The hunchback in the park

My sister, apropos of nothing, just sent me this crazy Peggy Noonan quote from 1992. I assumed she had seen it on Wonkette since that is her only source of news (I consider this very wise), but I couldn’t find it there.

The life of people on earth is obviously better now than it has ever been — certainly much better than it was 500 years ago when people beat each other with cats. This may sound silly but now and then when I read old fairy tales and see an illustration of a hunchbacked hag with no teeth and bumps on her nose who lives by herself in the forest, I think: People looked like that once. They lived like that. There were no doctors, no phones, and people lived in the dark in a hole in a tree. It was terrible. It’s much better now.

I agree with the sentiment here (and I realize she’s kidding obviously), but it is very strange to me that this sort of “historical analysis” (Noonan’s columns nearly always contain something like this) is the kind of thing that official Washington thinks is deserving of Pulitzers.

It’s amazing that in this so-called information age such a huge amount of our discourse — not just the Beck/Palin part of it but the serious, respectable part — is driven by reminiscences of hunchbacks, magical dolphins, nonexistent Applebee’s salad bars, Stagger Lee-style cab drivers, and so on. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why this is so. Bob Somerby’s been at it for ten years and he doesn’t seem to have gotten anywhere with it. It’s probably something for anthropologists of the future to sort out.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit

52 replies
  1. 1
    Morbo says:

    In Soviet Russia, cats beat each other with people!

  2. 2
    shortstop says:

    This discourse also completes ignores the reality that most of humanity still does live like that.

  3. 3
    eemom says:

    Bob Somerby’s been at it for ten years and he doesn’t seem to have gotten anywhere with it.

    While true, this strikes me as an almost comical understatement of the plight of poor Somerby.

  4. 4
    kindness says:

    The spirit version Peggy Noonan (that shadow her soul casts) is actually a toothless warty old hunchbacked hag. Is that a coincidence or what?

  5. 5
    twiffer says:

    if you hadn’t told me who wrote that, i would have chalked it up to dave barry.

  6. 6
    BGinCHI says:

    Arrogance + Stupidity = American Exceptionalism

    Divide by color and you get Manifest Destiny.

  7. 7
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    Was this a “quit your whining” to get GHWB reelected? Seems like it. The modern version being “you can go to an emergency room, so quit asking for healthcare.”

  8. 8
    cmorenc says:

    @DougJ:

    Simple. We like to read the works of people who are very good storytellers, with the ability to vividly word-paint images of scenes and people with smoothly flowing, not overly verbose prose.

    Mark Twain, for example.

    Peggy Noonan is hardly the equal of Mark Twain, but whom would you rather read: some techo-accurate wonk, or Mark Twain? BTW: Paul Krugman DOES have the ability to accurately frame economic issues in vividly flowing writing that intelligent lay people can understand, and he DID win a Nobel Prize. Admittedly, it wasn’t for anything he wrote in any of his newspaper columns, and it wasn’t a Pulitzer prize.

  9. 9
    Aredubya says:

    Sounds like a less funny version of Louis CK’s masterful Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy.

  10. 10
    Alyson says:

    Anthropologists of the future will likely be working from a dark hole in a tree.

  11. 11
    jonas says:

    So she looks at a Victorian, or later, woodcut depicting a (presumably medieval) old crone of some kind and thinks this is possibly a historically accurate representation of the elderly in premodern times? (Lets out long, low whistle)

  12. 12
    DougJ DougJson says:

    @cmorenc:

    Mark Twain would be relegated to an obscure blog in today’s world. He would also be held up as an example of the kind of intemperate rhetoric that is destroying our nation.

  13. 13
    Martin says:

    This may sound silly but now and then when I read old fairy tales and see an illustration of a hunchbacked hag with no teeth and bumps on her nose who lives by herself in the forest, I think: People looked like that once. Hey, Peggy Noonan has been around a long time!

    I don’t really believe that, but Peggy deserves it for being so fucking stupid.

  14. 14
    cleek says:

    metaphors. people understand them.

  15. 15
    JGabriel says:

    DougJ:

    It’s amazing that in this so-called information age such a huge amount of our discourse—not just the Beck/Palin part of it but the serious, respectable part—is driven by reminiscences of hunchbacks, magical dolphins, nonexistent Applebee’s salad bars, Stagger Lee-style cab drivers, and so on.

    How could you possibly forget to include Palin’s observation that political rhetoric is so much better now than it was in the day’s when people dueled each other?

    .

  16. 16
    shortstop says:

    @jonas: I believe that the crone of the woodcut is yet another of Peggy’s hamhanded attempts at girlish insouciance. She’s convinced she’s adorable.

  17. 17

    A) I absolutely love the line “much better than it was 500 years ago when people beat each other with cats.” That’s just funny, I don’t care who you are.

    B) The thing is, I, too, often maintain that life is better now for a whole lot of people than it has ever been in history (one columnist at the Chicago Tribune, it might have been Eric Zorn, once compared the average American middle class lifestyle to that of a European king 200 years ago, with the unsurprising conclusion that we have it much, much better) — but it’s not really all that hard to do the research to support that conclusion! Honestly, numbers are entirely our friends here, even if you do hate elitist educations!

