So I find it difficult, again funny, to think that someone was reading Mencken to stave off boredom. I jotted off a note that maybe he might want to consider Dante's Inferno for his next bit of light reading, then thought about my own knee-jerk response.
(A brief sidenote: I highly recommend clicking on the Inferno link. Sit through the flash intro and all to see the product of a truly twisted mind. I almost revoked my loathing for this novel, until I was reminded that "There are four rings of the frozen lake of Cocytus: 1)Caina, 2)Antenora, 3)Ptolomea, 4)Judecca." Ugh...it's an eigth-grade blue book test all over again.)
Looking back there is certainly a danger in having young people read advanced topics as a basis for education. Certainly, texts such as this helped develop my reasoning and logic, but I surely never understood anything other than the mechanics of the writing back then. Consuming an author like Mencken for content could only come later; but to folks who were force-fed the rants at an early age, the likelihood of revisiting such authors at a later stage is severely diminished.
So I took a few precious minutes out of my day to read the link my friend had included in his email. It proved to be a timely topic, as you will see. I was mildly surprised to be amused by this selection from "Damn!" and believe I will have to rethink the lifetime ban on Mencken.
I often wonder how much sound and nourishing food is fed to the animals in the zoological gardens of America every week, and try to figure out what the public gets in return for the cost thereof. The annual bill must surely run into millions; one is constantly hearing how much beef a lion downs at a meal, and how many tons of hay an elephant dispatches in a month. And to what end? To the end, principally, that a horde of superintendents and keepers may be kept in easy jobs. To the end, secondarily, that the least intelligent minority of the population may have an idiotic show to gape at on Sunday afternoons, and that the young of the species may be instructed in the methods of amour prevailing among chimpanzees and become privy to the technic employed by jaguars, hyenas and polar bears in ridding themselves of ice.As I mentioned, I found this timely. Because the immediate parallel that I drew was to Casey Serin. As taxpayers, we will pay for the care and feeding of Casey Serin in one way or another for years to come.
So far as I can make out, after laborious visits to all the chief zoos of the nation, no other imaginable purpose is served by their existence. One hears constantly, true enough (mainly from the gentlemen they support) that they are educational. But how? Just what sort of instruction do they radiate, and what is its value? I have never been able to find out. The sober truth is that they are no more educational than so many firemen's parades or displays of sky-rockets, and that all they actually offer to the public in return for the taxes wasted upon them is a form of idle
and witless amusement, compared to which a visit to a penitentiary, or even to Congress or a state legislature in session, is informing, stimulating and ennobling.
Education your grandmother! Show me a schoolboy who has ever learned anything valuable or important by watching a mangy old lion snoring away in its cage or a family of monkeys fighting for peanuts. To get any useful instruction out of such a spectacle is palpably impossible; not even a college professor is improved by it. The most it can imaginably impart is that the stripes of a certain sort of tiger run one way and the stripes of another sort some other way, that hyenas and polecats smell worse than Greek 'bus boys, that the Latin name of the raccoon (who was unheard of by the Romans) is _Procyon lotor_. For the dissemination of such banal knowledge, absurdly emitted and defectively taken in, the taxpayers of the United States are mulcted in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. As well make them pay for teaching policemen the theory of least squares, or for instructing roosters in the laying of eggs.
As for the educational benefit of watching the Casey Serin trainwreck from the sidelines, what benefit is there, really? Who can learn anything from Casey Serin? Much in the same way that Mencken points out the tiger's stripes, so too have we determined the shallow value of the Casey Serin.
Really...re-read the above paragraphs, and in lieu of 'zoo' or 'animals', insert "Casey Serin" or "Galina Serin." It's amazing how accurate the text becomes.