literature professor in college, Dr. David Frazier, that shook me out of my fog of girls and beer and said, “The way you write, you could do something with this,” and pointed me toward essential things to read. He and his wife paid a lot of personal attention to me, and it was a godsend. And there was a scary 8th-grade teacher Miss Geiger – an absolute bug for grammar. You may not have liked her, but you couldn’t get through Miss Geiger’s class without understanding sentence diagrams and the fundamentals of grammar. And for that, I am eternally grateful. AA: How do you feel about Critical Race Theory or curriculums potentially or in reality getting politicized for kids? Are eight- year-olds going to start identifying as Dems or Republicans? P.J.: First and foremost, it’s a terrible distraction and a waste of time. You’ve only got a certain amount of time with kids in two senses – school only goes on for so long, and kids’ attention spans, even when they’re in college, are limited. So on two levels, you have a limited amount of time with a kid as a teacher. And it’s paramount to use that time well. Wandering off into the wilderness of political or social theories is a waste of those precious hours. Nazi Germany tested Critical Race Theory with absolutely horrifying results. The Chinese are doing it with Muslim Uighurs. People are individuals – you cannot divide them into arbitrary groups according to hair color, skin color, or religious beliefs. It’s poisonous, and the results are disastrous.
ILLITERATI P.J. will contend that one of his best educations was on the floor of the National Lampoon magazine in the 1970s: the watershed comedic tour-de-force publication birthed by some of the darkest minds at Harvard. Before this, while getting his MA in English circa 1970, he claims the point of [his] writing was to be as incomprehensible as possible, which he could do in his sleep... But as he puts it, “Turns out it’s hard to make a living with incomprehensibility.” But parody gave him clarity.
There was always a golden rule at the Lampoon or Weekly Standard – nobody is so good that we shouldn’t edit them.
It was at Lampoon where P.J. reckoned with the form and concentration required to mock something properly . For him, satirizing was a mechanical exercise focusing on how the springs and levers of ideas and syllables fall together, likening it to deconstructing and reverse engineering an alarm clock, albeit with the watch-face mischievously scrambled and gears scattered in its wake. AA: Do parody and satire have their limits? P.J.: There was this girl in my freshman English class in college who came back from an assignment to read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal [a satire featuring the human trafficking and cannibalism of poor
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