Turning the Screw

AJC Boone on resisting absurdity

We welcome Amy Boone back to The Slog once again with this, a perfectly-timed essay. Yesterday’s surreal parody here is eloquently turned into an engaging plea: the urgent need to call out Woke bullying, ideologically altered journalism, delusional offence-taking and identity narcissism now….before the words empirical and normative become interchangeable

There is a kind of two-scoop joke that works both singly and when enriched by an epilogue. When
my children, in a long car-ride, were loudly unforgiving towards my sin of recycling my repertoire of amusing stories”, I sought commiseration from my visiting father-in-law, who surely in his long life must have encountered such a sin, or indeed possibly have committed it.

I mentioned the gulag-gag of long-term inmates who no longer bothered retelling a whole anecdote, but could merely shout out “number 53!” to cause everyone to fall about laughing.
“Do you know how that one continues?” my father-in-law asked. “A fellow yells ‘46’, but nobody
laughs. And in the corner, one inmate mutters to another, ‘Some guys just don’t know how to tell a joke.’”

Our current world being one in which absurdity runs rings around rationality, it seems that comic insanity often arrives as a double layer or a second-helping. And entertaining though this might be as part of the passing human pageant, it is critical to keep in mind what is at stake: we are being bombarded with ludicrously dishonest mischaracterisations of events, and serial “2+2=5” propositions which we are expected to embrace in defiance of our reason, as a kind of loyalty test. Can we perhaps see something like the hand of a Deity in the screw-turning of absurdity, insofar as it serves at least to clarify the idiocy by pushing it into true parody territory, and enables more of us, perhaps, to recognise the tricks being played?

Please do your part by noticing nonsense, and doing so audibly. The validity of the Voltaire axiom the rounds on social media, that accommodating absurdity is the gateway-drug to enjoining atrocity (“Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste”) is not something we can afford to have tested upon our societies in real-life, though the tumbril seems to be carrying us in that direction.

Sometimes the second scoop comes in the form of speedy karmic retribution for “woke” overreach already ridiculous in its dimensions. Like the bottom falling out of Bud Lite beer sales even before the bubbles had stopped popping over the announcement of the company’s on-its-face inexplicable adoption of Method Acting female-impersonator, Dylan Mulvaney, as the product’s mascot. Mulvaney, like Greta Thunberg or photogenic US Congresswoman “AOC”, patently did not rise to prominence and household-name status organically, but as a prop whose 15-minutes in the limelight presumably serves some larger purpose of mass-manipulation. Evidently, someone thinks right now is the moment the public needs its brains scrambled on the subjects of gender and womanhood. So we get, flogging beer of all things, “girly” Dylan Mulvaney, who despite all pretences is no novelty.

Dame Edna is deceased and so beyond caring, and Mrs Brown a bit long in the tooth, but one wonders if possibly the veteran Eddie/Suzy Izzard, newly projecting his come-hither stare from banners for his new West End show, in the wake of last autumn’s aborted political career, might have gnawed his kitten-heels watching Mulvaney’s rocket rise, or be smirking now with Schadenfreude over the subsequent contretemps. Meanwhile, beer-producer Annheuser-Busch, dubbed Transheuser-Busch bysocial-media smart-alecks, is still rubbing its forehead, sore from the “Fwap!” of the ESG rake that corporates are being pressed to step on.

A friend’s son told me of another two-scooper of woke-madness. A “study abroad” programme
brought students from his US midwestern university to the European jewels of Vienna or Paris for a term. The Vienna group consisted of just over a dozen students, two of whom in a recent group happened to be African-American. One of the latter, it turns out, was an adherent of the current vogue for bespoke pronouns, and was no doubt encouraged to expect the world to rearrange itself accordingly.

