Dunciad 2020

Now that we’ve mastered the basics of iambic pentameter, the Telegram Dragons are attempting something epic: a satire in heroic couplets about the weaselly ways of today’s cuckcentrics inspired by Alexander Pope, the Gawain poet, and Sir Edmund Spenser. 

A banquet rich for donors great and small
the Goddess Fama to St. Louis called
to speak in clever phrases, easy rhymes
as up the ladder social grubbers climb.

—“The Centrism Games,” Dragon Common Room, stanza 2 (draft)


Alexander Pope (1688-1744) was not happy. For years he had labored to craft polished pentameters in English, astonishing the reading public of the early eighteenth century with the precision of his meter and rhyme. “A little learning is a dang’rous thing,” he warned them in his precocious “An Essay on Criticism” (1711). “Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring. / There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,  / And drinking largely sobers us again.” 

But none of his contemporaries (in Pope’s view) wanted to drink deep of the spring of learning. They paddled about in the shallows, producing derivative, dull works, jumbling together Tragedy and Comedy, Epic and Farce, mixing their metaphors, and using rhyme to create monstrosities, not beauties of verse. Rather than serving the Muses of History and Poetry, they scribbled at the feet of the Goddess Dullness, churning out Journals, Medleys, Merc’ries, and Magazines, ephemera as soon forgotten as published, their only virtue to have earned their authors a few coins.

Surrounded by sycophants, Dullness held court, seducing poets away from actual learning to compete in meaningless games. Rather than modeling their compositions on the greatest works of English poetry and prose, the poets, playwrights, and journalists of Pope’s day flattered themselves with Dedications to Famous Persons and prided themselves on making as much noise as they possibly could, bleating like Asses and screeching like monkeys, “chattering, grinning, mouthing, jabbering all.” Burning their tomes of theology and philosophy, they grubbed rather for political favors, wallowing in the filthy waters of the Thames with the bodies of dead dogs, themselves as blind as the puppies drowned in the mud.

Plus ça change, eh?

Are you distressed at the mendacity of journalism in the year of Our Lord 2020? Are you bored with tabloid chorus of “commentators” chattering mindlessly day after day? Do you long for a time when people took writing seriously as an exercise in beauty—not to mention grammar, rhetoric, or logic? Do you wish you had more adjectives to describe how disgusted you feel? Does modern criticism put you to sleep? Whom do you blame for the current dreariness of academia, Hollywood, politics, and culture generally? 

꧁☬Welcome to the Centrism Games☬꧂

If the Goddess of 1728 was Dullness, the Goddess of 2020 is Fama, the all-consuming desire for attention, whether it comes from celebrity or social media, peer review or politics. Our media pretends to be at daggers drawn over the differences between Left and Right, but in truth everyone in public life serves the Center—real or perceived. Even as they fling poo at each other for being “deplorables” or “racists,” their real audience is each other, the great Dunciad of the Overeducated Elite. Whether they pretend to serve the Constitution or Social Justice, Tradition or Transformation, the competition is as fake as the games Dullness proposed. 

Thus the propensity on the so-called Right to “cuck” and on the soi-disant Left to virtue signal: everything depends on the favor of Fama, who, like Dullness, “tinselled o’er in robes of varying hues, / With self-applause her wild creation views.” Fama’s sycophants crawl to her throne, desperate for her favor, while she “sees momentary monsters rise and fall; / And with her own fools-colours gilds them all.” Have you noticed the celebrities crumbling this summer as their dopamine doses of attention have been drying up? Fama is a brutal goddess, loving neither her suppliants nor their works. The more they grovel at her feet, the more she despises them, and yet still they stab their rivals for her attention, hoping that it will buy them one more glance of her eye.

What games does Fama propose for her courtiers? What humiliations will they endure for her sake? Imagine the party she gives to lure them, a great banquet betwixt and between, beneath the Gateway Arch at the Center of the Country, the promise of passage from East to West. Fawning and preening, their bowties on straight, their faces immobile with Botox, old-young in their affect, their diction neither elevated nor camp, heaven forbid they said that! They are moderate; they always try to be fair. Differences of religion? No matter, nobody has to choose; all religions teach the same thing. Differences of politics? The goal is the same: stay in office, please the donors, especially the Chinese. 

