Saturday, July 11, 2015

Revenge of the nerd

The awkward stage. We all go through it.  Bobby Jindal did once too. His was probably a lot like yours... although maybe not exactly.
Jindal captained the Equations team, which required quick thinking.

And he dressed like Alex P. Keaton, the conservative high schooler played by Michael J. Fox in the ’80s sitcom “Family Ties.”

“He had a bow tie with dollar bills on it,” said Elaine Parsons, who is now a history professor at Duquesne University. “When the movie ‘Wall Street’ came out, he’d go around saying, ‘Greed is good!’ People would roll their eyes at him.”

For years, Jindal bought bags of candy that he would keep in his backpack and sell individual pieces to sugar-craving students.

Some classmates view it now as a sign of a would-be political operator.

“But I always thought of it as more entrepreneurial,” said Johnson, who is now a professor of political communication at LSU.
Selling Jolly Ranchers on the sly seems like it's really more of a Skippy thing but OK.  Anyway, there's nothing wrong with being a smart kid, or a geeky kid. But it kind of looks like Bobby was a bit of a weird kid among weird kids.

Maybe that doesn't matter. Usually it wouldn't. But still there's this nagging notion that maybe Jindal's awkward phase grew with him into a kind of sociopathy. Consider this story today where we learned of a fresh examination of College Bobby's old exorcism essay.
Most Louisianians have probably heard the story about Gov. Bobby Jindal witnessing an exorcism in college a bunch of times.

The story made the rounds when Jindal first ran for governor; it was trotted out again when Jindal's widely mocked 2009 State of the Union response was delivered; and now that he's running for president it's creeping its way back into the national consciousness.

But now a pair of producers want to give the curious account of casting demons out of Jindal's college friend Susan new life: They want to turn it into a rock opera. Apparently the story -- written by Jindal himself and published in a Catholic magazine more than 20 years ago -- is so dramatic, and told so evocatively by Jindal, a couple of guys just couldn't resist setting it to song.
Cute. Really, it's funny. They're not actually going to put this into production, though. At least I hope they don't. Some jokes work better as conceptual art than in practice and this is undoubtedly one such joke. Interesting that they've got a Kickstarter going.. ostensibly to fund this project.. but who knows where that money goes.  Still, the would be producers have some insights to share about the exorcism that many of us probably haven't pondered over in a while.  Such as this. 
"It's a love story more than anything. It's more about a story about a young man's inability to love," Chiari said. "An ability to love or inability to love another person can play a role in how we look at the world."

The exorcism itself, with vivid descriptions by Jindal that included the "guttural sounds" coming from his friend Susan and "taunting the evil spirit" within her, has always been more of the focus for political writers. But the essay also contains accounts of a lovestruck Susan and her frustration with the emotionless Jindal, as well as Jindal's own admission that "I was beginning to doubt that I had the capacity for feeling."
We've all had opportunities to parse the story of Bobby and Susan over the years. There have been theories about repressed sexuality, failure of empathy, and so on.  But mostly this is a story about confused young people told to us through the point of view of a person who either didn't fully understand the social interaction he was participating in or, more likely, someone who purposefully misinterpreted that episode in the retelling.

Over our years with him we've come to understand that there's very little Bobby Jindal tells us that isn't politically calculated and/or probably false.  He actually has a preternatural talent for this when spouting abstract political absurdities about "no-go zones" or the metric system or whether or not it's a good idea to fire the Supreme Court. Not many people can tell such utterly stupid lies with as straight a face. At the same time, and probably not coincidentally, few people come off as obviously phony when trying to project or talk about anything involving personal emotion. Worse than that, sometimes he comes off as just plain weird.

In the exorcism story Bobby was writing about what he says is a critical moment in his religious development. For some reason, those moments tend to come to him through awkward failures with women. on Thursday Bobby was in New Orleans (no, for real this time) to speak to the National Right to Life Convention. During his remarks there Bobby told us about how his beginnings in anti-abortion movement Catholicism were inspired at an early age.
Jindal opened his remarks with an anecdote about his gradual conversion to Catholicism and how, at 15 years old, he began to think about anti-abortion advocacy. "I was a teenage high school boy, and [God] used a teenage high school girl to get my attention," he said. He asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she said she wanted to be a United States Supreme Court Justice because she wanted to "save innocent human lives right here in America."

"I just wanted to talk to a pretty girl — where did this come from?" he said. "God used that experience to plant a seed. We could've used her on the court just a couple weeks ago."
Let's assume this is a true story and not just some thing Bobby made up in order to sound like a hu-man on stage. It's probably not rock opera or anything but here's a short one-act play about this episode in Young Bobby's life.

SETTING: A classroom at BATON ROUGE MAGNET HIGH.  It is the first week of school and BOBBY JINDAL is finding his desk.  He is wearing bright green pants and a pink shirt. He doesn't have his bow tie on but his Trapper Keeper has a picture of Tina Yothers on it. At the desk next to him is a TEENAGE GIRL just settling in.

BOBBY: Hi I'm Bobby. I like to be called Bobby. Greed is good.. heh heh.

GIRL: Um hello.

BOBBY: Hey do you like Jolly Ranchers? I usually sell them for fifty cents each but I can get you one for a quarter because you seem really special.

GIRL: No thanks. I'm not....

BOBBY: So are you going to be in the Latin Club this year? I'm pretty much the king over there. They say it's really good to have impressive activities on your college application. I'm shooting for the Ivies. How about you?

GIRL: (nervously) Well I...

BOBBY:  Hey how about math club? I'm up for captain of the Equations team. That's going to be huge on my application to Brown. I could be a doctor, you know. Or better. Heck I could be President. It's really just a matter of what I settle for. What do you want to be when you grow up?

GIRL: I'm gonna..

BOBBY: You really should have one of these Jolly Ranchers.  You sure you don't want..

GIRL: I'm going to be a Supreme Court Justice! Excuse me I have to um... (gets up and heads to the restroom)

BOBBY unwraps a small grape candy and pops it into his mouth. Thinks about his future. 
And this is the story of how Bobby Jindal, the awkward kid, grows up to be an empathy-poor, megalomaniac who interprets his rejected advances as a message from God to him that someday he would lead governments and use his position to make sure women's health choices were appropriately difficult or at least shameful for them.  Some kids' awkward phases are more consequential than others, I guess.

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