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Taibbi writes: "Incidentally, a number of people said I myself should make the list, for making this list. That was tough for me to judge - it was like that South Park scene where they trapped Funnybot in a logic loop and exploded his brain. But it's a good point and I should probably rate an honorable mention at least."

Ayn Rand. (photo: Atlas Shrugged)
Ayn Rand. (photo: Atlas Shrugged)

The 10 Most Pretentious Moments in History

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

27 December 12


want to thank readers for their sincere and heartfelt participation in the quest to determine the 10 most pretentious moments in history – and where David Brooks deciding to teach a course in "Humility" at Yale fits on that list.

Between Twitter and the comments section, and a few scattered emails, we had nearly 500 submissions. As with the Write-Like-Friedman contest, many were of the laugh-out-loud variety. One of my favorites was from "Katherine Kaufman," whose choice for the most pretentious moment ever was, "Everything Steve Smith does and says and wears every day on ESPN. And my father in law." I actually like Steven A., and I don't know Katherine's father-in-law, but I'm still strongly considering putting both on the list. I had to respect "Alyosha Karamazov" for having the balls to pick a screen name from one of the most pretentious novels ever and then nominate Mother Teresa as his choice for most pretentious person ever. I almost died laughing reading that one.

A great many people nominated two individuals in particular: Newt Gingrich and Norman Mailer. "Brady Fratland" summed up the Mailer complaints perfectly:

The White Negro . . . Jesus, that was painful to read. Actually, anything Norman Mailer did after 1960... his fawning over Cassius Clay/ Muhammad Ali, showing up at anti-war protests at the Pentagon wearing military-style web canteen belts he'd bought from some tony NYC boutique. . . Second place has to be Kenny G doing a retrospective of Louis Armstrong's standards. Yeesh.

While "John M" summed up the Newt nominations:

I have to agree with the Newt Gingrich inclusion on any level as he is, without question, one of the true carriers of the eternal gasbag...but it's this quote from him (that can be found inscribed in the hallowed halls of The Douchebag Academy) that puts him firmly in the top 10 imo as a paragon to all pretentious blowhards past, present, and future... "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live."

Newt actually said that to his second wife, on the occasion of his leaving her for a mistress, in response to her question about how he could be doing that a day after giving a speech on family values. He's also said lots of other truly awesome things, one of my favorite being "People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz."

But I feel like there should be a blanket exemption to both Mailer and Newt (the "Gingrich/Mailer gasbag exemption"?). They're just too funny to be on the list. It's the same with Rush Limbaugh. On the autopsy table, if they can find an instrument strong enough to saw through the smile on his face, I'm pretty sure they'll find out he was in on the joke all along.

Incidentally, a number of people said I myself should make the list, for making this list. That was tough for me to judge – it was like that South Park scene where they trapped Funnybot in a logic loop and exploded his brain. But it's a good point and I should probably rate an honorable mention at least. In the meantime, in reverse order, here are the other most pretentious moments in history, as nominated by readers:

10. Ted Kennedy's post-Chappaquiddick comments about privileges for the "High and Mighty"

On the occasion of Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, Kennedy said:

Do we operate under a system of equal justice under law? Or is there one system for the average citizen and another for the high and mighty?

Reader "motorcyclist" wondered if this was "more irony than gasbaggery," while emailer "Lancelot" noted the posthumously-discovered fact that Kennedy liked to make jokes about Chappaquiddick:

9. "The Decision"

Reader "Kevalier" wrote:

LeBron James and "The Decision' has to rank right up there.

Added "Ben":

Um. . . The Decision?

LeBron's televised mega-tacular in front of the slobbering Jim Gray did make Rickey Henderson's entire career of talking about himself in the third person seem like a Trappist vow of silence. Still most sports writers say LeBron is actually a decent guy who's genuinely embarrassed by "The Decision" now, unlike some previous wearers of the "Greatest Athlete Alive" crown, who only became more dickish with age.

