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156

Up, Simba

Seven Days on the Trail of an Anticandidate

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terms
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notes

an investigative journalism piece for Rolling Stone in 1999 in which he trailed John McCain's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination (which of course he lost to Bush Jr). very long and very good

Foster Wallace, D. (2007). Up, Simba. In Foster Wallace, D. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. Abacus, pp. 156-234

165

[...] take a second or two to do some creative visualization and imagine the moment between John McCain’s first getting offered early release and his turning it down. Try to imagine it was you. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would cry out to you in that moment, and all the ways you could rationalize accepting the offer: What difference would one less POW make? Plus maybe it’d give the other POWs hope and keep them going, and I mean 100 pounds and expected to die and surely the Code of Conduct doesn’t apply to you if you need a doctor or else you’re going to die, plus if you could stay alive by getting out you could make a promise to God to do nothing but Total Good from now on and make the world better and so your accepting would be better for the world than your refusing, and maybe if Dad wasn’t worried about the Vietnamese retaliating against you here in prison he could prosecute the war more aggressively and end it sooner and actually save lives so yes maybe you could actually save lives if you took the offer and got out versus what real purpose gets served by you staying here in a box and getting beaten to death, and by the way oh Jesus imagine it a real doctor and real surgery with painkillers and clean sheets and a chance to heal and not be in agony and to see your kids again, your wife, to smell your wife’s hair. . . . Can you hear it? What would be happening inside your head? Would you have refused the offer? Could you have? You can’t know for sure. None of us can. It’s hard even to imagine the levels of pain and fear and want in that moment, much less to know how we’d react. None of us can know.

But, see, we do know how this man reacted. That he chose to spend four more years there, mostly in a dark box, alone, tapping messages on the walls to the others, rather than violate a Code. Maybe he was nuts. But the point is that with McCain it feels like we know, for a proven fact, that he is capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self-interest. So that when he says the line in speeches now you can feel like maybe it’s not just more candidate bullshit, that with this guy it’s maybe the truth. Or maybe both the truth and bullshit — the man does want your vote, after all.

—p.165 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago

[...] take a second or two to do some creative visualization and imagine the moment between John McCain’s first getting offered early release and his turning it down. Try to imagine it was you. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would cry out to you in that moment, and all the ways you could rationalize accepting the offer: What difference would one less POW make? Plus maybe it’d give the other POWs hope and keep them going, and I mean 100 pounds and expected to die and surely the Code of Conduct doesn’t apply to you if you need a doctor or else you’re going to die, plus if you could stay alive by getting out you could make a promise to God to do nothing but Total Good from now on and make the world better and so your accepting would be better for the world than your refusing, and maybe if Dad wasn’t worried about the Vietnamese retaliating against you here in prison he could prosecute the war more aggressively and end it sooner and actually save lives so yes maybe you could actually save lives if you took the offer and got out versus what real purpose gets served by you staying here in a box and getting beaten to death, and by the way oh Jesus imagine it a real doctor and real surgery with painkillers and clean sheets and a chance to heal and not be in agony and to see your kids again, your wife, to smell your wife’s hair. . . . Can you hear it? What would be happening inside your head? Would you have refused the offer? Could you have? You can’t know for sure. None of us can. It’s hard even to imagine the levels of pain and fear and want in that moment, much less to know how we’d react. None of us can know.

But, see, we do know how this man reacted. That he chose to spend four more years there, mostly in a dark box, alone, tapping messages on the walls to the others, rather than violate a Code. Maybe he was nuts. But the point is that with McCain it feels like we know, for a proven fact, that he is capable of devotion to something other, more, than his own self-interest. So that when he says the line in speeches now you can feel like maybe it’s not just more candidate bullshit, that with this guy it’s maybe the truth. Or maybe both the truth and bullshit — the man does want your vote, after all.

