"A Star Is Born"?

One small pleasure of mine is careless language. “A canary in a minefield,” “a hard road to hoe,” and “to all intensive purposes” can always make me chuckle, no matter how often I hear them. In addition, I love the dying metaphor, described by George Orwell in “Politics and the English Language”:

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.

The sloppiness of dying-metaphor use was illustrated yesterday by The New York Times columnist William Kristol in the very title of his op-ed “A Star Is Born.”

Maybe Kristol hasn’t seen the movie, not Janet Gaynor’s 1937 original, the 1954 remake with Judy Garland (partially lost), nor Barbra Streisand’s 1976 version. Any way you look at it, Sarah Palin pales beside any of these stars, but that’s not the point.

The title of these movies is first, last, and always ironic. I mean, just look at some of the people involved: Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell are two of the credited writers, and Budd Schulberg, who would later write one of the greatest satirical novels about Hollywood (What Makes Sammy Run?), also apparently contributed to the script. These are people who looked at the Hollywood star system with a jaundiced eye, and who rarely spoke of it without sarcasm.

A Star Is Born is not about glory or success, but about striving and failure. Vicki Lester may become a star, but Norman Maine (who created her) slides downhill.

In choosing his title, Kristol clearly did not think about what he was saying about McCain, who would be playing the Norman Maine roll, here. He simply went with the upbeat feel of the title phrase.

But, yes, the “creation” of Palin may be McCain’s undoing. Not for reasons like those in the movie (McCain is no Maine-esque drunk), but because it does show, similarly, the weakness in the character. Though I don’t think we can draw out the analogy to the movie much further (I doubt Palin will be around when McCain is forgotten), I remain pleased that Kristol, in his haste, has provided another example of why Orwell’s essay remains as fresh today as it was sixty years ago—and has given me another reason to chuckle.

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