Friday, May 2, 2008

Fast Boats and Slow Politicians

You can do it with a hyphen.

Change a noun into a verb.

Sometimes, you don't even need the hyphen; just go ahead and use the noun as though it conveyed purpose, inertia, agenda.

The example I'm thinking of now is a combination of an adjective, swift, with an object, boat. Swift boat. Ordinarily, that evokes an image of some yare, fleet craft, plying its way through the waters. In recent years, we have associated the construct with the military service of a candidate for the Presidency of the United States, a candidate who at one point served as a command officer on a swift boat, a fifty-foot, all aluminum craft. An adjective plus a noun.

By adding a hyphen to the adjective noun combination, a wealthy Texas Republican turned the noun to a verb; he swift-boated John Kerry by alleging that Kerry's military service and decorations were based on a series of lies and deceptions, thus undercutting his qualifications to be POTUS, presumably because he was a wealthy Texas Republican, although the wealth and Texas domicile may not inform his motives.

Said wealthy Texas Republican was instrumental in forming SBVT, Swift Boat (still a noun) Veterans for Truth, which is in many ways a hoot because the truth this organization sought was the truth of an imaginary fictional world where individuals performed in accordance with a different set of reality boundaries. SBVT was so successful in creating a fictional impression that others, often but not necessarily wealthy Republicans, saw it as a means for undercutting the progress of a noun (person, place, or thing) seen as contrary to their own agenda.

Journalists and TV talking head sorts soon pounced on this tactic, revising history, as a means of confronting nouns with agendas that do not seem in accordance with their own cherished or financially held beliefs. Accordingly, Charles Darwin, his theories of evolution and natural selection, to name but one example, was swift-boated.

This is all prologaminous to the swift-boating I address, an anomalous swift-boating to be sure, a lovely example of post hoc ergo propter hoc in action. The perpetrators in this swift-boating are not wealthy Texas Republicans, they are literary critics and academics. Their target, John Steinbeck, whom they accuse of rampant sentimentality, the effect of which, they argue, is a pernicious on all of literature and all of our collective psyche. They have also gone after Jane Austen, liking her to a one-trick pony who knows only social satire, although they would never dare say such a thing about Evelyn Waugh, because he smoked big fat cigars and said disparaging things about Labourites and children.

Steinbeck is seen as enjoying too much the denizens of Tortilla Flat and Sweet Thursday, of making Rose of Sharon Joad too empathetic, of having Tom Joad's famed soliloquy go on a beat too long, of being sympathetic to Lenny and George, of knowing which heart string to tug. As a consequence of such things, Mr. Steinbeck will be around for some time, far longer than the judgments of the critics who took with such eclat to jumping on the bulk of his work as though it were a funeral pyre.

As to the wealthy Texas Republicans and other swift-boaters, who will also likely be with us for some time because of their embalming-while-alive with the bile of conservatism and troglodyte ideology: Can we honestly say that we are better now then we would have been had the SCOUS not ruled as it did on Bush v. Gore or for that matter, if the young Swift boat lieutenant had become POTUS

If evolution in literary matters continues without interference from book burners and intransigent critics, we will undoubtedly have Mr. Steinbeck in our midst for some time; we can only hope that political evolution follows the paths of strength rather than fear.

1 comment:

R.L. Bourges said...

I LOVE Tortilla Flat. I prefer sympathy to cynicism and jokes to assassination by pundits. In your opinion, sir, should I seek treatment? )