Mark Twain: shrill leftist agent

If only Twain had instead indulged in post-modern, funny-sign-making, we’re-too-cool-to-actually-protest wankery.

Commenter MikeBoyScout writes:

I’m pretty sure all the Very Serious People in 1860 knew we’d always need and have slaves, and that racism was based upon fact.

I just went to an exhibition about Mark Twain yesterday and was struck by how much he sounded like a shrill modern leftie. He accepted evolution as established science, made fun of the idea of the Noah’s ark, wrote with bitter irony about the treatment of indigenous peoples in Australia (a lot of the exhibition was about his writing about his travels to Australia). The tone he took and some of the things he said would be eerily familiar to residents of the contemporary left blogosphere. (I’m sure he wrote all kinds of crazy, racist backwards stuff too, I’m not saying he was a saint.)

I realize this is an unabashedly wankerish, unanswerable question, but is public discourse now at all different from what it was back then? Or are things, at root, pretty much exactly the same?

Things are exactly the same. Passionate, principled people speak up for what they believe is right. That’s a good thing. Those encouraging apathy or a detached ennui (See: Rally 4 Sanity) in response to enormous social injustice are doing more harm than good.

Update: All I can say is, ‘Oy.’


  1. The Stewart-Colbert rally wasn’t cultivating detached ennui, it had the same mission their shows do: to point out how incredibly debased our national media dialogue has become. That’s what it was intended to do, and it accomplished that fairly well. Trying to make any further point with it (as Ames attempted and went completely off topic) is not going to go well.

  2. Allison Kilkenny

    As you mentioned, the show already does that, so what was the point of a satirical political rally? The only lasting impact the R4S had is to emphasize that expressing passion of any kind is uncool (hence the mocking protest signs). Stewart couldn’t even muster enough energy to tell the kids to go vote.

    Meanwhile, he consistently drew false equivalencies between the right-wing and Code Pink, as though the people who backed war crimes are as guilty as the people protesting those war crimes.

    BTW: It doesn’t appear the other side is ready to be civil yet. what?

  3. Cate

    I have to say, I’m kind of grossed out at how my progressive brethren have reacted to the rally. I was there, and I was only disappointed that they didn’t remind everyone to vote. And that the Metro failed big time.

    Here’s the thing. I think you guys and Keith Olbermann and all of the rest have a valid argument about false equivalency. God knows there’s no equality between left and right on cable news. Or rather, in news in general. However, I was really shocked that you guys just dismissed Jon’s points. Did you watch the final speech? Did you hear what he had to say?

    I’ve listened to the speech a good four times, and I read the transcript because I didn’t know if I was missing something. I’m usually the first to criticize Jon Stewart for false equivalency bullshit (IE: Rachel Maddow and the FEMA thing versus Pat Robertson’s Haiti glory).

    He debunks the “This Is Just An Exercise In Gen X Apathy” theory so many times:

    “This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith. Or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.”

    “The country’s 24 hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.”

    “The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything we eventually get sicker… Yet, with that being said, I feel good… because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a funhouse mirror, and not the good kind that makes you slim and taller — but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass like a pumpkin and one eyeball.”

    “So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable.”

    “We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV.”

    That he showed footage of Keith Olbermann being hyperbolic doesn’t mean he’s saying liberal media = conservative media. That he showed footage of Code Pink (with whom I have worked before, so I’m not some apathetic hipster douchebag) does not mean he’s saying that wanting war criminals held accountability is silly. He’s saying cable news in general has a tendency to use fearmongering and hyperbolic rhetoric to get people’s attention (and therefore their $$).

    I wish he hadn’t used “moderate” because everyone thinks it has to mean “centrist.” No. Moderate isn’t a political ideology. Moderate is a tone. Moderate can be passionate, moderate can be rational and logical and super progressive. And moderate doesn’t have to be wimpy or let the GOP roll over us.

    Moderate can and should be assertive and aggressive. Of course I wish he hadn’t used footage of Code Pink, but I think he’s talking about the superficial, NOT substance. And that’s an important distinction. Superficially, Code Pink might be hard for some people to take. Now, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t do their thing, because I’m never in favor of watering down creativity. But let’s assume that a good amount of people who might agree with their message think that they’re a little loony. In that case, the message would be diluted. And cable news SERVES to do that dilution of message.

    When Anthony Weiner bitch-slapped everyone over the 9/11 First Responders bill, Dana Whatshername was all, “OMG that’s so weird.” Cable news is superficial. Doesn’t care about the substance.

    Now, I agree that some of the posters were a little apathetic. But I was there, as I said, and I can show you fifty different passionate and irreverent posters for every lame one. Keep in mind, Jon and Stephen were going to attract all sorts of people: passionate activists, hipsters, older folks, centrists, conservatives with brains, liberals, etc. Of course there were people there who don’t give a shit. But most people… most of us really give a lot of shit. And I’m a bit annoyed that Rachel Maddow was the ONLY professional progressive to acknowledge the positives, not just the negatives.

    Sorry for the rant, but I’ve been sitting on this for a while. Love you all so much, and I hope I don’t get banished. But if I do, I’m Vagabond Cate who helped get your snazzy new sound system.

    Love always.

