Sunday, October 19, 2008

A fable, and a book club discussion

Here's a version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes - check it out, read it (it's not very long), and come back here for an Oprah Book Club sort of thing...

Okay, glad to have you back. Around the table we have Jodi Kantor, reporterette from the New York Times, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, a noted expert in childhood education, and Joe, a plumber.

We'll start with you, Ms. Kantor. Your reaction?

Well, if you could hold on a sec, I am trolling FaceBook, looking for friends of kids of Republican candidates, so I can talk to their moms and dads, for insights into what kind of parents Republican scum, I mean, officials, make.

Okay, then, let's throw it to you, Mr. Ayers. What do you say about this timeless classic?

The Emperor is emblematic of the white patriarchy, and his subjects of the mindless conformity of the masses. If I had been there, I would have detonated a nail bomb during the climactic scene, as I am sure some of those in attendance would have been pigs and murdering soldiers. Kill your parents!

Uh, Mr. Ayers, I know you've advised killing your parents, but weren't you a child of privilege who rode your father's reputation into Chicago society when you should have been in jail?

Guilty as hell, free as a bird! Besides, killing your parents is for other people. My father is a respected businessman, the chairman of Commonwealth Edison - with his dough and connections, I would have been a fool to kill him. Brinks security guards and policemen, that's another matter.

Back to the story... So what would you have accomplished by killing a bunch of people at the closing procession?

Don't you get it, man? He's an Emperor, with, like, an empire. What more do you need to know?

Oh, I don't know. What did you think about the child at the end, who, to borrow a cliché, spoke truth to power.

Well, he must have been a black child, as they are the only authentic race in this country.

But it wasn't set in this country. I mean, Hans Christian Andersen wrote this in the early 19th century in Denmark. I would think he would have been imagining the story in a medieval European setting, right?

Memory is a motherf---er, as I have said. Great opening line, huh? But I think you are too caught up in things like facts and reasonable inferences at the expense of the narrative.

What narrative?

My narrative, pig. The only thing that matters. And about which I will say nothing, at least until Obama, some guy in my neighborhood, gets elected.

I see. OK, Reverend Wright. What do you think about the story?

The emperor's chickenssss have come home to roossssst.

I'm not sure what you mean.

Not God bless the Emperor, God d--n the Emperor. That's in the Bible!

Anyway, Joe, you're a plumber from Ohio, what do you take away from this story?

Well, it's funny, I've been listening to these other answers, and I'm kind of wondering whether or not the main point of this story is being missed. I mean, here you have a guy who is the Emperor, but he is so vain he won't admit what is obvious to him: that he's being played for a sucker. And then there are all these guys who are supposed to be helping him out, and they are too afraid to tell the truth, like maybe if they did, all sorts of dirt would come out on them. So, finally, the only character I can relate to, this little kid, he says, what the hell, people, the Emperor's naked! And finally, the people watching this, they said, hey, you know, the kid's right. Even the Emperor knew it, but he's still all like, hey, I've gone this far, I'm not going to stop now. At least not until the election, I guess, if they even elect emperors, but what do I know, I'm just a plumber.

Good! I feel like we're getting somewhere. Jodi, are you back in the discussion?

Yes, I'm here. And I can't believe what I am hearing. Look, let's get to the heart of the matter by asking the kind of tough questions a reporter is trained to ask. What kind of grades did this kid make in school? Does he have a juvenile record? Are his parents registered Republicans? Did they support the Emperor? Are there any tax liens against them? Did they have a license to watch the procession?

I see. But even with answers to those questions, wouldn't the central issues still be the thievery of the weavers, the vanity of the Emperor, the fear of his advisers and subjects, the honesty of a child?

Look, I've done some digging into the background of the weavers. They were Franklin of Raines and James, son of John. So they are unimportant to the story. And it turns out that there is a part of the story that Hans Christian Andersen left out. It seems that members of a rival faction told him that the weavers were unscrupulous and trusting them would only lead to loss of wealth to the kingdom and embarrassment of the Emperor, but it must not have mattered, or it would have been in the story, right?

Well, I admire your journalistic thoroughness, but isn't this kind of beside the point?

No! It is the point! The narrative is the point.

We're back to narrative, so I'll ask again, what narrative?

The New York Times narrative. Like duh.

Okay, well, I must say, that as I think about your responses, the one that makes the most sense, and I hesitate to say this, is that of the plumber's.

You mean the unemployed guy. We got him fired. So who you gonna believe? An unemployed, unlicensed former plumber, or your own lying eyes?

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