“Thish iszh M. Shtanton Evansh.”
SPECTRUM! ELEVEN DISTINCT VIEWPOINTS!
“Thish iszh M. Shtanton Evansh.”
SPECTRUM! ELEVEN DISTINCT VIEWPOINTS!
A book to laugh at and cherish forever. Here reviewed in depth.
It’s all here…fresh as harvest day! Read the whole thing!
The rating at Amazon (2 stars) has registered but our review, rather different from the long one on this site, does not appear. Here it is with an early outtake, for archival purposes.
The thesis here is that there is a “male supremacism” that intersects with and is perhaps a source feed for “white supremacism.” One may toss such cant phrases around as a kind of tribal signal to others of your political stripe, but that does not give them substance. The two things simply do not exist, except as the vaguest of constructs.
The editors and a couple of the writers strain to show that anti-feminist movements and internet sites are a gateway to the nationalist and racialist Right, or as they like to say, “white supremacism.” They have this argument backwards, however. While there was an overlap between the two worlds, this wasn’t because one was feeding the other, but because there was little downside risk in appearing to be feminist-critical or in pronouncing onself “redpilled.” This was in much the same way that people will sometimes mask themselves as libertarians or even neoreactionaries.
Much of the book is spent on stale references to “the manosphere,” “GamerGate,” and the “alt-right”: thus a 2013-2015 mindset predominates. Richard Spencer is mentioned seven times.
We linger at length on the career and works of Phyllis Schlafly and Gavin McInnes, for both of whom the writers have a grudging admiration. There is some unintended humor in the McInnes section, as when we’re told that membership in Proud Boys (which McInnes founded in July 2016) was limited to “cis men.” And the chapter’s author apparently had never heard of the Knights of Columbus; she believes it to be a front for “fundamentalist right-wing think tanks,” which would passing strange indeed for a Catholic laymen’s organization.
Most of the URLs given for endnote and index references are old and broken. Seeing as this was published in recent weeks, we have to assume the editors were just copying links for years ago, and not bothering to test or find an archived source.
[Both notions are constructs of the far-Left, used to slur any native traditions and social supports that the Left wishes to destroy. Marriage, normal sexual relations, love of family and country and beauty, the aristocratic principle, Christian devotion, respect for your cultural patrimony—these are all sneered at in this book, regarded as old hat, dispensable, the enemy.]
Emily K. Carian, Alex DiBranco, Chelsea Ebin (Editors)
Abingdon (Oxon) and New York: Routledge, 2022
Despite its beguiling title and subtitle, I am sorry to report that this new book from Routledge Studies in Fascism and the Far Right is a very sloppy doggy’s dinner. A collection of essays and quasi-academic articles from the past decade, Male Supremacism in the United States throws together old scraps and rants in an effort to support its thesis that there is a movement of “male supremacism” that overlaps with, and indeed is a gateway to, “white supremacism.”
I suppose this is meant to mirror the concept of “intersectional feminism,” the belief that upper-middle-class American women need to share ideological grievances with oppressed females of all races and species, particularly Women of Color in the Third World. Anyway, it all sounds like a confused and tendentious thesis to begin with, and so it is. The essays collected here don’t even try to make the case that “male supremacism” or “white supremacism” really exist. I mean, apart from being Leftist swear words against normality and traditional virtues.
Nevertheless there are eye-openers and funny bits mixed in among the sometimes awfully tedious prose. Did you know there was an Institute for Research on Male Supremacism? There is, or at least there is a website that asks for donations. This notional institute is the fountainhead of this book, and its founders are the editors listed above. A year or so ago they described their upcoming, as-yet unnamed volume, with these murky words:
Drawing on a variety of data from many different male supremacist movements (such as “Incels”, “The Red Pill”, the “Men’s Rights Movement” and “Men Going Their Own Way”) the researchers seek to provide a comprehensive resource for future research on male supremacism, while also exploring the ideology’s importance to the Alt-Right’s recent political mobilization.
“The Alt-Right’s recent political mobilization.” I said there were funny bits, and this is a major one. Here are these founders/editors, in 2021 or 2020, imagining that the “Alt-Right” is still a thing—in fact a hot new thing!
