The most common phrase I’ve seen on social media in the last few days is: “This is real.” We’re in surreal times… times, in fact, when parts of a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing were more outrageous and comedic than the Saturday Night Live skit that purported to parody them.
In its handling of Friday’s Brett Kavanaugh hearing, SNL wasn’t finding comedy in life, but attempting to shift life into a better fit with a leftist narrative, shedding comedy along the way. That impulse points to a more serious topic that I’ve found fascinating throughout this ordeal. Namely: For political advantage, progressives destroy the space in which social norms and interactions operate.
Consider all this stuff about whether “boof” meant “flatulence” to Kavanaugh’s circle of friends. Attempting to come to a conclusion, the range of possibilities is just huge, starting with the possibility that Kavanaugh’s explanation to Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is just plain accurate, if largely forgotten. One online slang dictionary defines “BOOF” as “burned out old fart”; for some reason, through the misty memories of my own adolescence (about a decade after Kavanaugh’s), the phrase “bag of old farts” comes to mind. Either way, it’s easy to see how that would become just generically “farting” to a particular group of kids.
The “group of kids” qualifier is important. I remember in middle school that “rare” came to mean something like “loserishly weird,” and “bike” (if I’m remembering correctly) was used as a stand-in term for a male sexual organ. These sorts of things are not only peculiar to times, but also to regions, to schools, to classes, and to comparatively small social cliques. And then there is also a layer of nuance between any two friends, who might make an inside joke out of a term that means something different to their classmates, who use it in a subversively different way from the broader society.
Or look at “Devil’s triangle.” Even if it had in 1982 the sexual connotation it might have now, any particular group of guys might have thought it funny to name a drinking game after that connotation. Some members of the gang might even have forgotten the connection since then.
The above points address only the meaning of the slang. Society also builds plenty of space between interactions. Let’s imagine “boof,” “Devil’s triangle,” and even the “alumnius” reference mean what Whitehouse lustily insists that they mean. People (especially teenagers) are social animals, prone to going along with the crowd. It isn’t hard to imagine even the proverbial choir boy using the argot of his friends in his yearbook blurb despite having never participated in the events described.
And then, further, it is easy to imagine and excuse the impulse of an adult, when forced to parse these words for a national audience, for playing coy for the benefit of those friends. The “alumnius” reference — which the Democrats are convinced means that the group of boys were boasting about doing things with a particular female acquaintance of theirs — is an excellent example. Maybe one or some (or none) of the boys actually did anything with her, but it became an inside joke. Or maybe the truth is something like the opposite: One of the boys who mentioned the woman referred to himself as “chairman of the bored,” while another wrote a rhyme about needing a date at the last minute. It could be that “bored” isn’t a misspelling, but a pun, and the joke was that she wasn’t fun to be with, and they all had times when they went out with her either from obligation or necessity.
Neither possibility is nice. Neither is good. As the father of daughters, I certainly know how I’d react to such jokes.
But they were teenagers. These relationships can be complex, and teenagers can be hypocrites. Even a boy who went out of his way to be friendly with the girl and to tamp down the viciousness might feel pressure to keep the in-group connection alive in his yearbook blurb. Again, that’s not nice, and it’s not good, but it is human.
Now, fast-forward 35 years. The crack investigators of the Democrat Party and its news media wing have brought that unfortunate woman into the blistering public spotlight. How much detail should such a boy, now a man on the downhill side of middle age, bring forward for public snickers? “But,” the activists say, “we need an investigation to determine the truth!” Really? Perhaps Kavanaugh’s reluctance to better define some of these inside jokes is an honorable desire not to import adolescent cruelty into real people’s adult lives.
Only vultures on the borderline of French Revolutionaries would demand that he do so.
One might object that the ship has sailed. Now that we’re this far, shouldn’t we see it through to the end and resolve all of the public’s questions? No, because the public has no business having come this far. We have a specific allegation about an act from Christine Blasey Ford that may justify investigation to determine whether her memory is accurate. The possibility of establishing that Kavanaugh was a boorish teenage boy does not justify eliminating the gray areas that we allow to permeate between adolescence and adulthood and around the language that people use when they interact among peers.
If we accept this erosion of our social space, every question will come down to power. Nobody could survive this level of scrutiny without the emergence of something that over-the-top political opposition couldn’t twist to sound wrong or weird. With all of this in the air, I dug out my senior yearbook to see what references I might have made, and honestly, some of them I could not define, now. I see by the Internet that “the Molly Wee” is a pub on 8th Avenue, but I have no idea why I swore that I would never forget it. What other gaps could some confirmation committee exploit?
In a world in which everybody is a potential criminal by insinuation, the only question is whether your enemies are powerful enough to string you up or your allies are powerful enough to make all problems go away.