    Why look, I did just that, right here, on the eve of 2011! http://emilylhauserinmyhead.wo.....e-of-2011/

    One needn’t look at drawings of hags in the woods to understand how far we’ve come. It’s enough to look at 259 men and boys killed in a fire.

  18. 18

    A) I absolutely love the line “much better than it was 500 years ago when people beat each other with cats.” That’s just funny, I don’t care who you are.

    B) The thing is, I, too, often maintain that life is better now for a whole lot of people than it has ever been in history (one columnist at the Chicago Tribune, it might have been Eric Zorn, once compared the average American middle class lifestyle to that of a European king 200 years ago, with the unsurprising conclusion that we have it much, much better) — but it’s not really all that hard to do the research to support that conclusion! Honestly, numbers are entirely our friends here, even if you do hate elitist educations!

    Why look, I did just that, right here, on the eve of 2011! http://emilylhauserinmyhead.wo.....e-of-2011/

    One needn’t look at drawings of hags in the woods to understand how far we’ve come. It’s enough to look at 259 men and boys killed in a fire.

  19. 19
    srv says:

    I read this and it makes me wonder how her friends at Goldman Sachs feel about the tiny bonuses of yesteryear.

  20. 20

    @Emily L. Hauser/ellaesther: Sorry, double posted. Hopefully the delete request worked!

  21. 21
    scav says:

    well, it’s not like they expect the likes of us to understand anything unless it comes enveloped in a pretty pretty story and accompanied with a pat on the head and a nice cup of cocoa.

  22. 22
    BR says:

    There were no doctors, no phones, and people lived in the dark in a hole in a tree. It was terrible.

    Not to be a downer, but we’re headed back to this in some ways.

    While Orlov is worth reading on this, the real thing to consider is that we’re at the Limits to Growth (here’s their baseline scenario from their 30-year update in 2004):

    http://www.energybulletin.net/.....growth.jpg

  23. 23

    @cleek: Yes, and I am a big fan of trusting your readers, but at the same time, one can sprinkle in the occasional hard and fast fact, because the point she’s making is a rather measurable one.

  24. 24
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    This may sound silly but now and then when I read old fairy tales and see an illustration of a hunchbacked hag with no teeth and bumps on her nose who lives by herself in the forest, I think: People looked like that once. They lived like that.

    Thinking about it a bit more, does she not understand that we always make the villains ugly. The orcs in LOTR, for example.

  25. 25

    @cmorenc: It’s possible to write flowing prose and tell a good story that leans on fact. It’s possible to do that and even employ metaphors (h/t cleek). If you’re writing nonfiction about a measurable reality, throwing in verifiable facts is actually a very helpful thing — it can even still be funny.

    That’s what I spent six years of commentary writing attempting to achieve, with a certain amount of success… but then, Peggy Noonan is still writing, and I’m ghosting op/eds for nonprofits and PR firms, so maybe she’s got something right that I don’t understand.

    Or she knows how to turn a phrase but also worked for Reagan so will always have a job, and I’m just an embittered casualty of the constant shrinking of print.

    One or ‘tother.

  26. 26
    WyldPirate says:

    @eemom:

    While true, this strikes me as an almost comical understatement of the plight of poor Somerby.

    Ahhh, Somerby. He puzzles me. Raging at the insanity of our failed press corpse, he became the Sancho Panza of the Internet age of gazing at the Beltway foolishness. Finally he is driven mad like Quixote by it all from calling the play-by-play in spittle-flecked prose.

  27. 27
    srv says:

    worked for Reagan

    Peggy has made an existence being America’s Trickle Down Essayist.

  28. 28
    rickstersherpa says:

    The way stupidity is awarded in our media culture is positively amazing (See Gregory, David). I think the movie Idiocracy is really a documentary.

  29. 29
    scav says:

    Another of those look what’s in the æther zeitgeist moments: A manifesto for the simple scribe &mdash my 25 commandments for journalists by former Guardian science editor, letters editor, arts editor and literary editor Tim Radford. Two chosen not entirely at random but within spitting distance.

    7. If in doubt, assume the reader knows nothing. However, never make the mistake of assuming that the reader is stupid. The classic error in journalism is to overestimate what the reader knows and underestimate the reader’s intelligence.

    17. Metaphors are great. Just don’t choose loopy metaphors, and never, never mix them. Subs on the Guardian used to have a special Muzzled Piranha Award, a kind of Oscar of incompetence, handed to an industrial relations reporter who warned the world that the Trades Union Congress wildcats were lurking in the undergrowth, ready to dart out like piranhas, unless they were muzzled. George Orwell reports on the case of an MP who claimed that the jackbooted fascist octopus had sung its swansong.

    ETA: Don’t miss some of the early 20s. “The consequence of non-release of one particular subject ethnic population could result ultimately in some kind of algal manifestation in the main river basin, with unforeseen outcomes for flora and fauna, not excluding consumer services.”

  30. 30
    ThresherK says:

    @kindness: Shadow? I thought you just caught a look at her portrait in an attic somewhere.