And so their newly published book (April 2022) takes us on a long trip down memory lane, back to those thrilling days of 2014 or thereabouts. The days of GamerGate and incels and MGTOW and NEETs!  Of Milo Yiannopoulos writing for Breitbart News! Of 4chan and cucks and Pick Up Artists! The manosphere and “game” and Matt Forney! And even Roush V with his old Return of Kings website—here referenced and hyperlinked. (Only trouble is, the link is dead or at least doesn’t take you to the referenced article. This is true of most URLs in the book’s endnotes, bibliography and index.) Here’s Jack Donovan, and there’s Richard Spencer, mentioned seven times. Counter-Currents gets a look-in too, mainly for Greg Johnson’s essays, “The Woman Question in White Nationalism” and “Abortion & White Nationalism.” There’s also James O’Meara, whose Mannerbund theories are cited by Ann Sterzinger in her review of Green Nazis in Space.
The authors’ implied argument is that since these far-flung people and positions often seemed ripe with misogyny and anti-feminism, and some of them also relished frank discussion of racial matters, therefore they provided an easy entry to hardcore “white supremacism.” This is really a stretch, and overlooks a couple of obvious facts. One is that there was little stigma or downside in voicing strong opinions on GamerGate or toxic feminism. These were things one could talk about in barrooms and classrooms, regardless of your age or sex, without being tagged as a fearsome nazi. They were accepted as legitimate topics of discussion (at least in 2014).
A more obvious objection is that many if not most women share these basic attitudes even if they’re not hunkering down with the gameboys. That’s a sore point with the latter-day feminist Left, who like to pretend they ride point on female solidarity, and readily characterize women outside their cult as “bootlickers” or “handmaidens.” The latter expression comes from the current TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale, and suggests high-caste women who support and sympathize with conservative men on social issues. This is equated with being “submissive” because, you know, women have no agency.
Accordingly the book spends a long chapter attempting to take down the most effective opponent of feminism’s toxic wing, the glossy housewife-lobbyist-lawyer Phyllis Schlafly of Alton, Illinois. Schlafly (1924-2016) continues to be a target because she was a much more successful and presentable woman than her Leftist opponents. That irony provided much of the implicit humor in the 2020 miniseries Mrs. America, in which Schlafly was played by the regal Cate Blanchett and her foes were mainly depicted as neurotic, toad-like mutants. As the years go by it also becomes evident that Schlafly’s social and political analysis far surpassed that of her contemporaries. She saw that the long-term goals of feminism were not merely no-fault licentiousness, abortions, and state-run daycare centers, but a usurping of all male privileges while holding tight to their special female privileges as well.
The author of this chapter is grudgingly impressed with Schlafly, though she sees her “submissiveness” to “the patriarchy” as hypocritical, because Schlafly herself was not a meek, stay-at-home housewife. There’s no hypocrisy or irony here. The writer apparently doesn’t know much about upper-middle-class American women. Schlafly was in many ways typical of her peers, with an active life in clubs and volunteer work.
But what really burns the author’s biscuits is Schlafly’s relentless mockery of feminist cant:
Feminism, not patriarchy, was accused of being responsible for women’s misery. Schlafly continued, “If you believe you can never succeed because you are a helpless victim of mean men, you are probably correct.” This type of ridicule and feminist denunciation of men’s domination appeared often in her publications.
The writer is also annoyed by Schlafly’s persistent invocation of Christian ethics and iconography. Schlafly’s Catholicism and veneration of Mary is here spun as somehow exotic for her time and place, which it certainly was not. 
The other figure in the book who gets extended biographical treatment is Gavin McInnes, onetime hipster guru, broadcaster, and founder of Vice, though more notorious in recent years for founding the Proud Boys, a club of young men who wore Fred Perry polo shirts, drank beer, and sometimes sought out street affrays. As with the coverage of Phyllis Schlafly, the author here is awestruck by the figure of Gavin because he’s not some squirrelly political activist but rather a famous satirist and provocateur. An attempt is made to frame the uxorious McInnes (wife, three kids) as a misogynist, because a good part of his shtick has been to riff on the obvious differences between men and women. (Examples: Women earn less because “they’re less ambitious” because “that’s God’s way!” “You’re not a man unless you have beaten the shit out of someone.”)
