MODERN WISDOM: AMERICA’S ONLY HUMOR MAGAZINE
Copyright 2017 Francis DiMenno
1. NOIR MISFORTUNE COOKIES
51. Your alibi is so flimsy that even the bailiffs laugh in your face.
52. You will learn the definition of anilingus–in a prison cell.
53. Hot date, Casanova? A bee will sting your nose.
54. Even your goldfish flees when you enter the room.
55. When Lincoln freed the slaves, he didn’t say anything about you.
56. You will be a forgotten footnote in the annals of crime.
57. Why do the heathen rage? You desecrated their sacred shrine.
58. They never hit a man with glasses. They hit him with a 2×4.
59. Your wife will make a fat man cry. It will be you, obese one.
60. The villagers aren’t THAT superstitious. They know a meth lab when they see one.
61. You used to be a fruit, but soon you’ll be a vegetable.
62. God is tired. Most of all, He’s tired of you.
63. On TV your wife will confide she was a very good friend of Bill Cosby.
64. Soon YOU will be a prisoner in a Chinese Fortune Cookie Factory.
65. You can’t tell funny jokes because your life is a funny joke.
66. From Harvard graduate to degenerate gambler is only one easy step.
67. Your fellow KKK members have learned you’re passing for white.
68. The cops busted you as you were snorting cocaine off your baby’s back.
69. Your diseased body will even sicken the hardened morgue attendants.
70. You will live to be 90–in a prison cell.
71. Papa’s got a brand new bag. Of heroin–and he won’t share.
72. In boarding school they separated the men from the boys–with a crowbar.
73. Your friends call you “Mr. Wisdom.” They are all ironic hipsters.
74. You hate her. You hate her. You ate her.
75. On the golf course even OJ will cut you–literally.
76. You’ll be tired scared and hungry ’til the day you die.
77. You nodding, scratching fool–the narcs are onto you.
78. If you weren’t so crazy the neighbors wouldn’t gossip so.
79. The dope is weak and your monkey is strong.
80. Fool! Stop pounding that basketball and start pounding those school books!
81. Even schoolchildren find you an irresistible figure of mockery.
82. Your scandal-tainted daughter will marry a homosexual Doctor addicted to goofballs.
83. Your heart will go on–but your brain will not.
84. Your love of watching furious express trains will prove your ironic downfall.
85. Maybe Jesus loves you–but he ain’t here right now.
86. Restauranteur, you have been 86’d–forever.
87. You wife says the cigar butts in the ashtray are hers.
88. You thought they said “cream”. They said “cremation.”
89. You will soon the proud father–of a yen shee baby.
90. Your marriage will be made in heaven–and lived in hell.
91. You will reinvent yourself. It will be an invention which nobody wants.
92. That man you called a shrimp is a featherweight boxing champ.
93. Why did you bring brass knuckles to a razor fight?
94. You ridiculed a hobo with fists of iron.
95. Your mad quest will end in utter anonymity.
96. Your cruelty will make you the enemy of every decent man.
97. You will be punished for being too eager to avoid punishment.
98. That elephant you teased has a very long memory.
99. You are of no use to anybody except the pusher man.
100. That cyanide in your hollow tooth is actually ipecac.
2. MEDIEVAL BUMPER STICKERS
TOUCH NOWT MINE SCABBARD NOR HEFT MINE POMMEL LEST THE BLOOD-GUARD OF MY SWORD DRINK WEL AND FUL
CAVE! HERE BE MINE BAIRN!
THANKE FREYJA IT BE GODDAG
ASK ME ABOUT YE KING’S EVILLE
YE TOUCHA MINE SLEDGE, I BREAKA THINE FACE
THOU SHALT BEAR MINE CROSSBOW HENCE WHANNE ERSTENS DOE YE PRISE IT FROM MINE COLD, DEAD HANDS
YE CANNAE HUG THINE BAIRNS WHILST THOU ART IN YE BLACK KNIGHT’S ARMOR
MINE ENTIRE VILLAGE DIDDE PERISH IN YE BLACK DEATH AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY JERKIN
I DOE BRAKE FOR APPARITIONS OF YE BLESSED VIRGIN MOTHER
YE LOATHSOM MEAD DRUNKARDS NATHELESS HAVE MORE FUN
HOLLOA? RELINQUISH MY TRINITARIAN FAITH AND OFFER UP INCENSE TO YE EMPEROR? ERSTENS SHALT I SEE YE IN HADES!!
