In the Darkness Beyond the Footlights

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This Richard Fernandez essay would be worth a read if only for the historical analogy:

… Florence Foster Jenkins was a Pennsylvania socialite who aspired to be a diva. The trouble was she couldn’t sing a note. “From her recordings it is apparent that Jenkins had little sense of pitch or rhythm, and was barely capable of sustaining a note. Her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon, can be heard making adjustments to compensate for her tempo variations and rhythmic mistakes. Unfortunately, there was nothing McMoon could do to help conceal the glaring inaccuracy of Jenkins’ intonation: the notes she sang were consistently flat and their pitch deviated from the sheet music by as much as a semitone. Her dubious diction, especially in foreign languages, is also noteworthy. Additionally, the technically challenging songs she performed, requiring levels of musical skill far beyond her ability and vocal range, served only to emphasize these deficiencies.”

The key part is that Jenkins’s friends covered for her, forbidding objective critics from entering her shows and deploying such Obama-esque spin phrases as lauding her “intentionally ambiguous” technique.  Fernandez even supplies an audio clip to capture what sound the phrase was intended to describe.

Readers won’t be surprised that I agree with Fernandez’s application of this analogy to President Obama and the mess that he has made of the world.  To the extent that the question remains whether Obama is incompetent or bumbling for some ulterior purpose, the best spin available might be that his performance is “intentionally inadequate.”

Still, the most intriguing part of the comparison with Jenkins is Fernandez’s suggestion that our elites in government and the media “can’t see the audience in the darkness beyond the footlights heading for the exits.”  That captures the feedback problem we have when the elites who want to spin reality have thorough control over so much of the country’s education and information systems.  Those of us wincing at the sound from the stage have no way of knowing, really, whether the audience is going along with the con or is preparing to throw rotten vegetables at the stage.

The unexpectedly successful candidacy of Donald Trump gives some indication, but without making clear whether people are accurately associating their headaches with the noise from the stage or are merely lashing out, knowing not at what.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    Justin, even granting the truth of all that you say, the fact is that the only alternative is Clinton. Your angst should be directed at a Republican party which could not produce a candidate that could match, or out do, Trump. I think many Americans have developed the opinion that there is a “Political Class” (frequently called the “elites”) who have little interest in anything beyond preserving the system which has worked so well for them.
    This morning I received an email which showed a smiling picture of Clinton saying “I amassed a fortune of $50 million while working as a government employee”. I think this hits a mark, and as the situation has developed, Trump is the only alternative. There are other factors, difficult to categorize. Consider the “body count” that surrounds Clinton with the number of murder victims, suicides, around Trump. Can that be utter happenstance?

  • Mike678

    How dare you assess the results of policy and actions. Don’t you know their intentions were good? That is apparently all that counts today :)

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