Good morning, students. The topic of today's lecture is "confusion."
It has oft been said that to truly understand a subject, one should begin by studying the work of masters. With that in mind, we will analyze selected writings of one Billiamme "Bill" Pappadopoulis Little, a veritable savant in the fine art of rhetorical bewilderment. Specifically, our study begins with an article recently published on one of the internet's most highly-respected outlets for sports journalism and indecisive rostery.
Without further ado, let us begin our lesson.
Little is a master of obfuscatory efficiency. He wastes no words. Little's every syllable, every letter, and every punctuation mark are carefully chosen and assembled into an efficient engine of reader bemusement. In this example, Little sets the stage for disorientation from the very outset:
Bill Little commentary: Arranging the deck chairs
Now, students, put yourself in the reader's frame of mind. What is he -- or she -- thinking after reading this title?
Of course! Arranging the deck chairs. This is part of a famous cliche, 'to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic,' meaning to engage in a futile, superficial exercise incapable of saving the metaphorical sinking ship. Little will opine that Mack Brown's attempts to salvage the Texas football program are futile.
Ha! That's what Little wants you to think. And then he hits you with this, his introductory sentence:
The preacher lady turned to the philosophy of the "Peanuts" comic strip Sunday morning, and I couldn’t help but think of how it related to the month Mack Brown has spent in his quest to rebuild his Texas Longhorn coaching staff.
So many questions emerge. "The preacher lady?" Who is this shadowy character? What sad events have driven her to seek solace in the wisdom of newspaper comic strips? And why highlight her gender? Is Little foreshadowing a romantic tryst?
Moreover, where does the "Peanuts" comic strip fit in to this tale of futility (and, possibly, passionate sex between a clergywoman and her elderly parishoner)? Surely, Little alludes to Peanuts' recurring sisyphean prank, in which Lucy snatches a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute. Yes, that must be it.
Let's take account of what has happened in the reader's mind so far. Little managed to distract us from the very beginning of his piece, sculpting the introductory sentence into a non sequitur set against the backdrop of the article's title. His first sentence a non sequitur! Truly, Little is a virtuoso of confusion. But, with some determined reflection, our brains have managed to recover from this initial sleight-of-hand. We're back on track.
...or are we?
It seems Charlie Brown’s adversary, Lucy, has asked the following question: "Charlie Brown, life is like a deck chair on a cruise ship. Passengers open up these canvas deck chairs so they can sit in the sun. Some people place their chairs facing the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been. Other people face their chairs forward—they want to see where they are going. On the cruise ship of life, which way is your deck chair facing?" she asks.
Replies Charlie Brown, "I am working on getting one to unfold."
At this point, the reader's brain is contorted into a twisted pretzel of cognitive dissonance. Is this supposed to be a joke? Should I laugh? Or is there some deep message here?
Little previously referred to a "philosophy." What could it be? What is the message in that story? Is it that Charlie Brown, a cartoon character, lacks manual dexterity? In what possible way could that information be useful to me? Why do I need to know that???
And, most importantly, how does this anecdote contribute to the rising sexual tension between our protagonist and his pastor?
Haha! Don't you see? He's got you just where he wants you! This isn't a story about futility at all. And, as it turns out, there's very little sex involved. No, Little's point is simply this: Texas hired some new football coaches, and they hope to have a better season next year.
Didn't see that coming, did you?
Three paragraphs. Three short paragraphs. That's all it took for Bill Little to reduce his reader's brain to a quivering puddle of vertigo and self-doubt. If you want to learn the fine art of confusion, students, study those paragraphs well. Never in my career as Adjunct Lecturer of Writing Skills Workshop (Level 1) here at the Adult Career Rehabilitation Center have I come across a more perfect exemplar of deliberate confusery.
But Little does not stop there. Oh no. Here are a few more select examples of expert befuddling from the same piece:
Building a staff is like creating a mosaic. In the specialized world of college coaching, to recruit and to succeed you have to make sure you are teachers first and cover the critical positions.
How deliciously inscrutable! Building a staff is like creating a mosaic. Because to recruit and succeed you have to teach first and cover critical positions, which are notions that have nothing to do with either building a staff or creating a mosaic!
Masterful. Simply masterful.
Then came a tandem of exciting hires that continued a pattern of thirty-something men who infused both youth and enthusiasm into the new staff.
Say what? Who are these thirty-something men? And in which pattern are they arranged? Is this the mosaic Little mentioned earlier? Who knows!
In the years since Madden had joined Brown at North Carolina and followed him to Texas, other schools had named a football strength and conditioning coach, just as Texas already had, for instance, in basketball with the talented Todd Wright.
Typically, I'd say something like "God only knows what the point of this sentence is," but I'm not convinced that even an omniscient deity could penetrate the byzantine mind-maze Little has laid before us. It seems to say merely that "Since Texas hired Jeff Madden, other teams have hired strength and conditioning coaches. Texas also hired a strength coach for its basketball team."
But that leaves us asking things like "So what? What does that little nugget of data have to do with anything else Little mentions in his article? For that matter, what bearing does it have on anything ever? And why was the sentence apparently constructed with the sole purpose to confuse the reader?" Exactly!
See, now you're catching on.
In a career that seems laden with destiny, he had been intrigued by Texas and Brown for some time.
Ah-ha! Classic Little confusionary composition! Pay attention, students. The master is putting on a clinic.
In this case, we see the rhetorical equivalent of a jab-jab-hook combination. First, Little gets you going one way. "Oh, he's going to discuss Brian Harsin's career." Then, he tosses in a head-scratcher. "Wait, how can a career - or anything, for that matter - 'seem laden with destiny?' What does that even mean?" And then - BOOM! - while you're pondering that insoluble riddle, he pounds you over the head with some disjointed gibberish about intrigue.
What in the hell is the point of the sentence above? You see, just by asking that question, you've already missed the point. You might as well ask "What is the point of a magic trick?" The point, gentle reader, is to trick you. To confuse you. To cause you to question everything you know about logic and reason and the notion that order and sanity govern the universe.
And it's working.
Rarely has an in-place program undergone such an extreme makeover,
This is the point where the reader pisses himself out of sheer disorientation. The reader no longer knows up from down, left from right, boxer shorts from urinal. He might be asking questions like: What is an "in-place program?" What "place" is it in? How would one measure the rarity of an "extreme makeover?" What in God's name is Little talking about?
He celebrates the history of Texas football on a daily basis.
Uncontrollable tremors ensue. The reader is now speaking in tongues, eating couch cushion foam, and penning disturbingly sexual "Dora the Explorer" fan fiction. He may also be planning a history-of-Texas-football-themed party.
But he also realizes that history is a collage of both the past, the present and future.
The disorientation is irreversible. The reader has forever lost his bearings. History includes the future. Both implies three. A time collage is a perfectly reasonable concept.
Bill Little has permanently restructured your mind. And you have no choice but to accept it.
The theme—as Bennie Wylie articulated it—was "rebuilding, brick by brick."
"I am a brick," Wylie said, "and you are a brick."
All the world is a brick, Wylie. And we are only layers. Layers and layers of confusion.