The GOP Is The Party Of Big Dad
August 29, 2019 8:25 AM   Subscribe

“American Conservatism has changed in some fundamental ways over the past few decades, getting steadily more paranoid and less attached to reality; consider the move drift from George H. W. Bush’s conservative Realpolitik to Trump’s model of international relations as reality show, surprise twists and all. Bizarrely, the course of Clancy’s books mirrors and anticipates this shift, with their slow but steady move from “here’s a story about action between rivals in the late part of the Cold War” to “here’s the latest combination of unrelated international terrorists and malefactors who have cobbled together an unlikely scheme to stick it to America.” Parts of The Hunt for Red October read like something put together to teach submarine crew members how to do their jobs; most of Debt of Honor reads like it was jointly written by Lou Dobbs and Jim Cramer as they worked their way through a large bag of cocaine.” Gender essentialism, traffic obsessions, Cold War blue balls, and understanding the Boomer Dad Mindset though the works of Tom Clancy.
posted by The Whelk (77 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
By MeFi's own COBRA!. Also on Projects.
posted by misteraitch at 8:30 AM on August 29, 2019 [14 favorites]


This is a long and interesting read. I actually understand it pretty well because I've read almost all the trashy Clancy titles that appear (so far) in the essay.
posted by some loser at 8:35 AM on August 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Isn't "Tom Clancy" a franchise now, with books produced by hired hacks, like a V.C. Andrews for military obsessives?
posted by thelonius at 8:39 AM on August 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


I used to read these books -- I stole them from my Dad. They were kind of comforting in the way that lots of police procedurals are -- the good guys are very good and honourable and they would never abuse their overpowered authority to do anything racist or bad or self-interested. It makes you feel like the security apparatus is always on your side -- this despite the fact that in the books *most* of the security apparatus is a bunch of self-interested fuck-ups with only Ryan and a few allies on side of good and honourable defending the system from the entire barrel of bad apples, so you *should* come away from these books feeling like we give too much power and money to police / military / intelligence functions.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:41 AM on August 29, 2019 [28 favorites]


Me, too, some loser. I was a big Clancy reader in my teens. I'm amazed that it didn't taint my politics as an adult. I still find weapons of war darkly fascinating (I've mentioned Forgotten Weapons around here a couple of times, as an example of how that fascination manifests), but I don't have the hard-on for hawkish leaders with their "manly characteristics" on full display that seems typical of the Clancy worldview. There but for the grace of god, I suppose.

Isn't "Tom Clancy" a franchise now, with books produced by hired hacks, like a V.C. Andrews for military obsessives?

Has been since before he died, but the content isn't materially different as far as I can tell.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:41 AM on August 29, 2019 [13 favorites]


Cognitive linguist George Lakoff proposed a similar theory in his book Moral Politics, casting conservatives as supporters of a "strict father" morality. It's a fascinating read.
posted by SansPoint at 8:41 AM on August 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


Isn't "Tom Clancy" a franchise now, with books produced by hired hacks, like a V.C. Andrews for military obsessives?

Yes, the article touches on that, but since the author hasn't read those books, doesn't go into detail about them.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:42 AM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


I read a lot of Clancy as an adolescent and young man...I guess my (slight point) of disagreement with the essay is that after Sum of All Fears I started to find the books much less fun. And as I grew up, I started to find them all problematic - while Ryan claimed to be an Independent, politically, the character was very obviously to the right, and the issues around the treatment of women and "others" became really obvious to me. Since Clancy's death (I admit, with shame, I've tried one or two), the books have done away with any pretense of "independence" on the political front. They are avowedly to the right, and consider "liberals" the problem with everything, and are fantasies in which the application of force by straight white (with the occasional minority) men (whose judgement should not be questioned) will save the day.
posted by nubs at 8:48 AM on August 29, 2019 [15 favorites]




I feel like spaghetti westerns are the cultural black hole that keeps on giving. Tho I guess it's always been like that, right? Steadfast brigadier, chivalrous knight, etc, etc.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 9:30 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's disconcerting (but refreshing) to read this as one of the "bystanders"---and this makes me feel very much a bystander---seeing the disbelief at the boomer ideas of masculinity through the filter of their sons. As a Gen-Xer, I guess I'm at a remove from this conversation, though I certainly grew up immersed in the Boomer worldview, it wasn't my worldview. I don't remember Vietnam, but the Challenger Explosion and 9/11. For my generation, Nixon wasn't betrayed only to be vindicated by Regan; Regan was a source of fear and oppression. "The bombs will be dropping in five minutes" caused a panic in my HS. Worse, Regan's shadow brought the ultimate adventurism of the Clancy Boys: the idea that the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan could be solved by the Right Men in the military in a short swift strike, but only if they were freed of tiresome leftist restrictions like notions of torture or targeted, UN-centric peace keeping actions.

Clancy's readers also the folks who soured on the media over that timeframe, because the media kept telling them that things really weren't going that well over there, not at all. But their neighbours kid Timmy kept telling them that they were hunting bad guys house to house in Fallujah! That must be the Real Story the Media was hiding. The main-stream media couldn't be telling the truth. So accelerated the retreat into fantasy and self-deception, when the cartoons and the reality clashed.

