Twenty years ago, when I was a teenager reading every issue of Rolling Stone, my favorite writer was P.J. O’Rourke. As with some of today’s best satirists and commentators (Jon Stewart, The Simpsons staff), there was a brutal honesty beneath his savage wit. He saw plenty in the world worth deriding, but he saw beauty as well. He saved some of his most devastating quips for the people so hung up on themselves that they were oblivious to that beauty.
Today, P.J. O’Rourke is a tool.
P.J. had usually cast himself as the funny Republican, the guy at the party who liked to argue and pontificate but did so with a raise of the glass and a wink. As the country developed a partisan punditocracy, he sold out. The guy who had written GOP-friendly material for Rolling Stone suddenly launched into the requisite insults of everyone left of center. I recall the intro to the last book of his I attempted — he said something along the lines of “I prefer conservatives to lefty weenie drivel-brains because they’re above name-calling.”
And so today, he’s slipped all the way into the harrumphing old fart who “reviews” something by admitting (even feigning) ignorance on such a trivial topic and dropping a lot of big words into the mix as if to reinforce the notion that all such things are beneath him, as if he only wrote the review for sport.
The review in question in this case concerns that new book by former Wonkette blogger Ana Marie Cox. I’m not a political gossip fan, so I probably won’t read this, but I’ve found the mixed verdict interesting. Of course, the “cute and smart, yet vulnerable and subject to undue criticism” mugshot of Cox that everyone’s using might make us all a little more likely to jump to her defense. Especially when the former “Washingtonienne,” Jessica Cutler (remember her?), gets all snippy about her shoes. Yeah. Jessica, sweetheart, you may have been hot stuff when you were exposing Capitol Hill’s perverse sexual practices in bipartisan fashion, but now your face and your prose are just worn down from the ennui of overindulgence.
Such a topic would have been perfect for P.J. — 20 years ago.