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Canon Fodder


Reading is FUN-damental! Everybody’s talking about the Ann Coulter Great Books Program©, “Reading for Right-Wingers,” a tastes-great, less-filling curriculum hand-picked by our favorite intellectual ectomorph.

Ann Coulter—She-Wolf of the Roger Ailes SS, Boswellian wit, and knobby-kneed hottie (in the fever dreams of hairy-palmed Young Republicans everywhere)—has done it again.

While I and my hopelessly literary fellow travelers—the effete-snob neo-Marxists sapping this great nation’s precious bodily fluids—trudge joylessly through the canon, the Elizabeth Bathory of the Sound Bite is light years ahead of us, on the cultural curve. Hey! Immanuel Goldstein! Pull your head out of the scriptorium and read the writing on the wall: We’re living in a postliterate age, Grammatology Man.

Maybe Coulter’s Zen-like empty bookshelf was inspired by the new Kaiser study, which notes that kids 8 to 18 spend about 43 minutes a day reading for pleasure, on average, as opposed to roughly four hours a day watching TV, videos, DVDs, and Tivo’d programs; 1 and 3/4 hours a day listening to the radio or music; a little over one hour a day using computers for non-schoolwork activities; and about 50 minutes a day playing video games.

Or maybe Coulter knows, better than most, that digging into the historical record or excavating the facts from the public press is for the clueless Captain Earnests of the egghead left. Why bother, when spinning whole-cloth fabrications can land you on the bestseller list and make your invincible, vulpine smile a Fox News fixture? Facts, as Coulter crush Ronald Reagan famously observed, are stupid things. There were no lines upon the tranquil Reagan brow, happily uncreased by troubling ideas from weighty tomes. When an incredulous James Baker asked the president, in 1983, why he hadn’t read the briefing book for a momentous economic summit, the Sage of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was philosophical: “Well, Jim, The Sound of Music was on last night.” These things happen. Besides, who needs Facts on File in a photo-op world? According to David Gergen, Bonzo was just “boffo” at the summit: “He stayed above the forest of facts we had provided and focused on the larger goals he wanted to pursue.”

Clear-cutting the “forest of facts” is standard practice for Coulter and attacking heads like her, well-skilled in the Rove-ian art of chum-bucket realpolitik, whose first rule is never to let empirical truth or intellectual nuance stand in the way of sliming the enemy. These are people for whom winning is everything: they stoop to conquer, lower than a shitfaced Kissinger in a limbo contest. Not for them the op cits and ibids of the academic left, so concerned with covering its flanks with scrupulous research. Facticity—hell, even big words like “facticity”—went out with leather elbow-pads and those beard-pulling think pieces about the Social Responsibility of the Intellectual in back issues of Dissent magazine.

Coulter has learned to make the media’s repetition compulsion work for her. She knows that no lie is too big to be transmuted, through the alchemy of Fox News quoting conservative pundits quoting right-wing radio cranks quoting right-wing bloggers quoting her, into Goebbels-ian truth. In such a climate, stuffing your head full of book-learning only muddles the mind with inconvenient facts, grit in the wind-up mind of a right-wing fembot. Just hit your mark, stay on message, and charm the toothless “dragons of the press,” as Gergen called them, right out of their pants. And be sure to show plenty of leg. Besides, reading makes your lips numb.


  1. First Clown wrote:

    Ann Coulter’s Book Club

    I’m sorry, Shovelware’s Canon Fodder is the funniest thing I’ve read in a while and I don’t even know who Ann Coulter is. I could imagine, from this post, that I don’t want to know but I almost wish I did so I could be in on the joke.
    She know…

    Tuesday, March 22, 2005 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  2. opk wrote:

    WOW! You can certainly write. I love it. Great to see you take AC to task for sloppy thinking. You clearly cut your teeth on that piece you wrote on Madonna’s big toe. Now that toe piece there was real scholarship. Keep it up. I get a buzz reading your stuff.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2005 at 8:39 pm | Permalink
  3. M. Dery wrote:

    Well, I’m hardly the first to hurl a flaming brick at the Queen of Mean, but thanks. I’ll walk a million miles for a cheap shot, and that blank page was just begging to be slapped up on a Web marquee, in bright lights.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2005 at 10:43 pm | Permalink
  4. corey wrote:

    the isnt blank.. lol scroll down
    and AC, dont give her anymore publicity

    Wednesday, March 23, 2005 at 11:04 pm | Permalink
  5. M. Dery wrote:

    The *what* isn’t blank? Scroll down to what? Now I’m *all* confused…

    Wednesday, March 23, 2005 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  6. David Hearne wrote:

    There may have been no books on Coulter’s site when you first checked, but there’s a list available now. However, there is still fodder for snark. First of all, the first three books recommended are *her* books. Second, the list deviates not one inch from the conservative canon as defined by National Review and The Conservative Book Club. I’ve seen Maoist reading lists that are less rigid.
    I was also amused by the inclusion of Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” Coulter doesn’t seem to know that Kirk was immersed in the very kind of elitism she sees in liberals. The old boy would have cut out his own tongue before praising NASCAR. He also thought that the eight-hour workday violated the time needed by intellectuals needed for listening to Bach and being contemplative. I doubt that Coulter has actually read him. She just knows that it’s a book that conservatives are *supposed* to read.
    I agree with your assessment of Coulter’s vacuousness, but I disagree over whether she doesn’t value books. Coulter knows that books are important tools for getting onto talk shows. They are a good means of *marketing*. The old reasons for reading — curiousity, a love for words, an awareness of the gaps in your knowledge — are secondary to publicity. Just as many books are a means of obtaining the lucre from a movie adaptation, Coulter writes to keep herself present on the lecture circuit. She’s not post-literate. She represents a literacy that’s completely subservient to the marketplace and political doctrine.

