A meandering inquiry by Maynard (so please blame Maynard and not Tammy for the following perusal of dubious material)
For the purposes of writing this blurb, I’m going to pretend we’re all mature adults. This isn’t strictly true in my case, except to the extent that I hope I can refer to questionable literature without getting blamed for its accompanying baggage. If I leaf through Mein Kampf, it’s not necessarily because Adolf Schicklgruber is my hero.
I’m not a big fan of political literature. I’d rather read novels that have something to say about the human condition, with maybe a bit of history thrown in. Or I might pick up an insightful biography or autobiography. Selected fantasy or science fiction novels grab my attention. Or sometimes I’ll read trashy adventures, just for fun. But I’ll rarely pick up a book about current events, or other works that are likely to push my buttons. I hear enough contemporary commentary in daily life.
Lately I’ve noticed a genre that might be called “literature of the American apocalypse”. Such books tend to pit a John Galt-type figure against an America which, as it fails, is descending into anarchy and/or fascism. I’ve looked with suspicion upon such books as probably being simplistic propaganda or Atlas Shrugged wannabes; perhaps almost a sort of specialty pornography. But they have their fans, and I can see potential for a grand new variety of adventure novel. Maybe I should take a peek. But first, some thoughts about intent and effect…
Certain books or products become attached, rightly or wrongly, to violent events. Kool-Aid is forever linked to the mass suicide at Jonestown. John Lennon’s murderer sat down to read The Catcher in the Rye. Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance was favored by the Unabomber and James Lee, whose manifesto also proclaimed:
Saving the environment and the remaining species diversity of the planet is now your mindset. Nothing is more important than saving them. The Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, Elephants, Froggies, Turtles, Apes, Raccoons, Beetles, Ants, Sharks, Bears, and, of course, the Squirrels.
I can’t blame Kool-Aid or Salinger or Gore for the actions of others. (I’m more concerned that Al Gore’s acolytes will de-industrialize America than that they will bomb and shoot us.) But some books, such as the aforementioned Mein Kampf, may have been written with the intent of enabling violence. I think Obama’s recent references to freeing the slaves, or Harry Reid’s proclamation that his political opponents are the moral equivalent of slaveholders, or Nancy Pelosi’s comment that her political opponents carry swastikas, fall into this category. The Democrat leadership metaphorically identifies Republicans as enemies that must be disposed of with deadly force, and thus gives anyone that takes them seriously something of a psychological permission slip to treat political opponents as armed war criminals. In my estimation, this rises to the level of dangerous hate speech. But getting back to literature…there was a notorious novel, The Turner Diaries, that was apparently inspirational to Timothy McVeigh. The Wiki entry indicates the book is connected with other violent crimes. Aside from being available in print, the text can be downloaded for free, so you needn’t worry about who might be profiting from your reading.
The Amazon listing for Turner has 169 customer reviews, which tilt toward favorable recommendations. I can’t help wondering whether this book has any depth, or whether it’s just cheap shots and ugly stereotypes. I haven’t looked at it, so I’m not yet judging whether it’s evil stuff. But it sounds like it could be.
So what’s the difference between propaganda and art? As Potter Stewart once famously remarked in attempting to define pornography under the law, “I know it when I see it.” On issues like this, we have strong personal opinions, but we understand how others may differ. America is an unusual nation in, among other ways, our exceptionally strong restraint against the government infringing upon a free press. That’s why some us are very concerned about attempts to criminalize or control free expression, such as codes or laws against “hate speech” or the coercive demands for media “fairness” or campaign finance “reform”. In Europe, the governments have much more leeway to stifle speech. Uttering the wrong words about topics such as homosexuality or Islam may earn you a visit from the local authorities, followed by criminal prosecution. To cite a random example, a German man was indicted for sending “Koran” toilet paper to a mosque.
I’m glad I live in a place where free expression still mostly prevails, and I want to make sure we stay that way. As part of my own free expression, I’m ready to verbally condemn hateful stuff. But I do this in hope that my words will persuade, neither seeking nor desiring that my condemnations be backed up by the force of law.
