Let’s get my only complaint out of the way first. Not since Gone with the Wind was initially called “Tomorrow Is Another Day” has such a great book been saddled with such an inadequate title. Titles are supposed to hit the reader where he lives, but this one is an eviction notice. It starts with a negative, and then revives “elite,” long benumbed from its association with everything from social class to matched luggage. Were it my book I would call it “Drinking the Cool-Aid: How America’s Useful Idiots Are Poisoning Our National Life.”
That said, let the hosannas begin. Greg Gutfeld is the reason I fiddle with my meds. He co-hosts The Five on Fox News at 5 p.m., when I’m supposed to take my anti-stress pill, so I skip the pill to avoid restorative detachment. I will leave no pill unturned to make sure I’m wide awake for his raucous 3 a.m. talk show, Red Eye, when I also skip my diuretic pill to keep from being distracted by my bladder. Gutfeld may well be the death of me yet, but in the meantime his latest book has given me a new lease on life.
He contends that a change in the nature of fame has empowered a triumvirate of government, the media, and academia — the “Coolerati” — to decide what far-left progressive ideas get shoved down our throats by the sort of naïve liberals Lenin called useful idiots. Such a mammoth propaganda machine would have been impossible before fame as we know it came into being. In the past, most fame was actually infamy, the mantle of larger-than-life outlaws like Jesse James, whom people heard about but never saw. But then big-screen movies came along to create celebrities and make them literally larger than life; then came television with its avuncular anchors and masters of ceremonies who “came into our homes” for years on end; and finally, the advent of we-never-close cable, which will cover anything and interview anybody to fill its bottomless maw. With so many people now instantly recognizable, the Coolerati can send in their clowns whenever a desperate scheduler phones.
Gutfeld draws a vital distinction between the Coolerati’s definition of cool and the word’s origin in the black ghetto. In the latter, cool was Hemingwayesque: “poise under pressure for members of a stigmatized group [and] a dignified method for maintaining detachment during tense encounters.” To the Coolerati, the function of cool is not to maintain equilibrium, but to topple it and bring about an “attitudinal apocalypse” of public opinion that reflects their visions of a brave new world.
Gutfeld’s cool-detector goes off whenever he scents “manufactured, attention-seeking behavior or activism that benefits no one but the activist.” A favorite target is the Save the Earth crowd. “Blaming auto emissions for asteroids is the modern equivalent of a rain dance,” he snorts, but a lot of people will believe it because somebody on television said so. Ditto for using dung for fuel; if that could be done, “MSNBC could heat the entire solar system.” The natural-versus-artificial debate is behind the ever-more-hysterical nutrition obsession, exemplified by the man who dressed only in bits and pieces of natural fabrics and turned orange from eating nothing but carrots: “He looked like a homeless sherbet.” Thank God, then, for the football player named José. He was cleated on the field, dirt got into his wound, the dirt contained armadillo dung, and he came down with leprosy. “He did not get leprosy from a Twinkie, a Camel cigarette, or a gallon of gas. He got it from an armadillo’s ass.”
Then there’s Raising Awareness, which might be called rubbing it in, when you consider how often the same awarenesses keep getting raised. Two in particular have been raised so often for so long that they make for a kind of tandem Ur-Awareness. Both find their natural home on college campuses. One of them is sex, as in the University of Tennessee’s Sex Week, held to make students aware of all the new goodies the sex-toy industry has developed. Why the venue, asks Gutfeld? Ever since the Sixties proclaimed “If it feels good, do it,” college students have been aware of nothing but sex. “Taking a stand for sexual awareness is like taking a stand for more fleas at the dog pound.”
The other Ur-Awareness is race. As recently as 2012, the University of Wisconsin at Superior — uncomfortably aware, perhaps, of its name — decided to hold Privilege Week to remind white students that they were white. In case they didn’t know this, they were charged to write the word “UNFAIR” on their faces, wear a white bracelet as a further clue, “put a note on your mirror or computer screen to remind you to think about privilege,” and “find a person of color who is willing to hold you accountable.” Does that mean ask for a volunteer bully to beat you up to raise welts along with awareness? They don’t say, but Gutfeld would not be surprised. “We are now at a time when being born white is a fundamentally racist act. If you are white, just by procreating, your parents committed, or rather produced, a hate crime.”
#page#When all the awarenesses are raised, the useful idiots go on TV and flog the New Cool with starry-eyed testimonials about “how much better I feel about myself,” and ramble through that perennial interview question, “What went through your mind when . . . ,” while the interviewer nods thoughtfully. That’s what interviewers do, notes Gutfeld: “nod thoughtfully to fellow nincompoops.”
