Everything has its precedent. As Erik Larson* notes in The Devil and the White City, one of the members of the workforce that built the legendary 1893 World's Fair in Chicago was a humble carpenter/furniture-maker by the name of Elias Disney, "who in coming years would tell many stories about the construction of this magical realm beside the lake. His son Walt would take note" (153). So as I sort of said, nothing is without precedent. So as I rail against the many offenses of the hippies and those who studied them, I want to acknowledge that nothing I say can capture the intellectual and emotional vacuity of the hippies near as well as a single sentence from Joan Didion's essay "Slouching Toward Bethlehem." If you had half a brain, you'd stop reading my sorry blog, punch up Amazon.com and get yourself a real education. What? You're still reading? I appreciate it. Dumbass.
So, as Didion says, "We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vaccum. Once we had seen these children, we could no longer overlook the vacuum, no longer pretend that society's atomization could be reveresed .... As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one's self depends upon one's mastery of language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from 'a broken home.' They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given the words."
I read and re-read these lines, wondering how anyone could miss their import, and then it dawns on me: the people who should've recognized their import had--sort of ironically but really awfully--been trained to ignore these signals of idiocy. Instead we have linguists like Paul A. Eschholz blithely analyzing the wordlessness and, as Didion would have it, the conceptlessness of "hippic argot" as if it weren't something dangerous.** In his article "Freak Compounds for 'Argot Freaks," published in the Winter 1969 edition of American Speech, "largely as a result of the hippic movement, the last decade has witness not only a widespread resurgence of the wod freak, but also a curious mutation in the essence of the word itself. When long-haired, outlandishly dressed, drug-using hippies pilgrimaged to Haight-Ashbury in the early 1960s, they were quickly dubbed freaks; the perjorative appellation was both obvious and intended..." Blah blah blah. In the end, Eschholz would have us embrace the "bizarre fashion and popularity" of the redefinition of the word freak. And I, for one, won't stand for it. I don't care if "Newsweek in a small lexicon of 'now words' states that freak is 'sometimes the hippie ideal,'" or if its editors believe that "the adjective freaky is defined as 'quintessentially psychedelic,'" because, well because they're unwittingly enlisting American children into that army waiting to be given words. It's not as if rappers like MC Doom, Madvillain, and Eminiem are harming the language by stretching it...they're actually making people think about language. Hippies and their modern counterparts--and there are many of them--aren't exploring language, they're murdering it. Well, the hippies murdered it. Their modern counterparts are the linguistic necrophiliacs of the New Age. But I'm not bitter. Or angry. Or in the least bit sarcastic.
*Larson displayed his brilliance--and am I really footnoting something on a blog?--so... Larson displayed his brilliance in Isaac's Storm, a work of history that damn near demands to be called literature. But in The Devil and the White City, Larson attempts to substitute some clever observations of historical coincidence for actual brilliance, and ends up writing a book that's more clever than it is compelling. "Boy," I said to myself upon finishing The Devil and the White City, "that Erik Larson sure is one clever fellow." However, when I finished Isaac's Storm, my coherent thoughts were little more than strings of expletives linked by foggy forebodings of my own death-by-hurricane. What does this all add up to? Well, either you overwhelm your reader with preternatural cleverness a la David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, or you skip clever altogether and aim for the stolid but satisfying response. By which I mean, would you, being a famous and wealthy author, rather be thought clever or would you rather your work actually move people?
**I should note that I was a linguistics major as an undergraduate, so I'm well aware of the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive linguistics. And while, for the most part--by which I mean, "every use of language unrelated to hippies"--I'm more than content to play the part of the descriptive linguist, in this case I have to side with Didion. Because she's smarter than me. And a better writer. And, in all probability, a much better person. Unless she killed someone bloodily...in which case I'd have the upper hand.