I think the argument here is bang on---Clancy documented the way these guys, who always thought they were on the side of Angels (literally) turned into the MAGA caricatures they are largely today, sweaty, angry 65-year-olds who can't understand why it's "wrong to be a white guy" all of a sudden. How relentless self-mythologizing, lack of self-reflection and even self-deception/auto-gaslighting turned (outwardly) "decent" young men who idolized Jack Ryan into the wannabe Steve Bannons and Sean Hannitys who feel their world slipping away.
posted by bonehead at 9:38 AM on August 29, 2019 [46 favorites]


Okay, I enjoyed this essay to the point where I actually clicked through to some of the other essays on this blog.

However, I would like to make a proposal, and it is called: A People's History of the Baby Boom. Things it would include:

Gay baby boomers, including gay baby boomer dads
The red baby boomers who gave birth to all the red diaper babies of my generation
Working class boomers who were horribly scarred by the Vietnam war and its larger effects on culture - which includes, actually, my parents, neither of whom served but who lost many friends
Baby boomers who are not white and whose lives and politics were not therefore formed by whiteness.
Pivotal Baby Boom moments and things that were not, eg, Woodstock or becoming lawyers in 1980.
Boomers in the Great Migration

...Anyway. I do get the relevance of boomer-based analysis, the sorta post-war-Lacanianism of calibrating our politics in response to the Big Boomer, and the fact that my father - gun-hating, chore-doing and non-thriller-reading as he is - has a fantastic sense of direction that basically spans the entire eastern half of the country. At the same time, I feel like it's a really reductionist framework that perversely re-centers the straight white men it purports to critique.

It might be possible to write the Story of Straight White Middle Class Conservative Boomer Men as a struggle - a struggle in which regressive and crummy elements of the sixties and seventies triumphed through destroying non-regressive and non-crummy elements, but I feel like it usually gets written as this sort of non-controversial take on the US between say 1955 and the present, and it really flattens a lot of history.

~~
Like, the Boomer narrative I grew up with from my parents was, "The Vietnam war was a huge disaster that destroyed a generation either literally through killing them or through fucking up people's lives" and my mother saying to me that thank goodness my brother and I were developing such incredibly terrible vision because we probably wouldn't get drafted and "the cops probably murdered protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention riots and just hid the bodies". I stress that my dad is relatively politically quietist - he's not some kind of big hippie, quite the opposite. But while he's a bit of an oddball, he's not unique. There are people like this.
posted by Frowner at 9:44 AM on August 29, 2019 [50 favorites]


I would be curious to see some research and reporting about Boomer men's attitudes about masculinity specifically related to living (by definition) as successors to The Greatest Generation, who won a World War. Trying to measure up to one's father's military accomplishments (or fearing that one never will) has got to be a big part of all this.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:49 AM on August 29, 2019 [14 favorites]


George W always wanted to be seen as great a war hero as his father.
posted by bonehead at 10:29 AM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


Deffo not all soldiers came back from WWII pro-military, though. And I don’t think it was even a member of the ‘Greatest Generation’ that came up with the name. I mean, yes, Clancyism probably has such cod Freudian roots, but as Frowner lays out Clancyism wasn’t the only reaction, even among Boomers. And Boomers were never the only people on the political stage. And I never want to talk as though either were true.
posted by clew at 10:34 AM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Have there yet been any attempts to distill Millennial sentiment into a similarly comfortable-feeling narrative universe and framing? Certainly we have taken great strides in avoiding monoculture to the same degree--but I'd be very interested in a world where the economy is a volatile as the climate and as the hostility of the government, domestic partnerships are no longer demographically fungible pairs as shorthand for normalcy, we're all honest that we don't agree politically, and increasingly all income brackets have a social media voice.
posted by Phyltre at 10:41 AM on August 29, 2019


45% of Boomers voted for Hillary Clinton. Millennials outnumber Boomers but less than a third of them bother to vote.
posted by JackFlash at 10:50 AM on August 29, 2019 [12 favorites]


And I don’t think it was even a member of the ‘Greatest Generation’ that came up with the name.

Tom Brokaw may not have coined it, but he popularized it. He was born in 1940.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2019


I read a lot of Clancy as an adolescent and young man...I guess my (slight point) of disagreement with the essay is that after Sum of All Fears I started to find the books much less fun.

Without Remorse had a touch of that too...
posted by mikelieman at 11:03 AM on August 29, 2019


45% of Boomers voted for Hillary Clinton. Millennials outnumber Boomers but less than a third of them bother to vote.

Are generations affected equally by voter suppression tactics? Are voter suppression tactics applied equally to all generations?
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:09 AM on August 29, 2019 [12 favorites]


"The Vietnam war was a huge disaster that destroyed a generation either literally through killing them or through fucking up people's lives"

I'm not one of Frowner's parents, but I am a Boomer Dad, and a Vietnam veteran, and that quote is just about what I say whenever somebody wants my opinion of that war (and sometimes when they don't). There are definitely a lot of us who don't fit the stereotype of the reactionary Boomer.


Trying to measure up to one's father's military accomplishments (or fearing that one never will) has got to be a big part of all this.

