Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Mysterious Planet David

From Bobbie Crusoe and the Pink Planet (Debbie #129, August 2 1975).
It's world-famous literary critic David Brooks out to do some analysis on the epic style of Donald Trump ("Trump is Getting Even Trumpier"). It's actually pretty good analysis—
his remarks had a distinct through line, anchored by the talking points his campaign had written down on pieces of paper. But Trump could not keep his attention focused on this through line — since the subject was someone else — so every 30 seconds or so he would shoot off on a resentment-filled bragging loop.
In fact I'm going to come right out and suggest most of the column (except for a couple of panicky paragraphs at the end worrying that Trump might end up winning the election) was written by an especially talented research assistant, as Brooks had to spend all Monday afternoon and evening at PBS with Mark and Gwen and Judy and Amy being a talking head for the #RNCinCLE event (a designation that makes me imagine a quiescently frozen Priebus, or REinCICLE), and was thrown off his normal last-minute writing schedule.

The hypothesis is corroborated by the untypical proliferation of links in the column, including a properly referenced citation from a C-Span video of the vice presidential announcement, a terrific and hilarious BuzzFeed article by McKay Coppins that makes a very heavy use of the word "fucking",  and an actual Tweet—
That last provided the frame for the whole column, the idea that Trump's style is undergoing a significant change, which I think isn't really true (the thing about the Pence moment was more that Trump's struggle to speak about a person other than himself, carried out at such agonizing length, brought the features out more clearly), so it seems most likely that the person who found it is the one who effectively wrote the piece. And I just cannot imagine Brooks himself consulting any of these sources.

There's also a deeply bizarre and unlinked allusion to a "Planet Debbie":
Everybody is telling Trump to ratchet it down and be more sober, but at a rally near Cincinnati this month and in his Pence announcement speech on Saturday, Trump launched his verbal rocket ship straight through the stratosphere, and it landed somewhere on the dark side of Planet Debbie.
This sounds somehow familiar, but in reality it isn't. Dr. Google finds just three basic sources for the concept, all pretty cultish-sounding:
  • The October 24 1974 episode of The Odd Couple in which Felix persuades Oscar to run for the city council and then finds himself campaigning on the local Crypt Keeper–type TV show where Igor, the host, is screening an imaginary film called The Mysterious Planet Debbie;
  • Eugene Stein's 1994 novel Straitjacket and Tie, in which, Karen Karbo wrote in a Times review, "The weakest element in the novel is the introduction of a family of wisecracking space aliens from the planet Debbie, visible only to infants, dogs, the aged, substance abusers and 'Jewish lefties with a family history of mental illness.' This flight of fancy, bold as it may be, stalls on the runway"; and
  • spelled "Debby", in mentions from between 2004 and more or less now by the visual artist and author Gary Indiana (pseudonym for Gary Hoisington), who has worked at the Village Voice and Vice (where he did a very strong piece I wish President Obama would read, but trigger warning, it's a bit of a Debby Downer).
What's this all about? I can think of a hypothesis or two, but not one that really tips over into making any kind of sense. It's a little like the question of why somebody would sneak a paragraph from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech into the one Mrs. Trump gamely performed last night. I can see somebody other than Brooks must have written the column, but I don't see what they were hoping to accomplish.

Do read the Coppins piece. Via Driftglass, the secret meaning of the Melania plagiarism crisis may be that the speech contains a vicious bonafide Rickroll.

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