Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Short Attention Span Theatre

“Politics Noir – Thirteen Dark Tales from the Corridors of Power” – Various Authors, 2011

Fiction provides a window into the ‘memes’ floating through the culture. This collection registers immense cynicism about the ‘democratic’ system in the U.S., while still not going for the jugular. American politics is shown in this collection, in the words of Paul Baran & Paul Sweezy, as ‘how political parties evolved into vote-gathering and patronage-dispensing machines without program or discipline.’ Plus blood.

This volume is another in the series of short-story modern noir (‘Native Noir’ reviewed below). Murder is the central event of most American TV, and this volume does not shy away from many, many political murders. Of course, we know ‘noir’ doesn’t always have to involve death – sometimes living while maimed or humiliated can be worse. Perhaps the most ‘noirish’ of all is when the powerful and rich get away with massive political crimes, perhaps without killing a soul. In that case, our whole brightly-colored culture hides noir day-in and day-out.

While most killings written here are shabby professional hits, the most high-profile is an assassination planned in 2008 by a female Democratic Party politician of her half-black rival for the presidency. Another features several black professionals being ‘penalized’ for falling in love with Condi Rice. Mike Davis dips back into history for a story of Dick Nixon administering fellatio to long-time director of the CIA, J Edgar Hoover, and the rampant chances for black-mail that affords. A Minnesota local, Pete Hautman, gives us a somewhat unbelievable tale of political killings in the metro-area by a small-time politician. There’s even a story of how New York hip-hop can make and ‘break’ politicians. One story actually involves no murders – just the attempted hi-jacking of a NY borough election by bogus robo-calls, fliers and illegal removal off the voter roles – shades of Florida 2000, Ohio 2004 or Election 2012. Only one gun is drawn.

Some of the stories do not directly reflect on politics – at least not in the narrow sense. One narrates the struggle of a Mexican kid learning to surf, and the problems he runs into in all-white and all-blond Palos Verdes, California. Another details the ‘happy-ending’ of a fundamentalist Muslim inman in Pakistan being stoned to death for breaking his own Sharia laws – because of watching porn. Another portrays de-mobilized IRA soldiers taking on their former leaders, who now drive BMWs and live in mansions. And it proves that, indeed, Irish English is another language.

The series features plenty of power-hungry women who will stop at nothing to be elected or get their candidate elected. (Where does this come from?) And who’d have known politicians know so many hit-men? But when I say pulls its punches, it is because good noir should be believable. And many of these stories are humorous but overdrawn to make a point. And the point is that the political system is rotten to the core. However, you don’t really need to exaggerate much. Just look at the headlines

My dream noir story is about Dick Cheney ordering the assassination of Paul Wellstone. I think that would be very revealing – and not ‘noir’ at all. More like a documentary. Or the CIA smuggling drugs into south-central Los Angeles. Or the captivity of Bradley Manning. Or the situation in the maximum security isolation prisons of California. Or the 2000 election in Florida. Or Guantanamo/ Bagram Air Force Base/ Abu Grahib. The CIA even sent people to Libya for ‘rendition’ - how’s that for noir? Or the killings of Joe Hill, Huey Long, UAW leader Walter Reuther, the U.S. Phoenix program in Vietnam, Lumumba, Malcolm X, the Chicago Black Panthers, the Kennedys, Salvador Allende and his aide, Orlando Letelier, South African radical Steven Biko, Harold Washington and every other convenient political death.

There’s noir for you.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, September 3, 2011

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