MINE VASSAL YEA; MINE LORD, MAYHAP; MINE BROAD-SWORD–?!!!!! I SAY THEE NAY!!
BAN YE THE SCIMITAR AND ONLY YE BANNED SHALL WIELD YE SCIMITAR
I DOE BRAKE FOR YE FAIR MAIDEN OF ASTOLAT
I DRADDEN NEVERE FOR TO DYE FOR VERILIE SWEET IESUS MINE COPILOT BE
MY SLAVE IS AN HONOR STUDENT AT YE UNIVERSITY OF AL-KARAOUINE
THE GUILEFULL GREAT ENCHAUNTER WORKES ME WOFULL RUTH! TIMOR MORTIS CONTURBAT ME!
3. DRUGS SPEAK
It is easy to get a thousand prescriptions but hard to get one single remedy.
I AM I AM METHEDRINE AND I CAN DO ANYTHING.
I AM CRYSTAL METH…. WHERE MY TOOTH AT?
Ich bin Haffenreffer. Die Erbrochenes sind nicht meinem.
My name is Mr. Hash, and I think Ayn Rand had a lot of good ideas.
I am peyHUUUALP!
i am ecstasy… wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait
wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait
wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait THIS IS MY
FAVORITE SONG !!
I am oxycontin….GIMME THE MONEY–NOW!
I am ster–ROWWWWWWWWWRRRRR!
I am cannabis indica. I just smashed an ice cream cone on my own head
and now I’m sleepy.
I am Formaldehyde and you will usually find me where Mr. Cheap Beer
likes to hang out.
I am the sweatband of Jimi Hendrix…lick me and see God.
HEY THERE SKINNY–I’M MR. WILD POTATO SEED.
4. CRAZY BOYFRIEND BINGO
Create a 25-square grid with any of the following expressions. Fill in
as they occur. Loads of fun! (Thanks to Dan From Providence.)
Beat up girls
Registered sex offender
“why is she still dating him if she knows he raped a little boy?”
“continued without a finding”
5. MORE MEDIEVAL BUMPER STICKERS
SPQR RULETH OK
MY BAIRN WENT TO JERUSALEM FOR YE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE AND ALL HE GOT WAS SOLD INTO SLAVERY!
MINE OTHER OXCART BEE AMANITA MUSCARIA
I BELIEVE OSWALD OF NORTHUMBRIA ACTED ALONE
I BRAKE FOR YE EVILLE CRONE WITH YE CATS WHO IS SURELY A WITCH
I SUPPORT OUR GOODLIE KYNGE IN YE WARRE AGAINST SARACENS
LEPERS ARE ALWAYS GOOD FOR A PIECE OF ASS
TORQUEMADA LIED–HERETICS FRIED
SQUIRES DOE IT ALL KNIGHT
MAGNA CARTA: THESE COLOURS DINNAE RUNNE
YE KYNGE IS ON A CAPITALIST PIGGIE POWER TRIPPE
THESE ARE YE GOOD OLDE DAYS
KING PANDION HEE IS DEAD; ALL THY FRIENDS ARE LAPT IN LEAD
I AM A GOOD HERDS-BOY UT HOY!
I HEART THE PILLAGE PEOPLE
HONK IF YE DOE LOVE THE MOST EXCELLENT AND GLORIOUS PERSON OF OUR SOVERAINE THE QUEENE
TORTURING ONE HERETIC IS DOCTRINE. TORTURING ALL HERETICS IS YE WORKE OF GODDE
AGENBYTE OF INWYT RULES OK
VISUALIZE YE RAPTURE AND YE ENDE OF DAYES
I HAVE NO LYFFE AND MYE WYFFE LOVETH ME NOT SO WHY DO YE NAE RUNNETH MEE OFF YE FUCKINGE ROADE?