8. Sting, the Rolling Stone Interview

Nominated by reader "KRH" and by emailer "Chainsaw Mike," who also sent in the clip below from Dana Carvey. My favorite part of the RS interview was when they asked Sting if he was planning on going the rest of his life without playing with the Police again. His response: "Why do you think that's important?" Well, um, because people liked the Police – but sorry we asked!

7. William Bennett publishes the Book of Virtues

Bennett received multiple nominations, many of them of the fist-shaking variety. Reader "JMF" summed them up:

Besides someone responsible for enforcing racist and socially destructive drug laws while being a moral guardian on anything, it came out later that Bennett was a ferocious gambling addict, seriously damaging his family to feed his habit. But his habit is legalized and regulated, so I guess it's OK.

What's great about Bennett is that when he says something crazy, he doesn't apologize, but doubles down every time, which might explain his gambling problem. Like the time he said that aborting all African-American babies "would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but the crime rate would go down."

Instead of crawling into a hole forever as any normal celebrity would after making a comment like that, Bennett angrily responded:

...a thought experiment about public policy, on national radio, should not have received the condemnations it has. Anyone paying attention to this debate should be offended by those who have selectively quoted me, distorted my meaning and taken out of context the dialogue I engaged in this week.

What part of aborting all black babies would lower the crime rate was "out of context"? Another great Bennett quality: he can't go more than twenty-five seconds without quoting Plato, Aristotle, or some other person he clearly believes is an intellectual colleague:

6. Oprah spanks James Frey

As reader "shortbutmighty" put it:

Oprah Winfrey forcing James Frey to sit through an hour of her outraged tears on national television when she found out that he had lied to HER in fabricating A Million Little Pieces (and a million other people too).

Additional points for having the clips of that episode appear on a "Top 25 Oprah Show Moments" program that aired on the Oprah network, with Oprah appearing as a commentator. Thanks for dining at Oprah's –would you like some more Oprah in your Oprah?

5. The Nicholas Sparks USA Today Interview

As reader "Gayle Force" wrote:

That time Nicholas Sparks (author of such brilliant and erudite literature as A Walk to Remember and The Notebook) put himself in the company of Sophocles, Austen, Hemingway, and Shakespeare, and then asserted Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian was complete trash.

The actual quote from Sparks:

I write in a genre that was not defined by me. The examples were not set out by me. They were set out 2,000 years ago by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. They were called the Greek tragedies.

The interview inspired blog titles like "Nicholas Sparks Douches it Up for USA Today" and "Newsflash: Nicholas Sparks Is An Asshole." I want to personally thank "Gayle Force" because if he/she hadn't mentioned this, I might never have seen this send-up of The Notebook:

4. Literally every episode of Inside the Actors' Studio

As submitted by reader "Andy." Lipton is really too funny to be on this list, but he got a lot of votes. Many emailers submitted videos of their favorite Actors' Studio spoofs. The most popular was this one:

Although I was always partial to the MadTV Lipton-Andie McDowell interview:

3. David Brooks teaches Humility at Yale

See last week's column. The Brooks-teaching-Humility news was reported with at best a wink or a groan even in New Haven. The Yale Herald's "Bullblog" tossed in this item:

The semester is winding down, but section assholes, take note: your attempts to suckle at the power teat may just be getting started.

You may be familiar with David Brooks from his three books, from his New York Times columns, or from his presence on PBS NewsHour, but if that just doesn't feel like enough, you will soon have a really slim chance to know the "liberals' favorite conservative" in a totally different capacity: as your professor. That's right—this "spring," Brooks will be bringing his famed self and his less-well-known teaching credentials (?) to our very own campus.

And what's he teaching? It would only make sense for this course to be called "Humility." Brooks is not only a real big name in general but also kind of an expert on the topic—a quick Google search reveals that he's written on it in the NYT and discussed it at the Aspen Ideas Festival—so we can pretty much agree that this is fitting. As if the irony weren't already enough, this class is also a Global Affairs seminar, so, like, humility, guys. Perfect. Especially recommended if you were tempted by Grand Strategy but really just don't have the ego for it.

