Saturday, November 01, 2008

RIP Studs Terkel

I am an avid collector of quotes. One day I will become an avid organiser of my collection but that may need a sabbatical. One advantage of this is that if I know I have a quote written down somewhere in my two-volumed collection then much thumbing-through needs to happen before I chance upon it. I can occasionally picture whereabouts on the page it is, which is an advantage of having a part-functioning photographic memory. The thumbing-through is a nice exercise because it often reminds me of a quote I had long forgotten and, thus placed at the forefront of my thinking, gets used in the near future in talks and presentations. Is originality simply forgetting where you put something for a few years?

Studs Terkel, who has died aged 96, was an American commentator who gave much of his life to chronicling ordinary American life. I've never read a book of his but I have constantly bumped into his wisdom.

He was quoted this morning on the radio as having said he never met a picket line he disliked and never saw a petition he didn't want to sign. He identified with causes, pure and simple.

So this is the quote I found:

America preaches values, but it is value-free. You can't tell these days what's trivial and what's serious; on television the sport is the serious stuff compared to the rest. Trivia as a joke, fine. But not when it chokes you; when there is no difference between politics news and entertainment. I think I know why Reagan was so successful, and why there is a yearning to have someone like him back; you were not going to confuse him with Einstein. People thought, if the President can be dumb, then I can be dumb too.

(Studs Terkel, interviewed by Ed Vulliany in The Observer 28th May 1995.)

Read that afresh at the end of the Dubya years and it rings as true as ever. Sadly Terkel passed away on the edge of the, for him, promised land of an Obama presidency. I will look out for his books being displayed prominently.

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