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The Steinbrenner Slobituary

POSTED:

I have a new hero -- some guy named Jeff in Roselle, New Jersey. Dude just called in to WFAN sports radio in New York and laid the following on jabbering moron-hosts Sid Rosenberg and Marc Malusis:

"I just have one thing to say about George Steinbrenner," he said. "We get it. He's dead. Enough."

He hung up and there was dead air for about two beautiful seconds; the stunned Rosenberg and Malusis then recovered themselves and hurtled back into craven-bumlicker mode, taking offense that the station's round-the-clock Steinbrenner grovel-a-thon had been rudely interrupted. ("Oh, that's classy, Jeff," snapped Rosenberg sarcastically).

Yesterday, when I first heard that Steinbrenner died, I figured his Slobituary (my term for the relentless slobbering that overtakes broadcast media outlets after the death of any Extremely Famous Person) would last about 24 hours nationally and 72 hours here in the New York area. You see enough of these, you can calculate their duration almost to the second, using something I call the Stalin Applause Index. The formula looks like this:

CONFORMITY * (FEAR + CONSEQUENCES) / BALLS = DURATION OF WORSHIP.

The basic dynamic here is something Solzhenitsyn described in Gulag I, in a story about a district party conference of the CPSU during Stalin's day. At the end of the conference a tribute to Stalin was suggested and the hall erupted in "stormy applause rising to an ovation." Three, four minutes passed, and still the hall was applauding; palms were beginning to hurt. As Solzhenitsyn wrote:

However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform and it was he who had called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who'd been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD [an early form of the KGB] men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first.

And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the leader, the applause went on—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn't stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks.

This terrible scene went on and on until it became clear that while the applause would eventually stop, that stopping would cost someone his life. And so, at eleven minutes, the director of a paper factory sat in his chair. Everyone followed him. That night the factory director was, naturally, arrested.

This is where the consequences portion of the formula enters in. When being the first one to stop kissing ass will cost a life, the ass-kissing will basically go on forever. When it will cost you your job, it will go on probably as long as you have a job. And when the consequences are merely that other people may secretly suspect that you have a mind of your own and a spine, the outside edge of the ass-kissing will generally max out at seven days, which is about how long the standard ex-presidential Slobituary lasts here in America.

Of course Ronald Reagan's was a bit longer (the conformism quotient is a little higher in red states) and some news stations nearly doubled the max for Pope John Paul II, but the basic baseline is seven days. You want to figure out how long people will slobber over a George Steinbrenner, just take how much they slobbered over Reagan and work backwards. So here in liberal, Yankee-mad New York City Steinbrenner is almost a full Reagan, maybe even a Reagan and change -- but in the rest of New York State, which is basically a red state, you probably need four or five Steinbrenners to rate one Reagan. Add it all up and you get about half a Reagan, which puts the Steinbrenner Slobituary at about 3-4 days. We're still in day 2; I figure it'll lighten up some by the weekend.

The mania for elegiac slobbering is one of the most disgusting things about this country, but you'll never see a clearer example of America's unique capacity for this sort of activity than this Steinbrenner business. When Bruce Springsteen dies, it won't be appropriate to make jokes about millions of Americans fawning over a dead Boss. But in George "The Boss" Steinbrenner's case, it fits perfectly, because Steinbrenner was in every conceivable way the prototypical office tyrant and the fact that he's being uninterruptedly worshipped after his death by a nation of cubicle slaves tells you almost everything you need to know about the modern American psyche.

In no other country do people genuinely love their bosses the way Americans do. They'll go home after 12 hard hours of capricious superiors peeing in their faces, and the very first thing they'll do is call up some talk radio show and denounce the graduated income tax that gives them a break at their bosses' expense. In other countries bosses need to constantly fend off revolts and strikes; in America people tune in by the millions to cheer on an impetuous, bloated asshole like Donald Trump as he ritualistically fires a succession of sheepish sacrificial stand-ins who are clearly chosen for their resemblance to the target demographic. And The Apprentice was just one of many reality shows where people literally jack off to their own job insecurity!

They've got peoples' heads so turned around in this country that this ring-around-the-collar self-flagellating terror at being thought of as poor and subordinate has people reflexively worshipping their bosses, to the point where George Steinbrenner -- a workplace Caligula so stupid and self-centered that he could not be convinced George Constanza wasn't named after him -- is somehow thought of as cute and lovable. George Steinbrenner was not cute; he was the biggest fuckhead of his generation. Steinbrenner was the kind of guy who wouldn't accept that two plus two equaled four if a parade of MIT professors proved it to him on a fifty-foot blackboard. And if you tried to point that out to him, he fired you in the middle of the night, which he thought was funny, except that you were feeding your kids with that money.

All of that is forgotten now as media figures are now going to spend the rest of this week tripping over themselves in search of new ways to suck off the Boss's corpse (Can Yankee stadium be renamed "Steinbrenner field"? Can the Hall of Fame hold a special session to speed Steinbrenner's entry? All of this and more will be proposed!). They keep talking about how Steinbrenner was the kind of guy who could only have existed in America, which is probably true. But a corollary to that is that this is the only country that wouldn't throw a parade the minute the guy drew his last breath. Whatever happened to Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead?

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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