An Unwanted Companion

I'm not too surprised to see the news about A Prairie Home Companion maestro Garrison Keillor. Exactly like Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, he is a physically unattractive man whose talents located him in a position of controlling access to show business. Both men really were talented in their way, and both appear to have succumbed to the temptation to use their position to obtain more sexual pleasure than they'd have gained if they had relied upon their physical charms.

Keillor's show had many sublime moments, but it was also marked by nearly continual (and not always at all subtle) mockery of the traditional culture that the show allegedly celebrated. The sophisticates didn't see the value of the old walls, and urged them be swept away. Now we hear that there is no shelter from the wailing wind, and that new walls are needed against it. Plan them well, I suppose, if you are able.


David Foster said...

I think that at least in the case of Weinstein, it was much less about sexual pleasure than about the pleasure of humiliating his targets. This latter pleasure also seems to have been a factor in some of the other recent cases, though with various admixtures of sexual pleasure-seeking with the imposition of humiliation.

I recently read Fielding's "Tom Jones", and was struck by the way that the above phenomenon was portrayed in a particular passage. The author here is discussing Mr Bifil, who is insistent on marrying the charming Sophia despite her strong distaste for him:

" Though Mr. Blifil was not of the complexion of Jones, nor ready to eat every woman he saw; yet he was far from being destitute of that appetite which is said to be the common property of all animals. With this, he had likewise that distinguishing taste, which serves to direct men in their choice of the object or food of their several appetites; and this taught him to consider Sophia as a most delicious morsel, indeed to regard her with the same desires which an ortolan inspires into the soul of an epicure. Now the agonies which affected the mind of Sophia, rather augmented than impaired her beauty; for her tears added brightness to her eyes, and her breasts rose higher with her sighs. Indeed, no one hath seen beauty in its highest lustre who hath never seen it in distress. Blifil therefore looked on this human ortolan with greater desire than when he viewed her last; nor was his desire at all lessened by the aversion which he discovered in her to himself. On the contrary, this served rather to heighten the pleasure he proposed in rifling her charms, as it added triumph to lust; nay, he had some further views, from obtaining the absolute possession of her person, which we detest too much even to mention; and revenge itself was not without its share in the gratifications which he promised himself. The rivalling poor Jones, and supplanting him in her affections, added another spur to his pursuit, and promised another additional rapture to his enjoyment."

(I had to look up 'ortolan')

J Melcher said...

There are many virtues of *A Prairie Home Companion* but the performance of gospel music as, and ONLY as, 'folk song' is offensive. It's at least as much the contemporary sin of cultural appropriation as any privileged performer stealing from any culture of which he or she is not a member.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I liked him early on. We listened to him in the 1980's and bought the cassette tapes to listen to in the car. The children got sick of them. He had affection then for the two groups he was making fun of, and his treatment of gospel music and Christians was more respectful, because he did still believe some of it somehow.

But he became increasingly bitter, as I described years ago.

After that he became vicious.

To David's point above, I have found it curious what turns these powerful men on, likewise noting that humiliation and psychological force seem to be a large part of the pleasure. It just seems strange to me. However, if I were in their shoes I might deteriorate in just such a way. It is a temptation I have not faced myself, so I cannot comment on it wisely.

james said...

Like AVI I sensed a strong bitterness. I dated the change in tone to his return to the show and move to New York, but it may be that I was just used to his tone before, and only noticed the true flavor of it after an absence.

I wonder--when you get to be famous, if you're not careful, you're apt to be surrounded by flatterers and people looking for an edge. Maybe the temptation to humiliate is partly flavored by a temptation to revenge.

douglas said...

I think to some extent, satire shares a border with humiliation, so it's not that surprising to me that a guy who made his name subtly mocking the traditional world would turn out to be a boor. He always struck me as a bit smarmy, anyway, and his stuff as a shtick that I just wasn't amused by.

AVI, I think most of us aren't that un-empathetic to fall to that particular low, despite whatever other sins we're guilty of. I think most men want a 'victory', but one that was brought about by our virtues or at least our talents, not our ability to be forceful or demanding, and/or our control of the gateway to something desirable to others. I think how we win matters to us as much as if we win.

Most of these guys strike me as the sort who were bullied in their youth, but would be the bullies if they could have then, and later find themselves with the power to be just that. That's not to say I've wondered if I were a rock star or something where women were throwing themselves at me, would I be able to resist and remain faithful to my wife? I'd like to think so, but can imagine it might be difficult a times. But that's a different thing- weakness, not sadism.

I think you're right James, that they seek to humiliate, and get a sort of 'revenge'. That others should suffer as they perceive themselves to have suffered. Hopefully, most of us would not like others to suffer our past wounds.

I wonder if all this won't lead us back to a sense of propriety as a culture- a reconsideration of the destruction of social norms and roles. I hope so.

Eric Blair said...

I think I was almost gleeful when I heard about this, as I grew up in the Midwest, and from the first time I came across that show, I knew it was really mocking it all, for the consumption of the sorts that end up in Midwestern college towns, making them the blue splotches in an otherwise red landscape.

Gringo said...

I listened to PHC from the 1980s on. I recorded a lot of PHC shows to send an English teacher friend- originally from NH- in Argentina. Somewhere around 2000, I stopped listening to PHC. I got tired of listening to reruns that had first appeared only three months before. I didn't care for the explanation that copyright reasons precluded playing much older shows for the reruns. Soon after, I am told, Garrison went off on his Bush Derangement Syndrome tangent.

Up to that point, I thought that Garrison had some affection for his Lake Wobegon characters. I was from a small town, as were my parents, so I felt some kinship with Lake Wobegon- even though I didn't know any Norwegian Bachelor Farmers.

I still have a PHC joke book.

Lars Walker said...

I pretty much count as a Norwegian Bachelor Author. Which helps explain why I've long mistrusted Keillor. He talked a lot about his shyness, but somehow managed to be married multiple times, with girlfriends in between. That's not shyness in my experience. More like a well-practiced, passive-aggressive seduction tool, one which only works if you're rich and famous.

raven said...

I am reminded of the British quote, from some Lord or another, "every once in a while we need to hang an Admiral or two". This rampant abuse and the consequent hysteria are we get when no metaphorical Admirals are hung and all their misdeeds swept under. A lot of dirt piles up in the corners.

"I think that at least in the case of Weinstein, it was much less about sexual pleasure than about the pleasure of humiliating his targets. This latter pleasure also seems to have been a factor in some of the other recent cases, though with various admixtures of sexual pleasure-seeking with the imposition of humiliation"

Well, there is the point of power for some-abuse of others. No different in mindset than some psychopath with a victim chained to a cellar wall. CS Lewis had something to say on this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Gringo. I lived in the edges of the Upper Midwest in the early 2000s, and Keillor got stranger and less amusing. He and his advertisers lost me in 2004, when he started his joke show by saying that all Evangelical voters needed to be disenfranchised.


douglas said...

That's the progression of the leftist who at first feels constrained by traditional propriety to not do anything to lose what popularity he has, but once realizing some significant popularity, feels unburdened and lets the freak flag fly. Pretty typical.

Texan99 said...

I remember a mild tone early on, with some very sweet-natured jokes about the struggles in the hearts of the town's two pastors, Lutheran and Catholic. There were the townspeople who were obscurely troubled over whether the Lutheran was "soft on Catholicism," but they weren't portrayed as bigots, only people struggling to reconcile ill-understood dogma and schism with simple humanity. Then he did get bitter, ugly, and snide, and stopped being funny. I think it was around 2000 as well.