Having just returned from several days in the city of Portland, I can tell you it was a very different experience filtering the second week of the of the McCain-Palin ticket reality through the lens of that city and its polite and low-key populace than it was receiving the initial blow while in California where Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor and surgically altered faces are a viable aesthetic.
For one thing, Portland is home of the gigantic Powell’s City of Books bookstore. It’s quite simply the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Each day, Powell’s buys an estimated 3,000 used books. That means that somewhere in Portland, people are reading. Reading books; not tabloids or Us or Teen People.
To enter Powell’s is to feel the audacity of hope: The hope that banality will not conquer the collective American psyche any time soon. The store complex occupies 1.6 acres of retail floor space, and I can tell you that last Sunday afternoon business was brisk. After a week of images of Sarah Palin clutching her Down’s syndrome baby to her bosom and then loaning the child out to Cindy McCain, standing in Powell’s made one feel that the surging waters of drivel might not immediately crush our national levee of intelligence.
No one can successfully make the argument that there is a collective and cohesive effort to pull down our national “smarts,” or we’d be fighting that battle. Many argue that it was the fear generated by the attacks of 9/11 and not some sudden drop in reasoning acuity that produced not one but two terms of George Bush. Still, if you slowly remove everything in your child’s bedroom that stimulates your kid to think and explore …
I believe it’s like a ladder. The growth of Powell’s Books in Portland since its inception in 1971 … up one rung. Blue Collar Comedy Tour, down one. The smart and provocative films that were last year’s Academy Award winners, up one rung. This year’s demolition of “indy” film divisions at studios, down one. Barack Obama nominated by the Democrats, up three rungs. John McCain’s sexist assertion that millions of American women are so dim they’d buy his disgustingly cynical ticket …
It’s dicey using TV content as any kind of a barometer since so few people are watching right now. So let’s move past something as culturally condemning as Deal or No Deal eating up an hour of network time, remembering that everybody said Hee Haw was a sure sign of the apocalypse back in 1969. A more defining point might be made now by noting that there’s a real and present danger that ABC’s Nightline – a source of information and to some extent “news” despite the softening since Ted Koppel departed – may soon be replaced by Jay Leno, or as the British like to call him … Benny Hill.
Newspapers shrink and die, cable news providers lard their on-air hours with redundant commentary from their own employees, and you can still see video of water skiing pets on CNN. This is still the state of things, even after everybody and their conservative grandmother have acknowledged that we were deceived into war with the media’s help. Public schools suffer budget cuts that remove music, and yelping parents replace science with magic and faith. And on the eighth day McCain proclaimed that Elly Mae Clampett was, in fact, good for America.
By the way, if you believe in a politics of distraction, it is worth noting that while all America was clacking its jaws about Palin, Jack Abramoff received a reduced sentence of four years, and Dick Cheney was in Caucasus protecting Central Asian oil from Russian control. Neither of them was photographed with Trig Palin.
So, yes, a giant bookstore thriving in a major city is a big deal. One might compare it to a polar bear coming upon some larger pieces of ice upon which to stand and survive another day. Reading is fundamental, but so is reasoning. Simply telling people that something is true by repeating it over and over is not the same as successfully and clearly arguing your assertion. If that were the case, a “war on terror” would have logically found and incarcerated the terrorist responsible for 9/11. John McCain stands on a stage, holds Palin’s hand up in the air and declares that it is Obama who is a “novice.” In Portland, sir, they are buying books … not baloney.