  4. Adam

    Allison, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you. Not with your irritation at the false equivalencies being made because I do agree with you on that(I spent at least 15 solid minutes after attending the rally tearing my friends new assholes after they compared Rachel Maddow to the pundits on the right thus making it obvious they had never watched Rachel Maddow’s show before). While I could have sworn I heard Stewart tell people go out to vote you are at least the second person I’ve read say that he didn’t so perhaps my memory deceives me. I now share irritation at that. The essence of my disagreement lies with the degree of importance some of the rally’s critics are putting on these shortcomings. It is as if everyone suddenly decided that the fate of America lies in Jon Stewart’s hands. I feel like if you have to be told by Stewart that its important to vote and otherwise you won’t these hypothetical people aren’t serious, informed, or responsible enough in the first place. Being at the rally myself, for every sign that indicated apathy or anti-protest sentiment I saw 10 more more advocating science, reason, and liberal ideals. I feel like the purpose of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (and the rally by extension) is largely what the individual viewer projects onto it. For me its just entertainment since I consume as much news as I can through Citizen Radio, TYT, and various news websites and blogs; for lazier people its their sole source of political news which is indeed sad but not Stewart’s fault. The same people who need some celebrity to tell them to go out and vote are largely the same people who think learning about the world and caring about important issues is “gay” or someone else’s responsibility. My sole reason for attending the rally aside from someone offered to drive and I knew it would be a good time was to show up and be counted as one of the multitude of people who do not approve of and do not agree with the ultraconservative and Tea Party politics and style. For all of the rally’s shortcomings I believe this was achieved. Also I had never been to D.C. and this shaped up to be a good opportunity to do so though I didn’t get to see all that I wanted to. Anyway, to close my disorganized “semi-defense of the rally rant” I just want to state that I think a great deal of the animus against the rally from the moderates and liberals is sorely misplaced. We have bigger fish to fry and the damage done by the false equivalencies that have been drawn by Stewart has been far outweighed by the good.

  5. Jon

    I’m gonna have to disagree with you guys on this one. Like Allison stated, his show already provides a critique of the msm, so it doesn’t make any sense to make the rally be about critiquing the media. If the goal of the rally was to tone down the rhetoric and use our inside voices or something like that, then why did I spend last night arguing with some tea partier over whether Obama is a socialist? The rhetoric has not toned done and sanity hasn’t been restored, so the message he was pushing didn’t work. It also didn’t help that he was equating protesters protesting against war crimes and the individuals who actually committed said war crimes either.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like Stewart, but the rally needed a stronger, more coherent message than, “let’s stop shouting and yelling at each other”. He needed a message that would tie everyone together whether it be activism, the tea parties, etc. Stewart couldn’t even bring himself to tell people to go vote. So it begs the question, what the hell was the point of this rally?

  6. Trefor

    I think the larger problem was not so much the rally but, ironically, the MSM’s coverage of it versus other rallies. If you are a casual observer, you might think there have been precisely two such rallies recently: jon’s and becks. Things like the one nation rally get more or less completely ignored, as do anti war, gay rights, womens rights protests etc etc etc around the country.

    The apathy that Allison alludes to is very strong in our society, the idea that it is okay to go out and fight as hard as you can and scream about the injustices of our society is strongly discouraged. Granted Jon Steward explicitly states he is not aiming to disparage this, but absolutely he is feeding into this mentality. The fact that the media makes this rally orders of magnitudes more prevalent in the social consciousness than ones of actual and genuine activism just show how strong the antiactivism culture is.

    Imagine if you will, if jon stewart had used his enormous influence and media attention and held a rally called “rally to restore sanity”. Instead, though he spoke about how what the Obama administration was doing waffling on DADT was insane. How drone attacks in Pakistan are insane. How the war on drugs is insane. While his point is well taken that rhetoric should match reality, there is some crazy real shit going down and it doesn’t require us to sit back and disparage tea partiers for using nonsensical rhetoric, it requires legitimate and real activism.

  7. Cate

    Oh, absolute. I definitely think that Jon needed to be clearer in the run-up to the rally. That would have cut up any narrative the media wanted to play up, and it would have encouraged progressives more than it did.

  8. alx

    I was totally disappointed in the rally. It wasnt just because I drove for 4 hours to get there and then couldn’t see or hear a goddamn thing. I was tricked into being at the same place as kid rock. What a waste. I didnt even want to watch the whole thing when I got home. It was fucking boring.

    Basically the rally was just to placate a bunch of confused yuppies. I’ve never seen so many confused people in my life.

  9. MS

    The rally itself was lame, as far as I am concerned, but it is useful in another way.

    It is a litmus test for pundits that are considered left wing.

    Those who condemn the apathy of the rally show both sound judgement and strength of character, because they believe in FIGHTING FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE. As a STRONG AND ANGRY, LEFTIST ACTIVIST, I trust such pundits and appreciate the analysis and reinforcement they provide.

    Pundits who think that this “miss-manners” “don’t be angry and make a stink about issues” thing is good, are both cowards and idiots. Instead of believing in anything, they believe in genteel manners and getting along above all else. Meanwhile, the right wing will rally and rule the roost. We’re talking about important things here, not nameing Post Offices.

    I do not believe that any pundit or anyone is a Messiah, there is no Messiah. But, the right ones can get the truth out and get things started.

    I am “Old Skeptical Bastard”, and I am a Pirate at Citizens Radio. Email your hatred for my strong words ANYTIME at [email protected]

  10. MS

    Actually, I’m a Hoodlum at Citizens Radio, not a Pirate. But, I just get sick of these wimpy bastards who always fold to the Right, and this emphasis on “nicey-nice” instead of principles and fighting for them, that I have to say my piece.

  11. Allison Kilkenny

    Excellent! Thanks for the support. And that’s a good point. Never considered the litmus test angle, but you’re right.

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