FRANCISCANS DO IT NASTIE, BRUTISH, AND SHORTE.
COPERNICUS’S MIDDLE NAME IS HUSSEIN AND HE WEARS NO CROSS LAPEL PIN ON HIS DOUBLET.
IF YE CAN READ MY OXCART STICKER, YE BE SURPRISINGLY LITERATE.
DON’T BLAME ME FOR YE EXTRANEOUS VOWELS, I BACKED HAROLD II AT HASTINGS.
MINE OTHER RUDE OXCART IS AN OTHER RUDE OXCART
I ATE YE AMINATA MUSCARIA AND ALL I GOT WAS YE NEW LENGTHY VIEW OF MINE HORNY HAND.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO DIE OF BLACK DEATH.
IT WILL BE A GREAT DAY WHEN YE WORMLIKE POPULACE FEEDS ON SWEET CAKES WHILE YE SOVEREIGN NEED SELL EGGS ON MARKET DAY TO RAISE HIS ROW OF PIKEMEN
–Jody the Pig
MYGLOVE NOT WORE
NO BLOODE FOR ROYALE
I SLAKE FOR HEX SIGNS
HIS ROYAL TROOPS OUT OF FRANCE NOW!!!!
STONEHENGE IS FOR PAGANS
CUDDLES NOT CUDGELS
OTTOMAN EMPIRE IS FOR LOVERS
ABOLISH TROLL BRIDGES
HONK IF YOU LOVE IUS PRIMAE NOCTIS!
IRON MAIDENS HAVE MORE FUN
6. POSITIVE WASSERMAN JONES
[George Young] had a fine sense of the hilarious. We once got into a
contest to see who could come up with the best names he ever heard. I
favored the USC backfield of the early 1950s, Addison Hawthorne and
Aramis Dandoy, and for non-football, I found the name of someone I
once heard paged at a Miami Beach hotel, Babalou Rappaport. He topped
it with a girl who was in one of his history classes at Calvert Hall
High, Positive Wasserman Jones.
“When the girl was born, her mother got a look at her own hospital
chart and thought that was what she was supposed to name the baby,” he
said. “So the poor girl was stuck with the name. The other kids called
Quessie Mae Knuckles
Positive Wasserman Johnson
Cantwell F. Muckenfuss, III
Mittie J. Pigg
Major Michangelo Boyd
S. Moochly Small
King Solomon Hurdle
Herman Sherman Berman
Carl Fillinger, DDS
Turley Curd (say that 3 x fast!)
Prister B. Tealie
Eppley Veach Pridgen
7. HISTORY OF NOXTOWN: NIXONLAND
Nixontown was founded and incorporated in 1952, by local Republicans
who funded the venture after being impressed with the Senator’s
“Checkers Speech.” (Its previous name as an unincorporated area had
been ‘Blue Eagle’.)
The area has never had an entirely wholesome reputation. One
dissident, an avowed Democrat, was run out of town by a mob headed by
Mayor Loveson Bustard, who cried, “OK Boys, let’s throw him out!”. It
was this hapless populist who later characterized Nixontown as “the land of
smash and grab and anything to win.”
And, although one is constrained by the ethics and the responsibility of
the dispassionate chronicler and historian, it can be affirmed that
such a reputation is not entirely undeserved.
Although initially curiously straitlaced (There was, at first, no vice
district, and the local furrier advertised his wares as “Respectable
Cloth Coats”), Nixontown soon began importing prostitutes, illegal
gaming equipment, and other Mob-owned and Mob-run divertissements. Not
the least of these were bootlegged liquor and cigarettes lacking state
tax stamps. From all illicit swag town officials took generous
rake-offs, called “campaign contributions.” Meanwhile, the taxes on
the working poor and owner-run businesses were practically
Mayor Bustard was a man nearly devoid of personal charm.
