Your RDA of Irony

Sunday Medley

Today is the season premiere of HBO’s “Rome“.  The show purports to show the decadence of ancient Rome; it actually illustrates the decadence of modern television.  Thirty years ago, a brilliant, morbidly funny “I Claudius” dealt with the intrigues and vices of the Caesar family.  (John Hurt made a rather endearing Caligula: a monster with childlike sense of wonder.)  By contrast, the HBO series is a true spectacle, with remarkable sets and ample nudity; it also has none of the insightful wit of “I Claudius.”  I would not recommend Rome unless you are a history addict; in which case, this series is the cultural equivalent of Methadone.

You probably have seen a number of promotional articles on Rome.  I saw one that warned the reader “spoiler alert” that the article would divulge the plot development.  It may be a surprise to the PR staff at HBO, but I suspect most of us already know the plot.  Mark Anthony runs off with Cleopatra, Octavian defeats them and takes over the Roman Empire.  Oh yes, all the characters are now dead.  (After 2000 years, that is an actuarial certainty.) 


Speaking of obituaries, I just heard the death knell for the English language.  A radio commercial for the University of Chicago offered a literature course that would teach the “enplotment” of the classics.  Yes, “enplotment”: feel free to scream.  The greatest thread to intelligible English is not immigrants or slackard youths: their pidgin mutations actually add a vigor that keeps a language alive.  No, the danger to English is from those who use language as a cryptic incantation, whose obscurity presumably measures its importance. 

We have come to expect this verbal opacity from government: bureaucrats would rather you didn’t know what they meant.  MBAs try to avoid the intelligible, for fear it might be incriminating.  Sociologists offer jargon when they have nothing to say.  Of course, the Human Resources, in its crusade to surpress any hint of joy and light in the world, torture language into an impenetrable code of verbational nounalizations.

But I didn’t expect such linguistic atrocities from the English Department of the University of Chicago.  No, not those tweedy intellectuals.  They are the type of people who have read all of Proust, who actually understand James Joyce.  Of course, that is only what they claim.  Emplotment?  Now I wonder. 

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