Back in the fifties (the nineteen fifties, not the eighteen fifties) I did some writing for Mad Magazine, along with my friend Ernie Kovaks and a pair of comics named Bob and Ray. Bob Elliot was the father of Chris Elliot, who we didn’t know at the time would turn out to be funnier than his dad. The magazine was started by a guy named Al Feldstein. Well, actually, it was started by a guy named Harvey Kurtzman, a brilliant genius who lasted three issues and then got kicked off his own creation by the publisher, who hired Feldstein to take over. I guess Kurtzman was a little too nuts even for Mad. He was a powerhouse of a guy whose girlfriend at the time was a hot young babe named Gloria Steinem. Men are attracted to youth and beauty; women are attracted to power.
Anyway, I guess Feldstein was just crazy enough to make the magazine a huge success. Now long retired and living in Montana (which seems to be a magnet for marginally crazy people), Feldman, an old lefty, recently forwarded an e-mail to a friend of a friend of mine who forwarded it to me. A million plus people have watched this e-mail by now. It’s a slickly produced film attacking Barack Obama. Any surprise that the President’s base is now turning on him? It explains that he (Obama), is in the pocket of some amorphous, only hinted-at, world-wide society of manipulators who are behind everything bad in the world: “The Trilateral Commission, founded and conceived by David Rockefeller and his obscenely wealthy (redundancy?) Bilderberg Society cohorts… an amalgam of carefully chosen members of ‘The Elite’… the powerful rich… from the three main areas of the world: The U.S.A…. Europe… and Japan… who would slowly and carefully maneuver the free people of the Earth into a ‘One World’ system of Corporate/Fascism.” This is very old stuff. Conspiracy fodder. Been around for years in one form or another. International bankers turning Canada, the U.S. and Mexico into a single country, etc. And it’s all slickly packaged with music and graphics.
Left-wingers and right-wingers come together when they become extreme enough. The Nazi Party was called National Socialism, very similar to Stalin’s Communism, with the addition of “the Fatherland”. The crazies behind this film say they are non-partisan. They are: they’re equal-opportunity haters. They’ll never be satisfied until they are standing in the smoldering ruins of society… any society. They only feel comfortable in chaos. They whip up people’s fears and then give those fears something to latch onto.
The internet (as we are constantly reminded) is a powerful tool for good or for evil. This stuff is evil. It never goes away, and like all evil, it’s seductively attractive. No conservative can ever be conservative enough nor any liberal liberal enough to satisfy the conspiracy crowd. They are political nymphomaniacs, obsessive but incapable of satisfaction, and the stuff they disseminate is like pornography; once hooked on it you need more and more. Like the title of the late Marilyn Chambers flick, they are “Insatiable.”
In March, Andrew Breitbart was on a TV panel with a left-wing, intellectual African-American civil rights activist who, when asked if the election of Obama was at least a step forward, replied, “Just because one Black man is living in ‘public housing’ in Washington D. C., does not an end to racism make.” Nothing would satisfy him. If every white person in America were killed, he would turn on the remaining African-Americans and say they had been polluted and were Uncle Toms.
I’ve got no ending for this piece. I don’t know what to think. Everything’s a mess. The country is more divided than it has been since the war between the states. I’m not outraged by the left or the right. In my day, I’ve been both. One year I proudly sported on my refrigerator a Christmas card from the Young Republicans and Season’s Greetings from Gus Hall of the American Communist Party. The only people I intensely dislike are the ones who throw shit in the fan just to see everybody scurry out of the way.
I’m not a pessimist. I do believe that in some way we don’t understand, God has a hand in things and it will all work out for America. Our money says In God We Trust. And we are the best country, aren’t we?
Orson Bean’s latest novel, M@il For Mikey, is published by Barricade Books