    Thursday, March 24, 2005 at 9:41 am | Permalink
  7. M. Dery wrote:

    Smart, smart stuff, David. I’ll meet you halfway, agreeing that Coulter is wise in the ways of flogging product to kick up media interest in Brand Coulter. But I disagree profoundly that her cynical, media-savvy use of the Book as Prop and the Book as Product constitutes a genuine love of the book as prism for refracting the world. Coulter seems wholly innocent of huge swathes of Middle Eastern history (not to mention American). Trained as a lawyer, she has the legal hack’s eye for any literary stick useful in beating the devil; knowledge, for her, is a tactical weapon, not a high-power microscope to be turned, at last, on herself, to challenge her own pinhole view of a world too big for neat little Manichean dualisms. In that regard, she reminds me of one of her unhappier bedfellows, himself a student of gutter lit and the ad-hominem hit: In Mein Kampf, Hitler notes that he plundered books for ammo useful in rhetorical firefights, discarding any ideas irrelevant—or inconveniently incommensurate with—his Dr. Evil ambitions. (now I’ve gone and done it—broken Godwin’s Law!) I think we have to distinguish between a genuine reader such as, say, Sontag, whose mind stretched over the years to accommodate the new ideas she encountered in her voluminous reading and someone like Coulter, whose reading seems to consist, as you note, of a catechism that only reinforces the revealed truths of the conservative priesthood. But I’m fascinated by your point about the inherent hypocrisy of conservative populism. This faultline—between the clench-jawed, skull-and-bones bluebloods like Buckley and the wannabe Etonians like George Will, on one side, and the smash-and-grab vulgarians like Coulter, whose debating style is pure WWF compared to their Oxfordian approach—simply begs for closer scrutiny. Do you write about this stuff?

    Thursday, March 24, 2005 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  8. David Hearne wrote:

    I haven’t published any writings on the subject, if that’s what you mean. And my own livejournal thoughts on the subjects are few. Still, you’re right that it’s interesting to compare writers like Kirk, Wilhelm Ropke and C.S. Lewis with the modern media pundit. There’s something oddly appealing — to me, at least — about these old writers who put their snobbery up front. (That is, until they start insisting that society organize itself around their snobbery.) Of course, they came from a time when intellectuals could sneer at the ‘mass-mind.’ Nowadays every right-winger has to fake a love for a cartoon version of working-class machismo — shotguns, Toby Keith, etc. The faultline lies between that posturing and the homage they pay to certain ‘experts’ and ‘philosophers.’
    I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well. I have to point out certain things which could take up too much space here — things like Michelle Malkin objecting to the ‘self-annointed experts’ of American history while also telling us to heed ‘the best, the brightest, the most well-informed,’ or the way Brent Bozell will cry ‘The people, yes!’ one moment and then accuse the people of decadence in the next, or the contradictions in Robert Knight’s “The Age of Consent.” Let’s just say that there is a difference between what people say on the talk shows and what they say when they think nobody is listening.

    Thursday, March 24, 2005 at 8:51 pm | Permalink
  9. Matt Christman wrote:

    Tom Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? has a good deal of insight into this conservative populist conflict. Essentially, since the Great Backlash that began in the sixties among the white working and middle classes and has only gained steam since was predicated largely on an objection to elite control (elite control of education, the media and, most crucially, the judiciary), any conservative who really wants to effectively appeal to that mindset must take up the cudge of the oppressed, patronized PLAIN FOLKS, brimming as they are with horse sense and morality. That’s why you see Upper West Side and Georgetown dandies like David Brooks and George Will extolling the simple pleasures of NASCAR, Wal-Mart and apocalyptic christianity, even though they would never be caught dead wearing a tie that cost less than three hundred bucks. The right wing rhetoric manchine has turned the anti-elite sentiment of middle and working class whites that was largely the product of resentment against judges making decisions that they saw as tyrannical and opposed to the popular will (it’s a remarkable through-line of resentment from desegregation to bussing to Roe v. Wade to the Massachusetts gay marriage decision), into a holy war against Eastern, effite liberals and elitists of all stripes. It’s essentially a mutated version of class warfare in which class has lost all of its connotations of economic placement, replaced instead by tastes, values and mannerisms. By this alchemy, George Bush, scion of wealth unparralleled, can be sold as a man of the people due to his faith, down-home chumminess and penchant for brushclearing, while John Kerry, born into a similar rhealm of wealth and priviledge, is branded an snobby elite because he wind-surfs and uses big words. It’s a fantastic trick for the Corporate interests behind the Republican party, because it allows them to whip up populist frenzies, capitalizing on the disenchantment and anger of an increasingly disempowered populace, without running the risk of them blaming accumulated wealth for their plight. Class, for these people, doesn’t have anything to do with wealth or the lack of it. So, as the policies of the Republican party furhter impoverish these frustrated hinterlanders, they will only redouble their hatred of the cultural elites who they see as controlling their lives, enthusiastically voting for those who will ensure their economic disenfranchisment.
    The slight downside of all this, if you’re a high-born right winger like Will or Conneticut’s own Ann Coulter, is that you have to talk the talk and walk the walk of these “working class” values: NASCAR and a hostility to “book learning” being chief among them.

    Sunday, March 27, 2005 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  10. Joe wrote:

    I had quite a comment thread from a Coulter fan on my blog after linking to this post. I’m saddened that he didn’t decide to take it up with you. I wonder why?

    Tuesday, March 29, 2005 at 1:03 pm | Permalink