OF THEE I ZING: AMERICA'S CULTURAL DECLINE FROM MUFFIN TOPS TO BODY SHOTS by Laura Ingraham with Raymond Arroyo
There are times when I agree completely with Laura Ingraham. Then there are times when the woman drives me absolutely bonkers. Of Thee I Zing has a little of both. On cultural issues, I tend toward the conservative side. However, Of Thee I Zing doesn't address the core issues as to why America is in a cultural decline. Rather, it becomes Ingraham's way of channelling her inner Andy Rooney...except Rooney was never as crotchety as Ingraham.
For ten chapters, we get to read how Miss Ingraham doesn't like the world we live in. It doesn't meet with her approval. From boorish behavior to inappropriate dress to tattoos, Ingraham thinks the country is going in a bad direction. People throw excessively lavish birthday parties for their children (perhaps as atonement for giving them ridiculous names and when they're not doing their children's homework. People spend too much time on their laptops at the Starbucks (for which, she tells us, they pay far too much for their coffee). People reveal far too much: either in what they wear at church (where the priest, to her displeasure, is performing stand-up while the music has--horror of horrors--guitars and drums) or what they write on Facebook (for the record, Miss Ingraham has a Facebook page herself, though whether she has one for her private friends I do not know). Movie stars are dumb, pop stars are untalented, and people in general cannot speak properly.
She regales us with truly horrifying stories. There was the time she went to Walt Disney World with her two children. She didn't enjoy riding a bus from the Disney hotel to the parks. She was outraged that the park was crowded when she visited (the week between Christmas and New Year's). People riding in Rascals especially met her ire. This trip ended with her being temporarily separated from her daughter, who in the maelstrom of the crowds was pushed, cutting her lip.
Allow me to digress for a moment to recall my own experiences at Walt Disney World. I have the benefit of taking my vacation at any time, and I chose to go the week after Labor Day. I took the shuttle from my hotel to the parks, and even in the off-season, they were at times crowded. However, I rarely had to wait to board a ride. Most of the time, I just walked in and got on board. There were a few exceptions: Soarin' at EPCOT took 45 minutes (the second time I got on), the Rock-and-Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios took 15. Barring those, the average wait time was between seven to ten minutes: in fact, at It's A Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean I didn't wait even five minutes. There probably were people who were riding in wheelchairs, but to be honest I didn't notice.
What astounds me about her whining (yes, I call it whining) is how incredibly short-sighted Ingraham and Company were. What would possess them to go on one of the busiest times of the year? I'm not as well-travelled as Miss Ingraham, but even I know enough to avoid heavy-traffic times like Christmas and mid-summer. I knew from the get-go that I would have to face some crowds, but I opted to go when I figured the crowds would be at their thinnest. My theory proved correct: most people go on vacation before Labor Day, when they can take their tykes to Disney World. I knew that by going after Labor Day, I would avoid most children.
I should point out I don't have children (yet) and furthermore I would never take my children to Disney World until they were at least ten at the earliest. The reason, Miss Ingraham, is simple: kids tire easily. One Disney Park would simply exhaust them, and there is nothing more tiresome than a tired child. If one did take their children, I would split a park in parts. With the exception of Animal Kingdom (which I think a child could tackle in one day), I would take the child/children to a few rides in a section of the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT, go back to the hotel for a nap, then return to a few more rides. Trying to take on the parks in one day with minors is madness, and why she thought it was sensible is simply astonishing.
Now, on the point of her riding on the shuttle, well, frankly my dear, don't be so cheap. The shuttle worked for me because I didn't have to drive and it was part of the package (and I got a good one, being as I always travel with the economy tour). I imagine Miss Ingraham and Mr. Arroyo make far more than I do, so as I read about her miseries, I kept wondering why didn't she simply rent a van to drive herself and her brood to the parks. If she didn't want to drive, why not hire a driver? I'm sure she could afford it.
Miss Ingraham is an icon of modern conservative thinking. As such, she should be fully aware that she needs to take responsibility for her actions. She chose to take the shuttle, she chose to go between Christmas and New Year's (by the way, a holiday she doesn't care for, along with St. Patrick's Day, St. Valentine's Day, President's Day, Groundhog Day, April Fool's Day, Earth Day, and Halloween, and she disapproves of aspects related to Thanksgiving and Christmas. She also disapproves of referring to Independence Day as 'Fourth of July'). In short, Laura opted to take children to a park during a high-traffic period, so she should just admit it was a bad decision, not the fault of people riding around on Rascals.
