Holiday Horrors: Garrison Keillor

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garrisonkeillor.jpgOver the years, my opinion of Garrison Keillor has wavered between marked indifference and grudging respect. What he does is not really for me, but I appreciated that he was able to construct a cottage industry out of an art form (live radio variety) that doesn’t really exist anymore. Good for him, I thought, as long as I don’t have to hear him.

Then I saw an editorial he wrote for the Baltimore Sun last week, which was so anti-intellectual, racist, and jam packed full of faulty logic, I’ve shelved my indifference. He’s a creep and definitely worth my active hate.

Let’s check out the lowlights, shall we?

I‘ve just come from Cambridge, that beehive of brilliance, where nerds don’t feel self-conscious: There’s always someone nerdier nearby. If you are the World’s Leading Authority on the mating habits of the jabberwock beetle of the Lesser Jujube Archipelago, you can take comfort in knowing that the pinch-faced drone next to you at Starbucks may be the W.L.A. on 17th-century Huguenot hymnody or a niche of quantum physics that is understood by nobody but himself.

Kinda like the host of a weird radio show that features banjo and fiddle bands as if it’s 1925.

People in Cambridge learn to be wary of brilliance, having seen
geniuses in the throes of deep thought step into potholes and
disappear. Such as the brilliant economist Lawrence Summers, whose presidency brought Harvard to the verge of disaster. He, against the advice of his lessers, invested Harvard’s operating funds in the stock market and lost the bet. In the cold light of day, this was dumber than dirt, like putting the kids’ lunch money on Valiant’s Fancy to win in the 5th. And now the genius is in the White House, two short flights of stairs above the Oval Office. This does not make Cantabrigians feel better about our nation’s economic future.

You can blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for the brazen foolishness of the elite. He preached here at the First Church of Cambridge, a Unitarian outfit (where I discovered that “Silent Night” has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God), and Emerson tossed off little bon mots that have been leading people astray ever since. “To be great is to be misunderstood,” for example. This tiny gem of self-pity has given license to a million arrogant and unlovable people to imagine that their unpopularity somehow was proof of their greatness.

And all his hoo-ha about listening to the voice within and don’t follow the path, make your own path and leave a trail and so forth, encouraged people who might’ve been excellent janitors to become bold and innovative economists who run a wealthy university into the ditch.

I don’t know how you draw a line from Lawrence Summers to Ralph Waldo Emerson. I think Keillor might have gotten those two names from a Random Famous Person Generator. If the algorithms broke differently, he could’ve written a column about Sir Walter Raleigh and Lady Gaga.

Nice line about janitors, Garrison. I thought those were the kind of hard working, simple folk you celebrated in your unlistenable show. Good to know it’s all an act and you secretly hate their dumb guts.

If you’re beginning to detect an unsettling anti-intellectual theme emerging here, I assure we’ve only scratched the surface.

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that’s their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year [emphasis mine], Rudolph and
the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write
“Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

Great to know he’s not just a fraud, but a racist. What a shame we allowed Christmas to be sullied with lyrics written by dirty Jews! Way to stand up to Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein!

This may come as a shock to you, Mr. Keillor, but not everyone shopping at the mall at Christmastime is religious. Or celebrates Christmas. What would you like to hear instead of “Let it Snow” and “Rudolph”, “Adeste Fidelis” blasted on a loop? People would kill themselves left and right in the shoe department.

As for getting angry at the way Unitarians sing “Silent Night”, no one put a gun to your head and forced you to go to the Unitarian Church, you intolerant asshole. If you hate the Unitarians so much, don’t go to their meetings. That’d be like me going to see “A Prairie Home Companion” and complaining about your dumb parodies and totally affected down-homery.

Also, why this searing hatred for Unitarians? Aside from the fact that they’re one of the most tolerant, non-judgmental sects in existence, there’s not that many of them in comparison to other membership in other churches.You have to go seriously out of your way to come in contact with Unitarians, let alone hate them. Thanks for doing the leg work!

Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you’re not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don’t mess with the Messiah.

Nobody messed with the Messiah! If I’ve ready your piece correctly, the thing that got your panties in a knot was a slight rewriting of “Silent Night” which, last time I checked, is just a song. It’s a religious song, but it’s not part of The Bible or any church’s liturgy. It’s hysterical to call rewriting it “spiritual piracy”, when it was rewritten by members of a certain denomination as a reflection of their brand of faith. I might call what you’re doing spiritual bullying, demanding that all churches subscribe to your own vision of Christmas.

Keillor closes his column by saying he now spends every Christmas in Norway, not far from the Arctic Circle, so he can enjoy the near-24 hours of no sunlight (the kind of Christmas we can all relate to!). Which is weird, because he strikes me as the kind of person who doesn’t like things that are darker than him.

Is there a possibility this is all satire? Many people think so, because Keillor is usually lambasted by the right, not the left. If so, it’s the worst satire ever. There’s absolutely no clue, no written equivalent of a wink to warn the reader that this is all a parody of the kind of person who would think such things. Sadly, it seems he really is the kind of person who would think such things. As you might imagine, this column has stirred up quite a bit of negative reaction already, but near as I can tell, he has yet to say it was all just a joke.

Garrison Keillor built his career extolling the simple, home-spun virtues of small town America. How folks who live in these places have down-to-earth common sense and wisdom that eludes the pointy-headed types who live in big cities. Even though he could not wait to flee small town America; he spent most of his professional life living in New York City and did his extolling in the pages of The New Yorker, the absolute definition of an elite, effete publication. Even now, he lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, which isn’t exactly Manhattan but isn’t exactly Podunk, either.

And most of his audience remains NPR listeners from big cities and tony, elite suburbs, either nostalgic for the small-town life they also couldn’t wait to flee, or imagining such an existence is spiritually superior to their own evil life in the city. Of course, none of these people (Keillor included) would actually relocate to a small town, because that would mean being too far away from good bagels and great movie theatres and awesome restaurants and all those other things that big, bad cities have in abundance.

Keillor owns a cute, small bookstore in St. Paul. If Lake Woebegone really existed, do you think it could support such a place? Hell no. All the Woebegonians would drive 20 minutes to the local mall and go to Borders, where they could get Dan Brown and Stephen King at much cheaper prices.

Like cities, small towns have pluses and minuses. One of their minuses is that people who live there often have narrow views of the universe. They mistake diversity for confusion and get annoyed by the fact that people can do the same thing in different ways. Or they get hung up on the mere existence of people who are different from them.

Not everyone from a small town is small minded, of course. And not everyone from the city is open minded. As Keillor proves, you can grow up in a small town, leave for the city as soon as possible, write for an elite magazine, and still maintain idiotic, stone age prejudices.