I think you're reaching, and I don't think that aspiration has got to be a part of it. But then, my father was 4-F in WW2. I certainly had no desire to be more of a soldier than him, or than anyone.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:11 AM on August 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


Part of this, of course, was spurred by the election of Barack Obama and the freakout it triggered in the American right (what was birtherism, after all, but a frantic attempt to prove that no, that man isn’t really our President). Equally, and very intertangledly, it marks the generational estuary when the Boomers began to age out of power and Millenials aged into it (as with all contemporary generational analyses, Gen X is just a bystander here).
Generational analysis is hokey for just this reason. Generation X, born in the mid-60s and early 80s, aged into power at this very time. Obama, though born in 1961 and therefore a late Boomer, was young and vigorous, not the liberal analogue of the white conservative Boomer described in this essay, but also not quite the Millennial type that grew into adulthood during the disastrous War on Terror and the global financial crisis of 2008. And the more you narrow the scope of these generalizations, the flimsier the analysis looks: What about non-white Boomers, as Frowner pointed out? What about right-wing white Millennials? Or, as anyone who reads The Atlantic or Time should ask themselves, what about the poor non-white Millennials?

There are too many exceptions to these generalizations to write them all. That said, this essay pretty effectively showed the continuity between the right-wing fever of the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton presidencies and the right-wing fever of today, as it extrapolates a good general composite of a white conservative from the worldview of Tom Clancy's novels. Thanks for posting it!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:25 AM on August 29, 2019 [14 favorites]


this was a pretty wild/awesome thing to stumble across on seeing the front page. RIGHT ON!

It's really cool seeing this much engagement with the essay, which is something that'd rattling around my head for a while (and that I tried to find a more institutional home for, but somehow a pitch for a 4,000-word piece about Tom Clancy that opens with two dead dogs doesn't set the world on fire).

Anyway: I totally agree that there are all kinds of holes, quibbles, and general problems with generational analysis. I'm using "Boomer Dad" as more of an archetypal term than a specific demographic representation; I probably should have spelled that out more explicitly, but that's essentially the way I see it get used in twitter's endless series of Boomer-vs-Millenial riffs.
posted by COBRA! at 11:39 AM on August 29, 2019 [23 favorites]


I read a lot of Clancy as an adolescent and young man...I guess my (slight point) of disagreement with the essay is that after Sum of All Fears I started to find the books much less fun. And as I grew up, I started to find them all problematic - while Ryan claimed to be an Independent, politically, the character was very obviously to the right, and the issues around the treatment of women and "others" became really obvious to me.

posted by nubs


I don't think we disagree at all; you're damn near exactly describing the inside of my head.
posted by COBRA! at 11:43 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I envy y'all who only have to regret a Tom Clancy phase... I read Dale Brown. The only positive there is it made me a fan of smaller specialized satellites.
posted by BeeDo at 11:45 AM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


This essay does a great job of summarizing my experience reading Tom Clancy; I can't remember whether I saw the movie The Hunt for Red October or read the book first, but it was exactly the sort of light entertaining reading I enjoyed on a plane or at the beach. I looked forward to successive books, but noticed pretty early on that they were becoming more political and less technical, and by the time I read Debt of Honor and Executive Orders I realized this was just more right-wing propaganda, and haven't read anything with his name on it since. I agree that there is a bit of chicken and egg question as far as to whether his writing influenced or was influenced by politics in the 1980s and 90s, but the continuation of the franchise has definitely contributed to the right-wing echo chamber that has screwed up our current politics.

One of the first comments from his obituary thread:
I think of Tom Clancy as "dad reading." Growing up, my dad loved his books (and the movies made of them), and everyone else's dad that I knew felt the same.
posted by TedW at 11:46 AM on August 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


I mean, the point of "generational analysis" should be to, uh, I dunno, have a dialectical action or something, where you look at forces and countervailing forces and motion through time. When the argument goes "Boomers reactionary or not", it just comes to a stop and doesn't tell us anything.

What I take from the whole debate is that there is this big young generation of people who are present during the huge changes of the post-war period/trente glorieuses/whatever and a whole bunch of social changes came about because there were so many of them all having shared experiences.

I think that people forget just how mainstream left-liberalism became in the late sixties through seventies, not to mention how pervasive student movement stuff was. I remember reading some random popular book in the thrift store that had been published in 1970 or so and it just took for granted that the readership understood that left-leaning Middle Eastern governments had been overthrown by the West in pursuit of oil and territory.

The Conservative White Straight Racist Middle Class Male Boomer is produced. He's produced by a political struggle against the social democratic/soft socialist/revolutionary/misc impulses of the sixties and seventies - a struggle conducted through the state.

The story we love to tell is basically "people older than us are bad because they are intrinsically reactionary and selfish and everything good that they did was secretly reactionary and selfish; we, on the other hand, are totally woke now" (and just as predicted, the narrative on the twitters is shifting to "Gen X is shitty"). We like this narrative because it has fixed identities and doesn't require learning much history, and it also allows us to despise old people/our parents in a blanket way.

We also like it because it's not a political history - it just says, "these people over there are bad because they're bad inside, not for a reason, except maybe that they're stupid and self-indulgent". If those people are bad inside and we're good inside, that's why society is shitty now but it will be totally great when we run it, since personal, intrinsic, unchanging morality determines how things go.

But the real story is always struggle - why, given the actually existing sixties, did we end up with the eighties and nineties? What were the specific historical inflection points and processes? Who pushed buttons in the background? Where did the money come from and where did it go? Who got pushed out and who got brought in?