When I read Gordon Liddy’s autobiographical Will some years ago, he mentioned Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will as being the best propaganda film ever made. I rented it to see what Liddy was talking about, but it left me cold. Maybe you have to speak German. Maybe I was put off by crowds. I’m still curious why it was so effective. I think I’m too much of an outsider to be strongly influenced by propaganda. But then, everyone thinks they’re immune. (I do think conservatives are less affected by propaganda than Leftists, in that we are inherently more individualistic. We may, for example, follow a leader, but we don’t teach our children to sing songs praising him. But that’s not the argument I want to have at this moment.)
I’m sorry; I keep drifting off topic here. I should delete the preceding paragraphs, but they interest me so I’ll leave them. It’s the privilege of the blogger to get annoyingly self-indulgent. Again, I’m sorry! Okay, I’ll get back to the point. A couple weeks ago, I picked up American Apocalypse: The Beginning. It had a few sample pages on Amazon, and it looked readable. Much to my surprise, the story drew me in and kept me turning pages. I found the characters and scenarios interesting enough that I had to know how they turned out. I’ve now got the sequel, American Apocalypse II: Refuge. Is this a bad thing? Am I officially becoming a dangerous kook?
Maybe American Apocalypse is an anomaly for me. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy all the books of this genre, and it’s not unlikely that I wouldn’t enjoy any. But this one works for me, sort of like a good Mickey Spillane story. This isn’t high literature, but it’s a heck of a yarn. And, in spite of its theme, it’s relatively detached from today’s specific issues. There are passing references to prominent global politicians and events, but these are mostly background as the narrator struggles to find his place in the rapidly-changing and soon-unrecognizable world. I’m not coming away from it with a sense that my political inclinations have been challenged or reinforced.
Here’s a book I’m curious about. Unintended Consequences, by John Ross. 393 customer reviews on Amazon, overwhelmingly positive. But it’s currently out of print, and used copies cost upwards of $100. What’s going on here? Is this a great book, or is it just a cult phenomenon?
By the way, the cover picture of Unintended Consequences is pretty provocative, and some will find it offensive. I checked the author’s FAQ page, and he addresses the issue.
Q: What’s the deal with the cover?
A: Actually, many readers find the cover art “The Rape of Justice” to be inspired, given the subject matter of the story. My publisher sells poster-size prints of the artwork. Before you accuse me of sensationalism, Lady Justice as depicted by our own government is topless and has a figure worthy of a Playboy centerfold. Look at the statue in Washington, the one John Ashcroft had covered up for the TV cameras. This is the statue Ed Meese is standing in front of in the famous (and hilarious, IMO) wire services photo circa 1985 where he’s whining about the proliferation of adult videos, reading out loud a list of available titles like “Backdoor Housewives VII” and “Oral Majority.” The model for UC’s cover art is an old friend who I asked to play Justice because she had about the same build as the D.C. statue.
Q: I thought your cover was a little hokey, until I saw the news services photo of the Elian Gonzales raid.
A: Yes, life imitates art…
The publisher, which is another small operation (typical of the genre; big publishers don’t want to touch this stuff, or maybe the sales are too minimal to be worth the risk of controversy) says the book will shortly be reprinted. Here’s their website; Unintended Consequences is noted at the bottom of the page.
(As a historical aside, the “Lady Justice” image that comes to mind, with the blindfold and the scales, is fully clothed. But the statue referenced above, Spirit of Justice, indeed displays a bare-breasted Lady Justice, albeit without blindfold or scales (so how are we supposed to know it’s her?). Attorney General John Ashcroft was widely mocked for arranging the statue to be covered. I wish our political establishment was likewise mocked for obliterating the Ten Commandments. By the way, a bare-breasted Lady Liberty appeared briefly on the new Standing Liberty quarter of 1916, but the public quickly demanded that someone give the poor girl some clothing. See the pictures here, you beady-eyed devils. But I digress.)
What are all these books? Good stuff? Or trash? Or worse than trash? At this point, I’m not prepared to answer those questions. Except that I’m enjoying American Apocalypse. Hopefully this admission isn’t enough to put me on a terror watchlist.