Strakon Lights Up, No. 89

Yahoo Nation strikes back


I've been wanting to write something about the Red and Blue countries that were mapped out by the state-by-state results of the presidential election (under NBC's color scheme), but I couldn't quite get it to gel, especially after seeing a county-by-county map in the Washington Post that painted a much more complex, pastel, pointillistic portrait. Thanks be, then, to William O'Rourke of the Chicago Sun-Times for presenting me with a sharply defined target in primary colors — or cartoon colors, if you prefer.

In a November 14 column, "Bush's Yahoo Nation," O'Rourke says the election "reveals not only a divided country, leaving us with an equally divided government, but also a nation divided in a specific way." George W. Bush's America — "Yahoo Nation" — is "a large, lopsided horseshoe, a twisted W, made up of primarily the Deep South and the vast, lowly [sic] populated upper-far-west states that are filled with vestiges of gun-loving, Ku-Klux-Klan sponsoring, formerly lynching-happy, survivalist-minded, hate-crime perpetrating, non-blue-blooded, rugged individualists."

To that, all I have to say is, Yeeeeeee-HAH! It's just about all I could be expected to say, bein' as how I'm a nekulturny yahoo born and bred, for as O'Rourke points out, "Yahoo Nation, George W.'s electoral bundle — save contested Florida, the toss-up state — contains not one major city, nor one primary center of creative and intellectual density."

O'Rourke goes on: "Al Gore's America is the country's great cities: New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle." Those of you who might have thought that such cities as Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, and New Orleans were indisputably more civilized than La-la-land, or at least competitive in some ways with Seattle — renowned for overpriced coffee, jet bombers, illiterate computer techies, "grunge music," and drizzle — obviously attended one of those broken-down one-room schools with a privy out back that Yahoo Nation is so famous for.

"And so," O'Rourke perseverates, "if George W. becomes president, he will not have won one center of the thinking America, the teeming centers of creative and intellectual life."

Despite my exclusion, as a Hoosier, from "the thinking America," I will rack my lumpy little brain to come up with a thought or two about Mr. O'Rourke and his argument. My first thought is that, despite the insult to Cincinnati et al., he's pretty much right about the production of culture.

Smart but evil

Whenever I listen to the radio — it's mostly when I'm in my car, these days — I tune to National Public Radio. By way of apologia, I always explain that while its commentary is predominantly Communistic, goofball totalitarian, and anti-Western, NPR is also the only radio network audible to a driver in my part of Yahoo Nation that at least pretends some interest in ideas, even if they're bad ideas. The Commies and highly educated goofballs at NPR have no good answers, but they do pose some good questions, and they do it often enough to keep me interested. Some fellow freedom-lovers and pro-Westerners have urged me to spin the dial over to the right-wing talk shows (one even urged me to invest in a shortwave set!), but then where would I get my travelin' music — classical music and cool jazz? Perhaps I haven't tuned in often enough, but I've never caught Rush Limbaugh featuring the Vienna Phil or Charles Mingus.

However, it is a tiresome plight for us Yahooites who, pace O'Rourke, do enjoy the life of the mind. As we nibble on the ideas and high culture (or even just jazz) served up by the Bicoastal metropoles, we always have to remember to pick out those nasty rodent hairs and slivers of glass before swallowing. O'Rourke's "teeming centers of creative and intellectual life" are teeming these days with cultural maggots. They stink of corruption, deracination, and nihilism. A fish, so it is said, rots from the head; and it was in our cultural capitals that the national culture began rotting.

When knowledge and high culture are twisted to serve evil, the Orwellian slogan "Ignorance is strength" starts to look less self-evidently absurd — especially if we read it as suggesting that we do our best to resist the cultural products issuing from the modern metropole. In such a degraded context, it's good to be a yahoo. It's even better to be a yahoo who, while keeping his powder dry, listens to Bach.

Speaking of Bach ...

I take it that O'Rourke is not depending, in his argument, on the eminentoes of the metropole in its better days. Once the Red and Blue countries start competing in dead white males, it's anyone's guess who might win. It would be risky, for instance, for O'Rourke to throw metropolitan musical greats of the past in our face — Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, and Howard Hanson, say. (Ooops — scratch Hanson; he was a yahoo from Nebraska.) For then we yahoos could start throwing back the names of quite a few literary greats, including some dead white females, too — Twain, Cather, Dreiser, Faulkner, Percy, Welty, Tarkington, Flannery O'Connor, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams, and on and on. There would simply be no end to it.

But it's my guess that O'Rourke wouldn't make that mistake. He'd make another one instead, naming more-contemporary people such as John Cage and his successors in manufacturing auto-crash music. I say that on the basis of what seems to be his greatest fear about the looming victory of Yahoo Nation:

It was Papa Bush's administration that did everything it could to stamp out government involvement with intellectuals and artists in the country. Republicans then managed to ruin the National Endowment for the Arts. Lynne Cheney, the seemingly [sic] veep-elect's wife, the head of the National Endowment of the Humanities during the Bush presidency, eventually called for its abolition.

So we come at last to the crying need for official government Kultur, which is, of course, a system of censorship. It officially favors some artists over others, and, worse, forces the ordinary taxpayer to finance them, limiting his ability to choose and pay for the art he likes. Can it be that O'Rourke's "teeming centers" are unable to produce the art so treasured by O'Rourke without the tax money unwillingly forwarded by us Yahooites? I guess it's not enough that the economy has been cartelized for the benefit of the metropole; that, despite Yahoo Nation's many Central Government military installations and public works, our hard-earned treasure still flows, on net, to the metropole; and that, as a result, the metropole has sucked into itself almost all the important privately owned manufactories of culture. If the Midwest and Deep South are no longer literary fountainheads, the reason has much less to do with some abrupt and inexplicable dimming of the Yahooite mind than with the exploitative, centralizing political-economic structure imposed on those regions by the modern Bicoastal Empire.

I was going to ask whether O'Rourke — if he so despises Yahoo Nation — would permit us to secede from his high-toned avant-garde city-slicker utopia. But I think I've already answered that question. Just as the Yankee political class snorted with derision at Horace Greeley's plea in 1861 to "let the erring sisters depart in peace," the power slickers of today know better than ever to release us from their hateful and stultifying embrace. We have to stay so they can continue to coercively exploit us.

O'Rourke's game

As an old newspaperman, I understand that from time to time columnists like to toss a grenade at the picnic just to see people scream and run. Maybe that's what O'Rourke is up to. Maybe he's sitting back now and smirking as "the folks" deluge the Sun-Times with defensive, cringe-making letters to the editor about what a fine and progressive art museum Atlanta has.

On the other hand, it's possible that what we have here is some desperate sucking up by O'Rourke himself. There is, after all, a wee irony with this thing. Your snootier sort of New Yorker and San Franciscan have always considered Chicago the very capital of Yahoo Nation.

November 30, 2000

© 2000 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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