That's an interesting story, but it's also a lot scarier because, you know, if the planet isn't reduced to a cinder in twenty years, what if the left movements of the now also fall apart, get bought out and get destroyed by actually existing political forces as happened in the late seventies/eighties?
posted by Frowner at 11:47 AM on August 29, 2019 [46 favorites]


Trying to measure up to one's father's military accomplishments (or fearing that one never will) has got to be a big part of all this. I'm 200% certain that was the case for my dad and my uncle. My dad dealt with it better, not least because he would probably openly admit it, if asked.

But yeah, generational theories are always both on and off. I liked this one because it wasn't really a broad generational theory but one specific to Midwestern white men who read Tom Clancy, and the argument is solid.

These days, I'm having a lot of candid talks with my eldest cousin. We are both from -63, so the end of the boomers. We've always been the best of friends, but also very different people, and sometimes years have gone between us talking. At this point in life, he is (finally) facing the fact that the performative masculinity he has been raised into is completely useless in the reality he is living, and that he can't shout or bully his way out of that reality. I wish I could talk in his voice here.
I don't want to pretend that middle class white men are victims of anything, but I've come to believe that they can change if they find a voice other than the stereotype.

Oh, and since I was typing when you posted: hi COBRA!, I like your work
posted by mumimor at 11:51 AM on August 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


I too enjoy your work and am working my way through your blog posts right the very now. I am reading the Tolkien one. These are absolutely such blog writing as I've missed since the twitters began.
posted by Frowner at 11:58 AM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


I used to eat this shit up as a teen. Also as a teen at some point I found punk rock, so when I got to one that opened with a dedication to Ronald Reagan it was like “Shama-LAM! I was actually the bad guy all along luser!!” Haven’t been able to go back since.
posted by rodlymight at 12:25 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


But the real story is always struggle - why, given the actually existing sixties, did we end up with the eighties and nineties? What were the specific historical inflection points and processes? Who pushed buttons in the background? Where did the money come from and where did it go? Who got pushed out and who got brought in?

And it’s a fascinating question I could talk about all day! The big thing I get is that while some factors where random or out of people’s hands (the oil crisis for one) the response to them was always part of deliberate political project to “create” the kind of political culture the ring wing wanted. It’s a kind of big scale, long terming the Left doesn’t do anymore, partly because the broader right wing culture project was designed to limit political imagination and action and prune the American left into a mirror of themselves. If you're a left leaning Boomer you had decades of having to compromise and reshape your ideas and plans around right wing hegemony.

There are so many factors you could dig into, the assignation of leftist leaders, the infiltration of student groups, the Moses/Hoover/Cohn influence bubble that persists today via the President, the shipping container revolution, the right wing revanche movement postwar gaining steam since its founders had infinite money, the neoliberal pivot getting cemented into place and becoming dogma, failing to properly clean house post Vietnam, failing to properly clean house post Nixon leading to failing to properly deal with the S&L crisis which indirectly lead to the Democrats finally embracing Wall Street money whole hog. Even the reaction to the AIDS crisis,, inaction and foot-dragging, can be seen as part of s way to kill off activists and queer people. I even think the rise of evangelicalism can be seen as a response to a lack of decent healthcare cause churches took up a lot of the burden of addiction and rehab.

Like it’s exhausting but it’s how you get a party establishment where universal employment was a basic plank to one that can’t even agree a healthcare system closer to what the rest of the world has is a good idea that people would like. The book WE GOT PEOPLE goes into this, the move from people power winning elections to money power winning is underlying a lot of this (which! Hopefully we may have broken!)

anyway if I go too much I just start quoting passages from Listen Liberal but I don’t think it’s too far to say the establishment of a far-right government and media in the 80s and 90s was a planned result by the people who held all the power and wanted a return the gilded age (which we now have!) Little by Little, step by step, from basically the instant FDR died, to undo gains and seize opportunities to make everything just a little bit better for them and worse for everyone else.
posted by The Whelk at 12:26 PM on August 29, 2019 [26 favorites]


I quite liked Clancy's "Hunt for Red October" and "Red Dawn Rising", and read more of his books with increasing dislike as he seemed to be trending more rightward, finally just noting him (and anything with his name on it) as trash.

I wonder if there might not be a feedback loop in there somewhere, where his books gained him more access (perhaps by being a speaker or guest in conservative get togethers) and hearing more and more of the ideas espoused in them and thus trending rightwards and getting more invitations to that kind of thing and fewer or no invitations to alternative viewpoints. To be fair I wonder the same thing about other writers, in particular those involved in cop shows and franchises.
posted by Death and Gravity at 12:26 PM on August 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


As for feedback loops, I think you can actually draw a direct line from the New Deal/G.I Bill policies overwhelmingly supporting home ownership (for white families) and a construction industry hungry to build suburbs (with racial selling and buying laws on the over end and lot size requirements in the subtle end) to oil/steel/rubber companies wanting to strip out public transit and build more roads (and create de facto segregation vis car ownership ) and developers eager to use car culture to set up cheap, profitable industries (and use redlining and blockbusting to get white enclaves out of the cities and into the suburbs so they could run tenement monopolies in the inner city) all working in concert to create this segregated, car-centric, atomized, and more than a little paranoid culture where even liberal suburbs have more in common with conservative suburbs ..and that just becomes normal cause it’s what you grew up in.

