Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hugo-Not: Crossing the Border of Tyranny

Sometimes, even those toward whom you are favorably disposed cross a boundary and make you question how you'd ever thought kindly of them.

Granted, I've never felt completely warm and fuzzy about Hugo Chavez. True, I defended his right to live when Pat Robertson was ready to call out the Death Squads of Christ to Venezuela. And I did find Chavez's UN speech, in which he referred to Bush as a "demon" both entertaining and revealing.

But now he has crossed the line from socialist revolutionary to petty despot. He is taking over the businesses and the press of his country and turning them into state organs of profit and propaganda.

However you look at it, this is a brute force example of Stalinism. Hugo Chavez has crossed the line, and he had better step back quickly, or else he has taken the first step on the road to the destruction of his government and his former vision of a better, more just nation.

Who else is blaming the media for all his problems? Our buddy Paul Wolfowitz, who is just returning to his old employer's favorite fallback excuse: the liberal media is to blame for everything we do and for every seeming error we commit.

I've been fired a number of times in my career, and I have never had to sling shit or spit backwards at anyone in public over it. Where does this guy get off? He swung his main squeeze into a corporate cushion so he could more easily slap her up on the desktop whenever he felt like it during the day. And this is the media's fault?

This last one would be as funny as that, except that it's about an author I really do care a lot about. There are reports that the final Harry Potter tome is being printed in secret and amid darkness by employees who are under threat of immediate dismissal if they are caught reading, let alone copying, the text they are printing in a perpetual night of police-state fear.

If this is true (and if it's not, I blame the media), and Ms. Rowling is endorsing this insanity, then she too is setting herself up for a fall. This kind of obsession over plot, this compulsion over suspense, is what makes for bad stories--the kind we have not gotten from Rowling so far. Literature is not about what happens; it is about the meaning that each individual takes away from the story. Before I ever read Arundhati Roy's novel, The God of Small Things, I knew a lot about it, and I knew how it ended. But once I read it, it was just as beautiful and original as if I'd never heard about it before. I also remember seeing The Green Mile well before I read King's novel, and the book was still one of the most moving reads I've had in my life.

The same goes for Harry Potter: if you were to tell me everything that's going to be in this final book, I'd still read it and love it for its messages. In fact, I had seen the first movie before I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and its metaphor fairly leaped off the page at me nonetheless. Two years later, I was writing my own book about the penetrating social and personal messages contained in these stories of wizards and witches.

Ms. Rowling: if you are going to go stir-crazy over information leaks from printers, it will degrade the quality of your future work. Let go and let this phenomenon take its own course, so that you can remain an artist and not lower yourself to the level of a plot-hack. You stand in the forefront of fiction writers today because your work causes affliction to demagogues like this kook. Why do you think Bishop Burke (who, in addition to hating Harry Potter, also hates Ted Kennedy, Sheryl Crow, and Michael J. Fox) wishes to suppress your work, Ms. Rowling? Could it be that when he looks at Lord Voldemort, he sees himself? Could it be that you successfully strip away the purple veneer of piety and reveal the rotting corruption beneath it? Could it have something to do with the way a "Ministry"—either of "magic" (religion) or of state (no KR reporters allowed on our plane)—manipulates and intimidates the press? Yes, you've laid that bare as well, in front of the most dangerous audience of all—the children. Voldemorts like Bush, Burke, and Chavez can't stand that kind of treatment, you know.

So it doesn't matter to me, Ms. Rowling, what we hear or when about the outcome or the plot of the final book. What matters is the meaning, which no one can "spoil," try as they might. I am far less concerned about whether Voldemort dies in Book 7 as I am about whether we can succeed in killing him off in our world, before it's too late.

And now, your Bush Administration MSE moment. We'll be presenting these quotations from one of the core texts of every psych graduate student's bookbag, The Psychiatric Mental Status Examination, by Paula T. Trzepacz and Robert W. Baker, throughout the coming weeks. Today's comes from page 51, in the "Mood and Affect" section—just think of the Bushian comedic "search" for WMDs at the Correspondents Dinner a few years back:

La Belle Indifference: Lack of the normally expected concern for an apparently serious condition...La belle indifference is associated with conversion disorder (previously known as hysteria) and various neurologic disorders. These patients typically lack insight regarding the emotions or conflict that underlie the conversion.

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