• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show
"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket
"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming
June 05, 2005
There's A Feeling Of Boredom/Of The Big Whoredom
Back in the middle ages, you could make a good living painting the portraits of kings, queens, princes, dukes, earls, etc. You painted their picture; they gave you money; and they stuck the portrait on their wall. Everybody was happy.
There was a catch, however. You could never, ever paint them as they actually were.
In reality, the kings and queens were pretty ugly. They had bad teeth, drooping jowls, and running syphilitic sores. If your painting reflected this, it would be your last commission. But if you painted them as they wanted to be—youthful, strong, beautiful—you would eat well to the day you keeled over. True, you had to be a complete and utter whore, but that's life.
Our present day kings and queens don't bother much with portraits painted on canvas. But the urge to be surrounded by beautiful reflections of themselves hasn't changed. So these days they mostly hire people to paint portraits of them with words.
I thought of this as I read an article by David Cay Johnston, the best reporter at the New York Times, about the ever-widening chasm between America's richest people and everyone else:
From 1950 to 1970, for example, for every additional dollar earned by the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162, according to the Times analysis. From 1990 to 2002, for every extra dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, each taxpayer at the top brought in an extra $18,000.
That's reality, and it's hideous. Even worse, it's in the New York Times, so our kings and queens might read it and begin to suspect they're not quite as lovely as they thought. Fortunately, our present day royalty have already paid someone to be on hand to paint a more appealing portrait:
"In this income data I see a snapshot of a very innovative society," said Tim Kane, an economist at the Heritage Foundation. "Lower taxes and lower marginal tax rates are leading to more growth. There's an explosion of wealth. We are so wealthy in a world that is profoundly poor."
Of course, this is gibberish. The only way it could make less sense is if Tim Kane had said "Hrabls xrrix Flu*&$#." But that doesn't matter, just as it didn't matter if the Baron of Richecourt was completely bald except for a lank brown fringe and you painted him with a flowing golden mane. What matters is reassuring the people who own you that they're beautiful. In this, Tim Kane excels.
(You should read David Kay Johnston's excellent book, Perfectly Legal.)
(Title reference here.)Posted at June 5, 2005 07:45 AM | TrackBack