists care about which kids will go to Stuyvesant High (or to Thomas Jefferson in Virginia), with a chance to advance to Yale. There's no other part of this topic to which our tribe is known to respond.
Charles Blow's son does (or did) go to Yale. Stating the obvious, there's no reason why he shouldn't.
Blow himself doesn't write about the general topic addressed by Parks' visit to the Holmes County schools in the Mississippi Delta. That said, this Monday he offered an inspiring column under the headline, "Why I Write."
The column was filled with words of self-praise. Headline included, the column started like this:
BLOW (9/13/21): Why I Write
One of my favorite aunts was desperately poor, like many people I knew in rural north Louisiana. I don’t know how much money she had or made. I only know the shadow of need that stalked her. She seemed, like many members of my family, one paycheck or severe injury away from insolvency.
Blow described the desperate poverty of the rural South. Eventually, he fell to the task of explaining why he writes.
Blow described the conditions he found when he visited his aunt "when my [his] children were young." The poverty he described was extreme. In the passage, he described his thoughts and his reactions:
BLOW: I sat there thinking about the great divide among us, about how far removed I now was from this life, but also about how very connected I was, spiritually, to it.
And I was conflicted. How much could I or should I help? I have had long talks with my mother about this. Other than a little money in greeting cards, there wasn’t much that I could do for all the people I knew in need.
The problem was not about personal generosity, but rather public policy and indifference. The best thing I could do was to advocate for all.
When I visited my aunt, I was working at The New York Times. I had been poor, but I no longer was. And yet, it was important to me then, and remains important to me now, that I remained connected to that poverty, so that I could write about it from a genuine place.
Already, Blow was working for the Times. He was no longer poor, but he wanted to remain connected to that desperate poverty, so that he could write about it from a genuine place.
According to Blow's column, this is why he writes. As he continued, the song of self became more explicit and perhaps a tiny bit maudlin.
BLOW: There were two bits of advice I remember receiving when I first became a columnist, although I don’t recall from whom they came.
One was to write what you know. Write about some of your most intimate experiences, the things that you can’t stop thinking about no matter how hard you try.
The other was that columnists should be like an orchestra, each playing a different instrument, but together making music.
I decided that in that orchestra I was going to play the banjo. I was not a big-city writer. I was a small-town country boy from the South. I had not grown up with wealth and privilege. I had struggled, and at times, my family had barely scraped by. I had not gone to fancy prep schools or Ivy League colleges, but a small high school that had served Black students since the late 1800s and to a historically Black college, Grambling State University, the closest university to my hometown.
Others can be all fancy and such. He has decided to play the banjo! That's who he is and was.
Apparently, if there's one person who hates the wealth and the privilege, it has to be Charles Blow. In the closing paragraph of his column, he links himself to Maya Angelou, so great is his devotion to these heartfelt themes:
BLOW: Maya Angelou once said that whenever she embarked on a project, she brought everyone who had ever been kind to her with her, not physically, but spiritually. In the same way, whenever I sit down to write, everyone who has ever struggled as I have sits down with me.
As with Steinbeck's Preacher Casey—no known relation—so too here!
For the record, it may well be that Blow does "hate the wealth and the privilege" in some manner or other. We'll only say that he doesn't seem to write about institutional disasters like those which Journalist Casey described in the Holmes County schools.
Nor does he write about the kids who attend low-income schools right there in New York City. In fairness, no one in the upper-class press corps writes about such topics either.
In reality, no one cares about those kids here within our self-impressed tribe, and this fact has been apparent for a very long time.
As a general matter, columnists don't bare their souls in heartfelt columns like the one Blow wrote. To our ear, it didn't necessarily ring entirely true.
In general, though, blue commenters loved it. The first two offered these remarks:
COMMENTER FROM YONKERS: A beautifully expressed and written tour-de-soul. I am reminded of the words of Invictus ... [quotation deleted]
COMMENTER FROM WASHINGTON STATE: ...You write for me. And for all of us who hunt for your columns and re-read most of them. You write for the voiceless, and for the marginalized and for those who need to listen to your stories because their lived experience is so far removed from yours. You write to be certain the banjo is heard in the great orchestra of opinions and reporting. You write to bring compassion and reason and balance and perspective to counterbalance the noise of right-wing media and ignorant pundits. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Some commenters did offer dissents, including some from a conservative direction. But one blue reader after another thanked Blow, a national treasure, for baring his soul in this way.