2. Ayn Rand says anything at all

Rand received a great many votes. Reader "NevadoZ" simply submitted this quote of Rand's: "The smallest minority on earth is the individual." Ayn Rand fits this list for many reasons, but the biggest is that she had absolutely no sense of humor. You can smoke a whole ounce of the world's most potent marijuana and not laugh a single time reading one of Rand's books. One can't, however, promise the same result with this famous Rand appearance with Phil Donahue:

1. Martin Amis writes The Age of Horrorism and other stuff

I'd never read this book, but boy, did it, and Amis generally, get a lot of nominations. Reader "Bet Mulligan" summed things up, quoting from Amis's book, The Second Plane:

Martin Amis on the use of the shorthand 9/11

"My principal objection to the numbers is that they are numbers," he writes in "The Second Plane." "The solecism, that is to say, is not grammatical but moral-aesthetic — an offense against decorum; and decorum means "seemliness,' which comes from soemr, "fitting,' and soema, "to honor.' 9/11, 7/7: who or what decided that particular acts of slaughter, particular whirlwinds of plasma and body parts, in which a random sample of the innocent is killed, maimed, or otherwise crippled in body and mind, deserve a numerical shorthand? Whom does this "honor'? What makes this "fitting'?"

Reader "John Drinkwater" chimed in:

Yep. Great example of how obnoxious Amis is, and not exceptional, either. That's how he always writes. He's easily more pretentious than even David Brooks.

Between emails and comments and tweets, Amis got nearly twenty nominations, which surprised me – I personally had never read him and had no idea he aroused such powerful feelings. If it's possible to grab someone's coat lapel and implore/beg via email, that's what many readers who were afraid that Amis might not top this list did with me. One emailer, "James Farrady," put it this way: "You're going to be tempted to put Friedman or Brooks or Ayn Rand in first place, but if you do that, it will be an insult to everyone who's ever had to read a Martin Amis book. You owe it to the victims to put Amis at the top." He attached this clip of Amis saying Adolf Hitler was a "frightful bore" and a classic example of the artist manque:

Anyway, if Bet, Drinkwater and Farrady could please write in with their addresses, we'll send your copy of Moral Man and Immoral Society. Write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and we'll send those out this week. your social media marketing partner


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+2 # Abigail 2012-12-27 09:59
What a waste of time.
0 # jtatu 2012-12-27 10:42
+27 # shagar 2012-12-27 15:55
curious? why is abigail getting thumbs up,
and jtatu thumbs down for agreeing??
+3 # Pickwicky 2012-12-27 20:25
Shagar--and why are you getting so many thumbs up for mentioning such a curiosity? Some crazy stuff. I'll get thumbs down for this post.
+51 # FactsFirst 2012-12-27 10:37
A waste of time only if you do not enjoy laughing....lik e Ayn Rand.
+12 # Scott479 2012-12-28 12:20
Quoting FactsFirst:
A waste of time only if you do not enjoy Ayn Rand.

Good point-take a look at most any candid photo of Rand disciple Alan Greenspan and you'll see the very similar expressions of a miserable human.
-1 # barbaparee 2012-12-27 10:48
I can’t even read to the end of the recent articles about Humility and Pretention. Amidst the troubles of our world and the tragedy of what is NOT being done about them, and although I greatly appreciate the extremely interesting, important and excellent quality of 99% of the articles published by RSN, I can’t help thinking that so much talent, time, effort and space are wasted by these articles, and I don’t understand how they can be qualified “news”. Sorry.
+6 # MidwestDick 2012-12-30 11:15
Matt has in this last year done important work exposing the crimes of banksters.
In this piece he is lightening up, but he is also stimulating an actual conversation between writer and reader. Call it a Fan Club, or better yet a "community", it is all part of constructing a public intellectual persona. And that edifice is a really important one (if a bit awry and gaudy in the HST tradition) in the progressive intellectual cityscape.
Can I get honourable mention for this post?
+27 # alnbarthel 2012-12-27 11:22
The article, while a fun read on a snowy morning, does not live up to its title "The 10 Most Pretentious Moments in History" unless you mean by "history" that which coincides with your lifetime.
+18 # Glen 2012-12-27 12:12
Hyperbole is part of the joke, alnbarthel. Obviously this stuff is recent. Posters above were far too critical of the article. Not everything offered on RSN is required to be straight news.
-23 # Deboldt 2012-12-27 12:13
I waited in anticipation for some mention of Obama, as in: anything Obama has said on the campaign trail, although these could more accurately be classified as lies. His joking about drones would have to top Ted Kennedy--NO?

