1. SARAH’S SOUTHERN STRATEGY
Watching one of Sarah Palin’s ceaseless self-aggrandizing whines on fellow FOX news employee Sean Hannity’s show the other evening my thoughts quickly turned from fact to fiction. No, I’m not accusing former governor of Alaska of (as she is wont to say) “makin’ stuff up.” It’s simply that her antics call to mind the work of Terry Southern.
A satirical novelist and essayist, Southern (1924-1995) made his greatest impact as a screenwriter; his words and ideas evidencing a comic “voice” instantly recognizable for its sharp, slangy style. Who can forget “Deviated preverts” from Dr. Strangelove or “Get those stiffs off my land!” from The Loved One ? Born in 1964, Sarah Palin was a mere toddler during Southern’s heyday. But Palin’s Southern echo comes most strikingly into play in relation to his novel, The Magic Christian.
Published in 1959, The Magic Christian (1959) centers on an eccentric millionaire, Guy Grand, who delights in contriving elaborate practical jokes in order to prove that there is nothing so disgraceful or degrading that someone won’t do it for money. In one of his better japes he “upsets the equilibrium of a rather posh Madison Avenue advertising agency, ‘Jonathan Reynolds, Ltd.’, by secretly buying it, en passant so to speak, and putting in as president a pygmy. At that time it was rare for a person of this skin-pigmentation or stature—much the less both—to hold down a top-power post in one of these swank agencies, and these two handicaps alone would have been difficult enough to overcome though perhaps could have been overcome in due time had the chap shown a reasonable amount of savoir-faire and general ability, or the promise of developing it. In this case however, Grand had apparently paid the man to behave in an eccentric manner—to scurry about the offices like a squirrel and to chatter raucously in his native tongue. It was more than a nuisance.”
Now make no mistake, it’s perfectly obvious that Sarah Palin is neither black nor a pigmy. Moreover, Weekly Standard editor and neoconservative “Think Tank” adept had nothing Guy Grand-ish in mind when he suggested to Republican movers-and-shakers that she would be an ideal vice-presidential running-mate for John McCain– wooing women voters disappointed that Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama. McCain/Palin lost the election, but she won a public profile quickly expanded upon by resigning as governor, writing a memoir (Gong Rogue ), making public appearances to sell it, and earning even more money though speaking engagements before various Conservative groups. She put herself “out there” even more through her cable television series “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” and her daughter Bristol’s turn on “Dancing with the Stars.”
But this Mass media gravy train has started to slow of late. The cable series wasn’t renewed, Bristol didn’t win the ballroom dancing show, and a second book America By Heart appears headed straight for the landfills. Then came the massacre in Arizona and the discomforting fact that many recalled her “reload” rhetoric, the televised delight she took in slaughtering a defenseless Caribou, and most important of all the map brandished of districts she hoped Republicans would win in elections. It was replete with gun-sites over selected “targets” including that of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords had spoken of her discomfort at seeing this map not long before she was shot in a rampage that killed six and wounded several more. As the press noted at the time “according to Facebook, the top question dominating debate on the site over the weekend was ‘Is Sarah Palin to blame?’” And while there was much chatter on the web, particularly in political blogs, those that Palin refers to as “the Lamestream Media” fell all over themselves declaring her completely innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, even while a complete analysis of the obviously mentally unbalanced gunman has yet to be made.
Seemingly she was now “off the hook.“ But there was a bit of kefuffle when Palin invoked the historically grounded anti-semitic reference term “Blood Libel” to describe the wrong she felt had been done her. Jewish organizations loudly objected, and many in the media wondered why she used it. When asked by Hannity her reply was typical “I think the critics, again, were using anything that they could gather out of that statement. And I’m, you know, you can — you can spin up anything out of anybody’s statements that are released and use them against the person who is making the statement. But, no, I appreciated those who understood what it is that I meant, that a group of people being falsely accused of having blood on their hands, that is what blood libel means.” In other words the Jews don’t know what they’re talking about. Only Sarah Palin does.
