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February 10, 2005

Erma Bombeck

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I love humor writing, and consider it an artform on a level with poetry in terms both of the difficulty of its demands and the amount of pleasure it can deliver. Until her death in 1996, the humor columnist Erma Bombeck was a huge presence in American popular culture. (Funny: you don't hear feminists celebrating her accomplishment. Why not?) I wasn't much of a fan, but I did just now have an informative time surfing through this well-done website devoted to her work. And I loved learning that the University of Dayton sponsors, every other year, an Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop. Among the workshop's guest speakers: Art Buchwald.



posted by Michael at February 10, 2005



Caitlin Flanagan, the New Yorker and Harper's writer who has written some provocative essays on women, feminism, and gender roles, had an appreciative essay on Bombeck a few years ago.


Posted by: Gerald on February 10, 2005 9:27 PM

You know, it IS odd feminists doen't talk about her more. Just another thing feminists got wrong. My mom used to get all Erma's books, and being a reader, I then read them, too. They really, really were funny. I right now remember two stories: one where her teenagers were having a party, and she and her husband were hiding upstairs not sure they wanted to know what was going on, and her husband then got up and put on a cardigan sweater. He said, "well, I have ten more minutes before I wander through the house, looking like Fred MacMurray." Another story related to her daughter, who crash-dieted off ten pounds for her senior prom with a grapefruit juice diet, and then spent the entire prom in the ladies' room.

Erma was the commencement speaker for the college graduating class one year ahead of me; unfortunately, my year, the speaker was Dan Quayle. They got the MUCH better deal---and probably much better wisdom. I pretty much got the suckiest commencement speaker of all time.

PS---Erma Bombeck and Phil Donahue were once actual real-live nextdoor neighbors in Dayton, OH.

Posted by: annette on February 11, 2005 9:33 AM

I pretty much got the suckiest commencement speaker of all time

My son's graduation ceremony @ Lincoln Center last June climaxed (is that a word?) with the speech by Kofi Annan.

Posted by: Tatyana on February 11, 2005 9:48 AM

Gerald -- Thanks, I'll look that up. Flanagan enrages the usual media feminists, doesn't she? Smart move by the NYer to give her a platform: if you can keep the bees stirred up, maybe they'll keep coming back for more.

Annette -- Was Quayle an awful speaker? Not surprising. FWIW, I was once told by a publishing gal who worked on his book with him that she was amazed by her encounters with him: she'd assumed he was an idiot, but in person found him pretty bright and charming. Which isn't to endorse him, of course. And he certainly didn't have the gift of public eloquence. Now that you mention the Bombeck columns, you're reminding me that as a kid I often read her over breakfast. And I guess I often did find her pretty amusing. Not easy to be amusing week and week out, year after year.

Tatyana -- Kofi? That may in fact outdo Quayle in suckiness, I'm not sure.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 11, 2005 12:03 PM

Since Dan Quayle was brought up, let me throw out this idea.

In the US, the left wing typically accuses Republican politicians of stupidity (Reagan, Bush Sr & Jr, Quayle) while the right win typically accuses Democratic politicians of moral corruption and duplicity (Clinton, Kerry) and weakness (Dukakis, Kerry). Whatever the truth of these accusations, I'm wondering whether they represent projections of what the accusers believe is the worst flaw possible. So the opposition politicians form a kind of Rorschach test. Whaddya think?

Posted by: JT on February 11, 2005 3:25 PM


I think you're on to something.

The Dems place a high value on articulateness, which they equate (wrongly) with intelligence.

The Pubbies place a high value on rectitude. Being human, they of course, fall short.

Rather than play the neutral, above-it-all role, I side with rectitude (even with some backsliding) over intelligence (even when real) every time...especially in a political figure.

Posted by: ricpic on February 12, 2005 10:29 AM

JT -- I think you're onto something too. There seems to be a lot of projecting going on. Both sides have their devil figures, for one thing. It makes me giggle to hear my leftie friends dump on Bush for his religious beliefs and drives -- because my leftie friends are about as ferociously religious (in terms of their belief in "rationalism" and liberal secularism) as I can imagine. I mean, they're really nuts about it. If only it weren't for racists and greedy people, liberal secularism would have us all living in an egalitarian utopia. They demonize the Bushies (and Red Staters generally) as determinedly as some of the neocons seem to demonize all Arabs.

I wonder what to do about the religious-fervor thing and politics. Any thoughts? Is it inevitable that people will play politics with rabidity -- that they'll always hope for too much from politics, and put too much faith in various pols and policies? My own preference would be for people to admit they have religious (or spiritual, or however you want to put it) feelings -- that that's simply part of being human -- and that they'd attend to them in appropriate ways: church, meditation, charity work, whatever. And then attend to political matters in modest and matter-of-fact ways. But that may be my own utopia...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 12, 2005 11:27 AM

That's funny, my "leftie" friends are all Sufis and quasi-spiritual New Agers. But you're right, they are just as "religious" in their own way. The saddest tenet of their religion is freedom of speech, which applies to everyone except those who disagree with them.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 12, 2005 1:45 PM

With the exception of Dan Quayle, who landed in Pago Pago and called it "Pogo Pogo." Talk to Quayle's college profs, who were also some of my own. He really is dumb. No projecting there!

Posted by: annette on February 15, 2005 9:25 AM

How many things in life really require a person to be extra-plus bright?


Every day, in every way, I am more and more convinced that the old joke is right, 90% of it is just showing up.

Posted by: J.C. on February 15, 2005 8:12 PM

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