There are things in Of Thee I Zing which she and I are in total sync. I don't like President's Day either (it's a made-up holiday, part of this odd American obsession to have three-day weekends). I also find tattoos rather ridiculous. I know evangelical Christians who literally wear their faith on their arms. One believer has two tattoos on his forearms: one on, it reads, "He died for me", on the other, "I live for him" (him is not capitalized, which I would argue is incorrect given it's referring to Christ, but again I digress). I admire the sentiment, but tattoos to me have always looked vulgar. I tend to associate tattoos with criminals (given my time working at a probation/parole violators center), and there is something tacky about marking your body.
Miss Ingraham would be amused to know that I have met the Grandma With the Dragon Tattoo. I've met a woman in her seventies with tattoos on her ears, her neck, her hands, her legs (yes, she wore shorts), and even her cleavage. I thought she looked ridiculous (although I think she would have looked ridiculous in her twenties), and a sign of what I always refer to as The End of Western Civilization.
Yet this gives me an opportunity to state why Of Thee I Zing was more a way for Miss Ingraham to whine than tackle the serious rot invading our culture. The Grandma With the Dragon Tattoo thought there was nothing wrong with her looking the way she did, and I think it is because of another curious American aspect: the idea that the individual is so important, so special. Again and again I encounter this sense in America that people are entitled to do and say whatever they want because they exist. People are being raised to believe that they simply have the right to do anything they want, get anything they want, and get it now.
She is right to take parents to task for caving in to their children's whims. Parents today don't want to make decisions, and when they do, they make ghastly ones. When Ingraham writes about parents taking their children to R-rated films, I was metaphorically shouting, 'Amen; preach it'. I am astounded that parents will spend over fifty dollars in tickets and snacks to take their children to watch The Hangover Part II but wouldn't dare spend twenty dollars to get a babysitter for a couple of hours.
Here, I would argue that it is people's selfishness, the need to put their needs over those of the children, that brings about this sorry situation. I think the best thing to do is to have actual enforcement in just not selling tickets to minors for an R-rated film. You have to tell people 'no', and I can imagine adults will be up in arms. However, if you cut off the adults, you will force them to do one of two things: either not see the newest Adam Sandler comedy or find someone to watch their little ones for a few hours. You do not have the divine right to watch Grown Ups. Oddly, that film seems perfect for the way many parents act and think.
At the heart of all the troubles in Of Thee I Zing is the American sense of entitlement. I shouldn't be, but I am perpetually astounded by how often people think they have the right to this-that-or-the-other because of who they are. People have grown up thinking they should get whatever they want. I blame so-called reality shows, coddling parents and cowardly adults. A simple 'no' works wonders. No: I won't do your science project because I don't need the grade. No: I won't buy you an X-Box because I can't afford it. No: we won't go to Disney World because you are far too young. No: I won't issue you a library card without proof of address (that one's my own pet peeve). No: shorts and flip-flops are inappropriate church attire.
Here, though, I will take Laura Ingraham to task. We will not go back to people wearing suits and dresses at services. My church attire consists of dress pants, polo shirt, and, yes, tennis shoes or Converse. In my defense, I wear dress shoes five days a week at work (and I sometimes work on Saturdays), so after dressing well for work, I'd like at least one day when I don't have to dress so well. I can compromise on the shoes (people shouldn't be looking down at service), but somehow people in football jerseys to me isn't so much disrespectful as it is lazy. Church is not home, so people coming to church as if they're going to a cook-out looks lazy and sloppy (to quote one of my mother's favorite words).
One thing I especially dislike about Ingraham's rather snobbish take on modern worship is the issue of musical instruments. Frankly, the woman's stupid. She really objects to guitars and drums at service? I wonder if she wants to have Mass in Latin and have the women in veils. Allow me to tell a story.
