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The 10 Worst Things About David Brooks: David Brooks is an Idiot, Part II

July 19, 2011

“The problem is it’s… I can’t think of a word to describe it.  It’s… well, bizarre doesn’t even come close.  Senseless doesn’t get close.  I can’t identify a reason why it was written.  I can’t figure out what inspired Brooks to write it, well, other than he had to write something.  I don’t know who he expected to read it and comprehend it.  I don’t even know how he expected the editors at the New York Times to actually publish it…. There is nothing that broaches sanity that explains this piece.  There is literally no reason for it.  The who, why, when, where, what, there isn’t any of that in it.  The relevance to anything, it’s not.”

– Description of a David Brooks column by… Rush Limbaugh?!

Rush was describing one of Brooks’s occasional forays into film criticism (“The Flock Comedies“).  But his critiques could apply equally to any Brooks column.  Truly, as he says, there is nothing that broaches sanity that explains anything in his oeuvre, there’s no reason for it, and the relevance to anything, it’s not.  These comments find Limbaugh in a strangely reasonable mode, conveying the reaction of a sane, intelligent reader on encountering a tissue of banality.   In oxycontin, veritas.

But Rush’s opiate-addled ramblings, while true, aren’t specific enough.  There are many flavors of inane claptrap, many ways to broach sanity and reduce people to indignant sentence fragments.  In his prolific career, Brooks has discovered them all.  Below, I provide a taxonomy.

1.  He’s wrong about everything.  Back in 2004, some people believed that George W. Bush was performing poorly at his job.  Hard to believe, but Brooks was on the scene to document this short-lived misconception for the benefit of future scholars.  In “The Savior of the Right,” he schools the naysayers.  “Bush,” he explains, “hasn’t abandoned conservatism; he’s modernized and saved it.”  How?  I need specifics!  “Almost single-handedly, Bush reconnected with the positive and idealistic instincts of middle-class Americans.”  Oh.  “Connecting” with people’s “instincts.”  Did he also re-align their chakras?

Anyway, in doing so, “Bush has ennobled and saved American conservatism.”  Take that, everyone who made premature claims of his failure!  I hate people who try to forecast trends and guess how history will turn out while it’s still happening.  They’re usually just shallow publicity whores with no real ideas who’ll forget everything they said by the next news cycle.  David Brooks can totally see through them.   (He also predicted Iraq would be “a beacon of freedom in the Middle East.”)

2.  He’s above petty stuff, like ideals and good judgment.  Brooks is a man of ideas.  And he doesn’t want to limit his idea-peddling to judgments about whether events and outcomes are good or bad.  The idiots from Jersey Shore could do that.  Brooks prefers to drill down to the underlying causes.  For instance, Donald Trump, an accomplished blowhard, ran for president.  Is this good?  Is this bad?  It’s an example of a phenomenon.  “Supremely accomplished blowhards offend some but also arouse intense loyalty in others.”  Wait a minute… I was supposed to be the one offending some but arousing intense loyalty in others!  That fortune cookie lied to me!  I could have been a former novelty presidential candidate by now!

3.  He’s a master of the obvious.  “Nobody could have possibly anticipated Bin Laden’s life and the giant effect it would have.”  To be fair, they didn’t try.  They were all too busy anticipating George W. Bush’s life, and its giant effect of ennoblifying middle-class Americans’ phenomenological weltschmerz.  Stupid political analysts, never there when you need them.

4.  He doesn’t get jokes.   In “The Palin Rebound,” he sticks up for Sarah Palin, whom some had mocked as unable to speak in complete sentences or pronounce words.  His defense:  She can, too, say sentences and words!

“Thursday night [at the Vice-presidential debate] she spoke like a normal person.”

Not only that, but her command of ambulatory locomotion was flawless.  “Here she was, resplendent in black, striding out like a power-walker, and greeting Joe Biden like an assertive salesman, first-naming him right off the bat.”  You know, I think Palin is going to win this thing.  It all adds up:  Americans love power-walking, because it’s so badass.   Getting a pitch from an assertive salesperson is the best way to unwind after a long day.  Using someone’s first name shows you remembered their first name.  And black is the most resplendent color.  Palin is like the ultimate combination of a feisty granny, a department store perfume spritzer, and a ninja.