Why did Blow write this somewhat unusual column that day? We can't answer your question.
We did think of his previous column, and of some pushback he had received. In print editions, it had been published two days before and it stirred unrest in the ranks.
Blow's previous column was a rumination on 9/11. Many liberal commenters were puzzled by the column, which bore this slightly odd headline:
Our Children Will Never Know the Innocence We Knew
Blow's thesis was that the 9/11 attacks "changed us, fundamentally," removing our previous innocence. He closed by saying this:
BLOW (9/11/21): People of my generation will never know again what my children’s generation only tasted: an innocence and obliviousness about threat and danger. I am—we all are—covered forever with a bit of the ash from those towers.
His children's generation had "tasted an innocence and obliviousness about threat and danger," an innocence and obliviousness which was blown away that day? His own generation had apparently known that innocence over a much longer period.
Taken literally, this struck us as a peculiar statement. In part, it seemed to contradict a prevailing tribal theme about racial danger—a tribal theme which has the advantage of being largely accurate. Many readers took it that way and roasted Blow in comments.
Two day later, Blow was out with "Why I Write." As we read it, we thought of another possible oddity in the 9/11 column—a possible oddity which fewer commenters mentioned.
We had been struck by the point at the time. The passage in question was this:
BLOW: A couple of weeks after the attack, I went to dinner at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, just a mile or two from ground zero, where the massive mound of rubble where the twin towers once stood was still simmering. You could smell the metal in the air.
Hugh Hefner was also at the restaurant that night, surrounded by a group of women who looked remarkably similar. Other women occasionally made their way from their tables to his, smiling and laughing and posing for pictures.
I thought for a moment: Could there be a shoulder shrug any more symbolic and uniquely American than Hefner hamming it up in a banquette full of blondes? Was this what “not letting the terrorists win” looked like?
No, it wasn’t. This whole battle of optics was a fiction. Of course the terrorists had achieved their goal of forever altering us. I, like most Americans, would have to admit that I, too, was irrevocably changed.
We were surprised by that passage. In some ways, it surprised us to think that Blow was dining out within weeks of 9/11 at all. Mainly, though, it surprised us to learn that, as far back as 2001, he was dining in a restaurant which sounded a bit like an upper-end Manhattan celebrity joint.
Several commenters mentioned that very point. Two days later, to the applause of the crowd, Blow explained who he actually is, but also why he writes.
One blue commenter after another swallowed that second column whole. Anthropologists say that we humans tend to be like that—that we tend to believe the things our anointed tribal leaders tell us, especially at times of partisan war.
(According those same experts, we shouldn't reflexively trust tribal leaders. Red and blue alike, however, we humans tend to underperform with respect to this very key skill.)
At any rate, no one has written about Parks' report, and no one ever will. Manifestly, no one cares about the kids who attend those horrific Holmes County schools, or about their parents and aunts, some of whom, to this day, are struggling with rural deep poverty.
Your lizard may say that our assessment is wrong. But Parks' essay connects to no ongoing discussion, and you will never see her essay mentioned ever again.
You'll never see it mentioned! At the Times, they worry about who might get to go to Yale, and they worry about no one else. These are blindingly obvious facts, except to the tribally blinded.
In closing, two disclosures:
"Hef" may have been dining at Arby's that night! We don't know where Blow chose to dine that night, or who else might have chosen to dine there.
Also, we don't know the state of Charles Blow's soul. We assume he's a good, decent person, but he mainly produces tribal stock about loathing The Very Bad Others, and he never writes about the type of deep rural poverty which afflicts the Holmes County schools.
In fairness, neither does anyone else. Here in our tribe, as everyone knows, we simply don't care about topics like that, except as a matter of theory.
Also this: As David Brooks notes today, Orwell wrote a famous essay entitled, "Why I Write."
Blow is aligned with Angelou. Is he aligned with Orwell too?