Down Wit Wit

If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
-Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker's birthday Jan. 22 gave me reason to reflect again on what many see as a profound loss of intelligence and wit in our popular culture. We could try to dissect this thesis, argue as to its causes, or nominate worthy heirs to the modern Throne of Wit (can I get a Steve Martin? A Woody Allen?), but I don't have any real opinion... I just know that when I hear people from Days Gone By talk, they sound more intelligent, more fun to hang with.

We are definitely living in a different age. Video games get much of the blame for the dulling of our edges, and I tend to hang with this idea. I can think of many a time when I could have:

a) read a book
b) written in my journal
c) played Snood on Evil setting for the four millionth time

and chosen, you guessed it:

d) downloaded the latest Ask A Ninja podcast.

Where are the Twains (To create man was a quaint and original idea, but to add the sheep was tautology.), the Grouchos (I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.), the Menckens (After all, all [Shakespeare] did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations.)?

To encapsulate a person's lifetime of thinking into a pithy quote is overly simplistic, yes. But that the thinkers of the Algonquin Round Table and others of generations past can generate so many quotable quotes has to be worth something. Who do we look to for insight? In 50 years will we be looking back at our era and quoting the Sandlers (You eat pieces of s*** for breakfast?), the Pitts (Being married means I can break wind and eat ice cream in bed), the Cruises (I want a world without war, a world without insanity. I want to see people do well)?

I realize looking to pop culture stars for wisdom isn't quite a fair comparison... if wisdom-seekers from the future only took lines from Golden Age actors, the fare may not be much better. But a quick look at Bette Davis (Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it's because I'm not a bitch. Maybe that's why Miss Crawford always plays ladies.) and Humphrey Bogart (Things are never so bad they can't be made worse.) show a couple folks who thought before they spoke.


Maybe I just don't pay attention to current talkers. I'm sure what I long for is still out there. William Safire (Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don't know and I don't care.) has got some stuff to say. So does Anna Quindlen (I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.). Will it hold up 50 years from now?

I'm sure future generations will look to the collected wisdom of many contemporary authors. But we need only return to Ms. Parker to be reminded of what a deft wit truly sounds like:

I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound -- if I can remember any of the damn things.


ACoolKid said...

Maybe we will turn to our politicians for the quotes of wisdom.

More seriously, though, you've rightfully mentioned our quotable musicians more than once. Most popular musicians in Twain's time didn't say to much. Maybe that's our out...

Or, you're just going to have to work harder.

...and... "STEVE MARTIN!"

ACoolKid said...


Too much.

Toooooo much.

They didn't say toooooo much.


qflux said...


I wundered bout yur referenzs to "Throne of Wit" and "Days Gone by"

Are those bands or videos that I can download on Kazaa?

I do have something widdy to say though
oh wait -- my buddy just popped up on AIM . . . . seeya

Eric "Babe" Morse said...

ACK: Two tutus? To toot? Too much!

qflux: Throne of Wit would be a sweet band name. And I just checked... throneofwit.com is still available!