Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Friday, April 23, 2004

Failure of the Day: The All-Purpose Epithet

It could mean "sophisticated" or "prestigious." No, wait—it does mean that. I keep forgetting that just because people use a word to mean what they want, it doesn't lose its actual definition. But when "President" Bush told Bob Woodward that he (Woodward) traveled in elite circles because he mentioned that people were still wondering where those dang WMD were, Bush didn't mean anything close to the dictionary definition of the word.

I've been losing sleep over what exactly Bush's definition of the word might be. I've really been wracking my brain. A guy tells you A is the reason for doing B; A turns out not to be the case, and people who say, "Then why did we do B really?" are elitists. Here's what seems to be the underlying message to the exchange: to the Right, B was the right thing to do by definition. They didn't need a reason. A was a good reason but it doesn't really matter because they believe that B was inherently just.

So: in this usage, the elite are those who do not accept that this particular preemptive war was inherently just; that is, people who do not believe in the infallibility of Bush's judgment on these matters.

And here's why I've been losing sleep: "elitist" is one of the favored curses of the Left as well. It is used to impugn the credibility of any critique of materials that speak to non-mainstream experience. It posits that notions of quality of art itself are elitist. That is, a cliché-ridden poem about being outside of the mainstream culture is by definition as valuable as, say, the best poem by Wanda Coleman because to suggest otherwise is to demean the non-mainstream experience itself, not merely the poem.

So: in this usage, the elite are those who do not accept that all material that speaks to and about the non-mainstream experience is of equal value; that is, people who do not believe the social identity of the creator determines the value of the art.

So, there you have it: the Left and the Right agree—we hate those elitist bastards. And by elitist we mean those stupid idiots who think they are so smart, they actually believe that their dogma is better than our dogma.


Post a Comment

<< Home