Ressentiment, Baby, Ressentiment

October 11, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sen. Biden: John McCain . . .thinks . . . the only answer is drill, drill, drill.
Gov. Palin: The chant is “drill, baby, drill.”
That missing “baby” was important enough for Palin to correct Biden.

But why? How is “drill, drill, drill,” importantly different from “drill, baby, drill”?

I guess this is really one for the Language Log, but here’s my take:

For one thing, the three drills imply that someone is ritualistically repeating an action without any realistic hope of reaching a goal. “That’s all you do – [fill in your own favorite verb repeated three times: talk, eat, complain, work, etc.]”*

Replacing the middle verb with baby switches the mood from ritualism to defiance. Like “Burn, baby, burn,” in the ghetto riots of the sixties, that middle baby makes the chant the cry of those who feel oppressed as they hit back. They realize that their action may be ultimately destructive, but they are not interested in rational goal-attainment. They want to drill or burn because it feels good now. . . .and because “They” don’t want you to.

It’s ressentiment, the nasty part of our populist stripe that goes back to the nineteenth century. It’s the resentment of the Know-nothings of the 1850s and of Nixon’s hardhats in the Vietnam era, beating up anti-war demonstrators. For much of the current campaign, the feeling had been silent. Was it because Joe Six-Pack had little to feel angry about? After all, his team has owned the White House for the last eight years and all but twelve of the last forty years. They’ve controlled Congress for most of the last 15 years. But resentment is about perception, not real power, and the feeling remained, frustrated and just barely below the surface.

Then Sarah Palin came along. She, much more than McCain, spoke to those frustrations. Paul Krugman, watching her acceptance speech and the response of the Republican convention, saw it clearly.
What the G.O.P. is selling . . . is the pure politics of resentment; you’re supposed to vote Republican to stick it to an elite that thinks it’s better than you.

(That is, it’s resentment against the kind of people who use the word ressentiment.)

I wonder if any of the Palinistas realize that their chant derives from the black rioters of the sixties, people for whom they probably feel no kinship at all.

I was also trying to think of other instances of this grammatical construction “[Verb], Baby, [Verb].” I couldn’t. Can you?

Then on 72nd Street this afternoon, I saw this.

The call to Shine, Baby, Shine and to get “freaky, funky, and crazy” isn’t exactly like the resentment of Burn and Drill. But it’s close enough.

*How can I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. The joke ends there, but as every musician knows, even if you do practice, practice, practice, you still probably won’t be one of the few who make it.

1 comment:

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Of course the same phrase was used by the BeeGees in "Disco Inferno".

("Just can't stop when the spark gets hot" ... maybe that's what Palin was referring to?)

FWIW, last year I wrote an article on an education handbook for Paris entitled "Learn, Baby, Learn."