Books postsSaturday August 23, 2014
The Real Howard Beale
Throughout his book, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan,” author Rick Perlstein talks about how all elements of the culture, including movies, were influencing other elements, but he is more reticent in drawing lines (or bridges, invisible or otherwise) between specific political acts and subsequent films. Thus the way Nixon talked about POWs led to the notion that we still had MIA over there, which led, 10 years later, to the awfulness of “Rambo: First Blood Part II.”
Then there was this cultural tidbit about Christine Chubbuck that I don't remember ever hearing about:
Two weeks before the impeachment hearings, the perky hostess of the chat show Suncoast Digest, who incorporated homemade puppets into the program, was angry that the station owner had told the staff to concentrate on “blood and guts,” and had cut away from her show to cover a shoot-out at a local restaurant. She began her broadcast with an uncharacteristic hard-news segment, with film from the restaurant shooting—which jammed in the projector, at which point she announced, “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.” She then shot herself in the head and died, leaving behind the script she had been reading from, which included a postscript: a third-person account of the breaking news story, to be read by whomever took over the news desk next.
Yes, Virginia (or Florida), there really is (or was) a Howard Beale.
Other Disasters Nixon Caused: 'Rambo: First Blood Part II'
“Operation Homecoming [in 1973] had returned 587 American prisoners of war—but for years Nixon had referred to 1,600 Americans being held in North Vietnam. That number folded in more than one thousand personnel, mostly pilots, who crashed in the dense Vietnamese brush and in previous wars would have been classed as 'Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered'—but had been reclassified as 'MIA' so the president could make the North Vietnamese look bad for his Paris negotiations. Now the families of those other 1,013 were making insistent noises: what was the government going to do about them?
”The Operation Homecoming statements by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff included the promise that 'we will not rest until all those still known captive are safe and until we have achieved the best possible accounting for those missing in action.' Holding the government to that pledge had now become the raison d’être of the National League of Families of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Southeast Asia, the organization that had taken off as a White House front group. VIVA was still selling bracelets hand over fist—now bearing the names of MIAs. It had even come up with a new flag honoring them: a forlorn, gaunt, hangdog flat-topped silhouette, barbed wire and a guard tower in the background, a military laurel, and the legend POW-MIA: YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN ...
“It was one more aspect of the Americans' lunatic semiology that baffled hapless communist officials. 'We have not come this far,' one declared in exasperation at being once more enjoined to 'prove' they held no more prisoners, 'to hold on to a handful of Americans, after all what would that prove?' The issue was a godforsaken mess.”
-- from Rick Perlstein's “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan”
Rambo and POW, about the be betrayed again. By government.
ADDENDUM: Started by Nixon, picked up by Reagan:
Governor Reagan, in Singapore as a special presidential representative for a trade deal, said North Vietnam must “return” the POWs and MIAs supposedly still being held, and that if it didn’t, “bombing should be resumed.” He accused liberals in Congress of taking away “the power to sway those monkeys over there to straighten up and follow through on the deal.”
Frank Rich on Rick Perlstein on Ronald Reagan
Here's a key passage in Frank Rich's review of Rick Perlstein's much-anticipated third volume of modern conservative history, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan”:
The key to Reagan’s political success, in Perlstein’s telling, was that he recognized what many Republicans did not — that Americans craved “a liturgy of absolution” and “an almost official cult of optimism” postulating “the belief that America could do no wrong” or “that if America did it, it was by definition not wrong.” That’s why Reagan stubbornly insisted on minimizing the crimes of Watergate even though polls suggested he might be punished for it and even after most of his ideological soul mates jumped ship. That’s why Reagan never stopped insisting that we came home from our humiliating defeat in Vietnam “as winners.” He propped up such illusions by ignoring facts or inventing them. But the will of his listeners to believe — and his gift for making them feel good in his presence — conquered all.
Which ... yes. But what does that remind you of? Absolution and optimism? And, I would add, absolutism? And belief at the expense of truth? What industry is that? What city? What industry and city was Reagan steeped in, after all?
Why, Buddy, it's Hollywood. It's so-called liberal Hollywood, buddy.
For more on Reagan, Hollywood, optimism and innocence, see this.
It came from liberal Hollywood.
Stefan Zweig's Laments About His Time Speak to Ours
Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was inspired, so the credits say, by the writings of Stefan Zweig, an early 20th century Austrian writer of whom I had read approximately zilch. So during our recent trip to Prague, Vienna and Salzburg, I brought along his memoir, “The World of Yesterday.” Appropriate. Zweig grew up in Vienna and lived in Salzburg, and it was fun reading Zweig's thoughts about places we'd visited the same day.
What caught me by surprise about the memoir, though, was how often his time, and all that was lost by 1941, speaks to ours, and all that we've lost by 2014. Particularly in matters of politics.
There's this, for example:
... even the political and social movements [of the 19th century] were free of the terrible hatred which has penetrated the arteries of our time as a poisonous residue of the First World War. In the old Austria they still strove chivalrously, they abused each other in the news and in the parliament, but at the conclusion of their ciceronian tirades the selfsame representatives sat down together in friendship with a glass of beer or a cup of coffee, and called each other Du.
I've heard the same from many U.S. politicians about Congress after the 1994 midterms.
One did not look down at tolerance as one does today as weakness and softness, but rather praised it as an ethical force.
Political parties (often represented by flowers) sprang up everywhere (like wildflowers). Violence was expected from the socialists (red carnation) but came the German National Party (the blue cornflower), which, weak in the city and strong in the countryside, feels reminiscent of today's Tea Party:
... the German National Party had its followers in the Bohemian and Alpine border districts: weak in numbers, it compensated its unimportance by wild aggression and unbridled brutality.
My favorite bits, though, thus far anyway, tend to be non-political: how Zweig and his gymnasium friends found and adored writers like Rainer Marie Rilke and Paul Valery before the cultural establishment; and how Zweig ignored his dull schoolwork so he could read exciting new writers like Frederich Nietzsche.
John Wayne By Your Bed
Another from Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:
No matter how petulant he could be, his employees stayed with him for decades, the same way the public did. The reasons are best conveyed by a story told by Tom Kane, whose wife, Ruth, was in the Motion Picture Home dying of cancer. ...
One morning at 9:15, Kane’s phone rang. It was his wife, sounding like she did before she got sick.
“My God, you sound great,” said Kane.
“Well, how would you feel if you woke up in the morning and John Wayne was standing by your bed?” She went on to explain that Wayne had stayed for more than an hour talking to her. Before he left, he had brushed her hair.