by Libby Hellmann
Barack Obama is a Wahhabe Muslim!
Hillary Clinton’s campaign said so!
Laura Bush was the go-to girl in college for weed!
Joe Biden’s a racist!
XXX (name any famous politician, athlete, or actor) is in rehab with Lindsay Lohan!
It’s hard to believe election season is still a year away. The Oppo campaigns – aided and abetted by certain media outlets -- are already slinging mud, and plenty of it. And refusing to stop even when the attacks prove to be lies.
Oh, that’s just politics, you say…
Then there are the reality shows that reward people by publicly humiliating them. And Donald Trump, (accompanied now by his daughter) showing us how to be shrewd enough to move up the ladder. Paris Hilton’s possessions are for sale online, Rosie and The Donald are feuding, and Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson has a small arsenal in his home.
Is anyone else fed up with the assault on our sensibilities? Okay... I know, it’s been happening for years. And I’m not immune -- I enjoy a little mud-slinging or practical joke, especially if the target is arrogant or pretentious. Still, I feel recently like I’m sinking into deep quicksand with no rope in sight.
It’s not just bad taste, although there’s enough of that to go around. What’s troubling is that the boundary between rumor mongering and lies has become too porous. We live in a viral online community with the potential to Swift-Boat anyone at any time. Opportunists, muckrackers, apologists -- anyone with an ax to grind… or a need to express their “truthiness”-- can throw up a website or write a blog. And they do. What used to pass for gossip very quickly assumes an importance – and credibility—it doesn’t deserve. Especially when it turns out to be untrue. Or exaggerated. At the very least, it cheapens the conversation and plays to our biases. And at worst, it destroy reputations, even careers.
Last weekend the Chicago Tribune predicted a return to class. As proof, they printed a photo of Angelina Jolie on the cover of Vogue wearing a gown reminiscent of Grace Kelly. That, says the Tribune, hopefully, is the answer. Bring back the Grace Kelly era, and people will be respectful. Polite. Our culture will be fixed. Forgive me, but I don’t think Grace, long gowns, or tuxedos are gonna do it.
But what will?
Most of you reading this are writers, or readers with respect for the written word. You know some of the tricks: the power of a well-placed adjective… the use of the passive voice to dodge accountability …the way conclusions are drawn from seemingly unrelated facts. What should we do when we read or listen to those screeds? How do we start to get rid of the ugliness we’ve created?
Do we need babysitters for the national conversation? Consciousness-raisers? Some carrot and stick scheme to make people more aware of what they read and write? Or do we just deplore it all, throw up our hands, and go back to our word processors?
Right now I’m listening to Richard North Patterson’s No Safe Place in the car. One of his characters says: “we ought to have a sense of shame; instead everybody’s looking for an agent.”
P.S. Speaking of class, we lost one of the smartest, wittiest, classiest columnists around this week. Molly Ivins was not only a fabulous writer, but she was about the only person I know who could deal the cards up straight and still make people laugh. She will be missed.
P.P.S GO BEARS!!!