The kids tumbled off the bus with grins and shrieks today: school’s done. They sloughed off their backpacks and headed up the hill for the swings, as they always do, but this time it meant something more; since each backpack was crammed with the compacted detritus of their desks and lockers, they’d literally shed the school year when they dumped their burdens. The neighbor has a rope hanging from a tall tree and two, yes two zip lines. I watched my daughter fly through the air, beaming, and marveled again at how big she’s got. How happy she looks.

But five minutes later: tears.

How does it feel to be done with school?

“Sad. I’ll never see Miss (student teacher) again.”

Half an hour later, utter glumness. She said she already missed the things they did in class, the fun they had in third grade, the projects, the games. First time she’s ever had that realization that life moves on. People move on.

Took a while to work through it, and when she was ready, she went out to the backyard swingset, and kicked off her crocs while I tried to hit them with a whiffle bat. Life’s big problems; life’s small solutions.

larrybudWhy does everything I love turn to krep? I don’t banish content-producers (you know, musicians, painters, comedians, directors, etc) for one or two silly comments, or even for a long string of gaseous emissions. Kraftwerk can make a cool song about radioactivity, then turn around 20 years later and remix it as anti-nuclear energy song, and I still don’t care. We all have roll-the-eye moments when someone we like pops off, or an actor annoys you with a statement that suggests he’s conflated his larger-than-life screen size with the wisdom of Moses. But  smug, politically-oriented crudity from someone not overtly political, delivered with the assumption we all share his “values” – boring.

Addressed at kids of famous people: pathetic.

People have used other words – disgusting, repellent, abominable, danker than the fetid breath of the nine-bladder’d Arazon, Privy-Cleaner of Hell, et cetera – but pathetic is all I can muster.

But no, it must be funny, because David is funny and hip. Right? Or maybe not; maybe he’s actually a brackish, hermetically-souled guy who’s spend the last twenty years going from table to table with a giant wooden grinder, asking anyone if they want some fresh-ground scorn with that. Say when. Or maybe he’s about as edgy as a soccer ball, and exists only to remind people they were Edgy once, and hence must be ever-blessed with the gift of Wryness and Irony. With those shields we can never grow old, you know. We’ll always be as sharp and perceptive as we were when we were sitting on a cast-off sofa in college, working through a midweek buzz, happily fellated by the preconceptions the TV so charitably provided.

Or so I remember; haven’t watched the show in years. I thought it was brilliant at first, but at some point early on Bill Wendell’s introduction stopped being Bill Wendell as Don Pardo and became Bill Wendell Intentionally and Ironically Being Don Pardo for Your Ironic Enjoyment. The introductory graphics got slick. Paul Shaffer morphed into this eyeless homunculus yes-man, like Ed McMahon on painkillers converted into handy portable Idol form (really, sometimes I see a picture of this tiny fellow wearing shades, grinning at nothing, and he reminds me of something Indiana Jones would replace with a weighted bag of sand before he stole it.)

What’s amusing is how unamusing he is in the clip. How sour he seems. Compare him to his predecessors: Carson was all midwestern charm, with unreadable yet mannerly reserve; Steve Allen was almost as smart as he was certain you thought he must be, but he was cheerful; Parr was a nattering nutball covered with a rich creamy nougat of ego, but he was engaging. Letterman is empty; he’s inert; he stands for nothing except disdain for people foolish enough to stand for anything – aside from rote obesciance to all the things Decent People stand for, of course, all those shopworn assumptions passed around in the bubble.

This posture was fresh in ’80; it even had energy. But it paralyzes the heart after a while. You end up an SOB who shows up at the end of the night to reassure that nothing matters.  I think  he may have invented the posture of Nerd Cool, an aspect so familiar to anyone who reads message boards – the skill at deflating enthusiasm, puncturing passion with a hatpin lobbed from a safe distance. The instinctive unease  with the wet messy energy of actual people.

