Fatwa Fever

Last week, you were either a This American Life person or a Salman Rushdie person, and there really was no in-between. (Well, there was, and it was happening at the Showbox, and by all accounts, it was life altering, but this is a books column, not a music column, and we don’t even know who the Liars are, honestly.)

This American Life people, like whole-wheat toast, are nutty, full of vitamins, and good for you. Salman Rushdie fans, conversely, are like Salman Rushdie: cerebral, short, and arrogant. (Let us also note, with curiosity, dismay, and no small measure of smug pleasure, that Rushdie fans rarely seem to have actually read anything by Salman Rushdie.)

You will recall that, for a time, it did not appear that Salman Rushdie would continue to exist. And for a period of time last week, we wondered whether we would, either. Steve Scher, on KUOW Tuesday morning, talked Rushdie blue about the fatwa (death threat) declared against him by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 (because of anti-Islamic sentiments—can you imagine?), and all the while completely avoided the elephant-in-the-room issue of whether the fatwa was the best thing to happen to Rushdie’s career (as the Nightstand maintains). Then a call-in listener steered Rushdie to the subject of The Wizard of Oz, which was not unlike hearing Proust try to extract significance from a deep-fried Twinkie. “Most of our lives involve some kind of journey down a road,” Rushdie said, “whether of yellow brick or not.”

In no mood for any more of that, we eschewed Rushdie’s reading later on and instead went to Benaroya Hall to see This American Life host Ira Glass—in a benefit for Seattle Arts & Lectures—talk about his career, play old tapes, and take questions. He was introduced by Matthew Brogan, SAL’s executive director, who wrapped up his preamble by saying, “What Homer was to swine, Ira Glass is to poultry. Both have a sense for the offbeat and tragic in everyday life.”

For the Nightstand, being introduced to This American Life was a formative experience. (Though, it should be said, not as formative as was Glass’ experience of visiting a chicken ranch, at the request of an activist who objected to This American Life‘s formerly annual, now canceled poultry slam: “Every time I eat a piece of chicken,” Glass said, “I think about the chickens I have met.”) At the risk of inspiring your hatred, we regret to admit that before last week we had never listened to public radio as much as we should; that is to say, at all. In our defense, the only time it ever occurred to us to switch it on was upon waking up on Sundays, at around 1 p.m., when the programming is a pretentious half-hour of dreck called Says You!, “a game of bluff and bluster, wit and whimsy,” hosted by Richard Sher. (If the Nightstand ever launched our own fatwa, it would be against him.) On Says You!‘s Web site, listeners post things like: “I liked the analogies in a recent program but (at least) one was incorrect. The Civil War did NOT end with the Battle of Appomattox. General Lee surrendered his army, but the Confederate States of America did NOT surrender. The last battle of the war was, in fact, fought a month later on May 12th and 13th, 1865.” So glad we cleared that up, aren’t you?