Outwardly emotionless, and none too cerebral, he made up for his
deficiencies with an almost frightening drive to win, and after,
dominate. His peculiar genius was in fashioning elaborate deals in
which no money or documentation of any sort exchanged hands; these
clandestine “understandings” were sealed with secret handshakes and
Mayor Bustard began to “go a bit funny” midway through his third
four-year term, and a series of trusted confederates actually ran the
town for the remainder of his third, and nearly the entirety of his
fourth term. It can only be said that Bustard’s form of graft was
reletively restained compared to the depredations committed by his
disreputable associates, many of whom were swarthy ethnics with
profoundly close ties to syndicate bosses. It was said that both the ethos of
the mob and the ethos of the Mob prevailed while Mayor Bustard was
“off his feed”. One man in particular, Captain Richard Stolas, who
went by the nickname of “Cappy Dick,” was said to be the “power behind
the throne”. There was wild talk of paramilitary training camps
secreted in the swamps and fens of the region; of monitoring devices
planted in the homes of ordinary citizens; of a veritable “secret
army” of spies and enforcers. These last were led by a local
impresario known as Rowdy Hardenstock. This colorful individual
deserves a more extended biography, but a brief summation of his
career will have to suffice.Hardenstock was, by turns, depending on
who asked, a rare-book dealer, a swindler, a purveyor of rare wine, a
cheat, a war hero, a fraud, a drug dealer, a junkie, a straight arrow,
and a con man. Truth to tell, he was in fact a peculiar amalgam of all
these qualities and more. What is known about him is scanty, but
apparently he had served during World War Two in some unnamed
capacity; he had made a small fortune in the sale of black market
commodities both licit and otherwise; he had some training in chemistry;
he knew something about computers and had worked with them back when
they were powered by vacuum tubes; he was a member of quasi-fascist
organizations and yet was willing to sell munitions to factions on
opposing sides. This was the man Bustard put in charge of the everyday
details of municipal governing. Bustard himself preferred to spend
his time dining gratis at gourmet restaurants with his cronies and
drinking copious amounts of wine.
Bustard easily won a fifth term. He was nominated by acclamation and
no Democrat dared run against him; in fact, there were no registered
Democrats in the entire town!
Bustard here made a disastrous decision. He himself was going to run
the town. Actually tend to all the administrative details himself!
He began his fifth term by empowering the police to “crack down” on
all unsanctioned lawbreaking. It was a well-known fact that penny-ante
bingo and card games were taking place in Catholic churches, VFW
halls, and like places. Bustard directed these activities be halted.
He shuttered all nightclubs where teenagers congregated. He made sure
unfriendly restauranteurs were found guilty of various, vague “code
In all fairness, Bustard also tried to attract new business to the
town by infrastructure improvements: he repaved roads and installed
new sidewalks and ordered slum clearance to make way for an ambitious
shopping mall and convention center that would attract “high-rollers”
from other cities to Nixontown. But the taxes and the graft became two
much for many honest citizens to endure; many of them moved to
neighboring communities during this “reform” period.
In the mid-1970s the town underwent a fiscal crisis which saw it
nearly going into state receivership, only to be rescued in 1974, when
its reputation was rehabilitated in part by a new appreciation for
those who would, indeed, do “anything to win.” Nixontown declared
itself “The City of Nixonland” and set about restoring itself to
It accomplished this feat in a way that may prove useful and
instructive to small towns everywhere, particularly those which have
seen their industries desert them and their populations abandon them.
First, the city council hired themselves out as consultants and
charged the municipality top fees for their previously
under-compensated efforts. All business ventures had to be routed
through city hall, which skimmed an astonishing fifty per cent for
their private campaign coffers. (The money, it was said, was kept in
“a marvelous tin box” in Bustard’s attic. Bustard did not trust
Secondly, practically overnight the town motto changed from “Law and
Order” to “Anything Goes.”
