Of clothes, emperors and the modern man

June 07, 1995|By Donald Elliott

THE AVERAGE American, it must be believed, has a woefully deficient mentality and severely atrophied powers of discernment. He possesses a nature addicted to slavishness, and he is eager not only to support but also to chain himself to his masters. He bleats incessantly of being taken advantage of and seeks to redress the improprieties inflicted on him by lying, suing wildly anyone who is even remotely accessible and cheating on his income taxes. And he shows deference to all the lawyers, doctors, professional athletes and other such leeches who fleece him unmercifully. He submits, as a slave would, to the immoral and unconscionable strictures that his out-of-control and dishonest government lays upon him. He believes, sometimes fervently, in the nonsense that is foisted on him by Hollywood and in the inanities of television. He is totally incapable of discerning the foolishness and fraud that rule his life and his thoughts, if, indeed, he ever has any that could properly be called his own.

He embraces, albeit with a certain occasional lack of comfort, the brayings of those who espouse political correctness, a modern plague that produces such idiocies as the exclusive National Cathedral School in Washington banning "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" from its 10th-grade curriculum (now it will only be offered in elective courses in higher grades). He also agrees with the prohibition of any public references to the deity by name. He embraces the notion that the avoidance of giving offense is at least as important as the daily use of deodorant, and he, consequently, resorts to absurdly awkward euphemisms and blundering evasions of simple truths.

He submits, with occasional mild objections, to anti-smoking fanatics' agenda in a way that is eerily reminiscent of the public's acceptance of Prohibition. Smoking has become, he believes, not only unhealthy but also positively immoral, and he rails against it. He is bent on improving the general health of his fellow man as well as the moral tenor of their thoughts and actions.

Newt Gingrich, Jesse Helms, the Pats -- Buchanan and Robertson -- Jerry Falwell and their ilk stimulate a certain hesitancy in him, but he generally believes what they are saying and supports them or, at least, does not actively oppose them. He has, in short, taken leave of whatever sense he may have had and buys their views of morality and the righteous struggle against sin.

He hollered mightily about the loss of baseball and its cultural relevancy to the American scene, and yet he is eager to contribute to the coffers of those who make absurd and obscene amounts of money in the name of hot-dogism and male bonding. But he hasn't the imagination to say to baseball simply to hell with it and its' millionaires, some of whom make more in a year than he will make in a lifetime and, in fact, more in a single untaxing and pleasant game than he is likely to earn by the sweat of his beleaguered brow over a year.

Oh, H.L. Mencken, where are you now that we really need you? Well, unfortunately, no amount of whining will raise your spirit. But is there no one in all this benighted Republic to take your place? We are in deeper trouble than we know, and we desperately need a voice that will speak forthrightly and honestly and tell us in words that we can understand that the Emperor really is naked.

Donald Elliott writes from Baltimore.

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