|Everyone is Stupid (Except for Peter Bagge), an Advance Review of Fantagraphics' Upcoming Collection|
Last night, I met one of the stupidest people I have ever encountered in my life. I was sitting outside a bar, having a vodka-tonic with a former co-worker. Suddenly, there appeared a blonde man with meticulously styled facial hair. My former co-worker, already a few drinks in, decided to goad the young man into conversation and told him he “[looked] like a rocker,” which I think she meant pejoratively. To which he answered, “Yeah, only with a more beautiful face, and a longer…” He trailed off and raised one eyebrow seductively.
When asked if he was a musician, he replied, “Yeah, I’m a lead singer. I’m in a band called Love in Orbit. We’re like Led Zeppelin meets the Doors meets the Stooges.” I looked at him incredulously and asked if he thought he could sing like Iggy Pop. He told me he could sing anything Iggy Pop could sing, only better. I’m an asshole, so I like a good boast. But, sensing bullshit, I asked, “What’s your favorite Stooges album?” He paused, looked concerned in an accusatory way and said, “I’m not really… into their albums, you know? Like, I only know a couple songs.” The right answer is Fun House.
It was with this revelation, a male friend of mine couldn’t resist asking the young man to define “rock’n roll.” After some verbal fumbling, such as: “Well, the power of music’s intrinsic, man, it’s, like, totally irrational,” and (this one directed at the ladies present), “Doesn’t this conversation make you just want to… go fuck?” while mugging with his shoulders toward my male friend, as if to say, “Look at this shmuck, he just needs a beej and a Bud, and he’ll, like, mellow out.” The real turning point came when my male friend challenged the worth of the young man’s livelihood, after his definition of rock’n roll was exposed as nothing more than, “It rocks, and I like it.” So, his value in question, the young man scratched his head, looked down the neck of his beer and said, to no one in particular, “I mean, man, look, I just kind of take the Libertarian stance on things. Like, I just wanna do whatever I want, and as long as I don’t hurt anybody else, then who the fuck cares?”
First of all, sorry to bury the lead, I’m getting to the point. Second of all, Iggy Pop wouldn’t suffer shit like this from smug, vodka-swilling liberal arts majors at a bar. Third of all, is it all right if I draw from this isolated incident with a moron, that all libertarians are idiots?
If Everyone is Stupid is any indication, that’s totally fine. This bloated collection of Peter Bagge’s work is just a series of similar encounters, through the lens of libertarianism. The book would have you believe that the world is comprised of bleeding-heart pinko Democrats who want to tax you to death and take away your assault rifles, and the GOP’s flock of sexually-repressed bible-thumping rednecks.
So, the left’s all commies and the right’s all zealots, and Mr. Bagge finds himself an outcast in this crazy, mixed-up world. His observations about everything from pop stars dressed like whores who praise Jesus to the “eye-roll-inducing self-indulgence” of the modern art world never become more illuminating than this. What’s egregious is that these observations aren’t funny, either. Other insights: Democrats are feeble and hypocritical, some subcultures are weird and unsavory, British people have bad teeth, homeless people are selfish lotus-eaters. Oh my god. It’s like someone wheeled my senile, racist grandfather onto a metropolitan sidewalk and let him free associate. Unfortunately, my grandfather’s psychosis might have more acuity and humor than Everyone is Stupid.
I don’t think Peter Bagge is unintelligent. But, he undermines any critical substance by shooting fish in a barrel. He’s not engaged in dialogue with the anonymous rubes and freaks of his stories; he just presents us with stock idiots and we’re supposed to find them funny. Unfortunately, the strawmen who populate Everyone is Stupid are so many, so faceless, so unreal, and placed into such stark contrast with Bagge’s imminently reasonable avatar, that it’s unclear what we readers are expected to appreciate at all . What’s here isn’t original or challenging, but I am impressed that Bagge could sustain—for 107 pages—the disconcerting confluence of abrasive and boring.
Yes, there is a kernel of reason in his argument: that you shouldn’t go too far to the left or too far to the right, and that extremes are bad or something. And that no one should be able to take your guns. And that the war on drugs is bad. This is all mildly insufferable and uninteresting, until we get to Ron Paul; at which point, the book becomes deplorable. Bagge supports Paul’s bid for the nomination, because Paul is a Libertarian. Sure, Bagge’s explanation is that Paul “takes his oath to uphold the constitution seriously,” but, after 86 pages of lambasting people who blindly support their political parties, regurgitating their dogma, and never thinking independently, it doesn’t sit well that Bagge takes no issue with doing so himself.
Then, in one of the longest screeds of the bunch, he details the difficult process of falling out of love with Ron. Bagge addresses the infamous newsletter racism and those disturbing immigration policies, but he ends suspiciously in the same place, as if the whole episode were just an elaborate justification: “But the saddest thing of all is that I’d still take him way over any of his opponents. All I can say in the end is: right message, wrong messenger.” He concludes the story by mocking a middle aged white woman (one of his favorite victims throughout) as she announces that she’ll vote republican should Obama snag the nomination. Here, Bagge footnotes a defense of Paul’s foreign policy and stance on individual privacy. Then, in reference to the woman, he announces, utterly without irony, “identity politics trumps everything.” It does, doesn’t it?
Perhaps most lacking in self-awareness is the final story, called “The War on Fornication,” which exhibits an extremely leftist stance on Plan B, the alleged “abortion pill.” Bagge is appalled by George W. Bush’s repeated savagery of a woman’s access to contraception, by the far right’s demonization of sexually active women, by the charged, simplistic language we use to discuss the complexity of abortion, by the absurdity of the Bible (“or Koran”) as any kind of moral authority in contemporary society, and so on. “Stick it to the man by fornicating your head off!” he suggests, “And always have plenty of Plan B on hand, just in case!” How empowering that we can have all the casual, reckless sex we want, and Bagge totally approves. He even lines up a few of the more evil and insidious voices of opposition to reproductive rights, from David Hagar to Susan Orr.
Here Bagge neglects to mention a certain Republican congressman from the state of Texas named Ron Paul. Paul’s stance on abortion is less cut and dry than some, but he believes abortion is murder and that human life begins at conception. Therefore, Bagge’s nod to us girls and our, shall we say, liberty over our wombs, comes across a little empty.
So, when Bagge’s not deriding Shakespeare as “hokey and unintelligible,” he’s really agitated by the stupidity of regular people. Over and over, Bagge presents one idiot, standing in for one ideology, saying some foolish thing, and we’re supposed to glean that these people—these hippies, ministers, hobos, PTA members—are dumb. Unfortunately, Everyone is Stupid is so long, so full of fallacies, so self-indulgent and so dense, it reminded me of a certain hallowed libertarian tome, Atlas Shrugged… only without all the nasty sex that makes for its enduring appeal to people like our friend, the young rock musician. At least, my unfavorable opinion of libertarians comes from protracted exposure to two of them.
1.0 out of 5. (teh sux0r)