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United States of Fury
October 7, 2009 8:49 AM   Subscribe

"At 83, he has lived through one third of the lifespan of the United States. If anyone incarnates the American century that has ended, it is him. He was America's greatest essayist, one of its best-selling novelists and the wit at every party. He holidayed with the Kennedys, cruised for men with Tennessee Williams, was urged to run for Congress by Eleanor Roosevelt, co-wrote some of the most iconic Hollywood films, damned US foreign policy from within, sued Truman Capote, got fellated by Jack Kerouac, watched his cousin Al Gore get elected President and still lose the White House, and – finally, bizarrely – befriended and championed the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh." Johann Hari meets Gore Vidal
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth (111 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Read this yesterday, struck me as equal parts perceptive and completely solipsistic.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


In a 1985 piece from The New York Review of Books, "Tennessee Williams: Someone to Laugh at the Squares With," Vidal describes a visit he and Tennessee paid to John F. and Jackie Kennedy in Palm Beach in 1958. According to Vidal, "the Bird" had never heard of "Jack," and repeatedly asked him whether he were a governor or a senator. "Each time, Jack, dutifully, gave name, rank, and party. Then the Bird would sternly quiz him on America's China policy, and Jack would look a bit glum. Finally, he proposed that we shoot at a target in the patio."

"While Jackie flitted about, taking Polaroid shots of us, the Bird banged away at the target. ... At one point, while Jack was shooting, the Bird muttered in my ear, 'Get that ass!' I said, 'Bird, you can't cruise our next president.' The bird chuckled ominously: 'They'll never elect those two. They are much too attractive for the American people.' Later, I told Jack that the Bird had commented favorably on his ass. He beamed. 'Now, that's very exciting,' he said."

posted by Joe Beese at 9:03 AM on October 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


(Of course, I just realized that I said it's half, completely solipsistic. What I mean is that, watching a few of our prominent 20th century intellectuals make it into their 80s and reading how bitter their worldviews became (Vonnegut, Vidal) makes me think that it's a mix of sober assessment and conflation with the end of their own lives.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:03 AM on October 7, 2009


Read this yesterday, struck me as equal parts perceptive and completely solipsistic.

As is and always has been par for the course with Vidal.
posted by blucevalo at 9:07 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


makes me think that it's a mix of sober assessment and conflation with the end...

Eighty years of thinking it can't get any worse and watching it happen?

They earned that bitterness.
posted by rokusan at 9:10 AM on October 7, 2009 [16 favorites]


Eighty years of thinking it can't get any worse and watching it happen?

They earned that bitterness.


I guess I'm lucky in this regard. I got over my "it can't get any worse" notions roundabout the time Ronald Reagan got elected for the first time.

An ACTOR!?!?!? as PRESIDENT!?!?!? And not even a good actor!?!? This made it easy to not so much predict the election (and re-election) of GWB as to not be flabbergasted by it. And so on. Reality seems to have been invented (by God or Evolution) to disappoint us.

And yet, still life on earth sustains (for a while anyway). Are we experiencing a particularly bad patch, right now, this particular moment in space time? Oh, I don't know. Beats 1349.
posted by philip-random at 9:26 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


lVidal is easy enough to belittle but he is often a good critic and fine stylist. Alas, his name dropping has always annoyed me.
posted by Postroad at 9:31 AM on October 7, 2009


Well, at least the Black Death ended up giving poor Europeans higher wages and more political clout. American commoners are still waiting for those.
posted by absalom at 9:31 AM on October 7, 2009


Eighty years of thinking it can't get any worse and watching it happen?

Guh? Longer life expectancy, suffrage for women and African-Americans, the Internet and the moon landing? How is that worse?
posted by electroboy at 9:33 AM on October 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


Hate Gore Vidal? Then you're part of the herd. Don't believe you're part of the herd? Then you are someone who fails at reading between the lines of your U.S. news media.
posted by Zambrano at 9:36 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, at least the Black Death ended up giving poor Europeans higher wages and more political clout.

Interesting fact I just picked up about the Black Death. It hit Britain and France during the 100 Years War. Both sides lost roughly half of their populations, took maybe a year off the fighting, raping, pillaging (mainly because they'd taken such a hit to their tax base) and then got right back at it.

Oh, the good ole days.
posted by philip-random at 9:38 AM on October 7, 2009


How is that worse?

Well, it's definitely gotten worse for all values of X where X represents the real probability of getting to go down on JFK.

Hate Gore Vidal? Then you're part of the herd.

Oh give me a break--there are countless numbers of serious critics of American culture and political policy with greater intellectual rigor and moral depth, not to mention contemporary relevance, than Gore Vidal. I mean, I wouldn't go so far as to say I hate him, but he's definitely best taken in small doses, and with a great big grain of salt.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:42 AM on October 7, 2009 [11 favorites]


An ACTOR!?!?!? as PRESIDENT!?!?!? And not even a good actor!?!?

Even after all these years, I still can't hear the phrase "Governor Schwarzenegger" without thinking I've tuned into some lazy, B-movie, cliched dystopia story.
posted by straight at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


Guh? Longer life expectancy, suffrage for women and African-Americans, the Internet and the moon landing? How is that worse?

That's an awful selective cultural heritage you're presenting. Obviously history is always a mix of good and bad, so it's easy to cherry pick the good and say "Look! Progress!". But wouldn't you say the bad has outweighed the good in the past 50-60 years or so? I mean, have you looked at what the future holds in store for us and our descendants?
posted by symbollocks at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, at least the Black Death ended up giving poor Europeans higher wages and more political clout. American commoners are still waiting for those.

I thought my sarcasm meter was broken before, now I think it's my reality meter.
posted by kmz at 9:51 AM on October 7, 2009


"Hate Gore Vidal? Then you're part of the herd."

Oh give me a break--


I read that as sarcasm... am I wrong? I mean, do people actually say that and expect to be taken seriously anymore? And on metafilter?
posted by symbollocks at 9:52 AM on October 7, 2009


But wouldn't you say the bad has outweighed the good in the past 50-60 years or so?

No, no I wouldn't. I'm open to different opinions though. How has it gotten worse?
posted by electroboy at 9:52 AM on October 7, 2009


Life is better now than it was 50 years ago for American women and gays--Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas.
posted by feste at 9:54 AM on October 7, 2009


I can't say I'm a big fan, but I am looking forward to reading Burr.
posted by grobstein at 9:57 AM on October 7, 2009


Even after all these years, I still can't hear the phrase "Governor Schwarzenegger" without thinking I've tuned into some lazy, B-movie, cliched dystopia story.

