Louche Change

The January 25 New Yorker has a piece by Hendrik Hertzberg with this title (and the subtitle “Trash talk from the 2008 campaign”), reviewing Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain, and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, an inside-gossipy account of the campaign “told in the style of an airport potboiler”, as Hertzberg puts it.

Two comments. First, on the passage:

Barack Obama hits town as a newly minted senator: “He was smarter than the average bear, not to mention the average politician, and he not only knew it but wanted to make sure that everyone else knew it, too.”

Then, on the authors’

report that Presidential candidates and the nembers of their entourage are inordinately fond of the word “fuck” and its derivatives.

(with illustrations).

The first item has the cultural reference “smarter than the average bear” — a quote from a Hanna-Barbera television cartoon show from a while back, in which Yogi Bear (a fictional grizzly bear) claims this about himself. The cartoon began as a segment of the Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958 and later became the (immensely popular) free-standing Yogi Bear Show.

Cultural references, whether to pop culture, folk culture, middlebrow culture, or high culture, don’t always work. If you’re American and of the right age, you’ll probably get this one. Others might just know the expression as a catchphrase (of unknown origin). And still others might simply be puzzled by it.

There are variants: very many with “your average bear” rather than “the average bear”; some with other adjectives (“the median/boilerplate/ordinary bear”); one with “your ordinary bear”; and no doubt there are others.

On to the profanity of so many of the actors in this campaign story. Heilemann and Halperin quote :

“Well, we’re fucked.” (John Edwards)

“Why the fuck do you think …” (Elizabeth Edwards)

“Unfuckingbelievable!” (Hilary Clinton)

“Fuck you! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!!!” (John McCain, to his wife, Cindy)

And that’s today’s report on the political-language front.

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