But again, this is part of my “what are the failures points of social democracy and what can we learn from it?” .......lecture.
posted by The Whelk at 12:39 PM on August 29, 2019 [16 favorites]


Two unreleated things:

1. In doing some research for my work, I stumbled across an account of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the mid-60s to early 70s that treated it not so much as an ideological struggle, but as a generational clash. The generation of Communists who had fought the war against the Japanese and then defeated the nationalists were getting long in the tooth. Mao was 72 in 1966, and kicked off the Cultural Revolution by proving he was still fit enough to swim across the Yangtze. It was not so much about purifying Communist ideology as it was a personal crusade by Mao and his aging cohort to show everybody that they were still manly, virile men who mattered. That sure sounds like Trumpism to me.

2. The only thing that has stuck with me from reading The Hunt For Red October long ago is that Captain Ramius decided to defect because the Soviet health care system had denied care to his wife when she had cancer. I think about that every time I hear about one of the tens of thousands of people who die in America every year because they were denied vital care by the health insurance system.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:41 PM on August 29, 2019 [38 favorites]


What some younger readers may not remember is Clancy was brought in as some kind of expert during the first Iraq War and 9/11. You would not find a bigger cheerleader for the Patriot missile, as I recall. I wonder how many people in the separate Bush administrations were excited to finally put their Jack Ryan fantasies into action.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:44 PM on August 29, 2019 [13 favorites]


Does anybody remember his genius solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict? Swiss Guards patrolling Jerusalem ! Zouaves! Like that’s really the core of the issue. Red October was fun, but that guy was an asshole.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 12:49 PM on August 29, 2019 [14 favorites]


I think of Tom Clancy as "dad reading." Growing up, my dad loved his books (and the movies made of them), and everyone else's dad that I knew felt the same.

Plenty of men don't become dads, so this makes me wonder whether there's something within white Boomer culture which made Clancy lovers more likely to become dads, whether it was via choosing or being chosen.
posted by clawsoon at 12:50 PM on August 29, 2019


Frowner: what if the left movements of the now also fall apart, get bought out and get destroyed by actually existing political forces as happened in the late seventies/eighties?

It feels like there's a very determined attempt going on right now to do just that.
posted by clawsoon at 12:54 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Equally, and very intertangledly, it marks the generational estuary when the Boomers began to age out of power and Millenials aged into it (as with all contemporary generational analyses, Gen X is just a bystander here).

Oof. Aaaaaand accurate to my lived experience as a late Gen Xer born JUST over the line.
posted by UltraMorgnus at 1:27 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


This interview at Vox is somewhat related to the side discussion we've had going on about to what extent people's politics is shaped by the media they consume or vice versa.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:08 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Let's do the The Executioner and The Destroyer pulp series next.

Also, nothing resonates with me so much as "... thinks that mowing the lawn is an important identity marker."
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:52 PM on August 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Many comments resonate my experience. And although my birth-year matches the time line described (1965) lots of other things don't (I'm dutch, if I may summarize a lot). But yeah, I match the growing realization that, damn, this guy is a right-wing asshat, what a shame because he wrote such interesting drivel....

Here's the thing I want to say: I grew out of it. Many of you clearly did as well. I worry about those who did not....
posted by DreamerFi at 4:17 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I quite liked Clancy's "Hunt for Red October" and "Red Dawn Rising", and read more of his books with increasing dislike as he seemed to be trending more rightward, finally just noting him (and anything with his name on it) as trash.

That was my experience, too.

I was born in 1964, so I usually get lumped in with the Boomers even though in many ways I'm the opposite of the gung-ho nationalism.

I love playing Call of Duty (despite the politics), and it struck me recently that the Modern Warfare series and at least the first Black Ops game come from this Tom Clancy/Red Dawn school. Russia invades and occupies New York, Paris, and Washington DC! (Can I get a "Wolverines!" from the congregation? Literally one of the game segments is called Wolverines.) You assassinate Fidel Castro! (But it's a double!) There are tons of POWs in Vietnam after the war. (And Russians during the war, too!)

Then I recently saw a trailer for Angel Has Fallen, which is part of a ...Has Fallen series of Gerard Butler movies I didn't realize existed until recently. Olympus Has Fallen is about a North Korean-led guerrilla assault on the White House. London Has Fallen has massive terrorist attacks in London. These are basically Call of Duty movies!
posted by kirkaracha at 5:06 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Are generations affected equally by voter suppression tactics? Are voter suppression tactics applied equally to all generations?

Voter suppression is directed at minorities and the poor, regardless of age.

If the young were a target of voter suppression tactics, then you would expect to see the age gap to be reduced reduced in states like California and Oregon and Washington that have liberal voting registration rules, easy voting and vote by mail. You see a similar age gap in voter participation in those states. Voter suppression does not explain the lower participation of younger generations.
posted by JackFlash at 5:27 PM on August 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


Does anybody remember his genius solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict? Swiss Guards patrolling Jerusalem ! Zouaves! Like that’s really the core of the issue.