—p.165 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago
185

[...] NBC camera tech Jim C., who has a bad case of the Campaign Flu, pouring more blood-red tincture of elderberry into a bottle of water, his expression carefully stoic because the elderberry remedy’s been provided by his wife, who happens to be the NBC crew’s field producer and is right across the aisle on the port couch watching him closely to see that he drinks it, and it’ll be fun to hear Jim C. crack wise about the elderberry later when she’s not around.

silicon jest inspiration - MC's wife

—p.185 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 4 months ago

[...] NBC camera tech Jim C., who has a bad case of the Campaign Flu, pouring more blood-red tincture of elderberry into a bottle of water, his expression carefully stoic because the elderberry remedy’s been provided by his wife, who happens to be the NBC crew’s field producer and is right across the aisle on the port couch watching him closely to see that he drinks it, and it’ll be fun to hear Jim C. crack wise about the elderberry later when she’s not around.

silicon jest inspiration - MC's wife

—p.185 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 4 months ago
187

[...] In fact, the likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians make us sad, hurt us deep down in ways that are hard even to name, much less talk about. It’s way easier to roll your eyes and not give a shit. You probably don’t want to hear about all this, even.

inspiration for silicon jest - chris fogle character pre-epiphany? he and his friends would joke about how vapid tech has gotten, laugh about the TV show silicon valley, etc

—p.187 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 4 months ago

[...] In fact, the likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians make us sad, hurt us deep down in ways that are hard even to name, much less talk about. It’s way easier to roll your eyes and not give a shit. You probably don’t want to hear about all this, even.

inspiration for silicon jest - chris fogle character pre-epiphany? he and his friends would joke about how vapid tech has gotten, laugh about the TV show silicon valley, etc

—p.187 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 4 months ago
188

[...] Why do these crowds from Detroit to Charleston cheer so wildly at a simple promise not to lie?

Well, it’s obvious why. When McCain says it, the people are cheering not for him so much as for how good it feels to believe him. They’re cheering the loosening of a weird sort of knot in the electoral tummy. McCain’s résumé and candor, in other words, promise not empathy with voters’ pain but relief from it. Because we’ve been lied to and lied to, and it hurts to be lied to. It’s ultimately just about that complicated: it hurts. [...]

—p.188 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago

[...] Why do these crowds from Detroit to Charleston cheer so wildly at a simple promise not to lie?

Well, it’s obvious why. When McCain says it, the people are cheering not for him so much as for how good it feels to believe him. They’re cheering the loosening of a weird sort of knot in the electoral tummy. McCain’s résumé and candor, in other words, promise not empathy with voters’ pain but relief from it. Because we’ve been lied to and lied to, and it hurts to be lied to. It’s ultimately just about that complicated: it hurts. [...]

—p.188 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago

(adjective) tending to contract or bind; astringent / (adjective) tending to check bleeding / (noun) a stick of a medicated styptic substance for use especially in shaving to stop the bleeding from small cuts

200

when one of the Twelve Monkeys interrupts to ask whether it’d be fair to characterize this new ad as Negative, Murphy gives him a styptic look and spells “r-e-s-p-o-n-s-e” out very slowly

—p.200 default author
uncertain
1 year, 3 months ago

when one of the Twelve Monkeys interrupts to ask whether it’d be fair to characterize this new ad as Negative, Murphy gives him a styptic look and spells “r-e-s-p-o-n-s-e” out very slowly

—p.200 default author
uncertain
1 year, 3 months ago
227

[...] But the real interests that drove these guys were their own. They wanted, above all, To Be President, wanted the mind-bending power and prominence, the historical immortality — you could smell it on them. (Young Voters tend to have an especially good sense of smell for this sort of thing.) And this is why these guys weren’t real leaders: because it was obvious that their deepest, most elemental motives were selfish, there was no chance of them ever inspiring us to transcend our own selfishness. Instead, they usually helped reinforce our marketconditioned belief that everybody’s ultimately out for himself and that life is about selling and profit and that words and phrases like “service” and “justice” and “community” and “patriotism” and “duty” and “Give government back to the people” and “I feel your pain” and “Compassionate Conservatism” are just the politics industry’s proven sales pitches, exactly the same way “Anti-Tartar” and “Fresher Breath” are the toothpaste industry’s pitches. We may vote for them, the same way we may go buy toothpaste. But we’re not inspired. They’re not the real thing.

