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Posted by on Mar 25, 2009 in At TMV | 5 comments

PLAYING THE DOZENS – Pundit Edition!



I remember back on my childhood days, I had ridiculous skills when it came to “playing the dozens”. For those not in the know, here is a good definition of “playing the dozens” (via Wikipedia):

The dozens is an element of the African American oral tradition in which two competitors, usually males, go head to head in a competition of often good-natured, ribald “trash talk”. They take turns insulting—”cracking”, “west coast dissin’,” or “ranking” on—one another, their adversary’s mother or other family member until one of them has no comeback. This is called playing the dozens or doin’ the dozens, and sometimes dirty dozens, The dozens is a contest of personal power—of wit, self-control, verbal ability, mental agility and mental toughness. Each putdown, each “snap”, ups the ante. Defeat can be humiliating; but a skilled contender, win or lose, may gain respect. The dozens is one of the contributing elements in the development of hip hop, especially the practice of battling.

The dozens can be a harmless game, or, if tempers flare, a prelude to violence. While the competition, on its face, is usually light-hearted, smiles sometimes mask real tensions. But in its purest form, the dozens is part of an African-American custom of verbal sparring, of “woofin'” and “signifyin’,” intended to defuse conflict nonviolently, descended from an oral tradition rooted in traditional West African cultures.

“Yo’ momma,” a common, widely recognized argumentative rejoinder in African-American vernacular speech, is a cryptic, and sometimes comical, allusion to the dozens. Two examples would be, “Yo’ momma is so fat, when she jumps in the air, she gets stuck!” or “Yo’ momma is so stupid when I tell her spring is right around the corner she goes looking for it!”

Actually I used that “spring right around the corner” wisecrack back in da day but I digress. While watching President Obama’s opening statements from his press conference last night, I knew the teleprompter meme will be brought out yet again. Sure enough, Ron Fournier from the Associated Press kicks things off with the slammin’, jammin’, oh so hip article title of Analysis: Teleprompter telegraphs Obama caution. Well, not so slammin’ or jammin’. Solid is about it. But Robert Stacy McCain kicks it up several notches with this funky fresh title “My teleprompter tells me to tell you this stuff that other people write for me”. Then drops this zinger:

OK, this is not the opening soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Richard III. There is no reason that simple talking-points lines like that should require a teleprompter. The guy is becoming a punchline.

Go RSM, go! Take it away Jules Crittenden (you bad mutha-“shut yo mouth” with the totally tubular article title of Teleprompt Action Needed!):

Which tragic, or tragicomic Shakespearean figure is Obama? Given the gaffes and the donkey-headedness, I’m liking Puck, but I suspect we’re headed into darker, more brooding territory than that. He may need a character all his own. Teleprompto. Maybe a hybrid. MacTelepromptlet.

As the late great singer/musician Rick James said: COLD BLOODED! Jules… YOU DA MAN! Gimme five on the black hand side. Uh… Well… Just gimme five! Fist bump anyone??

Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t about me wagging my finger at Ron Fournier, Robert Stacy McCain, Jules Crittenden, or others. What I am doing is calling this type of banter what it REALLY is:

PLAYING THE DOZENS – Pundit Edition!

The blogosphere and MSM is full of “snappers” (some better than others). The teleprompter meme is no more than long-term “dozens” game. There’s personal attacks between “snappers”, ever escalating “comebacks”, “woofin”, “signifyin”, trash talk, flaring tempers, and the holy grail of the “snapper”:


But in the end, “snapping” is all fun and games. I may put the smackdown on someone in a dozens game but in the end, my win is just within the framework of the dozens. I beat my opponent in the dozens. That’s all. No more, no less. We’re all entitled to being silly. But when the silliness is looked at or taken as important and wholly relevant, that’s when we have a problem. Also, criticism is not equal to “playing the dozens”. Got a problem with the economic plan = criticism. Got a problem with the teleprompter = “playing the dozens”.

And besides, it would really be a damn fine dozens game if the primary opponent (President Obama) would crack back on the same level. But he’s the President of the United States. Guess he doesn’t have the time.

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  • mikeyes

    President Obama, like a lot of office holders and newscasters is comfortable with the teleprompter. It hardly rates a mention other than the odd implication that the president isn’t very bright. So far I have not seen any evidence of that.

    I have a totally unsubstantiated other reason why he uses it, his stutter. For those of you who have not suffered this disabilty, some of the methods used to combat it include singing and reading out loud. Perhaps this is his way of dealing with what could be (and is not at this point) a problem. He did show a slight stutter in the news conference but was back on track very quickly with his usual speaking style.

    I might add that the former president didn’t do so well when he spoke off the cuff, but I won’t. That would be too snarky.

  • casualobserver

    mikeyes, your implied, but withheld snark doesn’t carry any zing since none of Bush supporters nor the media ever suggested he was some great orator.

    But how many bloggers have made that claim vis-a-vis Obama already including the oh so memorable “he tears me up” accolade.

    Obama utters a lot of vocabulary, but his meandering sentences are becoming legend amongst people who pay attention to that……..

    And to TS point about snapping (or any other form of retort), its effectiveness/memorability quotient would generally seem inversely proportionate to length (think Reagan or Lloyd Bentsen). Therefore, the Bammer probably ought to consider himself about as equipped to snap as he is to bowl.

  • mikeyes

    Actually I was talking about the opposition meme that the reason that the President has to use a teleprompter is that he is not capable of saying things off the cuff in a cogent fashion. Clearly this is not true unless there was an imposter at the last presser.

    I can see disagreeing with the President based on the content of ideas but I don’t understand the constant theme of attacking his rhetorical skills. Frankly this seems to be more Rovian attackt the strength” tactics which then distract from the real problems facing us.

    The Republicans have not been able to come up with very much to deal with a set significant crises. The actions that the Democrats are taking may not work – I am not sure that there is anything that will work right off the bat – but at least they are coming up with ideas and planning. The only thing that critics like casualobserver seems to be able to point to is criticism of the peripherals such as whether or not President Obama is a good orator.

    I count myself as a fiscal and social conservative (NRA life member, retired military, from the South, family all Republicans, believer, etc.) but I don’t see any cogent offerings from the Republican members of Congress on any issue. All I see is nihilism and silly puffery. Surely there is something more important to discuss than whether President Obama uses a teleprompter. Yet those discussions do not seem to be forthcoming.

  • CStanley

    I think the stylistic critiques are really petty and distract from real issues. If he’s more comfortable speaking off a script, so be it. He’s gotten a lot better at the extemporaneous responses to questions (even though he is still a bit long winded and ‘professorial’, not warm and fuzzy but I generally can do without the folksiness anyway.) If he was still unable to formulate cohesive answers (I do think he had trouble in that regard during the early campaign season) then that would be a liability, because communication certainly is part of the job and some of it has to be interactive communication, not scripted.

    The only thing I will say is that the flat screen TV thing seemed really odd- either stick with the teleprompters or memorize a brief statement. Switching to a different crutch just seems to give him the downside of looking like he’s defensive about this while failing to avoid the basis of the criticism itself. The only upside I guess is that he was looking straight ahead instead of the side to side head movements, but all in all it seemed like an odd decision to go this route.

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