Festschrift for the Happy Tutor
This is one blogger’s contribution to the Happy Tutor’s Festschrift. Links to other Festschrift contributions are located after this post ...
We’ve been hearing rumblings for some time that the Happy Tutor might soon decide to hang up his laptop and “blog no more.” If this happens, and if, someday, a last trace of his blog—Wealth Bondage—disappears from the Internet, we will all be the poorer. History will accuse us of having been the swine before which pearls had been cast—animals with leaden ears, too dull and too caught up in ourselves to mark the passage of a special kind of genius.
I therefore lay down this tribute to the Happy Tutor for purely self-interested reasons. I wish it to be known that I count myself among the few who understood the very special—and in my eyes, unique—contribution he made to understanding and unlocking the power of the blog. I am not, in other words, like the rest of the herd, “braying each to each.” And yet, that is also exactly what I am.
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The Happy Tutor was, and is, a rabbi, a prophet, a madman. Styling himself on the “dog philosopher” Diogenes, he accosts visitors who chance upon his blog and who have the temerity to leave a comment. The initial experience was for me happy and jarring. Candidia Cruikshanks, I asked myself the first time I visited Wealth Bondage, is she for real, or a mask? And if a mask, how many people are wearing it? Is there really a Captain Blowtorch? a Dick Minim? a Smoky Joe? Are there several bloggers or just one?
Soon you begin to sense the pattern. You read the hints the Happy Tutor leaves you. You understand the basic structure of the blog. It’s complex. Unlike anything you’ve seen before. You intuit that this is not simply a blog. This is a living, evolving artwork.
* * *
The Blogosphere is a complex place, more than worthy of a Durkheim or a Geertz. The sociology of blogging and its dance of intentions and misdirections; the power dynamics of the comment sections; the creation and conduction of memes—all of these will one day become the subjects of thousands of dry, unreadable dissertations.
Forty years from now, as I lie on my deathbed, I’ll clutch to my sagging pectorals the two-volume definitive history of the Blogosphere in which the Happy Tutor will rate a footnote, and Daily Kos and Michelle F***ing Malkin will each get a chapter. As usual, the authors will have gotten it all wrong, focusing on the banal and missing entirely what is True, and Beautiful, and Just.
What will the official chroniclers have missed? They will, I believe, fail to appreciate the moral spectacle of Wealth Bondage—anarchists, Marxists, political and social outcasts of all kinds inviting others to think through with them the project of making a better world. They will fail to appreciate the fact that Wealth Bondage has a moral center, a warmth that often scares away the ironic detachment of the postmodernists.
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Just as gay unions extend our notion of marriage, so too does Wealth Bondage extend our notion of what a blog can be and do. Its titillating name attracts drifters from Google, and the Tutor’s extensive wanderings through the Blogosphere bring in many more visitors. Losers and low-lifes mix freely with think tankers and ivy leaguers in its pages. The Happy Tutor makes them feel welcome (unless, of course, they behave in an unseemly fashion, in which case the Deputy Editor is summoned to run the offenders out of town). Many who visit Wealth Bondage wear a mask, contributing to the Carnival-like atmosphere.
Once a visitor acclimates himself to the seamy images that decorate the blog’s sidebars, what strikes him immediately is the number of characters (“fetish action figures,” the Tutor calls them) who contribute posts to Wealth Bondage—Captain Blowtorch, Smoky Joe, Dr. Chadwallah, Sister Lucy, and the Happy Tutor himself, among many others. They speak with distinct voices, and yet, we discover, they’re all the products of the shadowy “Author Function,” the great puppetmaster who animates these characters.
What’s most striking, perhaps, is the Tutor’s masterful use of satire and irony—techniques we expect to encounter in fine literature. But here? in a blog ostensibly led by a whip-cracking CEO? And the quality of the satire is itself exemplary: it’s Juvenal without the bitter invective, a spanking delivered by one practiced in the art of mixing pleasure with pain:
“First do no harm” is for physicians. We satirists are trained more like CIA Interrogators under the Alternative Procedures: first do a little harm, then more and more, until the patient finally expires of natural causes. [The Happy Tutor, writing in the comments section of Frist Squirms]
Frequent visitors to Wealth Bondage know that the Tutor’s primary subject is Man himself, his pretensions, his bad faith, his abuse of wealth and power. Political figures, think tankers, rapture-ready fundamentalists, and other bullies have on many occasions tasted Candidia’s grievous scourge. All of them manage to get a sound thrashing, for example, in this tour de force passage:
Too old to be given a free pass to heaven, not Saved in the Blood, since her parents procrastinated, turning down endless offers of salvation on tv as they flipped through the channels; soon she too will be gone, to Hell where she will burn in Eternal Torment as a Liberal-Child, her fingernails torn out, her legs burned with cigarettes, dragged in chains behind pickup trucks, subject to waterboarding at the hands of devils, her body ripped open, raped repeatedly by Advertisers in long black robes to grow the GDP of Satan’s Eternal Kingdom that he calls “the Free Market in Human Souls.” [From the post titled The Last Child.]
Writing of this quality is a very rare treat in a blog. It comes from a natural talent, of course, but also from years of study and practice. The Happy Tutor writes with such easy grace that we forget it took him a long time to cultivate the garden we call Wealth Bondage. He has created a delicate ecosystem that draws its energy from the foolishness of men and from the shouts and jeers of the revelers who join him in the goat dance.
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Time after time, I’ve seen the Happy Tutor support new and emerging bloggers by featuring them on Wealth Bondage and his other properties. He has often provided me words of advice and encouragement, and for this I’ll always be grateful. This unselfish quality is rare and all by itself worthy of celebration. Also rare are the considerable chances the Happy Tutor takes with his blogging. Sure, he’s masked, but anyone who’s ever blogged anonymously understands the existential dread that greets the Tutor each time he pushes the “publish” button.
Through the Happy Tutor I’ve been introduced to many wonderful bloggers whose work I’ll continue to follow—J. Alva Scruggs at J. Alva Scruggs' Journal, Phil Cubeta at GiftHub, and others. But I’ll miss Wealth Bondage terribly when its last file is deleted. I’ll be left with a great void in my life without the wise Dr. Chadwallah to interpret it, without Sister Lucy to offer a prayer over me, without the Happy Tutor to chastise me for being a weak-kneed, 97-pound liberal worthy of the sting of Candidia’s lash. And yet the Tutor’s work will continue to shape my understanding (sic.) of the world as day after day I’m reminded that “there is no outside of Wealth Bondage.”
Other contributions to the Happy Tutor’s festschrift:
J. Alva Scruggs’ Goat Memorial is filled with goaty goodness.
Ray Davis dedicates his free-ranging riff on Ross Posnock’s book, Color and Culture, to the Happy Tutor’s festschrift. Racism is a kind of “selective attention,” the kind that sees sitting down, standing up, playing golf—all, ALL as politically declarative. Somehow (by conduction via corroded spaghetti wire?) all of us end up losing the privilege of being harmless. Or something like that.
Do not play an academic game of “hunt the button,” warns Dr. Amrit Chadwallah. The theoretical apparatus needed to interpret Wealth Bondage has not yet been devised, so most festschrift contributors are likely to get it wrong.
Please let me know if you’ve published or are planning to publish a festschrift tribute to the Happy Tutor.