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The Sound of Dumb America: Hey, anybody who writes an ode to Zell Miller can't be all bad, right?


The New Ambiguity

By Bill Forman

Like other trusting souls, I was disillusioned to learn that The New Sincerity was just another ironic hoax. The term had been kicking around the music scene for ages, but it was only after 9/11 that it became a broader cultural cliche, embraced by critics who'd grown tired of irony and academics looking to escape the dead-ends of postmodernism.

Of course, had I realized at the time that the whole movement was the brainchild of Santa Cruz's own Sound of Young America host Jesse Thorn, I might have known better.

In an Internet post, Thorn (or someone impersonating him with a Young American ID, the signature Satan and a link to the show's website) describes the phenomenon this way: "What is The New Sincerity? Think of it as irony and sincerity combined like Voltron, to form a new movement of astonishing power. Or think of it as the absence of irony and sincerity, where less is (obviously) more. If those strain the brain, just think of Evel Knievel."

Satan/Thorn goes on to argue that you can't really appreciate Evel Knievel on a literal level, but neither is it appropriate to view him in a purely ironic sense. Evel, he concludes, is so "awesome" that he transcends both approaches.

All of this is comforting, to some extent, since there are so many contemporary phenomena that boggle the mind when it comes to figuring out if they're for real. For instance, I still find it hard to believe that Mark Borchardt is the willfully clueless, Midwestern filmmaker he's made out to be in the documentary (mockumentary?) American Movie, even though I've met people just like him living in Wisconsin.

The same goes for 'Project Grizzly,' the Canadian documentary that follows the adventures of Troy Hurtubise, a somewhat delusional grizzly "expert" who devises titanium-reinforced suits to allow him to get up close and personal with grizzly bears. In one classic scene, his latest suit, dubbed Ursa Mark VI, is tested by having a tree smashed into it with Hurtubise inside. (If Grizzly Man Timothy Treadwell had only taken this approach, would he still walk among us?)

The vanguard for experimentation with--let's just call it The New Ambiguity--is, of course, politics. Where else could the dominant party get away with dismissing its critics for clinging to outdated "reality-based" paradigms?

Examples of this are virtually everywhere. Metro Silicon Valley arts editor Michael Gant occasionally emails them out with subject headings like Signs of the Apocalypse part 515.

It was through Michael that I first heard Bush Was Right, an annoyingly catchy anthem that sounds suspiciously like Billy Joel's slightly less obnoxious We Didn't Start the Fire. Performed by a group called--ready for this?--the Right Brothers, the track steals its guitar riff from a childhood taunt (nah-nah-nah-nah-NAH-nah) and includes the anthemic shoutalong: 'Ted Kennedy--wrong! Cindy Sheehan--wrong! France--WRONG! Zell Miller--right!'

Zell Miller? C'mon, surely it's all a joke, an outtake from Saturday Night Live or Team America, right? Just keep telling yourself that.

Bush Was Right; The Right Brothers; www.rightmarch.com. The Sound of Young America: A Radio Show About Things That Are Awesome, KZSC-FM (88.1), Saturdays at 5pm; www.splangy.com. American Movie, Sony Home Video. Project Grizzly, Shoreline Entertainment.

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From the March 8-15, 2006 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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