5. He thinks he’s a science writer.  For, say, Richard Dawkins, becoming a respected science writer means getting a Ph.D., doing research, gaining an intensive knowledge of all the current debates and theories in your field, making substantive contributions to those debates, advancing human knowledge, then writing a book that makes important concepts accessible without dumbing them down.  For Brooks, it’s more like this:  (1)  Read a summary of a science article that was e-mailed to you in a press release. (2)  Describe the summary.  Viola: You just explained Human Nature.  There’s no need to worry about conflicting studies or sample sizes or anything like that.  Beauty is interesting factoids, interesting factoids are truth, that is all ye know on Earth and all ye need know.

This “Cosmo with longer words” approach to science results in blog posts like “Expressive Attraction.”  And guys, I think this is the factoid-based blog post to bring a truce to the war of the sexes.  Just check out what Brooks has to say about why men are always so cocky:

“The results… suggest maybe there is a reason men tend to be much more overconfident than women. Overconfidence (pride) wins mates. For women, it doesn’t.”  So there is a reason!  Case… closed.  Thank God, because I was worried they were just immature dickheads.  Now I know they’re just trying to get frea-kay with the lay-dies (this article is about straight people, right?), I rescind my objection.

6. He thinks he’s a film reviewer.  In “The Facebook Searchers,” he argues that The Social Network is a great movie because David Brooks everyone can relate to the protagonist.  “Zuckerberg is a sympathetic character because despite all his bullying, he deeply feels what he lacks, and works tirelessly to fill the hole.”  I had a joke here, but it was reliant on the existence of a Social Network porn parody.  There is no such parody.  Okay, I’ll try anyway.  “FILLING” A “HOLE”??  MORE LIKE “THE SEXUAL NETWORK,” AM I RIGHT?

“The central tension of the picture is between his outward success and his inner failure.”  A tension… between someone’s outward circumstances and inner feelings?!  This is amazing stuff.  It’s not to late to invent a new school of film theory and name it after yourself, you know.  I can’t wait for David Brooks to read Oedipus Rex and finally explain to the world why it’s ironic that Oedipus is looking for the man who killed Laius.

7.  He’s not a racist — he doesn’t even see race!   Some people think everything is all about race.  For instance, Obama-bashing.  Is that about race?  “No, It’s Not About Race.”  Phew!  As proof, Brooks offers a compelling personal anecdote.  He was out jogging near the Capitol building, and saw a Tea Party protest and a Black Family Reunion march cross paths.

“I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people… had joined the audience of a rap concert…. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.”  Congratulations to everyone for not lynching/getting lynched.  Still, I don’t think this is quite the same thing as with Barack Obama.   Not being president and sticking to your own kind are the Tea Party’s two favorite things for black people to do.

(If anyone is interested, Brooks thinks the real conflict is about the “long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians.”)

8.  He’s nervous around strong women.  His warnings to gals about what might happen if they get too successful are about as subtle as a chain letter.  “First, [Sandra Bullock] won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk…. Would you take that as a deal?”  I don’t know?  I don’t really want an Academy Award.  How about this:  I get a book deal, and my husband turns out to be, like, an irrepressible  scamp.  Maybe even a shameless flirt.  I could live with that!

But if you really want to know if a woman is taunting fate and flouting the rules of God and man, you don’t have to wait for her husband to start having sex with Nazi porn stars (or whatever — I don’t really care about Sandra Bullock).  You just have to look at her arms.  Her terrifying, jacked-up, John Henry-lookin’ arms.  Of Michelle Obama’s sleeveless fashions, he told a colleague that “She’s made her point…. Now she should put away Thunder and Lightning…. Sometimes I think half the reason Obama ran for president is so Michelle would have a platform to show off her biceps.”

But Michelle Obama kept showing off, and the issue rankled.  So much so that he was compelled to turn his eye again to female biceps in a glorified “Stuff White People Like” post he wrote for the New Yorker.  In today’s elite society as observed by Brooks, “high-status women… pay ferocious attention to their torsos, biceps, and forearms so they can wear sleeveless dresses all summer and crush rocks with their bare hands.”

This just shows how weird and asexual Brooks’s whole worldview is.  Normal straight guy, on viewing a fit women:  “Wow, a hot chick!  I wonder what her ass looks like!  {Checks out ass} This gives me a boner!”   David Brooks, on viewing a fit woman:  “That woman looks ferocious!  Like a wild, untamed hippopotamus!  Or mighty Thor!  Why, she could crush me with her bare hands!  {Shudders, breaks out in cold sweat}  How… immodest!”

9.  He loves slumming it… with his words.  Brooks is famous for his research into the aw-shucks -down-home lifestyles of regular folks.  And he’s given us immortal lines like this one (from “Meet the Poor Republicans“):  “Rich people are boring.  Poor people are interesting.”

