Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bryant Says "Vote NO to Politics!" + The "11/22/63" That Never Was

I'm not particularly interested in politics.  I pay only a marginal amount of attention, and most of the news stories I encounter come either from someone sharing them on Facebook or from one of the podcasts I listen to on a daily basis (Cort and Fatboy and The Rick Emerson Show, both of which are terrific).  Because of this, I have occasional opinions about things.  Those opinions tend to lean -- sometimes quite strongly -- to the left, but not exclusively.

I'll give you an example.

The recent spate of accusations about the philanderings and harassments allegedly perpetrated by Herman Cain -- a gentleman who, frankly, never had a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected President anyways -- have gotten a lot of conservatives up in arms about how the (sigh) liberal media has invaded his privacy.  This, in turn, has prompted a lot of smugly self-satisfied liberals to play the Clinton Card: i.e., to crow about how hypocritical the right is being, given the shellacking poor Slick Willie took over Monica Lewinsky's jizz-stained dress a few administrations ago.  These liberals are failing to realize that by taking pleasure in seeing Cain's campaign brought down by these allegations, they themselves are guilty of being thoroughly hypocritical.  Furthermore, what the right seems to be forgetting currently is the same thing the left forgot back then: that character and integrity DO count, and that Americans ought to be able to hold their political leaders up to high standards of conduct.  Sorry, guys; comes with the job, and you all know it in advance.

Speaking personally, I don't care that Bill Clinton cheated on his wife.  However, I care a lot that he apparently did it in the Oval Office itself; and I REALLY care that he lied about it. As for Cain, I also don't care that he is an adulterer, but I care quite a bit about the idea that he's also a serial harasser of employees, and his failure to sufficiently explain his behavior makes him thoroughly unsuited for the job.  Sorry, dude, but if you can't prevent yourself from harassing employees, you are unfit to be Most Powerful Man In The World, and if you are upset about the media finding out about it, you should have thought about that beforehand.

I could list further examples, but that ought to be an indicator of where I come from ideologically: I'm on the left, but not in such a way as to (I hope) keep me from being fair.

You might at this point be asking yourself why a Stephen King fan-blogger is talking about politics at all.  It's a fair question.  As I stated above, I am not particularly interested in politics.  By that, I mean that I don't follow it the way some people do.  It's not that I don't care, it's just that I have very little ability to act upon my political beliefs without completely overhauling my entire life.  Sure, theoretically I could devote my free-time to being some sort of local political activist, but the energy doing so would require would mean that I would have to effectively stop blogging, stop reading, stop watching movies and television shows, etc., except to the extent they aided my political goals.  To do it any other way would be to do it half-assed and ill-informed, and that's no way to do it.  Even then, it's unlikely that I could ever have any sort of major impact; instead, what would likely be the result is the political equivalent of masturbation, an act that really didn't do anyone other than myself much good.

That ain't for me.  If you take a dim view of that outlook on politics, that's entirely within your right.

With that in mind, I think of my blog as being a place where politics will only rarely come into play, simply because it's not a major part of my personality.  And yet, it's impossible to escape entirely.  Some, after all, would say that everything is political, whether we wish it to be or not.  That might or might not be true; I don't know.  But I do know that Stephen King's newest novel, 11/22/63, has major political content, and that makes it difficult to not talk politics at least a little bit when talking about the novel.

So let's talk politics a wee, wee bit.  Please note that there are a few mild spoilers for those who have not read 11/22/63 yet.

Unsurprisingly, King has been criticized in some corners for his novel.  I don't read most of the places where such criticism would be heaviest, but I've seen a few comments sections populated by the type of people who seemingly can't go two sentences without using the words "Obamacare," "libtards," or "DemocRATS," and a few others populated by people who almost certainly wrote their diatribes while wearing hats made out tin-foil.  You folks have at it; don't bring it around here, but have right at it, and what's it matter if someone like me thinks living with you must be like living with cancer?

One of King's recent television interviews -- this was on Hardball with Chris Matthews -- stirred the pot up a bit.  In the interview, Matthews mentioned King's notion that the political climate in which Kennedy was assassinated was not totally unlike the current political climate in which Barack Obama exists.  King talked for a bit about the parallels he sees between the two, including the right-wing anger toward both Presidents, and at some point Matthews -- quite reasonably, I thought -- pointed out that, as a Marxist, Lee Harvey Oswald was from the left-wing, not the right.  King was flustered by this a bit, and didn't do a particularly good job of defending himself.

