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Delving into the shallows

A generation ago, the place to see where America’s bent for self-affirmation had declined from Whitmanesque vigor to self-absorption and inane chatter was California. Cyra McFadden’s comic novel The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County, epitomized the flaky triviality one associated with the time and place. *

What was then locally ludicrous is now universal.

Perhaps you read this week in The New York Times (The new York Times! God save the mark) an article by one Judith Warner about her dreams of Barack Obama and the dreams about Barack Obama that other women have shared with her.

This [Rising Gorge Warning] is the opening paragraph:

The other night I dreamt of Barack Obama. He was taking a shower right when I needed to get into the bathroom to shave my legs, and then he was being yelled at by my husband, Max, for smoking in the house. It was not clear whether Max was feeling protective of the president’s health or jealous because of the cigarette.

It’s odd that so few people seem to have realized that their dreams are of no particular interest except to therapists being paid to hear about them. To publish accounts of one’s dreams, particularly such a vapid one, and then to attempt to extrapolate from it an explanation of national trends about self-examination and domesticity and anything else that comes to mind, carries us to a place beyond satire.


* Actually, H.L. Mencken saw what was coming in 1924, when he wrote of California, calling it “an Alsatia of retired Ford agents and crazy fat women — a paradise of Rotary and the New Thought. Its laws are the most extravagant and idiotic ever heard of in Christendom. Its public officers, and especially its judges, are famous all over the world for their imbecilities. When one hears of it at all, one hears that some citizen has been jailed for reading the Constitution of the United States, or one hears that some swami in a yellow bedtick has got all the realtors' wives of Los Angeles by the ears.”



Posted by John McIntyre at 5:27 PM | | Comments (4)


When I am trying to end a conversation with someone, I have, upon occasion, started recounting dreams. Works like a charm.

Steel yourself. There is already a blog devoted to dreams about Barack Obama, Naturally, it will be turned into a book.

This isn't the first time in living memory that a president has been the object of nocturnal reverie and diurnal analysis. During Bill Clinton's first campaign (and long before blogging), so many women reported having erotic dreams about the candidate that a couple of industrious researchers collected the reports and published them as "Dreams of Bill." Synopsis: "A compilation of dreams from people across America about Bill Clinton offers a thematically organized collection of dreams featuring the president in such roles as friend, father, lover, dentist, veterinarian, alien, robot, and more." You can still find copies pretty easily:

If my memory is reliable about a passage I read years ago in Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, a German aristocrat who despised Hitler, he read a news account of a group of women so besotted with Hitler that they swallowed pieces of gravel from the ground where he had just walked.

There are forms of disordered behavior that I think it unwise for newspapers to encourage.

Maybe Ms Warner was facing a deadline and just not in the mood.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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