Hey! I like Demolition Man!
posted by brundlefly at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Metafilter : struck me as equal parts perceptive and completely solipsistic..
posted by plep at 10:00 AM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


symbollocks:
I mean, have you looked at what the future holds in store for us and our descendants?


No. And you haven't either. Speculations, even well founded ones, are not prophecies.
posted by Nomiconic at 10:02 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Agitprop personified.
posted by LakesideOrion at 10:02 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Life is better now than it was 50 years ago for American women and gays

Yeah, sure, but I'm none of those things!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:07 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Eighty years of thinking it can't get any worse and watching it happen?

Hey, now. I'm as pessimistic as the next MeFite, but I'll happily take 2009, warts and all, over, say, 1941.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:09 AM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


That's an awful selective cultural heritage you're presenting. Obviously history is always a mix of good and bad, so it's easy to cherry pick the good and say "Look! Progress!". But wouldn't you say the bad has outweighed the good in the past 50-60 years or so? I mean, have you looked at what the future holds in store for us and our descendants?

Are you saying you'd rather live in the 60s? I guess it might have been a better time if you were a very rich white male.

Sure, the future could be bad, and probably will be very bad if we don't make some important changes. But wishing for "the good ol' days" is typical neo-con bullshit.
posted by kmz at 10:16 AM on October 7, 2009


You know who else got fellated by Jack Kerouac?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:17 AM on October 7, 2009


But wouldn't you say the bad has outweighed the good in the past 50-60 years or so?

I haven't a clue! I don't even know what the "average" person thinks these days, or how he lives. Forget about knowing what life was REALLY like 15-25 years before I was born.

The only thing that could be more complicated than that would be devising a set of standards to rate those lives.

I mean, have you looked at what the future holds in store for us and our descendants?

No, I don't have that power.
posted by Edgewise at 10:17 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is half fascinating tell-all (blown by Jack Kerouac? My, that's something) and half apopleptic get-off-my-lawn ("Benjamin Franklin saw all this coming," he says. "I quote him because most Americans don't even know who he was now. You'll have to explain to your readers." Hari dutifully follows with a one-line Franklin biography). Whether or not "Jack [Kennedy] knew the great world", at least Obama won his election fair and square.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:19 AM on October 7, 2009


I thought my sarcasm meter was broken before, now I think it's my reality meter.

Eh? You mean about the Black Death leading to increased wages and political power for peasants? That's like Western Civ 101.
posted by absalom at 10:24 AM on October 7, 2009


Every time I see Gore Vidal mentioned nowadays, I fear it is to announce his death.

The linked Independent article was rather mild, compared with this one in The Times.
We’ll have a military dictatorship fairly soon, on the basis that nobody else can hold everything together. Obama would have been better off focusing on educating the American people. His problem is being over-educated. He doesn’t realise how dim-witted and ignorant his audience is. Benjamin Franklin said that the system would fail because of the corruption of the people and that happened under Bush.
posted by ijsbrand at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


but he thinks the population is too cretinous and drugged by television and fast food

He hasn't even updated his cliches since the 1970s. Isn't it X-Box and text messaging now? Lol.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:29 AM on October 7, 2009



I thought my sarcasm meter was broken before, now I think it's my reality meter.

Eh? You mean about the Black Death leading to increased wages and political power for peasants? That's like Western Civ 101.


No, the ridiculous part was where you suggested that it was therefore better to be a peasant survivor of the Black Plague than a modern American. Notwithstanding the Plague income bump, poor Americans are vastly more wealthy than medieval peasants, because a big share of all economic growth in human history has happened over the intervening period.
posted by grobstein at 10:30 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


The problem with getting blown by Jack Kerouac is probably that you hear how great it is for years and years from everybody so you feel obligated to try it- then it starts out decent, but just goes on and on and on and on and you lose all interest but you feel obligated to finish anyway.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:32 AM on October 7, 2009 [34 favorites]


Thirty years after the head on the pillow, I am at the Paris airport, Orly. Next to me, a French youth; he is wearing a T-shirt with Jack's face on it. I ask if he has read Jack. Yes, he has read one book - had I read him? I said that I had; in fact, I'd known him. The boy was stunned, as if I had said that I'd known Rimbaud. Did he really look like this? He patted his thin chest. I was tactful. Yes, he did for a time, and that's all that's necessary, to look like that - to be like that - for a time, as time is an eminence most famous for running out on all of us. - Gore Vidal, Palimpsest
posted by Joe Beese at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2009


poor Americans are vastly more wealthy than medieval peasants

Related: NPR's Planet Money podcast took a look at the economic and cultural lives of medieval peasants in Europe and China. Worth a listen, despite the PM gang's propensity for yammering.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:44 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


But wouldn't you say the bad has outweighed the good in the past 50-60 years or so?

i think we stand a little better, all told - economically, things have been precarious for the lower half for a good long time - intellectually, this country's been running on half a brain since it started - socially, things are quite a bit freer now than they were 50 years ago; it's not even debatable

i think part of the reason for gore's bitterness is that he had to lower his expectations, as a lot of people have over the past 40 or so years - that doesn't mean that things are WORSE, but that they didn't come anywhere near living up to the expectations people had

we've barely stayed even in the last 10 years, though, and i have to wonder if we're going to make any progress anytime soon
posted by pyramid termite at 10:45 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I haven't trusted Vidal's judgment since he referred to Mishima as a "third-rate novelist" in the NYRB. Particularly rich coming from him.
posted by Makoto at 10:47 AM on October 7, 2009


Is Gore Vidal something I would have to be smug and/or smarmy to understand?

THIS COMMENT HAS BEEN AN INTENTIONAL SELF-REFLEXIVE INFINITELY RECURSIVE METACOMMENT
posted by sciurus at 10:55 AM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


I prefer Gore De Vol.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:58 AM on October 7, 2009


But wouldn't you say the bad has outweighed the good in the past 50-60 years or so?

I've got to admit it's getting better. A little better, all the time.

Seriously though, a worldview in which things haven't been getting steadily, in aggregate, slowly better (in the United States and many other countries) is so vastly divergent from mine that I can't even fathom it.

Also whenever people pine for a more-distant past, I just think of a toilet flushing and smile at the glorious wonders of indoor plumbing.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:59 AM on October 7, 2009


Also whenever people pine for a more-distant past, I just think of a toilet flushing and smile at the glorious wonders of indoor plumbing.

