The other day I had seven or eight hours to kill. It was a beautiful day, and — for a change — I didn’t have too much work to do. So, as I am able-bodied and living in the nation’s capital — which brims with museums and other cultural fare — I really only had one option: TV (the good escort services don’t open till six). In my channel-surfing I swung by HBO. On the screen was a tiny little ducky-wucky talking to his mommy-wommy. The duck was cute. The mom was mommyish. “Mommy, what’s a Sissy?” asked the cherubic fowl.
Of course, I had stumbled on HBO’s latest cartoon masterpiece: The Sissy Duckling. It’s “the first gay-positive children’s story on TV,” according to Harvey Fierstein, the playwright and gay activist who wrote, and stars in, the cartoon. Fierstein plays Elmer, a adorable boy-duckling who’d rather play with dolls then play baseball. He says of the national pastime, “Maybe if more people went to the theater…they wouldn’t have so much time to pass.” Elmer’s big solo song is “I play by (MY????) own set of rules.”
To be honest, I didn’t know what to make of the thing. Maybe it was Elmer’s voice. There’s nothing quite like hearing an aging queen with the voice of a chain-smoker a couple packs shy of one of those voice-box-amplifiers playing a snuggly wuggly wittle baby ducky-wucky. Or maybe it was the cast. Of course we all know that the quickest way to detect liberal tommyrot in a film or television show is to see if they advocate the immediate seizure of the radio stations. The second best way is to determine whether or not Ed Asner is in the film. Surprise! He is. Asner plays Elmer’s bigoted father, who frets that his son isn’t all-duck, if you know what I mean.
The plot of The Sissy Duckling is obvious. The Duck’s as gay as a French horn. The cool kids pick on him because they are horrible bigots. In the end they all learn that even ducks with a predilection for Oscar parties and wearing vests without undershirts can be heroes. Blah blah blah, don’t judge a duck by his waddle.
I really don’t want to get into a thing about gays. But The Sissy Duckling does illustrate a pet peeve of mine and a cautionary tale for people — like me — who believe PBS should be privatized. HBO doesn’t like America very much. In its original programming, America is more often than not a sexist, racist, and profoundly decadent land. There are exceptions, of course. Shows like The Sopranos and the recently departed Larry Sanders Show are great. But even The Sopranos — the New York media’s pick as the greatest show on earth — has a message that America is corrupt to its core. And in other series like Sex Bytes and Real Sex and Sex in the City — which I have bravely volunteered to scrutinize closely — HBO hammers home its conviction that sex is everything, that if it feels good do it, and that manufacturing rubber sex toys is nobler than running a soup kitchen (actually, that’s not fair, they don’t have to be rubber).
But in its made-for-HBO movies we find the greatest example in popular culture of the platitude that daring programming needs to “speak truth to power” in some way. Of course the truth is usually some cheaply politicized liberal mantra and the power is the perceived authoritarianism of our right-wing government and society. So we get movie after movie on such topics as the Tuskegee Airmen, the Tuskegee medical experiments, heroic women who sought abortions, heroin-addicted hookers and so on. Tom Hanks’s From the Earth to the Moon was a splendid exception, but one gets the sense that HBO ran that because they couldn’t say no to Hanks.
Anyway, the moral of this cautionary tale is that the private sector is no guarantee against the presence of liberal junk appearing on the tube. HBO is a private enterprise offering fare that people pay for directly. Unlike even commercial television, you can’t get HBO unless you pay for it. At least if they tried to put The Sissy Duckling on PBS, conservatives could demand a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Quack” policy.
THE PATTY BEEF
I’m not going to dwell much longer on Pat Buchanan. He’s getting the whacks he deserves elsewhere. And if you don’t think he deserves them, imagine the pounding he’d deliver if a William Weld left the party because of its “extremism.”
But I do want to get a couple things off my chest, as I cannot respond individually to all the e-mail I’ve received. The pile in my in-box can be sliced several different ways. About half of the readers agree with me generally. A few readers, mostly liberals, in this camp denounce me for being too kind to a brutal fascist beer-hall putschist. A slightly larger fraction scold me for referring to Pat as a “nice guy.” They say this is a front and that it makes him a more dangerous anti-Semite.
Conversely, among those who disagree with me, a substantial number berate me for being unfair to Pat. They seem to think I did call him a fascist and I should be ashamed. I have not.
But what I have found the most striking is that so many — certainly not all by any stretch — of Pat’s loyalists are profoundly mean people. Well, I don’t know if they’re mean people, I’m sure their dogs and families love them. And of course I am only referring to the people who write me saying things about how my mother swims in feces or who seem hyper-observant about my last name being so closely associated with certain industries (male modeling, lumberjacking, soldiers of fortune, etc). I have on many, many occasions bemoaned the tendency to confuse politics with emotions. If I had a dollar for every time I quoted Emerson’s observation “there is a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority of fact” I’d probably have enough money to buy all of Pat’s books in the original German.
But good golly, why are these people so nasty? Don’t answer that, I don’t care.
But the criticism I really, really, love is that I am caving in to “establishment pressure.” What establishment? What pressure? I know that sitting in your basement all day listening to ham radio and surfing the net for great deals on Y2K rations tends to make some people a tad conspiratorial. But “the establishment?” Hominah hominah hominah as Lou Costello used to say. Where is this establishment? Where are my checks? Where are my swanky invitations? The only establishment I know has as much use for me as a sixteen in blackjack.
I agree that Pat Buchanan has views that run contrary to the establishment, but that in and of itself doesn’t make them honorable. And as for his biography, next to him I’m as much of an outsider as the leader of a transvestite biker gang. Born and raised in Washington and a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School, Pat was a speechwriter for and an ardent defender of the most liberal Republican President this century. Then he became a syndicated columnist. Then he worked in the White House again. Then he came out and became and even bigger pundit and TV guy. The closest parallel to his resume isn’t Jesse Ventura; it’s David Gergen.
And there’s a notion many of you bring up that the Republican Party abandoned him because he’s pro-life. Huh? Every one of the GOP candidates is pro-life. The Reform Party is no haven for pro-lifers; it’s a haven for people who wrap their heads in tinfoil.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think Pat is likable and I have never called him a fascist. Many people wrote me with very respectful and thoughtful criticism and I don’t want to lump the good apples with crypto-fascist bigots and nut bags (is that a mixed metaphor?). I’ve admitted I still need to read his book and I even agree with him on a few things. But his arguments for why he’s leaving are silly and his arguments for what the GOP should be about are offensive. Despite the demands and the threats, I retract not a word of what I’ve written.
WHAT WE’RE ABOUT
A few quick housecleaning things. A bunch of people have written in asking “Where the Hell is the #@$%^$# 100 most overrated list you keep referring to?” This is an odd question since it has been on the National Review homepage for over a week. I think this has to do with the fact that so many readers of this column come in through Drudge and then leave. Please, stick around. We are running a non-stop Pat Watch which every day runs links to the major articles and news stories about Pat’s doings. And every day we have new and exciting web-only articles, like today’s couch-review of the NBC series West Wing [Link defunct].
If going to NationalReview.com frightens you, just click on the above items and you will be magically transported.