Heaven help them, our tightly wound public radio hosts are somehow defying physics and whorling themselves even straiter. Another twist, and these chapped chatterers may collapse in on themselves like an indigent black hole.
What’s gotten their knickers in a knot now? That time-honored American commodity: speech. To be more specific, the most offensive and churlish kind of speech imaginable.
We just got over the Dave Chappelle news cycle, where the caustic comic stated a few biological precepts about downstairs organs and subsequently lit an LGBTQ@#!%$ payload of grievance oxidizers. Protests were launched; a sign was broken. Buzzfeed got its click quota for the month peddling stories of irate gender activists. All because Chappelle had the gall to say a few things contrariwise the left’s private-parts ideology.
But because anger, like the rest of our attention spans, is always in search of a new target, our dithering is being redirected to a professional auto driver named Brandon. Or, rather, Biden. As in the President of the United States. Not the Nascar navigator whose baptismal name—Brandon Brown—is now a euphemism when combined with the encouraging phrase “Let’s go” for telling the President to reproduce himself.
The “Let’s go, Brandon!” catchphrase is riling liberal news analysts, if—and this is a medium-sized if—NPR’s “Weekend Edition” can be taken as a significant representation of orthodox leftist belief. During a recent broadcast, host Scott Simon, the congenial interlocutor, asked researcher Hampton Stall why Big Tech platforms don’t block the coded insult on their digital ledgers. “Is there any evidence that this phrase, which is perfectly innocuous, is being used for more malevolent purposes?” Simon asks, not so subtly implying that somewhere in the wilds of red America, a heavily armed militia is chanting “Let’s go, Brandon!” while using a cardboard cutout of Joe Biden for target practice.
Stall, to his credit, gently lets his doily-dusting audience down, reminding them that vulgar language isn’t illegal on the internet. “It’s not a search term that [social-media companies] were going to limit. And I think that’s probably fair. There’s a difference between calls for violence and this sort of wink that the ‘Let’s Go, Brandon’ meme is,” he explained.
Why—why?!—a cheeky put-down of the President is allowed to be typed on Facebook has to be explained in the year 2021 is beyond the cognitive compass of this author. That NPR even thought to cover the minced oath instead of, say, a New Guinean intersex fuschia-tipped Pekingese that drafts YA fantasy novels with a paw-friendly typewriter, is indicative that perhaps the station isn’t a good steward of its annual multi-million-dollar subvention.
But it didn’t end there. Later in the program, Simon covered sports and the then-ongoing World Series, specifically after the Atlanta Braves’ near-no-hitter in Game 3. After ballyhooing Atlanta’s bullpen, Simon and regular sports correspondent Tom Goldman felt it necessary to address the traditional team chant: an Indian war cry and chopping-hand motion, otherwise known as “the chop.”
“Many Atlanta fans and even players continue to do the chop and chant during the game, even as many Native American groups—not just Native American groups—say they find it offensive,” Simon prefaced before throwing out a hypothetical enjoinment. “I wondered last night, what if a great star, like Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman… just turned around and said to fans, come on, please don’t?”
I’m no Atlanta fan, let alone an avid enjoyer of America’s pastime, but I can’t imagine a Jeb Bush-like plea to “please desist” would go over well with fans tanked on Bud Light and their team cruising to the Commissioner’s Trophy. Home-team spectators want a win—not a tut-tutting.
Goldman concurred with Simon on the politically incorrect gesture: “It remains curious why, after 30 years, Atlanta continues to do this—chanting, doing the chop, hearing the drumbeat piped over the PA system—you know, especially now in 2021… having Native Americans as mascots is not right.”
“Not right” is revealing phrasing. It contains a deontological judgement. Imitating a particular culture, even if you’re adopting its behavior because it represents strength and vitality, is wrong in the sense that two plus two doesn’t sum to five. But, it’s not universally wrong, as in claiming water’s chemical formulation is H4O6. Aping an Indian warrior scalping his enemy on the diamond battlefield is wrong in this century, when it was no biggie two decades ago.
If that all sounds like post-hoc casuistry, that’s because it is. The NPR mouthpieces are casting about for a reason to shame Braves fans for cheering on their team the way they’ve cheered it on for five presidents. The same goes for the bowdlerized censure of President Biden. Both are harmless. Neither expression, in Jefferson’s formulation, picks pockets or breaks legs.
Yet left-leaning national radio jabbers fret over the gestures anyway, painting them as grave offenses to the public order. How come? Of all the troubling things happening—the slow unstitching of the supply chain, worker shortages, climbing inflation—why focus on a silly slogan that will be forgotten in two months? Why worry about baseball fans ululating and pretending to tomahawk the air?
Press merchants no longer see themselves as purveyors of neutral information. During the Trump years, journalists assumed the mantle of national propriety, and hysterically tweeted out trite phrases like “this is not normal” every time a Trump subordinate failed to fully justify the print margin on an executive order.
Trump’s ixnayed, but the standard-shaming continues. Simon, along with the rest of the media guard, are beset by the Meckenian fear that someone, somewhere, out on the internet, is saying something unflattering about the Democratic President. Or not acting totally within the bounds of their inherited genealogy. Or are sharing information about COVID-19 that hasn’t been cross-checked by a dozen licensed physicians. Or who think President Trump is still calling the country’s shots from a retroreflective zephyr in the troposphere.
El Siegel famously said contempt causes insanity, and it’s clear the contempt the journalist class has for those who won’t get with the PC program is causing great mental distress. And NPR isn’t alone in its paranoid quavering. The simplest web search for “banning Let’s go, Brandon!” or “the Braves chop is racist” yields thousands of results, many in respected publications.
This intense worrying, over which millions of words have been spilled, shows just how decadent and complacent the news industry has become. There’s no greater symbol of a bored society than a prestige media outfit fact checking a meme. There is no greater concave of shrill Puritans than the New York Times newsroom. And there’s no better present-day Salem than Twitter.
The First Amendment can survive this moral panic only with a wholesale rejection of censor snobs. Tell the tubthumping tweeters to take a flying leap. Never watch cable news networks. Brush off overly righteous conduct coaching. Hold tight to cherished traditions, even if the uptight talkers on NPR say it’s racist.
Everything you love will soon enough be deemed racist, beyond the pale, offensive, emotionally harmful, and downright evil, as judged by the gatekeepers of approved sentiment. Ignore it. Let the woke wallow in their sty of misery. Speak freely and tell those Brandons to go, go, go.
Sure, it’s debased and a boorish blight on serious civic responsibility. But the sanctimonious speech police has abandoned all due respect by becoming stuck-up ninnies about everything.
Heck, for my own part, I may even turn off NPR. After this next segment about a great grandmother of 7 in the Villages who posted a Biden scat-in-the-Vat meme on Facebook, of course. I need more grist for the next column.