These past few days, if anything, have proved to me that no other time since the eve of the great depression have we needed some great wit to provide commentary on the national lunacy as it transpires. the 20’s had Mencken himself, but the time calls for another kindred soul.
The Onion is a good enough source of political satire, but that is not what is called for, nor was it Mencken’s speciality in the first place. What is called for is political commentary, and not the sort of drivel that you find on Slate or the National Review; these two publications are simply a scratch behind the ear of the ideologues that will decide the presidential election.
When I say “political commentary”, I mean something far different than the phrase as it is currently bandied about in the softcourts of political weeklies who through some extraordinary effort have stolen the political dialogue away from Americans themselves. A better translation of the phrase: political antagonism.
And here is the great problem with American society (as Mencken might see it): we no longer have that exclusive club of fake-Aristos who are more of a microcosm of outside society than a rugged congregation of the Nation’s elite. Before, someone could ruffle feathers simply by pointing out the poor blood, the idiotic works of culture, and above all the imbecilic sensibilities of those who were ostensibly supposed to rule the country from the seat of Washington and rule American society from New York City. The fact that Europe provided a means of comparison (Aristocracy, that is, and the real kind) made the job of someone like Mencken quite easy.
Now, however, a prospective gadfly must search much more thoroughly for ways to aggravate the men on top (and no, it is not civil disobedience. The concept is worn, and never worked anyway). American Aristocrats, like their bretheren all throughout the world, are by no great measure more intellectually developed than their slobbering and inbred ancestors. The problem is that they (I don’t deign use the collective ‘we’, even though I might qualify) are themselves a shock to the dispassionate observer: they are no more smart, no more perverse, indeed, no more interesting than, as Mencken put it, “the masses of their fellow-man.” The shock consists in this: How do you poke fun at the cultural inanities, the somnambulic political wisdom, or even the irritatingly bland perversities of a class of people who are little else than a better-off version of those who are supposed to hate them?
Anyone who can answer this question in regular segments online will have at least one loyal reader.