Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An Insightful "Conservative"

Jon Swift is the alias of a blogosphere humorist who describes himself as a "reasonable conservative who likes to write about politics and culture." Of course, like the "real" Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), the Englishman of letters known especially for his biting satirical wit, this self-description is but a ruse. Jon Swift skewers conservative ideology and media talk by pretending to be their staunchest defender. Swift takes his cue from The Colbert Report -- addressing contemporary politics and news events -- but his writing is smarter, and more subtle, not unlike the work of the real Swift.

Jon Swift's tagline motto is: "Since the media is biased I get all my news from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Jay Leno monologues." And indeed most of his writing is devoted to pointing out the illogic of much conservative mass media. (His tagline itself is illogical -- the mass media is biased, but in his favor, and Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Jay Leno [whom I agree is both desperately unfunny and the biggest, dumbest misogynist on television] lie not at the margins of the public sphere but precisely in its center.) A recent post retains Swift's satirical tone while making fun of the mass media's lionization of Tim Russert, who, it should be said, did much to actually lower journalistic standards for public-interest inquiry of politicians and political institutions.

These observations aside, I was introduced to Jon Swift's world by virtue of his celebrated Amazon.com reviews. Back in 2006 Jon Swift posted reviews of books by the likes of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and David Horowitz. These books -- hardly worth the paper they're printed on -- spewed far right-wing ideology like it was gospel and participated in the Republicans' drumming up support among its base in preparation for the 2006 mid-term elections. Well, Jon Swift took these folks to task not by dismissing them out of hand but by approaching them from a ridiculously literal, arch-conservative perspective. It was a performance befitting Jonathan Swift's classic essay "A Modest Proposal" (1729), which suggested that the Irish might alleviate their economic woes by selling children born into poverty as food for the rich.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon removed all of Jon Swift's reviews. Thankfully, he kept back-ups, and his complete archive of reviews can be found here. Notice that he begins each review with, "I have not actually read this book but..." Which, at least for me, captures the essence of so much that's wrong with the arch-conservative mindset (or, for that matter, any extremist political ideology which is less attuned to actually existing socioeconomic conditions and more interested in defending its theoretical coherence).

Jon Swift gets the tone right here, and that's what makes his voice so effective, and at times so laugh-out-loud funny. My favorite review has got to be his take on Mark R. Levin's Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America. Levin is one of those conservative legal commentators who willfully ignores the Court's demonstrable conservative bent, as well as the fact that Republican-appointed judges make up the vast majority of federal court appointees, to lambaste the few (remaining) "liberal" social measures that the Court has protected. Levin has to blind himself to all of this as he puts the Republican machinery of fantasizing that liberals control everything (the media, the courts, etc.) into full gear. Levin's book is the definition of spin in legal circles.

Jon Swift's review doesn't explain these things to us, nor does it seek to. In fact, the review doesn't say much about anything... except for the movie Men in Black. Titled "I love Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones," it reads:
I have not actually read this book but I love the movie with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. I thought it was very funny and very imaginative with all of the alien creatures. I don't remember the movie saying anything about the Supreme Court but I know they often change books when they adapt them into movies. Even though I agree with everything Justice Scalia says he does sometimes seem like an alien from another planet, which I mean in a good way.
That barb against Scalia is even funnier upon realizing that, for the arch-conservative, reading Levin's book is precisely akin to watching Men in Black -- neither says "anything about the Supreme Court." They do, however, put on a good show.

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