The Insortables

Elsewhere I have made the point that politics is not, as they told us in class, primarily about the distribution of economic satisfactions, but rather about the provision of emotional satisfactions. Especially those that might otherwise be considered shameful. The successful demagogue, therefore, gives the people permissions for their hatreds – and for worse things.

In search of a new label for the American Right one day back in the Bush years, I played with “the Troll Demographic”, “the Fuck-Yeahs” and “West Waziristan”. The second only made sense if you knew a particular movie made by certain libertarians, while the third was far too rooted in the American war with the Taliban.

Trolls, however, are global. During the Macron-Le Pen election battle, I took note of the French word Insortables. Based ultimately on the verb sortir, this suggests the English idiom about uncouthness, “You can’t take him anywhere!” In dim and distant days Norwegian took the same attitude to its Poujadist xenophobes: the word stueren, for what these were not, meant fit to enter the living room. Think German salonfähig, about whose use in debates about AfD I cannot say anything because I don’t live there.

Barack Obama was fiercely criticised for suggesting that his most determined opponents were in their social frustrations “clinging to guns and religion”, even though of course everyone knew that it was true. This indiscretion was reprised by intra-Democratic arguments about whether to brand Trump supporters as “mouth-breathers” and so forth. Well, there are no doubt Republicans who are not mouth-breathers, and it may not always be wise of us to talk that way, even when they talk like that about us.

But strictly between ourselves, we do need to look at personality types. Having these incarnated in a figure from popular culture has been a smart move since Dickens. In the days of Harold Wilson, the UK had its TV series character “Alf Garnett”. His creator, Johnny Speight, said that where he grew up, everyone talked that way, and he was astonished when he met his first educated people who could deploy facts and arguments instead of yelling the same things, louder and louder, in your face. Alf Garnett was later exported to the USA as “Archie Bunker”. Similarly, the UK’s Tony Hancock created a persona that was decades later borrowed by the Norwegians as “Marvin Fleksnes”. The latter’s TV scripts were often taken verbatim from Hancock’s radio shows, made before TV was even invented, and yet they worked perfectly well. That should tell us something.

Unlike Garnett and Bunker, Hancock and Fleksnes were not explicitly political, and yet if a public figure reminded you of them, you noticed, and that gave you a universally-known shorthand. In the age of Trump, Farage, Le Pen and the rest of them, we badly need such a common property. On the other hand, we should not forget that when the stereotypes Beavis and Butthead were launched as a satire of the MTV audience, they were embraced by the object of the satire. So there is a danger in trying to create a literary or screen character that will incarnate how we see the Red States; he will become their hero.

In the suburb of Bergen where I lived between 1996 and 2014, there was a plentiful personality type I used to call the Gargoyle. The faces of the Gargoyles were usually contorted with rage against interlopers coming among the Master Race, and there poured, so to speak, a constant stream of dirty water from their mouths. Having no access to the media, I have not been able to popularise my private term, but I would beg leave to suggest that I am not alone in noticing the disagreeable nature of a fair proportion of any population.

The psychologists have confirmed in the laboratory that ordinary people can in fact instantly determine truths about others. Thomas Mann wrote of a minor character in The Magic Mountain, “her face expressed nothing but ill-nature and ignorance”, and it is entirely possible for a human face to do this in a way that will have all civilised beholders concurring about what she or he is so to speak “saying” with the face. When ill-nature and ignorance power political earthquakes, it ought to be possible to say so.

Posted on March 8, 2017 at 14:50 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, Some Modest Proposals

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