Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Kinky Anymore

Posted by metaphorical on 25 April 2007

Somehow I missed Kinky Friedman’s stand-up defense of his friend Don Imus in the NY Post last week. For those who aren’t acquainted with the finer points of New York’s prowess as a world-leader in producing detritus, the Post is the city’s attempt to make visiting Londoners feel at home should they need something with which to wrap a fish.

Now, I like Kinky Friedman and have ever since I heard “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” (this
freely listenable version is actually introduced by Imus, which is a bit freaky). I liked him even more when I read The New Yorker’s quirky profile of him a couple of years ago.

But you know you’re in for an awkward piece of wordsmithing when an article starts out with a pairing of metaphors that equips a ship predating the Argos with the latest missle technologies.

COWARDS KICK AWAY ANOTHER PIECE OF AMERICA’S SOUL

I met Imus on the gangplank of Noah’s Ark. He was then and remains today a truth-seeking missile with the best bull-meter in the business.

Kinky starts his defense with the big but: There’s no excuse for what Imus said, BUT ….

There’s no excusing Imus’ recent ridiculous remark, but there’s something not kosher in America when one guy gets a Grammy and one gets fired for the same line.

Yes, Kinky, that is puzzling, about as puzzling as how one person’s work could win a Pulitzer Prize and another person get expelled for plagiarizing it—the words are the same, so what’s the problem?—or how James Frey was headed for trouble the moment he took the “Fiction” label off his manuscript and slapped on one that said “Memoir.”

At least we’ve left the anachronistic Biblical metaphors behind. The heart of Kinky’s defense of his friend is quite a different one:

The Matt Lauers and Al Rokers of this world live by the cue-card and die by the cue-card; Imus is a rare bird, indeed – he works without a net. When you work without a net as long as Imus has, sometimes you make mistakes.

Unfortunately, we’ve gone from bad to worse, metaphor-wise. In fact, we’ve entered the realm of what Orwell called the dying metaphor: “worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.”

The salient fact about actually working without a net is that you can hurt yourself. A circus high wire act takes place 20 meters or more above the ground the big top is pitched upon. People have walked wires strung across Niagra Falls. When you fall from great heights, you can die.

Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of the most famous family aerialist act in history, died when he fell from “a wind-whipped wire 123 ft (37 m) above a street in San Juan,” according to Answers.com.

Eight years ago I saw what happens when a rock climber falls from 25 meters up. Two friends of mine and I were coming back to our packs after completing a route in New York’s Shawangunks. A climber, Scott Ruit, had just fallen from the top of the first pitch of the same route. He lay on the ground, unconscious, breathing laboriously. His chest rose and fell only on one side. A small amount of blood trickled from his face, which was a ghostly white. His legs were splayed out in a jumble.

It took a quickly-assembled group of over a dozen climbers 45 minutes to carry him a few hundred yards down a rocky trail that twisted through the woods, out to the highway. From there, an ambulance took him to a waiting helicopter. He was dead before he arrived at a hospital just across the Hudson River.

Kinky, that’s what happens when you fall without a net. I’m sorry your best friend’s career plunged to a sudden death, but he was paid millions of dollars partly because what he was doing was risky. It’s not a real risk if you can just go on someone else’s radio show and say “I’m sorry.”

Real risks have consequences, and it’s not as if Imus paid the ultimate price of working without a net. You can still visit with your best friend, smoke Montecristo cigars with him, sing wacky sarcastic songs to him. Scott Ruit’s friends can’t. Karl Wallenda’s family can’t. In fact, Kinky, why don’t you put the keyboard down and give your friend a big hug right now. And when you pick it up again, think before you start typing. You’re a better writer than this.

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2 Responses to “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Kinky Anymore”

  1. digglahhh said

    Again, what is the basis for this notion that individual outrage must follow some sort of rubric? The idea that two or more superficially similar events must elicit the same public reaction is pretty much contradicted by the entire history of public scandal and presumably, the overwhelming weight of modern psychological research.

    What do Matt Lauer’s cue cards have to do with anything?

    Originally, I too, professed the degree of difficulty argument, but not as a comparison to anybody else’s job. I likened Imus to a point guard on a basketball team who probably isn’t pushing the action as best he should if he doesn’t turn the ball over every now and then. Meta’s argument that Imus is paid so handsomely precisely because he was able to push the boundaries without crossing them. That is a valid point, and it convinced me that my basketball analogy was not as applicable as I thought it was. If they want a guy who can say some outlandish and funny shit, but will offend regularly, they could have hired me for pennies on the dollar…

    I’m still not convinced he “deserved” to be fired. But the “without a net” remark is ironic, if not completely moronic. Apparently, Friedman’s argument is that because Imus works without a net, he should… be given a net?

  2. James Frey was headed for trouble the moment he took the “Fiction” label off his manuscript and slapped on one that said “Memoir.”

    Thanks for your ringing endorsement while I was getting abused for making exactly this point, using exactly that example, last night at the literature reading you dragged me to.

    As for Kinky, he and Imus do go way back, and he owes Imus a debt of gratitude: it was Imus who convinced him to go to the doctor when Kinky was certain he was going to die of penis cancer after finding blood in his semen. (The doctor told him not to masturbate so vigorously.) With history like that, you can forgive him for not seeing Imus with perfect neutrality.

    You may or may not know that Friedman, after his country music career reached the asymptotic stage, turned to writing humorous mystery novels featuring a New York Jewish cowboy country singer named . . . Kinky Friedman . . . and his gang of raffish friends (prominently including Ratso Loman, former editor of National Lampoon, and other real persons). They’re crude, offensive, and hilarious; much of the humor comes from casual slurs against every group in sight including the ones he’s a member of. He basically just doesn’t care what he says or whether he means it, and he seems to think no one else should care either. Hence, Imus.

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