Police looked the other way when racketeers once again took over the
town, doled out protection money to top town officials, dealt cocaine
out of the Laundromat, opened up a house of prostitution directly
across from City Hall, openly flouted ordinances against gambling and
public drunkenness, and recklessly violated traffic laws.
City employees were no better; in fact, they were even more brazen.
Landscapers and gardeners grew marijuana on publically owned property.
The Department of Parks and Recreation openly sold drugs in the city parks.
Janitors and maintenance workers peddled reefers in the corridors of
the town’s middle school.
Movers and security guards burglarized businesses and private homes.
Nursing aides and social service assistants plundered the possessions
of the elderly.
EMTs and nurses tore rings from the ears and fingers of accident victims.
Office managers and accountants directed secretaries, typists, and
bookkeeping clerks to submit fraudulent documents for fat payoffs from
local vice lords.
Construction equipment operators could be induced to “rent” their
equipment to racketeers “for a price.” Corrupt civil engineers
employed mobbed-up construction crews for ambitious, expensive projects
that were ruined by shoddy workmanship and materials.
In the midst of this carnival of malpractice, lawyers battened on a
lion’s share of “the haul.”
Thus corrupted from the top down and everywhere in-between, Nixonland
became something of a felon’s playground, a veritable paradise of
outlawry that was also attractive to convicted criminals, psychopathic
playboys, junkie celebrities, disgraced royalty, wealthy foreigners,
and eccentric millionaire recluses.
All of these new arrivals were happy to pay the city the various fees
its employees demanded in return for turning a blind eye to their
misbehavior. It is said that Nixonland catered, not only to every
known vice, but to ones which hadn’t even been invented yet.
Its high school was used as a testing ground for new forms of
hallucinogenic drugs; its tobacconists and even its candy stores
openly peddled cocaine, and its X-Rated movie theatres admitted all
comers, regardless of age.
It was said that when a man wore out his welcome in his own
community–even in such wide-open dens of known vice such as Pariah,
Bravo, Buzzard, Kith, Morel, and Stingy Brim–Nixonland would welcome
him with open arms.
The town was, and is to this day, a virtual clearinghouse for miscreants.
Pickpockets and former CIA men often jostle up against each other in
its grocery stores and pharmacies. Pimps are often seen ‘hoisting a
few’ in the presence of disgraced former politicians. Defrocked
priests, disbarred lawyers, and Doctors who no longer had a license to
practice medicine all find a new, and most congenial home from the
moment they set foot in Nixonland.
Strangely enough, its rate of reported crime is among the lowest in
two counties. In all likelihood, this has less to do with the behavior
of its citizenry than from the fact that, in the words of one law
official, “Crime? Chances are, if you do the crime in Nixonland, it’s
not even considered a crime.”
8. ADVERTISING IS THE STALINIZATION OF COMMODITIES
I consider myself fairly well steeped in the whole media studies thing
as it pertains to psychosexual imagery used in advertising, as
explicated by authors such as McLuhan (The Mechanical Bride), Vance
Packard (The Hidden Persuaders), Key (Subliminal
Seduction; The Clam-Plate Orgy), and Stuart Ewen (Captains of
Although all of these writers have valid points to make, their whole
spiel sometimes seems a bit overdetermined (especially Key’s).
However, in P.R.!, Ewen delves into the life of Edward Bernays, a key
figure in bringing Freudian imagery to ad campaigns.
“We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas
suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical
result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.”
–Bernays, Propaganda (1928)
Bernays helped the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and other
special interest groups to convince the American public that water
fluoridation was safe and beneficial to human health. This was
achieved by using the American Dental Association in a highly
successful media campaign.
Bernay’s most extreme political propaganda activities were said to be
conducted on behalf of the multinational corporation United Fruit
Company (today’s Chiquita Brands International) and the U.S.
government to facilitate the successful overthrow (see Operation
PBSUCCESS) of the democratically elected president of Guatemala,
Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.
