Man, you can be as philosophically belligerent as you want, but if you really want hate mail, simply impugn the reputation of Miss Teen South Carolina. I’m sorry, but I respectfully disagree with most of you. The second that girl entered a nationally-televised beauty contest, she abdicated all rights to intellectual respect, or at the very least, she threw open the door to whatever criticism might come her way.
If you can’t take the spotlight, and you can’t field a simple question about the USA, maybe you shouldn’t be in the running for Miss Teen USA, I’m just sayin’. Yes, it would have been much better if Caitlin was a guy, which would have defused the inevitable dumb blonde jokes, but this wasn’t about sexism, it was about a marked lack of excellence.
Yes, excellence. All but forgotten between the Scylla and Charybdis of snark and anti-intellectualism, excellence used to count as currency around here. My own family may have been too lazy to achieve excellence on any consistent basis, but we sure as hell knew what it was, and what it took to get there: no shortcuts, years of dorking out on a particular subject, odd dedication at the expense of a social life, and a belief than anything less than Awesome was a waste of everyone’s time.
My dad even had a name for it: “turning a phrase.” It meant, in musical terms, that you were so comfortable with your instrument and performance that you could inject these little moments of pure transcendence into each concert. They may last less than a second, but it’s that tiny bit in the string quartet, the little moment in a movie, the briefest epiphany in a play that made you cry. There is only one way to get that ability, and it ain’t by watching “Wheel of Fortune”.
This spectre of achievement hung over my high school, was loosely draped over Carolina, and was even the motto of my frickin’ fraternity: “In all things, excellence.” Before the inevitable biorhythm of the brotherhood took us down a different path, my fraternity actually was excellent, producing guys that now run major parts of New York and Hollywood.
These days, I still run on the petrol of excellence, even when I’m a long way from achieving it. In everything we write, I try to ask myself if there were any shortcuts in it, any clichés that took the place of something more interesting, or a plot point that was merely “good enough”. Do I get there every time? Hell no! I’ve been responsible for my share of crap, but at least I know a train wreck when I see it.
Another thing I do is keep this blog, which opens me up to a tremendous amount of criticism. With very few exceptions, I never delete a comment, all because I’m right here, writing these words, ASKING FOR IT. I write most weekdays, and while I’m no dooce, I have a strong readership, any of whom can deliver a whalloping criticism any time they choose. In short, I can take the heat, and therefore choose to stay in the kitchen.
And from my perch on the stove, I feel more than comfortable lobbing slow-pitch softballs at a beauty queen who could have chosen to excel in graphic design (like she says) but instead chose to answer questions about the United States’ educational system on national television. The only way for this charade to have been intellectually honest would be if she ripped off her shirt, pointed at her nipples and said “learn THIS, motherfuckers!” The mere fact that Miss Teen USA has to answer any questions is the definition of “disingenuous”.
As for the commenters, one in particular, who keeps harping on the apparently damning rumor that I could read when I was three, I have to say: gee, I’m really not sorry. It was 1970, and I don’t remember it, but thank fucking god I had SOME skill that allowed me to transcend the schoolyard. Besides, why wouldn’t that be something to celebrated? I delight in ALL of your kids’ achievements – when I see xuxE’s pics of her family, I feel like the world is moving in the right direction.
And with apologies to craighill (who no doubt believes I’d blame Wayne Ellington’s missed 3-pointers on George Bush) but I truly think a populace subconsciously (or consciously) takes its emotional cues from its leaders, and the Bush Administration has vilified intellect from day one. Forget the travesty of No Child Left Behind – Bush has done exceptional damage by fostering an environment where Experts Are To Be Mistrusted, opting instead for “gut instincts” – and we all see how well that worked. Either Bush is the dumbest sumbitch ever to inhabit the Oval Office (which is scary), or he’s pretending to be the dumbest (which is criminal).
Either way, the mantra of “you’re trying too hard” got stuck on smartypantses around America in the 1980s, filtered to colleges in the ’90s, and crystallized over the last seven years. Frankly, it disgusts me, and both my wife and I have an allergic reaction to the phrase “you’re thinking too much.”
Offended by this lecture? TOO BAD! TRY HARDER! NUT UP, YOUNG SPORTSPEOPLE!
Not everybody has to be excellent; it just has to be valued. Excellence doesn’t mean “no fun”; you can do three tequila shots on a road trip to New Orleans and still be excellent. You can even show your tits, drop trou and hang brain, laugh at the guy who keeps farting and getting kicked in the nuts… and still strive towards excellence. That’s the genius of genius: once you’ve turned a phrase, the low-hanging fruit tastes even better.