Because McInnes specializes in over-the-top satire, and ritually denounces overt racialism, it’s very hard to portray him as a hatemonger. But the author does try hard, and adds a lot of inadvertent humor to Gavin’s own. She characterizes the Proud Boys as “a far-right group that only allows cisgender men to join,” a formulation worthy of Gavin himself. Funnier still is that she keeps griping about this, yet never looks into whether Proud Boy applicants were actually vetted on this crucial detail. 
At one point McInnes became a Catholic, and reportedly joined the Knights of Columbus. The author of this chapter, a young woman in Dublin, is surprisingly ignorant of that institution, and evidently supposes it to be something like the fabled Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. She describes the K of C as a “right-wing Catholic group” that has “ties to fundamentalist right-wing think tanks.” (Aye, the auld Papist-Fundie alliance!) Typically but less fatally, she says McInnes was born in Glasgow, when he was born in Hitchin, Herts., a bit north of London, then raised mostly in Canada.
As though to balance the clowning and hyperbole of Gavin McInnes, the book concludes with an angry screed by a “trans Latina” calling herself Katherine Cross. Cross has nothing to say about the intersectionality of male supreemers and white supreemers (this piece is from a speech way back in 2013), but does let us know she is very angry about many things. Angry because strangers often assume her to be a prostitute, or at least available for sex and mansplaining and oppression. This can’t be blamed on the uterus she doesn’t have, she tells us, inscrutably; rather it’s because of the patriarchy. “No uterus required, just patriarchy,” she says. In fact she says this four times. Among other outrages she shares with us, there’s her claim that the New York City police could legally “raid the handbags of trans women of colour [sic] and then arrest them on charges of prostitution if they’re found to be carrying condoms.” What she’s really referring to is black drag-queen prostitutes who make a loud fuss in neighborhoods outside their usual cruising venues. It’s true the NYPD often concocts outlandish pretexts for making arrests, however this one is hardly a sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance.
Anyway, this comic rant is an odd way to end this jumble-sale of a book. If the book’s thesis seemed tendentious to begin with, the finale suggests that the editors didn’t take the whole thing very seriously either.
* * *
Routledge books are usually nicely designed and produced, even if they’re politically slanted and enormously overpriced. Presumably most sales are university library accessions. The paperback is USD $45; the “hardback” is $160. I’ve mentioned the dead-URL problem, which is just sloppiness. It makes no sense to give a highlighted reference source if the thing doesn’t work. And little effort was put into the red-and-white cover design, a kind of reverse-Japanese flag motif. (Or were they really thinking of the Third Reich?)
The title of the book is unfortunate. The use of the prefix style “United States” makes it sound as though it’s a study of a secret male-supreemist network in the Federal government. They should have called it Male Supremacism in America: stately yet whimsical, with the obvious nod to Alexis de Tocqueville.
But Routledge’s loss is our gain. Perhaps we’ll hold that thought and come up with a light comic novel. Male Supreemism in America. Why, the book writes itself!
 I really ought to gloss these terms of yesteryear. GamerGate was a protracted online shouting match between male videogamers and a female “media critic” who claimed videogames were male-oriented and misogynistic. Incels were “involuntary celibates,” generally angry young men who live online and can’t get a girlfriend. MGTOW, Men Going Their Own Way, were an online community of men seeking to live without women, because feminism had made modern women degenerate. A NEET is generally a young man who’s not in school or employment. (Not in Education, Employment or Training.) In 2014 he was the stock caricature who lived in his mom’s basement and consumed Hot Pockets.
 There’s a very poor grasp of American religious history throughout the book. The authors believe there was historically a “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) nativism” which still “fuels conservative Christian ideology on appropriate gender roles.” But WASP is a 20th century term describing upper-class old-stock Eastern elites, not non-Catholic white Christians in general, and certainly not the Bible-thumping fundies and evangelicals the authors have in mind. Anyway American “nativism,” as exemplified in the Native American and “Know Nothing” parties of the 1840s-1850s, was not founded by sectarian-driven Protestants. It was spearheaded mainly by a Jew, the sometime congressman Lewis Levin.