Even more ominously:
In his 1965 autobiography, Bernays recalls a dinner at his home in 1933 where:
Karl von Weigand, foreign correspondent of the Hearst newspapers, an
old hand at interpreting Europe and just returned from Germany, was
telling us about Goebbels and his propaganda plans to consolidate Nazi
power. Goebbels had shown Weigand his propaganda library, the best
Weigand had ever seen. Goebbels, said Weigand, was using my book
Crystallizing Public Opinion as a basis for his destructive campaign
against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me. … Obviously the attack
on the Jews of Germany was no emotional outburst of the Nazis, but a
deliberate, planned campaign.
More about Bernays here:
As for Freud himself? He once famously commented, “Sometimes a cigar
is just a cigar.”
Advertising is obsessed with sexual matters because humans are
obsessed with sexuality.
“In many cases, the images present in stories or dreams can be called
“phallic.” Phallic symbols are everyday objects in a story that stand
for male or female sexual organs and often represent the repressed
sexual desires or fears of the characters. Analyzing the significance
of phallic symbols can reveal important insights into both the
characters and the meaning of the story.
Generally, objects such as towers or rockets, or any item that is
taller than it is wide, often serve as male phallic symbols. Lakes,
swimming pools, tunnels, and other rounded structures with openings
are often used as female phallic symbols.
Another Freudian concept is that of the “fetish.” In anthropological
terms, “fetish” refers to an object that the bearer regards with
reverence and trust. The bearer believes that the object has magical
powers that both protect its owner and lead the owner to success.”
Of course advertising is sexual. How could it be anything else? Not
only is it the broadcasting of commodity fetishism, but it is also
nothing more and nothing less than the Stalinization of commodities,
by which I mean to imply that just as in Soviet Russia Stalin’s
picture was once omnipresent, so in modern western society the
consumption of commodities not only defines the norm but has also been
made virtually compulsory. As a result, commodities are regnant.
Marx assigned a different meaning to the word “fetish”:
“His argument goes something like this. In capitalist society,
material objects are given value by people — we construct hierarchies
of value, placing more value on some objects — for instance, gold —
than others. But strangely, we forget our part in constructing the
hierarchies and the object like gold come to seem naturally valuable.
We praise gold for its natural properties and prize it most highly of
the precious metals. But, Marx insists, the properties which make gold
valuable are not primarily natural, even though gold is extremely
useful for some things. No, what makes gold valuable is a specific set
of social relations. This is easily proven when one considers that
only a minority of cultures have considered gold to be a precious
metal. Thus, the powers bestowed upon gold are social, not natural.
This is true not just of gold, but of all commodities.
But this is not how it appears to us. And this is the second important
point to notice: the appearance of commodities as valuable, while not
exactly false, masks an important truth which can only be disclosed
through theoretical analysis. Yes, commodities are valuable, but we
are routinely deceived about where the value comes from. We think
these things have value in and of themselves, but in reality, they
have value because somebody, somewhere made them — their labors were
exploited for profit. In the act of fetishizing commodities, in
imagining them to have natural powers above and beyond what they
actually have, we lose sight of and forget the processes of
exploitative production which create commodities in the first place.
Marx discusses the fetishism of commodities in the opening chapter of
Capital and then he drops it. But subsequent Marxist theorists have
made a great deal of this concept, demonstrating as Marx implied that
it is the most simple example of how the economic and material forms
of capitalist production — understood as relations between things —
obscure, conceal and otherwise distort the underlying and more
fundamental relations between people.”
However, in Freudian lingo, Fetish also carries a further meaning:
“For Freud, the fetish is a kind of creative denial, a sort of magical
thinking that helps the fetishist ward off anxiety and restore a sense
of well-being, all the while producing a kind of amnesia. Of course,
this theory does not really help explain why some men become sexual
fetishists and others do not.”
Nowadays, we conceive of fetishism in terms popularized by Krafft-Ebbing:
“Krafft Ebbing esteems – and rightly, it seems to me – that fetishism
becomes truly abnormal as soon as the fetish is something not being a
part of the remaining body itself. So shoe fetishism, for instance,
should be considered as truly “abnormal;” hair fetishism is still
“normal;” amputee fetishism as being exactly at the limit between
“normal” and “abnormal,” because it bears upon some part of the
feminine body, but upon some part that normally does not exist. This
distinction seems right since the most normal lover is attracted by
one or more parts of the feminine body, but not by dead things as
clothes, shoes, etc.
