WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Of Vidal interest …

You know who I wish was still around to comment on our political life?

Gore Vidal.

I can only imagine the periodic YouTube videos Gore would be putting out, excoriating the Foul One in terms he probably wouldn’t even understand, they’d be so erudite. Trump would be left standing there with his own bag of skin heaped around his feet, and then he’d go on Twitter to tell us what a loser Vidal is.

It seems like we’ve lost that certain kind of cultural critic who was absolutely as smart as he/she told us he/she was. People like Vidal, Harold Bloom, Susan Sontag, Hannah Arendt. Hell, I’ll even throw in William F. Buckley.

Our thinkers and commentators in the 21st century have had to dumb it down quite a bit, mostly as a way to land gigs on cable news outlets. You can’t come off as too smart there. Maybe this is why we don’t see Noam Chomsky on MSNBC or Francis Fukuyama on Fox News. (I admit, I’m assuming Francis Fukuyama doesn’t appear on Fox News, but I can’t bear to tune in to find out.)

But Vidal had a way of being smart and entertaining, all the while wielding his cleverness like a razor-sharp épée. He could cut you to bits as he sat there with you on Merv Griffin or Dick Cavett, and a studio assistant would hand you a styptic pencil as you walked off the set.

And by the way, we used to have more intelligent talk show hosts too. Dick Cavett was one, and he too found a way to be smart and entertaining at the same time. Is this so hard? David Susskind didn’t try to be yuk-yuk entertaining but he always acted like his audience was intelligent. And the guests on shows like this used to be some of the best literary figures of the day. There were others like them. They got good ratings.

When was the last time a literary novelist was on Jimmy Kimmel?

All I’m yearning for, I guess, is for a mind like Gore Vidal’s to take some swipes at Trump and cut him down to size. His mind is small. Shouldn’t be a difficult task. The problem is, the culture has changed to a point where intelligence is seen as a drawback, and going hard at Trump from an intellectual position of superiority strikes today’s audiences as snobby and boring. And unfair.

Watch the clip of Vidal and Roy Cohn (whose name comes up a lot in the annals of our country’s deterioration—see Sarah Kendzior’s Hiding in Plain Sight, and read it too!).

I’d pick Gore’s team any day of the week.

[Photo reproduced under a Creative Commons license.]

6 comments on “Of Vidal interest …

  1. kingmidget
    May 27, 2020

    Sigh — while I don’t know that I ever saw Gore Vidal, I too feel like there has been a massive dumbing down on media shows and talking head shows. There is nothing new, nothing creative, not much that is really intelligent or thoughtful. It’s just endless accusation, fed in measures that don’t lift us up, but rather knocks us all down.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 27, 2020

      I hope you watch a little of the clip. You can get an idea of how smooth and sharp he was. His book of essays, “United States,” is a great intro to his political writing. Plus he wrote historical novels too. And he’s related to Al Gore!

  2. loristory
    May 27, 2020

    I think Steve Allen was one of the smart good guys, too. I must admit that I greatly enjoy Stephen Colbert, who at times waxes quite philosophical. Do you?

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 27, 2020

      Steve Allen was great. I love the old clips of him with people like Jack Kerouac. And yes, Colbert is terrific, but I do wish he’d have stayed with his old show instead of the Johnny Carson model talk show. That’s so much hyping of guests’ books and movies and stuff. John Oliver gets my thumbs up big time these days. You ever watch his show?

      • loristory
        May 27, 2020

        I used to watch John Oliver and will have to get back to him. Thanks for the reminder. And for comic relief, I love Schitt’s Creek!

  3. TamrahJo
    May 27, 2020

    Many folks have been complaining about the ‘dumbing down’ of our culture for ages it feels like – funny, but Gore Vidal has been on my mind much lately, as in his quote – ““As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”
    ― Gore Vidal

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