They are!  So, so interesting!  With all their quaint little ways, and those weird stores they shop in that we totally don’t have here in Georgetown, and how they’re always getting abortions… or maybe they hate abortions, I forget which… I hope they stay poor forever!!1!  Poories, you are 2 cool 2 be 4gotten.   Brooks is like a (much) less cute Marie Antionette.  If his next book is a bestseller, he’ll be able to install a working model of an Applebee’s right in his house.  The waitresses will have rounded, flaccid arms, and the “customers” will wear American flag overalls and swap anecdotes about power drills all day.

10.  He makes Andy Rooney look like Harmony Korine.

This is my actual favorite Brooks column.  I made this whole post so I’d have an excuse to write about it.  It’s an attempted piece of sociological observation, but also a battle cry, in which Brooks vaunts in triumph over his ancient enemies: people with tattoos.  Tattooed people used to feel soooooo superior, always thinking they’re so much better than David Brooks.  They’re basically the opposite of poories.  But now, the tattooed are finally vanquished, their pride crushed into the dust, all their wonted cultural superiority cast into the fires of oblivion.  Or at least, they’re about to be.

Why?  Tattoos, it seems, are popular.  That spells trouble, in Brooks’s mind, because now that they’re so popular, people will wish they didn’t have them.  As an argument, this makes about as much sense as “no one goes to that restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded,” but that doesn’t stop Brooks from busting it out with the sublime confidence of David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Tattoos are so widespread, “we have to assume that any casual antitattoo remark will cause offense.”  I would love to have seen the awkward interaction that prompted this outburst.  Brooks was just innocently pointing out that he wouldn’t want a tattooed person to move in next door and marry his daughter, when the forces of Political Correctness Gone Mad swooped in and stole his right to rant.  It’s like the War on Christmas, except now there’s a War on Senile Peevishness.

“Everybody who has been to the beach this summer has observed that tattoos are now everywhere.”  Fortunately, Brooks isn’t daunted; his two favorite things to do at the beach are feeling superior to people, and fake sociology.

So he read up on the subject, and found out that a quarter of people between 18 and 50 have tattoos.  Soon “everybody… will be decorated with gothic-lettered AARP logos and Katie Couric 4-EVER tributes, and Democrats will have their Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers scratched across their backs so even their morticians will know which way they voted.”  Because these people will be old… and some of the things old people like would not make good tattoos… so if they got tattoos of those things, it would look quite foolish!  I mean, can you imagine, a senior citizen walking around with a tattoo whose subject matter possessed unfashionable connotations?   Ha ha!  How mirthful!  Forget about the Times, you better write to Cracked.com and pitch them your story idea about “The Six Most Hilariously Incongruous Hypothetical Modes of Behavior (In the 65+ Middle-Class Demographic).”

Tattooed people, it seems, are involved in a fruitless quest to “unveil their wild side.”  “The problem is that middle-class types have been appropriating the symbols of marginalized outcasts since at least the 1830’s.”  What’s so special about that decade?  I looked it up on Wikipedia, and possible culprits include: The First Opium War between the United Kingdom and the Qing Empire of China; the attempted assassination of Andrew Jackson; Charles Darwin’s expedition on the HMS Beagle; the invention of electromagnetic induction; the publication of Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers; and “the appearance of low boots with elastic insets.”  Okay, now I see it… a bunch of hipsters, too lazy to lace up their boots or produce induction with good old-fashioned elbow grease.  That’s when the rot set in.

After cryptically observing that “today, fashion trends may originate on Death Row,” Brooks administers the coup de grâce to all fakes, phonies, wannabes, part-time punks and (quite possibly) sucker MCs.

“You run into these candy-cane grunge types: people with piercings and inkings all over their bodies who look like Sid Vicious but talk like Barry Manilow. They’ve got the alienated look — just not the anger.”  New rule:  If you admire punk fashion, you can’t just copy the look.  You also have to squat in an unheated apartment, insult the Queen of England, speak in a comically thick cockney accent, and die of a heroin overdose.  Otherwise you’re a poseur.  David Brooks understands authentic punk like few moderate conservative political columnists today.  Check out his recent tweets about “If you’re not straightedge now, you never were!”

