Ridicule or Reach Out?
By David Henderson
In my recent reading, following a number of links led me to this extensive article by Byron York about R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., who began a magazine called The American Spectator. The article is appropriately titled “The Life and Death of the American Spectator.” It appears in the November 2001 Atlantic. The whole long piece is quite good.
Here’s a part I found particularly interesting:
For each issue of the Spectator, under the rubric “Public Nuisances,” Tyrrell wrote a sketch about a prominent person. His prose was wordy and ornate but also sharp-edged and funny, packing the punch of an old-style broadside. He went after people in politics, literary life, and pop culture, mostly but not exclusively on the left: Jimmy Carter, Bella Abzug, John Kenneth Galbraith, Lillian Hellman, Gore Vidal, Bob Dylan, Henry Kissinger, Walter Mondale, and dozens of others. Nearly every essay was built around a single theme: the subject was a fraud, usually an intellectual poseur, whom Tyrrell was perceptive and brave enough to expose.
Of the President at the time, Tyrrell wrote,
In an earlier era Jimmy Carter of Plains, Georgia, would be devoting himself to procuring his young daughter’s first pair of shoes, a bottle of Peruna for a fat wife, and a dusty flivver for himself. At day’s end he would withdraw to the humid coziness of the local Coca-Cola parlor, there to discourse upon the latest intrigues of the Popish camorra and to remain au courant with reports of frightening suicide rates experienced by misguided Negroes lured to the Sodoms of the North and taught to read.
Of Vidal, living the exile’s life in Ravello, Italy, Tyrrell wrote,
On summer nights the villa fills with the most renowned left-wing intellectuals of the West. In the soft light of the great vaulted living room sit Claire Bloom, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Princess Margaret, and the scholarly Newmans, Joanne and Paul. The talk turns to health care, and Gore laments that our system compares unfavorably with the barber shops of the last Persian empire, one of the few cultures he still admires (he finds it “subtle”).
Now back to me, David R. Henderson. I think Tyrrell was incredibly unfair to Jimmy Carter. And when I came to the Mick Jagger reference in the last paragraph above, I wondered: Did Tyrrell even know that Jagger, who majored in economics at the London School of Economics, once stated that his favorite economist was Friedrich Hayek? I bet not.
When you’re looking to make fun of people, any complexity, anything interesting and positive, gets in the way of the narrative.
It’s too bad. I’m not saying that my implicitly proposed strategy of nuance would have increased the number of subscribers. It probably would have reduced the number.
Here’s the thing, though: If you are to trying to maximize subscribers, the odds that you’re going after truth are not high.
Note: The picture above is of Tyrrell.