In noting the undeniable similarities between Kennedy and Barack Obama, King's argument isn't that Kennedy's assassination was a result of right-wing extremism akin to the type America is currently seeing; that was a reasonable deduction for a political commentator like Matthews to make, but it's an incorrect one.  King would have been able to deflect it easily, I suspect, but he was clearly surprised by the very question, and he seemed to do the old mental equivalent of a long-nailed dog skittering in place while trying to run across a tile floor.  No, the way I see it, the idea is simply that when right-wing extremism becomes prevalent, it also brings about left-wing extremism as a result (and vice-versa).  King is leery of extremism of any sort, and I suspect he would say that he feels it is dangerous because it tends to draw mentally unbalanced people to it.  There is, after all, a reason why the phrase is "the lunatic fringe." It's a politically neutral phrase, and while not everyone to the far end of either side is a lunatic, I think it's reasonable to assume that the vast majority of the lunatics end up to one extreme or the other.

Part of Oswald's psychopathy, then, might be said to be the result of right-wing extemism in that it was a countering response to it: right-wing antics of the time pushed Oswald further to the left, and once he was there, his lunacy took hold and never let go.  That Kennedy ended up being assassinated by a left-wing nutbag rather than a right-wing one isn't an indication that there was no right-wing extremism in the early '60s; it's just a bitter bit of irony.

Just today, King wrote an op-ed piece which appeared in the New York Times and which addresses some of these issues.  King wrote the piece as a response to "The Enduring Cult of Kennedy," another op-ed piece from the Times (this one by columnist Ross Douthat).  Douhat takes issue -- not without merit -- with the enduring myth of Kennedy.  I'm sympathetic with him to some degree: I'm no expert on Kennedy, but it doesn't really seem that he was all THAT good a President.  He seems to feel as if King is firmly on the side of the Camelot camp, and I have to wonder, based on that, whether Douhat actually read the novel or not.  After saving Kennedy, Jake returns to 2011 to find that American history has, to put it mildly, not progressed for the better.  Camelot never happened, to say the least; if anything, King is critical of Kennedy's political abilities, even suggesting that it might well be for the best that he died.  This is a part of the larger theme of the novel (i.e., the notion that it's a virtue to appreciate the here and now), and maybe that's why the left hasn't pounced on King the way I half-expected.  After all, he is not overly kind to one of their ultimate idols.  I don't know, maybe I'm just not seeing those comments.  Either way, I think it would be patently false to accuse King of buying into the Camelot myth in the novel.

What he has bought into is the myth of the Camelot myth. That's what Douhat seems to have missed out on.  It's not Kennedy himself who matters at this point: it's the myth of Kennedy.  Men die; myths live forever, as a part of the ongoing cultural process of trying to shape and inform what it means to Be American.  As such, ultimately THAT is what is important about Kennedy.  Would we draw inspiration from him if he had lived?  Hard to say.  Kennedy, in some ways, is like Chris Farley: we love him primarily for the idea of what he might eventually have done, and only a little for what he actually did.  There is some hypocrisy in those attitudes, but it's also an unavoidable by-product of life: we mythologize things.  All of us have certain memories of our own lives that we hold onto and then turn into stories that we can tell over and over again: something we did while hunting Easter eggs, or something that happened on a first date, or some horrible thing a co-worker said, or something amusing a pet did, et cetera, et cetera. We all do this; every single one of us.

We do it on a cultural level, too.  It is important to remember history accurately, but it's also unavoidable that as a culture, we are going to misremember it semi-intentionally.  Douhat cannot be unaware of that fact; odds are that, as a conservative, he's engaged in it multiple times on the subject of one Ronald Reagan.  (By the by, I freely plead guilty to the charge of being a liberal, but I also freely admit to loving Ronald Reagan; always did, and probably always will.) So on the one hand, he seems in his article to be willfully ignoring a cultural fact of life in order to make a largely irrelevant point, and on the other hand, he's missed one of the key facets of King's novel.

Unsurprisingly, King's response is a vastly more interesting.  He makes a compelling argument that Oswald was motivated less by politics than he was by the (metaphorical) worms in his brain; the article is mandatory reading for anyone who's read 11/22/63, and I'd suggest that you give Douhat's article a read first just so that you know what King is responding to.

