Tag Archives: Let the Devil Speak

Resentments of Things Past

This is another excerpt from “He May Be a Fool But He’s Our Fool: Lester Maddox, Randy Newman, and the American Culture Wars,” from my new collection Let the Devil Speak:

  The tune has varied little over the decades. Whether it’s Spiro Agnew snarling about effete intellectual snobs or Dan Quayle chirping about “the cultural elite,” the message is that the world is being run into the ground by elitists who look down on hardworking Americans while opening the gates to barbaric gays/ blacks/ immigrants/ Islamists, or any other boogieman of the moment. Sometimes the speaker makes the mistake of being too frank in public, as happened when Rev. Jerry Falwell went on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club broadcast a mere two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and announced, with smoke from incinerated humans and buildings still thick in the air over southern Manhattan, that the attacks reflected God’s anger at “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians.” But even when it fails to win elections, culture war rhetoric serves the purpose of shoring up the hardcore supporters – the base. In that case, failure is almost preferable to success. It keeps the base unified and, above all, angry. Resentment is the cheap fuel that keeps the culture wars running, and like most cheap fuels it generates an appalling amount of pollutants.  

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What the Devil Said

This is an excerpt from “He May Be a Fool But He’s Our Fool: Lester Maddox, Randy Newman, and the American Culture Wars,” from my new collection Let the Devil Speak:

     Great devil speeches crop up in the most unexpected places, and can dominate the stories in which they appear. Mention the film The Third Man and likely the first thing you’ll think of is black market profiteer Harry Lime’s discourse on how the bloody reign of the Borgias produced the innovations of the Renaissance, while the peace and prosperity of Switzerland produced nothing grander than the cuckoo clock. (It was actually invented in Germany, but nobody wants to interrupt Harry Lime when he’s on a roll.) In Milton’s Paradise Lost, the Serpent invites Eve to bite into the forbidden fruit by asking her why a just and loving god would want to deny his creations full knowledge of the world he has created for them: “Why but to keep ye low and ignorant.” Bite into the forbidden fruit, Satan promises, and “ye shall be as Gods/ Knowing both Good and Evil as they know.” Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes?” soliloquy in The Merchant of Venice may well be the ultimate devil speech. Shakespeare’s audience would have heard it as the self-justifying rant of a villain, but its sentiments have upended that role so completely that for a modern audience it is Antonio, not Shylock, who comes off as the villain.

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Support the Troops

From “The Unforgivable Thing,” an essay in my new collection Let the Devil Speak:

     Support the troops! I saw it on the magnetized yellow ribbons that appeared on the backs of cars, trucks, and SUVs. I heard it intoned on news programs even as the invasion of Iraq showed its first signs of turning into a long, bloody wallow of corruption and stupidity. And in the spring of 2004 I heard it snarled by a fireman as his colleagues gunned their engines and swerved their big shiny vehicles in front of our anti-war group and gave dozens of men, women, and children a righteous taste of patriotic tailpipe exhaust. The firefighters were supposed to stay at the back of the parade lineup so they could peel away to answer any emergency calls without too much disruption, but that morning it was more important for them to tell us that we, with our American flags and red-white-and-blue banners, did not belong in their parade.

     “Support the troops!” The fireman who barked it at us was so enraged by our mere presence that he couldn’t even bring himself to look straight at the group. He shot us a single sideways glance, red-faced with indignation, then took his place alongside one of the lumbering vehicles. He didn’t care if we were carrying a long banner with the names of the soldiers who had died in Iraq up to that point. He didn’t want to be reminded of dead soldiers. After all, it was a Memorial Day parade.

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Something to say

Let the Devil Speak: Articles, Essays, and Incitements is now out and ready for purchase in both paperback and Kindle ebook editions.

Well, I’m excited, anyway.

Learn how a segregationist governor’s appearance on The Dick Cavett Show inspired one of the greatest concept albums of the Seventies!  Savor the result of a collaboration between one of jazz music’s greatest composers and the man behind A Christmas Story! Ponder what the author of the noir thriller The Big Clock has to tell us about the newspaper industry!  See what happened when an anti-war group joined a Memorial Day parade and looked Red State America right in the face! Learn how a generation of underappreciated American writers got screwed out of credit for inspiring one of the biggest film franchises of all time!

Above all, find out why historian Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge, says I “wield a straight-razor for a pen.” Find out why Michael Gray, author of acclaimed books about Blind Willie McTell and Bob Dylan, calls me “an exemplary cultural critic.” And take a stroll through the area where politics, culture, and history overlap — and ignite.  

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End-of-Summer Reading

My consolation for seeing the summer come to an end is the imminent publication of my essay collection Let the Devil Speak. Meanwhile, NJ Spotlight is running an excerpt from American Dictators for its Summer Reading List. Thanks, guys.

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Book the Next

Cover LTDS 7-10-14More details will come in due course, but this is my next (nonfiction) book, due out later this summer. Check out the nice things Rick Perlstein and Michael Gray have to say on the cover. Do I need to say how much I love the cover?

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