Monday, June 28, 2004

Who's on First, What's In the Barrel...

... and someone's in the shower with Dinah playing on the old banjo.

Faithful readers will remember my recent stumble across a reference in a Ray Ratto sports column to someone being "in the barrel," a clear reference to a rather coarse joke inappropriate for reproduction in a family newspaper. I said Ratto's veiled reference illustrated several things about column writing, the most interesting of which is the fact columnists may choose to talk in code to their readers, dropping in comments the deeper significance of which some readers get and some readers don't. The trick, I suppose, is pleasing the insiders without puzzling the outsiders. I e-polled 25 friends and associates, learning that only three of them knew the joke and got the reference. About half of those who responded understood that being "in the barrel" was a bad thing, so no meaning was lost, only nuance.

And today in the Chronicle we get yet another such example of rhetorical shorthand. In a largely favorable review of the Bill Clinton autobiography, David Kipen writes:

Democrats' reaction to this book will almost certainly run to something along the lines of, "Come back, we forgive you, have another intern -- have two! -- just for God's sake step out of the shower and tell us it was all a dream."

Now, I wonder how many readers will get this reference? The general sense is clear -- we wish Clinton was still president. But how many readers thought: In the shower? Like the shower after a sports event? Or did he and Monica Lewinsky do something in the shower? Or is that a metaphor for cleansing himself of the stain of that episode? or could it be about gardening? I like gardening. I bet it's about gardening, cleaning up after a fierce battle with thrips and aphids.

It's just journalism, after all, so people are reading fast with low expectations. (Those interested in the close reading of canonical texts please step aside so that others may pass.) But, I say with utter confidence, here's the link to what Kippen really has in mind.

The Long Nightmare is Over

An appropriate reference in a semi-serious review of a semi-serious book? I think so, though God knows what the children think.

And here's a bonus link, creating a multimedia moment.

Which shower was it? Even the experts disagree.

Kipen's response: "you're right about trying to 'please the insiders without puzzling the outsiders.' i'd be curious to know what ratio between them another of your e-polls would show in this case. sheepishly, i have to admit that i was making a high-toned allusion to the tv show 'dallas.'" (What a classy guy! Whoever said the day Pat Holt left was the day the music died?!! -- Eds.)


mackdoggy said...

I'm voting for Bobby Ewing in the shower with the candlestick

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I am delighted to welcome a fourth reader (counting me) to this illustrious blog.