I'd like to think strong national character and superior sanitation aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by phrontist at 11:42 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to think strong national character and superior sanitation aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by phrontist


Um, when prior to superior sanitation was there ever "strong national character"?
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:44 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even after all these years, I still can't hear the phrase "Governor Schwarzenegger" without thinking I've tuned into some lazy, B-movie, cliched dystopia story.

That and the fact that there's a growing religion that believes in a space alien called Xemu.

I take Vidal's bitterness with a slight grain of salt, but the man's sharp. I'm with Zambrano- the vast majority of us is in denial, and even those who are realizing there's something Seriously Wrong don't quite get just how south things could go.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um, when prior to superior sanitation was there ever "strong national character"?

Right after the Weimar Republic?
posted by electroboy at 11:57 AM on October 7, 2009


I don't think that ignoring the pronouncements of Gore Vidal is the sign of civilization gone awry. The man's responsible for "Myra Breckinridge," for crying out loud.
posted by blucevalo at 11:59 AM on October 7, 2009


dunkadunc: "I take Vidal's bitterness with a slight grain of salt, but the man's sharp... even those who are realizing there's something Seriously Wrong don't quite get just how south things could go."

To establish my pessimism credentials: I assume that we're heading for a South American-style kleptocracy with a few rich families enjoying their luxuries behind high walls manned by armed security, a small bureaucrat class to keep things running, and everyone else suffering in wretched, squalid poverty.

But I think how fast we get there remains to be seen. For example: in 1982, when the nuclear freeze movement was at its height, I doubt many believed that we'd reach 2010 without blowing ourselves up. So it's best to be modest predicting the future.

Re Vidal, one must also factor in that, with advancing age, there's a very strong temptation to project one's own personal doom on to the world at large. H.G. Wells fell prey to that.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:59 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


But wouldn't you say the bad has outweighed the good in the past 50-60 years or so?

Absolutely not.

Taking the global perspective, the biggest change for the better is probably decolonization. 60 years ago, much of the world still belonged to Europe, and Europe didn't treat its toys very well.* Now almost everywhere in the world governs itself. Also, over the past 60 years the proportion of the human race who lives in fear of the murderous tyrants who rule them has declined precipitously. It's arguably not sustainable, but the proportion of the world who is in danger of outright famine has also plummeted. The proportion of people who die of smallpox has actually gone to zero.

Taking the US perspective, it's only in the past 50 or 60 years that the US has treated civil rights and liberties as anything other than a bad joke.

*Neither did the US, but apart from the Pacific trust the US was pretty well decolonized by 60 years ago.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:03 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


He lost me with his defense of McVeigh. Or maybe he lost it.
posted by monospace at 12:03 PM on October 7, 2009


Or, I guess:

Go ask old people in Algiers, or Calcutta, or Shanghai, or Prague, or Warsaw, or Manila, or Cape Town, or Gaborone (Botswana), or Tehran whether things are better now or 60 years ago. Shit, go ask old people in Moscow and Kinshasa.

Go ask old black people anywhere in the US whether things are better now than 60 years ago. Go ask old gay people anywhere in the fucking world whether things are better now than 60 years ago.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:10 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was hoping for more links to Vidal's essays, but after searching, I couldn't find very many that were freely accessible online. But for anyone who enjoys his writing, I would seriously recommend the massive collection of essays titled United States.

I did manage to find a few good things online, however...

From the New York Review of Books:
Mark Twain's Reputation—in reply to a Letter to the Editors
Rosebud—in reply to a Letter to the Editors
"Remembering Orson Welles"

And from Esquire:
A comment on the philosophy of Ayn Rand (July 1961)
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:14 PM on October 7, 2009


one must also factor in that, with advancing age, there's a very strong temptation to project one's own personal doom on to the world at large.

There better be, I mean its the only thing motivating me to make it past sixty.
posted by mannequito at 12:19 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


He's wrong on the people don't know they're being shafted, I think. But this is mostly because he focuses on the religious right red state thing and seems to believe that such people cannot be complex. That and the fact that there's really not a whole hell of a lot they can do about it.

As to superior sanitation and strong national character, the Romans had both. Make of that what you will.

(My recollection from Palimpsest is that his conjunction with Kerouac was at the other end. Perhaps I misrecall. I did just think it a remarkable bit of overshare.)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:34 PM on October 7, 2009


Well, 65 years ago Roosevelt called for a Second Bill of Rights, as Michael Moore points out in his new movie. No sign of anything like that in recent days.
posted by No Robots at 12:36 PM on October 7, 2009


"...befriended and championed the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh."

And, for this alone, I maintain that he's either batshit insane or an attention whore of epic scale. Either way, fuck him.
posted by VicNebulous at 12:37 PM on October 7, 2009


Longer life expectancy, suffrage for women and African-Americans, the Internet and the moon landing? How is that worse?

Oh, oh, I can cherry pick too!

How about AIDS, Chernobyl, a credit-card society, the ozone layer / global warming, radical fundamentalism, and the slide of the USA much, much further to the right than anyone who grew up during WWII could ever have guessed was possible?

My point was that when a very old and wise person concludes that "Yes, these times really are awful, and things are getting worse." while a young person saying "No way, things are way better now than the olden days, old man. We rock!"....

Well, I tend to respect and believe the one who has actual experience, even if I don't like what that means.

The fact many commenters have to go back to the middle ages to find scarier times is telling, I think. Vidal was born in 1925: only the 20th century is really in play here.
posted by rokusan at 12:41 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


“If anyone incarnates the American century that has ended, it is him”
Yeah, no way it could be Albert Einstein, Walter Cronkite, Charles Merrill, Joe DiMaggio, Jonas Salk, Enrico Fermi, MLK...

“Everything we had been saying about racial integration was vindicated," he says, "but he's incompetent. He will be defeated for re-election..”

Pfft. He probably won’t even be elected in the first place.

“…The only way to handle them is to terrify them. He's too delicate for that."

Sure. Why don’t you call. Hell, why not raise him? No way he’s got the cards. No. Way.

I'm not a big fan of Vidal. I think he’s been at least on target on a bunch of things.
But here... wow, he hates women.
And the McVeigh thing… I thought I’d kind of like seeing at least one liberal on board with the idea that Waco was a cardinal sin in terms of government overreaction, but I guess not. Kinda like the NRA saying Jesus wants you to have a gun. Dammit, just stay off my side, ok?
There has to be some rational ground in opposition to excess devoid of justifying (even ‘accidental’) deliberate targeting and murder of innocent people and children.

