ARTS

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September 28, 2001

What Kind of Total Disregard for Humanity Do You Have?

There was, rest assured, going to be a competition to name this column. Ballots were printed, nominations heard, and candidates selected. I even made sure that the different choices were listed on the ballot in a truly — yes, truly — random order. In fact, probably more thought went into developing the randomization algorithm than went into actually making up the names. Form, meet function, etc. Who needs a catchy name when you know that Serious Math was involved in picking it? This is, after all, the Information Age, the age when even wine no longer comes in obscured Mylar bags, settling for the vivid transparency indicative of the 21st Century. We already have see-through backpacks, see-through national policy, and see-through cell phones. See-through bags of wine are, clearly, just the next step.

(As indicated above, a randomization algorithm was used to establish the order of candidates for the name of this column. Some might wonder why Serious Math is making an appearance — in the lead paragraph! — of a Voices column. I respond, again, that this is the 21st Century. We need mathematics, we need numbers, and we need, more than anything, an understanding of the world not drowned in multivalence and polysemy.)

Sadly, however, the “editors" stepped in at the last minute and said that my Serious Math was for nought — that we, as a serious Arts and Entertainment section, could not play in the discursive arenas of frivolity. “Frivolity," explained the editor, “is what a (air quotes here) contest for the (again with the air quotes) title of your (ibid.) column would represent." I frowned for a second. “This is," he added, “after all, the Era of the New Sincerity."

Ah yes, I forgot.

Let's start in with this bullshit about the Era of the New Sincerity. First, and foremost, I've been Down with the New Sincerity for over a decade now. That stuff was mixed into my genetic makeup at conception, and I ooze it now from all my pores not clogged with Burger King french fry residue. When I say “over a decade," and then add that “it's in my genes," I don't mean to suggest I'm just a sliver over 10 years old. Sincerity has to be coaxed and drawn out with bright acts of love and tenderness. And love and tenderness take time to form. Look at Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin in Cannonball Run. The obvious, drunken love they have for each other took time to engender. Depending on how you look at it, it was either decades of show business collaboration or the long time it takes even men like these to put away a handle of quality gin.

See… there we go, back to the booze again. Instead, let's get back to the New Sincerity. Here is a quick anecdote to prove I am down: Imagine me, a little younger, more hair on my head, with a giant aluminum bat, standing outside of the offices of Esquire magazine. Yes, dear reader, that's me, with a bat. Oops, out the door comes Mark Leyner. RAP — right across the kneecaps. I run away, shouting “Irony is Dead! The Smart-ass Bourgeoisie will crumble! Avant-pop is not post-culture!" The cops can never catch me. I was young, you see, and celerity fit me swimmingly. The bat I'd usually toss in a dumpster or something the first chance I got. I just wish I could have, just one time, seen Leyner's face as his kneecaps disintegrated under the severe force of my giant, throbbing bat. I suppose the bat wasn't so much throbbing as the pain in Leyner's legs was. You'd think that after monthly pummelings like this, he'd get the picture and at least, you know, move to Secaucus and fax in the articles. But, then again, he did stop writing for Esquire shortly after my routine beatings stopped. Maybe there was a correlation.

In any case, this unnecessarily violent imagery is needed to convey exactly how devoted I am to the New Sincerity. I was so devoted that, as a high schooler, I carried blunt objects with which I would try to vanquish my smart-assed “ironic" foes — namely Leyner. I loved the fact that David Foster Wallace became a superstar of American Literature. He, himself, will derail the smugness of those L.A. hipster doofuses with his fly teaching position at Pomona. I KNOW THIS. I should have gone to that school, in fact. No, in fact, I should transfer there now, if only I trusted Hyde Park to the Sincere Punk Brigade. If DFW had a selective service, I would not pull any “student deferment" bullshit. First in line, with $50 to bribe the dude giving me the physical — that's me.

But it still all seems a little empty, doesn't it? How do we embrace sincerity when our SECULAR HUMANIST culture has taught us to love and adore ironic detachment? The right to Schadenfreude is protected by the penumbra of the Bill of Rights — even Scalia grants this. Weltschmerz, on the other hand, is something only people who don't love the Stars and Stripes care to exhibit. Yes, you know what that is code for. You go to this school. The first question on any ethnography outline is “Schdnfrd oder Wltschmrz?" These are cultural facts, supported by unnamed sources in anthropology departments at various non-accredited universities. Where I'm going is that Sincerity is Subversive. To be sincere is to be punk. It's the most punk thing someone could do for a long, long time. When Michael Stipe sang “Everybody Hurts" on the MTV VMAs with that awful hat on, that was punk. Willy Loman circa end of Death of a Salesman? Punk. When I fell to pieces at the movie theater and sobbed through the last half hour of Toy Story 2? Punk Fucking Rock.

But now, and this is why I'm so angry, as of Recently, everything is different. The New Sincerity has won the majority in the House. David Letterman, whose photo I've submerged into the bottom of my commode, is tearing up onscreen, for sobbing out loud. So now what do I do? Don the robes of the Philosopher King who will rule you all with his Giant Emerald Ring? I could do that — I have extensive training in arrogant, liberal-alienating nation-building. I, too, would do that — I have extensive training in rampant, church-toppling self-love. Yet I do not feel that Rudy Giuliani will FIGHT FAIR when it comes down to hustling for the crown of KING OF ALL OF EVERYONE. This is why I need to make certain that you all already understand that I have been Down with the New Sincerity longer than he has. He was busy being a tool of the ironist's “government" while I was out making sure no one thought that Jerry Seinfeld would make a good role model. Hell, Rudy's even been in an episode of that awful, dreadful show. I haven't. I instead named my son Jedediah. Chicago, Rudy, is the SEAT OF SINCERITY AND I AM ITS KING. Please buy my book.