Once, at Christmas, a choir director wrote the melody to a song written by the parish priest, to be accompanied by...a guitar. Blasphemy, Laura Ingraham would state. We can't have a song with guitar at church. If Laura Ingraham had her way, she would ban Silent Night from churches. She also would not allow music written by Chris Tomlin, Matthew West, Michael W. Smith, or Casting Crowns among others. Laura Ingraham, I imagine, would not allow Contemporary Christian music to be played in churches (or radio) merely because they have instruments. So much for that "sing unto the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the voice of a psalm/with trumpets and sound of cornets make a joyful noise unto the Lord, the King" (Psalm 98: 5-6). If David had no problem with musical accompaniment to glorify the Lord, how is Laura Ingraham wiser than a man after God's own heart?
Ingraham is Catholic, and maybe Catholic service has changed since I was a member. However, given that practicing Catholic Matt Maher is a Contemporary Christian music star (for lack of a better word) who writes music for the church (and the Church), she really should tell him how wrong he is for writing music to honor and praise his God. Maybe Maher should write music in the style of Cee Lo Green or Pitbull. Whatever would we do without Laura Ingraham telling Matt Maher how wrong he is for writing music used at church. Shouldn't he know we all should stick to the Gregorian chants?
Again, I agree with some things Ingraham writes in Of Thee I Zing, but she never talks about the root cause of boorish behavior: a warped sense of entitlement, a belief that people should get what they want because they are who they are, a belief that people simply cannot be wrong. Instead, she spends a great deal of the time complaining about how people are today.
Ever wonder why...
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
It certainly has been a long time since I've been to this particular site, much to my shame. Frankly, I'm a notorious slow reader, not to mention that I have been devoting what time I can spare to my movie reviews. However, that is no excuse to leave the written word out. Words are important: after all, that is how the world began.
In any case, I have not forgotten the goal of The Index of Forbidden Books: to do what others in the world cannot, namely, read just about anything I damn well please. The only censor I have is myself. I don't need anyone telling me what is forbidden or what I can or cannot read. However, I should expand my goal to do something that Americans, tragically, are not doing: reading for sheer pleasure. Reading, for reasons I do not understand, is not popular. In truth, people are becoming so illiterate that adults can no longer tell the difference between 'to', 'too', and 'two'. I've seen people spell the word as 'h-a-v-e-i-n-g' and think it's correct. Contrary to popular belief, it hasn't been THAT long since I have been to high school, but don't people teach them about 'dropping the E and adding I-N-G' anymore?
I know: it takes time to read, and today, we are hard-pressed to find time to do so, what with 'texting' (or its oddball cousin, 'sexting'), Facebook, satellite multi-channels, and so forth. However, my personal failings, mercifully, can be rectified by simply carving out no more than fifteen to thirty minutes a day. That would equal 3 1/2 hours a week, which in the long run isn't that much to ask of anyone.
With that in mind, I've decided to go back and find something I haven't read before but have heard much praise for. In this case, it will be The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by the man above, Mr. Michael Chabon. The only thing I know about it is that none other than Seth Cohen on The O.C. was passionate about it, so that's a plus, right? The Cool Nerd who had a far more active sex life than most nerds I knew loved the book, so it must be good. Perhaps I'm being a bit facetious, so forgive my tone. I actually know very little to nothing about it, but I think it has something to do with comic books (a genre I don't care for--never read them as a kid). What is great about picking this title for my own Book-of-the-Month is that I go into it with no preconceptions, so I embark on a great adventure of my own.
It should be good, given the press it's gotten as a masterpiece. Frankly, I tend to be wary of anything that is labelled unimpeachably brilliant. For example, while I thought The Social Network was a well-made film, I am astonished that most of my fellow critics appear to masturbate to it, declaring it "the film of a generation" or "this (my) generation's Citizen Kane". What film did THEY see? Same goes for the comedic 'genius' of Russell Brand or Kanye West and yes, Jackson Pollack, damn it (a damn bunch of squiggles as far as I can tell). I'm always willing to reexamine my views on things. Growing older has made me more tolerant of things I do not understand or may have failed to appreciate at first viewing. Case in point: Fellini's 8 1/2. Therefore, I am going into The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay with a hint of trepidation. However, I hope to learn something about writing.
As I begin to read this book, I go into it a bit suspicious but optimistic, hopefull that all the hype will be justified. Sometimes it is (example: Precious), sometimes not (example: The Social Network). All right, then. Let the reading begin.