Ben Fountain is an author whom Malcolm Gladwell has declared a genius. Fountain wrote the short story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, his first book, published when he was 48 years old. He followed that up with the novel, Billy Lynn’s Long halftime Walk, that was made into an Ang Lee blockbuster.
Now he’s recently released a non-fiction work entitled Beautiful Country Burn Again, in which he states that this Trump era is just about as much a crisis for our holy land as was the Great Depression or even the Civil War. I agree with him. The perfect storm election of Li’l Duce, his victory on a technicality, is the result of an unholy alliance between greedists, the Taliban-like Christian fundamentalists, the Rand-ian corporatists, and white nationalists. It’s a repudiation of all the progressive advances this country has made since, oh, the Trust-Busters and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, through the New Deal, integration and voting rights, the Great Society, the women’s movement, gay liberation, and all the things I’ve held near and dear that occurred both before I was born and while I’ve inhabited this mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Now that the Republicans have hijacked the United States Supreme Court, accomplished by staging a junta-lite with the Senate’s refusal to vote on Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, the laws of this country will be interpreted by a gang of scary ideologues for decades. With the ever-growing gap between rich and poor, the transformation of our universities into vocational training centers whose products are millions of malleable, debt-ridden consumerists, the modern-day concentration camps that our privately-run prisons are becoming, and the coming climate change-spurred catastrophes, the wealthy had ought to build their gates and walls high and strong between now and, say, 2050.
In any case, Fountain has succinctly described where we are today — and perhaps where we were always headed for decades, nay, centuries prior:
Profit proportionate to freedom; plunder correlative to subjugation.
Sorry kiddies, that’s America today. And maybe that’s been America forever but at least we tried — or pretended to try — that we had higher goals and loftier aspirations. No more.
All In Lear’s Head
I heard an interview with Norman Lear on the NPR program Here and Now this afternoon. Those of us d’un certain âge remember Lear, now 96, as the brains behind the cultural landmark that was the sitcom All in the Family. Honestly, those born after AITF can have no idea how huge the show was, both as a ratings bonanza for CBS and as a mirror held up to our American society. Hell, the first time the sound of a toilet flushing ever emanated from our living room TVs, it was on All in the Family.
Me? I detested All in the Family. Why? Shoot, if I wanted to see that kind of polarized, family drama all I had to do was sit down to dinner with my own nuclear kin. My old man, in fact, had the exact job Archie Bunker did — shipping and receiving dock manager. Oh, and Daddy-o and Archie saw about as eye to eye as any two humans possibly could on things like race relations, women, gays, Vietnam, and any of the other American cultural flashpoints of the early 1970s.
My father loved Archie Bunker. Loved him.
The Here and Now interviewer asked Lear how he managed to portray Archie Bunker as the narrow-minded, incurious, frightened, gleefully ignorant lout he was, spewing out pejoratives like coon, chink, spic, and fag, and have the TV audience get the joke and understand such verbal daggers were weren’t meant to be blessed for general public use by their RCAs and Zeniths.
INTERVIEWER: When you dealt so openly, through Archie Bunker in All in the Family, with racism, there’s racist utterances coming from him in every program, obviously you trusted the audience would get that, that the audience would react appropriately.
LEAR: I had no doubt the audience would get that.
Norman Lear is full of shit.
Keep in mind, AITF premiered in January, 1971. By that fall, it had rocketed to No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings and remained atop the heap for the next five seasons. It would never finish lower than twelfth in the ratings by the time it went off the air in 1979. Everybody watched AITF (‘cept me, natch).
Make no mistake: a huge percentage of its audience, perhaps even a majority of it, loved Archie as much as my father did. They didn’t “get that.” They, too, tossed word bombs like coon (or, even more likely, the N-word), chink, spic, and fag. They loved Archie because he was them. And even though Archie regularly got his comeuppance in each episode, they dug that too because it fed into their nascent sense of aggrievement, a sense that has become paramount in American life these days.
Look, a mere year and a half after AITF premiered, the American electorate reelected one Richard Milhouse Nixon president by the greatest landslide in American history to that point. The Nixon voter was Archie Bunker.
It wasn’t just liberals chuckling about the benighted Bunker that made AITF the number one show on television. It was my Dad, along with a few tens of millions of like-minded souls, saying, Look, that’s me on the TV screen!
BTW: Lear’s original intent was for the Mike Stivic character, played by Rob Reiner, to be the centerpiece of the show. It was only when Lear started getting sacks for of mail telling him how much viewers dug Archie that he switched the show’s focus to the Bunker dad.
Have I mentioned Norman Lear is full of shit?