Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Prairie Home Crank?

I've listened to more "Prairie Home Companion" shows than I'd really care to admit, and I've never been entirely sure why. I've never been entirely sure, that is, either why I listen to the shows or why I'd rather not admit to it.

I guess the upshot is that I've generally been pretty ambivalent about Garrison Keillor: on the one hand, some of his stories really are sweet, albeit in a rather provincially self-satisfied way. And his annual Joke Show is a virtual mine of the kind of bad, corny jokes I love most. He's also a good writer who's written taken a satisfyingly scathing stand against dunderheaded neocons: a rather principled stand, too, since it's lost him some of his fan base.

But . . . he also does have a rather annoyingly arch way about him, and his show is so determinedly folksy that it just kinda goes down the wrong way: it often seems as though he's making an anxiety-ridden effort to demonstrate that he never got "above his raisin'," while at the same time taking rather ill-tempered potshots at the people he grew up with under cover of the "But I'm One of You, So It's Okay!" defense. Sometimes he manages to make even that funny, because he seems to be aware of it himself and to self-satirize. All too often, though, he doesn't, and the effect is pretty unattractive: petulant and paternalistic in turns.

But this story, brought to my attention by Morgan, really tips the scales against him. Keillor is suing Rex Sorgatz of the Twin Cities blog MNSpeak because he made up some goofball "Prairie Ho Companion" t-shirts and sold a few of them (at very little profit) to support the site. A letter from Keillor's lawyer claims that the phrase "creates a likelihood that the public will be confused as to the sponsorship of the T-shirt and our client's services and products," which really seems pretty preposterous: this particular brand of cheekiness just ain't Keillor's bag. Anybody who knows anything about Keillor's show at all will know better.

So why is Keillor really suing this lone blogger? Well, some folks over at MNSpeak have commented that it may have to do with the "dilution of the brand:" that Sorgatz's t-shirt will create negative associations with his work and therefore decrease the value of the PHC trademark. But this seems rather unlikely, too. Is one guy selling a few t-shirts that satirize a hometown media phenomenon to underground-hipster types really going to cause significant damage to the (now rather formidable) Keillor Media Machine? Probably not. In fact, Sorgatz had pretty much sold out his small stock of shirts and wasn't planning to make any more. Pete Sholtes, at another Twin Cities blog, CityPages, says "frankly, we didn't even remember the stupid shirts" before Keillor's cease and desist order became news.

Sorgatz warned Keillor's lawyer that "this is going to make your client look extremely out of touch," and he's right. Some other MNSpeak commenters have labeled Keillor "humorless" and a "cranky old man." I'd add that this kind of behavior really seems pretty damn hypocritical in a man who's made a living off of satirizing (however gently) cracker-barrel radio shows and small-town mores. If anybody's doing damage to the Keillor name, it's not Sorgatz; it's Keillor, who's choosing to prosecute a petty vendetta against a flavor-of-the-week novelty t-shirt.

And now I think I'm starting to have a much better sense of why I'm a little shamefaced about my PHC listening. Keillor pretends to be Everybody's Favorite Uncle, but scratch the surface and he starts looking pretty self-important and mean-spirited.