Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

01 Sep 2012, 15:04 p.m.

Bertie Wooster, Tom Buchanan, and George Oscar Bluth II

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2012 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

In Arrested Development, G.O.B. makes use of a racist felon, "White Power Bill," as the unwilling demonstratee of a magic trick. Humiliated, Bill stabs G.O.B., crying, "White power!" As G.O.B. falls, he croaks, "I'm....white..."

This, like his more famous line "illusions, Dad, you don't have time for my illusions," demonstrates G.O.B.'s knack for the irrelevant riposte, but more clearly reveals why he does it. G.O.B. is entitled and one aspect of his entitlement is the inflexibility of his mindset. He does not even recognize immediately when life has handed him a setback, so his reflex is to immediately nitpick any criticism. Think of how often his conversational turn starts with "Technically, Michael..."

I thought of White Power Bill as I was flipping through The Great Gatsby just now, and reread the Tom-Jay confrontation scene:


Daisy looked desperately from one to the other. "You're causing a row. Please have a little self-control."

"Self-control!" repeated Tom incredulously. "I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea you can count me out.... Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white."

Flushed with his impassioned gibberish he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization.

"We're all white here," murmured Jordan.

They are. But Tom's status anxiety is fungible, channelling into abuse along race, gender, and class lines -- the Triple Crown of the kyriarchy! Fitzgerald makes Tom's racism part and parcel of his hideous dominance fetish, and it makes complete sense that he and White Power Bill would frame their attacks (on other whites) as defenses of whiteness.

But back to the irrelevant riposte, a dialogue trick I adore beyond reason. As a kid I read Wodehouse, and my favorite bit in all of the Jeeves & Wooster tales is from Right Ho, Jeeves. Backstory: Bertie quietly talked to Angela in the garden, making mock of Tuppy in a scheme to get Angela to un-break-up with Tuppy. This did not work, and it turns out Tuppy was hiding in a bush and heard the whole thing. After Tuppy emerges, enraged, Bertie tries to cool him down and is mostly terrible at it.

A sharp spasm shook him from base to apex. The beetle, which, during the recent exchanges, had been clinging to his head, hoping for the best, gave it up at this and resigned office. It shot off and was swallowed in the night.

"Ah!" I said. "Your beetle," I explained. "No doubt you were unaware of it, but all this while there has been a beetle of sorts parked on the side of your head. You have now dislodged it."

He snorted.


"Not beetles. One beetle only."

"I like your crust!" cried Tuppy, vibrating like one of Gussie's newts during the courting season. "Talking of beetles, when all the time you know you're a treacherous, sneaking hound."

It was a debatable point, of course, why treacherous, sneaking hounds should be considered ineligible to talk about beetles, and I dare say a good cross-examining counsel would have made quite a lot of it.

But I let it go.

Bertie Wooster is detail-oriented in all the wrong ways, and sometimes I am foolish that way too, and that exchange has cheered me for twenty years. I may be an annoying, bikeshedding pedant, but I'm not alone, and sometimes we make people laugh.