Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Dumbest Thing Written This Week

This may be too close to a political post, but I appreciate really dumb writing when I see it, and must call it to your attention. The Anglo-American-Canadian writer Mark Steyn, a pretty good entertainment writer turned into a very bad op-ed columnist by Conrad "Tubby" Black, was taken to task by P.Z. Myers for having written that "this is a planet overwhelmingly dominated and shaped by one species, and our kith and kin – whether gibbons or pumpkins – basically fit in in the spaces between." Myers, a professor of biology, pointed out that, you know, we live at the mercy of the natural world. In his column in the otherwise readable Spectator, Steyn offers his devastating response:

Oh dear. All I was doing was making a simple point about the scale of man’s domination, and all Professor Myers’s demolition does is confirm it. My intestinal bacteria may indeed be doing a swell job, but living in my gut isn’t exactly a beach house at Malibu. Yes, I’ve got wooden furniture. I live in the Great North Woods and the house and practically everything in it is made from those woods. But I sit on the chair, the chair doesn’t sit on me. And as for my excreta and the hard-working nematode, who gets the better end of that deal?

In a way, Professor Myers is only taking transnationalism to its logical conclusion. After all, if one is obliged to pretend that the Americans, Belgians, Greeks and Canadians are all equal members of a military alliance, it’s not such a stretch to insist that the Americans, the flatworms, the intestinal bacteria and your Welsh dresser are all equal partners in some grand planetary alliance. Nonetheless, if we are virtually the same as a chimp, the 1.5 per cent of difference counts for more than the 98.5 per cent of similarity. The Psalmist seems to find that easier to understand than the biologist does.

Yes, a popular columnist in a well-respected publication is writing a column arguing that a) Man must be the most important creature in the universe because the columnist looked around his room and decided that he was the most important thing in it, and b) Someone who relies on science and facts is comparable to someone who wants the U.N. to take over the world.

Truly stupid columns are written all the time; the cool thing about Steyn's columns is that because he can sort of write (even if many of his paragraphs are recycled from column to column), he achieves a higher level of stupidity, stupidity with a thesaurus and a Sinatra album playing on the stereo. Long may he drool.

To tie it back in with this blog, this perhaps demonstrates that entertainment writers shouldn't become op-ed columnists. It's one thing when they give up entertainment writing; it's another thing when they continue with entertainment writing, as Steyn has (he's drama critic for the New Criterion and movie critic for the Spectator), their ideological writing infects and wrecks their entertainment writing. Steyn could be annoying as a theatre writer -- his book on musical theatre, Broadway Babies Say Goodnight, alternates insightful passages with totally clueless ones, and his sneering dislike of homosexuals makes you wonder why he's writing about the theatre at all -- but he was sometimes good; his essay on Broadway director/writer George Abbott was probably the only good piece written about Abbott after his death.

But his theatre and movie reviews now are basically like his crummy ideological pieces: pitched at an ideological audience, repeating the same tired points over and over, and judging works based on how much or how little they agree with his politics (a play about Iraq is good to the extent that it shows he was right about the war all along, but bad to the extent that the author won't come right out and say he was right all along). So a writer who was good at some things winds up being a writer who does everything badly. It's probably making him a good living and getting him lots of links from people whose blogs have the words "Claremont Institute" on their blogrolls; but it's made him a lousy writer who used to be sort of good.

On the plus side, having seen good entertainment writers move over to ideological writing and lose all their ability to write anything that makes sense, I've become more convinced than ever that sticking to entertainment writing is the way to go. Which is why I can promise you that you will never see this become a political blog (even this post and my "Good Night and Good Luck" post are linked to entertainment or entertainment writing).

But if you ever see me use the term "MSM" without derisive quotation marks, or link to a site, of whatever ideological stripe, that uses the term "Developing..." then run, because that means I've left the noble cause of entertainment blogging and gone over to the Dark Side (tm).

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