Monday, March 14, 2011

The Case of @MayorEmanuel; or, The Puerility of Profanity

A wise friend of mine once explained the rule to me: adults can swear, and children can swear, but they can't swear in front of each other. It violates a boundary.

I suspect that this is, in part, because it is nowhere more necessary for adults to appear to be adults than around children. When the altogether hilarious lyric video for Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" came out, I argued that the song was a virtuoso performance of puerility (that is, a particular kind of child-masculinity), and that the refrain "Fuck you!" was funny because it was so immature. I didn't, however, argue that liberal profanity was itself inherently puerile. But I now think it is, and the reason is @MayorEmanuel.

@MayorEmanuel is of course the brilliant fake Rahm Emanuel Twitter account authored by Dan Sinker and maintained over the course of the real Emanuel's mayoral campaign. Fake Rahm, accompanied by a Honda-driving David Axelrod (and his strangely agential moustache), innocent geeky wunderkind Carl the Intern (he fetches coffee, builds an igloo, calculates Rahm's correct position in an alternate dimension), stray puppy Hambone, and a politically savvy duck named Quaxelrod, curses his way through a mayoral campaign, Chicago winter weather, the Superbowl, and a number of hilarious visions involving the most recent Mayor Daley and, at one point, the disembodied (yet dapper!) head of Marshall Field. (I believe Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic did the definitive rundown.)

Really, the source of this insight isn't directly @MayorEmanuel but one of Kevin Dettmar's recent posts on the relationship between tiny bursts of writing (Twitter), medium chunks (blogging), and longer formats (articles, books). I left a comment that reminded me of one of Kevin's earlier posts, which in turn reminded me of my own series of posts on puerility, which by the way reminded me that, intentionally or otherwise, I end up posting serially, if intermittently, on the same topics, and one of those is puerility, and quite honestly I'll be surprised if it doesn't develop into a monograph eventually,* which perhaps speaks to Kevin's actual point.

But forget Kevin's actual point: back to the puerility of f-bombs.

The basic joke of the @MayorEmanuel account is that Rahm Emanuel is extremely foul-mouthed. So, stupid joke? Well, maybe at first. Sinker himself notes he got bored with just tweeting f-bombs. But of course the style had to persist as he began to add story arcs, and what it brings out is the puerile emotional intensity that must accompany a constant stream of profanity. Profanity constitutes a libidinal outburst; it's an intensifier with a particular affective charge. Constant, repeated outbursts of aggression, applied equally to things loved and things hated, can only be sustained by a puerile character.

4 October 2010

7 February 2011
Note the matching f-bombs.

Despite the fact that the real Rahm Emanuel is married, @MayorEmanuel's universe is a sort of boy-paradise, a Huck's raft variously located in Axelrod's old beater of a Civic, the crawlspace of Rahm's Chicago house, an igloo, and, at one point (as if in homage to Twain), an ice floe in the middle of the Chicago River. Female characters occasionally join in the play--Axelrod loses a pool cannonball competition to a seven-year-old girl named Alyssa, and Penny Pritzker and Helen Mirren, among others, make appearances--but the core quintet is all male. Yes, even the duck.

And while "fuck" is undoubtedly the most-used word in the whole feed, the five don't at all appear to be in a genital phase; all the actual libidinal impulses expressed involve food, coffee, and games (football, snow angels on a frozen Lake Michigan). And, of course (tellingly) shitting, one of fake Rahm's favorite pranks (Hambone, the puppy, is good at it too). Rahm even occasionally longs for a nap, requiring parenting:

22 February 2011

15 February 2011

He sometimes doesn't understand why various advisors won't "let" him do various puerile things. The most common of these is filling his campaign slogans and speeches with f-bombs, of course, but sometimes his prohibited desires are even more obviously childish:

Both 18 February 2011

The fact that the animal companions, Hambone and Quaxelrod (so named because of the moustachelike dark spot on his beak), are given human attributes while retaining some animal characteristics places @MayorEmanuel squarely in the tradition of children's fiction. Indeed, it's never clear how much of fake Rahm's world is his fantasy, and to what degree the puppy and the duck are anthropomorphized by Rahm's childish projection.

