Ed Driscoll

If the Pith Squirts Sting, Consult Your Physician

“The Year in Awful: Worst Columns of 2013,” as reviewed by Michael Moynihan, formerly of Reason, now one of the rare voices of sanity at Tina Brown’s Daily Beast:

So when asked to suggest some of 2013’s journalistic highlights, I came up with a depressingly thin list. But I could talk for days about all the dreadful columns, stupid pundit effusions, and reckless tweets. And allow me a few caveats: I realize that might say more about my misanthropy and poor choice of reading material than the poverty of our intellectual culture. And yes, I surely have written a few stupid columns myself, by what’s the fun in looking back at one’s own errors?

Instead, I watched in wonderment as serious magazines and newspapers hung on every revolutionary word of actor and self-appointed pundit Russell Brand, who in 2013 decided he was the monster who has turned on his creator, attacking capitalism, celebrity culture, and corporate control of the media (while skillfully not rejecting the lucrative paydays they provide).

There he was on CNN, mumbling something about the NSA, contributing clotted and overstuffed columns to serious journals of left-leaning opinion such as The Guardian and The New Statesman—which he “guest edited” recently—and finishing it all off with a lovey-dovey appearance on The Alex Jones Show. Need I point out that all the attention  isn’t because Brand is an original, or even coherent, thinker, but because he is…Russell Brand?

Try, if you will, to digest these paragraphs from a recent Brand column on the supposedly corrupt British parliamentary system, surely a contender for the worst column ever published in a mainstream newspaper:

“That politics is bereft of altruists, philanthropists and idealists but instead throbs and bristles with stunted show-offs, who, granted flatter abs and cuter noses, would be jiving and caterwauling on Britain’s Got Talent or staring with glum vacuity down the barrel of a camera in a mock corridor in Holby City.”

I suspect someone bought Brand a thesaurus for Christmas.

“This pith squirt stings because we want our politicians to be motivated by high ideals and compassion and not to secretly seethe every time Harry Styles impeccably saunters through the public mind with hair that gently binds his scalp to the heavens and mankind to the angels.”

Is Harry Styles impeccably sauntering through your mind, too?

Brand later informs readers, those drooling sheeple conditioned by corporations, that the British Parliament “is a deeply encoded temple of hegemonic power.” What any of it means is anyone’s guess. But we expect this type of thing from those made fabulously wealthy (and guilty) by Hollywood, and it’s terribly gauche, after all, to be moneyed, cultured, and not call for a revolution against “the system,” as Brand repeatedly has.

While Brand takes the top spot for Awful Column of the Year, honorary mention must collectively go to the once-interesting Salon.com, which now reads like the Evergreen College student newspaper. At a loss for what to write about? How about undergraduate analyses of popular culture through the prism of race, class, and gender? Is Breaking Bad sending coded messages of white supremacism? Is liberal comedian Patton Oswalt a racist? How about a helpful analysis of The Legend of Zelda, a video game celebrating its 15th anniversary, which concludes that “the ways it deals with class, race, gender and animal rights are all deeply problematic.” (The same writer followed up with an apparently serious column on the best “video game for vegans”).

Meanwhile, Joan Walsh, Salon’s “editor at large,” spent yesterday at large roaming the country and bitching about her experiences traveling on Southwest on Twitter. Have pity on the poor stewardesses and ticket agents whose New Year’s Eve was spent assuaging her Hindenburg-sized ego, hauteur and socialist guilt. 40 years ago, Pauline Kael of the New Yorker infamously said, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Substitute Bush and Romney for Nixon and a brightly-lit Boeing 737* for a darkened theater. Poor Joan had to spend a whole day trapped on an airplane forced to be in close contact with wretched middle-class Caucasians.

Oh the humanity!

* Not to mention air-conditioned. The horror.