Monday, April 20, 2009

The Rise Of Assholes

(image via globaandmail)

The image of Hugo Chavez walking over to Barack Obama (see above), giving him a friendly pat, and handed the 44th President of the United States an anti-colonial has generated tremendous buzz. It was, to be sure, an asshole move. What US President has ever been more subtly anti-colonial than Obama? It also puts the United States President in an uncomfortable position, empowering his enemies, and generally working at odds with the Venezuelan President's foreign policy objectives vis-a-vis the most powerful nation in the hemisphere. Hugo's maneuver was the diplomatic equivalent of farting in an enclosed space shared by many.

Then again, farting -- figuratively and literally -- is the sort of things that assholes do. And assholes, if you can forgive the pun, appear to be on the rise.

"AfPak" Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a massive asshole by any account, is experiencing a Renaissance of sorts. His endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the Democrat party primaries came, it seemed, to a crashing end with Obama's victory. By June 2008, Holbrooke's absence in Obama's foreign policy kitchen cabinet grew conspicuous. Governor Bill Richardson -- another accomplished asshole -- pushed for Holbrooke's inclusion and, as they say, the rest is history ..a State Department colleague told Time magazine in 2005, "Dick is very abrasive and arrogant, but he is also a brilliant conceptualizer and tactician." And therin lies the reason for the ascent of assholes. To paraphrase another Hillary Clinton '08 loyalist Tina Fey -- assholes get things done.

(Bill Maher, being an asshole via kansascity)

And what about Bill Maher? Maher, a lapsed Catholic, will appreciate the obvious ironies of Psalm 118: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." Immediately following 9/11, Bill Maher was fired from ABC for essentially being an asshole. After September 11, the country was on asshole lockdown. Being an asshole is certainly not a crime, but the times, according to Disney, demanded the pink slip. And so the then-host of "Politically Correct" was fired for being .. politically incorrect.

(Bill Maher, asshole vindicated, at Michaels in 2005/ NYSocialDiary)

The pendulum swings. That asshole, now residing at HBO, is unmuzzled, as acerbic as ever, potty mouthed and profoundly buzzy. The newly-minted First Amendment superhero rockstar is the toast of both coasts. His most recent guests include: National Book Award winner Gore Vidal, Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, Former Bush speechwriter David Frum, Ellen Page and Joe the Plumber.

Whither "Rahm-bo"? Rahm Emmanuel, a perfect asshole before 2006 (Salon's Mike Madden called him "Obama's designated a--hole"), has emerged in the aftermath of his reataking of the House for Democrats as one of the most powerful and influential insiders in Obama's cabinet. Emmanuel has gone, in record time, from being the 4th most powerful man in the House of President Obama's bad cop -- the gatekeeper of the all-important Presidential face time -- President Obama's Chief of Staff. From Salon, immediately following the 2008 election:

"For one brief moment over the summer, it seemed as if Barack Obama was ready to start throwing his weight around, the way a man who would soon be president of the United States -- even if it wasn't assured at the time -- is entitled to do. On the Senate floor during a vote in June, he spotted Joe Lieberman, who had just conducted yet another conference call organized by John McCain's campaign. Doing his best LBJ impersonation, Obama dragged Lieberman over to a corner, then backed him up against the wall and lectured him on his advocacy for the Republicans.

"That one story stands out because during the rest of the 2008 campaign and all its twists, it's hard to find another example of Obama acting aggressive toward anyone. His new White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, doesn't exactly have that problem.

"Emanuel -- or, as he's universally known around D.C. and Chicago, Rahm, or sometimes 'Rahmbo' -- comes into the new gig with a well-earned reputation as one of Washington's toughest operators. The guy's favorite word is 'fuck' and its many variations; he's a brilliant, if ruthless, tactician who helped put House Democrats in control two years ago, then moved up in leadership and helped keep them there this week."

