With an F-Bomb, Mayor Garcetti Defines Himself

Words To That Effect
Words To That Effect | Photo: Mayor Garcetti/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Mayor Eric Garcetti lifted high a container (empty, some say) of industrial quality beer and celebrated the victory of the Los Angeles Kings last week with a vulgarity. In a packed hockey stadium. On daytime TV. To some in the audience, the mayor's attempt at bro solidarity seemed painfully calculated.

The Los Angeles Times noted later, the mayor's "dropping of the F-bomb at a Staples Center rally for the hockey team had all the look of a premeditated publicity salvo ..."

Afterwards, the mayor explained. "I got a little ahead of myself ... You gotta remember, we didn't win at lawn bowling. We won in hockey." Right.

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And if "we" win the World Series, what will be the proper expletive on the mayor's scale of manly exuberance? I don't think the word exists.

That's the problem with the impoverished language of lad-dom. You quickly run out of ways of intensifying the moment until, as anyone can attest who has spent time around 20-something guys with beer in hand, every other word is an anatomical adjective.

The mayor's coarse word didn't offend me. Words in all their colors and numbers of letters are the stuff I live in and work with. What worries me is the mayor's approach to a problem that he might think troubles his political future.

It seems to me that Mayor Garcetti feels that he has a manliness problem.

After the high-minded criticism of the easily offended had ended and the high-fives of fellow bros dropped off, the mayor offered one more explanation for his word. "I was just being a person yesterday," he said.

It was as if Garcetti's authenticity as a person required him to shuck off being an elected official, a naval officer, a talented musician, and a genuinely nice guy. Only in verbal squalor could the true man be recognized, Garcetti seemed to say.

Ambitious American politicians since George Washington have projected their culture's idea of a suitable masculine presence even as they were impelled to reframe what masculinity meant. Among modern presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan succeeded. But others failed badly.

President George W. Bush comes to mind as someone who wore an unconvincing male image as if it were a costume. Richard Nixon (famously crude in private conversation) visibly struggled to understand what virtues a man and a president are supposed to demonstrate. New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, mocked as having the character of "the little man on the wedding cake," is the textbook example of the buttoned-up male figure in national politics, apparently too refined for his own political good.

Garcetti seems to think he has a Dewey problem. So he threw a billowing Kings sweater over his slight frame, raised high the lubricant of transient male bonding, and gave an insincere shout out to the kind of guy who doesn't have much to say for himself.

The mayor's word didn't connect, except superficially. Instead, it testified to his unease.

In this exercise of political self-definition, the grade I give the mayor is an F.

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