Battlepanda: Garrison Keillor: Creep?


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Garrison Keillor: Creep?

I've always tried really hard* to like A Prairie Home Companion and failed miserably. Sometimes I'd fool myself into thinking that I'm getting it, but those mild spasms of amusement never sustain themselves long enough to make the two hour nostalgia-nza worth it. It's like the radio equivalent of drinking a huge mug of weak, tepid tea. Make that two of them.

So, while I'm not Garrison Keillor's greatest fan, I do know him and his style. And I have a really really really really have a hard time believing that Keillor is the kind of unabashed hypocritical bigot that this howling Dan Savage post makes him out to be even though the article in question did kind of make my jaw drop by its cheerful trade in stereotypes so stale they would never pass muster at a Lutheran bake sale. "Keillor really didn’t come to praise heterosexual marriage and monogamy. He came to bury gay couples—particularly gay couples with children," said Dan, "What an asshole. Asshole, asshole, asshole. What Keillor wrote today on Salon is every bit as offensive as Ann Coulter’s “faggot” joke about John Edwards and relies on the same set of cultural prejudices."

Dan's criticism of Keillor basically breaks down into two components:

(1) The man is a hypocrite. He has had a string of failed marriages while advocating mommy-daddy monogamy and leftover boiled potatoes in the 'frigerator.

(2) He is an anti-gay bigot.

It occurs to me that I am well into a longish post accusing the man of all sort of unpleasant things without actually mentioning what it was that raised Dan's ire, so let's look at what the man wrote. Let's look at a long-ish chunk, since Keillor is somewhat elliptical.
I grew up the child of a mixed-gender marriage that lasted until death parted them, and I could tell you about how good that is for children, and you could pay me whatever you think it's worth.

Back in the day, that was the standard arrangement. Everyone had a yard, a garage, a female mom, a male dad, and a refrigerator with leftover boiled potatoes in plastic dishes with snap-on lids. This was before caller ID, before credit cards, before pizza, for crying out loud. You could put me in a glass case at the history center and schoolchildren could press a button and ask me questions.

Monogamy put the parents in the background where they belong and we children were able to hold center stage. We didn't have to contend with troubled, angry parents demanding that life be richer and more rewarding for them. We blossomed and agonized and fussed over our outfits and learned how to go on a date and order pizza and do the twist and neck in the front seat of a car back before bucket seats when you could slide close together, and we started down the path toward begetting children while Mom and Dad stood like smiling, helpless mannequins in the background.

Nature is about continuation of the species -- in other words, children. Nature does not care about the emotional well-being of older people.

Under the old monogamous system, we didn't have the problem of apportioning Thanksgiving and Christmas among your mother and stepdad, your dad and his third wife, your mother-in-law and her boyfriend Hal, and your father-in-law and his boyfriend Chuck. Today, serial monogamy has stretched the extended family to the breaking point. A child can now grow up with eight or nine or 10 grandparents -- Gampa, Gammy, Goopa, Gumby, Papa, Poopsy, Goofy, Gaga and Chuck -- and need a program to keep track of the actors.

And now gay marriage will produce a whole new string of hyphenated relatives. In addition to the ex-stepson and ex-in-laws and your wife's first husband's second wife, there now will be Bruce and Kevin's in-laws and Bruce's ex, Mark, and Mark's current partner, and I suppose we'll get used to it.

The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men -- sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That's for the kids. It's their show.
As Dan points out, it's a bit rich for Keillor to wax lyrical about monogamy and sacrificing one's emotional well-being for the children. He has been married three times with children from two of the marriages. Hypocrite a la Newt? I say no. The whole thing about Keillor's schtick is that it's a schtick. He is not a real down-home Lake Wobegonian any more than Ho-hos are powdermilk biscuits. His seven-bedroom Georgian house was featured in the New York Time home and garden section under the headline "Where All The Rooms Are Above Average." He has real-estate in Manhattan, for goodness' sakes. But it doesn't matter. The attraction of his show has always been that he gently pokes fun at a heart-place that is the hometown you've never had. It's a happy place. A place that resonates with many. But it's not real. I would say that far from being hypocritical, Keillor is cutting close to the bone here in a way that must be hard to do.

The second charge, that of anti-gay bigotry, however, cannot be so easily dismissed. As we've already established, Keillor (assuming he is in his Lake Woebegone character for the column) is not speaking for himself. What Keillor is doing is a parody of small-town Middle America. It's whole humor lies in exaggerating modesty to ridiculous lengths -- "Where all the children are above average." Is it possible that Garrison Keillor is pulling a Borat on us? Showing us a dark side, not of himself, but of Lake Woebegone?

Which of these things is not like the other: Powdermilk biscuits, Jake's Autoharp, Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery, the Ketchup Advisory board, and anti-gay prejudice? I know one of those thing don't seem to belong for me.

APHC is satire, but Keillor is not Borat. Borat is Sacha Baron-Cohen saying "look at these people and how ridiculous they are. What a bunch of ignorant creeps." Keillor is saying "look at these people and how ridiculous they are. Aren't they adorable? Aren't they better people in their simple, stoic way then we'll ever be?" By slipping in several some really ugly assumptions about gay people in the same down-home hokey manner as if he's just making fun of big-city folks with their blackberries, Keillor is saying that, whether or not he personally shares those values**, they are not beyond the pale in our society. Keillor would never be as gauche as to complain about "welfare queens in Cadillacs" or tell "she's on PMS" jokes even as he make cracks about gay couples sharing wardrobes living in overdecorated apartments with tiny dogs.

It just goes to show that even in polite society, and there is no society more polite than Lake Woebegone, gays (and don't forget us atheists) are still considered legitimate targets just for being gays and atheists.

Garrison Keillor: Creep? Yes.

* I tried really hard to like APHC because NPR is like my favorite thing and APHC is their flagship non-news show. I used to be an even bigger NPR geek than I am now. I would listen to Car Talk every week even though I didn't drive.

**Look! He has gay friends and they defend him***!

***Actually, I think I find his response to the shitstorm his column has wrought almost more offensive than the column itself.
A man stood outside the theater where I did a show Saturday night and handed out angry pamphlets calling on the audience to protest my homophobia. A gay writer friend was at the show and got a big kick out of the pamphlets and had me autograph some for his partner and his partner's mother. I asked him what I had done wrong and he said, "You mentioned us." I looked at him quizzically. He said, "I'll handle gay parenting and you stick to the Norwegians." It's a deal.
So what Keillor is subtly implying here is that he's being attacked for mentioning gay parents, that somehow his critics are constructing a PC wall of silence around the subject to which he fell victim. This is such transparent bullshit that of course it has to sprout from the mouth of the very group he has just so carelessly stereotyped so it must have credibility. Right.