Every few months, I find myself reading or thinking about an ism that I didn’t, for whatever reason, cover in Isms & Ologies. A few years ago, I was beating my head against the wall because I didn’t write about “exceptionalism,” which John McCain (and Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, et al) had suddenly reintroduced into the Republican vocabulary. I have been thinking a lot about “Neo-liberalism” over the past 24 hours, because it suddenly came to me that it’s a fair way to characterize the economic thinking of a writer I know and respect. The label is usually applied disparagingly by the left but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing–it might even be a good thing if someone serious-minded and progressive enough took positive ownership of it. I don’t believe I thought to include Glenn Beck’s favorite word “Statism,” or for that matter “Progressivism,” which at the time I wrote the book I thought were self-explanatory, or at least didn’t require a vigorous defense. “Illuminism” isn’t in there either, though Cults, Conspiracies and Secret Societies covers that base fairly well.
But to get to the point, I was catching up over at Hendrick Hertzberg’s blog this afternoon, when I came across this entry from a couple of weeks ago, “Give John a Chance.” I must have heard “Give Peace a Chance” on the radio a million times over the past four decades. I never heard the word “faggots” in its opening lines, but now that I think about it, I didn’t hear anything else either except meaningless syllables. How could I have been so incurious about what he was singing?
This is the official lyric: “Everybody’s talkin’ about Bagism, Shagism, dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism, This-ism, That-ism, ism, ism, ism.” If I’d known about it then, and if Yoko let it count as fair use, I would have used the line as an epigraph for my book.
Oh yes, and if Hertzberg’s explanation of bagism seems sketchy, Wikipedia explains it with great (and perhaps unwonted) confidence here. The gist of it is that “by living in a bag, a person could not be judged by others on the basis of skin color, gender, hair length, attire, age, or any other such attributes. It was presented as a form of total communication. Instead of focusing on outward appearance, the listener would hear only the bagist’s message.” There are some links but Wikipedia provides no comparable explanations for Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, or Tagism (though a number of ideas do occur to me, mostly about hippie hairstyles, androgynous clothing, and jumping to over-hasty conclusions about people you don’t know).