“Since Americans refuse to think about anything, being incapable I suspect of thought, then they're not going to come to any conclusions except mistaken ones”
Sure thing Gore. It's always the man in the street being stupid, not method or communication or cooperation.
Some folks get blown by literati, some folks work to organize to put food in front of poor kids. But I guess they’re brainless dolts like that John Updike. Two pulitzer prizes, pfft. Punk.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:43 PM on October 7, 2009


VicNebulous: Did you read his piece on McVeigh? All he's really asking is, "Why just fuck McVeigh? Why not also fuck the FBI, the ATF and Janet Reno?"
posted by No Robots at 12:46 PM on October 7, 2009


Well, I tend to respect and believe the one who has actual experience, even if I don't like what that means.

So um, you can only have a valid opinion about things if you were alive for them? Suck it, historians!
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:48 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm willing to bet that there are not a small number of old people, regardless of color, creed, decolonization status, or location, who would happily argue that certain things (not all things) were better off (assuming that you could ever identify a stable meaning of "better off" that would mean the same thing to a farmer in Kinshasa and a pensioner in Warsaw) for them 60 years ago, including the fact that they were 60 years younger then.

It has not as much to do with the actual state of things today versus 60 years ago as it has to do with nostalgia and a sense that things in today's world have gotten seriously off-track. I think this would be true of any time period. Generally speaking, the older you get, the more you pine for times gone.
posted by blucevalo at 12:49 PM on October 7, 2009


"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint" - Hesiod, 8th century BCE.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:59 PM on October 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


Well, it's something of a paradox. Certainly the quality of life for many people has been getting better over the last century. But the quality of American politics have gotten worse over the last 30 years. You know something's really wacky when Republicans attack Obama for environmental and foreign policy positions that had previously been championed by Nixon and Ford. So perhaps he is being overly curmudgeonly, but personally, I share his frustration that our politics are dominated by a batshit crazy Republican party and a Democratic party that's afraid to say "no."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:00 PM on October 7, 2009


Goddamn that McVeigh essay is awesome.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:07 PM on October 7, 2009


I don't care how good a polemicist he might be when he's in top form. I will never forgive Gore Vidal for writing the astonishingly awful "Live from Golgotha."

And don't make the mistake of thinking that just because he's a skilled (if self-indulgent) rhetorician, his thinking is necessarily sound. In fact, it's probably a good idea to be especially skeptical of writers who are skilled, as Vidal is, in making the substance of their ideas nearly impossible to separate from the poetry of their language.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on October 7, 2009


Well, I tend to respect and believe the one who has actual experience, even if I don't like what that means.

Problem here, friend, is that you are respecting the experience of one who was born charmed to begin with, by the mere fact of his being white and born in America. This brings up questions about the definition of 'better' and 'worse'. Are we talking about in the aggregate? Is the measure of things getting 'worse' based on the experiences of one privileged white male or do we have to look at the vast majority of humanity? I would say that any scale that wants to be taken half seriously needs to consider what the aggregate well being of most of the planet is. And by that, Gore Vidal can suck it, because boo hoo all his super high expectations aren't met but guess what, the vast majority of humanity doesn't have super high expectations. Shit, event the vast majority of Americans don't have super high expectations. So, this "actual experience", it ain't exactly 'actual' for most people. As said above, go ask an old black person, an old jewish person, an old gay person, etc etc.
posted by spicynuts at 1:26 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Optimus Chyme: "Goddamn that McVeigh essay is awesome."

If nothing else, it confirms my impression of a certain "journalist":

... live on television, I mentioned the unmentionable word "why," followed by the atomic trigger word "Waco." Charles Gibson, 3,500 miles away, began to hyperventilate. "Now, wait a minute…" he interrupted. But I talked through him. Suddenly I heard him say, "We’re having trouble with the audio." Then he pulled the plug that linked ABC and me. The soundman beside me shook his head. "Audio was working perfectly. He just cut you off."

But this the gold:

There was to be only one story; one man of incredible innate evil wanted to destroy innocent lives for no reason other than a spontaneous joy in evildoing. From the beginning, it was ordained that McVeigh was to have no coherent motive for what he had done other than a Shakespearean motiveless malignity.

Replace "McVeigh" with "9/11 hijackers", etc.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:32 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


And don't make the mistake of thinking that just because he's a skilled (if self-indulgent) rhetorician, his thinking is necessarily sound. In fact, it's probably a good idea to be especially skeptical of writers who are skilled, as Vidal is, in making the substance of their ideas nearly impossible to separate from the poetry of their language.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on October 7


This is true and I totally agree and McVeigh is still a fucking murderer. But the U.S. government indeed illegally killed a shitload of American children at Waco. Neither excuses the other.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:32 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Short summery of interview:

I'm old and going to die soon. Soon, America is going to go to hell in a handbasket.

The end.


I had no idea that Gore Vidal was the spiritual inspiration for Grandpa Simpson.
posted by mygoditsbob at 1:33 PM on October 7, 2009


"As said above, go ask an old black person, an old jewish person, an old gay person, etc etc."

According to Wikipedia, "Vidal has had affairs with both men and women," and William F. Buckley famously called him a "queer."
posted by No Robots at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2009


Yeah, Vidal is uncharacteristically off his rocker on his statements about the Oklahoma City bombing. He contradicts his earlier work in claiming that the U.S. Government killed more people at Waco, and that McVeigh didn't intend to kill anyone.

It's chilling that McVeigh's response to the militarization of federal law enforcement was to treat federal employees as fair casualties in a just war. But Vidal's original "defense" of McVeigh was, IMO a fairly reasonable response to the ways in which the government and talking heads were busy trying to cover up the disturbing and unanswered questions that surround the case.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:43 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even after all these years, I still can't hear the phrase "Governor Schwarzenegger" without thinking I've tuned into some lazy, B-movie, cliched dystopia story.

In the same vein as the sports almanac that wins Biff his riches in the Back to the Future trilogy, I've long thought that if I had a time machine, it'd be a hoot to go back to 1987 and wait outside a screening of Predator and then bet all takers that two of the stars of the movie they'd just seen would be governors of US states within 20 years.

