Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Patrician in the Mudpit

In Ridley Scott's Gladiator, the great Derek Jacobi as Senator Gracchus corrects a fellow senator who chides him for enjoying the vulgar entertainments of the Colosseum. In one of the best lines of the movie, Jacobi states, "I don't pretend to be a man of the people. But I do try to be a man for the people. "

That, perhaps, is the best and most complete epitaph that will ever be written about Gore Vidal, who died yesterday in Los Angeles at age 86.

As with so many Great Men, an impressive, decades-long list of accomplishments guaranteed insularity against the rude entertainments of the latter day United States and virtually all of its enthusiasts. The anti Charles Bukowski, Vidal was most at home with his fellow elites and was far more easily imagined having dinner with Jack Kennedy at the White House or at the Four Seasons with Eleanor Roosevelt than at a monster truck rally or NASCAR event.

As I and many of us had concluded, the United States is doomed and in many ways has become the exact analogue of its actualization and potential. We are and always have been a vastly imperfect country, one marked by bigotry, intolerance and a thirst for blood and oil bringing out the worst in us. Yet the latter-day United States, the one that has risen from its glorious ashes in the last half of his life, has indisputably taken a turn for the worst, is much more removed than ever from perfection or at least perfectibility, and we couldn't have lost Vidal at a worse time. Far be it for him to sit at John Q. Public's dinner table and discuss politics and literature, Vidal nonetheless felt the kind of contempt for the governments and the wealthy that have led us since Reagan, the kind of contempt and sense of hopelessness that only a true patriot can feel. He was arguably the most famous and eloquent of the apostates of the 1%.

Yet, he was misunderstood at worst, derided by the right wing at best and at the very least, only partially understood. Those too young to remember the actual telecast and those who had not read his nonfiction books and historical novels may first recall Vidal calling William F. Buckley a "crypto Nazi" on August 28, 1968 during the infamous Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

His ten dollar name-calling, and Buckley's equally immature threat to respond with violence, was nonetheless delicious in that it showed two patricians on national television lowering themselves into a mud pit usually occupied by bottom feeders like Joe Pine. It was an updating of the hoi polloi throwing cream pies at each other in the last two minutes of a Three Stooges short.

But obviously there was much more to Gore Vidal than just the name-calling (however spot-on it was) and head-butting Norman Mailer backstage at the Dick Cavett show. Sort of the anti-George W. Bush, Gore's grandfather was a US Senator, he'd run for the House once and failed (and much later, for the US Senate). His literary reputation, I think it safe to say, is secure for at least the next century to come. But he was also a playwright, a screenwriter (Suddenly, Last Summer, as well as other movies) and even dabbled in acting.

Gore Vidal, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not, through his writing across several different genres and mediums, his acting, his punditry and so forth, made him an indelible, almost an iconic, image as to what it means to be a latter day American. What exact place he occupies and what Vidal represents beyond abstract concepts such as the will of the individual and collective American to bring about necessary, even radical change, will be debated at least for decades.

As with many liberals (meaning, those of us who see through the pandering, slandering and philandering of the Obama administration and many of the Democrats on the Hill), Vidal unconditionally respected only one president, Franklin Roosevelt, for whom his father briefly worked. He saw Reagan for the genial racist he was all along, always deeply suspected the Bush administration had advance knowledge of 9/11 (for which Christopher Hitchens, a man who could not afford to talk considering his own inexplicable and outlandish rah-rah, sis boom bahing of the Iraq war, took him to task in the aptly-named Vanity Fair) and knew we'd gone to war with Iraq over oil and predicted we'd eventually be subservient to China. He could plainly see through the flag-waving jingoism that we were waging, to quote one of his book titles, "Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace."

Perhaps best of all, he was blamed by the anti-Vidal, Michele Bachmann, for getting her out of the Democratic Party and on the ignorant side where she belongs.

As with Norman Mailer (Gary Gilmore) and Capote (Perry Smith and Dick Hickock), Vidal had formed a warm and more than sympathetic relationship with Oklahoma City bomber and convicted killer of 168, Tim McVeigh, the one great cypher and mystery in Vidal's long career in clear-eyed intellectualism. Vidal was not only on friendly terms with McVeigh, he actually thought he was innocent.

And, as the proverb goes, every wise man is permitted to act like a fool at least once. Whatever you want to say about him, few if any of us embodied the United States in mind, body and soul as thoroughly and as perfectly as Gore Vidal.


At August 1, 2012 at 2:03 PM, Anonymous Diva said...

"...we couldn't have lost Vidal at a worse time." Amen. Read BURR, if you haven't already (and I suspect you have).

Great post, thanks, JP.

At August 1, 2012 at 2:24 PM, Anonymous lynchie said...

What a great piece on Vidal. Very fair. With the passing of Vidal and Hitchens we as Americans have lost some of the golden age of literature. We are relegated to Twitting and texting and we never see two champions like Vidal and Buckley square off. that debate in 68 was delicious and I for one did not care about sides but relished in the debate. Sadly there are few living capable of such drama.

At August 2, 2012 at 3:21 AM, Blogger Chaim said...

Great article. Very well put. Vidal really was a one-of-a-kind. The Apostate of the 1%--perfect description. I can't really think of anyone who can remotely take his place.

At August 2, 2012 at 10:31 AM, Blogger Oblio said...

Very well said... many thanks.

At August 2, 2012 at 12:54 PM, Blogger LanceThruster said...

