The Breakfast Table

Life’s Randomly Proportioned Cocktail

Dear Mim:

Back in the ‘80s–that eruption of a decade when we first met, and I almost drank myself to death–friends would repeat the story of how Ronald Reagan would watch the 7 o’clock network news, but then happily go on and take in Wheel of Fortune, even though the problems of the presidency continued to loom. They were seeking early confirmation that Ron was as dumb as a dinner plate, but I found it one of the befuddled old huckster’s more endearing qualities. You are absolutely right when you say Buffy the Vampire Slayer and your opposition to the death penalty must exist “cheek by jowl.” The modern world comes at us as a randomly proportioned cocktail of the portentous, the terrifying, and the trivial. Although it may seem to some like ersatz sophistication, the only way I can find to process the torrent of information to which I find myself constantly exposed is with a trash aesthetic. While all around grows unmanageably grave, The Simpsons, Eddie Izzard, a James Elroy novel, or the fact that Taco Bell is giving away free alien eyeballs, and I simply have to have one, all prevent my perspectives from succumbing to the kind of cultural isolation and spiteful tunnel vision that has become the hallmark of modern political discussion.

One e-mail complainant castigates Slate for allowing someone “who wrote a book about Jim Morrison” loose to practice news commentary at “The Breakfast Table.” (In fact, it’s a novel that Publishers Weekly just describes as “jagged and flashy,” but that’s beside the point.) So what does this guy want? Another pigeonhole graduate of the Robert Novak/Arianna Huffington Pundit School, where absolute and entrenched “my side right, your side wrong” makes a marketable media commodity? Unfortunately homie can’t play that, and I don’t think, dear, Mim, you can either. We both still think too much, and are even willing to lower our sophistication, no matter how ersatz, to the childlike simplicity of asking what’s wrong with this picture when needed.

The reason I have spent so much space and energy sticking needles in the voodoo dummy of George W. is not because I’m a committed Democrat, Republican, liberal, compassionate conservative, or whatever. My politics are, in fact, much more murky. (In the privacy of night, I still weep for Che Guevara and the IWW.) I simply don’t want the American people–and the world–to enter a new millennium ruled by a man who was elected to the most powerful post on the planet simply because he had the most money.

Promoting my book, Conspiracies, Lies and Hidden Agendas, I encountered large numbers of very frightened people. These are the ones who believe that FEMA and the Fed are merely fronts for the New World Order or the infiltrating aliens. Oh yes, easy to dismiss them as crazy, but they are also some of the 40 million with no health care, and the downsized castoffs whose manufacturing jobs have been sold south to Third World cheap labor. Refuge in paranoid fantasy because reality is devoid of hope creates that highly fertile soil where seeds of the most dangerous kind can germinate. The next administration is going the need all the brilliance, flexibility, and cultural insight it can muster, and I’ll welcome these attributes, if genuine, from any quarter and attached to just about any track record.

Love, l-u-v