This might seem like an unconscionably trivial use of a time machine, but if Gore Vidal's right then there'd be no point in trying to improve the general thrust of history anyway.
posted by gompa at 1:53 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, "Vidal has had affairs with both men and women," and William F. Buckley famously called him a "queer."

According to Vidal himself (article in original post quoted below), he refuses to be called gay and has at best an ambivalent attitude about the concept of a gay identity.

"Strangely, though, Vidal has always resisted the idea that he is a 'gay' champion. 'I never said I was gay, because I don't think anyone is.' He says he finds 'these restrictions tiresome. In the centuries of Rome's great military and political success, there was no differentiation between same-sexers and other-sexers; there was also a lot of crossing back and forth. Of the first 12 Roman emperors, only one was exclusively heterosexual.' .... So homosexuality and heterosexuality are fictions? 'Yes, of course.' He adopts a camp voice and adds: "But it makes a lot of girls happy.' "
posted by blucevalo at 1:57 PM on October 7, 2009


But the U.S. government indeed illegally killed a shitload of American children at Waco. Neither excuses the other.

And to be fair, Vidal does raise a good point about the failure of the US media to probe and critically analyze the underlying factors that contribute to events like the Oklahoma City bombing and the Sept. 11th attacks. Our culture's knee-jerk tendency to dismiss all such events as the works of irrational madmen (or more recently, hordes of irrational madmen) whose motivations must be wholly incomprehensible to all right-thinking people is dangerously obtuse.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:00 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


It seems some here find it strange that an old, privileged white American male should be protesting social and political decay, rather than enjoying his bailout money in some Caribbean tax-shelter. I guess that's kinda Vidal's point, though.
posted by No Robots at 2:02 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Strangely, though, Vidal has always resisted the idea that he is a 'gay' champion. 'I never said I was gay, because I don't think anyone is.' He says he finds 'these restrictions tiresome.

Yeah, you know the Hedonismbot character that occasionally makes an appearance on Futurama? Gore Vidal's always the first person who pops into my mind when I see him.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:05 PM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Problem here, friend, is that you are respecting the experience of one who was born charmed to begin with...

Not Vidal (or Vonnegut)-specific. I think it applies to all old folk. I think we too casually write them off as if any pessimistic opinions don't matter "because they're old and bitter."

Society doesn't seem to value the wisdom of the old, anymore, is my point.
posted by rokusan at 2:12 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


My point was that when a very old and wise person concludes that "Yes, these times really are awful, and things are getting worse." while a young person saying "No way, things are way better now than the olden days, old man. We rock!"

Or, alternatively, it's not a surprising conclusion for broken down old blueblood whose best days are long behind him. It's not surprising, and it's not novel, because you can find hundreds of instances throughout history where people have said the exact same thing. If even a handful of them were actually right, the whole human species would've gone extinct long ago.

I'm not saying we still don't have problems, but for the vast majority of people things are much much better than they used to be. But I suppose if you went from literally being fellated by Jack Kerouac and dining with the Kennedys, you might feel differently.
posted by electroboy at 2:13 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Our culture's knee-jerk tendency to dismiss all such events as the works of irrational madmen (or more recently, hordes of irrational madmen) whose motivations must be wholly incomprehensible to all right-thinking people is dangerously obtuse.

Well said.

The media's official "just a lone nut / bad apple / evil person" explanations for everything bad that has happened to America* all seem to come from the same place: infantilizing, insulting, and chilling.

(* I was about to say "since the Kennedy assassination", there, when I realized Pearl Harbor also counts. Those crazy, evil, subhuman Japanese attacking us for no reason at all!)
posted by rokusan at 2:19 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Life is better now than it was 50 years ago for American women and gays
Yeah, sure, but I'm none of those things!
posted by Alvy Ampersand


To be fair, Alvy, you are the "and" part.
posted by rokusan at 2:38 PM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


"I was accustomed to felicitate myself on the certainty of a happy life which I enjoyed, through placing my happiness in something durable and distant, in which some progress might always be making, while it could never be exhausted by complete attainment. This did very well for several years, during which the general improvement going on in the world and the idea of myself as engaged with others in struggling to promote it, seemed enough to fill up an interesting and animated existence. But the time came when I awakened from this as from a dream." -- Autobiography of John Stuart Mill
posted by blucevalo at 2:45 PM on October 7, 2009


electroboy: Really? Because statistically speaking multiple measures of quality of life are starting to get worse in the United States, not better. Even before overextended banks collapsed in the bubble taking the economy with it, the pace of wages against inflation was stagnating, the gap between classes was growing, larger numbers of people were getting by with contract or part-time employment, and life expectancy looks like it might start getting shorter due to crises in healthcare and nutrition. Meanwhile, our economy is burning through multiple non-renewable resources at a rapid pace.

So I don't think Vidal is speaking from his personal experience here at all. He knows he's sitting cozy on a shitload of privilege and comfort and will die much more comfortably than most. But it's pretty hard to feel optimistic about American politics given the celebration of stupidity from Republicans and the lack of will from Democrats.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:54 PM on October 7, 2009


it'd be a hoot to go back to 1987 and wait outside a screening of Predator and then bet all takers that two of the stars of the movie they'd just seen would be governors of US states within 20 years.

Not to mention the third that ran and lost.
posted by brundlefly at 3:00 PM on October 7, 2009


Society doesn't seem to value the wisdom of the old, anymore, is my point.

I actually read a pretty cool argument about this recently. Basically, 1) accumulated "wisdom" is less valuable because social change has rendered it partially obsolete, and 2) family hierarchies are less important to social advancement, so fewer people pay them respect.

So don't blame young people, blame economic growth and atomistic society.
posted by grobstein at 3:02 PM on October 7, 2009


Because statistically speaking multiple measures of quality of life are starting to get worse in the United States, not better.

As a bunch of people have pointed out upthread, it all depends on what timescale you're looking at and where you're starting from, socioeconomically.

Over Vidal's lifetime 60% of Americans claimed their right to vote, life expectancy increased by 20 years, the modern welfare state was created, 3 states in the US and 20 or so countries worldwide recognize gay marriage, polio and smallpox were eradicated, the Green Revolution prevented a billion people from starving to death and we invented the photovoltaic panel and nuclear power.

So by the "Can the American worker buy more stuff?" measure of things, you're probably right. We do make less than our counterparts from 30 years ago. But from the prospective of "Am I not dead, legally disenfranchised or starving?" I'd say we're much better off. I'm not trying to be Pollyannish. We have very real problems, but I think we have the tools to fix them.
posted by electroboy at 3:33 PM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


brundlefly: "Not to mention the third that ran and lost."

