The Fall of P. J. O’Rourke, or, It’s Hell When the Irish Get Sober

PJ O’Rourke went to Ohio’s Miami University and was raised by a single mother. Like most kids in the Midwest he loved cars and unlike most kids in the Midwest he could write a coherent sentence and so became an auto writer.

He turned out to have a knack for Auto Humor of the sort men like. In this, nobody except the Subject, the unobserved observer, the reader, can actually drive. All other drivers in the world are too busy adjusting their Garfield stick-ons to see the garage door, or wondering by the side of the road how to put out the fire in their engine which was caused by their failure to change their oil since Carter was President. We’ve all seen them by the side of the road:

“Hey man, whufuh, my CAR is on fahr! Dang, now what?”

Thank God for Jiffy Lube…

O’Rourke then hooked up with the Harvard kids of the early 1970s who founded the National Lampoon, the humor of which was in general upper class white male backlash humor. Frequent targets were women who didn’t at least comb their hairy legs, obstreperous Blackamoors, and skinny white philosophy majors from third rate universities like me.

There was this cartoon in the Lampoon…in it a skinny white kid with lanky long hair is lighting up a Gauloise and trying to write poetry like: “the sound of tires on wet pavement is the sigh of technological man”. He meets his favorite professor and tries to express admiration but the professor is drunk and wants a blow job.

It could have been based on me, the lanky blonde long hair, the major in philosophy, the Gauloises, and indeed my admiration for the one professor in my university with any brains or courage who hired me on graduation to teach, but was destroyed by a thug graduate student from Cicero. This professor did want to get in my pants so I brought an older married female friend to the assignation and we explained to him gently that I wasn’t gay. He remained a friend and mentor until his untimely death. Let us now praise famous men.

PJ O’Rourke was an example of the Irish paradox. You seek to reconcile your anger with authority by joining it as a policeman, fireman or writer. You resolve the rest of the contradiction with booze. Lack of compassion and authoritarianism become a fashion statement. Every Saint Patrick’s Day you wind up at Tommy Makem’s Irish Pavilion singing Danny Boy in self-mockery, without dignity.

Here, PJ O’Rourke is humiliated in public by Alan Grayson even as was Joe McCarthy humiliated by Joseph Welch, when McCarthy destroyed a career on TV during the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Joe McCarthy was another drunken Irish pig.

Yeats was right about the Irish…with hearts grown brutal we have fed ourselves with fantasies. We use language to construct a false reality as has O’Rourke and we need to be careful about how we fool ourselves…even when we “American Irish” say we’re “Irish”, because we’re not.

We’re Americans who came here in hell ships fleeing a famine, and when we’re, as I am, German-Irish, we’re also Americans who came here in hell ships fleeing the hired thugs of the Munich aristocrats after the revolution of 1848. If we have, as I do, a little bit of Polish, we’re also Americans who fled the Germans and the Russians who’d destroyed our country in the late 18th century.

A little bit of this, and a little bit of that, with the central theme being that we were getting our ass kicked, and we’ve never faced up to this fact, and instead became the drunken bullies in turn, persecuting screenwriters, laughing at obstreperous Blackamoors, and pepper-spraying women and skinny-assed loser philosophy majors in the face.

We redeem ourselves in ways small and large. In small ways we raise a family like my brother has, or, like me, do our best as a single and non-custodial father. In the large we get out in front of Japanese Americans and say follow me even though we’re six feet tall and the pineapple heads are five feet tall, which of course makes us a target (like my uncle in the war, who was KIA leading Japanese American troops in Italy).

There’s some Irish folks in Hong Kong, who’ve come here for jobs, whom I’ve met in the theater…they are massively amused at the “Irishness” of American “Irish”. But ethnicity does matter. I’m “German Irish” (with a little bit of Polish ancestry) which balances things out nicely, since it makes me creative but also able to fill out forms and even take a sour and perverse German pleasure in this activity, like my late and German-American Pop at tax time, listening to Wagner, cursing, and overpaying his taxes out of honesty.

I find PJ O’Rourke funny when I don’t find him disgusting. His book on keeping house for bachelors was a classic: “this dirt costs 4.95 in a fancy store, but the stuff under your bed is free”. But it’s hell when the Irish get sober.

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3 Responses to “The Fall of P. J. O’Rourke, or, It’s Hell When the Irish Get Sober”

  1. spinoza1111 Says:

    Error: O’Rorke went to Miami University, not Kent State. This error has been corrected in the above.

  2. It’s spelled “O’ROURKE.” It’s right there on the screen at the beginning of the Maher clip!

  3. spinoza1111 Says:

    So it is. Correction made. Thanks for pointing this out.

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