WASHINGTON D.C., Oct. 30
My enthusiasm sputtered and died as I stood in line at the concessions stand, about the time the seventh person in a witch costume walked past carrying a sign making fun of Christine O’Donnell. I tried to look at it on the bright side – she did manage to temporarily block out my view of the guy roaming a small patch of open grass while performing a minstrel version of “The Times Are A-Changin’”, pausing often for iPhone photo ops with strangers.
But then along came the guy with a sign announcing The End Is Far, after the guy demanding a Return To The Metric System, then a couple holding a giant banner warning of the dangers of a four-hour Boehner, the woman with a giant fake penis strapped around her waist, the woman wearing a sandwich-board homage to masturbation (accompanied by another dig at O’Donnell) and a thousand others that I don’t feel like describing. All of them wore semi-sheepish, aren’t-I-funny? grins, while their fellow rallygoers fell over each other in their haste to photograph the hilarity. This was my Saturday? This is supposed to be meaningful and memorable?
Jon Stewart’s Rally To Restory Sanity, as it turned out, was really a giant competition to see who could broadcast the cleverest, most ironic, wittiest and/or most irrelevant slogans – and who could take the most pictures of the amazing funniness. I must have been the only one there with neither a sign nor a camera. All I’d brought were fragile hopes that a giant crowd would gather in D.C. to celebrate moderation, reason, and sanity. I found this:
“This Font Is Big”
“God Hates Shrimp”
“Don’t Be Douchey”
“WTF GOP LOL”
(Some of the older, not-in-the-loop attendees were broadcasting earnest, patsy slogans like “Humanity Should Be Central To Politics.” Given the context, they seemed more than ever like shabby artifacts from the ‘60s who’ve spent decades wearing pins and working the polls and writing indignant letters to the editor to no apparent effect. Is it commendable persistence or just idiotic that they’re still trying?”)
The thing that chafed me the most was how mean-spirited the whole affair was – the parody of every Tea Party stereotype, the slander of every conservative hero, the insults hurled at all the constituencies imagined to stand in opposition to the left-wing interests present. It’s not that I don’t agree with them, per se, or that I found none of it amusing. It’s that I found a lot of it amusing on a 10-year-old level. And the whole reason I’d come was that I’d thought this whole crowd had gathered to act like adults, to elevate things a little bit. I can chortle about tea bagging back home.
Was the joke on me, maybe? Is this what I get for taking an entertainer seriously?
And so here I am, sitting disconsolate on the fringe of the National Mall, watching more sign carriers come and go (“Homo Is Where The Heart Is” “Be Excellent To Each Other” “Kleptocracy Sux”) and hoping the bus comes soon to take me home.
These are sly times. Our ideologies masquerade behind cupcake homages to Honor and Sanity; our demagogues are professional clowns; the line between truth and joke is so fuzzy that we’ve invented a genre of literature called “faction,” we’ve invented the word “truthiness,” to amuse ourselves, and we’re calling it political activism to march around with signs about loving pancakes and arming bears. We’ve quit debating other people and chosen to simply mock them. It’s a mad, mad world. Be careful out there.