Friday, October 16, 2020

Please Help Yourselves to this Tripe


If you are anything like me, you have friendships based entirely on quotes from The Simpsons.

In my case, I don’t even like some of these people, and they probably have little use for me but, in an uncertain world, it is comforting to find souls who speak in the same abstractions.

For example, if I said to any of them, “Thank you, I DO enjoy working at the bowling alley,” they would know at once that my wife is expecting.

Surveying the landscape of sudden experts in surgical masks, the utterance from which I would want them to tickle coherence is: “Apparently my crazy friend here hasn't heard of the food chain.”

For readers who are less than fluent in Simpsonese, please allow me elucidate.

It comes from the episode aptly titled Lisa the Vegetarian, wherein Lisa Simpson, Springfield’s answer to a question nobody asked, decides to forego eating meat.

In response, her school shows the students a propaganda film from the Meat Council, gloriously titled Meat and You: Partners in Freedom.

It is a magnificent piece of nonsense, ably narrated by Troy McClure, referring to those who eschew meat as Grade A morons, euphemizing slaughtered cows as graduates of Bovine University, and displaying the aforementioned food chain, which shows humans eating, among other things, squirrels, camels, and (ahem) bats.

Lisa’s classmates, who previously had evinced no interest in or knowledge of the subject, suddenly become smug specialists.

As the film concludes, Lisa complains, “They can’t seriously expect us to swallow that tripe!” Her school principal immediately invites the students to the front of the room, saying, “Now, as a special treat courtesy of our friends at the Meat Council, please help yourselves to this tripe.”

The children rush forward to gorge themselves on the repulsive display of cow stomachs. As they do so, Lisa pleads, “Don't you realize you've just been brainwashed by corporate propaganda?” Her classmates respond:

JANEY: Apparently my crazy friend here hasn't heard of the food chain.

HAM: Yeah, Lisa's a grade A moron.

RALPH WIGGUM: When I grow up, I'm going to go to Bovine University!

From disinterested know-nothings to intolerant know-it-alls in the space of a filmstrip.; that’s how fast it happens. And that is why The Simpsons is the most trenchant social satire in television history.

It’s a risky thing, questioning someone else’s intelligence. Besides that it’s rude and they might be bigger than you, you also never know what they have seen. The most intelligent people I have ever known – including at least three bona fide geniuses – would never dream of speaking about other people in that way.

Relatedly, they would never refer to themselves as smart. Perhaps it is because they are just clever enough to see that the ocean of knowledge is vast and the ship of their mind is tiny.

I thought of this, and the food chain and Bovine University, as I repeatedly encountered the most recent disqualifying moniker for those with unapproved opinions: Anti-masker.

The label follows the tradition of “covidiot,” “climate denier,” and various iterations of “istophobe,” which at a stroke are intended to remove a person, along with their questions and views, from the realm of legitimacy.

The anti-masker sobriquet is often accompanied by accusations of stupidity which, coming from people who plainly fancy themselves intelligent, are oddly unoriginal. Some variation of “fell out of the stupid tree” or “the stupid lives loudly” or “why is this so hard to understand???” is commonly found.

(Relatedly, people who unironically preface their remarks with “Last time I checked” cannot be taken seriously. The science is settled.)

Like Lisa’s classmates, the people I have seen deploying the anti-masker term as though it were a rhetorical finishing move as devastating as Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ DDT had not, until very recently, shown any interest or erudition in the field of medical science.

The are actors, artists, musicians, what-have-you, and some are quite advanced in their fields. This is not by any means an appeal to expert authority (something toward which we should call cast a jaundiced eye nowadays). Everyone has a right to their opinion on any topic and it is absurd to suggest that only the Chief of Complicated Surgery at the Invasicare Clinic has any place to speak about Covid-19.

What strikes me about those un-personing others as “anti-maskers” is that not only have they absorbed just one viewpoint within the dynamic and complex environment in which we find ourselves, but they have simultaneously foreclosed the possibility than other views, and the people who hold them, hold any value whatsoever.

The topic of masks, which scientifically and aesthetically reflects much of the Covid debate writ large, is far from closed. Just this week, the Centers for Disease Control issued yet another clarifying statement, saying they have never claimed masks are to be worn for the protection of the wearer. Yet the CDC’s Director recently held up his own mask in an appearance before Congress, insisting it could be as or more effective than a vaccine in protecting him from Covid-19.

So, who is the anti-masker here?

My own literacy in the hard sciences in about on par with Ralph Wiggum, so my objection to masks is a matter of principle. Masks are what they look like: symbols of conformity, control, and subjugation.

If it were evident that ubiquitous masks were saving lives, or had saved even one life, I and other “anti-masker” mouth-breathers would be happy to hear it. But that is not where we are, even at the CDC, which, beyond the apparent disconnect between its Director and PR department, recently found that 84 percent of Covid-infected persons always (70 percent) or often (14 percent) wore masks.

In any case, none of that would rationalize hale and healthy young people wearing masks as they walk alone in the sunshine. They oughta have “Bovine University” printed across the mouth.

And that brings us to what is most horrifying about our current moment. Advocates of masks and lockdowns and the arbitrary 6-foot metric of “social distance” are addicted to power and impervious to reason.

They talk of “keeping everyone safe” as though it were still March and we had yet to identify the witheringly small percentage of the population that is truly at risk. We are told to hunker down and mask up “for a little while” as though we have not already been doing this for seven months.

The epistemological disconnect is terrifying to behold.

That is why I, as just one little anti-masker, am speaking out in my feeble way. I don’t want to lose friends and irritate people – which has happened and will continue apace once I post this piece – but I truly believe this is it.

If we do not stand up now for the freedom we inherited, we will lose it forever. And not long after that, we will forget we ever had it.

We have come too far and the stakes are too high to continue pretending we all want the same things and we are all in this together. We do not and we are not.

But as always, I would rather light a candle than curse the darkness. As I become more unpopular than I was already (a considerable achievement), when a mask-free face smiles at me in the street, whether than person has heard of the food chain or not, I see a new friend.

Theo Caldwell just wanted to be left alone. Contact him at