Everyone is having a neutral, tolerant, electable time, when suddenly, a band of brothers bursts on the scene. They come in all colors—red, yellow, black, and white—but one of their number is oddly green. His beard is bushy and his eyes are bright. With a bellow, he leaps up on one of the tables and pees on the crowd, then begins to eat heartily. The courtiers are appalled. Who is this monster? How did he get in? And why is he green? The murmur rises to near voiced levels, at which the Green Man grins—and begins to speak:

“There are two ways to approach a situation like this: you can be nervous and hope everyone likes you, or you can just throw up your hands and treat everyone around you like puppets someone hired to amuse you.”

The assembly gasps. Nobody has ever spoken this way in their presence, certainly not since they became Important People to Know. They exchange glances, double-checking that nobody has seen them smile at the thought that the others are puppets, not they. But the Green Man is only getting warmed up.

“Fame is fleeting,” he burps. “Popularity an accident; riches take wings. Only one thing endures: character.”

Well! This is too much! Now he has insulted everyone! Who does he think he is? 

“I believe life is about figuring out what you were meant to do and pursuing that, by any means necessary... You can’t just sit on your ass and assume fate is going to tap you on the shoulder... I never complained about people not giving me opportunities. The only time I got mad was when someone stood in my way.”

Everyone nods; he is clearly insane. Why won’t he leave? Can’t he see that he does not belong here, among People Who Matter? It’s almost as if he believes he is in the right, and they are wrong.

And then he issues a challenge.

“You think I’m gross?! Just look at yourselves! I may be vicious—bed-wetting, rude, potty-mouthed, known to have eaten my own cum—but you?! You would betray your own grandmother for a place at this table. You knew me before, my boys, and our friends. And what happened when things got a bit hot? Did you stand up for the things you claim to believe in? Or did you run as fast as you could to stay in the center, terrified at being called ‘Nazis’—or worse?”

At which, Fama smiles. This is her time. Her courtiers are anxious, looking to her. She’ll protect them, right? She won’t let the Green Man win!

Or will she?

This is as far as we have gotten in plotting our epic. Fama has five favored Knights who take up the Green Knight’s challenge with their entourages: A Lady Priest, a Hollywood Celeb, a Rainbow Boy, the Cuomo Bros, and a Pregnant Girl, representing Religion, the Arts, Politics, Tolerance, and Women’s Health. 

Fama sends the Knights off on a quest for a Golden Mask that will protect them from ever having to have a clear opinion. The Lady Priest goes to Washington, DC; the Hollywood Celeb goes to Los Angeles; the Cuomo Bros go to New Orleans; the Rainbow Boys go to Australia; and the Pregnant Girl goes to the Great Salt Lake. 

We have been collecting materials to help us describe each Knight and chosen their destinations to play off of the great myths of America and the West. 

To date, we have begun composing the invocation to our Muse, Middleness—the spirit of perpetual compromise to which “conservatives” seem determined to sing. We have a plot outline and have divided into teams: first, a women’s team to describe Fama and her Court, and a men’s team to introduce the Green Knight and his Boys. Then we will pair off to write the quests of the individual Knights, reconvening under the Arch once we learn what happens on the Quests. 

Will the Knights cuck? Or will they find virtue? To be continued...

Building materials

Alexander Pope, “An Essay in Criticism” (1711), and “The Dunciad” (1728, 1742)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. William Allan Neilson

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1590-1596)

Gavin (a.k.a. Gawain) McInnes, The Death of Cool: From Teenage Rebellion to the Hangover of Adulthood (New York: Scribner, 2012)

Additional resources hoarded in Dragons’ Keep. For beginning instruction, go to “Up, drakes! It’s time for tea—and prosody!” To join the dragons on their quest, come to Telegram

NEXT EXERCISE: The Great Bear Tale



  1. Rachel, you do have a way with words! In your next life maybe 'good journalism' could be your calling?


  2. What actually does the verb form of cuck mean? To be betrayed?

    1. It is short for cuckold, so to not stand up for your own marriage.


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