Extra bonus editorial produced by randomly combining Brooks sentences I didn’t have room to make fun of here:  “You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week. Even the most brilliant intelligence analyst could not anticipate such an odd premodern and postglobalized creature, or could imagine that such a creature would gain such power.  That’s in part because, while Pleistocene men could pick their mates on the basis of fertility cues discernible at a glance, Pleistocene women faced a more vexing problem.  Female mammals tend to avoid close male relatives during moments of peak fertility in order to avoid inbreeding.  Thus, there has always been a fan base for the abrasive rich man.  In an age of Facebook, Twitter networks and geo-location apps, are people trading flexibility and convenience for true commitment?  Another generation of hipsters, laid low by the ironies of consumerism.  In the casual parts of the country, I suspect, it went down fine.”

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    July 19, 2011 7:41 pm

    David Brooks: Stuff Dumb People Like.

  2. t jasper parnell permalink
    July 21, 2011 12:05 am

    This is as perfect as Weil and Lenya

  3. Jason permalink
    July 21, 2011 12:47 am

    ““everybody… will be decorated with gothic-lettered AARP logos and Katie Couric 4-EVER tributes, and Democrats will have their Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers scratched across their backs so even their morticians will know which way they voted.”

    OK – so this isn’t something you wrote making fun of Brooks, right? He actually wrote this himself in a column? Because I read it as mocking Brooks. Because it is awful. Cancer of the computer awful.

    • betoma permalink*
      July 21, 2011 1:14 am

      Oh, it’s real, all right. I should do like Dave Barry used to, and write “I am not making this up” whenever something is so ridiculous, it sounds made up.

      Here is another (real) line from the article that you will enjoy: “There are so many spider webs, dolphins, Celtic motifs and yin-yang images spread across the sands, it looks like a New Age symbology conference with love handles.”

  4. July 21, 2011 3:15 am

    This entry, and this blog overall, approaches a level of snarky brilliance not seen since Matt Taibbi’s classic work for the New York Press (2000-2007ish, if memory serves). Keep up the good work!

  5. July 21, 2011 3:47 am

    Excellent.

    David Brooks re-packages trite, vague, and right-wing truisms in an inoffensive manner so that not-so-intelligent people who have happened to have made it in life can feel both better about themselves and more intelligent.

    Problem is, like Bill Kristol, he’s absolutely positively fucking wrong about everything. Literally.

  6. July 21, 2011 7:03 am

    Actually, the scary thing is, he does get it right. About 1 times out of 8.
    And 1 out of 4 times, he makes us at least think of a rationale behind the other sides craziness.

  7. Montana permalink
    July 21, 2011 7:23 pm

    You know what this current crowd of GOP liars want is to turn the United Sates into China, where only a few giant corporations run things, they own the factories, the apartments, the grocery stores, the gas stations, the newspaper and magazine publications, the radio stations, the television stations and you pay them and they get all the benefits, and if you do not like it go jump off cliff. Well some Chinese workers seeing that as individuals that they cannot progress have done just that by committing suicide.

    The current crowd of GOP liars want to steal Medicare from the elderly, they want to abolish a woman’s right to choose and have control over her own body, they want to abolish collective bargaining rights for our Unions, and on top of it all they want to blame the poor, the middle class and the public sector workers for a recession that the GOP created (Thanks to the Dullard “W”), while their beloved “Fat cats” continue to pay themselves exorbitant salaries, bonuses, fringe benefits.

    The GOP is like the “Chicken Littles” always saying that the “Sky is Falling”, like the same ones that were the “Chicken Hawks” (“W” Wars), big talk no courage.

    The United States, favors creativity wherever it can be found. We’re apostles of prosperity and defenders of the free exchange of ideas and when more people in more countries are free to rise, to invent, to communicate, to dissent, it’s not the doom of United States leadership, its the triumph of the American way.

    Generations have worked hard and sacrificed much for the country to reach this point (individuals and our Unions that represented our poor, the middle class and public sector workers), and with further hard work and sacrifice (along with our relentless self-doubt) the United States will rise again, we do not tire and we are coming back, no matter what Fox news and their GOP “Chicken Littles” lackies keep saying about our nation. The win in New York was the beginning but the next will be Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and later the other states of our nation, Never Bet Against the United States, watch out GOP, we are coming for you!

  8. Atta Batter permalink
    February 21, 2012 7:30 pm

    You deserve an award for this. Right on.

  9. Sean permalink
    October 10, 2012 8:12 pm

    David Brooks is a preppie wad asshole, a cartoon and a phony. He only pretends to be a conservative because he knows the left knows he’s a ignorant blowhard and wouldn’t buy his crappy books. My favorite Brooks quote-“I divide people into those who talk like us and those who don’t.” An elitist dipshit who should be ignored by both sides of the political aisle.

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