“Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first” was a saying that my late grandfather frequently used, mainly to deflate the unrealistic, cartoon-like, magical balloons that would float out of the dreamy heads of his young children. Such a phrase comes to mind (or goes hand in hand if you prefer) when thinking about John Derbyshire’s terrific new(now a year old) book, “We Are Doomed, Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism.”
Like many other young contraricons, I first became acquainted with the writings of John Derbyshire sometime around 2002-2003 via Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Andrew Sullivan achieved fame as an HIV positive, gay, conservative (who is still to this day HIV positive and gay, but no longer seems reliably conservative.) Sullivan used to have a “John Derbyshire Award” on his site for “egregious and outlandish comments on gays, women and minorities.” This award ironically had the effect of propelling Derb further into the limelight… and I’ve often wondered just how many others discovered John Derbyshire through Sullivan’s cheapjack attacks on him and subsequently went on to admire Derb and ditch Sully. It’s really a testament to Derbyshire’s writing that he can emerge through the negatively tinted prism he’s almost always presented through and make you think “Gee, I actually think I like this guy more than I care for the people who are talking trash about him.”
I had the unique experience of reading “We Are Doomed” while recovering from scrotum surgery last year. I was high on vicodin and my wound was draining at the time, yet I found the book somewhat comforting. I’m not going to give a complete rehash of every chapter, but Derb’s basic premise is that the prospects for any kind of meaningful conservatism are bleak, and things will only get much worse in our lifetimes. The idea being that only through a stoic acceptance of this and other inescapable truths can conservatives begin to muster the intellectual honesty required to face the issues of our time(but we’re still likely to lose anyway.) Probably the standout chapter of the book is “Culture: Pooped Out” which chronicles the deterioration of pop culture in Western Civilization. As a prime example, he revisits the film “Saturday Night Fever” which he hails as “one of the dozen or so best movies of all time.”
His original review of the film can be found here.
Can we really have gone downhill from disco? Downhill? From disco? I would add something here about pop music, except that I haven’t voluntarily listened to any for a couple decades. The main story seems to be one of fragmentation. The last time I really paid much attention, there was rock, R&B, soft rock, folk, jazz, and lounge singers. Nowadays, well…What are “Techno,” “Electro,” “Chillout,” and “House”? What’s the difference between “Emo” and “Screamo”? I remember Reggae, but what’s “Ragga”? How do “Nu Metal,” “Black Metal,” “Alternative Metal,” and “Death Metal” differ? Does anybody know? Would having a degree in metallurgy help? Is this like having forty-five different kinds of breakfast cereal that all taste the same?
I can certainly identify with this. I haven’t watched much television since about the early 2000’s, and even then I restricted myself to reruns of shows like “M*A*S*H*”(which seemed to air at least 10 times a day.) My TV is not even rigged to be able to watch basic channels(rabbit ear antennas don’t even work anymore…it’s all digital now.) Occasionally I get roped into watching television for a few minutes at a friends house waiting for them to get ready…or at the insistence of someone that I’m dating(I sat through an entire season of Project Runway on Bravo with my ex-girlfriend.) To me, most modern tv shows resemble the television programs depicted in dystopian future films like “The Running Man.” Remember “Climbing for Dollars?” It doesn’t seem too far removed from programs like “Fear Factor” or UFC and MMA fighting. In any case, Derb’s “Downhill from Disco?” ponderings are similar to my own recent assertion that there’s nothing on tv today that even rises to the level of campy late 70’s shows like “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”(one of my favorites.) “The Rockford Files” and “Charlie’s Angels” are far superior than anything that’s on tv today…and these are the cheesy 70’s we’re talking about, which speaks nothing of even much greater shows of the 60’s like the highly imaginative “Twilight Zone” and “The Fugitive.” Indeed, one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, “The 7th is Made up of Phantoms” would cause an uproar if it aired in today’s world of pc revisionism.
As a response to this, critics I’m sure would predictably point to modern shows like “The Wire” or “Arrested Development” as examples of so called high quality contemporary television. Indeed, the “The American Conservative” mentioned “The Wire” in it’s mildly critical review of Derb’s book. I don’t think “The Wire” is such a great show personally. In fact I would go as far as to say that I hate it. It’s typically phony sense of social high mindedness along with the repackaging of long ago discredited ideas, and the fact that it features ebonics and other aspects of modern ghetto and political culture that I go through great pains to avoid in my daily life…all make it unwatchably depressing for me. In particular it brings back annoying memories of what it’s like to ride the city bus, or of when I had to take driver’s ed at an urban public high school. Steve Sailer wrote an excellent review of “The Wire” last year, titled “It’s SO Authentic!”. Indeed, the touted authentic situational subject matter itself is what makes these shows so horrible. Plots related to sexual harassment, school shootings, outsourcing all serve as a reminder of everything one doesn’t like about contemporary culture and society. So how can you enjoy shows that prominently feature those “realities” of today’s world that you would prefer to see rolled back, or at the very least might be content to ignore?… as they are presented as part of permanent everyday life and entertainment, no less.
Downhill from disco? Downhill from “Buck Rogers?” I thought all cultural change and technological advancement was supposed to be progress! The 12th frame of R Crumb’s “Short History of America” (where he poses the question ‘What Next!?”) comes to mind.
The only complaint I have over “We Are Doomed” is that at around 300 some odd pages…it almost seems too short. A book with such a foreboding title, could have easily contained twice that many pages and stretched into the size one of Ayn Rand’s epic volumes. I certainly would have kept reading.
Brandon Adamson is the author of “Beatnik Fascism“