Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Plot Against America (book)

The godfather of all paranoid "what if" totalitarian-fetish fantasies remains Orwell's 1984. That story, set in the future, paints a picture of what life would be like if Communism came to England.

There are those (you know, folkies like Billy Bragg, for example, or hippies like Alan Moore) who would suggest that by the year 1984 totalitarianism had indeed come to Britain, though in this case it was Thatcher's "fascist" regime, and not the dreaded Commies. When one's party is out of power, one is given to hyperbole.

Unlike Orwell's novel, where the government of Big Brother was established some time in the past, It Can't Happen Here happens in the "present" dramatizing what it would be like for a fascist-like dictator to be elected President -leading up to that election, and then that which happens afterwards.

I can't remember which I read first, Sinclair Lewis' play (based on his own novel of the same name) or Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Roth's book owes a great deal to the former novel, following a fictional past where Charles Lindbergh runs for President in 1940 and defeats the two-term FDR. In addition to social programs which oppress Jewish-Americans, the suggestion Roth makes is that by having an Anti-Semitic President will embolden a large part of our population to openly express the contempt for Jews which has always simmered unspoken.

What strikes me as interesting is that if, for example, we elected a Jewish President, even today, whether that pot wouldn't boil over, anyway. I mean, no one would call it bigotry, no one is bigoted anymore, but a Jewish-American President would have to be a Socialist, wouldn't he or she? I mean, that wouldn't be the America we grew up with, would it? That's not our America.

I digress.

The act of witnessing the destruction of America, of imagining it, of describing jack-booted thugs marching down Main Street, taking our guns, pressing our children into service, throwing bricks through store windows of the opposition, pulling people from their homes in the middle of night - or even during the day ... from It Can't Happen Here to The Plot Against America, it makes for great drama. The thrill you get, like watching a great horror film, imagining your own death, it's almost a human need.

Little surprise these morbid thrills have become such big business.

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