Reagan as a salesman whereas JFK was a leader

—p.227 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago

[...] But the real interests that drove these guys were their own. They wanted, above all, To Be President, wanted the mind-bending power and prominence, the historical immortality — you could smell it on them. (Young Voters tend to have an especially good sense of smell for this sort of thing.) And this is why these guys weren’t real leaders: because it was obvious that their deepest, most elemental motives were selfish, there was no chance of them ever inspiring us to transcend our own selfishness. Instead, they usually helped reinforce our marketconditioned belief that everybody’s ultimately out for himself and that life is about selling and profit and that words and phrases like “service” and “justice” and “community” and “patriotism” and “duty” and “Give government back to the people” and “I feel your pain” and “Compassionate Conservatism” are just the politics industry’s proven sales pitches, exactly the same way “Anti-Tartar” and “Fresher Breath” are the toothpaste industry’s pitches. We may vote for them, the same way we may go buy toothpaste. But we’re not inspired. They’re not the real thing.

Reagan as a salesman whereas JFK was a leader

—p.227 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago
229

[...] The fact of the matter is that if you’re a true-blue, market-savvy Young Voter, the only thing you’re certain to feel about John McCain’s campaign is a very modern and American type of ambivalence, a sort of interior war between your deep need to believe and your deep belief that the need to believe is bullshit, that there’s nothing left anywhere but sales and salesmen. [...]

—p.229 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago

[...] The fact of the matter is that if you’re a true-blue, market-savvy Young Voter, the only thing you’re certain to feel about John McCain’s campaign is a very modern and American type of ambivalence, a sort of interior war between your deep need to believe and your deep belief that the need to believe is bullshit, that there’s nothing left anywhere but sales and salesmen. [...]

—p.229 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 3 months ago
233

But if you, like poor old Rolling Stone, have come to a point on the Trail where you’ve started fearing your own cynicism almost as much as you fear your own credulity and the salesmen who feed on it, you may find your thoughts returning again and again to a certain dark and box-sized cell in a certain Hilton half a world and three careers away, to the torture and fear and offer of release and a certain Young Voter named McCain’s refusal to violate a Code. There were no techs’ cameras in that box, no aides or consultants, no paradoxes or gray areas; nothing to sell. There was just one guy and whatever in his character sustained him. This is a huge deal. In your mind, that Hoa Lo box becomes sort of a special dressing room with a star on the door, the private place behind the stage where one imagines “the real John McCain” still lives. And but now the paradox here is that this box that makes McCain “real” is, by definition, locked. Impenetrable. Nobody gets in or out. This is huge, too; you should keep it in mind. It is why, however many behind-the-scenes pencils get put on the case, a “profile” of John McCain is going to be just that: one side, exterior, split and diffracted by so many lenses there’s way more than one man to see. Salesman or leader or neither or both, the final paradox — the really tiny central one, way down deep inside all the other campaign puzzles’ spinning boxes and squares that layer McCain — is that whether he’s truly “for real” now depends less on what is in his heart than on what might be in yours. Try to stay awake.

godDAMN

—p.233 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 4 months ago

But if you, like poor old Rolling Stone, have come to a point on the Trail where you’ve started fearing your own cynicism almost as much as you fear your own credulity and the salesmen who feed on it, you may find your thoughts returning again and again to a certain dark and box-sized cell in a certain Hilton half a world and three careers away, to the torture and fear and offer of release and a certain Young Voter named McCain’s refusal to violate a Code. There were no techs’ cameras in that box, no aides or consultants, no paradoxes or gray areas; nothing to sell. There was just one guy and whatever in his character sustained him. This is a huge deal. In your mind, that Hoa Lo box becomes sort of a special dressing room with a star on the door, the private place behind the stage where one imagines “the real John McCain” still lives. And but now the paradox here is that this box that makes McCain “real” is, by definition, locked. Impenetrable. Nobody gets in or out. This is huge, too; you should keep it in mind. It is why, however many behind-the-scenes pencils get put on the case, a “profile” of John McCain is going to be just that: one side, exterior, split and diffracted by so many lenses there’s way more than one man to see. Salesman or leader or neither or both, the final paradox — the really tiny central one, way down deep inside all the other campaign puzzles’ spinning boxes and squares that layer McCain — is that whether he’s truly “for real” now depends less on what is in his heart than on what might be in yours. Try to stay awake.

godDAMN

—p.233 by David Foster Wallace 1 year, 4 months ago