Man, I need to do that. More and more, I’m coming to realize that writing is different from writing down. I have a mouth on me. We know this. Stuff emerges from it that often sounds and looks indistinguishable from carefully wrought prose — provided you’re not listening or looking closely.
(Right now, for instance. Slow down, back up. A real writer wouldn’t have used “wrought,” which is just nostalgic jargon. But that’s the word that came flapping off my slippery tongue.)
Yesterday I published — as if this were publishing hahaha! — a scathing review of Paul Verhoeven’s new pitcher Elle. This morning, the many hundred or sixteen emails flooding The Loser’s in-box were approximately split down the middle. Not about whether the movie was good or bad — that is, disputing or confirming my judgment — but about whether the review was scathing or approving.
I get it. Even the President of the United States frequently finds himself misunderstood in similar ways. Like mine, his vocalizations, squidged hurriedly onto a nonsecure touch screen, may seem open to interpretation, especially the literal kind. That’s not necessarily the fault of his readers. When he types “nobody,” as in nobody will lose his health insurance, he assumes that we are not dolts; that we will not parse a word like “nobody” as if it were an unequivocal synonym for the integer zero. What he means is, “no more than twenty-four million elderly and poor people with darkish skin and pre-existing conditions.”
Statesmen like the Commander-in-Chief tend to inhabit more nerve-racking environments than mine. Reactions to the merest slip could ignite not just hostility but hostilities. Normally, then, they’re careful to use language that can be widely construed by the multitudes — and their anointed diplomats — in ways that succor international harmony. When a great leader asserts something along the lines of, “We do not condone such and such,” half of his or her audience will exhale with relief. While the other half, also exhaling, may rightly take do not condone as fairly close to absolutely endorse.
“Elle is a great pitcher,” I announced in that review. And I was being — as the very Commander-in-Chief you’re thinking of might aver — sarcastic. Let the record show: in my opinion Elle is flippant junk, anti-intellectual gloom that tries to sneak by on the imprimatur of Isabelle Huppert, a sometimes very fine actor whose skills are, in America at least, largely subsumed in her being petite and well-preserved for a sixty-something. Nor is my position on this movie in any way related to its faking of edgy sexual politics. As a movie, as a movie, it is just dumb. Just vapid and aesthetically reactionary.
Yet as that same Commander-In-Chief rather too often reminds us, sarcasm is a mode of infinite subtlety. The whole point of sarcasm is that we can’t detect it if we’re the ones being ridiculed or defamed. With sarcasm, you’re not shitting on people; you’re quietly peeing on them.