Parting Words

Evan LeBon

Political discourse has even seeped its slinky way into the pages of our nation’s high art culture commentary. New York Times Arts contributor Frank Rich made the cultural divide between red states and blue states the center-point of his post-election piece “On ‘Moral Values,’ It’s Blue in a Landslide.” In the article, fussy old Frank notices the nature of 2 November 2004, hammering out the perceived cultural differences between the evangelical Christian right and the liberal media. His ironic conclusion: those “religioso-righities” really aren’t too far away from the orgiastic blue of big media. Among other instances of confused or flip-flopped morality, Rich cites that red-as-a-rail media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News machine on the one hand preaches to the moral values crowd while his other tentacles of enterprise – issue titles like Jenna Jameson’s new book, “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” and the Vivid Girls’ raunchy reference manual, “How to Have a XXX Sex Life,” – scream bloody blue murder. Just savvy business practice? Perhaps, but Rich spies the arrival of everyone’s (Democrats included, mind you) happy friend, hypocrisy, when these selfsame books are shamelessly promoted during Fox News’ broadcasts. So much for cleansing the news in the name of God’s pious children. At any rate, Rich employs an interestingly archaic word in this quest to paint red voters a cool cultural blue: “None of this has prompted an uprising from the red-state Fox News loyalists supposedly so preoccupied with “moral values.” They all gladly contribute fungible dollars to Fox culture by boosting their fair-and-balanced channel’s rise in the ratings. Some of these red staters may want to make love like porn stars besides. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)” Fungible? C’mon Rich, what are we talking about here? Moldy bread? LeBron James’ Nikes? That old gunky shower curtain?


I said fungible was somewhat archaic, and indeed it is an old and foppish word when thrown down in our modern colloquial speech. But, if you happen to practice, teach, or set and shape precedent in the laws, you may be more familiar with its meaning than the rest of us “lay folk.” The OED gives us this preamble to the definition: “The adj. belongs to the Civil Law and to the general theory of jurisprudence; the n. is in addition a current term of the law of Scotland.” The definition is provided in Austin’s 1832 Jurisprudence: “When a thing which is the subject of an obligation … must be delivered in specie, the thing is not fungible, i.e. that very thing, and not another thing of the same or another class in lieu of it must be delivered. Where the subject of the obligation is a thing of a given class, the thing is said to be fungible, i.e. the delivery of any object which answers to the generic description will satisfy the terms of the obligation.” Spare the legalese: unless otherwise specified, fungible things are interchangeable things. In the Saturday Review of 25 December 1886, the word was penned outside the realm of jurisprudence to describe reading habits: “A certain number of persons … do not … regard books as fungible, but exercise a choice as to the books they read.” Perhaps this last quote still applies to the books of today, XXX-rated or not.