That's about all I've got to say about politics, I guess.  If you find fault with something I've said, feel free to point it out, but I'll warn you in advance: keep it civil, and keep it level-headed.  In return, I promise to keep politics -- and religion, too -- out of my blog as much as humanly possible.  After all, I'm no expert on politics, and while I think me way of seeing things makes sense, I'd be reluctant to ever try and push it on anyone else.  You want that, it's easily found elsewhere; here, you can find opinions on deep subjects like whether the new Muppet movie is good (it isn't; it's GREAT) or whether Martin Scorsese's Hugo is the best 3D done to date (it is, and nothing else I've seen is even close).

THAT's the kind of stuff I feel qualified to talk about.


Moving on, I'd now like to talk just a wee bit about a different ending for 11/22/63, one which many King fans may be unfamiliar with.  To do so, I'll (obviously) be getting into heavy spoilers about the novel ... not in terms of what happens in the novel, but in terms of the ending King ended up NOT giving it.

So if you haven't read it yet, this'd be a good place for you to duck out.  Don't say I didn't warn you!

Back in early 2007, when Marvel Comics was getting ready to launch its series of Dark Tower comics, they dedicated an issue of their Marvel Spotlight comic to King's series of novels.  It's a cool issue, too: it's got a lengthy interview with Robin Furth, plot summaries of all seven novels, good interviews with Jae Lee, Richard Isanove, and Peter David, artwork ... and a highly interesting couple of pages written by King himself.

In that piece -- which is titled "An open letter from Stephen King" -- the author has this to say:
Other novels I might consider (for future comic adaptations)?  Firestarter would be a natural, but I don't know what the rights situation is.  Original projects?  You bet.  I'd like to do a kickbutt, zombies-overrun-the-world story told from the viewpoint of several girls who start out as Valley Drones and become tough take-no-prisoners survivors.  I'd like to tell a time-travel story where this guy finds a diner that connects to 1958 ... you always go back to the same day.  So one day he goes back and just stays. Leaves his 2007 life behind.  His goal?  To get up to November 22, 1963, and stop Lee Harvey Oswald.  He does, and he's convinced he's just FIXED THE WORLD.  But when he goes back to '07, the world's a nuclear slag-heap.  Not good to fool with Father Time.  So then he has to go back again and stop himself ... only he's taken on a fatal dose of radiation, so it's a race against time.
Now, for those of you who've finished 11/22/63, you obviously know that King didn't stick with this ending.  But he certainly used elements of it: the notion of Jake succeeding in saving Kennedy remained, as did the notion of finding out that saving Kennedy was not exactly the cultural boon the myth of Camelot would suggest it would be.

I had never read this Marvel Spotlight issue as of the beginning of this summer.  In fact, I'd never heard of it, and when I did hear about it, I immediately got online and purchased a used copy.  When I got it, I read it cover-to-cover, and winced when I got to that bit about the time-travel story; by that point, 11/22/63 had been announced, so I assumed I'd read a whopper of a spoiler.  I didn't worry about it too much, though, because I thought the idea of that ending kicked complete ass.  In fact, once I started reading the novel and it became apparent that the ending would have to be different, I was a little bummed out.  Only a little; I loved the novel, and loved the ending (which was apparently Joe Hill's idea, according to King's Afterword to the novel).  But DVD culture has also taught me to be able to enjoy the idea of alternative ideas that never quite came to fruition, and I enjoy this different ending in the same way.

Why, you ask, couldn't King have used that idea?  Well, my guess is that sometime after 2007, he came up with the idea of the past resetting each time someone went through the portal, and went with the story in that direction.  That, obviously, makes it impossible for a dying Jake to go back in time again and have to stop himself, and without that bit of drama, the notion of the world being a fallout zone becomes problematic.  I suppose it could have made a decent Rod Serling-esque ending on its own, without the notion of Jake resetting the past at all; you could also have added some drama involving a rapidly dying Jake struggling to get back to the portal so that he could reset things, possibly dying the instant he goes through and leaving a mysterious corpse in 1958.  That could have been cool.

Either way, King went in a different direction, and I think it's a very satisfying one.  Still...I DO love that original idea.

By the by, I also love the idea of the Valley Girls in the zombie apocalypse.  I wonder if he's worked on that one at all.  I kinda hope it'll be next in line after Doctor Sleep!

For those who are interested, by the way, you can probably still find copies of that Marvel Spotlight issue online.  It was also reprinted as part of the recent Dark Tower Omnibus edition Marvel released.  That one'll set you back $95 at a minimum, but if you're a fan, it's well worth having.