Will anything come of this? That remains to be seen. But just like the employees of The Magic Christian’s “Jonathan Reynolds, Ltd.” the media is far too intimidated to say anything critical of Sarah Palin without prior approval from the Republican Party. She can “reload” at will, chattering raucously like Guy Grand’s pygmy to her heart’s content. The famously “free press” will, as always, cower and retreat.
Meanwhile somewhere in the cosmos Terry Southern is bowling over with laughter.
2. A CHICKEN SANDWICH TOO FAR
Are you willing to sell yourself out for a chicken sandwich? No, I’m not trying to make a joke. This is a very serious question facing LGBT citizens and their allies thanks to recent reports concerning “Chic-fil-A,” a chicken sandwich franchise whose product has been identified by the New York Times as “a staple of some Southern diets and a must-have for people who collect regional food experiences the way some people collect baseball cards.”
Nicknamed “Jesus chicken” by what the paper calls “jaded secular fans” the company has over the years not merely contributed to conservative religious causes but has “built [them] into its corporate ethos.” This got “Chic-fil-a,” into a spot of trouble back in 2002 via lawsuit field by the owner of its Houston franchise who happened to be a Muslim and therefore quite unenthusiastic about “training session” requirements that he pray to Jesus. The suit was settled but “Chic-fil-A’s” insistence that its employees “discuss their marital status and civic and church involvement” apparently continues to this day, augmented by the fact that the company’s operators and owners, the “WinShape Foundation” and the Cathy family, have given millions of dollars to “a variety of causes and programs, including scholarships that require a pledge to follow Christian values, a string of Christian-based foster homes and groups working to defeat same-sex marriage initiatives.” This came to light most recently when “Chic-fil-A’s” Pennsylvania branch was revealed to be supplying both sandwiches and overall support to a seminar planned taking place this month in Harrisburg entitled “The Art of Marriage: Getting to the Heart of God’s Design,” backed by the usual antigay groups including the self-styled “National Organization For Marriage.”
It goes without saying that “Chic-fil-A” has a perfect right to back whatever cause it wants to. But it also follows that prospective customers disinclined to hew to the “Fundamentalist” line have a perfect right to take their business elsewhere. Recall the “Coors” beer protests of two decades ago when gay activists joined forces with the AFL-CIO to protest both the union-busting practices and anti-gay activities of that “Fundamentalist”-minded company. Gay bars refused to stock the beer and a full-scale public relations effort — spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney’s out lesbian daughter Mary — was undertaken to win LGBT beer-drinkers back, with little success.
Recognizing that a similar crisis may be at hand “Chic-fil-A” president Dan Cathy has gone on the ‘net with a video statement declaring that “heartfelt hospitality is at the core of ‘Chick-fil-A’ “ and claiming “the operators simply provided sandwiches and brownies for the event” as it would for any other group saying the company “serves all people and values all people and that they weren’t endorsing anything or anyone
However in a subsequent statement Cathy declared “we believe in the Biblical definition of marriage” and its “personal and business values have always reflected a belief in the importance of marriage and family.” In other words he’s quite capable of talking out of both sides of his mouth provided our mouths are left open to be filled by a “Chick-fil-A” sandwich.
Still what the company had to say was less interesting than the remarks the Times culled from a very select potential customer of the paper‘s choosing. “I’m going to have to sit with this a little bit,” said Rachel Anderson of Berkeley, who married her same-sex partner of 15 years during the brief period when gay marriage was legal in 2008. One wonders what the couple’s twins have to say about this. One also wonders why the “newspaper of record” was unable to find anyone in the LGBT community willing to denounce “Chic-fil-a” or even say its sandwiches weren’t so tasty as to defy self-respect.
Either the Times reporter covering the incident, Kim Severson, has seriously failed her journalistic duties or the Food and Drug Administration would be advised to investigate “Chic-fil-a” sandwiches and their apparent power to — like Lamont Cranston’s “The Shadow” — “cloud men’s minds.” Who knew that the future of the LGBT community would all come down to a piece of chicken?
Sing us out boys.