By Kelly Jean Cogswell
I missed the lesbian and gay kiss-in on Valentine's Day here in Paris, and the March 1st pro-immigrant demos, but last month I did put in a little community service at Place de l'Odeon ripping down signs announcing, "Smart may have the brains, but Stupid has the balls. Be Stupid."
The posters were supposed to advertise jeans, but because they were in English, the real message seemed to be, "Humorless dykes and girly men urging restraint and careful consideration of things are totally lame; stupid assholes bombing Iraq, eating freedom fries, and ramming planes into buildings are so cool!"
It was a kind of Rorschach Test after eight years of Bush, a couple of all balls, no brains wars, and the new upsurge of flag-waving Tea Partiers. Still, as repulsed as I was by anti-intelligence and pro-risk posturing, I decided to rip down the signs myself with tourists staring and a guy screaming at me to get my "stupid hands off those signs." "Screw you. You wanted me to get stupid so I did."
Okay, so I couldn't hear exactly what the sign guy was yelling because he was across the street, but it could have been that. And I did mutter "Screw you." In two languages.
Destruction wasn't my first impulse. I'd actually seen the posters the day before and considered creating a dialogue with them by adding some graffiti pointing out the implications of the "Be Stupid" ideology, maybe a snarky "Bring Back Bush" penciled in, or "Evolution is a myth" or "Bomb Iran." But really, what was the point? I wondered. "Stupid" doesn't get sarcasm or subtlety. For Stupid, a pie in the face gets a laugh, but to get their attention better stick to brute force and bulldozers.
Responsible even in anger, I put the ripped up "Be Stupid" posters in the trash cans. They weren't replaced, though the motto had been spray-painted several times on the sidewalks. That, I left as a kind of memento mori. And every time I take the subway at l'Odeon I wonder what to do about the movement in the U.S. which is currently celebrating balls over brains with a kind of revivalist fervor.
When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma federal building in 1995, endorsements of this brand of violently narcissistic patriotism were as marginal as snake-handlers in Kentucky hills. Survivalists hid in their enclaves which only came to our attention after disasters like the Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992.
A few weeks after Andrew Joseph Stack III attacked an IRS building in Texas, it's clear the balls are outdistancing the brains. In his recent New York Times article, The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged, Frank Rich describes how Stack has a huge posthumous fan base. The entire press avoids the word terrorist. And every ambitious Republican from Scott Brown to Steve King is claiming they find it understandable, if perhaps lamentable, a tax-protester like Stack would be frustrated enough to get violent.
It's an actual former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, who boldly capped off her address to the National Tea Party Convention, promising the dramatic and violent, "I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help."
In Texas, meanwhile, the Tea Party favorite for governor, Debra Medina, didn't actually offer to die herself, but did declare that "the tree of freedom is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots."
Radio personality Glenn Beck, who has labeled progressivism a cancer that "must be cut out of the system" only seems willing to risk the death of his enemies, not even his minions. Proof, perhaps, that the cynical Beck doesn't really have the balls?
Nowhere in the rapidly expanding Tea Party movement are any "smart" solutions requiring the drudgery of actually governing, like passing legislation that cannot be summarized in the balloon over a cartoon figure or balancing budgets that require functions not available on your ordinary calculator. And god knows you can't hold a dialogue.
What we have on our hands is a movement based on the heart-thumping thrill of a good tent meeting. The leaders of militias, and birthers, survivalists and conspiracy theorists work up their fire and brimstone pitch like a bunch of preachers performing for congregations writhing enjoyably in the delicious fear of sin, and joy of a dramatic sobbing repentance. And when the last hymn is sung, they won't forget to pass the hat.
And while the show goes on what are the consequences? A paralyzed government. And an increasingly virulent culture of balls over brains, a kind of virtual high school in which the football players and cheerleaders exercise their god-given right to torture the smart kids, fat girls, outsiders, and queers.