To all those who wonder if in this political climate where being over the top gets you attention, readship, invitations to be on cable, book and radio deals there are limits. Here’s a development that underscores that there are limits, indeed. National Review has fired popular conservative columnist John Derbyshire over a column that was racist.
The only question is whether it was satire that was racist or serious or partially serious commentary that was racist. But National Review (living up to to standards the late William F. Buckley would applaud) decided that no matter what it was it could not longer have Derbyshire’s brand intertwined with its own. Here’s part of Rich Lowry’s we’re-moving-in-another-direction announcement:
Anyone who has read Derb in our pages knows he’s a deeply literate, funny, and incisive writer. I direct anyone who doubts his talents to his delightful first novel, “Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream,” or any one of his “Straggler” columns in the books section of NR. Derb is also maddening, outrageous, cranky, and provocative. His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.
Lowrey notes that it’s a free country and that “Derb” can write where he wants but not on NRO.
That is called protecting a brand name.
Once in a while, I read something and think: Please, Lord, tell me that this is a joke. Please, please tell me that a human being did not actually think these things and, worse yet, think to write them down.
Unfortunately, in the case of John Derbyshire’s “The Talk: Nonblack Version,” no joke is evident, which makes me dishearteningly conclude that this racist junk is actually meant in all seriousness – or such a lead-footed joke that it simply lacks all humor. The piece appeared in Taki’s Magazine, the far right publication of far-right nutcase Taki Theodoracopulos. (And thank you to Drew Grant of the Observer for first pointing out the piece).
The premise, as smugly described by Derbyshire, is as follows: black parents have something called “the talk,” in which they instruct their children on how to deal with whites. White parents need a version of the same, for how their children should deal with blacks. Maybe, maybe, Jonathan Swift could pull off a satire of this; let me assure you that John Derbyshire is not Jonathan Swift.
Nor do I want to tell Taki, who has more money and cocaine arrests than I ever will, how to run his magazine. But given that we’re but a month from the not-yet-resolved death of Trayvon Martin, is this really the best time to run such a piece, even in jest? I am not talking about sensitivity, but just ordinary human decency, the kind that conservatives are always claiming has been drained from contemporary society. (Image: Wikipedia)
But as far as decency is concerned, the British-born, Long Island-residing Derbyshire seems to have it in perilously little supply, as is demonstrated by his advice to his teenaged children, which I think only a Klansman would find hilarious…
Rather than soil TMV with parts of “Derb’s” column, I’ll just suggest you go to the link above.
1. it could be that it is indeed satire — lousy satire. Satire is very difficult to do. Many try and many flop. Art Buchwald did it for years. Andy Borowitz can do it well. Scott Ott does excellent conservative satire. And of course, there is The Onion, The Garlic blog, and the venerable Mad Magazine with its nearly 60 years of parodies. I’ve done some satires in my syndicated Cagle column (here, here and here for instance). But the great comedy coach Greg Dean has noted that comedy relies on shattered shared assumptions. And satire assumes some shared assumptions and values. He who goes too far flops.
2. Perhaps was not totally a joke. He may have fallen into the common (and tiresome) political trap that we see partisan and ideologues fall into where if one side advocates one thing, it’s considered cute to try and counter it. I detest the phrase but if there is a case of a “false equivilancy,” if his column was serious, then this is a quintessential one.
Lowry’s and National Review’s problems were underscored by the many calls for the magazine to fire “Derb.” For instance, here’s part of the post by Forbes’ Josh Barro:
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin’s shooting, many black parents have discussed the advice they give to their male children about not getting themselves shot in a misunderstanding with a white authority figure. Derbyshire’s talk, on the other hand, is about how to avoid being harmed by a black person. He gives such advice as “If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date,” and “If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.”
Derbyshire also recommends befriending some “intelligent and well-socialized blacks” (IWSBs, for short) so that you can deflect charges of racism by noting that some of your best friends are black. Alas, he adds “the demand is greater than the supply, so IWSBs are something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets: boasted of by upper-class whites and wealthy organizations, coveted by the less prosperous.”
So, while Lowry is advising blacks not to worry so much about the systematic profiling of blacks as criminals due to their race, his colleague Derbyshire is writing a piece specifically urging white people to engage in such profiling, among various other racist nonsense.
And this is the problem for Lowry and other conservatives who want to be taken seriously by broad audiences when they write about racial issues. Lowry wrote a column containing advice for black Americans. Why should black Americans take him seriously while he’s employing Derbyshire? If Lowry wants NR to be credible on race, he should start by firing John Derbyshire.
What do we learn from this?
–There are limits. Even Rush Limbaugh found that out (whether he thrives for years or loses advertisers).
–Whether it was poor satire or partially serious or serious commentary, in the end “Derb” came out looking like a dweeb and now has more time to spend with his family.
–Somewhere William F. Buckley must be nodding his head approvingly.
–Sometimes a bomb thrower’s bomb explodes in his hand.