Friday, September 1, 2017


     The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. – H. L. Mencken

     Probably everyone who’s ever lived knows the temptation to deliberate distraction: i.e., the urge to turn one’s attention from one’s more stressful concerns and toward some pleasant, frivolous alternative, be it a pet, a pastime, or a peregrination through the posies. (This tirade is brought to you by the letter P.) It’s a way to seek a respite when one’s cares press upon one too strongly for one’s mental and emotional health. It accounts for much of the time I spend playing with my dogs, cats, and video games.

     In my case, the stress is entirely self-imposed. It’s caused by the national news, to which I’m addicted as firmly as any heroin junkie. Call it an avocational hazard. If I’m to write these endless screeds, I need to know what’s been happening that’s stressing out the rest of the world.

     Or do I?

     “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” – attributed to William Randolph Hearst

     It’s time for us to contemplate a peculiar symbiosis: an alliance of persons in two occupational groups, whose posturings and bellowings consume an unholy fraction of our attention, and who are collectively of no objective importance. These persons, past and present, have wounded and defrauded Mankind so massively that the aggregate of all the natural disasters known to history would not reach ten percent of their score in blood and treasure. Their occupations pretend to be one another’s enemies, yet neither group would survive for a week were the other to go out of business.

     Have you guessed which groups I have in mind, Gentle Reader? If not, here they are:

  • Professional politicians;
  • The “news media.”

     Test it! Were the press to stop yammering about them, would anyone care in the slightest degree about what politicians said or did? Were there no politicians to write about, what would our “news media” do to garner our attention, report on potholes and stray dogs? How much of your precious time would you lavish on either group, were the other to be subtracted from existence?

     After reading the above, you might be thinking that “Porretto hasn’t had enough coffee.” You may well be correct; as I write these words I’ve only finished the first pot. However, some insights demand that I put my fingers to the keys regardless of contextual insufficiencies. Moreover, this one has the feel of a cancer cure: the sort of broad-spectrum solution to our ills that simply must be examined immediately and with maximum snark.

     Allow me to draw your attention to a fashion article in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, about a partial revival of something most of us who endured the Seventies hoped was permanently dead: that decade’s men’s fashions:

     “The ’70s were probably the most horrific, ugliest era of menswear ever assembled,” said Mr. [Paul Stuart creative director Ralph] Auriemma, who was a teenager when Journey ruled the airwaves. “I remember polyester flared pants, platform cork shoes and bold, obnoxious patterns on shirts. And,” he added, proudly, “I didn’t wear any of it.” Nor is he about to start.

     So far, so good, right? But wait; there’s more!

     Yet, at a time when much of men’s fashion is embracing, shall we say, challenging aesthetics (see “Off-Putting Is In” below), many of his peers disagree.

     If you remember the crap men wore back then – gold chains, fuzzy angora sweaters, and polyester leisure suits in pastel colors? GAAAAHHH! — you might be saying to yourself “No, no, it’s not happening, this is just a bad dream and I’m about to wake up, right?” Sadly, it is happening:

     The ’70s renaissance on the fall runways was not limited to Prada. For his debut at Calvin Klein, Belgian designer Raf Simons went with an all-American aesthetic that suggested he’d been binge-watching old episodes of “Starsky & Hutch”: Denim-on-denim ensembles, two-pocket western shirts and stacked-heel boots. Three years into the job, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele has transformed the Milanese label into a “Partridge Family” fantasy with embroidered jean jackets and kicked-out silk trousers. Eat your heart out, Danny Bonaduce.

     If you long ago burned every Polaroid of yourself in a Visa polyester leisure suit, you may share Mr. Auriemma’s dismay. Bruce Pask, the men’s fashion director at New York department store Bergdorf Goodman, knows that the more-extreme designer versions of these neo-’70s looks—the descendants of glam-rock glitter garb and Sears-catalog surrealism—will be plucked off Bergdorf’s racks by what he calls “the early adopters.”

     The remainder of the article attempts to soften the blow. It doesn’t succeed.

     But why do I mention this here at Liberty’s Torch, I hear you ask? Because of the essentially frivolous aspect of the thing: the tripartite fusion of fashion trends (meaningless) with the Seventies (the ultimately self-absorbed decade) with the venerable, gray-flannel-to-the-max Wall Street Journal. For a moment, while reading that article I was effectively, constructively distracted from any and every other subject, including the ones the politicians and the press want me to obsess over. I laughed. I cried. I fell down. It changed my life – for the better.