It was that damned nose of his.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:44 PM on October 7, 2009


So that whole 'illegal Iraq War doing away with 400 years of Westphalian sovereignty' thing, and that dropping nuclear bombs on other countries thing, not to mention openly torturing people -- is all that due to Gore getting old too?
posted by stinkycheese at 6:02 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Vidal also wrote Messiah, one of the great future history SF novels of the 1950s and very much in the mode of the massvertising broadcast dystopias that became popular conceits among the American and British SF writers of the 1960s. Fritz Leiber,m of course, was already ahead of Vidal's curve. Anyway, for that novel alone I can forgive Vidal all that name dropping.
posted by meehawl at 6:06 PM on October 7, 2009


Vidal also wrote Myra Breckinridge.

To begin an appreciation of how ballsy a fuck-you to the dominant culture that book represented, consider that, at the time of its publication, the top-rated television program in America was The Andy Griffith Show.

The lions become toothless. But once they roared.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:07 PM on October 7, 2009


The fact many commenters have to go back to the middle ages to find scarier times is telling, I think.

Okay. How about pretty much anywhere in Europe ... say 65 years ago? Not to mention huge chunks of Asia and Africa. Or just the good ole USA, 59 years ago.

The point is not that things are much worse or much better; they are both. This is the nature of so-called progress, a double-edged sword if ever there was one. That is, boy, I sure love my laptop and my wireless modem and my ipod loaded with cool dubstep c/o some recent downloads ... but all that plastic in the Pacific Ocean sure sucks.

Like George Dekker said.
posted by philip-random at 7:40 PM on October 7, 2009


Joe Beese, I read your comments in Don LaFontaine's voice.
posted by clockzero at 7:47 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Oh give me a break--there are countless numbers of serious critics of American culture and political policy with greater intellectual rigor and moral depth, not to mention contemporary relevance, than Gore Vidal."

Moral depth? What the hell is that? Contemporary relevance? Jesus Christ. So, this moral depth, it occurs in a very limited time frame of Popular Culture Now? Or what? (My mind is blown every time I see or hear 'moral' put in front of another word to create a phrase. That is a recent development that betrays a lack of just about everything.)
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:27 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


clockzero: "Joe Beese, I read your comments in Don LaFontaine's voice."

I didn't recognize the name, so I had to look it up. I thought you might mean that NFL Films guy.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:56 PM on October 7, 2009


The fact many commenters have to go back to the middle ages to find scarier times is telling, I think.

all i have to do is go back to 1962 - you know when your dad makes a point of buying a battery radio - which was not a trivial thing in those days - and starts to pile up sandbags on the ping pong table in the basement - well, even at 5 years old, it was kind of damned obvious that some heavy shit was going on ...
posted by pyramid termite at 9:26 PM on October 7, 2009


Moral depth? What the hell is that?

What I'm saying is that Vidal's moral sensibilities are shallow, and I believe they are. And if they weren't, the next criticism (that he's lost his cultural relevance) probably wouldn't apply.

Contemporary relevance?

He's no longer relevant because his ideas frankly aren't all that vital anymore. You're free to disagree, but in my own view, the man is a legacy whose cultural moment passed long ago. He embodies certain attitudes and worldviews that are no longer compatible with the particular point in history we occupy.

Despite his literary gifts (which I won't dispute are formidable), he's never really pushed himself much beyond his comfortable role playing the self-aggrandizing provocateur and spokesman for a particular kind of debauched pseudo-intellectualism that once exemplified the American cultural vanguard. But I think (and actually hope) that cultural perspective has finally fallen by the wayside.

In many ways, Vidal is the stereotypical liberal bogey man: He's arrogant. He's ostentatiously erudite, and glib to the point of seeming almost compulsively condescending. He's sexually rapacious and un-apologetically gluttonous. And those are just his virtues.

So in my opinion, Vidal belongs to a generation of liberal writers and thinkers that, despite all their literary accomplishments (which were undeniably important and vitally relevant within their particular historical context), inadvertently did as much damage to the causes of secular humanism and progressive politics in American culture as any of the machinations of the political right.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:48 PM on October 7, 2009


MetaFilter: a particular kind of debauched pseudo-intellectualism that once exemplified the American cultural vanguard.

BTW, Vidal's Creation is a great piece of work, not to mention ostentatiously erudite. But then again, anything involving Zoroastrianism has gotta be erudite, no?
posted by rdone at 10:19 PM on October 7, 2009


Saul, I disagree. As I see it the two main prongs of Vidal's political thought are:

1. The questioning of sexual identity, placing us all on the same sexual spectrum rather than pigeonholing people into constructed definitions or identities;

2. The painstaking dismantling of the idea of American innocence, pointing out that the thrust for empire and hyperpower is in fact a long-standing theme in American history rather than a recent and inexplicable diversion from business as usual.

Those ideas appear to be as relevant today, and explosive today, as they ever have been.

I absolutely adore Vidal and I find the mixed reception he gets on Metafilter to be a real pity. I really think that many people on the American left won't realise what a treasure you have in Vidal until after he's gone. That, I suppose, it the price of being on the scene for 60 years - you become part of the cultural furniture. I don't see a successor anywhere.
posted by WPW at 12:36 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


How about AIDS,

vs Smallpox? (WHO estimates that 2 million died of smallpox in 1967 (comparable with AIDS figures despite the smaller world population) and that was after we'd really started to eradicate it - the situation was far worse sixty years ago).

Chernobyl,

If you want to reachmore than twenty three years into the past for things to be cleaned up I'm not sure whether to mention the Dust Bowl or Hiroshima.

a credit-card society,

Sixty four years ago, Sixteen Tons was at the top of the charts. I'll take the credit cards over Company Stores...

the ozone layer / global warming,

Fifty years ago, the Cuyahoga River was so poluted it literally caught fire. (And this wasn't the first time it had done so). Sixty seven years ago, smog was so bad that in London in 1952 the low estimate is that 4000 people were killed by the one great smog. These days the environmental problems we are most concerned with are ones that can't be seen and that work on a lag on a large scale. They aren't even things that people would have noticed sixty years ago.

radical fundamentalism,

Because that's new? Or is more scary as an ideological grounds for opposition than Communism was?

and the slide of the USA much, much further to the right than anyone who grew up during WWII could ever have guessed was possible?

