A six-day week, long ago, at the Punchline!


Northern condescension today, Northern condescension forever: Long ago and far away, somewhere around the year 1990, we spent a week headlining, without especially good results, at the Columbia Punchline.

We refer, of course, to the Columbia, South Carolina, Punchline. During that week, we encountered one of the most memorable people we ever encountered in or around the big-time comedy world.

We refer to NAME WITHHELD, a waitress at the Punchline. By conventional norms, she was spectacularly good-looking, in a classic South Carolina way. She was also quite charismatic, due to the fury she brought to her discussions of "Northern condescension"—Northern condescension directed at Southern whites.

(This waitress claimed she could tell what county in South Carolina a person was from just from that person's accent. The other waitresses seemed to believe that she probably pretty much could.)

At any rate, it wasn't just WITHHELD who was aware of this condescension. American president Lyndon Baines Johnson had been well aware of it too.

Last week, we quoted remarks from the former president's 1971 memoir. The remarks had appeared as part of a guest essay in the New York Times:

JOHNSON (10/19/71):  I did not believe, any more than I ever had, that the nation would unite indefinitely behind any Southerner [as president]...I was not thinking just of the derisive articles about my style, my clothes, my manner, my accent, and my family—although I admit I received enough of that kind of treatment in my first few months as President to last a lifetime. I was also thinking of a more deep‐seated and far‐reaching attitude—a disdain for the South that seems to be woven into the fabric of Northern experience. This is a subject that deserves a more profound exploration than I can give it here—a subject that has never been sufficiently examined.

So said Lyndon Johnson, the president who found a way to ram through the Civil Rights Act. He was discussing widespread disdain and condescension, clueless Yankee style.

We were well aware of the phenomenon of Northern condescension long before we ever went to the Punchline. Listening to WITHHELD emote, we were struck by the fact that someone who had probably been Miss Whatever Town She Was In ever since she was three years old could bring so much passion to this tragic, age-old topic. 

We wondered where that feeling had come from. Occasionally, we still do.

We've recalled this memorable young woman as we've continued to encounter the loathsome, stupid tribal reactions to the decision by one school board in Tennessee to replace Art Spiegelman's widely-praised graphic novel, Maus, as part of its eighth-grade Holocaust curriculum. To wit:

This morning, we journeyed to the home site of the Amanpour & Company TV show. Upon arrival, we were stunned by what we found—a giant display which featured this extremely unfortunate headline:

“Maus” Author: TN School Board Wants a “Gentler Holocaust”

Sad! As it turns out, Spiegelman had appeared on the show last Friday night—and if there's anyone who admires Art Spiegelman and Art Spiegelman's work, that person would have to be Art Spiegelman himself!

As it turned out, that quote by Spigelman didn't mean what it may have seemed to mean. 

He hadn't said that the McMinn County school board wants a second Holocaust—though that ugly assessment was widely found among the loathsome comments the creepy crawlers of our own blue team appended to Kevin Drum's recent unfortunate post about the values and attitudes of the lesser beings who live in "East Bumfuck County."

People like that remarkable Punchline waitress burn with fury at such condescension—and they're right to do so. We would advise them to regard such manifestations as stupidity more than as macro-aggression, but people rarely like being insulted, and wars have begun over less.

Those commenters had been deeply stupid, ugly, vile. As it turns out, Spiegelman is a person with a gentle demeanor whose comments can be quite barbed. 

If there's anyone who's unaware of Art Spiegelman's recognizable brand of bigotry, it would have to be  Spiegelman himself.  For instance, consider the exchange which started with this question from Walter Isaacson:

ISAACSON (2/4/22): After the controversy erupted over the removal of your book from the curricula, the school board in Tennessee issued a statement. And I would like to read it to you and get your reaction to it. 

They said:

"We do not diminish the value of Maus as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust. To the contrary, we've asked our administrators to find other works to accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion."

Tell me your reaction to that.

The board had issued a statement asserting the value of Spiegelman's book. They simply said they didn't consider the book to be age-appropriate for their county's eighth-graders.

No one is required to agree with that assessment. The question is whether a person is able to tolerate even minor cultural differences resulting in different assessments.

Rubes like us are not. The board had issued a complimentary statement. Spiegelman responded with this:

SPIEGELMAN (continuing directly): Well, I've now come to realize that "age-appropriate" is a broad range that includes probably 40-year-old people on that school board as well as 14-year-old students in their classes.

The board had spoken well of Spiegelman's widely-praised book. Spiegelman had responded with a familiar old insult. 

He went on to offer other such acts of supreme condescension. Our self-impressed tribe is strongly inclined to behave this way. It's something we're almost completely unable to see about ourselves.

That comment is an example of ugly, venal behavior. It's ugly condescension, but it's very typical of a mindset which is quite widespread within our self-impressed tribe.

Our deeply stupid, self-impressed tribe loves the time-honored "book banning" narrative. (Though no, the school board in McMinn County didn't "ban" any book.) As a favored part of this narrative, we especially love to mock those within the white South. 

Scopes monkey trial, here we come!

We simply love to tell this story—the story about "banning books." It makes us feel that we're the good and very smart people, when we plainly are not. 

This story gives us the gift of a group of people we can be much better than—just the way the old-world white Southern cracker was trained to look down on blacks.

We truly are the people we hate. People like that memorable waitress can see us when we do this.


  1. It's not "Northern condescension", dear Bob. There are plenty of normal ordinary people in the north.

    It's "liberal condescension", affecting brain-dead liberals. Liberals in the North, liberals in the South, liberals in the UK, in Australia, and everywhere else brain-dead liberals can be found...

  2. Reading "Maus" in school might horrify the minds of these precious, innocent schoolchildren.
    Besides, it's cutting into the time set aside for Active Shooter Drills.

