The Disembraining

Anti-intellectualism gives way to pro-stupidism

Attributed to H. Clark, 1869


Look, look at the machine revolving,
Look, look at the brain flying,
Look, look at the Rentiers trembling!
Hurrah, arse-horns, long live Pere Ubu!
(Alfred Jarry, The Song of the Disembraining)

Sometimes I wonder if we understand just how badly this country has been fucked up by its anti-intellectualism. I’m not talking about the visceral let’s-beat-up-Poindexter anti-intellectualism we all know from high school. I mean a higher order of anti-intellectualism, or what I have in the past called pro-stupidism — that is, the positive negation of facts that we were once expected to know as members of society, and the celebration of our resulting, increasing stupidity.

We seem to be losing the ability to discern irony and satire and even the simplest narrative devices (or, if that’s too intellectual, storytelling).

You saw perhaps the tsimmis over The Hunt, the latest iteration of The Most Dangerous Game/Naked Prey hunting-humans genre of movies. The trailer suggested that the people doing the hunting were sophistos and the people getting hunted were common folk, which is exactly what one would expect from that kind of picture.

But then the Hollywood Reporter said that in the “screenplay” for the film — with no mention of the draft stage the reporter saw or whether the director actually shot it this way — the sophistos called the huntees “deplorables,” and the outrage mill began to churn.

The reactions were rife with what we’ve grown accustomed to call bad faith, a term that seems to have gained salience and currency in our age of pro-stupidity. Soon you had rightwing propagandists making insane claims, like that the movie was “promoting violence against ‘deplorables”— before the movie had ever been screened, mind you, and without suggesting that it was unlikely any Hollywood studio would make a movie in which that happened unless the “deplorables” were meant to be the heroes who would turn the tables on their tormentors; for reference see, oh, every commercial film since D.W. Griffith.

Presently this dumbness found its way to Trump, who with his customary grasp of nuance accused the filmmakers of “racism,” and the film’s release was actually pulled. Interestingly, I haven’t seen many of its detractors celebrating the cancellation — even the intractably stupid Matt Vespa of Townhall chose, after slagging the film as a Trump-killing orgy (“It shouldn’t shock us that some liberals want us dead”), to pretend to care about censorship (“Also, I’m a bit disappointed. I don’t like banning things. And I think conservatives needed to chill the outrage machine on this...”).

It's as if these guys hadn’t been genuinely outraged at all. Yeah, I know they’re propagandists and probably understand that what they’re peddling is bullshit — at least I would have assumed so a few years ago. But, maybe because I’ve been following these guys for decades now, I’ve lost my faith that most of them are that smart.

I think by now most of them are actually products of their pro-stupid time, and when they see anything that looks like a knock on their beloved Trump, they don’t even momentarily entertain the idea that it might be anything else, such as a movie plot device — which would require a second step in thinking, if only a small one that any non-developmentally-disabled resident of a marginally cultivated society could have made, once upon a time. They can’t even imagine that there might be a turnabout or other surprise in the plot, or maybe even that the actors don’t just make up what they say on screen. Instead, their brains rush right to THING BAD, just as Trump’s skull-pudding rushed to “racism,” and they set to howling until the bad thing goes away.

Maybe that’s why Vespa was so low-key after things went his way — there was no victory to celebrate; there was no enemy vanquished (Hollywood? To them it's a write-off. Liberals? Vespa himself said “I doubt that even the most ardent anti-Trump voter was going to spend $13 or so to see it in theaters”). Vespa had merely had his moron worldview echoed back to him by a bunch of other morons. That may be comforting, in a way, but it still leaves him trapped in the flat stupidverse, where not even plot contrivances and dramatic turnabout relieve the dullness and murk.

This came back to my mind when the cartoonist Eli Valley was suspended from Twitter for his admittedly rough caricatures of rightwing dumbbells. Valley, a Jew who is skeptical of Zionists and savage on the corruption and viciousness of conservative Jews such as Ben Shapiro, was reportedly the victim of a barrage of complaints by right-wingers.

Wouldn’t be shocked. But you know, I also wouldn’t be shocked if the complainants included some liberals who saw Valley’s scathing work and were convinced that it had to be anti-Semitic because the people Valley was smacking around were Jewish. Whoever it was, they were suffering from the same stupidism that engendered the controversy around The Hunt — and so was Twitter itself, on an organizational basis, in deciding these tweets could only be what a five-year-old raised in a Skinner box of grievance propaganda would say they were.

Meanwhile as I write this some asshole who runs Barstool Sports — a site which has taken the heretofore foolproof concept of the sports page and actually made it suck — is trending on Twitter because he threatened his employees with termination if they unionized, and has delighted, along with the absolute dumbest people on the planet, in the negative attention he’s receiving for it. It’s like the flagpole sitters of a hundred years ago except the sitters are also shitting on themselves and everyone below them.

I’d say we should pour massive resources into primary education before it’s too late, but I’m not sure what that’ll accomplish when so many people are devoted to beating what brains we had left out of our heads. Hurrah, arse-horns, long live Pere Ubu!