Sorry I found out about this too late to participate.
-4 # jtatu 2012-12-28 11:16
Obama: "I am the One we have been waiting for."
How could this NOT be on the list?
+27 # vicnada 2012-12-27 12:38
Anyone who disses Dostoevsky deserves top spot on his own pretension list.
+11 # tm7devils 2012-12-27 13:00
I guess small minds make small statements...
Yeh, the earth is falling apart...but now and then we need to get off the beaten path and see the World as it really is...and not as it appears to be...or we wish it to be.
+11 # beachboy 2012-12-27 13:01
An honorable mention must go to to Ayn Rand
for most appalling fashion sense and hair style...iconic indeed! God help us all!
+18 # david d 2012-12-27 13:05
well, I can see how these articles do not fall into the category of weighty "objective" news articles and are not of the same significance as pcs about us drone warfare or ndaa re-enactment or a host of other disturbing items in the news today. It kind of reminds me of the fascination with one sport or another many of us hold so dear in the us of a. My grandma used to use the term "crazy but harmless". And I imagine Matt Taibbi himself ENJOYED this interplay with his reading audience and they enjoyed having the opportunity to participate in this selection process. Because I have appreciated Matt's keen insight in several of the articles I have read by him in RSN and print and other online articles, I read this and enjoyed several of the video clipped I had never seen before. Phil H. grilling Ayn Rand was especially amusing. It is OK for articles in RSN to be foremost "amusing" and only "informative" secondarily at times. We are all free to read any specific article or pass it by.
+25 # Smokey 2012-12-27 13:27
It's a wonderful list. Worth keeping.

Ayn Rand? Her ghost haunts American politics and she continues to move the big money that supports the Tea Party.
Big irony: Rand was the most popular and influential atheist in American history.... When atheism appears on the political left, it's "Godless Communism," according to Fox News.... When atheism develops on the political right, it's "Objectivity." Huh?

David Brooks? His book "Bobos in Paradise" describes the aging yuppies who have made Brooks "the most popular conservative among liberals." Brooks has built his career with bobo money and support. Bit of irony: Brooks has very little support among the conservatives who voted for Romney. Without the bobos, Brooks would vanish from your television screen.
+14 # Pickwicky 2012-12-27 20:30
Smokey--a footnote: Ayn Rand was kicked down the stairs by every good Philosophy Department years ago--and excellent Philosophy Departments never let her in the door.
+7 # RHytonen 2012-12-29 10:50
Quoting Pickwicky:
Smokey--a footnote: Ayn Rand was kicked down the stairs by every good Philosophy Department years ago--and excellent Philosophy Departments never let her in the door.

I remember that as true when I went to college (early 1960's.)
Everyone had read her, in good faith, and everyone branded her as dangerous a charlatan as Aleister Crowley - except for the Philosophy departments, which simply asked the valid question, "why in God's name would anyone take a "hack"(-English /Lit. Dept's assessment) science fiction writer for a philosopher, even a bad one?"
+3 # Pickwicky 2012-12-29 16:21
"why in God's name would anyone take a "hack"(-English /Lit. Dept's assessment) science fiction writer for a philosopher, even a bad one?"

