Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Twentieth Century And After

One interesting characteristic of a receding wave of racial or religious bigotry is the often hilarious rattle of the stupid human pebbles left behind. I was reminded of this great source of humor by a poisonous letter to Bill O'Reilly from a certain Howard Veit - who appears to be a frequent commenter on many blogs. The letter inarticulately sputtered:

"O'Reilly you deserve what you got. You're just a dumb mick who got lucky."

First things first. "A dumb mick?" The venomous Veit should keep in mind that the correct epithet is "thick mick," - or, sometimes, "Thick Mick Bastard". Just as a detail of historical accuracy. Of course, in fairness to Mr. Veit one must acknowledge that the pristine contempt and mindlessness conveyed by the historically accurate insult has more recently been sullied by certain pornographic and extra-Celtic associations, which he perhaps was selflessly struggling to avoid.

But what really concerns me about Mr. Veit's letter is its ambiguity. Is "dumb mick" intended as a rage against Mr. O'Reilly's Irish ancestry - or is his Catholic faith also necessary to render him "dumb?" At one time - many years ago - this particular insult would probably have been construed to refer to Irish Catholics. True, most people today seem to think that religion and intelligence are not so closely related - but perhaps not Mr. Veit. Is Irish-American-Protestant writer David E. Kelley of the ABC television series "The Practice," and many other shows, also a "dumb mick who got lucky?" Is Mr. Veit's a defanged anti-Irish slur or a somewhat nastier anti-Catholic one? Clarity, Mr. Veit, strive for clarity. And what kind of post-modernist, critical-legal-studies-ridden society have we become that the meaning of a mindless personal insult has now been so severely undermined. Where are those nineteenth century certainties we all crave like good, hi-fat comfort food?

Yes, yes - it's not the nineteenth century now. But, on the other hand, the rattle of things such as Mr. Veit's little pebble of bigotry does yield some comic effect. It's true:

Though the great song return no more
There's keen delight in what we have:
The rattle of pebbles on the shore
Under the receding wave.

OVERSIGHT CORRECTION: Original Veit letter language received from Henry Hanks.

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