Them's my thinks for now.  I would wager that the next thing I write will be a review of A&E's Bag of Bones, which I hope to enjoy.  After that...?  Man, I've still got to write some reviews of King's 2011 short-story output; he had a great year of short fiction ("Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," "Under the Weather," "Mile 81," "The Little Green God of Agony" and "The Dune," four of which I loved), and it deserves some serious consideration.  I'll do my best to make that a priority between now and the end of the year.


  1. As I haven't read this one yet, I ducked out of this where you recommended.

    I loved this: "what's it matter if someone like me thinks living with you must be like living with cancer?" Good God, that's true. People that are so Pavlovian-conditioned to never stop banging on about their pet-infotainment's-talking-points drive me absolutely insane.

    I'm with you. I tend to be culturally liberal but economically conservative. The talking points/shortcuts to thinking/ hypocrisy of both 'sides' is a constant eye-roller.

    I guess I have what some may call "conspiratorial leanings," which turn some off. Understandable. But I spent quite a bit of time reading up (scholarly reading, not like "The Illuminati" readings - though I get a kick out of that, too, without buying into the majority of it) on economic history and the rich and powerful and certain things suggest themselves. But whatever - just saying, I hear you.

    And, like you, at the end of the day, I realize what I'm most qualified/ jazzed to discuss is never whether either side of the aisle is right or wrong or why, but whether Midnight Run is the best film ever made (it might be) or why Mick Garris blows. To each his own, I guess, and It Is The Tale Not He Who Tells It, forevermore.

  2. I also have conspiratorial leanings, but they are very mild, mainly because I just don't think about that sort of stuff. But I love -- from an standpoint of entertainment if absolutely nothing else -- to indulge in the occasional UFO story.

    Ever listen to Clyde Lewis? He has a pretty good radio show called Ground Zero. I disagree with about 3/4ths of what he says, but he's fun to listen to. You can get it in podcast form, the RSS feed for which can be found here:

  3. Never have, no, thanks for the link. A quick google search makes me think I'll enjoy it.

    I once made it through William Cooper's entire Mystery Babylon series for his old radio show The Hour of the Time. I wrote the guys who run it now and asked if there was a badge or a medal or something available for anyone who made it through all 36 parts or however many there were. No answer, no fanfare. Ah well.

    Lots of UFO stuff in there, though, which I also get a kick out of.

  4. Comment the First:

    Okay, I was finally able to finish this blog, many moons later, now that I've read the book.

    Just a couple quick responses (i've got to save some thoughts for my own blog, after all!) First:

    "the idea is simply that when right-wing extremism becomes prevalent, it also brings about left-wing extremism as a result (and vice-versa)."

    This is exactly the crux of it all, expressed in a different way by "There is no such thing as a two-sided coin" or the "Tar Baby Principle," that's tar baby from the Briar Patch, folks, not anything crazy... i.e. "You are attached to what you attack." This is what drives me craziest about the MSNBC/ Fox News divide. Both are hopelessly addicted and dependent on one another. I can't stand it. The world would be so much better without this endless, mad obsession with hating one another. This failure to see both as the same coin, endlessly flipped to bedazzle their respective audience, is the biggest obstacle to peace in our time, if I wanted to be sensationalist about it. You just can't argue with people (or get through to them) if they can't see the truth of this; it's Two Minutes Hate, from 1984, down the line, 24-7.

    Second, excellent point about King's buying the idea of the myth of Camelot/ JFK. It seems Douhat is way off in his assessment, here. The novel clearly discusses the dangers of buying into that myth and does not present King as a man who believes the world would change for the better if only JFK had been allowed to lead us into Nirvana.


    "(By the by, I freely plead guilty to the charge of being a liberal, but I also freely admit to loving Ronald Reagan; always did, and probably always will.) "

    I'm with you 100% on this. Reagan was the last President I liked, in the same way I "like" Knight Rider or something. It'll always make me happy to hear the theme music because of the time of my life it evokes, but good God, his policies/ Presidency fit too congruently into my understanding of an endless-secession-of-nightmarish-US-Presidencies of the 20th century. Step by step towards the future gulag! haha, ok, I'm exaggerating. Anyway, I get a kick out of reagan and always will, but I can't square it with my 2013 political understanding at all.

    1. Yes, the current cultural climate as it regards politics is simply abysmal. Maybe it's always been this way and I just never noticed. If so, can somebody point the way toward that particular hole in the sand? I'm not sayi g I'd like to stick my head down it ... but I'd LOVE to have the option near to hand.

      By the way, if you want to wallow in some of the worst of this type stuff, look no further than virtually any right-wing website's coverage of King's recent essay "Guns." The comments sections of those articles are ... discouraging.