Yes, reading too much into it. Really, it’s just a rote slam: If your mother is a loathed politician, and your older sister gets pregnant, famous old men can make jokes about you being knocked up by rich baseball players, and there’s nothing you can do. That’s the culture: a flat, dead-eyed, square-headed old man who’ll go back to the writers and ask for more Palin-daughter knocked-up jokes, because that one went over well. Other children he won’t touch, but not because he’s decent. It’s because he’s a coward.

Oh, one more thing: it’s okay for David to say that because someone said something else about someone, and since I didn’t write about that, I’m a hypocrite. Just so we’re clear.

Well, one more thing. Some say Dave – I’m sorry, the staff members who wrote the joke and had it printed on cards for him to read – thought the daughter in attendance was the older one who had the pregnancy controversy last year. This is possible; it also means that we accept as an excuse the fact that the writers confused the daughters they wished to humiliate.

That confusion must be the reason the NYT left the joke out of its transcript of the monologue.

One more thing: the monologue contained an Angela Lansbury joke. Dude is OUT THERE.

Then again, there’s always Conan O’Brien, who thinks African-Americans are persona incognita in Wisconsin.

These guys don’t get out much, do they?

Today: lots. Out of Context Ad Challenge around 10:30 or so, Mpls update around 2 PM.  See you soon!


166 Responses to Wednesday, June 10

  1. boblipton says:

    And I see that Letterman’s show is being punished, brutally punished, by higher ratings.


  2. GIJoe33 says:

    I lived for 11:30 back in the 80′s when Letterman took to the stage and “released” his monologue. When he went to 10:30 back in 93 or 94, I quickly lost interest after what seemed like 6 months of constant “I’m pissed and I’m going to make all the execs pay for it” attitude. I had always liked his “stick it to the man” type humor, but it had always been an undercurrent to his actual comedic writing, after 1993 it was now at the forefront of everything he did.
    Now, I would much rather watch the show he produces, late night with Craig Ferguson.
    As far as his little sidekick Paul… how pathetic.

  3. Sam says:

    I read James Lileks’s piece of (bad word) article in the equally fecal NY Post.

    Hey (the a-word), do you remember GOP leader Rush Limbaugh’s TV show? Do ya? On his TV show, early in the Clinton administration, Limbaugh put up a picture of Socks, the White House cat, and asked, “Did you know there’s a White House dog?” Then he put up a picture of Chelsea Clinton, who was 13 years old at the time.

    Maybe you forgot about that, huh?

    You right-wing hacks go after Letterman for what was obviously a joke about teem mom Bristol Palin. She’s 18, she got knocked up (hence, Letterman’s joke) and is a public figure now that she’s a spokesperson for the abstinence policy she so clearly didn’t follow. Are you all too (profanity) stupid to get the joke? Are you unable to discern context?

    It looks that way, so the jokes on you.

    (Post edited by host to remove profanity.)

  4. RJ says:

    It’s still hard to believe she was the GOP VP nominee, shallow benches I guess.

    Shallow benches? How empty do the benches have to get to pick Joe “I’m an idiot” Biden?

  5. from canada says:

    Hi James,

    Dave’s joke was hilarious and bang-on. He cut to the heart of GOP hypocrisy and you should have quarantined your little whine-fest on your screed page. The GOP is DEAD and good riddance.

  6. Sonia says:

    I think that people have forgotten that it was Dave Letterman who started to use the word “ass” on the air which had never been used before and it was never challenged. From there, it became acceptable and more and more words are creeping into primetime TV which are not words children should be hearing since many children watch network TV during primetime. Far raunchier talk appears on the cable channels, but, those are paying channels, and they have the go ahead to do so. I am not a right-winger nor prude, but I do feel that it has gone too far and I am old enough to remember that it was Letterman who started it. In addition, I don’t think jokes about “knocking up” any female are funny. It puts women in a subservient position and it displays his attitude towards women, in general. Why wasn’t A-Rod outraged and insulted and angry? Are people afraid to talk up? I think CBS should fire this angry, tired old man and get some fresh, really funny blood in that spot and comedy that doesn’t stoop to such a low level.

