The day (brilliant) satire died
By Prioleau Alexander
P. J. O'Rourke. Image in the public domain.
I never got to meet my writing mentor, but we became friends through his mastery of the art of writing. His name was P. J. O’Rourke, and he’s gone now, but I’ll do my best to keep his memory alive here in the Salmon Sheets — after all, every sentence I craft is stolen from the style he invented.
I don’t use the word “invented” lightly … but he actually did it. He took the plodding prose of most news and opinion, threw it into a blender, hit puree and poured out a conversational martini of analogies and insights that leveled his targeted topic like, well … hunting rabbits with an A-10 Warthog seems to be an appropriate analogy.
Fortunately for conservatives, P. J. was, well, a conservative — and used much of his talent to explain conservatism in a way that could make the bitterest of leftist minds think. Okay, that’s a bit much. Leftists find nothing hypocritical about the fact our black president moved to the whitest community in America, then moved into a home destined to be underwater before Greta Thunberg’s first date, so let’s be honest and admit those minds aren’t ever going to think. Lest P. J. curse me with writer’s block, I’ll say he could sway “people with a modicum of curiosity.”
During his career he wrote for National Lampoon, Car and Driver, Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Weekly Standard and American Spectator. Who does this — threads a needle so fine that liberals and conservatives alike allow the writer to use that needle to poke them in the eye?
A genius, that’s who.
Unlike the late-night TV hacks of our current era — who have only one joke — P. J. O’Rourke humiliated everyone who needed or deserved it. When a stupid person of influence and power did something stupid — which is primarily what they do — P. J. was there to jam his intellectual sword where their brain don’t shine. Left, right, center — didn’t matter.
He didn’t waste time making jokes about Trump’s weight or Biden’s senility … he took American foreign policy and broke it down like a clean-energy turbine. He dug into spending bills and economic theory and the drunken power of career bureaucrats and nailed them to the front door of the New York Times in a way that would make Martin Luther stay after school to rework his 99 theses. No one and nothing were ever safe.
During his career he worked in dozens of war zones, I think mostly because he could get pie-eyed with interesting reporters, and produced a book titled Holidays in Hell. When tasked with test driving a Ferrari, he drove it across the United States and produced an article called “Ferrari Refutes the Decline of the West.” In one of his more recent books he surveyed the political landscape of America and wrote a book titled Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards.
By the time you read this there will be endless tributes on the Internet. A day after his death, leftist wannabes were already typing tomes about how talentless he was. How he was past his prime. How the sun had already set on his career. I read one and laughed — an article by a nobody, writing for an unheard-of blog, whining about P. J.’s conservative bent. “He was past his prime,” wrote the nabob, entirely self-unaware that one must actually have a prime to pass it.
Although he could write entire chapters of nonstop sentences like the ones below, here are a few of my favorites:
One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.
Some people say a front-engine car handles best. Some people say a rear-engine car handles best. I say a rented car handles best.
Many reporters, when they go to work in the nation’s capital, begin thinking of themselves as participants in the political process instead of glorified stenographers.
Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
Liberals have invented whole college majors — psychology, sociology and women’s studies — to prove that nothing is anybody’s fault.
Being a humorist is not a voluntary thing. You can tell this because in a situation where saying a funny thing will cause a lot of trouble, a humorist will still say the funny thing. No matter how inappropriate.
Even very young children need to be informed about dying. Explain the concept of death very carefully to your child. This will make threatening him with it much more effective.
Like all writers, not every one of P. J.’s books was a grand-slam walk-off in the bottom of the ninth inning. But if you add to the works mentioned above the titles Peace Kills, Give War a Chance, All the Trouble in the World and Eat the Rich you’ll encounter deeply pondered analysis of culture, economics, government, higher education, show business and the arrogance that comes with power. Oh, and you’ll find a goldmine of the rarest form of comedy: P. J. makes fun of himself.
Perhaps his greatest work is Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government. In this year-long exploration all the lunacy inside the beltway, he uses these pages to explain and mock the ineptitude of everything from a congressman’s typical day to agriculture policy to lobbyists to the never-ending wars on drugs, poverty and countries unfortunate enough to have oil.
It is in the last paragraph of the book he rocked me back on my self-righteous heels and brought the title of the book into real focus. Paraphrasing, he pointed out that every individual, institution, decision and policy he analyzed exists only because we the people allow it … and we allow it because somewhere in that blood-soaked feeding frenzy are a few scraps of meat we as individuals want, need or enjoy. We get our scraps, ignore the rest of the frenzy and re-elect the men and women causing the mess. So … in a democracy, aren’t we the people actually the whores?
If from time to time I write an article that makes you laugh or comedically encourages you to think of a topic from a different angle, know that the credit goes elsewhere: I simply spent 25 years climbing the style and perspective of Mount O’Rourke, and occasionally I see the landscape as clearly as he did.