Because who who grew up in WWII would ever possibly think that the right wing might start witch hunts and accuse the Democratic party of treason? Or of attempting to disenfranchise the poor?

My point was that when a very old and wise person concludes that "Yes, these times really are awful, and things are getting worse." while a young person saying "No way, things are way better now than the olden days, old man. We rock!"....

Well, I tend to respect and believe the one who has actual experience, even if I don't like what that means.


All else being equal I would normally agree with you. But rather than blindly taking the word of either, I prefer to compare them to reality. And quite frankly the old guy turns out to not be that wise or that knowledgable about the history that took place within his own lifetime.
posted by Francis at 5:16 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seemingly I can't count in the above comment. Or thought that the year was 2019 rather than 2009...
posted by Francis at 5:44 AM on October 8, 2009


electroboy: So by the "Can the American worker buy more stuff?" measure of things, you're probably right. We do make less than our counterparts from 30 years ago. But from the prospective of "Am I not dead, legally disenfranchised or starving?" I'd say we're much better off. I'm not trying to be Pollyannish. We have very real problems, but I think we have the tools to fix them.

Sure, and I'm not talking about "can the American worker buy more stuff?" I'm talking about the standard of "can the American worker provide for a household without crippling levels of debt?" and "will my nieces live longer than I will?" Two questions about which I have significant doubt.

Of course we are better now than in the 1920s. The big questions that Vidal is skeptical on is whether those gains are likely to stagnate or recede while other world powers eclipse us. It's hard to consider our prospects rosy when kids in the United States die from want of a $60 tooth extraction, bankrupting their parents in the process.

Francis: All else being equal I would normally agree with you. But rather than blindly taking the word of either, I prefer to compare them to reality. And quite frankly the old guy turns out to not be that wise or that knowledgable about the history that took place within his own lifetime.

Well, frankly. I don't see that Vidal idolizes American history to the extent of the silly strawman you and others invoke here. Comparing environmental disasters and public health pandemics is something of a red herring.

Can the progress we've made over the last century be maintained given that we've had 30 years of administrations undermining the rights on which that progress is built? Can the United States not only maintain its own progress, but keep pace with that of other industrialized nations? And the answer to both questions seem to be "no."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:31 AM on October 8, 2009


I don't see that Vidal idolizes American history to the extent of the silly strawman you and others invoke here.

Not just American, world history. The standard of living worldwide has risen dramatically over Vidal's lifetime. But Vidal's a polemicist, I don't expect him to examine the 20th century and talkabout the positive developments.

The big questions that Vidal is skeptical on is whether those gains are likely to stagnate or recede while other world powers eclipse us.

You can make a solid argument that the baseline for American prosperity is skewed. The 20th century essentially starts with WWI, moves to the stock market crash and the great depression, then WW2, followed by a huge economic expansion and population increase. The future is almost certainly going to be unlike the 1950s, which seems to the baseline for most people, economically (and socially, in some cases).

Can the progress we've made over the last century be maintained given that we've had 30 years of administrations undermining the rights on which that progress is built?

Depends on how you define progress. Depends on what rights you think are being taken from you.
posted by electroboy at 7:04 AM on October 8, 2009


WPW: As I've said, I don't mean to dismiss Vidal entirely. His best work has dealt with some important ideas, but unfortunately, Vidal has no unique claim to those ideas, and IMO others have done a much better job of bringing those ideas into the public discourse without at the same time provoking hostility to them.

Now, this next point speaks to his personal life, not his work, but it's hard to cleanly separate the two when it comes to a monstre sacré like Vidal.

Vidal is literally the kind of odious man who, after carrying on a sexual affair with Kerouac, goes on to boast about it in interview after interview, virtually always using the occasion as an opportunity to denigrate Kerouac while elevating himself (for instance, pointedly suggesting that Kerouac was the bottom, or mentioning in the same breath how distasteful he nevertheless finds spending time with writers less famous than himself), and he persisted in this habit even long after Kerouac's death. Mailer was reportedly so angry with Vidal for "ruining" Kerouac that he once punched Vidal in the face over it.

At bottom, Vidal is a nihilist who likes to play dress-up as a moralist. It satisfies his narcissistic urge to use his literary gifts to bully and persuade others and to be convinced of the absolute rightness of whatever he happens to be carrying on about at the time. But (again, IMO) there's no deep conviction behind much of what he writes, just an overflowing of what Nietzsche called the will to power.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:06 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: "Mailer was reportedly so angry with Vidal for "ruining" Kerouac that he once punched Vidal in the face over it."

Mailer was an unreconstructed homophobe who dressed up in intellectual drag the bigotry of the 1930s Brooklyn streets he grew up in. If he did punch Vidal in the face - and I think it wise to treat all of Mailer's tough-guy braggadocio with generous helpings of salt - it was probably out of shame at having found him handsome.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:16 AM on October 8, 2009


And the Vidal-bashing seems really odd coming from a population accepting of the belief that American politics is fucked due to the highly vocal and persistent stupidity of the teabaggers/the base/redstaters and a mass media that enables them.

electroboy: Depends on how you define progress. Depends on what rights you think are being taken from you.

Certainly, and I think there is a strong argument to be made that the combination of presidential signing orders and illegal "antiterrorism" actions during the Bush administration set disturbing precedents in regards to checks on executive power.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:18 AM on October 8, 2009


Well, frankly. I don't see that Vidal idolizes American history to the extent of the silly strawman you and others invoke here. Comparing environmental disasters and public health pandemics is something of a red herring.

Red herring, possibly. But it certainly wasn't a strawman when that list of issues came directly from Rokusan's list of what was wrong now.

Can the progress we've made over the last century be maintained given that we've had 30 years of administrations undermining the rights on which that progress is built?

And 30 years of a new generation coming through that accepts the rights we've developed as being foundational. Look, for example, at gay marriage. Step by step it's making ground. I do think that you have a point. And think that Reagan and Bush II were huge steps backwards. But it's not clear cut on either side.

Can the United States not only maintain its own progress, but keep pace with that of other industrialized nations? And the answer to both questions seem to be "no."

And there I'd agree. Empires do not stay on top for ever. And it's interesting that you seem to rate relative importance along side actual importance.
posted by Francis at 7:32 AM on October 8, 2009


FWIW, I'm no big fan of Mailer either. Guy stabbed his wife, for chrissake. And produced what? The White Negro? Some good essays? I know, I know--the artist isn't the art, blah, blah, blah...

