That's Entertainment, Part DCLXVI

For the time being, Abu al-Zarqawi's death has eclipsed Ann Coulter in the news, which is as it should be. But I still don't think I have managed to pin down the distinctions between entertainment, morality, and political discourse.

As this is a culture war blog (gad, what a thought!), and Ann Coulter positions herself on the "front lines" of that war, I wouldn't be doing my job as an anti-culture-war blogger (or is that anti-"Culture War" blogger?) if I didn't at least try to finish these difficult thoughts.

Seriously, I have trouble writing this. I do not like the words I see.

(On top of that, I'm now worried that the Culture War is little more than entertainment -- albeit of a reactive variety -- which is really disturbing, because that might make me an Entertainment war blogger, or an anti-Entertainment Warrior. Yeccch!)

Anyway, I didn't touch on another form of entertainment which we call sports. Sports is different from politics, from religion, and from other forms of entertainment because it is a meritocracy in the true sense of the word. You might be able to succeed in politics or religion by P.T. Barnum hucksterism, but unless the sport is professional wrestling, merit is what its all about. There's no faking things like throwing faster, jumping higher, or hitting the ball further.

Yet spectator sports are by definition entertainment. And even though it is that, society has much higher expectations of its athletes than of other entertainers. Thus, while we are not surprised when politicians take bribes, professional athletes who do the same things are seen as guilty of a much greater betrayal of the public trust. This is not logical, but it is because upholding the meritocracy in sports is paramount to its continued credibility, while in politics no such expectation exists. Even less is there any expectation of genuine meritocracy in politics.

Anyone who doubts that there is such a distinction might ask why athletes are routinely tested for drugs, while politicians never are. (Testing the latter would seem undemocratic, even totalitarian.) Why, the very idea of drug testing for politicians seems absurd on its face. The idea of testing artists, musicians, and authors (including Ann Coulter, an admitted Deadhead) seems more absurd, even wildly so. We don't care whether a song or a book was written under the influence of narcotics, or whether a musician has to smoke pot in order to perform.

Why is that? Don't ask me, for I don't make the rules. There's nothing fair about any of this. And if we return to the idea of sports as a meritocracy, if it's unfair to allow drugs to give an advantage to an athlete, why isn't it just as unfair to allow a musician or a writer such an advantage? Because the alleged public says so, that's why!

TJ Marshman ("Harkonnendog") is working on another book, and he says nicotine helps empower his writing. This is something I understand quite well, as I used to fuel this blog with chewing tobacco. I'd be willing to bet that some bloggers use speed for fuel, and they can "crank" out ideas and posts much faster than some of their competition. Does that mean there should be drug testing for bloggers? (Don't count on it! At least, not yet.)

Anyway, if some forms of entertainment are more morally pure than others, what are the implications?

Or is the focus on Ann Coulter causing me to make a mistake in analyzing her political punditry as popular entertainment? She's not a politician in the sense of having to run for office, but she is certainly uttering political pronouncements on many subjects, and she influences the political thinking of many Americans. Yet she does so in the name of entertainment. She's a paid writer who sells books, makes television appearances, and for all I know she commands lecture fees at least in the range of fellow-entertainer Michael Moore. (I'll admit right now, I'd buy tickets to see the pair debate! That might sound amoral and undisgusting to some, but I think it's a far cry from the Roman games. . .)

Maybe is unfair to compare politicians who hold elected office to rock stars. Is it? Why, then, do they act like rock star celebrities, with the limos and all the trappings? Why do they become just as addicted to their occupational lifestyles as would any Hollywood star or major athlete?

I think the problem involves not the way things are, but the way things are supposed to be. While Howard Stern is supposed to be entertainment, Ann Coulter is not. Politicians are not supposed to be like athletes, and neither politicians nor athletes are supposed to be like rock stars.

But when nothing is the way it's supposed to be, how am I supposed to answer the suppositions? With a cultural suppository?

I'm afraid I haven't solved America's entertainment problem. But it sure seems impacted.


Little wonder I find the culture war so emotionally unsatisfying, yet I keep coming back for more.

Entertainment is supposed to work that way.

MORE: In a great post linked by Pajamas Media, John Cole touches on the nature of Coulter's entertainment:

it kind of goes without saying that Ann went over the top, and made statements that were rude, offensive, and obnoxious. But what did you expect? It is Ann Coulter- she makes her living doing just this sort of thing- throwing red meat to the lunatic fringe.
As well as the rest of us rubberneckers.

MORE: And here's La Shawn Barber:

Whether you hate/like/love her, Ann Coulter knows how to play the game. Coulter-Shtick works. People canít stop talking about her. Sheís a bit more edgy in her writing and marketing than I am, but you better believe Iíll develop some kind of Barber-Shtick when Iím ready to sell books, set tongues wagging, and drive the blogosphere crazy.
(Via Pajamas Media.)

Seen as marketing, it boils down to simple common sense.

(As someone whose traffic reached an all time high during the beheading video mania, I ought to know. But I didn't see the traffic coming until it was there.)

posted by Eric on 06.08.06 at 04:14 PM


"if it's unfair to allow drugs to give an advantage to an athlete, why isn't it just as unfair to allow a musician or a writer such an advantage?"

Because whether Player A performs better than Player B directly affects our enjoyment of watching, but when we're reading a book we usually aren't trying to evaluate where the writer ranks on a Best Writers list.

Over-the-top insults are a sure-fire way to get visits and comments. No need to feel guilty about the Berg video. Still about 5-10% of my visitors come from image searches for a still of the 'hot coffee mod' I posted a year ago.

Adam   ·  June 8, 2006 5:48 PM

She's fighting her own battle. It's called the Coulter War.

Callimachus   ·  June 8, 2006 8:44 PM

Nicotine, like nuclear power, is a might powerful force which can be used for good- or evil. Like fire it can warm- or burn. Like passion it can heal- or hurt. Like right now I'm on another coffee/nicotine high and so my fingers babble incoherently with joy of the light fantastic ringing in my ears. Hehehe. Am I doing nicotine so I can write, or am I writing so I can do nicotine? Did Richie Rich say Tee-hee in real life, or is that pinko propaganda spewed forth by proponents of the death tax?
Thanks for linking to my site! And thanks more for reading it! And more for reading and positively reviewing Clown!

Harkonnendog   ·  June 8, 2006 9:43 PM

I can almost feel your rush, TJ!

Anyone know what Coulter is on?

Eric Scheie   ·  June 8, 2006 10:45 PM

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