I was one of the hundreds of people who squished onto Powell's fourth floor last night to hear journalists Joe Sacco and Chris Hedges talk about their new book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. This pair is immensely popular—for a fleeting hour, the bookstore was the most exclusive club in town, with Powell's letting people into the packed upstairs only on a one in-one out policy.
I was excited to get a space (even a crunched one at the far back of the room) because I am in love with Joe Sacco and also because I agree with Mercury reviewer Joe Streckert that this new book about American poverty packs a powerful punch.
But listening to Hedges talk about his powerful book was intolerable. I agree politically with pretty much everything Hedges says (example line from last night: "We have undergone a corporate coup d'etat and it's over. They have won."), but for some reason, the way he said these smart things made me want to roll my eyes and make a hasty exit. At the lectern last night, Hedges came off as a person who has never smiled in his life, who expresses his points by beating the audience over the head with a pompous liberal stick. I respect Hedges' work and am glad he's fighting hard for important causes, but last night's lecture was a perfect example of the kind of political discussion that turns people off to politics because it's humorless, guilt-inducing, and offers no solutions.
It got me thinking: We need a word for when you totally agree with someone, but are totally irritated when they talk.
I put the call out on Twitter and got a few good responses: being in agreeyance, finding yourself aggritated, someone is irritruthful, having an adversionality, getting Olbermanned. As in: Hedges, you're great, but you need to figure out how not to Olbermann your audience.
I moderated a panel with another old-school radical, Bill Ayers, at Stumptown Comics Fest this spring and found Ayers to be refreshingly non-irritruthful. He just put together a book with a Portland cartoonist about teaching and comics and he made a point that stuck with me: People listen to humor. When politics is expressed in a way that feels pedantic, we tune it out, even if we agree with it. Jokes are not frivolous—humor is essential to political discourse. Express politics in a way that can laugh about and people will actually listen up and be more likely to take your point to heart. This is why places like Syria continue to break the fingers of cartoonists.