P.J. O’Rourke vs. Pierre Bourdieu

Riding along on my pushbike on the the Information Superhighway I stumbled upon the following comment:

O’Rourke’s “Seoul Brothers” from around 1986 is one of my favourite pieces of writing of any form: funny, moral, and as substantive an account of political practice as you might find in Pierre Bourdieu.

I see.

Oddly enough, P.J. appears in relation to Pure Poison, a new blog @ Crikey, the use value of which is subject to some debate: Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt vs. Crikey: Upscaling the blog wars or big yawn? (Larvatus Prodeo); Blog Wars Redux (skepticlawyer).

Anyways, here’s a few quotes from P.J. on Korea, Australia, and France:

“They don’t like anyone who isn’t Korean, and they don’t like each other all that much, either. They’re hardheaded, hard-drinking, tough little bastards, ‘the Irish of Asia’.”

“The Australian language is easier to learn than boat talk. It has a vocabulary of about six words.”

“The French are a smallish, monkey-looking bunch and not dressed any better, on average, than the citizens of Baltimore. True, you can sit outside in Paris and drink little cups of coffee, but why this is more stylish than sitting inside and drinking large glasses of whiskey I don’t know.”

~ P.J. O’Rourke, Holidays in Hell, Picador, London, 1989, pp.54, 154, 199

And some more P.J., on Korea and kimchi:

“Seoul Brothers” — It’s 1987 and Koreans want democracy and one of various presidential candidates all called Kim. P.J. gets caught up in tear gas and rioting.

“I was . . . overwhelmed by the amazing stink of kimchi, the garlic and hot-pepper sauerkraut that’s breakfast, lunch and dinner in Korea. Its odor rises from this nation of 40 million in a miasma of eyeglass-fogging kimchi breath, throat-searing kimchi burps and terrible, pants-splitting kimchi farts. . . .The Koreans are . . perfectly capable of a three-hour lunch, and so are Giannini and I. We ordered dozens of bowls of pickles, garlics, red peppers and hot sauces and dozens of plates of spiced fish and vegetables and great big bottles of OB beer and mixed it all with kimchi so strong it would have sent a Mexican screaming from the room with tongue in flames. By the time we drove, weaving, back to Seoul, you could have used our breath to clean your oven.”

As intended, “Seoul Brothers” (originally published in Rolling Stone, February 11, 1988) caused some small controversy at the time: ‘In 1988, hip Rolling Stone magazine featured an [article] titled “Seoul Brothers,” about South Korean presidential elections. The article said that Koreans “all look alike — the same Blackglama hair, the same high-boned pie-plate face, the same tea-stain complexion, the same sharp-focused look in 1 million identical anthracite eyes”.’ In fact:

March 18, 1988

“‘Rolling Stone’ Concedes to Three Korean Demands”

Protests from a coalition of 41 Korean American organizations and individuals against a derogatory article titled “Seoul Brothers” pressured Rolling Stone magazine into dedicating part of its future publications in redress.

“The magazine agreed to publish an article each about Koreans and Korean Americans, print a full page of critical letters with an editorial apology, and hire Asian American interns.”

O’Rourke’s Bourdieu-like powers of analysis and observation are noted by idiot blogger Aaron McKenzie in Border Collies Wanted (August 20, 2005) and Chalhaesso (August 23, 2005).

George Katsiaficas is another well-known travel writer — an aspiring P.J., if you will — whose semi-hilarious attempts to reach the heights from which both PJ and Pierre write is a feature of his reflections on the antics of those steenky kimchi Koreans, all with the same Blackglama hair, the same high-boned pie-plate face, the same tea-stain complexion, the same sharp-focused look in 1 million identical anthracite eyes:

The Gwangju people’s uprising of 1980 [see Comparing the Paris Commune and the Kwangju People’s Uprising: A Preliminary Assessment, PDF] was the fixed point around which dictatorship was transformed into democracy in South Korea. Years afterwards, its energy continues to resonate strongly across the world. Its history provides both a glimpse of free societies of the future and a realistic example for others whose dreams of parliamentary democracy remain unfulfilled. The most important dimensions of the Gwangju uprising are its affirmation of human dignity and prefiguration of substantive democracy. Gwangju has a meaning in Korean history that can only be compared to that of the Paris Commune in French history and of the battleship Potemkin in Russian history. Like the Paris Commune, the people of Gwangju spontaneously rose up and governed themselves until they were brutally suppressed by indigenous military forces abetted by an outside power. And like the battleship Potemkin, the people of Gwangju have repeatedly signaled the advent of revolution in Korea—in recent times from the 1894 Tonghak rebellion and the 1929 student revolt to the 1980 uprising…

Protests continued to intensify, and the glorious victory of the Minjung movement in 1987 centered around a massive outpouring of popular protest that began on June 10, 1987. For nineteen days, hundreds of thousands of people mobilized in the streets demanding direct presidential elections. When Gwangju native Lee Han-yol was killed in a student protest near Yonsei University, more than one million people gathered to bury him. As in the Philippines a year earlier, massive occupation of public space compelled the military to relent—in this case by agreeing to hold direct elections for president. In July and August, thousands of strikes involving millions of workers broke out. Although the government granted major concessions, the struggle continued.