Want quick ’n’ dirty cool cred? Try anti-Americanism: “If America were a tooth, the cool would vote for the cavity.” It’s what Sean Penn, Michael Moore, and Oliver Stone did when Venezuela’s Marxist dictator Hugo Chávez died and they all trooped up to the microphone and onto the Internet to deliver heartfelt eulogies to the man who gave oil a good name by promising to give his to its rightful owners, the poor. “I lost a friend I was blessed to have, poor people lost a champion,” they mourned, to which Gutfeld responds: “Chávez fans like Penn and Moore are so full of s**t . . . they’re Porta Potties on legs.” You think that’s insulting? Basketball celebrity Dennis Rodman is “Jane Fonda with a jump shot.” Cool athletes are “bejeweled, club-happy, limousine-loving louts more enthralled by attention than achievement.” As for Rodman’s new best-friend-forever who keeps North Korean missiles trained on us: “Kim Jong Un is a bedsore on the earth’s ass.”
The Coolerati can always find an awareness or two to raise if they hit a slow day, but what really turns them on is a new batch of Root Causes and Inner Demons. These require a mass murder like the Boston Marathon bombing and a youthful suspect who is sexy enough to make the cover of Rolling Stone and cause a tweet rush as millions of Coolerati-trained Americans seek to answer the question “What went through your mind when you first saw Tsarnaev’s picture?” The winner was the besotted female who replied “pillow-soft.” In the five-column spread the New York Times devoted to Tsarnaev, his Islamic training was mentioned only briefly; the rest was about him. TV talking heads followed suit, speculating whether he felt inferior to his older brother and took part in the bombing to prove his manhood, etc., etc.
Gutfeld calls this “the mental masturbation of the cool contemplating bad men and turning evil into a therapy session.” He predicts that, because the Coolerati have had so much success in subverting society and throwing existing structures into chaos, the murderer will be sentenced to a lifestyle choice: He will get a Ph.D., married, famous friends who claim he is innocent, and the half-understood envy of millions because “a life of obscurity is viewed as somehow inferior to a life of infamy.”
Gutfeld’s many no-holds-barred remarks are saved from obscenity by being funny, but I never expected him to turn into my grandmother. “The Coolerati care more about gun control than self-control,” he charges, so he comes out in favor of female chastity. Limited to teenagers, but chastity just the same:
Being a virgin is a scarlet V, you must lose it so you’re no longer freakishly uncool. The primary engine of cool that leads many young girls to ruin is a desire for acceptance. This is the reason for most premature loss of virginity. . . . Maybe he’ll learn that the girl who says no is the girl you want. But if he doesn’t, that’s his loss. And every good girl’s gain.
Ruin? Yes. “Men no longer find marriage as enticing as they did, because modern women forfeited the most potent power they had: their vaginas.” I expected a jokey reference to the gold mine that must never be fracked but it never came. He really meant what he said.
Gutfeld has a real fear that the uncool majority is letting the cool win without putting up a fight, in “a sort of cultural Stockholm syndrome.” What we need are what he calls “Free Radicals,” ironclad nonconformists to put the cool in their place and dismiss them as “full of sound and fury, signifying nobodies.” He lists his favorite examples — Margaret Thatcher, John Bolton — but saves his best for Truman Capote: “a five-foot-two chubby gay conservative who never gave in and became a lefty so that Gore Vidal might like him.”
Obviously Not Cool is a wonderful book, but it is also something more. Now that it has joined Gutfeld’s earlier bestseller, The Joy of Hate, a longstanding problem of American writing has sorted itself out. We have never agreed on what humor is: We have frontier brag with its tall tales, crackerbarrel philosophy with its cute wisdom, the wisecrack by the tough guy who talks out of the side of his mouth, and the Algonquin Round Table, too brittle and acerbic to be more than an acquired taste for the few. What we have always been short on is misanthropes, those scourges of all mankind who unfriend everybody yet are blithe enough to be witty about it. A misanthrope never brags, he’s never cute, he never plays the tough guy, and he never belongs to a smart set. He simply takes no prisoners, shoots the wounded on the field, and then says something hilarious. Our only bona fide misanthrope was Ambrose Bierce, and Greg Gutfeld is his heir. He could have written the famous one-sentence review attributed to Bierce — “The covers of this book are too far apart” — and he thrives on the same impish perversity that made Bierce announce his plan to disappear into an unfriendly country (“A gringo in Mexico. Ah, euthanasia!”). If we expect to defeat the Coolerati, we should stop being so nice. It doesn’t take a village, it takes a misanthrope.
– Florence King can be reached at P.O. Box 7113, Fredericksburg, VA 22404.