Good news, hate-readers: between writing screeds against women in Hollywood and non-review movie reviews, The New York Post’s Kyle Smith went and read him a book. Not even a picture book, either — one with words and everything! Alas, those words were written by Fox News host Greg Gutfeld, and the book is all about how us liberal hipsters took over the currency of cool from hard-working conservatives. In true Smith form, he doesn’t actually review the book; he merely parrots its talking points and lazily reappropriates the book’s title (Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You) into his headline (“The hipster war on you: How liberals use cool as a weapon”). Not that I’m complaining; it saves the trouble of actually having to read Gutfeld’s tome. Let’s see what these two middle-aged white dudes are angry about now!
“Why are good things seen as bad, and why are bad things seen as good?” Smith asks in his lede, a provocative question that he claims Gutfeld poses and answers in his book (though Smith doesn’t answer it or even return to it here, which makes it kind of a terrible lede). Per Smith, “Gutfeld paints a picture of a coolocracy in which the world is run by star-bellied Sneetches who tell us what’s hip and we obediently keep running in and out of the belly-star-making gizmo.”
And who’s to blame for all of this? The hippies, of course. You see, “cool remained outside the establishment until the Woodstock Generation began to take over.” Conservatives have demonized “the Woodstock Generation” since, well, Woodstock, but Reagan made a cottage industry of it, rolling back the civil rights strides of the ‘60s, gutting anti-poverty programs, and demonizing the anti-war movement. Subsequent conservative political figures from George H.W. Bush (taking on Dukakis) to Newt Gingrich (in his battles with Clinton) to George W. Bush (in his odious campaign against Vietnam vet and anti-war activist John Kerry) situated the ideological battle between Republicans and Democrats as one that positioned the quiet conformity of the 1950s against the radicalism of the 1960s. In doing so, such backwards-glancers helpfully overlook the 90-plus-percent marginal tax rates on the highest earners, and willfully ignore (or snickeringly shrug off) how the ‘50s weren’t all that awesome if you weren’t a white guy — like, oh, Smith and Gutfeld, who sneeringly compare today’s “maker(s) of artisanal tricycles” to the “bankers, executives, ministers and professors” of the Good Old Days™.
So, according to Smith, after all those dirty hippies imposed their “warped values” (y’know, world peace, environmental protection, equal rights for women, gays, and people of color — repulsive, subversive shit like that) on American society, nothing was ever the same again. “Today Flower Power types run the media, the networks, the Hollywood studios, even the Justice Department.” Yes, Flower Power types run media like Smith’s Post and networks like Gutfeld’s Fox News and publishers like Not Cool’s Crown Forum (“a leading publisher of politically conservative authors and points of view”), and as I read this review of their book in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Post that carefully takes time to praise Gutfeld’s work on the Murdoch-owned FNC (“as breezy, enlightening and funny as Gutfeld’s two TV shows, ‘The Five’ and ‘Red Eye’”), it’s all sort of impressive, because you usually have to go to a Skull and Bones hazing to see this kind of a Republican circle jerk.
You’re not helping your cause with captions like this, ‘NY Post.’
(His unapologetic waxing of Gutfeld’s car does allow Smith to make his piece’s single accurate statement: “the way he delivers truths disguised as jokes makes him a kind of reverse Jon Stewart.” This is absolutely correct — Gutfeld is indeed a reverse Jon Stewart, inasmuch as his “truths” are partisan hackwork, and he isn’t funny.)
One might expect some sort of “hey, we’re owned by the same company” disclosure from Smith, but who’re we kidding — everyone reading his piece knows the score, and the “them” vs. “you” mentality is right there in the both the title of the book and the headline of Smith’s “review.” But what Smith and Gutfeld don’t get, or choose not to acknowledge, is that they’re raging over matters of perception, and drawing false analogies to questions of real power.
An example: Smith points out Gutfeld’s contention that Facebook not only didn’t pay income taxes in 2012, but received a giant refund, and “because it was Facebook — a company that oozes cool out its pores — it was a one-day story that people forgot about.” (Not quite; a one-second Google search reveals, on the first page alone, stories about their 2012 tax refund ranging from February to December of 2013.) But here’s the rub: “If Exxon or Koch Industries had managed that, someone might have noticed.”
Note how Smith walks this line. He carefully notes that the refund is because “the company (lawfully) deducts the stock options it issues to Facebook employees.” So that parenthetical assures us he’s not actually upset about a giant company gaming the tax code — his readers love that shit. No, it’s that a social media network isn’t held to the same standards of outrage as price-gouging gas companies and fossil fuel billionaires who are trying to buy the electorate.
And that’s insane. But it’s also sad, for square conservative bros like Smith and Gutfeld — it isn’t enough that they’re mouthpieces for the rich and powerful, or that their party controls economic and government interests far beyond the meager reach of such Gutfeld-targeted liberal “icons of cool” as Zuckerberg, Robert Redford, Yoko Ono (?) and Jesse James (???). No, power isn’t enough; they wanna be cool too. “I’m cool! I’m on TV! I wear stonewashed jeans! Why doesn’t anybody think I’m cool, Kyle?” “I dunno, Greg, but I’m not cool either! Write a book about it and I’ll review it, waaaaah.”
I don’t mean to be completely reductive here — believe it or not, I know and like a lot of Republicans. Some of them are even cool! (This is not a value judgment; most of the time, I’m tragically uncool, but I’m not so worked up about it that I have to go write a fucking book blaming it on other people.) You know who else is cool? Clint Eastwood, a Republican. Also cool and also conservative: James Brown, Bruce Willis, The Rock, James Caan, and the man who defined cool, Frank Sinatra. The key to cool, Mr. Smith and Mr. Gutfeld, is not which way you choose to cast a ballot. It’s whether or not you choose to be an asshole.