Very well written and expressed.

I think the Joe Six-pack equivalent of Vidal's Cassandra warnings are expressed by Stan Marsh of South Park -- "Dude, this is pretty fucked up right here."


Post a Comment

<< Home

KindleindaWind, my writing blog.

All Time Classics

  • Our Worse Half: The 25 Most Embarrassing States.
  • The Missing Security Tapes From the World Trade Center.
  • It's a Blunderful Life.
  • The Civil War II
  • Sweet Jesus, I Hate America
  • Top Ten Conservative Books
  • I Am Mr. Ed
  • Glenn Beck: Racist, Hate Monger, Comedian
  • The Ten Worst Music Videos of all Time
  • Assclowns of the Week

  • Links to the first 33 Assclowns of the Week.
  • Links to Assclowns of the Week 38-63.
  • #106: The Turkey Has Landed edition
  • #105: Blame it on Paris or Putin edition
  • #104: Make Racism Great Again Also Labor Day edition
  • #103: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Toilet edition
  • #102: Orange is the New Fat edition
  • #101: Electoral College Dropouts edition
  • #100: Centennial of Silliness edition
  • #99: Dr. Strangehate edition
  • #98: Get Bentghazi edition
  • #97: SNAPping Your Fingers at the Poor edition
  • #96: Treat or Treat, Kiss My Ass edition
  • #95: Monumental Stupidity double-sized edition
  • #94: House of 'Tards edition
  • #93: You Da Bomb! edition.
  • #92: Akin to a Fool edition.
  • #91: Aurora Moronealis edition.
  • #90: Keep Your Gubmint Hands Off My High Pre'mums and Deductibles! edition.
  • #89: Occupy the Catbird Seat/Thanksgiving edition.
  • #88: Heil Hitler edition.
  • #87: Let Sleeping Elephants Lie edition.
  • #86: the Maniacs edition.
  • #85: The Top 50 Assclowns of 2010 edition.
  • #(19)84: Midterm Madness edition.
  • #83: Spill, Baby, Spill! edition.
  • #82: Leave Corporations Alone, They’re People! edition.
  • #81: Hatin' on Haiti edition.
  • #80: Don't Get Your Panties in a Twist edition.
  • #79: Top 50 Assclowns of 2009 edition.
  • #78: Nattering Nabobs of Negativism edition.
  • #77: ...And Justice For Once edition.
  • #76: Reading Tea Leaves/Labor Day edition.
  • #75: Diamond Jubilee/Inaugural Edition
  • #74: Dropping the Crystal Ball Edition
  • #73: The Twelve Assclowns of Christmas Edition
  • #72: Trick or Treat Election Day Edition
  • #71: Grand Theft Autocrats Edition
  • #70: Soulless Corporations and the Politicians Who Love Them Edition
  • Empire Of The Senseless.
  • Conservative Values for an Unsaved World.
  • Esquire's Charles Pierce.
  • Brilliant @ Breakfast.
  • The Burning Platform.
  • The Rant.
  • Mock, Paper, Scissors.
  • James Petras.
  • Towle Road.
  • Avedon's Sideshow (the new site).
  • At Largely, Larisa Alexandrovna's place.
  • The Daily Howler.
  • The DCist.
  • Greg Palast.
  • Jon Swift. RIP, Al.
  • God is For Suckers.
  • The Rude Pundit.
  • Driftglass.
  • Newshounds.
  • William Grigg, a great find.
  • Brad Blog.
  • Down With Tyranny!, Howie Klein's blog.
  • Wayne's World. Party time! Excellent!
  • Busted Knuckles, aka Ornery Bastard.
  • Mills River Progressive.
  • Right Wing Watch.
  • Earthbond Misfit.
  • Anosognosia.
  • Echidne of the Snakes.
  • They Gave Us a Republic.
  • The Gawker.
  • Outtake Online, Emmy-winner Charlotte Robinson's site.
  • Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo
  • No More Mr. Nice Blog.
  • Head On Radio Network, Bob Kincaid.
  • Spocko's Brain.
  • Pandagon.
  • Slackivist.
  • WTF Is It Now?
  • No Blood For Hubris.
  • Lydia Cornell, a very smart and accomplished lady.
  • Roger Ailes (the good one.)
  • BlondeSense.
  • The Smirking Chimp.
  • Hammer of the Blogs.
  • Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.
  • Argville.
  • Existentialist Cowboy.
  • The Progressive.
  • The Nation.
  • Mother Jones.
  • Vanity Fair.
  • Citizens For Legitimate Government.
  • News Finder.
  • Indy Media Center.
  • Lexis News.
  • Military Religious Freedom.
  • McClatchy Newspapers.
  • The New Yorker.
  • Bloggingheads TV, political vlogging.
  • Find, the next-best thing to Nexis.
  • Altweeklies, for the news you won't get just anywhere.
  • The Smirking Chimp
  • Don Emmerich's Peace Blog
  • Wikileaks.
  • The Peoples' Voice.
  • CIA World Fact Book.
  • IP address locator.
  • Tom Tomorrow's hilarious strip.
  • Babelfish, an instant, online translator. I love to translate Ann Coulter's site into German.
  • Newsmeat: Find out who's donating to whom.
  • Wikipedia.
  • Uncyclopedia.
  • Icasualties
  • Free Press
  • YouTube
  • The Bone Bridge.
  • Powered by Blogger