Ah, RHytonen--ya made ma day!
+3 # MidwestDick 2012-12-30 11:20
What about L Ron Hubbard? Carlos Castaneda. SSDD.
+4 # Smokey 2012-12-30 03:21
[quote name="Pickwicky "]"Smokey--a footnote: Ayn Rand was kicked down the stairs by every good Philosophy Department years ago--and excellent Philosophy Departments never let her in the door."

Philosophy departments in Europe laughed at Hitler and his associates during the 1920s. After 1932, they no longer laughed.... With Ayn Rand, the question is not, "Is she acceptable in academic circles? Is she an original thinker?" Instead, the question that matters is, "Is her work influential in American culture and politics?"

Ayn Rand is still a powerful force in a lot of places. Too many places.
+12 # DaveM 2012-12-27 13:41
Calling Ayn Rand pretentious is an understatement. She wanted to be one of her own characters and made no secret of it.

And calling Oprah(tm) pretentious is a redundancy.

I can't help but be reminded of the punch line of an old joke: "pretentious... .moi?"
+7 # dyannne 2012-12-27 13:57
The funniest part of this whole article to me are the James Lipton spoofs. Nailed him flat. Got to admit I do rather enjoy him even in his pompousness. I rather liked what Martin Amis was saying about reason or was it rational? It's what the Republicans are all about now. Anything that smacks of reason they want nothing to do with. They should, not just a few of them, as in Newt and Bennett, have been as a body on this list. Oh, and the Sting thing was a hoot too.
+19 # DevinMacGregor 2012-12-27 14:09
Ayn Rand? How does Ayn explain Standard Oil which in 1906 achieved a monopoly. The US Govt came in using Anti Trust laws to break her up into what became known as the Seven Sisters. Standard Oil achieved its monopoly by "sweating out" its competition. That is in areas where she was the only one selling gasoline she raised her prices to offset the lowering of prices in areas where she had competition. She sold her gas at below her costs in those areas. When her competition went bankrupt she bought them out. This was before Communism took her Families money in Russia and before she went on a lifetime crusade over hating govt. No Govt was involved in Standard Oil buying out other oil companies. We had no social safety nets then. That should had been Donohue's question to her. Do not pose anything post Roosevelt to her but in a time long before we used Keynes economics. And in short there is no such thing as a "free" market other than no govt intervention. People like to attach free in front of things and think this grants us freedoms. Just because the market is free from govt intervention which includes protection does not mean we are free.
0 # Beth Carter 2012-12-27 23:38
You may want to check out Zeitgeist: Moving Forward as an expert interviewee has thoughts very similar to your own about the "free market".
+3 # shagar 2012-12-27 14:30
Dang! call me crazy...not to wax too pretentious muhself but is it possible Matt is just stretching out a little too far with this one? i watched all the videos and read the column, and i can't see what holds it together except matt's own biases, most deeply against what used to be called "englishness", the curse of being too articulate for one's own social good. Its particularly an american thing, (like anti americanism is for the rest of mankind), that has echoes in Amis's final comments about reason and it's rejection. sure lets all giggle at Sting and Oprah and Mailer but there are ideas in most of the others that are worthy of debate at least. anyway, by any objective standard, surely william f buckley and gore vidal deserved some mention if only for preserving balance on the list.
+9 # beeyl 2012-12-27 14:32
I don't want to risk nominating myself to next year's list, but I think the final video clip had Amis calling Hitler a "frightful BOOR," not "bore."