 Fortuitously I was at a dinner with Gavin McInnes the night before his inaugural Proud Boys meeting in July 2016. He was announcing his new club, and I asked what the criteria were for membership. “Members have to have, or once have had, a foreskin.” This neatly answered a multitude of questions; the Jews at the table purred their approval.
It’s just the way he would have wanted it.
P. J. dies of a Tuesday, and it’s just so obvious, no one sees the joke.
P. J. O’Rourke reportedly died earlier today, aged about 74. He was best known for being a master of canned snark, specializing in making fun of people’s clothes and celebrating the anarchic drug culture he reveled in during the 1960s and 70s.
He is perhaps best remembered for his 20,000 word travelogues published in Rolling Stone, but before that he had a long career of achievements. Among other things, he totally destroyed the National Lampoon in the course of five or six years in the 1970s.
“It was humor for brainiacs when O’Rourke first came aboard,” recalled Aloysius J. McQuade, Executive Humor Editor for the NatLamp, 1972-75.
“After two years of him as managing editor, its readership consisted mainly of retarded 16-year-olds, and we were losing money hand over fist.
“I hoped P. J. would do the same to Rolling Stone when he moved over there, but I guess their readership was already pretty dumb to begin with.”
Below, notes for a shaggy-dog story that’s been kicking around for 9 or 10 years. Basic point is that this talented guy who knows Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera proposes a feature film with one of their characters, and they give him Snagglepuss, because that’s definitely a second-tier figure. So the guy writes a script and works on storyboards but the animated feature just never gets made. Bill and Joe feel bad about it so they give the guy rights to Snagglepuss until 1970, thinking maybe he can use the figure in TV commercials. But the ad agencies aren’t interested, they think Snagglepuss is too much like the Pink Panther, so clients and audiences will wonder why someone would use an imitation Pink Panther instead of the real deal.
Finally our hero has to go to work doing marketing for a fast-food franchisor, and he comes up with the idea of a Snagglepuss Chili Dog chain. He’s got a special way of cutting hot dogs so that when you grill them (or sauté them—he’s the kind of guy who in 1966 was saying sauté) they curl up into a wreath so you can serve them on hamburger buns, and put chili or other fillings in the doughnut-hole! Well he and some investors do set up a few low-budget Snagglepuss locations in Florida, and they do okay. Home of the Round Chili Dog! Only ten cents! Except they have to raise the price to 15c and then 20c. And he makes a couple of animated commercials for this local market. But then one of the franchising groups for Bob’s Big Boy buys out the big investors and replace the revolving Snagglepuss statue with the Big Boy.
And now, the notes from the boneyard:
Adventures of Snagglepuss
Cousin Dave was hands-down the most talented of my relatives. He was also one of the wealthiest, at least when he was young. Taxes and bad investments ate up a lot of his inheritance, and then he blew most of the remainder on an ill-starred animation venture.
This would have been in the early 60s. Dave knew Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, then riding high on the success of The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, et al., and proposed making a feature-length theatrical cartoon starring Snagglepuss.
If you don’t know Snagglepuss, he was a fey pink puma who talked something like Bert Lahr. I think he appeared in a back-segment of Quick-Draw McGraw, the same way Yogi Bear started out as a supporting player on Huckleberry Hound. But Snagglepuss did not have the popularity and break-out potential of Yogi Bear. I’m sure this is why Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera gave Cousin Dave the go-ahead.
I don’t think Dave really knew the character well. He knew about making animated cartoons (mostly for commercials) but didn’t actually watch TV. So he didn’t know how bad a character Snagglepuss was—tiresome enough for seven-minutes, unimaginable for seventy-seven. All Dave knew was that Hanna and Barbera knew their business, and a Hanna-Barbera character was money in the bank.
The Snagglepuss feature was supposed to be a joint venture between Dave’s shop (then consisting of a half-dozen part-timers and freelancers) and Hanna-Barbera. Dave would do the initial writing and storyboarding, and manage the publicity. Hanna-Barbera would provide most of the technical knowledge and gruntwork. That was Dave’s clear understanding, anyway. Apparently it was never agreed to on paper.