According to Krafft Ebbing, there is also no such thing as the
“anti-fetish.” So may some people be repelled by monopedes, high
heeled shoes, etc. Those things play a part in what may be called
“taste” of a given individual.”
Psychopathia Sexualis Full Text:
Dr. Joseph Merlino on sexuality, insanity, Freud, fetishes and apathy
9. Review of Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Capella Glory
by Mickey Rapkin (Paperback; Gotham Books; 2008).
I only rolled my eyes maybe once or twice while reading this
frustrating expose of the seamy world of collegiate a cappella
Confession: I myself was in a boarding school glee club for a brief
interval. (They were called “The Abbey Singers” if you must know). We
performed no contemporary material whatsoever, even though Dom Ambrose
(aka “Bambi”) professed to be a fan of Sgt. Pepper and Alice Coltrane,
and knew a lot about sacred music. No, instead we performed hoary old
novelty numbers; songs like “The Deaf Woman’s Courtship,” and
My saving grace: My heart wasn’t really in it. Good Dom Ambrose booted
me off the squad once it became apparent that I was sabotaging the
sound by trying to sing above my natural range.
I learned one thing at boarding school: Preppies were boring. Really
boring. Their parents were nearly always well-to-do, a part of
America’s aristocracy as well as its striving meritocracy; if they
didn’t start out as aristocrats then they were (generally) fairly avid
aristocrats-in-training. Their sons and daughters tended to be either
debauched and shallow, or sheltered and callow.
An anatomy of the lives of the sons of these sons and daughters of
governmental courtiers and functionaries, financial and entertainment
eminentos, powerbrokers and stockbrokers, and upper-class East Coast
clenched-jaw old money types–such a tale may be fascinating to those
who are in that class, or who aspire to it. It is rough sledding
indeed to create passionate interest in them among the common rabble
and hoi polloi.
Particularly since it is a subculture without the saving grace of
intrinsically fascinating backstories. In fact, this book is primarily
the story, told in magazine-sized chunklets, about a bunch of rich
kids driven to exhibit themselves on stage. What they are essentially
doing, as Rapkin correctly observes, is dabbling in low-level
What’s really frustrating about the narrative is that the author
seemingly neglects no opportunity to use the lazy, trashy genre
fiction device of describing people in terms of what famous Hollywood
or television personality they resemble. His characterizations seldom,
if ever, rise above the level of the superficial. One fellow from
Virginia is tall. A woman from Oregon had a cocaine problem. A musical
director from Massachusetts has a nervous breakdown and drops out of
school. Mr. Rapkin has written for Entertainment Weekly, and it shows.
His style is both breezy and ponderous as he describes ludicrous
ephemera with the most solemn of poker faces.
Rapkin’s narrative strategy is, admittedly, shrewder. He tucks the
boring obligatory bits about the history of collegiate a capella in
between a tripartite tale focusing, in the main, upon rivalries among
and between three regional a capella groups: An all-female ensemble
from Oregon, a mostly (though not entirely) white ensemble from
Virginia, and a group of fanatics from Tufts, in Massachusetts. I
suppose in some way we can read his account as a parable about the
broader regional and cultural differences which may have helped to
fuel these rivalries. But although the day-to-day details of how these
collegiate a capella dramas play themselves out are journalistically
inclusive, the reader does not come away with much of a sense of why,
for instance, Utah dislikes Oregon, or why Virginia has no respect for
Massachusetts. We are left on our own to infer the sources behind
these cultural sore spots. Rapkin apparently does not consider them
important enough to even merit speculation.
Here is a problem I have often found with writers who essay books
about evanescent cultural phenomena.
The people who know a lot about the phenomena can’t write and have no
sense of history outside of their narrow subject field.
The people who can write seldom take the time and trouble to become
subject field experts.
