Paging Through History

“You know, I realize this is a creative re-imagining of my life, that there are many things that must be left to conjecture and inventive reconstruction on your part, but it may be time to remind readers of the trickiness of imagining history, trying to construct a realistic frame to see it through,” suggested the skeleton.  

Sure, we see it through a lens of inevitability, hindsight imparting the illusion of knowledge we can never have in real time.   It’s hard to imagine things as they were at the time, before the chickens begin coming home to roost.  When you were a fourteen year-old rooting for Hank Greeneberg as he hit fifty-eight home runs, you had no way of imagining that after driving in 262 runs in the next two seasons he’d have just 67 at bats in 1941 before missing the next three seasons defending his country.

“He’d been drafted in the pre-war draft and deferred a couple of times for flat feet, then he was re-classifed and inducted into the armed forces at the beginning of the 1941 baseball season.   On December 5, 1941 Sergeant Greenberg was honorably discharged pursuant to an act of Congress, along with any man over 28 who didn’t want to stay in the Army.   He was out and looking forward to hitting home runs in 1942.  Then, two days later, as your kids in Harlem used to say when someone got hit from the blindside, we got ‘japped’.  Greenberg re-enlisted, we actually served together, amazing as it seems now, in what was then called the Army Air Corps.  It was a little like Sekhnet’s father, at the end of his two-year hitch with a month to go when Pearl Harbor was hit, his tour extended by three or four years.”

Also, the world at the end of World War Two was at the dawn of the age of 24/7 multi-platform mass media we have been living in for decades now.   It’s hard to overestimate the power of wall-to-wall womb-to-tomb advertising noise we are subjected to now.   We elect our candidates based on the best ad campaigns, based on who presents as the best “product”.  

“Trump is a brand, has been branding himself for years.  George W. Bush was a brand.  It doesn’t matter what the brand is, mind you, Americans are trained to buy the brand name.  You want Brand X or Chef Boyardee?” the skeleton winked.   

We always had cans of that in the basement, the ravioli and, at one point, beef-a-roni.  Wow, I haven’t thought of that stuff in years.   The source of my bad eating habits, in a can, can to stovetop to bowl in just a couple of minutes.

“Advertising is really the genius of America, if you use genius in the sense of exerting an effect in the world through creative energy.  Harold Lasswell, who I know you encountered when you did research on the Nazi rise to power, said as much.  In those days, at the dawn of radio in the 1930s,  we still had an expectation, somehow, that we weren’t being constantly lied to.  Lasswell put his finger on how governments, and political factions, were increasingly unscrupulous in how they manipulated public opinion.   I remember being surprised at how enthusiastically you reacted to Lasswell, who was not without some very smart critics, then it occurred to me that, influential as he was when I was in college, he was largely forgotten by the time you encountered him a few decades later.  The things he laid out about the manipulation of public opinion, which sound prophetic when you place them in their historical context, are just taken for granted now.”

Lasswell:  Propaganda is the expression of opinions or actions carried out deliberately by individuals or groups with a view to influence the opinions or actions of other individuals or groups for predetermined ends through psychological manipulations.

“Duh. Politics 101, Elie.  Well, you always talk about that one section of Mein Kampf that Laswell mentions, where the slavering future dictator wipes the rabies foam off his mouth and gives a tight, coherent lecture on the need to say whatever is necessary to manipulate the populace, to terrify them and make them hate, and obey,” said the skeleton.  

“There it is in a nutshell, really.  Think of how many national elections are decided by discrete moments, innocuous enough in themselves, exploited with ruthless skill by the best advertising minds money can buy, going viral in the mass media — Dukakis on that tank, Howard Dean’s so-called scream.  Think of how many elections are decided by well-crafted, sensational appeals to terror— Willie Horton, Goldwater blowing up the world with nukes, Bin Laden”

“LBJ had that early success in Texas leaking the story that his opponent was a goat fucker.  Timed for a day or so before the election, to create maximum buzz and minimum time for rebuttal.  It was all they talked about in that part of Texas, why the guy was denying fucking a goat, or being suspiciously silent about it, or why he didn’t seem very convincing when he denied it.  You remember that 2004 election, after four disastrous years with Bush and Cheney?  Decided by millions of ‘values voters’ driven to the polls by their hatred of homosexuals.  Karl Rove brought out truckloads of anti-fag voters, ignorant haters just smart enough to find the Republican line on the ballot and cast their votes.   Wedge politics.  Throwing raw meat to your base.  An earnest search for solutions?  Nigger, please.”

Indeed.   I’ve heard that the Howard Dean ‘scream’ was the result of the kind of mic he was holding when he reacted with glee at that moment.  When played in the room where he whooped, with all the noise in there, it was hardly noticed by anyone, or even heard by most of the audience.  Fed directly into the board, from that unidirectional mic, with the crowd noise dialed way back by the design of the mic, it became the clear, insane squawk of a madman.  That was the clip everyone played.  He was the front-runner at the time, then, toast.  

“That’s how you do it,” said the skeleton.

“By the way, Elie, there’s one things that’s bothering me that I need to mention.   You have me saying ‘nigger’ an awful lot.  It’s not a word I ever used except quoting, and I taught you and your sister, if you recall, years before it became taboo and the most offensive word in the language, next to ‘cunt’ (and many cunts will argue to the fucking death about which is worse), not to use that hateful word.  I have no problem with the rest of the frank language, and frankly I have no problem with the fucking f-word or any other word, but ‘nigger’ is kind of in a special class.  It’s like kyke, I want only another Jew to call me a kyke, if somebody must call me a kyke.  I don’t care that blacks call each other ‘my nigga’ and shit like that, it’s their word now, not ours.  And it was never mine.”

Point taken.  I ask the reader to ignore any time the protagonist of this book seems to nonchalantly use the word ‘nigger’.

“That reminds me of that absurd movie you and your mother watched on TV one night, starring Sammy Davis, Jr.  He was the driver for an American officer in World War Two who was actually a German spy.  The officer spoke colloquial English without any accent, and had gone to spy school to learn everything about American culture.  Apparently he didn’t learn everything. When Sammy Davis, Jr. gets wise to him and accuses him of being a spy he flies into a rage and calls Davis a ‘dirty ny-jer’.  ‘It’s nigger, sir,’ says Davis, pulling his gun and placing the Nazi under arrest.  You remember how you and your mother hooted at that?”

That schvartze was one talented little Jew we were all proud of.

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