After six or eight months Dave brought Joe and Bill the completed storyboards. Six or eight months after that, Dave discovered that Hanna-Barbera hadn’t assigned anyone to the Snagglepuss movie, and the storyboards were just collecting dust. Joe and Bill were apologetic, but said there was just too much work and too few hands. They suggested sending Snagglepuss off to a low-cost animation shop in Mexico. Dave did not like that idea at all, but he was stuck. He decided to try the Mexicans, and when they inevitably screwed up, he would show the pathetic results to Joe and Bill, and Joe and Bill would put their top studio animators on the job.
The Mexicans were even worse than Dave imagined. They took the money (about $1500, I believe) and produced nothing. Dave ran up thousands of dollars’ worth of phone calls to Guadelajara, demanding of the one person there who could speak English why the work hadn’t been done, or hadn’t been sent, or whatever.
Finally the Mexican shop moved or went out of business. Dave complained to Joe and Bill.
“That’s really awful,” said Joe Barbera. “They came highly recommended.”
By now Dave had almost as little interest in the Snagglepuss movie as Joe and Bill, but he had invested a great deal of his own time and money and wanted something to show for it. Joe and Bill were sympathetic, and suggested letting Dave have the rights to the Snagglepuss character for the next few years–say, till 1968. Dave could use him to advertise breakfast cereal, doughnuts, children’s vitamins, whatever. Dave wasn’t overjoyed at this payoff, but he took it, figuring that he would resell the rights quickly and get Snagglepuss out of his life. He leased the character to a chain of southern fast-food drive-ins specializing in chili dogs. For a year or two, travelers from Florida to the Carolinas grew used to seeing a 20-foot pink cat advertising ten-cent chili dogs. Then the chili-dog chain was acquired by one of the Bob’s Big Boy groups, and the Snagglepuss signs were no more. The Big Boy consortium said they weren’t obligated to pay the remainder of the lease.
Fr. Coughlin, Ralph Ingersoll & the War Against Social Justice, as originally “printed” at Counter-Currents in late 2018, and more handsomely reproduced at Euro-Synergies, is right here.
Many men, women, boys & girls might prefer to read the whole thing. However, as we deliberately detoured into a talk about Ingersoll and his time at The New Yorker, Fortune, Time, and PM, some key paragraphs might sum it all up for the casual reader:
The public career of Rev. Charles E. Coughlin during the 1930s and early ‘40s is massively documented. Newsreels, publications, speeches, and broadcast recordings are all at your fingertips online. Yet the historical significance of this Canadian-American prelate (1891-1979) is maddeningly elusive. You may have read that he was an immensely popular but controversial “radio priest” with a decidedly populist-nationalist bent, or that he published a weekly magazine called Social Justice (1936-1942), whose contributors included future architect Philip Johnson and philosopher-to-be Francis Parker Yockey.
You may also know that his broadcasting and publishing endeavors were suspended in 1942, soon after American entry into the Second World War. Knowing nothing else, one would assume this was part of the same anti-sedition roundup that netted Lawrence Dennis, George Sylvester Viereck, and others. But in fact the anti-Coughlin campaign was much more focused and sustained, and it originated not from the Justice Department or any other government agency, but from an oddball Left-wing New York newspaper led by one of the most notable editors of the era: Ralph Ingersoll.
The paper was PM, and for the first two years of its existence (1940-42), it exulted in damning Father Coughlin as a seditionist, a yellow-journalist, a Nazi mouthpiece, and an impious opponent of democracy. PM began with a long series of articles in the summer of 1940. “Nazi Propagandist Coughlin Faithless to Church and Country: Hatred and Bigotry Spread Throughout the Nation by Priest,” screamed one headline.
After American entry into the war, histrionic, full-page editorials by Editor Ingersoll became a regular feature; e.g., one titled “Has Charles Coughlin Lied Again?”