Mr. Rapkin appears to be in the first, and I believe, preferable camp.
He has gathered about as much about information regarding the last
twenty years of collegiate a capella competitions as any human being
could reasonably expect to muster. He has done his legwork.
I predict his reward will be as follows: The elite media will gush all
over this tale about these mostly privileged and sometimes talented
collegians, their groupies, and the social climbers and industry
weasels who are flocking to attach themselves to this latest
(media-generated) “phenomena”. Within eighteen months, a major
Hollywood film will have an a capella sub-plot. People will come
crawling out of the woodwork claiming to have always been “into” a
And after another eighteen months, the phenomenon will be all but forgotten.
And meanwhile, obscure a capella groups who, in their day, performed
brilliant cover versions of contemporary material (for example, The
Royal Counts and Vito and the Salutations) will remain just
that–obscure. Even though these groups, and countless others better
known to aficionados, are the ones who really deserve to be
rediscovered and cherished. Rapkin does mention the importance of the
Mills Brothers. But he completely overlooks The Nutmegs, The Swingle
Singers, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, and The Ink Spots, among others.
He could have devoted a mere one-tenth of one percent of his narrative
to such an honor roll, but he apparently considers it outside of the
scope of his book. Instead, we are given more information than we need
about the travails of talented and overworked college sophomores,
about their proud and pushy parents, about their venal promotors,
about their competition-related setbacks and heartbreaks and amusing
tour mishaps, et al.
There’s a tragically missed opportunity here: Rapkin has written an
interesting book. Had he provided some more historical context he
could also have written a truly useful one.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want,
and deserve to get it good and hard.
ON WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN
Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant,
bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him
into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company
of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton,
that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized
societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a
poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full
of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity,
all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to
the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything
that he was not.
He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds
me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on
the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs
barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort
of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of
pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is
rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.
ON THE SOUTH
Obviously, it is impossible for intelligence to flourish in such an
atmosphere. Free inquiry is blocked by the idiotic certainties of
ignorant men. The arts, save in the lower reaches of the gospel hymn,
the phonograph and the political harangue, are all held in suspicion.
The tone of public opinion is set by an upstart class but lately
emerged from industrial slavery into commercial enterprise-the class
of “bustling” business men, of “live wires,” of commercial club
luminaries, of “drive” managers, of forward-lookers and
right-thinkers–in brief, of third-rate Southerners inoculated with
all the worst traits of the Yankee sharper. One observes the curious
effects of an old tradition of truculence upon a population now merely
pushful and impudent, of an old tradition of chivalry upon a
population now quite without imagination. The old repose is gone. The
old romanticism is gone. The philistinism of the new type of
town-boomer Southerner is not only indifferent to the ideals of the
Old South; it is positively antagonistic to them. That philistinism
regards human life, not as an agreeable adventure, but as a mere trial
of rectitude and efficiency. It is overwhelmingly utilitarian and
moral. It is inconceivably hollow and obnoxious.What remains of the
ancient tradition is simply a certain charming civility in private
intercourse–often broken down, alas, by the hot rages of Puritanism,
but still generally visible. The Southerner, at his worst, is never
quite the surly cad that the Yankee is. His sensitiveness may betray
him into occasional bad manners, but in the main he is a pleasant
fellow-hospitable, polite, good-humored,even jovial. . . .But a bit
absurd. . . .A bit pathetic.
The Declaration of Independence in American
WHEN things get so balled up that the people of a country got to cut
loose from some other country, and go it on their own hook, without
asking no permission from nobody, excepting maybe God Almighty, then
they ought to let everybody know why they done it, so that everybody
can see they are not trying to put nothing over on nobody. All we got
to say on this proposition is this: first, me and you is as good as
anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain’t got
no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a
right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time
whichever way he likes, so long as he don’t interfere with nobody
else. That any government that don’t give a man them rights ain’t
worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of government they
want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter.
That whenever any government don’t do this, then the people have got a
right to give it the bum’s rush and put in one that will take care of