Penetrating analysis or pointy-headed intellectual garbage? Readers respond to Solon Simmons' "Class Politics -- JibJab style."

By Salon Staff
Published August 2, 2004 7:30PM (EDT)

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The article on modern class politics was very interesting but it neglects to mention something very important about William Jennings Bryan. He was a fundamentalist and probably a creationist but those were not his main reasons for fighting against Darrow in the Scopes trial. William Jennings Bryan was very worried that teaching evolution would lead to a wide spread acceptance of Social Darwinism. Bryan correctly thought that Social Darwinism was responsible for the worst excesses of capitalism during the Gilded Age. In Bryan's mind if the majority people accepted Social Darwinism as a norm it would create catastrophic problems for the "little guy" and lead to more excess in capitalism.

-- Dale Ratner

Fascinating as Solon Simmons' analysis of the popularity of JibJab's "This Land" may be, I think he's missing the simplest explanation for its popularity. The fact is, very few people on either side of the political fence actually like "their" candidate in this election. Democrats are voting against Bush, Republicans are voting against Kerry, and the vast majority of both seem to be doing so grudgingly. As a result, a piece that takes both candidates apart has a lot of appeal to most everyone.

-- Jeremy Huber

I'm surprised that any writer from Salon could see the JibJab satire as a "creature of the left," even in form, when it is such an effective propaganda piece for the right.

The subtext of the piece is pure Republicanism designed to impact young, Republican-leaning, generally apolitical technical types: that the campaigns of both Kerry and Bush are equally negative, equally deceptive, and equally meaningless, nothing more than a vituperative contest between two Skull and Bones members with different personal styles, rather than a critical choice between two vastly different sets of policies and potential American futures. But most devastatingly, Kerry is the one who is portrayed as the millionaire intellectual snob who is more out of touch with the way Americans "really" are. If you truly were still on the fence, which candidate would you be most likely to vote for after seeing this piece? I think the answer is clear.

The fact that this Republican propaganda piece touched some kind of chord with a huge swath of the American people is worrisome news for the Democrats. Kerry had better find a way to dispel or neutralize the "snobby patrician" image and form a more personal connection to the American voting public -- as soon as possible.

-- Larry Letich

I'm not convinced that Michael Moore is a populist. I realize I'm bringing up the slippery subject of authenticity, but I grew up in Michigan in a blue-collar small town. My brother-in-law has worked 38 years in auto factories that pay half of what GM pays. Friends from high school do the same. I went to college, the University of Michigan, where I crossed one of society's rifts. My fellow students, overwhelmingly from elite high schools, had a different perspective. One attitude I encountered (which was somewhat new to me) was the "we're so smart and they're so stupid" attitude. Mr. Moore uses this in his films, asking the viewer to laugh along. You do not come across this attitude too often in the blue-collar world. It's seen as elitist, snobby. Michael Moore's father worked in a factory which makes him, I guess, authentically blue-collar. He has to tell me this, because I wouldn't know it from his films or interviews. I don't see a blue-collar perspective in them. I don't see that authenticity, that comment or shot which only someone from that world would make. Instead, I see the perspective of a university leftist, not intellectual, but with intellectual pretensions. A university leftist who happens to be familiar with Flint.

-- Steve Meyer

Solon Simmons seems to miss the point of the intellectual establishment's careful rules. Whatever the merits of his critque, Christopher Hitchens has accused Michael Moore of breaking epistemic rules, not merely "aesthetic" ones.

The rules of reasoned discourse that JibJab's animation flouts are not there because academics happen to enjoy dry discussions -- they are intended to preserve reasoned discussions in which the information exchanged is accurate and the conclusions sound.

Don't get me wrong -- I thought the animation was hilarious. And not every piece of political discourse needs to be a scholarly treatise. But I fear the abandonment of the "politics of reason" simply because the right has gotten so many people to sneer at intellectuals -- that would truly represent the triumph of style over substance.

-- Daniel H. Levine

I have never read such pointy-headed intellectual garbage in my life.

"This combination of "between the eyes" brashness and hypertextual layering marks it as a creature of the left, even though its most devastating images impugn Kerry and place it nearer the right. In form, this is left propaganda whatever its content and it joins the ranks of courageous if sometimes incautious examples of work in the genre of the new class populism."

Please! As my Dad used to say, never say in ten words what you can say in two.

-- Chuck Willette

I think this little Flash animation is so popular because it's a diversion from the incredible weight on the minds of most Americans about the state of our nation. It's brief. It's clever. It's not over-thought.

In other words, it reminds most of us (Solon Simmons apparently excluded) to "lighten up" and not overanalyze, even if only for a few moments.

Please... lighten up!

-- P. Kraskow

This article is the most ridiculous, pompous piece of drivel I have ever read on Salon (in the words of Albus Dumbledore, that is saying something). Solon Simmons' commentary is illustrative of the worst kind of pretentious authority -- the kind that didn't bother to check with the source.

JibJab made a hilarious animation that tried (outstandingly successfully)to skewer the leftist and rightist candidates based on negative stereotypes held by their opponents. Nothing more, nothing less.

Simmons' attempt to explain this piece of humor as some deeper social commentary reminds me of the idiot psychologist that analyzed the song "Wake up, little Susie" by the Everly Brothers as some kind of expression of lesbian shame. When the writer of the song, who was female, was contacted and presented with the idiot's thesis, it took ten minutes for her to stop laughing. She then explained that the song had been slopped together in ten minutes because they had some extra studio time, and that the song meant absolutely nothing outside of the narrative.

I long for the day when academics of dubious talent will finally be denied their exalted status and will be relegated to Baristadom where they belong, so that truly reasoned analysis and commentary can be trusted. We live in an age where people like Simmons are given far too much credit and authority.

-- Jeff Greeson

Wow. What a tightly crafted polemic! Too bad it completely misses the point. "This Land" is great because it's funny, and it's funny because it's true. When it comes to contemporary campaign combat, party affiliations don't matter: Everybody's an ass. Media, politicians, celebrities, "satirists," "documentarians"... even boomer academics who try to outsmart every cultural phenomenon that scores a shout-out from cable news.

"This Land" perfectly captures the good-natured American spirit that agrees to buy the baloney, even when it knows it's full of lips and assholes. In most countries, they try to keep that a secret. In "This Land," such knowledge -- and such acknowledgement -- is power to the people. And that, my friend, is populism.

-- Kristen

Solon Simmons is wrong to dismiss the apparent balance and obvious humor of "This Land" so easily. That's exactly what makes it so forwardable, and therefore so popular. I usually think twice before sending friends politically sensitive material. I don't want to bore them or offend them any more than necessary. Because "This Land" is hilarious and makes fun of both sides, I can feel good about sending it to anyone, even if I'm not sure of their political affiliation and even though I think the animation is more critical of Bush (whom I despise) in the things that really matter. Without the evenhandedness, and especially the humor, "This Land" would be languishing in obscurity, no matter how much it might reflect changes in the nature of populism.

-- Travis Ross

Salon Staff

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