James Ellroy and the Year of the Radical Right
Baynard WoodsThat paranoid style is alive again—and in many ways it models itself on that previous countercultural moment. This year was the perfect time then for the release of Blood’s a Rover the final volume of the trilogy that may well be the great work of fiction about the right-wing counterculture, James Ellroy’s Underworld USA. With this dark and daunting book, Ellroy, a crime writer known for Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential, completes his strange, disturbing and ultimately compelling picture of American politics as crime.
In James Ellory's text, the vivisections of the radical right counter-culture in America - which has resurfaced fiercely under an Obama presidency - are examined, probed, explored.
Baynard Woods of Columbia City Paper has said that Ellroy ought to be required reading for Americans.
Fusing ideas of criminology with US political culture, Ellroy has gone further than anyone in his symbolism commentary on the crime at the heart of American politics.
The landscape from which he draws his critique and the characters which inhabit Underworld USA - a novel about the radical right in America - is bleak and gritty. It is the rough foundation of the Tea Party patriots; the players of drama which continue to resurge at times of political stress such as the present hour.
James EllroyWhen Ellroy launched the series with American Tabloid (1995), right-wing paranoia about the Clinton presidency added wind to his sails, and with Obama in the White House conditions are even more favourable. Racially charged hysteria and accusations of communism are the ideological small change of the power players in these books. In a note appended to advance copies, Ellroy writes that "this is a book for these times!" It's also filled, he says needlessly, "with my trademark craaaaazy sh*t".
Woods makes the claim that noone can really know what they are talking about when they speak on the "Tea Baggers", unless they have read Ellroy, who knows more than anyone the complexity of this underworld counter-culture which is all around us. Above all, Ellroy focuses on paranoia and hysteria: Those two driving forces which one such as Glenn Beck knows so well how to fan the flames of, and harness to his own purposes.
The antiObamaism has taken itself way and beyond even the antiClinton hysteria; Ellroy makes much of this, and puts it to good use.
Radical Conservatives controlled the country for most of this decade. But last year saw the birth of the Conservative counterculture. Obama’s election has allowed racists, insurance companies, polluters, Bible Beaters, anti-intellectuals, End Timers, Conspiracy theorists, Birchers, Birthers, Beck, Nativists, red state Red baiters, lobbyists, Dobbsists and disgruntled Baby Boomers afraid that they aren’t the center of the world anymore, to come together and present themselves as anti-fascist, anti-communist, and anti-elitist patriots, naming their movement after the Boston Tea Party.
Right-wingers hated Clinton, Carter and Johnson pretty good—but they were all Southern at least. The Right has not known such countercultural fury since the election of John Kennedy in 1960, when the paranoid Bircher/Klan counterculture was equally, or more, important than the leftist counterculture that was developing. Countercultures are always represented as much by style as by substance. The historian Richard Hofstadter detailed this style in his book The Paranoid Style in American Politics, which came out in 1964. That paranoid style is alive again—and in many ways it models itself on that previous countercultural moment.
This year was the perfect time then for the release of Blood’s a Rover the final volume of the trilogy that may well be the great work of fiction about the right-wing counterculture, James Ellroy’s Underworld USA.
With this dark and daunting book, Ellroy, a crime writer known for Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential, completes his strange, disturbing and ultimately compelling picture of American politics as crime. The trilogy begins with American Tabloid just before the election of John Kennedy and leads to his assassination—an event arranged by two of the book’s main characters. Ellroy’s timing was perfect. American Tabloid may have chronicled the early sixties but it came out in 1995, just as the radical right was rising again as an anti-Clinton insurgency. The Cold Six Thousand, which came out in 2001, followed many of the same characters as they helped instigate and orchestrate the escalation in Viet Nam, the drug trade, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
These books are about the heroes of the tea-bag movement, the small-time and often conflicted operatives working with some loose government sanction. It is hard to believe how insightful Ellroy was. Ellroy’s heroes help us understand the part of the country that it is most important for us to understand—our worst part. The heroes of Ellroy’s books are the torturers at Abu Ghraib. They are the bumbling CIA operatives found guilty of kidnapping in Italy, and the Blackwater employees who went on “snatch and grab” missions with them.
The New Radical Right might try to distance itself from Bush, but Cheney and Rumsfeld remain its patron saints, with their brash, defiant, almost rock n’ roll style. Joe Wilson was just Rumsfeld on the other end of the podium. The Boston Tea Party was not a demonstration—it was an act of destruction, of radical subversion. The tea party was intended to incite revolution. By using this name, DeMint and his cohort admit that their purpose is to subvert the government of the United States. This is where DeMint gets some of his radical chic. You can almost hear him with his buddies making fun of how square his country cousin Lindsey is.
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