Politics, Technology, and Language

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

Archive for April 25th, 2007

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.


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.

Posted in language, Orwell, pop culture, writing | 2 Comments »