But he's still the most pretentious asshole I've seen in a while, no matter which word you hear.
+20 # brainchild 2012-12-27 16:07
It's a pity that this tally was made before La Pierre's speech on behalf of the NRA. I feel sure that would have made the top ten.
-1 # Skyelav 2012-12-27 17:08
Actually, this is the first time I can say I agree with Ayn Rand about anything. Yes, altruistic giving is USUALLY what we in the addictions field call, Co-dependence. That is, giving while holding the expectation of some kind of kudo or reward which is really what torments Co-Ds and drives them into recovery. Selfless giving is almost impossible to achieve. Even Mother Theresa said she worked with Lepers so she could be close to Christ. But there is such a thing as Healthy Giving... which is hard to teach and hard to learn. Unfortunately Ayn Rand didn't stop there, she just went on and on and on and became the guru of the right. Nothing they propose is healthy..
+12 # Pickwicky 2012-12-27 20:23
The correct term is 'self-referenti al altruism.' Some philosophers consider all altruism self-referentia l and some find that hogwash. I'm in the 'hogwash' group.
Anonymous donors exist.
+5 # Beth Carter 2012-12-27 23:45
The Dalai Lama discussed "wise self-interest" during his last tour through Seattle when he met local Native Elders right alongside Governor Gregoire. Wise self-interest is the acknowledgement that we are all interwoven, interdependent upon everything and everyone else. Altruism, for me, in its' true sense is includes self and others, but to do something for someone in expectation of reward, now or later, is our fouled attempt at wisdom and compassion. The point is, whether or not return is realized, when genuine contentment is achieved by one it nourishes all
+13 # Texan 4 Peace 2012-12-27 17:08
As an anthropologist, I find the fact of Bennet even MENTIONING cultural anthropology as an inspiration for his "philosophy" laughable. About as laughable as equating a "book of virtues" with a book on "being a man." Never mind that half of the human species who AREN'T men.
+3 # elmont 2012-12-27 18:36
As usual, Matt made my day.
+4 # Chris S. 2012-12-28 08:46
If one enjoys wasting time it's not realy wasted .!
+3 # moby doug 2012-12-28 09:36
For an especially gaseous example of Mailer post 1960, try his Egyptian epic, Ancient Evenings. Holy buggering pharoahs, Batman! But when he wasn't stabbing his wife or taunting feminists, Norman also managed some really good books after 1960, including The Executioner's Song and Why Are We in Vietnam?
0 # wleming 2012-12-28 13:10
amis picks up on sontag's neo liberal line: the bolsheviks were just nazi's who spoke russian. thereby deep sixing world war two, and hitler's death as the russians hit berlin. po mo media demands a reductio ad absurdum, and the tui's , like amis, are always there to add confusion to the lies and obfuscations. see brecht on intellectuals.
+3 # Swift 2012-12-28 16:09
Of all these, I still have affection for Norma post-1960, because in 1960 I was 14, and I couldn't tell how pretentious he was. Today, "The White Negro" is pretentious. In 1960, to me, it was a revelation that this white boy wasn't really aware of. So he lost power in later years. Most authors do. He surprised me back then, when I was young and stupid.
+2 # skycorner 2012-12-29 13:49
How about Dionne Warwick Telling a radio interviewer in Rio de Janeiro that Burt Bacharach was the real creater of bossa nova.
+1 # NAVYVET 2012-12-31 22:01
Have mercy on us! So much irritating TV! I abandoned cable in the 80s when I began to turn off its shoddily researched documentaries; gave up on-air programs with commercials in the 90s when the ads and the so-called "news" became unbearable; PBS in the 2000's when I learned that one of the Koch Brothers sponsors NOVA. In 2011 I moved, and now must abandon a local independent public channel that actually carries some intelligent programming now and then. With the new bandwidth technology, even with a converter box, it doesn't come in at all.

I fondly remember Ernie Kovacs, Studio One and Omnibus from my teen years; Twilight Zone, the Young People's Concerts and Bullwinkle in my 20s; later the Watergate hearings, The Prisoner, the Smothers Brothers, I Claudius, Deep Space Nine, and a few others worth watching. Since then I've sampled a few programs now and then, like Downton Abbey which I quickly shut off. Surely it's one of the Top 10 pretentious soap operas of all time. I really am skeptical of old age nostalgia, and am sure there never was a "golden age" of TV. Maybe I was an idiot ever to watch it at all, but it seemed to me there used to be creative stuff on the Box (not interviews, not infotainment, not "reality" shows) which made some of it worthwhile.

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