Segal: Calling all Keillorcrats
Although my wife and I don’t go “out on the town” very often these days, we managed to get ourselves to the Music Tent a few weeks ago to see Garrison Keillor in the farewell tour of “A Prairie Home Companion.” The eclectic program entertained, amused, inspired and moved me.
It also gave me an idea for naming my political identity: Keillorcrat. Keillor’s approach to heritage, society, religion and humanity is deeply American and sorely missing from today’s politics. Let me explain in the hope that there are others out there.
Keillorcrats combine respect for tradition with healthy irreverence. They are churchgoers who appreciate a good joke about God. Their honest embrace of their cultural heritage values the good and critiques the unseemly. They are too humble to be chauvinists. They are sympathetic to Rabbi Yitz Greenberg’s quip, “It doesn’t matter which denomination you’re from as long as you’re ashamed of it.”
Keillorcrats are open-minded but not uncritical. They find pleasure in new ideas, both in learning and debating them. They don’t like superficial “political correctness,” nor do they like the term “political correctness” used as a verbal weapon to silence dissent.
My 10th-grade English teacher wisely said, “One good reason to be educated is this: The more cultural references you learn, the more jokes you’ll get.” Keillorcrats celebrate this sentiment. They appreciate humor. It’s a powerful way to deflate someone who is getting too full of himself. In its self-deprecating form, humor can save you from elitism and arrogance.
Keillorcrats care about cultural literacy. They find the trend of anti-intellectualism detrimental to democracy. It’s a violation of the legacy of our founders, who were well versed in the classics. Keillorcrats know the importance of reading the great books and understanding our intellectual inheritance. It’s vital to study the literary canon, because without shared texts, a society can’t have a common conversation.
Among our most important cultural touchstones is the Bible, which people love to pretend to have read. The Barna Group’s 2014 “State of the Bible” survey found 82 percent of Americans identifying as highly, moderately or somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible. But only 43 percent could name the first five books. 60 percent couldn’t name even half of the Ten Commandments. Another poll found that 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife — or maybe that 12 percent just had a wry sense of humor and liked to express it on religious literacy surveys.
George Gallup and Jim Castelli came to a stark conclusion: “Americans revere the Bible — but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” Political candidates who brag about their Bible-loving bona fides during campaign season rarely demonstrate much familiarity with the book’s contents. Keillorcrats bristle at this hypocrisy and find joy in satirizing illiterate grandstanders.
Keillorcrats’ all-encompassing intellectual curiosity doesn’t end at the classics of the Western canon. Their standard for study is not place of origin but quality of content. Good writing, good music and good comedy always have a place at the table. Hi-brow and low-brow are two sides of the same coin.
Keillorcrats love people’s stories. They don’t care if the stories come from red states or blue states, the city or the countryside. They don’t find interesting only people who look, talk or vote the same. Rather, they find humans endlessly fascinating as sources of good stories that challenge, elevate, teach, amuse and move us.
Keillor’s farewell tour is called the “America the Beautiful Tour.” It’s a perfectly Keillorcratic title. The show flowed seamlessly between comic monologue, music, poetry and sketch comedy, all of it touching on the American experience. The talented musicians relished the eclectic playlist: hymns, bluegrass, gospel, rock and even a lusty Irish murder ballad. The seats in the tent felt more like pews as Keillor and his band preached their blessedly un-preachy gospel of Americana.
So rise up, fellow Keillorcrats, and unite! But let’s make room for other folks, too, because we’d get bored with people just like us all the time.
And let us all say, Amen.
Rabbi David Segal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-925-8245. He blogs at www.aspenjewish.blogspot.com, and his column runs in The Aspen Times the first Saturday of each month, unless the editor messes up and it runs on a Sunday.
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