As I recall, The West Wing came up with more-or-less the same solution, except it was US peace keepers.
posted by jimw at 12:00 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Good essay. I do agree though, that I was confused by the conflation (or at least I read it that way) of Boomer and right-winger, since I mainly know left-leaning anti-war Boomers. The rest (lawn, cars, airport names) was spot on though.
posted by salvia at 12:49 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm technically a Boomer Dad although there were only six months left in the boomer era when I was born. My dad was from the tail end of the Greatest Generation; he was in boot-camp on VJ day so he missed WWII by weeks.

Clancy's first books came out when I was in college and a bunch of us read them which is kind of funny in retrospect since we were all pretty leftish but still consumed a lot of pretty right-wing popular culture. That was during the whole Rambo, Top Gun era and it was hard to even go to a movie that didn't have some conservative slant. I mean even Ghostbusters is pretty libertarian/anti-government; the bad guy is from the EPA.
posted by octothorpe at 4:57 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


I don’t think it’s too far to say the establishment of a far-right government and media in the 80s and 90s was a planned result by the people who held all the power...

Of course it's not too far. They weren't doing it in secret, and anyone who doubts that it's what happened is, well, naive. The Establishment absolutely hated all of what we now look on as social progress, and was and is determined to undo all of it. ALL of it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:31 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


If the young were a target of voter suppression tactics, then you would expect to see the age gap to be reduced reduced in states like California and Oregon and Washington that have liberal voting registration rules, easy voting and vote by mail. You see a similar age gap in voter participation in those states. Voter suppression does not explain the lower participation of younger generations.

It does help explain local declines in voting from college-aged young people, however. For example, the GOP-dominated legislature in Wisconsin made it much harder for college students to get registered where they were attending school, instead pegging registration to "home" counties tied to their parents' addresses. And GOP state governments elsewhere have done similar things. The idea is to target a more liberal-leaning slice of younger voters by adding obstacles to registration.
posted by kewb at 6:14 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


These are basically Call of Duty movies!
Yes, I've seen them, and side scroller 'video game movies' would be an apt description. I really miss the '80s action movies, they were at least more plausible and the '80s action heroes were legit better actors than Gerard Butler.

In London has Fallen, the thousands of homes that make up the background are treated as literal backgrounds, unable to be entered even though the plot hinges upon hiding.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:13 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Voter suppression is directed at minorities and the poor, regardless of age.

If the young were a target of voter suppression tactics


There is a ton of evidence that younger voters, especially college students, are the targets of voter suppression. And yes, the percentage of younger Americans that are POC (and working class) is increasing at an ever-faster pace, which means that voter suppression that apparently just targets "minorities and the poor" is actually inextricable from voter suppression that targets young people. That de jure voter suppression leads to an overall disillusionment with the process and ends up becoming de facto voter suppression should be a top concern for Democrats, but instead they're still stuck on their Boomer-vs-Millennial centrist bullshit that is actively turning young voters away from the party.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:20 AM on August 30, 2019 [12 favorites]


I don't know if its intentional voter suppression but PA's primary is in late May so college students have already left for the summer by then and can't vote in the place where they spend most of their year. Here in Pittsburgh, the local elections are all determined by the primary vote since there are no Republicans and the fight is always between two Democrats in the primary. The city is something like 15% students during the school year but they never get a say in local government.
posted by octothorpe at 7:39 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


And yes, the percentage of younger Americans that are POC (and working class) is increasing at an ever-faster pace, which means that voter suppression that apparently just targets "minorities and the poor" is actually inextricable from voter suppression that targets young people.

Right, let's not forget that efforts to deny healthcare to folks in America are also directed at minorities and the poor, leading to lower life expectancies for those populations and concomitantly lower average ages. "Inextricable" is exactly the word.
posted by solotoro at 8:49 AM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I really fear that a lot of Democrats are laying the groundwork for blaming marginalized communities and younger voters in the event that 2020 goes south. It's certainly not without precedent (the success of Prop 8 back in 2008 is still falsely blamed on POC voters), and the Dem leadership has continually showed that they will gladly attack their younger and more diverse left flank for the crimes of their very old and very white center and right.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


As I recall, The West Wing came up with more-or-less the same solution, except it was US peace keepers.

I feel like there's a strong argument to be made that Aaron Sorkin's oeuvre, but most especially The West Wing, is the lefty equivalent of Clancy's comforting lies about the good daddies being in charge.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:01 AM on August 30, 2019 [14 favorites]


Captain Ramius decided to defect because the Soviet health care system had denied care to his wife when she had cancer.

In the movie, but in the book she was not denied care. She had appendicitis, but the surgeon was drunk and botched the surgery, causing a massive infection. The antibiotics she was treated with were water because the pharmaceutical plant rushed the production to fulfill its quota. She died of sepsis due to the sorry state of the Soviet nationalised healthcare. It all fits the general picture he painted.
posted by hat_eater at 10:25 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


Oddly enough, my mom (who I would describe as a center-left Catholic, born in '44) was a huge Tom Clancy fan, although I don't think she's kept up since the early 90s.

I've watched all the movies more than once, I think we actually saw Hunt for Red October as a family when I was a teenager? That one is probably my favorite, although I have a weird soft spot for Clear and Present Danger; it's very good at what it is.

