The Michigan Daily
Monday, November 13, 1989
. Note: "Wretched Refuse," a
ce #Zn dealing with American me-
d~a"will appear each Monday in
sJ4is column being a new feature,
I'.t, in lieu of any actual original
tlf'ht, devote the first installment
t6Ee6laining why it is called what it
.is is the New World. That's
tftiing to keep in mind.
,nin Tn thm
tional Review..."). The second rea-
son takes a little more explaining.
The phrase is taken from the
Emma Lazarus poem, "The New
Colossus," inscribed at the base of
the Statue of Liberty. In the poem,
America calls on other countries to
send us "the wretched refuse of your
teeming shores"; the "wretched
refuse," as Bill Murray pointed out
in the movie Stripes, is us.
World by smash-
ing whatever cul-
tures they found
there, then effec-
the ones from
which they came.
plished, they be-
gan the long and
by Jim Poniewozik
musicals. Ii the
Old World, you
had epic poetry;
in the New
World, you had
may think, but
what does this
have to do with
prise the most distinctively Ameri-
can "art form" there is; they are
available to the masses, and
"popular" is the highest adjective of
praise in America. We may not have
read a word of Shakespeare, but you
can have a 15-minute conversation
with a stranger about old Charmin
stantly engaged in flooding you with
articles, ads, and other forms of in-
formation, but, though they're a cen-
tral part of our lives, we treat them
as beneath analysis.
We're probably also afraid to in a
way, because, face it, it's pretty easy
to make fun of self-reflexiveness. A
lot of people see it as masturbatory
1e: started to place emphasis on those
Ivments of culture that were accessible to
&erybody. In the Old World, you had opera: in
the New World; you had musicals. In the Old
liirld, you had epic poetry; in the New World,
9441 had greeting cards.
,-,To the people who were here be-
f°'the Europeans settled, there was
nbtling new about it, of course. The
nzine, then, is really an indication of
Wonderful, you may think, but
what does that have to do with the
term "Wretched Refuse"?
The primary reason for calling
this column "Wretched Refuse" is,
of course, to see if the Michigan
Review can resist making a stupid
joke about it in next month's
"Serpent's Tooth" ("Refuse' in the
Paily? So what else is new? Ha, ha,
ha! Hey, pass me that copy of Na-
Ms. Lazurus probably picked the
phrase because she was big on allit-
eration ("tempest-tost," "world-wide
welcome," "I lift my lamp," etc.) -
either that, or she had a Nos-
tradamus-like vision of the medical
waste crisis. But she also hit on the
predominant theme of American cul-
Refuse. Garbage. Disposability.
This is, as I said, the New World.
Not the Native American world that
the settlers found when they came
here, nor the European world that
they left. The settlers of the Ameri-
cas went about creating the New
of evolution that eventually gave us
They established a new republic
based on the principles of democracy
and capitalism. This led to, well,
you know, the Monroe Doctrine, the
Three-Fifths Compromise - all that
"Schoolhouse Rock" junk - but it
also led, maybe even more impor-
tantly, to the development of mass
"Culture" used to be the province
of the wealthy, the nobility, but in
the New World, we decided, any
chump would have the right to be
just as cultured as anybody else.
Some would call the resultant soci-
ety "egalitarian." Some would call it
"the lowest common denominator."
In any case, we started to place
emphasis on those elements of cul-
ture that were accessible to every-
body. In the Old World, you had
opera: in the New World; you had
And what about this "refuse"
Probably the fondest memory I
have of journalism is seeing myself
in the garbage.
It was my sophomore year, and I
had just started writing for the Daily.
My first news article had been
printed the day before, and I was at
the Graduate Library, studying. I set
my books down in a carrel, and no-
ticed that, in the wastebasket, there
was a crumpled-up newspaper, with
my article showing. Somehow, I got
a charge out of thinking that any-
body could have walked in there,
seen my name in the garbage, and
spat out their chewing gum on it.
I was doing my share to fill
garbage cans around campus. I had
become an American.
Because the different forms of
communication media - advertis-
ing, newspapers, television - com-
So America's most distinctive ar-
tifact - communication, and lots of
it - is, unlike, say the Pyramids,
transitory. It's either garbage, or
about to become it. Or ideally it dis-
appears as soon as it reaches you, as
with TV and radio.
Wonderful, you may think, but
why write a column on it?
Because as pervasive as media are
in our society, they themselves act
largely ignorant of that fact. News-
papers, including this one, are con-
Because as pervasive as media are in our
society, they themselves act largely ignorant
of that fact. Newspapers, including this one,
are constantly engaged in flooding you with
articles, ads, and other forms of information,
but, though they're a central part of our lives,
we treat them as beneath analysis.
for media to critique media. "Every
now and then," H. L. Mencken
wrote, "a sense of the futility of
their daily endeavors falling suddenly
upon them, the critics of Christen-
dom turn to a somewhat sour and
depressing consideration... of their
Then again, he did write that.
Wonderful, you may think, but
why should I care?
I don't know. We'll have to see.
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