Hugs Are For Thugs

I plead guilty to cultivating a certain detachment — one of my best friends calls me The Tin Man — but my Cuban blood, which demands chaste kisses on the cheek between male relatives, pulls me in other directions. In short, I’m trying to be more expressive; a handshake just won’t do anymore.

This thoroughly odd story in today’s New York Times set off mild chatter in my little corner of the blog world. Some parents, educators, and behavioral psychologists, alarmed by the rise in hugs between adolescent students, want to monitor how much physical affection the children under their care receive. While I’m as repulsed by exhibitionism and the heart vs mind cliches that animate most popular culture (the truest line Steve Malkmus ever penned was “We need secrets”), we can stand to see less friction between bros and ladies. The characters in this farce don’t seem to remember that Hispanics will soon outnumber blacks as the largest minority in the country, none of whom exactly stint in expressing themselves. Ethan Frome and The Scarlet Letter are so nineteenth century.

One Beth Harpaz, a columnist for the Associated Press, provided a quote that proves what fallow terrain the novelist irrigates when seeking to lampoon the shibboleths of modern psychology:

“And there doesn’t seem to be any other overt way in which they acknowledge knowing each other,” she continued, describing the scene at her older son’s school in Manhattan. “No hi, no smile, no wave, no high-five — just the hug. Witnessing this interaction always makes me feel like I am a tourist in a country where I do not know the customs and cannot speak the language.”

The last sentence reminds me of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s more apocalyptic pronouncements.

With comic book movies having reached a post-Nero stage of decadence, it’s instructive to return to hip-hop, in which Marvel tropes still adduce good/evil dichotomies while the MC’s croak that it’s all in the game. I’ve never warmed to MF DOOM’s: he seemed a GZA-esque smart guy whose internal rhymes demonstrated prolixity without ever cohering into the narratives that the detailed musical backdrops promised. No matter how many superhero or villain identities he assumed album to album, DOOM still coughs up that hydroponic denseness. Rapping alongside Ghostface on The Mouse and the Mask‘s “The Mask” or the new Born Like This‘ “Angelz F” does him no favors either; he sounds out of breath or confused, which is expected when your partner can shift tones and points of view faster than Clark Kent can jump in a phone booth. But Born Like This is his best anyway: the running time (Forty minutes! Gracious!) keeps him tight, the production an airy, nimble synthesis of every hip-hop trend of the last thirty years, from Run-DMC drum skitter (“Supervillainz”) to vertiginous RZA keyboard downshifts and tempo changes (“Gazillion Ear”). DOOM understands a supervillain’s only as good as his henchmen, so his henchmen don’t distract — with one exception. If I were him, I’d keep an eye on someone called Empress Starrh, whose MC’ing on “Still Dope” makes me suspect she ran off with more than the song. Best Unexpected Didactic Bit: “Crime pays no dental, nor medical”/Unless you catch your time in county, state or federal.”

Stanley Fish, responding to President Obama’s mission to appoint a successor to Justice David Souter who values “empathy” as much as “abstract legal theories,” writes a typically astute column distinguishing between law and morality, even though it sputters to a conclusion. There’s a whole tradition of twentieth century jurisprudence that valued results over legal formalism, and the tradition transcends ideology (Rufus Peckham, author of the notorious Lochner vs New York, is as results-oriented as William O. Douglas and Earl Warren). Maybe newly graduated lawyer Andy can hash this out.

Christian Bale, James Wolcott reminds us, is not a human being, nor does he inspire to be one. For a time I thought this was a limitation; now I wonder if he was smarter than the rest of us, including other Hollywood youngbloods who don’t realize the future isn’t in middlebrow Oscar dramas, but genre pictures with tony filigrees — that is, The Dark Knight and The Bourne Ultimatum, not Good Will Hunting and Atonement.

The hosannas heaped on Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown by a couple of my favorite critics worry me a little. I don’t hear a note of the commitment, songcraft, and political acumen they seem to think runneth out of every pore. They hear maturity; I hear a band confident enough to embrace the garbled agitprop and received liberalism they ignored in their youth when were too busy recording superior albums of comfortable but not painless apoliticism. It’s like three obnoxious graduate students cornering you at a bar to convince you of the “realness” of Kurt Vonnegut. As Theon put it:

This is a seventy-minute lump of three thirtysomething fuckwads yelling received ideas about “revolution” over guitars that just grind and grind and grind and grind and contort themselves in the dullest ways unless they decide to drop out for some cocktail piano

Or what H.L. Mencken famously said about Warren G. Harding’s prose:

It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.

I can understand how teens looking for gateway drugs might hear chimes of freedom (imagine it’s 1976 and Wings at the Speed of Sound teaches you how to hear Rubber Soul), but adults should know better, especially adults whose greatest strength is letting the enthusiasm they honed in their youth inform their adult quests for wisdom.

Andrew Sullivan isn’t known for temperance. This is a guy about whom it can truly be said that he’s all id. His passion, though, makes for one of the more enternaning recent Pet Shop Boys interviews I’ve read (as publicity for a not terribly good album, alas). Nice kicker too: 

Chris Lowe: We once met these fans backstage. I started chatting to them, and they quickly realized that I simply didn’t know enough about the Pet Shop Boys and turned their backs on me and carried on talking. I just got elbowed out of the conversation because I was literally worthless to them. It was really funny.

It’s true, though. At some level it’s our Pet Shop Boys, not yours.

CL: Quite. I understand that. It’s nothing to do with us anymore.