  31. 31
    Paul in KY says:

    @Emily L. Hauser/ellaesther: It is a good line. Makes me think of the crazy cat lady in The Simpsons. Ms. Noonan can write at times.

  32. 32
    aimai says:

    @BR:

    They lived in a whole in a tree? Does she think that the fifteenth century was peopled entirely with leprechauns?

    aimai

  33. 33
    aimai says:

    @BR:

    They lived in a hole in a tree? Does she think that the fifteenth century was peopled entirely with leprechauns?

    aimai

  34. 34
    kindness says:

    @ThresherK: Dorian Noonan eh? That’s a protrait I don’t want to see… ever. Maybe drag it out on Halloween to scare the kids.

  35. 35
    Benjamin Cisco says:

    Dan, Nooners made a funny. That was actually, you know, funny.

  36. 36
    FlipYrWhig says:

    Sounds like Noonan didn’t have an idea for her column that week, but was eating a package of Keebler cookies.

  37. 37
    bfein says:

    Getting news from Wonkette–not such a bad idea!

  38. 38
    aimai says:

    Argh. Double post. Misspelling. And unoriginal observation. A trifecta.

    aimai

  39. 39
    somethingblue says:

    Wait, people in 1511 beat each other with whannow?

    No, never mind.

    Sometimes it’s best to just keep on walking.

  40. 40
    THE says:

    There were no doctors, no phones, and people lived in the dark in a hole in a tree. It was terrible. It’s much better now.

    “Mud hole? Slimy? My home this is!” – Yoda
    ‘Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

  41. 41
    tomvox1 says:

    It’s amazing that in this so-called information age such a huge amount of our discourse—not just the Beck/Palin part of it but the serious, respectable part—is driven by reminiscences of hunchbacks, magical dolphins, nonexistent Applebee’s salad bars, Stagger Lee-style cab drivers, and so on.

    You forgot earnest pants-wetting about tackling the scary debt bogeyman by fucking over middle class and poor retirees present and future (as espoused by The Most Respected and Serious Blogger EVAH):

    [Obama’s polling bump is] real – and I hope doesn’t lead to complacency or excessive caution on the debt. I’ve repeatedly argued that Obama needs to embrace Bowles-Simpson, or a variation thereof, and challenge both parties to come to a long-term budget deal he can sign.

    And forgive me in advance for linking this drivel but it’s a nice reminder that there’s nothing all that “moderate” about Sully once pot legalization and gay rights are removed from the mix. Two highly personal and self-interested examples of empathy do not a moderate make…

  42. 42
    Mark S. says:

    Towards the end, Nooners makes another pretty big historical error. After a paragraph of talking about how great America is (seriously, does any other country spend so much time patting itself on the back?), she writes:

    We do not teach this as a society and we teach it insufficiently in our schools. We are more inclined to teach that Columbus’ encounter with the Americas produced, most significantly, the spreading of venereal disease to their innocent indigenous peoples.

    No, the indigenous people probably gave Europe venereal disease. Europeans gave the indigenous people smallpox, which killed unknown millions of them. Thanks for playing, Peggy.

  43. 43
    catclub says:

    Is the title a reference to The hunchback in the Park … with George?

  44. 44
    catclub says:

    @THE: Well they told us, it was: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. ”

    Yoda probably has a nice condo now – since the swamp was Florida, right?

  45. 45
    cckids says:

    @rickstersherpa:

    I think the movie Idiocracy is really a documentary.

    It would be a doc only if the ending revealed that somewhere was a cadre of the super rich, living their entitled, intelligent lives, using the labor of the masses, laughing their asses off.

  46. 46
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    Sounds like Noonan didn’t have an idea for her column that week, but was eating a package of Keebler cookies.

    lolz.

    I suppose we should bow down and thank God that she didn’t have a sudden craving for Beef Jerky and Slim Jims. Who knows what sort of essay that would have produced?

    OK, now I’m hungry.

  47. 47
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @cckids:

    It would be a doc only if the ending revealed that somewhere was a cadre of the super rich, living their entitled, intelligent lives, using the labor of the masses, laughing their asses off.

    I think H.G. Wells handled that scenario pretty well in The Time Machine. So just watch both movies back to back, and we’ve got you covered.

  48. 48
    DougJ DougJson says:

    @catclub:

    No, a Dylan Thomas poem.

  49. 49
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Emily L. Hauser/ellaesther: Noonan sold her soul for wingnut welfare.

  50. 50
    bcinaz says:

    People used to live in trees, in a fairy forest?

  51. 51
    torpid bunny says:

    Nooners has a long, well documented history of bons mots written while apparently hammered.

    Plus, I reject the default assumption that wildly uneven material progress has made everyone’s life better. Paleolithic people worked a hell of a lot less than we do.

  52. 52
    Mark S. says:

    @torpid bunny:

    That’s a good point. I also like how the couple billion or so people who live in total abject poverty in the Third World are never taken into account by the cheerleaders of progress. I doubt their lives are any better than people living 500, 5,000, or 50,000 years ago, and in some ways it’s much worse.

Comments are closed.