  7. Steve in OR says:

    Hey Sam, stupid, listen up: What current President of the United States was born to a seventeen year old mother who married the man who may or may not have fathered the child several months after she became pregnant?

    After you have figured it out you can google up the nude photographs said mother was posing for at the time.

    Then you and fromcanada can tell us some funny jokes about that family. Because you aren’t hypocrites, are you?

    Upsidedownunder and DrummingAncient are right. It’s coming.

  8. vidpok says:

    Once again, people, it’s Jack P-A-A-R.

  9. Ray Butler says:

    Palin made family values and morality an issue. She’s a failure at both. Therefore she’s a hypocrite and a target of satire. What’s hard to understand about that?

    Besides, Palin’s a serial liar, a cynical politician hiding behind a shroud of obfuscation and duplicitousness. None of that is in dispute. That’s why she’s a target and it DOES include the self-righteous “morality” of her kids as well. She started it. Her daughter continued it. Expect more cuz she asked for it.

    Why not make similar remarks about the Obama girls? Maybe because they are not hypocrites?

  10. David says:

    For gosh sakes people, it was NOT a rape joke, it was a (tasteless and rather nasty) joke about promiscuity. The only reason I feel compelled to defend Letterman here is that it’s clear much of the outrage is being orchestrated and hyped in order to score political points. And by suggesting that Letterman is some kind of child molester or “pervert” and continuing to milk this spectacle for all it’s worth, Gov. Palin has shown once again that she is no class act either.

  11. Nasty Nick says:

    First of all, I like Sarah Palin. A lot. But not blindly.
    Secondly, I’ve got a 12-year-old daughter. So I worry a lot.
    Thirdly, I’ve got a 15-year-old son who himself has a son. So I know about teenage pregnancy (which, for those of you who’ve seen ‘Juno,’ really isn’t worse than hard drugs).

    Much of humor is juxtaposition. So, here you have a Yankees game at which you have the presence of:

    1. A-Rod, a ballplayer who has been reported to serial date various big-name gals like Madonna and Kate Hudson.
    2. Sarah Palin, a Republican whose daughter got pregnant at exactly the worst possible moment for her mom.

    The joke certainly would have been better if it had been Bristol Palin at the game with her mom or if Willow Palin was older. (And if it had not been delivered in Dave’s leaden style….)

    But Dave didn’t say anything about forcible impregnation. I think those of you who are outraged by this joke are taking an extra base on a grounder past the second baseman and are in danger of getting thrown out sliding into second, thus ending a promising late-inning rally.

    In the end, this whole episode serves to reinforce the stereotype that conservatives are shrill, brittle, humorless folk. And, dangit, we know that’s just not true. We’ve got PJ O’Rourke and Larry Miller.

    What an opportunity this would have been for Sarah Palin had she just issued a moderately humorous statement along the lines of “Wrong daughter, Dave” and been done with it.

  12. --- says:

    I’m just relieved that Steve in OR, our host Mr. Lileks and most of his commenters have finally embraced political correctness. Anything is possible.

  13. from canada says:

    Look at Steve in OR, Upsidedownunder and DrummingAncient threatening violence … over what??? It’s always the right who crosses that line.

    Wake up. America doesn’t have a “culture war” problem. It has a right wing problem.

  14. areader says:

    Yeah, upsidedownuder is pure lunatic. Shorter version: me and glenn beck think a new civil war is coming because of those mean lefties, and it will be the lefties fault when it happens, don’t blame us.

    Sheesh, change your diaper, then change the channel.

  15. RJ says:

    But Dave didn’t say anything about forcible impregnation. I think those of you who are outraged by this joke are taking an extra base on a grounder past the second baseman

    Yeah, calling a 14 year old a slut is so much better than a joke about raping her.

  16. from canada says:

    James Lileks, you can assume some responsibility here, and NOT post comments that threaten violence.

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