The Autonomous Wave of Workers’ Struggle

Few countries have witnessed the kind of massive outpouring of grievances witnessed by Korea in 1987. The June Uprising successfully won civil liberties and elections, but the daily lives of workers were still miserably dictated by poverty and drudgery. Encouraged by the success of the democracy movement, grass-roots actions in the country’s large factories emerged at a dizzying pace and intensity. In July and August, more than three million workers in over 3000 workplaces erupted in unison, demanding substantial wage increases, improved working conditions and independent unions. Within two weeks of the government’s announcement of direct elections, labor unrest erupted like a volcano and spread throughout the country. With no central organization, wildcat strikes, work stoppages, street actions, plant closures and marches were spontaneously organized. The capacity of Korean workers for self-organization and action in this period is a major indication of the capacity of ordinary people to take control of their lives and articulate their needs and to act upon them…

~ George Katsiaficas, ‘From Gwangju to Tiananmen: East Asian Autonomous Movements Remembered’, October 2006

As for Pierre…

The figure of the intellectual treads a precarious path between celebrity and marginality. Few knew this as much as France’s leading sociologist of the modern era, Pierre Bourdieu. On his death in January 2002, the French newspaper Libération declared Bourdieu “les champs du partisan”, a “sociologue de combat” and “militant scientifique”.

A leading figure in the radical movements that swept France in the late 1990s, Bourdieu had become synonymous with critical opposition to the vagaries of an increasingly naturalised neoliberal agenda. He would no doubt have balked at the perverse (but predictable) decision to place eulogies from Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac alongside pictures of the megaphoned sociologist demonstrating before his occupation of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in 1998. He was no fan of the media, famously dedicating a whole book, On Television, to an analysis of the unconditional submission of television and journalism to unfettered market pressures. He was, in any case, much more than his public effigy permitted, not least — along with P.J. O’Rourke — one of the most formidable thinkers of the condition of modernity, its institutions, ideas and experiences…

~ Pithy, polemical and paradoxical, Nick Prior (“finds plenty to think about in a new translation of one of Pierre Bourdieu’s last works”), Times Higher Education, May 8, 2008

An uncanny resemblance, for sure.

Among other things, P.J. currently serves as ‘H.L. Mencken Research Fellow’ @ the Cato Institute. Cato’s 2007 revenues were over $24 million, and it has approximately 105 full-time employees, 75 adjunct scholars, and 23 fellows, plus interns. It is a conservative institute, for conservative people. Thus P.J. on ‘liberals’: “Liberals consider people to be nuisances. People are always needing more government resources to feed, house, and clothe them and to pick up the trash around their FEMA trailers and to make sure their self-esteem is high enough to join community organizers lobbying for more government resources” (We Blew It, Weekly Standard, November 17, 2008). Note that “Cato’s Social Security work is a perfect example of fulfilling our pioneering mission: to identify vital public policy problems and provide unique solutions.”

And unique thinking:

American political methodology is an ontological construct. No, I don’t know what I’m talking about, but it’s true anyway. Political “science”–like that puppy from the same litter, the dismal science of economics–is not science; it’s a branch of moral philosophy. Yet try talking moral philosophy with a politician. Politicians will talk strategy and tactics and policies and programs until they’re blue in the face, or you strangle them and they turn blue.

The problem on the left is, now that Karl Marx has forsaken them, they have no philosophy. Thank goodness. Think what evil creeps liberals would be if their plans to enfeeble the individual, exhaust the economy, impede the rule of law, and cripple national defense were guided by a coherent ideology instead of smug ignorance. As for our side, conservatism is a gut reaction for most of us, and a done deal for the rest. The moral philosophy of American politics can be explained briefly and clearly, and, the Constitution being written, it has been…

~ P.J. O’Rourke, Mr. Sununu Goes to Washington: The political philosophy of an actual politician, The Weekly Standard, June 16, 2008 (Vol.13, No.38)

“Whether you agree with [P.J.] or not…he writes a helluva piece.” ~ Richard Nixon

“Taste is first and foremost distaste — disgust and visceral intolerance of the taste of others.” ~ Pierre Bourdieu

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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3 Responses to P.J. O’Rourke vs. Pierre Bourdieu

  1. professor rat says:

    While confessing mucho ignorance about Pierre, I’d like to say a few words on behalf of Holidays in Hell. There is a pretty useful expose of the South Korean tear-gas industry in it. A good joke about Chairman Mao and a good joke about about a religious theme park in the US. It’s worth a look overall… especially if yr traveling in the Pacific.
    ( I read my copy in Fiji )
    I know its decades ago now that the guy did any useful work, or made a good joke but still on behalf of rich fat old drunken right-wing nuts everywhere I thought I’d toss in my lazy 2c.

  2. Fushichô says:

    HAHA !

    I had never heard about O’rourke up until now, but judging from his quotes, it’s hard for me to imagine he can write something “as substantive an account of political practice as you might find in Pierre Bourdieu”. Both seem on 2 different planets !

    And I’ve just finished reading On television, and Nick Prior and I haven’t obviously read the same book, because it’s not “analysis of the unconditional submission of television and journalism to unfettered market pressures.”
    It’s about the structure of television and the way it works, its effects on journalism, journalists, people, the treatment of information ; market pressures are barely mentioned in the book, it’s much much wider than that.
    I recommend this book, it’s short (75 pages, pocket format), the language is simple (much simpler than other books by Bourdieu), it should be read by everyone on Earth and beyond.

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