Monday, April 20, 2009

George Will to nation: "Get off my lawn!"

George Will has been known for his willingness to take on conservative orthodoxy from time to time, be it the divisiveness of social cons self-identifying as "values voters," or the bizarre Constitutional contortions of the last administration, or criticizing McCain's actions in response to the financial crisis in September. So I generally consider him someone who does a fair amount of critical thinking. I disagree with him often, but the mere fact that he doesn't always toe the line means he's considering his opinions as he writes them.

Last week, though, he published a column that was just dumb, and really rubbed me the wrong way. It was 750 words on why the widespread wearing of blue jeans is "symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche".

Now, take your pick. You may think, as many conservatives do, that the big story of last week was the (to my mind, silly and largely off-message) anti-tax "tea parties." You may think, as I do, that the big story was the release by the Obama administration of the DOJ memos that laid out the program of torturing prisoners (I'm hoping to put a post together on this, soon, too). And there are still two actual wars and a variety of metaphoric wars against nouns (drugs, terror, etc.) going on. And a thing or two happening in the economy. But despite all that, Will decided the problem with America that most deserved his attention was the shameful practice of blue-jean-wearing. Now, the same could certainly be said of me: I could be writing about more important things, too. The difference is that dozens of bankrupt newspapers aren't paying for what I'm writing.

Here's the nub of his argument, with a couple edits including removal of some parentheticals:
Long ago, when James Dean and Marlon Brando wore it, denim was, Akst says, "a symbol of youthful defiance." Today, Silicon Valley billionaires are rebels without causes beyond poses, wearing jeans when introducing new products. Akst's summa contra denim is grand as far as it goes, but it only scratches the surface of this blight on Americans' surfaces. Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults and cartoons for adults . Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.
No, you upper-class twit, the reason people wear blue jeans is that they are comfortable, cheap, widely available, easy to find in a good fit, durable, and easy to maintain. And as a side note, the playing of video games is not the mark of an unthinking mind any more than the enjoyment of baseball, for instance (And for the record, grouping all four Indiana Jones movies and the six Batman movies together is akin to grouping Miracle on 34th Street with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, or, more to the point, George Will with Michael Savage).

And then, this:
This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.
Great. If you'd be willing to personally subsidize my wardrobe, Mr. Will, I'll gladly start dressing like that other Fred. But until then, I'll remind you that people respond to incentives and, for the moment, cost, comfort and convenience have supplanted irrelevant, anachronistic shame as an incentive to at least this young, professional, video-game-playing, thinking voter.

Oh, and by the way, here's what Will had to say about Obama exactly one year to the week prior:
By so speaking, Obama does fulfill liberalism's transformation since Franklin Roosevelt. What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them.
Pot, kettle, etc.

All of this, of course, reminded me of this great SNL sketch from the late 80s:

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