MENCKEN (1880-1956) ON AMERICA:
Here more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal follythe unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagancesis so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.
MENCKEN ON DEMOCRACY:
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
MENCKEN ON THE 2000 AND 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS:
As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
MENCKEN ON THE PROSE OF PRESIDENT WARREN G. HARDING:
I rise to pay my small tribute to Dr. Harding. Setting aside a college professor or two and a half dozen dipsomaniacal newspaper reporters, he takes the first place in my Valhalla of literati. That is to say, he writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm (I was about to write abcess!) of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.
MENCKEN ON THE EXASPERATIONS OF LIFE IN GENERAL:
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
No other entertainment gave [Mencken] greater pleasure than reporting from the [national political] conventions; nor did anyone appreciate his efforts more than Mencken himself. One reporter, peering through Mencken's window late at night after one rally, recalled watching him at work alone in his hotel room, pounding out copy on a typewriter propped on a desk. He would type a few sentences, read them, slap his thigh, toss his head back, and roar with laughter. Then he would type some more lines, guffaw, and so on until the end of the article. (Marion E. Rodgers, ed., The Impossible H.L. Mencken: A Collection of His Best Newspaper Stories, Introduction)
JOE QUEENAN ON TRANSGENERATIONAL TENSIONS:
Of all the intellectual and psychological congress that has transpired between Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers there is nothing more disturbing than the concept of ‘Staff Recommendations.’ Encouraging the staff to make their own recommendations is a typical Baby Boomer ploy, a completely insincere gesture rooted in a spirit of preëmptive condescension, a clever mechanism by which Boomer employers fleetingly empower the pouty, underpaid, going-nowhere-fast underlings they secretly despise.
Speaking as a person who has logged a few miles on the cultural odometer, I cant imagine anything lower on my list of Things to Do than to find out what the people earning minimum wage at the local video store think I should be viewing these days. Its not just the predictability of their choices Its the insolence. Since when does anyone care what shop clerks think about anything? Who died and left them in charge? Are we suddenly going to have Staff Recommendations in gas stations? Or used-CD stores? Or churches?
Back to Ask Dr. Petruso