Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Who doth protest

Brian Zick writes in to observe the following about the heated denials of responsibility that came from Rush Limbaugh and the talk-show right following the Oklahoma City bombing, which I discussed briefly in Part 10 of the Fascism series:
I wrote a poem in 1993 entitled Fat Bombast. The poem describes a fictional character of that name. The only real names I used are historical. But the main character was just a made-up name, which I conceived as a rhetorical device to amplify my description of the negative behavior that I was describing. I was trying to write something generic, to convey a generalized protest to behaviors I despised, in my own way attempting something like Orwell's Animal Farm or Kafka's The Trial. (I claim no equivalency, they were just models.)

My friend Ned published it on his Website (long before I had my own), and invited a "flaming contest" the copies of really funny ones which he would forward along to me.

One angry writer I recall specifically defended Rush Limbaugh, and defiantly proclaimed Limbaugh's longevity and virtue, while of course disparaging me with pretty lame vitriol.

But I didn't identify Limbaugh. My critic saw Limbaugh in his own mind by my abstracted description, as if being shown a Rorschach ink blot, and he then criticized me for voicing the characterization. Indeed, when Limbaugh reacted to Clinton's remarks, he did the exact same thing. He literally blamed Rorschach for what he chose to see in the ink blots. He saw himself in Clinton's words! Of course, being an unfriendly description, he attacked the critic. But the significant point is that HE SAW HIMSELF IN THE ABSTRACT DESCRIPTION!

This has been a recurring feature of right wing demagoguery, especially in relation to attacks on artwork. It has even been incorporated into Supreme Court law.

Anyone who ever saw Andres Serrano's Piss Christ knows it was an incredibly innocuous image. It was the title that got all the cranks worked up into their frenzy. And according to Serrano, they all had it backwards, he'd been attempting to editorialize about the debasement of Christianity, he wasn't advocating it.

When Dee Snyder from Twisted Sister appeared before the Senate to defend against charges that his songs had some ostensible terrible lyrics, he reviewed the innocuous words to a specific song in question and pointed out that Tipper Gore was simply trying to blame him for the workings of her own dirty mind.

I call this Blaming Rorschach. It's an exceedingly common phenomena employed for the express purpose of persecuting non-conformist expression, or for attacking any thought with which a hostile critic disagrees.

Of course, what Brian's describing is a very ancient human trait. I'm quite confident, in fact, that it formed much of the subtext of the Shakespeare line I quoted: "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."

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