     The horror of the fashion trend cannot be denied, but the few minutes of actual mirth I got from the article and the memories it stirred up were a wonderful break from the “news.”

     While we’re on the subject of the Seventies – we are, aren’t we? – allow me to mention an episode from yesterday that has begun to acquire significance in retrospect.

     I was in a foul mood yesterday afternoon. Don’t ask why; it wasn’t genuinely important and has already passed away. I was casting about for something to lift my spirits, and resorted, as I often do, to music. But what did I watch my fingers copying from the MP3 directory to Windows Media Player? That other eternally damned horror of the Seventies, Disco! Here’s a partial playlist:

  • The BeeGees: Stayin’ Alive
  • The BeeGees: Jive Talkin’
  • Donna Summer: Bad Girls
  • Donna Summer: Hot Stuff
  • Donna Summer: On The Radio
  • Donna Summer: The Last Dance
  • Re-Flex: The Politics of Dancing
  • SOS Band: Just Be Good To Me.

     I clicked the PLAY button. I turned the volume up. I rose from my orthopedically correct seat and started gyrating to the beat. I sang along. And for an all too brief interval I stopped fretting about anything and everything. I was just a somewhat creaky body expending excess energy to the rhythms of an era when virtually no one cared what the political class or its media remorae were doing. A time when much of America was consumed by nothing, except having some innocent fun.

     It alarmed my wife somewhat, but then, she’s an accountant, and consequently too boring to be of interest.

     Some time ago, in the midst of a chat with celebrated cartoonist Chris Muir, I asked him how he dealt with denigrators and detractors. His reply was simple and brilliant: “What they want is the response, so I don’t give it to them.” It’s the best recipe for dealing with troublesome people of many kinds.

     What do politicians want? Power over the rest of us, and the perquisites it commands. How do they go about getting it? By garnering our notice, posturing as if they were somehow capable of doing something to “solve” our “problems.” To do this, they require the attentions of the media.

     What do the media want? “Mindshare” and the profits and prestige it brings. How do they go about getting it? By presenting us with all manner of “reporting” that represents politicians and their words and deeds as important: i.e., by collaborating with the professional political class for their mutual benefit. In their never-ending quest for an ever-greater share of our attention, they resort to covering the most trivial statements and choices of politicians, their aides, families, and hangers-on as if those were things we simply must know. Consider this absurd article about Melania Trump’s high heels. — but do it in light of this statement, which from this morning’s perspective is equally misdirecting (sorry, I’ve lost the link):

     Kim Jong un is lobbing missiles over Japan, ObamaCare has tripled the cost of medical insurance, and you’re obsessed with Melania Trump’s shoes?

     Which of the subjects mentioned above would cause you the lowest amount of stress, Gentle Reader?

     The insight should be clear enough by now:

Don’t Encourage Them.

     “They,” of course, are the political class and their media collaborators. Pay them no mind, except maybe three days before an election. Keep your attention on what really matters: your occupation, your family, your neighborhood, your physical and mental well being, and the trends in those things. You have influence over them. If you can’t absolutely control them, you can at least give them a nudge in the direction you’d prefer them to take. You have no influence worth mentioning over politics at any level, nor over the behavior of the clowns who report on it. They can only increase your agita.

     And for exceptionally thorough relief from the accumulated Sturm und Drang, put on some BeeGees and Donna Summer, and dance around the room.


Reltney McFee said...

My cardiologist doesn't think I should watch da nooz: something about pressure testing my coronary arteries (h/t to View From The Porch Blog). My wife, as well. She references my Tourette's. Generally, I follow their advice.

Linda Fox said...

I periodically take news-cations. Just detach from everything serious.

When I return, I find that I haven't missed anything except massive stupidity.

You have to remember, as someone once said, if WWIII actually is declared, or out-of-this-world aliens land, someone you know will pass it along.

Indulge in music from your teen years.
Read a book that has nothing to do with your life.
Pick up the Bible - you think YOU'VE got it bad!
Return to a hobby - electronics, knitting, gardening, converting your home to fusion energy.
Get back to learning to plan a musical instrument (I just was cleaning, and located my old recorder),
Take in a movie matinee - nothing serious, just fun. Or, pick up an old DVD, stream a favorite movie (mine are Die Hard I, II, IV). Make popcorn.