A Boy Named Sue

A Boy Named Sue

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my dad was an electrical engineering professor – with all the personality quirks that go with being an electrical engineering professor, including his “quirky” sense of humor.

When I was thinking about him recently, I recalled a story from probably 35 or 40 years ago.  For ages, my dad managed (and pitched for) our parish men’s slow-pitch softball team.  One spring, at the start of the season, he received a phone call from someone – a man named Lee Kathy – who wanted to join the team.  My dad told him when and where the first practice would be and told him just to show up.

At that practice, the new guy drives up, sees my dad unloading the equipment, and walks over to introduce himself.  “Hi,” he says, sticking out his hand, “I’m Kathy.”  My dad, being my dad, grabs his hand, shakes it vigorously, and says (loudly), “My name is Sue! How do you do?”

For those of you who don’t get the joke – which, I’d imagine, is probably a LOT of you – it’s a reference to the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue,” released in 1969.  It tells the story of, well, a boy named Sue:

Well, my daddy left home when I was three
Didn’t leave very much to my mom and me
Except this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze
Now I don’t blame him ’cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that my daddy ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me Sue

Not quite halfway through the song, Sue – now a mean and angry adult – runs into his father and introduces himself much as my dad introduced himself to poor Lee Kathy:

Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
From a worn out picture that my mother had
Knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye
He was big and bent and gray and old
And I looked at him and my blood ran cold
And I said, “My name is Sue, how do you do?
Now you gonna die”, that’s what I told him

Anyway, as I thought about that incident and about that song, I also thought, just briefly, about how people today – people 50 years and younger, mostly – wouldn’t understand the song.  After all, it’s about how a boy lives a tortured life because he’s teased and abused mercilessly for having a girl’s name.  And everyone today knows that it’s perfectly fine for a boy to have a girl’s name.  Heck, it’s perfectly fine for a boy to wear girls’ clothes or for him even to want to be a girl (and vice versa).  “Sue” turns sadistic and ugly and rageful because he’s associated with something allegedly “feminine,” when everyone today knows that gender is a “spectrum,” and that we, as a society, only believe that things are masculine or feminine because the patriarchy and white privilege have convinced that they are.  And then, of course, there’s the violence.  Sue wants to kill his dad, and they fight, and then his dad actually congratulates him for fighting well.  Talk about your “toxic masculinity.”  The whole thing is culturally outdated and inappropriate and why the hell would any boy who is secure in his self-worth have any problem with being called Sue?

Well, he must’ve thought that it was quite a joke
And I got a lot of laughs from a lots of folk
Seems I had to fight my whole life through
Some gal would giggle and I’d turn red
And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head
I tell you, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue

But I grew up quick and I grew up mean
My fist got hard and my wits got keener
Roam from town to town to hide my shame
But I made me a vow to the moon and stars
I’d search the honky tonks and bars
And kill that man that gave me that awful name

As I say, though, I only thought that very briefly.  Then something occurred to me: that’s stupid.  Of course people would understand the song.  Of course they know why life wouldn’t be easy for a boy named Sue.  Of course they would understand the anxiety, the teasing, and the violence inherent in the narrative.  The song was a joke, obviously, but it was a joke that played upon natural and largely immutable human emotions.  Everyone would understand it.  The world has changed a great deal in the last 55 years, but it hasn’t changed that much.

That’s not to say that people wouldn’t pretend not to understand it or wouldn’t pretend not to get the gender-distinction references or wouldn’t pretend to be offended by it.  They would.  Heaven knows they would.  Because that’s what they do.

But then, that’s American politics these days in a nutshell, isn’t it?  Everyone pretends to believe all sorts of stupid things.

No one really believes, for example, that a man can become a woman or that a woman can become a man.  No one really believes that gender is a spectrum.  No one really believes that genetic boys have no physical advantage over genetic girls in sports.  No one really believes that “chestfeeding” is as effective and natural as breastfeeding.  No one really believes that cross-dressing makes one a better intelligence agent.  No one really believes  that white people are the cause of all evil in the world or that the Hellenic-Judeo-Christian tradition is the most oppressive and hateful civilizational ethos in history.  No one really believes that the border isn’t effectively open.  No one really believes that President Biden committed a heinous act of barbarity during his State of the Union address by referring to an illegal alien as an “illegal” alien.  No one really believes Israel is an “apartheid state” or that its treatment of Palestinians is akin to Hitler’s Holocaust.  No one really believes that the doofus with the Viking hat was trying to take over the government.  No one really believes that the world is going to end if we don’t ban SUVs by next Wednesday.  No one really believes that electric vehicles are the solution to all man’s problems.  No one really believes that Larry Fink is gonna save the world by bullying the directors and executives of oil companies.

In short, no one really believes any of the nonsense they espouse today.  They’re only pretending to believe it.  Some pretend because they think it makes them seem smart.  Some pretend because they think it makes them seem cool.  Some pretend because they think it will bring them wealth and power.  And most pretend because they’re afraid not to.  In any case, American politics today is all just hysterical performative bullsh*t.  It is, to paraphrase Shakespeare, much doodoo about nothing.

On the one hand, these are what one might call “First World problems,” which is to say that we can afford to fight about them because the basic necessities of life and the foundations of civilization are already addressed.

On the other hand, it seems unlikely that a civilization that spends its time and energy tearing itself apart over imaginary problems that no one believes will remain a coherent civilization for long.

Moreover, our chief civilizational rivals – China, Russia, Islamism – are not, generally, dithering and fussing about alternative interpretations of reality.  They all have their own problems, to be sure, but they just seem so much less idiotic somehow.

For the record, “A Boy Named Sue” ends with reconciliation:

Well, I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
I called him my pa, and he called me his son
And I come away with a different point of view

Would that our politics allowed for the same.  Unfortunately, different points of view are cause for hatred and division in our tolerant and liberal society at present.

Stay angry, my friends.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.