Can’t read one more piece on the debt ceiling? Laura Ingraham, with Raymond Arroyo, has written the ultimate palate cleanser — with a purpose: Of Thee I Zing: America’s Cultural Decline from Muffin Tops to Body Shots, released today. There are zings about fads and bad habits, about popular culture and pulpit nonsense, about the profound and the mundane — all of them served up with a light-hearted, comic, or humble twist.
“This comedic intervention is my way of saying you have the power to turn it around for yourselves and for your children,” Ingraham tells National Review Online. She took some questions on Zing from NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Is there one bad habit or bit of nonsense highlighted in the book that drives you crazy above all others?
LAURA INGRAHAM: Parents’ failure to parent. Remember, you’re not Jr.’s friend. You’re not Bethany’s BFF. You are a mother or a father — act like one. Forget “snakes on a plane” — have you seen children running wild on commercial flights? Admit it, sometimes the chaos and noise is so out of control, you wish that “water landing” were not so “unlikely.” Or how about mothers who beam about the fact that they “can wear my daughter’s jeans!” Sweetie, you’re middle-aged, and your midriff looks like day-old Activia yogurt. Your daughter doesn’t need competition, she needs a mother. We have an obligation to guide the next generation toward what is acceptable — what is best for them. She shouldn’t be emulating Lindsay Lohan. And you shouldn’t be emulating Dina.
LOPEZ: Is there one Zing much more important than others?
INGRAHAM: How difficult! Let me count the Zings! Our cultural decay has even followed us into church — one place where we thought we were safe. When did weekly church service become a time to model the latest gym-wear and perform full-body massages on our pew-mates? Have you seen the fellow parishioners who begin caressing one another on the upper scapular region and by the time the homily is over have made it all the way to the tail bone area? Excuse me, but this is supposed to be worship, not a conjugal visit. And a special thanks to the woman I saw coming out of confession a few months back wearing spandex leggings and jog bra masquerading as a tank top — you gave me one more uncharitable thought to confess. God bless you and your entire Hot Yoga studio.
LOPEZ: Do television Democratic and Republican “strategists” alike unjustly make employed commentators look bad?
INGRAHAM: We can make ourselves look bad all on our own. But as long as you’re asking — can we have a question put to these people at the top of each interview? — “Before we get started, Mr. Blowhard, for whom have you strategized lately, and what is your strategizing specialty?” And no, your weekly strategy to find the fastest check-out line at Whole Foods doesn’t count.
LOPEZ: How is Zing in keeping with your previous book Power to the People — which captured the tea-party mood early?
INGRAHAM: Power to the People was a wake-up call for all Americans who thought they couldn’t make a difference in politics. We had the power to make the establishment and the elites listen to us all along, as the tea-party movement demonstrates. We also have the power to transform this culture, make it better every day. Each of us has enormous influence within our own families, circle of friends, and workplaces to model good behavior and habits. We agonize over the issues that we cannot have an immediate impact on — the debt ceiling or terror attacks — and meanwhile the things we actually have the power to change right now, we ignore. As for pop culture: It’s officially popped. The No. 1 selling album on iTunes is from a group called LMFAO. Rihanna’s “S&M” was one of the biggest smashes of the year (how empowering). And Ke$ha is now on her “Get Sleazy” tour. Yesterday she claimed that underneath her lyrics about “drinking and partying like a wild woman,” her music is “really positive.” She wants to “encourage kids to be themselves,” she claims. Sure, if your life’s goal is to flaunt your a$$ets, dabble in drugs, and expect to be paid a lot of money, she’s just the role model for you. Grrrrrl power? Or hurl power?
LOPEZ: You must be the most observant person. . . . I e-mailed you from Amtrak just after reading your new book because it was my first experience realizing what was right in front of me! Thank you, Of Thee I Zing! Where do you get that from?
INGRAHAM: My late mother was hyper-observant, so I probably inherited this curse from her. She taught me how to zing. “Will you look at that one!” was a familiar refrain as she scanned the attire of fellow shoppers at the mall. The reason this book is resonating with so many people of all ages and backgrounds is because these are issues, habits, and trends that we are confronted with every day. Most people witness them with complacency. I don’t. “Live and let live” is nice on a bumper sticker, but hard to practice when you are bombarded by one visual assault after another.
LOPEZ: Was Of Thee I Zing fun to write? Collaborating with our friend Raymond Arroyo must always be . . .
INGRAHAM: We laughed and laughed. Some of the most searing observations I wrote from the elliptical trainer on my Blackberry, while the culture crimes were being committed around me. (Mr. Ear Picker on the recumbent bike, you know who you are.) Then Raymond and I would argue over what represents the worst culture crimes out there. The debates became vicious at times. We took many of the photos in the book ourselves — I once chased a man wearing super skinny jeans down the sidewalk in Scottsdale. I hid behind a lamppost to get the perfect silhouette shot! Raymond even picked up a leaf blower and demonstrated the “un-neighborly” lawn maintenance habit of blowing sticks and grass over into his neighbor’s property! We’ve become so accustomed to things looking, feeling — and yes, smelling — so bad, that at times we feel helpless to change it. This comedic intervention is my way of saying you have the power to turn it around for yourselves and for your children.
LOPEZ: Whose idea was his expression on the cover?
INGRAHAM: This is always his natural reaction when I’m charting the course. That was also the moment the Coast Guard pulled up bearing breathalyzers.
LOPEZ: So do you think of yourself as George Washington crossing the Delaware?
INGRAHAM: That period costume weighed at least 20 pounds! I couldn’t cross my living room in that, let alone the Delaware.
LOPEZ: Your outlook as a relatively new mother infuses your book — as it often does your radio and TV hosting. Why did you adopt? You’re like the last person who would be influenced by celebrity trends so I know that wasn’t the reason.
INGRAHAM: Actually, this is as good a place to share this as any, so here goes — for several years now, Brad Pitt, Madonna, and I have shared custody of one of the recent American Idol finalists. (Better luck next year, baby!)
Seriously, motherhood has been a complete blessing and naturally changed my outlook and focus. I now realize how important our cultural health is to the well-being of society and the immediate effects it has on the young. Simply stated: It’s all about the kids. Mine and yours. What world are we leaving them?
LOPEZ: While zinging the bad habits of others, you tend to be honest about your own struggles. You’re not necessarily in the business of dishing out nonpolitical advice. But as an outspoken single woman who has an unconventional situation, do you have advice for young single women living in these confusing times (for women and men)?
INGRAHAM: Taking dating advice from me is like asking Obama for family-budgeting tips. And if you go on match.com, beware the potential match who posts photos from a previous decade!
LOPEZ: Zinging can be fun and all but ultimately what is this all about? Is it about excellence?
INGRAHAM: Zinging means fearlessly calling out the cultural failings all around us and aspiring to something better. And if after reading this book you still haven’t found your inner Zing, then at least you will have a few laughs along the way.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.