      I always enjoy the ones that involve people railing about celebrities should keeps theirs mouths shut about such topics. Keep their opinions to themselves, and all that. These people would do exactly the same thing King is doing; they'd use their celebrity status to make their opinions heard. Know how I know? BECAUSE THEY ARE USING THE INTERNET TO MAKE THEIR OPINIONS HEARD. The only difference is that they are nobodies, so nobody cares what they're saying except for other nobodies.


      Of course, conservatives by no means have idiocy locked down. I got accosted at work this weekend by an imbecile who complained about how our movie theatre didn't keep "Promised Land" longer. She alleged that we'd only shown it one time per day, in the morning. False. I explained that we ran it on a full schedule for a week, and that virtually nobody came to see it, so it got bumped to one showtime a day for its second week. Nobody came to those shows, either, so we dumped it.

      She then complained that we had only shown "Argo" during the day, and for only a week. Again, false. We ran it for, like, six weeks ... when it originally came out ... in October. Yes, we ran it for a week, with daytime shows only, when it was rereleased in January. Guess what? NOBODY CAME TO SEE THE FUCKING THING! Since we are a business, and therefore dependent on people spending money, we dumped the movie.

      Upon hearing this, she said that she guessed it must only be the shoot-'em-ups that did well, not socially-conscious and important movies like "Promised Land."

      She floated off on a cloud of smug, and I sat there wondering why it's impossible to explain things to some people. Then I realized: it's because some people don't actually want explanations. They basically just want to complain, so that they can feel put-upon and abused.

      This day and age, they get plenty of opportunities to indulge in that kind of wallowing, too.

    2. I've seen a few reactions to the "Guns" essay - it is exactly as you say. Unfortunately.

      I tend to give the leftist reactionaries a harder time than the right, but that's only because I'm surrounded by the former here in Chicago. (or on facebook - most of my news feed is filled with such.) When I was running the VFW back in East Asscrack, RI, it was a different story; that was a SMH of a different color.

    3. "floated away in a cloud of smug," is good; I may have to steal that! (I'll cite ya)

  5. Comment the second:

    Fourth, man, I love that alternate ending King discusses, of having to go back to stop himself, and being dosed with radiation poisoning to boot. I wouldn't trade that "Citizen of the Century" coda for anything; it's great-as-hell. As you say, the time-reset complicates things. But, of course, since time travel is impossible (verdammt) I give any author all the latitude he or she needs to do whatever the hell she or he wants, just so long as I enjoy it. I'm easy.

    (One alternate ending I would have enjoyed seeing was if Jake killed someone by accident who just so happens to have been of the grassy knoll gunmen. Or if he explored the George Bush/ de Mohrenschildt connection... anyway! I'm happy with how King handled it, more than happy, it's just one of those topics with a million "strings.")

    I also wonder if the ending to "Ur" represents a different attempt at ending 11/22/63. Did one influence the other? Did he say "Ok, instead of bringing the Low Men into this, I'll just save them for 'Ur?'"

    I don't understand the Obama/ Kennedy parallels whatsoever. That to me is 100% the creation of MSNBC et al. The political situation of the two Presidencies could not be more different. (Well, it could, I guess) It's the sort of thing that needs to be promoted to be believed via pavlonian conditioning. In the same way the Koch Bros. have to be evil for George Soros to be good/ Fox News has to be evil in order for MSNBC to be good, etc. But that's just me. Not arguing or anything, just expressing my enduring confusion at the very idea everytime it's floated. To quote Mr. Garrison from Stone's "JFK," "We are through the looking glass here, gentlemen..."

    Great stuff! Glad I circled back to read these.

    1. Thanks! I was pretty happy with the way these reviews turned out. That isn't always the case, but in THIS case, I think I did a pretty good job. Toot! Toot! That's the sound of me tootin' my own horn.

      I get the Obama / Kennedy thing, to a certain extent. There are some similarities in terms of their age and whatnot, and their political experience. Kennedy was the first Catholic elected to the office, and I guess that was a big deal. Maybe not as big a deal as being the first black dude elected President; but not nothin', either.

      But to a large extent, yes, it probably is mostly a media creation. Or, hey, maybe not. I'm not knowledgeable enough to say. "Mad Men" -- the best show on television, bar none -- certainly made it seem like a lot of people hated Kennedy's fuckin' guts. Maybe there's something to it.

      Sadly, I'm not really interested enough to find out. But I'm inclined to agree with you, just because it SEEMS true that it's mostly a bunch of bull.