And the Vidal-bashing seems really odd coming from a population accepting of the belief that American politics is fucked due to the highly vocal and persistent stupidity of the teabaggers/the base/redstaters and a mass media that enables them.

Interesting you say that, because I actually think a deeper analysis would have to place a great deal of the blame for where America has ended up today on the shoulders of that entire, failed generation of sociopaths, chronic malcontents and social agitators that defined the intellectual left from the 50s through the 70s. In hindsight, they seem as much hustlers as artists. Their self-absorption and preoccupation with hedonistic experience as a self-justifying moral and aesthetic end laid the ethical foundations for the groundswell of selfishness and cultural myopia that followed in the late 70s and 80s.

And I say this as someone who enjoys a lot of the work those authors produced. But its probably a moot point, so that's the last I'll say about it.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:47 AM on October 8, 2009


Francis: And 30 years of a new generation coming through that accepts the rights we've developed as being foundational. Look, for example, at gay marriage. Step by step it's making ground. I do think that you have a point. And think that Reagan and Bush II were huge steps backwards. But it's not clear cut on either side.

And on the other side, you have a generation that also grew up with presidents openly bending legal rights when convenient to treat groups as terrorists, and a disturbing complacency regarding the value of torture. This is the focus of Vidal's criticism. Where are the checks on executive power when neither Congress nor the voting public appear to be particularly interested in maintaining those checks and balances?

At least my take on Vidal is that rights like gay marriage are a secondary concern. Democracies tend to fail when the checks and balances on executive power are no longer enforced and maintained. And that's why he's concerned about things like Waco, the Magna Carta, and the Bush dynasty.

Francis: And there I'd agree. Empires do not stay on top for ever. And it's interesting that you seem to rate relative importance along side actual importance.

Because some things are influenced by factors that are outside of reasonable political control. When you look at something like "life expectancy" you pretty much are limited to comparing populations that are relatively shielded from environmental threats and provided with high quality of health care compared to those who are not. And there is something disturbingly wrong when life expectancy declines when the basic health technologies get cheaper.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:54 AM on October 8, 2009


Even after all these years, I still can't hear the phrase "Governor Schwarzenegger" without thinking I've tuned into some lazy, B-movie, cliched dystopia story

I've been feeling a bit that way since the iSnack 2.0 episode.

Cornflakes.
Cornflakes.
Cornflakes, Cornflakes, Cornflakes.
Cornflakes, Cornflakes, Cornflakes, Cornflakes.

Cornflakes.
posted by flabdablet at 7:56 AM on October 8, 2009


"And the Vidal-bashing seems really odd coming from a population accepting of the belief that American politics is fucked due to the highly vocal and persistent stupidity of the teabaggers/the base/redstaters and a mass media that enables them"

Y'know tho, Vidal isn't concerned, he's saying (what I take from "fucked" as your reiteration) it's all over.
I don't have any argument over Waco, et.al. being indicators of significant problems in government. But I just can't stand this "it's over" bullshit. And I'm not saying anyone specifically (other than Vidal) but I do see it around and it just makes me want to shout "THEN QUIT! Just give up. Curl up and die and shut up so we can get on struggling so the whole shithouse doesn't go up in flames."
It is nihilism. Because giving up isn't an option (at least for some of us). And I suppose that makes us "stupid" or heedless in Vidal's eyes.
Well, better than being a narcissistic hedonist out for one's own selfish means and concerned only with retribution.
Those teabaggers are, for the most part, assheads, yeah. But - what do we do with them?
Shoot 'em? Bust their heads? Argue?
There's never going to be such a thing as a utopia. There is always going to be social tension of some kind. Perhaps more subtle - as it is today when contrasted with the straight beheading, say, of Thomas Moore, domestically, or straight conquest at the point of a sword.
But there's always going to be work to be done and unless we destroy ourselves with nukes or some other disaster occurs (and it's worth working to prevent and/or recover from those as well) this not going to end. Even if the U.S. political system collapses.
So? Empires fall. But you can't kill ideas. Democracy will return, refine, and advance.
You either lead, follow or get out of the way if you can do no better than snap at all sides in the fight.
I mean, even if it is all going to end, why say it? Go in to the cancer wards and urge folks to stop trying sound like a plan? Adapting plans to fit the reality of the circumstances is just fine.
Giving up, telling other folks to chuck it, no, that's never justified.
Not unless you're the kind of asshole who can't stand to see others succeed where you have failed.
(Me, I'd be happy screwing up every damn thing I do the rest of my life if the principles I'm fighting for get advanced by someone else who perhaps learns from my experience or mistake.)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:30 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Smedleyman: Ok, so what makes Vidal so much more horrible than the usual "we are so fucked" screed that's routine here on metafilter?

I certainly agree with you, there is hope for activism. You are preaching to the choir on that one. But I'm asking why is Vidal so far beyond the pale of thought that he should be singled out for the patently unreasonable and unfair invective that we've seen here in this thread?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:39 PM on October 8, 2009


Saul, I take what you're saying about Vidal's character. I think that he has come to delight in provoking outrage, or saying things that he believes will provoke outrage - a tendency that at its best has made him the happy advocate of exceptionally unfashionable views, and at worst makes him something of a bully who enjoys trashing the reputations of others. I don't applaud that but from my point of view his value far outweighs any harm that this tendency might cause. (Although I couldn't care less what Mailer thought about Kerouac.) Nevertheless, I can see how this side of him, and his borderline misogyny, might put people off.

But I really think that in accenting those aspects of him, people are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

You say: "Vidal has no unique claim to those ideas, and IMO others have done a much better job of bringing those ideas into the public discourse without at the same time provoking hostility to them." What would constitute a unique claim to these ideas, and why is such a claim needed to be a hugely valuable advocate of these ideas? Furthermore, in both his criticisms of sexual identity and American innocence, Vidal was way ahead of the pack and has not backed down. Again, I think you're letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. And boy is he good.

But as I say I can see your position. Ultimately I suppose it might come down to a matter of taste - for me, Vidal's voice in his essays (and to an extent his novels) is the voice of a friend; it sounds truthful, uncomplicated. It really has an anchoring effect for me. I also find him very funny. When he's capable of all those things for a person, other factors become much less important; but I can see how the scales might tilt another way.
posted by WPW at 3:34 PM on October 8, 2009


Thanks, WPW. I think you get my position exactly. And I think I understand yours, too.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:57 AM on October 9, 2009


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