As a follow-up to my post on James Lileks and his admiration for the black stewards of yesteryear, I’d like to focus on one big question: What the hell was going through Lileks’ head when he wrote that post? I mean, really. It didn’t fit into the rest of what he was writing, or like the standard mockery you’d expect for the subject he was discussing. And he even knew people would find it offensive, but simply refused to rethink his strategy on that one.
He went from a boring recitation of his day, hops onto what should be his home turf of the old-fashioned cereal ad, and then suddenly derails himself with a somewhat offensive essay on how black servants were equals as long as their employer treated them decently. Where the hell did that come from?
Where else: Weirdo Conservative Land. I mean, this is a guy who can sell books making fun of ads like that, and that one should have been a walk in the park. But instead, he stopped making any jokes at all when bread-and-butter time came. Sure, I understand that he’s a conservative, and I can accept that, I suppose. But there’s a time for work and there’s a time for play, and when it comes to old-fashioned cereal ads with faintly racist imagery, it’s time for play.
But no. We get a mildly offensive essay justifying racial inequality. And it’s not even that I stopped laughing when he disagreed with my ideology. He just stopped trying to be funny. It’s like Michael Jordan going in for an easy slam dunk, and then stopping to warn a spectator of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. (And yes, my basketball knowledge is that out-of-date.)
And here’s what I think happened. I think he looked at the ad, put his brain in motion to do the magic that he does, and the first thing he could think to mock was the black steward with the big smile. That should totally have been his target, and I suspect it was. He immediately identified that as straight-up old school racism, and with its placement at the top of the ad, deserved to be his first strike.
But he just couldn’t do it. Lileks is a conservative and is supposed to believe that the whole “racism” thing is merely a politically correct bogeyman created by Democrats to trick the black man to keep voting for them. And so rather than launch his first assault on the racist imagery, his conservative brain stopped him dead in his tracks and forced him to defend it instead.
Because he started as if he was going into a full dissection of the ad, but as soon as he got to the steward, all the jokes stopped and he turned into a big weirdo. And he never did get back to discussing the ad. He finishes up by saying that people would accuse him of “missing the days of Jim Crow” and acts as if this serves as a disclaimer to the fact that he had just rationalized racist imagery.
And just to be sure, I decided to check today’s Bleat, to see if perhaps he’s given up on the humor schtick. And nope, he’s back to his old Lileks self. It’s an old-fashioned ad about women’s deodorant, and he’s relentlessly mocking it in that way that’s made him famous. The new post sounded just like the one I’m talking about, except that when he got to the funny old ad, he went ahead and mocked it as you’d expect him to.
So what the fuck? Again, it was the black steward. He wanted to mock the usage of the faintly racist imagery, but he couldn’t. His conservative filter just wouldn’t allow him to betray the cause, even for such an obvious slam dunk as that. For conservatives, it’s ideology first, always.
But it’s not even enough to explain why he didn’t attack it, because he didn’t even have to say anything at all. If he couldn’t come up with something funny to say, he should have just skipped that one and gone straight for the deodorant ad he did today. And he knew that his essay on the equality of servitude would be seen as racist, so why bother writing it?
It’s my guess that Lileks had to do it because he was so offended with his own initial reaction. It’s not even that he was necessarily trying to convince us that there was nothing wrong with the Happy Black Servant imagery. He was trying to convince himself, because he knew the imagery really was racist. And as I demonstrated in my post, his argument was entirely backwards.
It wasn’t that people really did see their servants as equals, but rather that the truth of it was so much more disgusting; that there was an underclass of intelligent people who were stuck being servants because they couldn’t do any better. And that it was that way merely for the enjoyment of the people who could afford it. The fact that this servant class has almost entirely disappeared is some proof of that. I suspect that Lileks knows this too, and that’s why he had to rationalize the system that he’s been told wasn’t wrong.
Even now, conservatives insist that everyone has the same opportunities, and that minorities are only being kept down because they’re stupid, lazy, and worst of all, Democrats. And who is to blame for that? Not conservatives who believe in continuing the status quo, but those very same stupid, lazy Democrats. Even now, these people need to invent rationalizations to explain why they want an underclass to take advantage of.
Gay Denial, Anyone?
And frankly, I suspect that Lileks isn’t really a conservative at all. How can he be? When he’s not talking politics, he seems like a funny guy with an offbeat sense of humor. Sure, we’re not talking Biobrain funny, but it’s ten thousand percent better than anything I’ve ever heard from a conservative. Their idea of a joke is to insult someone in a patently untrue manner and then laugh even harder for “yanking your chain” when you act offended by what they said.
But that’s not Lileks’ schtick at all. As I said, long before I learned he was conservative, I had spent hours laughing at his site, and only tired of it once the formula became a bit much. And even then, I probably read almost everything there, and probably could still get lots of laughs were I to go back (which I just might tonight). And just the idea of what he’s doing is patently unconservative. I had honestly thought he was some gay dude who was really into the whole retro thing and kept stumbling upon these hilarious old books that he wanted to share with people.
And not to pick on the guy, but I really wonder if that might be the case. There are an awful lot of closeted gay guys who turn Republican as an expression of denial and disgust for who they really are (Gary Bauer, I’m looking at you); and I wonder if it’s possible that that could explain James Lileks. But again, I know absolutely nothing about him, avoid his non-humorous writings, and have no idea of what his opinion of gayness is. So don’t quote me on this.
But if it’s not that, it’s something. There’s just some weird part of him that forces him into it. Some weird thing that he just won’t admit to himself, or someone he’s trying to impress, or something exterior to him that he’s repressing. Or perhaps he’s just in it for the Benjamins and knows that liberal welfare doesn’t pay nearly as well as the conservative kind. Because it just doesn’t make sense otherwise. Real conservatives don’t mock olden times. Real conservatives aren’t funny. And real conservatives certainly don’t spend lots of time looking at old books trying to create humor. They just keep reciting the same tired insults that weren’t very funny the first time they used them during recess in the fourth grade.
And it’s always possible that he really is a real conservative and that I’m totally full of shit on this one, but let me tell you my own experience. No, scratch that. I just wrote three long paragraphs describing how I was once a Limbaugh dittohead and how I believed in that crap, even though it never really matched who I was. But it got too long and stupid and off-topic, so I just deleted it. Imagine it was good, because it was. Maybe I’ll write it another time.
Long post short, I don’t think James Lileks is a real conservative. Rather, he’s in denial about who he really is, and that’s why he forced himself to reject his initial thoughts on the racist imagery he saw in that old-fashioned cereal ad he had wanted to mock but couldn’t. Or maybe I’m just full of shit, but this is my best guess and I’m pretty good about these things.