When their hapless professor took to shepherding the whole flock of (I’m assuming somewhat
infantilised and generally non-German-speaking) American 20 year-olds around a complex foreign city, this overstretched academic made the fatal two-scoop error of not only mixing up the youngster’s self-designated pronouns, which would be enough of a hanging offence (echoing the downfall of a fictional professor in Philip Roth’s prescient The Human Stain of 23 years ago), but also — horribile dictu — mistaking which black student was the one who had insisted upon the grammatical exceptionalism.

Walk-outs were organised; any student more interested in, say, learning about the Hapsburg Empire than in helping a fellow student weaponise offense-taking could be branded both “racist” and “transphobic”.To its shame, but not unexpectedly, the university caved and swapped out professors.

Of course, the correct response should surely have been the opposite: to de-escalate by reminding all the students of what they already knew, like bleeding the hot-air out of a radiator:
“C’mon, my dears, the professor can barely remember his own name. He wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings (no matter how much fun it can be to pretend he was). So, let’s stop wasting time long enough to pay some attention to the magnificence we’re in the midst of, which, never forget, belongs to all of us as our collective human inheritance. Schönbrunn! St Stephens! Belvedere! The wonders held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum! The military history museum housing the actual uniform Archduke Franz Ferdinand wore when he was assassinated and that very open-car he rode in…Can you imagine?” (thus nimbly changing the subject and tiptoeing away from the cause of the tantrum, as you do with infants).

Tropes of absurdity being rammed into the public consciousness with a plunger – that bog-standard girl-impersonators are Something Completely Different that will sell bad beer to blokey beer-drinkers,or that the grand purpose of higher education, the contemplation of civilisation’s fruits, is neatly trumped by students’ once-private self-stylisations – feel symptomatic of coming attractions. Preparatory, somehow… [insert rolling tumbril sounds here].

A third case of double-whammy starts with another gender-related counter-reality: that strong women are just as strong as strong men, before it takes a darker turn.

First the shot before the chaser. A girl-power-themed conference of Canadian firefighters was
convened in Banff in early May to flog “Diversity-is-strength” (rather than the admittedly more
pedestrian “Strength is strength”). Women’s under-representation in fire-fighting needs correcting, innit?

One of the conference events was a “controlled burn” which, as if directed by a deus ex machina with a wicked sense of anti-woke irony, quickly evaded control by the team of Strong Firewomen andbecame a raging wildfire requiring the evacuation “of hundreds” of people, and endangering
livestock. That is the first layer of absurdity.

The chaser comes in the form of how this lamentable accident was used by a trusted representative of the international press corps, The Guardian (see below). The actual Banff fire and its Authorised Narrative-defying origins were, quelle surprise, not reported on, though a photo of that Banff lady-fireman fire was deployed for completely unrelated purposes: to demonise heretics in the Climate Catechism for their online blasphemy.

This bizarre, emotional screed against debate is quite strange in itself and not remotely anything to be called “journalism” (what, pray tell, is a “violent tweet”?), the gratuitous slap at “Musk” looking like yet another detail of phony positioning for future reference.

Curious, is it not? Why the venom-soaked rhetoric? The Guardian bares its teeth here, and shows the creaking machinery of myth-making and aggressive vilification that our own longstanding press will enthusiastically fire up to generate social antagonism.

The Guardian’s near hate-parody begs the question of why this is being done. To reiterate: it feels
preparatory, like groundwork laid for coming attractions. And while illuminating the end-game is
beyond the scope of this essay, the Guardian’s overkill is enough to make one appreciate the value of the Dad’s Army of bloggers, mums, night-shift types, gamers, and retirees on social media noticing things and reporting them to fight back against the frankly ridiculous in a meaningful way.

Our laughter is that of the boy pointing out the Emperor’s nakedness. The alternative, just “sitting
there and acting like it’s normal” is how we lose. Assimilating obviously stupid and wrong things as if they were “normal,” being bullied out of our common sense, is how, as Voltaire says, society is groomed for further tasks.

So, keep laughing, and keep noticing the method behind the madness. Resist the absurd. Laugh and point and remember what normal is, for this may be how we save ourselves.