The profession usually meant by that term has to do with gratifying the desires of the body, preferably in an entertaining way. Unless its workers are exploited in an unequal power relationship by their employers or clients, or its customers are betraying fidelity to commitments made to others, it is generally an honorable profession. That is: it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.
The other oldest profession has to do with gratifying the unexamined beliefs of the mind, again preferably in an entertaining way. This profession, however, depends for its very success upon exploiting unequal power relationships and betraying fidelity to all sorts of spiritual and social commitments. And there is nothing honorable about it.
“The problem,” says Walhydra, “is that this other oldest profession is way more successful, more powerful, and more destructive than the first one ever thought about being.”
What in the world, the gentle reader asks, is Walhydra ranting about this time?!
Well, last week the news media and the blogosphere were full of the most recent example: Pat Robertson’s latest dire predictions on The 700 Club. Almost as regular—and, regrettably, as well-publicized—as the Oscars, Pat was once again gleefully awarding biblical doom to millions of innocents for something someone else supposedly did.
"What gets me," Walhydra complains, "is it doesn't even matter whether any of his predictions come true. The people who turn to him want to believe. And it's not as simple as wanting to believe what he says. It's way more subtle."
Those in the other oldest profession are in the business of gratifying people's desire to believe that what they believe—in all its unreflective, uncritical, resentful or envious or self-justifying unfoundedness—is not only correct but admirable.
One of the pros of the previous generation, Oral Roberts, was particularly good at providing this service. The Son-of-Roberts, Pat, is definitely no slouch himself—even if his predictions seem more wacky to outsiders (i.e., non-customers) as the years go on.
Part of the knack comes from knowing what P.T. Barnum recognized: “No humbug is great without truth at bottom” (quoted by Stephen Jay Gould in Bully for Brontosaurus, p.45). The masters of the other oldest profession always mix a leaven of seemingly relevant factoids in with their customers’ flour of discontent.
But they never worry about getting caught out—because their customers don’t want to get caught out either. As Stephen Colbert said of Bill O’Reilly in a recent Rolling Stone interview:
You know, actually, I have a genuine admiration for O’Reilly’s ability to do his show. I’d love to be able to put a chain of words together the way he does [snaps his fingers] without much thought as to what it might mean, compared to what you said about the same subject the night before.The other part of the knack—and this is really the essential talent for any pro—is being unfailingly entertaining for the customers who want to pay for the show.
Walhydra has a perverse admiration for Rush Limbaugh in this regard. He’s the only one she knows of who has flat out admitted, “I’m not a journalist, I’m an entertainer,” knowing that he risks nothing by doing so. Other bloggers have noticed this about him as well.
But here's where the whole business gets particularly stinky for Walhydra.
"The journalist/entertainers on the 'other side' do the same thing!" she yells. "They cater to all those folks who love to be scandalized by the pronouncements of Oral and Pat and Bill and Rush. Every time that Virginia Beach idiot opens his mouth, the media give him global coverage, and so-called 'liberal' bloggers and late night hosts milk it for days!!"
It drives Walhydra mad with anger and despair that the hucksters on the religious and political Right have vast and deadly power to sway public opinion and national policy precisely because the hucksters on the Left give them headlines.
"Would anybody know that one majorly sick, enmeshed, emotionally abusive, homophobic Topeka family named Phelps was even still around—let alone let them have any influence—if the media, and even Congress, didn't keep calling our attention to them?!!"
Walhydra shakes her head and stalks away from the microphone in angry tears.