John McCain and Sarah Palin, in the latest installment of their occasionally uncomfortable joint interview with Brian Williams, offer their definitions of “elites”:
WILLIAMS: Who is a member of the elite?
PALIN: Oh, I guess just people who think that they’re better than
anyone else. And– John McCain and I are so committed to serving every
American. Hard-working, middle-class Americans who are so desiring of
this economy getting put back on the right track. And winning these
wars. And America’s starting to reach her potential. And that is
opportunity and hope provided everyone equally. So anyone who thinks
that they are– I guess– better than anyone else, that’s– that’s my
definition of elitism.
WILLIAMS: So it’s not education? It’s not income-based? It’s–
PALIN: Anyone who thinks that they’re better than someone else.
WILLIAMS: –a state of mind? It’s not geography?
PALIN: ‘Course not.
MCCAIN: I– I know where a lot of ’em live. (LAUGH)
WILLIAMS: Where’s that?
MCCAIN: Well, in our nation’s capital and New York
City. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived there. I know the town. I know– I know
what a lot of these elitists are. The ones that she never went to a
cocktail party with in Georgetown. I’ll be very frank with you. Who think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves.
I suppose we could have seen that coming. Too bad no one lives in that Pennsylvania cornfield where Flight 93 went down, or they just might be targets too. Oh, wait …
So I find their answers interesting, in part because I’ve heard myself saying more than once this season: “What’s wrong with arugula anyway?” But of course that must mean I’m an elitist too. Real, men, apparently, only eat iceburg lettuce purchased at a Super Walmart. Oh, wait … apparently even Walmart stocks the funny green stuff these days. Elitists!
Sure there are some folks in NYC who take their food snobbery out on the rest of the country. My friend A White Bear has great anecdotes in this vein from her shifts at the Park Slope Food Co-op, involving annoying co-workers who poo-poo middle-Americans for their poor taste in cheese — as if every rural Kansan has a world-class fromogier within a couple minutes’ drive. (The fact that they don’t must be what’s really the matter with Kansas.) And certainly there are a lot of people who live here who talk loudly, sometimes when tourists are close enough to overhear, that they can’t imagine living anywhere else. (By the same token, tourists are often overheard saying loudly that they might be having a good time on their visit, but they can’t imagine living here.)
And I’ll admit it: I’ve identified emotionally at times–in spite of the fact that my ability to live in Manhattan has nothing to do with money and everything to do with a million happy accidents I couldn’t have coordinated if I’d wanted to–with the old Talking Heads song “The Big Country,” from their second album, More Songs about Buildings and Food (1978). The speaker is in a plane, flying over the mid-West (which apparently includes everything west of the Hudson). Looking down at all the ballfields and driveways he launches into the chorus:
I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.
I couldn’t live like that, no siree!
I couldn’t do the things the way those people do.
I couldn’t live there if you paid me to.
Guilty as charged? Maybe. But I’ve had my moments of nostalgia for the sort of Sam Shepard world I grew up in, too. I only wish the bulk of the people there didn’t think Obama is literally the anti-Christ, foretold by Scripture to wage war on Israel and usher in a one-world state. Don’t they know how to read? To sift information? Can’t they ask their fromagier for political advice? Oh, wait …
All this waffling (Am I an elitist? Am I above that? Does thinking I’m above it make me an elitist anyway?) and referencing old Talking Heads songs is merely a set-up, though, for an excuse to plug David Byrne’s recent entries in his online journal. He’s on tour at the moment, all across that Big Country, on the ground this time. And, as he’s proven many times before, he’s an exceptionally gifted blogger. I would pay good money for a “David Byrne’s Guide to Weird Americana,” and even more to be a stowaway on his buses and planes and other modes of transport. From hot-air ballooning in Albuquerque to visiting Satin Doll’s Lounge in Milwaukee, his entries celebrate the joys and idiosyncratic oddities of this great land of ours. It’s a nice corrective to the dismissive (if sometimes understandable) chorus of his old song “Big Country,” and yet this Byrne persona clearly retains an insidery-outsider’s edge. It’s not an elitist edge so much as one that brings a more generous kind of moral clarity.
As for McCain and Palin’s less generous kind of moral clarity: doesn’t that last line smack a little of hypocrisy?
“[Elitists are those] [w]ho think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves.
I’d rather not have them legislating morality for my family, thank you. Damn evangelitists.
Byrne tour dates here, though there’s no hometown show listed. Photo by Lily Baldwin, snagged from Byrne’s journal. Doesn’t it look a lot like an Amy Bennett painting?
Do you find it a little bizarre that Byrne is playing Red Bank, NJ, and not NYC? Is he that much less popular now? I can’t imagine there aren’t a lot of venues in the city (and for that matter in Hoboken) that would book him.
He has a long history w/ the Count Basie theater in Red Bank — he filmed there in the early 90s. I’m sure he could have filled most of the old ballroom/palace venues here without any problem, though.
The tour photos sure make it look fun.
Meanwhile, I just wanted to mention that as far as elitists go, Palin’s monthly wardrobe cost more than most Ivy League PhDs. FWIW. Her hair stylist made more last month than a lot of Americans make in a year. Do I sound angry? Must be all the arugula settling wrong.
I should have at least acknowledged that the elitist definition business wasn’t the most sensational part of this interview: There were some much more serious problems about how to define a terrorist.
a long history w/ the Count Basie theater
Oh that’s different then — I looked at his tour schedule and thought Huh? Red Bank? — didn’t realize there was anything about the particular venue to link to him.
(And with regard to the interview you link: WTF)
Funny I just mentioned that song in my e-mail to you before reading this.
Did you see the “real America” episode of the Daily Show last week? It was hilarious. Should be available on thedailyshow.com.
Also, funny thing – I grew up in Red Bank, had a ticket to the show, and had to get rid of it because I had class obligations in the city (Lacan, of all things – the arugula of psychology).