September 2, 2006


Well, I see that The New Republic 's Lee Siegel has gone and gotten himself into trouble by participating in the production of blog comments in support of his own writing. The pseudonymous Sprezzatura went about slamming Siegel's critics, like Ezra Klein, who serves up the details and declines to gloat. And now TNR has killed Siegel's blog and suspended him from writing for the magazine.

The person I know with the best memory reminds me that in the past I've made fun of Lee Siegel's writing -- including once in a post with an update saying that the person I know with the best memory reminds me that in the past I've made fun of Lee Siegel's writing. So, I should be enjoying the poor critic's plight more than I'd realized.

Let's look at the old posts.

April 12, 2004:

"The marriage of comedy and politics is even more unhealthy than the marriage of church and state." So says Lee Siegel, TNR's TV critic. Too many metaphors: marriage and health. And unhealthy comedy is not going to kill anyone, whereas the diseases of the religion-state alliance have produced monumental evils throughout history.

But I agree with Siegel that right now politics is ruining comedy, especially The Daily Show (as I said here). Jon Stewart gets so much good press--the NYT never misses an opportunity to praise him--so it's really almost shocking to read strong criticism like this:
Stewart weighs down his jokes with a kind of Government 101 knowingness. He's not just funny about politics, you see, he's savvy about the way the system works, and he's going to help us through the maze. In Washington, "you have to cut through the partisan gridlock just to get to the bureaucratic logjam." Stop, you're killing me. But when it came to Richard Clarke and his controversial book, Stewart gave up even the pretense of being funny. ... Here was a slick, malleable, professional political advisor/operator, who had the choice of resigning in protest against an invasion of Iraq months before it took place, when such a protest might have had consequences, but chose instead to wait until his slighted ego burst at the seams--this Clarke, a true embodiment of human foible and folly, deserved to be manhandled by the spirit of laughter every bit as much as his accusations deserved to be defended by the spirit of truth. But like everybody else in public life, from politicians and pundits to performers and poets, Stewart wants to seem edifying and instructive. He wants to seem good.

Wanting to seem good is really bad for comedy. And, of course, picking a political side to be what is good is just bad for so many reasons. Siegel thinks Stewart is pandering to his audience, but I would think he's losing half of his audience. He's lost me. And (unlike Siegel) I was completely in love with him.

I'VE JUST GOT TO ADD: If I didn't independently agree with Siegel's opinion of The Daily Show, I would have been quite reluctant to trust him, because I think his instincts about comedy are a bit off, since he seems to have meant the following sentence to be taken seriously:
Politics hates the naked unbridled ego that laughter sets free; it hates it with the intensity with which laughter heaps its furies on the naked unbridled ego that hides behind the highflown sentiments of politics.
As Jon Stewart would say: Whaaaa?
From February 7, 2005:
Baby, you can't do my media criticism.

Here's the free link to get to Lee Siegel's TNR essay about why football provides the perfect showcase for ads. Assuming you want to get to it. It reads like this:
Last night, the brunt of the commercials during the first quarter were for cars, mostly SUVs and minivans. Even a very unexcited-looking Paul McCartney ("Thank you Super Bowl!" he kept shouting) sang, as the first of four songs in his halftime show, "Baby You Can Drive My Car." The interesting thing about a car is that it's a piece of property that you can inhabit while traversing, or entering, other people's property. That's what Brady's team was doing as it moved down the field. So what was happening in the stadium and what was occurring on the tube were mutual reinforcements of this illusion of sovereign motion.
Well, first, that really is not the interesting thing about a car. But second, what laughably tedious writing! The weird thing is that it reminded me a lot of the great old George Carlin routine comparing football and baseball.
Funnily enough, over at Klein's post, you can see that Sprezzatura said things like this:
There's this awful suck-up named Ezra Klein--his "writing" is sweaty with panting obsequious ambition--who keeps distorting everything Siegel writes--the only way this no-talent can get him. And I ask myself: why is it the young guys who go after Siegel? Must be because he writes the way young guys should be writing: angry, independent, not afraid of offending powerful people. They on the other hand write like aging careerists: timid, ingratiating, careful not to offend people who are powerful. They hate him because they want to write like him but can't. Maybe if they'd let themselves go and write truthfully, they'd get Leon Wieseltier to notice them too.
Ha! Lee Siegel is a ridiculously bad writer.


David said...

These guys and their writers are banal entertainers who believe their own PR machine. I find their writing to be biased, condescending, and unfunny. Trying to be hip cynical just comes off as out-of-touch.

SippicanCottage said...

A passion play in four parts by sippican cottage:

Your honor, the defendant is accused of strangling syntax.

So noted. Why is the prosecution asking for the death penalty?

Strangled in the cradle, your honor.

Beastly. Defense, what say you?

Multiple personalities, your honor, defendant cannot be held accountable.

Jury, what say you?

No personality is more like it, your honor. Guilty. We sentence him to write on the internet with a tip jar for all eternity.

somefeller said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
somefeller said...

I wonder if there's more to this than just the issue of sockpuppeting [is that a real word?]. Siegel had been drawing attention to himself and TNR in some pretty unflattering ways, including in a string of postings in which he basically accused a writer / academic named James Kincaid of being a pedophile, or at least of having pedophiliac tendencies. That, to put it mildly, is a really serious charge to issue against someone [and Siegel upped the ante by stating that it was Kincaid's job to state for the record that he wasn't a pedophile], and is the sort of thing that could conceivably subject TNR to a libel suit. I'm just speculating here, but I wouldn't be surprised if TNR decided that Siegel was too much of a loose cannon for them to want to have around, and the sockpuppeting was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

paul a'barge said...

This episode was interesting, and then I followed the links to Ezra's blog ... Eeewwwww! I feel like I need a shower.

Thank goodness these folks are lounging around their studio apartments in their pajamas, whacking their keyboards, and not out trying to be productive citizenry.

Unknown said...

It was a dark and stormy night....

somefeller said...

Well, at least Siegel is back on his feet and has rejoined the blogosphere as an independent.

Daryl Herbert said...

How can you read a post like "Sprezzatura's" and NOT come away with the conclusion that sock puppetry is afoot?

How can you stand on such bad writing and not think that sock puppetry is underfoot?

How can you be within one foot of such terrible writing and not recognize the features of Spiegel's writing?

Leon Wieseltier obviously made the right decision to force Lee to toe the line, but he should have walked a mile in Lee's shoes before he made the decision.

Rob said...

Ms. Althouse:
I propose that in honor of one of the great entertainers of our youth the phenomenon be henceforth called "Lambchoppery" and when one engages in same they would be "Lambchopping". I like those words like Hobbes liked the word "Smock".