The headlines of the day, 60 years ago:
Red Threat in Congo
Atomic Test Successfully Paves Pacific Island
House Defeats Negro Bill
All bad news. Serious news. Grim stuff. At least it fit the usual pattern of human behavior, the contest of nations and tribes. It made sense. Today every news cycle is more or less Trump did a Trump thing, followed by a stork dance of outrage. After that, you get the crazy news, which is notable because no one can say it’s crazy.
Utterly insane item: British woman announces intention to marry “Lumiere,” a 91-year-old chandelier she bought online. She identifies as an “objectum sexual,” which means she invests erotic aspirations into inanimate objects. This is utterly ridiculous, unless we’re talking about cars, but the New York Post article takes her seriously. Perhaps the reporter smiled and nodded as you do on the bus when someone who was talking about the weather segues to a discussion of the malevolent lizard people who live in the center of the earth, but you know that everyone involved in the production of the story believes the woman is barking mad.
Incrementally Less Insane Item, Which Says Something about Our Era: A Canadian person who identifies as a woman, and has the intact apparatus of a male-type person, is suing immigrant women who run depilatory parlors because they will not remove the bristles from zher groinal terrain. Most men would gladly pay money not to have hot wax slathered on their privates, but since this penis-possessing person identifies as transgender, the Canadian Human Rights Council has to enter the case and pull long, concerned faces.
Almost everyone thinks this is daft but won’t say so, because the trans issue is the most pressing social-justice matter of the day. From the news, you might believe that 57 percent of the population is now gender-fluid, or at least experiencing varying levels of gender viscosity. If you believe that there are two genders — you gotcher yin, and you gotcher yang there, as Archie Bunker might put it — you hesitate to say so on social media, lest the panopticon of Google seal your wrongthink in digital amber.
Problematic: “Men cannot give birth.”
Enlightened: “Female lizard people who live in the center of the earth and control all human events can have scrotums that must have legal protection to be silky smooth.”
Insane Item That Feels Almost Normal, because it does not require you to rewrite the parameters of your worldview. Example: Amazon’s Ring doorbell cameras are problematic, and racist. AP did a story on a police department raffling off free doorbell cameras, and of course there’s a Dark Side. “Critics complain that the systems turn neighborhoods into places of constant surveillance and create suspicion that falls heavier on minorities.”
“‘Amazon is profiting off of fear,’ said Chris Gilliard, an English professor at Michigan’s Macomb Community College and a prominent critic of Ring.”
Aside from the fact that the only time one should describe oneself as “a prominent critic of Ring” is “article-free day at Bayreuth,” the good prof seems to think we’re afraid. No. I have one of these doorbell cameras. It is perfect for telling earnest young people with clipboards that I am not able to come to the door to dash their hopes in person. In the old days I answered the door and heard the spiel:
“Hi! I’m collecting signatures to shut down Western civilization and reduce the human population to a tenth of its current size, after which we will return to being a sustainable community of migratory vegans.”
As a person who avoids pointless conflict, I’d respond thus:
“Wow! I admire your dedication. Nice night to walk around the neighborhood, too! Sorry, though, my right hand has, uh, sudden polio syndrome, and I can’t sign anything.”
“I can put the pen in your mouth and you can write your name on the line.”
“No, sorry, I have a plastic sensitivity, I’d get hives on my lips.”
“Okay, I’ll hold the pen, and you move the clipboard up and down to make your signature.”
“Whaddya know, spastic colon just kicked in. Gotta go. Good luck!”
From behind the closed door: “I can wait!”
Far from making me paranoid about crime in my neighborhood, the doorbell’s app lets me know I’m not paranoid enough. A constant flow of updates has told me the truth: There are zombie hordes wandering through alleys at 3 a.m. trying car doors, and it’s heartening to see they’re all duly reported to the police. Same with the porch pirates who pilfer Amazon packages. Their faces are captured in crisp HD video, and the police, duly informed, will get right on it.
Except we all know they won’t. We all know that the low-level miscreants who ransack your unlocked car or take your Amazon Prime shipment of dog food and shoelaces will not end up breaking rocks under the watchful eye of some guy wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses who looks like Rod Steiger. The cameras show us the behavior of people who are reasonably certain no consequences will follow.
So a pattern emerges: It is part of the normal continuum to want to enter into matrimony with chandeliers, and if the electrical chandelier believes it uses candles instead of lightbulbs you should use the power of the state to force people to trim its nonexistent wick, and no one should be permitted to record who comes up to their door to steal things.
This is how you get Trump, some say, but to be honest, some days I wish that this were how we got President Judge Judy. Eyeroll, gavel banged: Case dismissed.