HOWEVER, at some point I came up with a theory about it: everything between James Earl Jones's character's death and the hearing at the end is just a dream/fantasy on the park of Jack Ryan. It's what he wishes he could do, when what he really has to do is give testimony about the shitty Iran-Contra project he was involved in. It's the only explanation I have for nervous nerdy Ryan abruptly becoming some kind of goddamn action hero.
posted by epersonae at 2:11 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Whoa. This is like the fully realized version of something that's bounced around in my brain for years (decades, actually) in larval form. Along with Robert Ludlum's turgid, inevitably 3-word-titled prose, Clancy was both an inherited addiction from my dad (b. 1940) and incredibly influential on my development up through my 20's. As with many others, I jumped ship after Executive Orders, as I couldn't keep up with the cognitive dissonance that would allow an author to write the dedication "To Ronald Reagan - The Man Who Won The War."

But until that point, these were the books that were often blurbed (accurately for me) with advice not to start them if you needed to be somewhere early the next morning, because you wouldn't be able to put them down. Clancy knew how to scratch the itch of "make your readers want something real bad, then give it to them." There are still many excerpts that I can recall almost verbatim to this day, as well as innumerable "huh...ooookay" moments that only increased in frequency with each release. Such as...

Cathy can be amazingly talented, but must always be subordinate to Jack. She can get the Lasker, but it is pointedly described as the second best award to the Nobel, while he achieves the presidency. Wives in general are valued but only in relation to the husband/marriage (e.g., the wife of the Polish general who commits suicide after he dies). Minorities are divided into "the good ones" and the rest (holy moly, what book was the treacherous lesbian in?).

Other interesting defining traits of masculinity in there: you noted Jack's odd penchant for lawn mowing. There was also the unnecessary inclusion of how he personally installed the security system in his house the Secret Service overcame after he suddenly became president. Clark also keeps his boat shined and maintained so much people keep asking to buy it, and the over-engineering of his International Scout in Without Remorse gets lovingly detailed.

Clancy seemed to value a man's ability to do manual, trades type work, even if that isn't a character's main vocation. Growing up as a book smart, nerdy Gen X guy, I envied those that gained those skills seemingly by osmosis from their elders, so I can relate.

Again, thanks to COBRA! for putting this out there. I hope you get the chance to do the gender politics essay somewhere down the line.
posted by sapere aude at 3:36 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I remember a similar essay about Grisham’s appeal from the early 00s noting its audience was different then Clancy’s cause it seemed pitched for people “without interests” and who “just couldn’t wait to be retired.”
posted by The Whelk at 4:05 PM on August 30, 2019


I’m mulling over the place of the Jack Reacher books as modern examples of this type of “traditional white male masculinity” genre.
posted by nubs at 5:59 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


nubs, my first instinct is to say that Child’s novels are different from Clancy’s in that the Reacher stories are generally apolitical, relatively speaking. On the other hand, Reacher wanders the highways and byways of the US righting wrongs with his fists and brains, bedding ladies with his craggy but irresistible charms, and living a sort-of cowboy-cum-warrior-monk lifestyle free of attachments or obligations that’s probably appealing to a lot of middle-aged, suburbanite guys who feel restless and trapped. Reacher isn’t rich or powerful, but he could be Jack Ryan if he wanted to. So, I find your idea pretty compelling.
posted by wintermind at 7:59 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there’s an escapism there for the middle aged white male reader, but there’s also an undercurrent of displacement that I’m wondering about
posted by nubs at 8:06 PM on August 30, 2019


That is a good comparison -- I've certainly been struck by how carefully the Reacher novels arrange characters who it is ?okay? ?necessary? for Reacher to attack. Has he actually killed a US military officer yet?
posted by clew at 8:07 PM on August 30, 2019


I think that’s why I backed off my first thought that Reacher is non-political. I’m not yet sure I can say much more than that. Like Ryan, Reacher does have a personal code by which he lives. I wonder I’d Reacher’s wanderlust is some way a lens for a country that’s lost its way in the world.
posted by wintermind at 8:12 PM on August 30, 2019


The thing I noticed, from people making fun of the more recent Reacher novels, is that he’s very clearly a grandad now whenever he has to encounter something made after 1975. Like, long descriptions of how a mouse works incase the reader would not be familiar with it, but it doesn’t seem to impact the basic story logic or outlook which remain hardboiled Reacher Is A Suoerhuman Wall Of Meat.

Which may be why it doesn’t have the same arc into nuttiness, Reacher was always an over the top power fantasy for Dads.
posted by The Whelk at 8:21 PM on August 30, 2019


The Dresden Files is kind of Tom Clancy for people who would never in a million years read Tom Clancy. I mean I like those books but yeah.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:49 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


TIL that the author of the Jack Reacher novels is English; that puts them in a different light for me.
posted by octothorpe at 5:03 AM on August 31, 2019


monk lifestyle free of attachments or obligations that’s probably appealing to a lot of middle-aged, suburbanite guys who feel restless and trapped

Okay, I just had this idea, partly inspired by David Graeber's very old Harper's essay about people who join the military because they want a sense of purpose, companionship and to help people - I mean, they're sold a bill of goods, but those are not wrong things to want.

What is the positive longing (utopian element?) in these books? What non-terrible longings draw people to them?

