Sunday, September 22, 2013

“Reh, Reh, Reh” or Notes on Proto-Soupysalian

I have the habit of responding to something I hear on TV or the Internet by muttering “Reh, reh, reh” when what I hear is obviously copy, i.e., professionally scripted discourse that nobody stands behind and nobody believes, discourse written in purposive anonymity and designed* to be delivered in a voice at once suave and bland. No doubt I recognize this sort of thing so readily because I’ve written so much of it myself in my various vocational incarnations. ** Partly it’s just filler—there is so much air time and you have to say something—but it’s also a kind of ventriloquism, an attempt to impersonate commonsense in somebody’s interest. Ventriloquism originally meant speaking from the stomach (venter). In the case of the “Reh, reh, reh,” most of it obviously emanates from the belly of the beast, which partly accounts for my dyspepsia about it.  But it isn’t the fact that so much of what you hear everywhere is interested that gives commodified speech its unmistakable character.  Both those that read the script and the hired hands that compose it in the first place obviously resent the indignity of acting as purchased people. The flatness of so much of what you hear, its trademark insipidity, is a workplace protest on a par with spitting in the soup, except that the irritated waiter is mad at the customer while the performer on TV is asking for the audience for forgiveness and signaling a decent insincerity—I’m just making a living. Even Flo wants you to know that the dummy hasn’t lost all her self-respect. Well, maybe not Flo. Considering the probable size of her residuals, she may very well have learned to love Big Brother.

Of course, everybody understands all this very well—you hardly have to read complicated treatises on Late Capitalism*** to grasp the nature of a system in which everybody participates every day. I had intended to supply an explanation of the origins of “Reh, reh, reh.” It appears that the expression evolved from “O reh, o reh,” the one and only utterance of White Fang, a canine character who appeared regularly on the old Soupy Sales show. I say White Fang appeared but actually only his enormous paw appeared. You never actually saw the whole dog.  I’m told that White Fang’s voice was once a recording of the howl of the Hound of the Baskervilles, but the record got broken just before a show and “O reh, o reh” was the adlibbed substitute. Somehow “O reh, O reh,” gradually got transmogrified in my idiolect into “Reh, reh, reh,” which will probably scandalize the purists—there are still lots of people in my age group who instantly recognize the “O reh, o reh.” In my defense, let me point out that in practice the two expressions are related by chiasmus. Each time White Fang would say “O reh, o reh,” Soupy would interpret it differently. It could mean anything. Each time I hear copy, I interpret it as “Reh, reh, reh” because it means the same thing or the same non-thing or nothing.  
* If this paragraph were copy, I would have written “crafted” instead of “designed.”
** The Buddhists have a genre called Jakata tales, which consist of accounts of the previous lives of Gautama. How about Jakata tales about somebody who resolutely refuses enlightenment?
*** The “Late Capitalism” bit is probably an instance of copywriting on my part so I ought to “Reh, reh, reh” myself here. As I’ve written many times before, I don’t know if there is anything late about contemporary capitalism. It certainly isn’t “late” as in my late Uncle Jake. Only a prophet knows if the system is on its last legs or will go on till the sun cools off, and I agree with the rabbis that prophecy is for fools and children. There’s also the far from minor problem of whether it really makes sense to speak of capitalism as a system with so definitive an essence as to be something susceptible of old age and death. Which is not to deny that our economic system is changing, of course. For example, I find myself muttering “Reh, reh, reh” more and more, not only to the TV or the I pad, but under may breadth as I listen to twenty somethings pitch themselves to one another in the garden behind the coffee bar.

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