Mar. 28th, 2008

phamos: (dignity)
I'm finally reading Liberal Fascism, by Jonah Goldberg -- it didn't take very long for me to work my way to the top of the request list in the Madison Public Library system, which makes me think that a whole lot of people read about one chapter, realized the book was just as silly as all its publicity made it out to be, and returned it within a couple of days. So here we are. Most of my complaints so far are structural rather than substantive. It's actually kind of hard to read the book, because it is pages and pages of three word quotes taken completely out of context and nestled snugly inside Goldberg's overly florid verbiage, with no way for the reader to know whether or not the words are being used as originally intended without constantly flipping back to the endnotes -- which are insufficient and inconsistent and, indeed, often negate their very use. Example: The epigraph for chapter one is a quote from what he calls "an early version of the Cole Porter song 'You're the Top'":

You're the top!
You're the Great Houdini!
You're the top!
You are Mussolini!

The quote is footnoted, and as such I'm immediately suspicious of just HOW early this version is. So I flip to the back.

Many authors have referenced these lyrics to demonstrate Mussolini's widespread popularity, but it is a common mistake to ascribe these lyrics to Cole Porter, the original author of the musical Anything Goes. Porter almost certainly did not write these lyrics. Rather, they were probably added by P.G. Wodehouse when he helped adapt the musical for the British stage. It also appears that there were multiple versions of the song with the Mussolini lyric, which hopscotched back and forth across the Atlantic.

OK, I have a NUMBER of issues with this footnote, starting with the incredibly lazy construction "Many authors have..." -- Seriously? That's the sort of thing you see in high school papers, not supposedly somewhat-scholarly works disseminated by major publishing houses. You're already in the endnotes, why not list a couple of examples of those "many authors" who make this incredibly "common mistake"? And if it's such a common mistake, then why are YOU basically indulging in that same mistake by quoting the damn line out of context as a stand-alone epigraph that you yourself contradict in the endnote? Because the endnote is basically saying 1) the line was written for comedic effect 2) by a British writer for non-American audiences, thus negating any relevance it has to an argument about American political elites. But OK, sure, it makes for a funny epigraph, you'll put it up there at the front of the chapter and then the pedants who bother to read the endnotes will know that you were really just kidding around by using it. Except then you cite the exact same quote in the text itself:

When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, Americans finally started to turn on him. In 1934 the hit Cole Porter song "You're the Top" engendered nary a word of controversy over the line "You are Mussolini!" When Mussolini invaded that poor but noble African kingdom the following year, it had irrevocably marred his image, and Americans decided they had had enough of his act.

!!!! But! But! You just yourself said that the lyric wasn't IN the original "hit" version of the song, it was in the British version of the song! So what does it have to do with the American public's views of Mussolini? And don't even get me started on the incredibly infantilizing way he calls Ethiopia "poor but noble" -- it's like he's patting Ethiopians on the head, saying, "Look how cute you are with your 'emperor'. Haile Selassie is God? That's ADORABLE. Have a lolly."

So, yeah, he then spends a lot of time taking three-word quotes from articles of the time (like Ida Tarbell calling Mussolini "a despot with a dimple") and making it seem as though you can judge the content of any given article by a blurb pulled out from the middle. Anyone who's watched a movie preview in the past 20 years knows that's not true; did Roger Ebert really say that Daddy Day-Care was "hilarious" or did he say "anyone who thinks Daddy Day-Care is hilarious should be institutionalized"? The word hilarious is in there! Slap some quotes around it! Far too many years of higher education and a childhood subscription to Penny Power magazine have taught me to be inherently skeptical of quotes with no context. Whether this is unfair to Goldberg, I don't know -- it would be helpful if he had a footnote that cited the issue of McCall's in which Tarbell printed her supposedly rapturous toe-sucking of Mussolini. He doesn't. Like I said, the footnoting is incredibly inconsistent. I generally expect that from books published for mass consumption -- but then why bother having endnotes at all? Probably Ida Tarbell did write an incredibly flattering article about Mussolini in McCall's in 1926 -- but I'll never know for sure, because Goldberg quotes so selectively as to make me immediately suspicious, and then doesn't footnote properly. So, I'm not giving him the benefit of the doubt.

What REALLY got my goat enough to make me stop reading and come post this, though, was the following sentence:

Boasting 169 mistresses over the course of his sexual career, Mussolini was also, by contemporary standards, something of a rapist.

What? What, exactly, are our "contemporary standards" that make someone "something of a rapist"? How is someone "SOMETHING" of a rapist? Helpfully, though, Goldberg HAS footnoted this particular assertion. What might Mussolini have written in his autobiography that, by our CONTEMPORARY STANDARDS make him SOMETHING OF A RAPIST?

I caught her on the stairs, throwing her into a corner behind a door, and made her mine. When she got up weeping and humiliated she insulted me by saying that I had robbed her of her honor and it is not impossible that she spoke the truth. But I ask you, what kind of honor could she have meant?

Oh, Jonah Goldberg. I know you like to use 20 words when four would suffice, but in this particular circumstance your verbal diarrhea just makes me hate you. Try this edit on for size: "Mussolini was a rapist." Hey, look at that! It takes out all the offensive moral equivocating you just engaged in! HTH. HAND.


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