I would argue that at least part of it is that same stuff with the military - the desire to have a sense of historical purpose, companionship from people who share your values, the power to right wrongs. How many people who read these books simply don't have the habit of political analysis which would say, "these are the wrong wrongs to right" and "this seems like companionship but it's not if people aren't actually equal"?

When I was a little kid I was very into, like, America, and I read quite a lot of patriotic children's books of one kind and another. (Even now I will take a certain amount of Captain America fanfic, tbh.) And it was straight up all that stuff about righting wrongs, common purpose, good teleology, increasing rights for people, etc. It was pretty frustrating and kind of a long process for me to learn that this was not a correct understanding of the United States, and that wasn't especially, IMO, because at ten I was so committed to my power and privilege. It was because the story of virtue and common purpose is a powerful and not entirely shitty one, and I'd argue that I have been seeking virtue and common purpose, mostly not finding them, my entire life since.

So what about people who read these books because they are very into America but for mistaken rather than evil reasons? What if we understood at least part of the audience as seekers who have had a propagandistic education and limited opportunity to learn more, do more or be more, but still want some kind of purpose?

~~
On that note, I think that as popular as Trump's immigration policy may be with the 27%, it's extremely unpopular and delegitimatizing with many people who are otherwise pretty apolitical and quietist, and I think it is because those people narrate this country as one with a higher purpose. This is of course nonsense, but wanting a higher purpose itself is not a bad thing.
posted by Frowner at 5:18 AM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


We’re actually having that conversation in the white nationalist/deradicalization thread, right wing groups have historically been very good at harnessing these passions and need for purpose while a lot of our current lefter wing stuff isn’t nearly as good at it. I believe this is because whatever is sitting in the place where “liberalism” once stood refuses to name a common enemy, a force to rally against, or a vision of a new future and goal.

Which, when you get down to it, is pretty easy to replace. Your enemy isn’t immigrants or women or the queers. It’s your boss or your boss’ boss, and what we want for the future is a world without bosses and that doesn’t turn into an unlivable hellscape in oh, 20 years. Then we can get down to tactics.
posted by The Whelk at 6:21 AM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


Frowner, yeah, I can see that. Reacher’s antagonists are all really bad people who do terrible things to others. Reacher is making the world a better place by dealing with them, usually by killing them. I hadn’t really thought of him as a kind of superhero; he has the action hero’s ability to absorb lots of damage and still function, but he doesn’t have traditional super powers. Maybe he’s a verite Punisher? He’s not unlike John Clark in “Without Remorse” or Liam Neeson in “Taken”, in that he’s hunting down villains the authorities can’t or won’t deal with. He doesn’t have to deal with rules or courts or rights, just the law of the jungle. I’ve read all the Reacher novels and the short stories, as well as all of the sole-sourced Clancys. I enjoy the fantasy of a sort-of just world where bad people get what's coming to them, and I’m not surprised others do, too.

Of course, I own no guns and abhor vigilante justice in real life. We cheer these characters on because they’re dealing with people we agree are bad, but the stories could be a lot different. I’m sure somewhere in the 4chan cesspit there are stories about Aryan Jim Reacher taking out the Antifas and Zionists who are destroying America because our corrupt and cowardly politicians won’t. When you spin it that way it all gets a lot creepier and gross.
posted by wintermind at 7:47 AM on August 31, 2019


To bring things back around to the comment upthread about the change in Clancy's books from America vs. Communist Russia to America vs. grab-bag of swarthy bad guys, when Bill Clinton took office he mused publicly about the challenges of keeping America together, with a shared sense of identity and purpose, once the big national enemy had collapsed. Two teams facing off (ex. any weekend's pro sports match) makes it easier for folks on each side to feel camaraderie and unified purpose among themselves, despite whatever their differences as they arrived at the stadium.
posted by PhineasGage at 10:34 AM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


My headcanon now tells me that Reacher is a `superhuman wall of meat' because he owns nothing and stays nowhere. He talked to someone at a crossroads once.

The stories more imply that he's just a really oddly constituted person, has been since childhood and military life amplified it, and the same temperament that makes him superhuman makes him unwilling and unable to settle down.

But in either case -- superpower that you have to give up something really important for are usually a much less creepy wish-fulfilment fantasy than the daydream in which you beat up on everyone and get rich and famous for it.
posted by clew at 6:45 PM on August 31, 2019


le epic Jim face to camera
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:07 AM on September 5, 2019


I'm sure that will provide an even-handed and sober evaluation of both the current situation in Venezuela and the CIA's history of involvement in the region.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:24 AM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


That trailer just raises so many questions for me: when did Jack Ryan merge with Threat Level Midnight? Is Bunk Moreland playing the role of Michael Scarn?
posted by nubs at 11:31 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]


I feel like there's a strong argument to be made that Aaron Sorkin's oeuvre, but most especially The West Wing, is the lefty equivalent of Clancy's comforting lies about the good daddies being in charge.

Yes, they both definitely fall into the "competence porn" category, even if they're coming at it from different political angles.
posted by jimw at 12:45 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm iffy on calling The West Wing competence porn. The characters screw up, lose their battles a lot and fail to accomplish much of anything much of the time. It's definitely still a liberal fantasia, but it lacks that 'and then in the end they win!' of competence porn.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:22 AM on September 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


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