June 9, 2010

Advancing the status quo

The following is the text of a recent speech to the National Inertia Guild by Biff Crowningshield Bredwell III of Indian Hills, winner of a McArthur Genius Grant.

Thank you for inviting me here today to talk about my genius grant to pursue research into advancing the status quo. I would like to begin by thanking the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for this incredible opportunity to help keep things exactly as they are. “No better equals no worse” — my longstanding motto — has never been closer to reality.

When I got the phone call informing me I’d won a genius grant, I thought it was a prank. I’d long suspected I might be a genius, so that part didn’t surprise me. But just moments before, I’d gotten a call inviting me to take part in a double-blind study to examine the effects of diazepam and Glenlivet on fans of Jack Johnson, and that turned out to be a prank call from my broker. So I was skeptical.

But it turns out this genius grant is the real deal. It’s gratifying to learn the MacArthur people share my vision for taking bold action on inaction. This grant will complement my Ford Foundation endowment for work in the dynamic field of torpor and the Annenberg Foundation’s support for my dissertation, “Passive Abstinence as a Means Toward Quiescence in the New Millennium.”

So, why is it so important to maintain the status quo? I believe the great Roman general Fabius Maximus put it best when he said, “Quieta no movere.” My travels to accept new grants, fellowships and honoraria have kept me too busy to look up the translation, but I’m pretty sure it means, “Shhh! I’m trying to watch the movie!”

As repeated clinical trials have shown, things are pretty sweet right now. Our TVs get, like, 900 channels, and you can buy growlers and sushi in grocery stores. And did you check out Venus Williams’ French Open dress in HD? Schnikes! Also, we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. Oh, and how about that Zombie Pizza iPhone app?

But beyond creature comforts, it’s important to remember how great it is to live in a free society. Everybody in America has full and equal access to pursue happiness and prosperity, especially those who are not poor, black, gay, Latino, Arab, disabled, obese, illiterate, Appalachian, recently immigrated, female, followers of any religion other than Christianity, or “Battlestar Galactica” enthusiasts.

What’s more, we now have greater access to info than at any other time in human history, not counting Ancient Greece, The Enlightenment and that period in the 20th century when everybody read books, newspapers and magazines … what was that called? (Note to self: check Wikipedia.) For instance, just last week on StumbleUpon, I stumbled upon a video on the history of philosophy as portrayed on “The Family Guy,” and now I know all about John Locke (the father of liberalism, not the guy on “Lost,” but actually him too, after more stumbling upon).

But as eager as I am for our society to repress the urge to move forward, I am equally frightened at misguided attempts to go back to a time when surgeons anesthetized people with ether, song lyrics made sense, moms spent long hours suspending fruit inside Jell-O, and children were not yet very good at video games and therefore had to be spanked.

No, as German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe remarked, “Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn?” to which Rudolph Steiner coyly replied, “Twenty-five dollars, same as downtown.” Both geniuses were clearly predicting that someday a genius would come along, win a grant and point out that before Chat Roulette, it was hard to find a random, naked Romanian with whom to strike up a conversation and yet, if you’re not careful, too much feature-creep causes excessive battery wear.

So the mission is clear: We must move neither forward nor backward. Instead, we should follow the advice of Laura Nyro, who said, “Write drunk; edit sober.” Oh, wait. I think that was Hemmingway. Laura Nyro said, “C’mon, c’mon and surrey down to a stoned soul picnic.” But what Hemmingway and Nyro meant was that dogged complacency will always result in the America we deserve. Also, reportedly, “red, yellow honey sassafras and moonshine.” Thank you, and God Bless America.

 

Jim Welp is the author of “Summary of My Discontent — Constructive Criticism for Discerning Americans,” now available at Carmichael’s Bookstore or amazon.com.