Monday, June 18, 2012

Mark Judge, Dadaist Hero

Here's the opening to "Bryce Harper, Conservative Hero", Mark Judge's recent column for The Daily Caller:
Bryce Harper is a conservative hero. The star rookie for the Washington Nationals has woken up Major League Baseball, and watching it unfold has reminded me of nothing so much as the collapse of the old political paradigms and the inevitable and upcoming rebirth of conservatism in November.
And on it goes. A thousand words in all, each paragraph more stupefyingly asinine than the last. Let it be emphasized that I say this without even a trace of hyperbole: Judge's column is very possibly the dumbest thing I've ever read that somebody was paid to write.[1]

It's so dumb, I think it might be brilliant. But I'll get back to that. Here's Judge describing why Harper is worthy of being singled out:
The Nationals were playing Atlanta, and in the fifth inning Harper, with his team leading by two, singled to right. The ball was hit to Braves right fielder Jason Heyward. Heyward strolled up to the ball as if he were walking to the corner for a paper.

Harper promptly headed for second base. Heyward suddenly woke up and fired to second base, but too late.
Judge goes on to explain that, in addition to hustling, Harper also tries to learn from his mistakes. And he wants to be in the lineup even when he's injured. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because it describes every rookie in the history of sports.

Having chosen his subject—and his counterpoint, Jason Heyward—basically at random, Judge adds some unhinged political opinions and throws the whole mess into a blender:
Heyward’s bungle showed a complacency, if not indolence, that Harper threatens to destroy, but it also could be a metaphor for the collapse of the old liberal order. Heyward was like one of those public school teachers who, because they are a union member, can’t be fired and so are relegated to the “rubber room” to sit and read the paper and gather a check for the rest of their lives. Or even Obama, who went from Hawaii to Harvard to the White House and never seems to have had to slide head-first into a base his entire life.
Is there even a way to engage with this? Normally I would peel away the false presumptions and the unfounded conclusions until I reach the fragment of logic at the core, but when I try to do that here I wind up just staring blankly into a void.
Watching Bryce Harper play is like listening to an economic speech by Paul Ryan: It’s long on reality and short on excuses. Harper has slapped baseball awake, and every time he steps up to the plate, years of crusty baseball routine no longer apply. He swings the bat with a blinding snap of force, and in the outfield dives for balls that bored veterans would let go. When he hits a double he usually tries to stretch it into a triple. Manager Davey Johnson tries to bench him for being hurt, and Harper confronts him and says, like a person with enough dignity to refuse welfare: Let me work. Then he wins the game with a crucial hit.
Some of these points are patently untrue (Harper does not, in fact, "usually" try to stretch a double into a triple), some are patently misguided (if it's at all true that Harper dives for balls other players would let go, it's because he can run kind of fast, not because he's uniquely able to ward off boredom), and some, like the bit at the end about refusing welfare, can be properly addressed only by gritting one's teeth and muttering vaguely-Nordic nonsense words. Grrgllefrunng.

Judge closes with a personal note:[2]
Harper reminds me of my own grandfather, Joe Judge, who played first base for the Senators from 1915 to 1932. Like Harper, Judge was left-handed and was a scrappy and aggressive player. His career spanned two eras, the dead ball era (1900 to 1919) and the live ball era, from 1920 on, when home runs became much more prevalent. When Babe Ruth arrived in New York in 1919 and baseball changed some rules — including using new balls in every game so you could actually see what you were swinging at — Joe Judge could have insisted that this wasn’t fair, that Major League Baseball was stealing his livelihood, and that Ruth’s ungodly salary represented the one percent. He could have occupied Griffith Stadium.

Instead, he accepted that the old way of doing things was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. And he helped the Senators win the World Series in 1924.
I have a way of associating events with one another, whether or not they're related, merely because they happened around the same time, and Judge's closing digression—along with whatever strange effects his column had on my brain—brought to mind something that coincided with the end of the dead ball era. A group of European artists—Dadaists, as they would come to be known—had begun to rebel against the cultural status quo. They valued nonsense over reason. Chaos over order. Destruction over creation. In the aftermath of the war that had consumed and annihilated their continent, they had no interest in searching for meaning, because the likeliest conclusion was that there was none.

Here's the great Dadaist Tristan Tzara, attempting the impossible task of putting Dada into words:
We are often told that we are incoherent, but into this word people try to put an insult that it is rather hard for me to fathom. Everything is incoherent. The gentleman who decides to take a bath but goes to the movies instead. The one who wants to be quiet but says things that haven't even entered his head. Another who has a precise idea on some subject but succeeds only in expressing the opposite in words which for him are a poor translation. There is no logic. Only relative necessities discovered a posteriori, valid not in any exact sense but only as explanations.
And just as the Dadaists used their art to call attention to this broader incoherence, Mark Judge has called attention to the incoherence that permeates political commentary by creating something too incoherent to simply dismiss and ignore. Something that demands to be questioned. Is it commentary, or is it trash? If, by virtue of being trash, it makes us question the limits of what can be considered commentary, does that not make it commentary as well? It means nothing, and thus, it means everything.[3]

In 1917, one year after Hugo Ball published the first Dada Manifesto (and one year after Joe Judge's first full season in the majors), Marcel Duchamp scribbled some nonsense on a urinal, named it Fountain, and submitted it to be displayed at a New York exhibition. It was rejected, presumably because it was a urinal with some nonsense scribbled on it. Eighty-seven years later, 500 art experts voted Fountain the most influential work of art of the 20th century.

I have no doubt that "Bryce Harper, Conservative Hero" will go similarly unappreciated in its own time. But one day, years, if not decades into the future, we may very well look back at Judge's column and recognize it for what it is. A urinal with some nonsense scribbled on it:


1. Let it also be emphasized that I was about 50-50 on whether I even needed to include the "that somebody was paid to write" qualifier.
2. Again, just layer upon layer of skrunglfrng. Joe Judge, whose career actually started after Ruth's, was a very good hitter, and seems to have benefited as much as anyone from the rule changes that marked the end of the dead ball era (through 1919 his career batting average was .270; from 1920 on he batted .306).
3. "It means nothing, and thus, it means everything"? What the fuck does THAT mean? Who knows. Who cares. There is no logic. (I love Dadaism.)

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