You should really read Sheelah Kolhatkar’s New Yorker piece on conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s frightening creep across America and into people’s home.
The dual identity of “the man” in American slang perplexes me. We say “Damn the man” or “Don’t let the man get you down” to sneer at establishment figures, from the police to nameless powers-that-be. Yet at the same time, perhaps even in the same conversation, we praise peers’ success by declaring “You’re the man!” or “You the man!” (“You’re the woman/You the woman” is basically nonexistent, replaced instead with the cheer “You go girl!”)
This makes me wonder: Is the dual existence of “damn the man” and “you’re the man” simply a colloquial quirk, an example of language’s inherent slipperiness, or is it more of a Freudian slip, a symptom of the United States’ inherent contradiction of being a land of the free where everyone wants to be “like a boss”?
In any event, in case you’re interested, “the man” as a synonym for authority figures first appeared circa 1918, especially among underworld figures, and percolated into the mainstream in the 1960s. Meanwhile, “You’re the man” has a slightly hazier history, but internet detectives point to The Kay-Gees’ oft-sampled 1974 LP “Who’s the Man (With the Master Plan),” which includes just two lyrics, “Who’s the man with the master plan?” and “Inflation in the nation, headed for starvation.”
Here’s the audio:
For this week’s Found in the LOC, here are four neo-realism murals Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari completed for the Library of Congress’ Hispanic Reading Rooms in 1942. The LOC has way more detailed information than I can provide, and I encourage you to check out their essay.
“Vicious” is being used voraciously this week. Donald Trump and his allies are using the word to describe the investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, while Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyer Michael R. Bromrich and others are describing Trump’s attacks on Ford in the same way.
Though we most often associate “vicious” with wild animals, it comes from the Latin lexeme “vitiosus”, meaning “depraved” or “wicked.” In essence, both Trump and his nemeses are calling the other wicked, a reality that cuts to the wick of the problem of bitter, seemingly intractable partisanship that’s blanketed America: it’s a fight for the very soul of Americas, a fight for the very definition of right and wrong in America. It really should be no contest, but, alas, too many people have been beguiled by the Trumpeteer.
To celebrate the author’s would-be birthday, a link to the piece I wrote when he died earlier this year.
Update: My apologies, today is not this Tom Wolfe’s birthday, but Tom C. Wolfe, author of Look Homeward, Angel, The Lost Boy, and The Web.
Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony last week made me want to wretch. And it wasn’t just for his grotesque display of white male rage at — the gall! — having to explain himself. Nor was it Kavanaugh’s “One of my closest friends to this day is a woman who was sexually abused” remark, though that was something truly repulsive. What really irked me, as a recovering alcoholic, was Kavanaugh’s repeated implications that his successes preclude a potential drinking problem. In the Supreme Court nominee’s mind, someone like him — a Yale graduate, a golden man-child, a former football player — could never have a drinking problem. Kavanaugh never said this outright, but this odious misconception wafted through the subtext like a stale beer.
I caught the first real whiff during Kavanaugh’s tense exchange with Senator Mazie Hirono, after the Democrat from Hawaii asked Kavanaugh if he’d been a heavy drinker in college. Kavanaugh, floundering and seething at this suggestion, deflected: “I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.” While Kavanaugh’s entire defense that day was built around his triumphs, here he was using his CV more pointedly: to nullify any implication of a drinking problem. In Kavanaugh’s eyes, academic and professional success not only negate any responsibility for alleged alcohol abuse — he made up for it in gold stars —, but the very possibility of alcohol abuse in the first place.
Happy Birthday, Yosemite! It was on 128 years ago today that the California Valley was designated a national park, a development spurred in large part thanks to Carleton Watkins’ incredible snapshots of the park, like the circa 1865 images above and below.* He was kind of like the John James Audubon of landscape.
Reprinted from coast to coast, Watkins’ exposed increasingly industrialized, urbanized Americans to nature’s bounty, convincing them and political leaders alike that our land deserves protection from ravenous, capitalistic development. If only contemporary politicians saw things the same way.
You can read all about Watkins’ impact on saving Yosemite in Tyler Green’s upcoming book, Watkins: Making the American West.
(*This development also helped precipitate the collapse of the racist, socialist Kaweah Colony.)