The 'Wonkette Part' Of David Denby's Book Really Just A Bunch Of Major, If Not Libelous, Errors
Alright, so we caved. We were at Borders and noticedNew Yorker film critic David Denby's new book, Snark, about how he hates bloggers, Sarah Palin, Maureen Dowd, Tom Wolfe and others for the exact same undefined reason. We actually bought the book (YOU'RE WELCOME DENBY) and were planning to skim for the Wonkette part, giggle, and then give the slender volume away to the nearest hobo. So, OH MAN. First he references one of your male associate editor's posts about Chelsea Clinton and suggests that the "young women" who wrote it must have some catty jealousy issues, with their vaginas. Then he writes that we made fun of Ted Kennedy on the day of his brain tumor surgery, citing a post about something else entirely that was written seven months before Kennedy even got cancer. Damn those bloggers, always trying to ruin other peoples' reputations with false information!
Our section is so fancy that it gets to introduce the very first "Principle of Snark," that we attack everyone without reason. Indeed, it's just random occurrence that our targets are Republicans 75% of the time; we pick names out of a hat. But Denby -- whose book curiously labels things "snark" only if the writers' "targets" are Democrats -- finds a couple of throwaway posts we wrote about a Clinton and a Kennedy. The first:
The First Principle of Snark: The "Whatever" Principle. Attack without reason. What, for instance is the point of this January 2008 post from the popular political-gossip blog Wonkette, which covers goings-on in Washington D.C.?CHELSEA CLINTON LEARNS TO SPEAK, LIKE THE HUMANS DO
Give credit to The Clintons for the job they’ve done raising Chelsea. Chelsea was born deaf and dumb, a veritable “wild child” who the schoolteachers couldn’t tame. But after 20-odd years, through Bill and Hillary’s tutelage, she now speaks “words.” And since she’s young, she can use this new talent to talk to other young people about her struggle with muteness. It wasn’t an ordinary job, getting this demon to speak like a person. But Bill and Hillary aren’t ordinary people.
It has the form of parody--it conveys to the reader that some kind of earnest claim (that, say, the Clintons brought up Chelsea well) is being put down. But is also sounds like jealousy. Wonkette is written by young women who may have hated Chelsea's bland words as she went around the country supporting her mother's candidacy. When a piece of snark doesn't make sense, some hidden fury may be screwing up the writing. The post is failed low snark--obscure rage and sheer ineptitude choke any possibility of laughter.
*Ahem*, [Cracks knuckles].
We'll grant him that it wasn't the funniest post ever (although coincidentally one fairly well-known female writer for the Washington Post did tell your male associate editor that she laughed hysterically at this one, so it's possible that certain people, arbitrarily, respond to certain things differently than others. Imagine!)
Otherwise -- and we hate explaining jokes, but just this one time -- it is a fairly obvious reference to The Miracle Worker, Mr. Fancy Art Critic Who Knows All Books And Movies. If we remember correctly, the original last sentence was in fact, "But Bill and Hillary aren’t ordinary people -- they're Miracle Workers," but we decided that would take it a step too far; it was already obvious to people familiar with this major cultural and historical touchstone. If only we'd known, we would've kept it!
We have no malice towards Chelsea Clinton. She is fine, and we hope that her hedge fund is still prospering by betting against mortgage-backed securities. When we wrote this MIRACLE WORKER blog post, people were somehow amazed that Bill and Hillary Clinton were "letting" Chelsea finally speak publicly at the impressionable, vulnerable age of 28; even though she was just reciting stump speeches and -- at this time -- taking no questions, it was some sort of... miracle... to many figures in the media that she was able to speak in coherent sentences.
Lastly, Wonkette's male associate editor -- whose byline is on the post -- is not a "young woman," you *fucking slanderous idiot*, and has no psychological female cat-fight syndrome, which is not only an arbitrary notion, but a sexist one. And there is definitely no jealousy whatsoever here for Chelsea Clinton. Yikes.
It gets better:
On June 2, 2008, the day of Senator Edward Kennedy's surgery for a brain tumor, Wonkette posted as follows: "Beloved Taxacussetts [sic] senator and last-surviving RFK/JFK brother Ted Kennedy is in the hospital today after doctors fixed a clogged argery in his neck. They successfully removed the Jameson bottle and now he's 'resting.'" This at least makes touch with something--with readers who know that the senator has lifted a glass now and then. But what kind of mind offers this joke on a day in which Kennedy might have died from brain surgery? Ruthless wit directed at the rich and powerful should always be encourage, and Kennedy's boozing and womanizing are certainly grounds for satire, but wait, at least, until the guy can put his feet on the floor.
Wonkette's insensitivity, like so much of snark, has a proudly idiotic flavor; it seems to be goosing false piety of some sort. You could dismiss it as inane, but the malice of it--the free-floating contempt in a void--gets to you. And the three-dimensional opportunism of it, too. Why not simply ignore it, then? Well, many people do, but the gas of snark enters the air around us as a corrosive sense that cynicism is hip and everyone is vulnerable.
Here's the post to which Denby is referring. It says, "By Ken Layne, 2:59 PM on Fri October 12 2007." Ken's post is about how Ted's little neck clog was discovered during an MRI to examine his back, which was hurt in a 1964 plane crash, a story forgotten by or never known to many, so the rest of Ken's post revisits it. Seven months later, Ted Kennedy would get brain cancer, though, so uhh maybe Ken should have known that!
In fact, when Ted Kennedy's brain tumor was discovered, we were very sad and respectful.
We're honestly very, very baffled, not just by his interpretations, but by the crucial, objective and lazy factual errors Denby makes; ones that don't just nullify his tedious, didactic argument but actually indict him of the very same amateurism and reckless hate-mongering he imagines is both our ethos and the biggest threat to Western civilization in world history. Lord knows what else he makes up to fit his narrative in the rest of the book, but of the two (2) Wonkette pieces he analyzed, he got two (2) entirely wrong.
Speaking of our "malice," well, that reminds us of The Law, and here's a nationally published book by an insular, pretentious slob -- currently traveling the country and giving interviews on a big media tour -- whose stated goal is to hurt our reputation, because he doesn't like our jokes. His means of doing this is to completely make up shit about us, and it's out there, and it's permanent. That sounds like solid grounds for "libel," Denby, if only anyone gave a shit about this book. Instead, it is just extremely hilarious. Ha ha, fail.
(Although it would be nice if we could have our $15.95 back. E-mail [firstname.lastname@example.org] and we'll provide an address. Don't be an asshole.)