  3. How about the way the old world White southerner looks at Northerners? Condescension is a two way street, Yankee. John Kennedy of Louisiana often resembles such an old world White southerner and trust me, it’s not just the accent.
    Trumpism, the horrid crisis the Country now faces, was not a Southern phenomenon. Yet still Bob can’t write about it in any serious way.

  4. Maus, for what it’s worth, was not a universally lauded book on the left when first published. Some felt the subject matter too serious to be handled by comics, even serious comics. There are simple or correct answers on such questions, probably comes down to the kid assigned. Bob indicates here, as he has so often, he can’t really write seriously on race, he is too old world.,

    1. "Some felt the subject matter too serious to be handled by comics, even serious comics."

      Complete B.S.

    2. You might disagree, but many critics did take issue with the book when it came out. ANY portrayal of the death camps, for many years, was considered controversial. But, you don’t seem to know much about it.

  5. And can’t Bob recall anything the waitress said? I guess She was too good looking.

  6. "He hadn't said that the McMinn County school board wants a second Holocaust—though that ugly assessment was widely found among the loathsome comments the creepy crawlers of our own blue team appended to Kevin Drum's recent unfortunate post about the values and attitudes of the lesser beings who live in "East Bumfuck County.""

    This is a misrepresentation of the commenters at Drum's blog. No one there called for a second Holocaust and no one there accused others of wanting a second holocaust.

    Somerby just plain made up this ugly suggestion, so that he could call Drum's commenters ugly people.

  7. Bigotry against the South is the only form of bigotry Somerby acknowledges. He doesn't think sexism is a thing (no wage gap for example) and he doesn't think racism is a thing (race is construct so if you don't construct it, racism just magically disappears according to Somerby). He never talks about anti-Semitism, but he does think that the fuss over Asian being beaten up on the streets is overblown. His feelings are only engaged when someone slights a Southern damsel (working as a comedy club waitress and thus incredibly sensitive and vulnerable to bad words, I assume, unless it is Bob Saget joking about rape and incest. Such jokes are A-OK with Somerby, but don't get him started about the fee-fees of Southern gentlemen.

  8. I am deeply unimpressed by the way Southerners display stupidity at nearly every opportunity. If they don't like being a national joke, they should get their act together.

  9. "The question is whether a person is able to tolerate even minor cultural differences resulting in different assessments."

    There is a large body of writing about the agony experienced by highly intelligent and perhaps diverse teenagers entombed in the South and just waiting to be old enough to find peers and someone who will understand them, their interests and their internal struggles.

    Do Southern communities have the right to do this to the many young people who would do fine with Maus and are just waiting for some small taste of the real world to help nourish their spirits?

  10. Last week in good old Tennessee: A controversial Tennessee pastor led a book burning on Wednesday night to fight “demonic influences”, with a crowd incinerating copies of books including Harry Potter and Twilight.

    The burning, which was livestreamed on Facebook, followed last month’s decision by a Tennessee school district to ban the Holocaust-based graphic novel Maus.

  11. Take a good look at what white grievance and white fragility look like.

    Somerby invents some waitress and expects that we will react better to certain opinions from her than if Somerby expressed them himself, because we imagine she is beautiful? Are we really that gullible?

    1. I hear that tactic works in the South, every time...

  12. I think the story of the waitress is quite credible, because once you have accepted it, the only logical response is “so what?”
    What’s striking about is that it stands out for Bob, like he doesn’t much run into people who take that view. I’ve met such people in Los Angeles, and progressive left websites.
    The hottie element would seem to come into play…..

  13. When racists see a single instance of a black person doing something they disapprove of, they then attribute it as a flaw in all black people and they feel superior to blacks. This is pretty much how northern liberals reacted to the removal of a single reading in a single class in a single school in TN.

    1. The book was removed from all schools in McMinn County.

  14. “a disdain for the South that seems to be woven into the fabric of Northern experience. “

    There was (and is) just as much disdain for the North amongst Southerners. Each blamed the other for the civil war, and the South hated the North afterwards, particularly the Northern Republicans, who forced Reconstruction on them. So, it’s a bit more complicated than “Northerners think southerners are stupid and so they mock them.”

    Johnson was talking here about his feelings specifically in 1964. He went on, of course, to win a massive electoral and popular vote landslide in 1968, which might have given him the idea that the country could possibly unify around a Southerner.

    His efforts with civil rights, it should be remembered, were bitterly opposed by Southerners in his own party. One might fruitfully examine that to detect a bit more nuance in the Southern penchant for performative grievance and self-pity. And Johnson’s support for the Vietnam War was a significant factor in his fractured support.

    Another case in point is that the two Southern presidents, Carter and Clinton, were hated by conservatives, including Southern conservatives, so it isn’t just a North v South thing.

    1. “1968” should say 1964. I don’t have the ability to remove or edit comments.

  15. “Though no, the school board in McMinn County didn't "ban" any book.”

    What is Somerby’s definition of “ban?” Here is what the school board themselves said:

    “After widespread national reaction to news of the removal, the McMinn County School Board released the following statement: 
    One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves.  The McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools

    That kind of sounds like a ban to me.


  16. Many average Germans burned with fury at “the Jews”, whom they considered condescending elitists.

    Were the Germans right to do so?

    Or was a feeling of frustration and helplessness and self-pity aimed at inappropriate targets and inflamed by unscrupulous leaders?

  17. There was also a concern in 1960 whether the country could unite behind a Catholic like JFK. In fact, JFK picked Johnson as VP because he felt he would lose the South without Johnson.

    JFK was a Democrat as we’re almost all Southern politicians.

    1. “As WERE almost all Southern politicians.”