The Daring Spectacle
Adventures in Deviant Journalism
(Rapture Machine, Inc.
530 Divisadero Street #120
San Francisco, California 94117)Morford must be one of the most bellicose, vainglorious, perfervid, dogmatic, cantankerous, splenetic if not scandalous journalists working today. His writings come on like a hundred enraged letters to the editor.
His chosen topics in Daring Spectacle include suicide, meditation, overpopulation, the Bible, toilet scrubbers, auto parts stores, illegal drugs, the Burning Man Festival, shaving body parts, Karl Rove's thighs, "sex lotteries," "Christian virgins," "101 Reasons Why Men Cheat," "designer vaginas," weird dating services, and Dick Cheney's ability to shoot 400 pre-potted birds in a single afternoon.
After reading a few chapters, if you want to send him an email telling him that he appears to be a "fruit, fairy or fag," that his column will go at the very bottom of the kitty litter box, that he is "an utter tool buddy," even "a sissy tree hugger," or --- worse --- that he "smells like a Hummer:" forget it. Too many such charges have already been laid on his head ... and many are reproduced here.
Morford's secret is not that he is willing to write the scariest truths about us and the world and our fears and our (failing) morals and mortals ... but that he has the ability to pull you right on his wavelength so that you know immediately not only what he is getting at, but whether you should sob, or laugh ... or do both at the same time.
He uses every trick in the English language to stretch our mother tongue so that you find yourself stuck in his diabolical pickle sandwich: one word paragraphs, long funny lists, endless variations on repeating and clauses, and sentences crammed with so many adjectives that the reader might go balmy trying to separate the thickets of them.
Example: a Kansas State Court decided to send a young man to jail for twenty years for consensual but illegal sex, so Morford quotes the decision --- the act was "offensive to traditional Kansas sexual morality" --- and concludes: "therefore such sex cannot be tolerated under any circumstances and yadda yadda hate hate gargle spit angry old white men ptooey." Conclusion:
It's enough to make you gag on your leather whips.
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It reminds me of the palmy journalistic days of Westbrook Pegler, Walter Winchell, and most of all, H. L. Mencken. When we read Mencken's collected columns, (a) we wonder at his astounding vocabulary, his multifaceted literary tricks, and his wry wit; then, (b) we wonder where in hell he was able to find a newspaper who would present to the general public his elegant, bile-filled columns. In Baltimore, no less.
The same with Morford. Who would dare print him? The San Francisco Chronicle, that's who. He went from being a mere blogger to going on-line at SFGate, even appearing for a while there in the Datebook section of the Chronicle itself. (Some of the articles deemed by his editors to be just a bit too edgy are included in this volume).
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One of Morford's more endearing stylistic plays is the ever-expanding connective clause. For instance, he outlines "the gay agenda." He opines that it "contrasts with the famed and beloved Christian neoconservative heterosexual agenda, the one that instructs that you please keep your mouth shut and blindly believe in the same bitter God as everyone else,"
and by the way please bury your true sexuality and get married at 23 and pop out six kids and become quickly and quietly miserable and gain 30 pounds and stop having sex entirely and get divorced at 50 and wake up just in time to watch yourself die.
Or this, about killing seals in the Arctic, which starts out: "Let us all agree right now. Baby harp seals --- those doe-eyed sausagelike bundles of puffy white blubber --- are just so phenomenally, face-meltingly cute."
So adorable and so helpless and so sweet-looking it's like God took Bambi and sawed off all his legs and put him in a white fluffy parka and crossbred him with a puppy and a Marshmallow Peep and tossed him out onto the Arctic ice to pose for Polar Baby Gap.
And the swooping twister at the end: "I mean cute."
Morford, need we point out, is the real patootie: flat-out, full-throttle, skid-across-the-asphalt pop-'em-in-the-eye club-'em-in-the-brains knee-'em-in-the-gut journalism. At its most fragrant.
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It might be considered pure Mencken, blended with a touch of Shaw, Swift and Alexander Pope. Thus, you'll find here the grand staple of English-language satire ... a triad of extended parallelisms, coupled with a slipped-disc right-angle turn near the end. Thus, on a pill rumored to negate the effects of nicotine: "It will prove to be a bigger and more lucrative drug than Viagra and Prozac and Ambien combined and shaken and stirred and pumped straight into your eyeball."
And then there are the easy, beguiling throw-aways. In a clinical test of hallucinogenic drugs, the participants were "licked by angels."
Or this on a report on the adverse effect of tanning-clinics, with "my skin turning a bizarre shade of orange and that weird tingling in my brainstem and my genitalia melting like bubblegum in the sun."
Cheerleaders at a Catholic girls' school are, he reports, "a veritable sampler platter of semi-virginal fans-devout cloying repressed spazzed-out supermaidens, a perky fleshy Sizzler salad bar of savage hypercompetitive girldom."
If Morford were just a rap-style in-your-face journalist, it would be good enough. But when he chooses to write on something as unlikely as a retreat to India (he is a student of meditation and teaches Yoga), he can be truly affecting, offering up a peek into the east as worthy as anything written by, for example, Geoff Dyer. He also shows a commendable willingness to expose himself --- and what he believes in --- despite those ghastly, sometimes scary, emails.
This is India. Garbage is inescapable. Pollution is merely part of the landscape. These various heaps and piles have been here forever and will be here forever and you have to accept the fact that the concept of "cleanliness" and "waste" are very relative, fluxive things indeed, and spiffy Western notions of having your crap hauled far, far away by professional crap-haulers and then buried deep in a hole so you never have to think about it are as quaint and ridiculous here as thinking you're making much of a dent in planetary evolution by recycling your toothbrush.
Because really, all you have to do is raise your head from where you're standing like a dumb-founded Westerner and look up into the sparse, beautiful jungle from whence you just came, and you can almost see the banyan tree and the ash-cooked monks, right up there, as you sighingly note how you have, in your humble precious sacred meditative karma yoga, simply moved a small bit of garbage from one part of the beach to another.
Praise Shiva.--- Lolita Lark