14 February 2011

22 February 2011

Indeed, @MayorEmanuel's primary influence may be Calvin and Hobbes, with Rahm playing Calvin and his friends variously playing parents and the toy/animal Hobbes. Fake Rahm's aggression is indistinguishable from puerile desire and enthusiasm--indeed, from play. And that's why fake Rahm's main character trait, his propensity to infuse every utterance with cursing, opens up vistas of delight and childish wonder:
17 February 2011

17 February 2011

18 February 2011

Fake Rahm's enthusiasm is, let's face it, cute.

Here's what Kevin Dettmar wrote about "Fuck You" back in August. It reveals a basic assumption that reappears in his comment regarding @MayorEmanuel, namely that f-bombs are a cheap form of humor, a kind of automatic or unearned transgression (in the way that sentimental fiction is supposed to deliver unearned feeling, for instance).
Friday’s Twitter stream was all abuzz with big love for the new Cee-Lo single, “Fuck You” (or, as YouTube’s dainty orthography/typography would have it, “F**k You”). One of my Tweeps and Producer Extraordinaire, Andy Zax (@andyzax), said it was “destined to be the anthem of late summer, 2010.” Normally I’m healthily skeptical of such claims: but Andy’s nobody’s fool. Not long after, my FB friend Carter Delloro updated his status, and it was clear he is equally smitten.

Something about this all annoyed me deeply. Maybe it’s my inner Church Lady: After all, what kind of a title is that for a song? How you gonna sell it at Wal-Mart? (Probably the way R.E.M. sold Automatic for the People, changing a certain song’s title to “Star Me Kitten.” “Star You”?) Also, I hate being scooped. I may not know much about music, but I know a bangin’ pop song when I hear one. I’ll be the judge, Andy and Carter: even better, I’ll be the critic, and weigh in, explaining how you’re wrong.

So I decided--sound unheard--that I’d write a smackdown of “Fuck You.” I mean clearly, Andy and Carter had been swayed by the naughty factor: I’m willing to drop the F-bomb when it gets some genuine communicative work done, but I was sure Cee-Lo was just being a Bad Boy.

"Just being a Bad Boy"--why, yes. I'm only using Kevin's post as an example, of course, and partly by way of citation, since it's what got me thinking about the puerility of profanity in the first place. But it's a fairly common characterization of the use of f-bombs in humor, and is instructively dismissive to boot.

So is profanity inherently funny, or "just" (to borrow Kevin's word) immature? Well, the examples of Cee Lo's "Fuck You" and Sinker's @MayorEmanuel suggest that it's funny because it's immature; it's a form of self-infantilization, and thus a form of self-deprecation.

The dissonance that produces humor, in @MayorEmanuel, is the disconnect between Rahm's childishness and the (supposedly) grown-up business of a mayoral campaign (children, after all, cannot vote). Profanity is actually the hilarious hinge between these two: as my wise friend explained, it violates a boundary--because typically profanity is a boundary between adult and child realms. In @MayorEmanuel, profanity is a metonym for all the libidinal puerility that really is present in "grown-up" political campaigns, and in particular, in Rahm Emanuel's famously hard-nosed political style. Ha ha, Rahm Emanuel curses a lot. It's only superficially funny, until it reveals the puerility within a certain masculinist (and "realistic") political style--and then it's profoundly fucking hilarious.

*Not just by gluing some blog posts together, for God's sake. It's called revision.

This post's title is with apologies to Jacqueline Rose.

My favorite character is definitely Quaxelrod.


ajmcc said...

i'm coming to your writing on this belatedly, but: i want to know whatcha think about girl puerility, namely the (awesome!) ouevre of nicky minaj, esp "did it on em" and the new single "ass". that is all. :)

Natalia said...

Hmm; good question, A. I am ashamed to say that I am not terribly up on the Minaj oeuvre. Perhaps I will do some research this weekend. But it sounds like you might already have some ideas about it... share?