Being an asshole is not wholly limited to the Progressive and, in the case of Maher, Libertarian side of the aisle. Rush Limbaugh is almost certainly asshole. And, arguably, the victory of Obama has -- far from making him weaker -- made him something of a titular head of the Republican Party. Limbaugh's power is based on his unfettered, caustic speech and his 20 million listeners with pitchforks at the ready to wage electoral combat.

Nor is being an asshole a momopoly of the male gender. Ann Coulter is surely an asshole. Mo Rocca, who is not an asshole, lamented:

"We know the drill:
1. Ann Coulter writes a book.
2. Ann Coulter says something incredibly stupid.
3. Ann Coulter becomes a best seller.

"Why do Americans support Ann Coulter?"

Who knows? But Coulter is not alone. Chelsea Handler, the vodka-loving, Tori-bashing, Imus favorite, is definitely an asshole. Don Imus, who is something of an asshole-hall-of-famer, has been known to annoint assholes. Imus loves Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, who is an infamous asshole. Matt taibbi is such a colossal asshole that even the New York Chattering Class -- his intellectual home -- pretty much hate his goddam stupidface.

What makes the perfect "asshole"? As asshole has strong opinions, delivered with gusto. Simon Cowell -- a true asshole -- is rewarded to the tune of $36 million a year for his assiness. You should definitely want to punch an asshole in the face after hearing their take on issue x, y and z. Gene Simmons -- who just scored a national "Dr. Pepper" commercial -- is definitely punch-worthy, if only for the sheer disdain which he shows his fans and for the rock-and-roll which made him so rich. Simmons also keeps Polaroids of all his sexual "conquests." Presumably Diana Ross and Cher are not included in that sorry-ass scrapbook. So is the deeply assy Reverend Jeremiah Wright, presently embarking on the lucrative lecture circuit.

What else distinguishes an asshole from, say, a "dick," a "prick," or even a "bitch." Assholes, in contrast, are not self-conscious about Power. In fact, assholes are not even remotely self-conscious. Assholes often seem to be governed entirely from the reptile brain stem. They eschew meditation, glorying in materialism, and are always in-the-moment. They are alpha females and alpha males, gravitating to the top of their professions which usually involve a lot of power, money and celebrity. Jacob Zuma, the most prominent asshole in South Africa, is about to become the nation's President. Zuma, who has been mired in corruption allegations, was cleared of a rape charge in 2006. He is regarded by many as South Africa's "OJ Simpson."

(Zardari, asshole, marrying for glamour, money, power)

Assholes often have second and even third acts. They are tremendously versatile creatures, bending conventional morality into whatever shape suits their ever-uwards advancement. Henry Kissinger, one of the most prominent fucking assholes of the 20th Century, has twisted the very meaning of "Realism" into philosophical pretzels with his political proximity to the neocons. Asif Ali Zardari, "Mr. 10 Percent," who rose to the Presidency of pakistan on the corpse of his murdered wife, defended himself against The New York Times magazine's account of his past life as a corrupt wastrel: "this description you give — who is fun-loving, who is easygoing, who is consumption of Scotching and wining and dining and dancing — why would that kind of man opt for a life that he knows for sure that he will have to go through a lot of trouble and tribulation?”

(image via socal)

Finally, some assholes, despite their oily nature, are compelling. Denis Leary, a self-proclaimed asshole, is the star and co-creator of FX's "Rescue Me." This show, despite the crassness of Leary, is angry, sexy, profane and, quite frankly, fantastic. This blogger cannot help but like this show no matter how much we'd rather not. Reading Leary's bio it is not inconceiveable that background plays a lot in the composition of the asshole's psyche. Leary came from a poor Boston background -- his mother was a maid and his father, now deceased, was an auto mechanic. It is not inconceiveable that background makes the asshole. But at some point free will and civility ought to kick in and override those adverse orgins. Nothing will change, though, if we keep rewarding asshole behavior. And if the present is any indication of the future, we are presently "in the shit" of a High asshole Rennaissance.

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