“Time and our mental institutions will take care of his unhappy and misguided followers. But these leaders who have served the purpose of the murderous Adolf Hitler must go . . . Hitler and Coughlin – their lies have been the same . . .” (PM, May 7, 1942)
In March ’42, PM started to print tear-out-and-mail questionnaires addressed to Attorney General Biddle, demanding that the government immediately investigate Coughlin and ban Social Justice from the US postal system. Forty-three thousand of these were mailed in by loyal readers, the paper reported, and soon enough Biddle lowered the boom. PM was cock-a-hoop:
“The Post Office Dept. invoked the 1917 Sedition Act last night to ban from the mail Social Justice, founded in 1936 by Charles E. Coughlin. . . Postmaster General Walker acted on a recommendation from Attorney General Biddle, who informed him that since the war [sic] Social Justice ‘has made a substantial contribution to a systematic and unscrupulous attack upon the war effort of our Nation, both civilian and military.’ ” (PM, April 15, 1942)
Coughlin was threatened with a Grand Jury investigation for sending “seditious propaganda” to military personnel and munitions workers! Eventually, an agreement was reached between Justice and the bishop of Detroit, whereby Coughlin would cease publishing and public speaking and slip off quietly to his rectory.
Which, as it happens, he did.
In this past Sunday’s print edition, the New York Times’s former book reviewer Michiko Kakutani treated us to a 3,000-word summary of everything that’s wrong with American life and politics, entitled “The End of Normal” (December 29, 2019).
At least, the column is attributed to Ms. Kakutani, and carries her byline. Actually this farrago of nonsense looks like something a committee of ghosts might produce if asked to flesh out eight or ten talking points from Media Matters for America. We get such laughable clichés as:
But for my money, the giveaway that this piece is a derivative and collective effort is the author’s (or authors’) invocation of the 1964 Richard Hofstadter essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” This is one of those famous screeds whose title is often cited, though the text is seldom read, let alone critiqued. Published in Harper’s on the eve of the LBJ-Goldwater election (November 1964), “Paranoid Style” was one of a number of smear pieces targeting the Right-wing that season. Another famous one was Ralph Ginzburg’s libelous takeout in Fact magazine, more or less claiming that nine out of ten leading psychiatrists agreed that Barry Goldwater was too mentally ill to be President.
The Hoftstadter essay is about 6,000 words of Lefty pabulum. It begins with a quick survey of random “conspiracy theories”—about the Illuminati, the Masons, the Jesuits—then finally circles close to home by indicting the sort of Rightist nuts and apostate Communists who ranted about the “alleged conspirators headed by Alger Hiss.”
The Paranoids are that way, explains Hofstadter, because they feel “dispossessed” and they need to find scapegoats. “America has largely been taken away from them . . . The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals . . .” 
And who are these “cosmopolitans and intellectuals,” do you think (wink-wink)? Hofstadter doesn’t go into that. He does goes on and on about Robert Welch and the Birchers, and McCarthyism, and obscure anti-Catholic divines from the early 1800s, but never tells us what’s really on his mind. But not to worry; his fans were savvy. As such folk liked to boast, they could “read between the lines.”
Hofstadter was a name-brand history professor at Columbia for many years. If you don’t know the name, you can place him in context if you know that of his protegés was your favorite Red Diaper Baby and race-hustler, Eric Foner.
The 1964 essay is such gaseous, evasive blather that I always marvel when someone cites it as though it were a landmark in political philosophy. But people still do; “Paranoid Style” has a cool title and its fame precedes it. So the Kakutani column invokes it as gospel, and instructs us that there are murky-minded conspiracy theorists out there, and these are the true villains in the story:
Although the United States was founded on Enlightenment values of reason, liberty and progress, there has long been another strain of thinking at work beneath the surface—what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk,” and the historian Richard Hofstadter famously described as “the paranoid style.”
It’s an outlook characterized by a sense of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” Hofstadter wrote in his 1964 essay, and focused on perceived threats to “a nation, a culture, a way of life.” Its language is apocalyptic (Mr. Trump’s “American carnage” is a perfect example); its point of view, extremist. It regards its opponents as evil and ubiquitous, while portraying itself, in Hofstadter’s words, as “manning the barricades of civilization.” . . . The paranoid style, Hofstadter observed, tends to occur in “episodic waves,” The modern right wing, he wrote, feels dispossessed . . .
And on and on we go, through the business I quoted earlier about how “America has largely been taken away . . . by cosmopolitans and intellectuals.”
It’s stating the obvious to point out that the delusional ones here are Kakutani and her ghostwriters, and the organizations that feed them their talking points. Or perhaps they’re not delusional at all; they’re lying out of convenience, laying the party line on as thick as they can. They know perfectly well that the sudden popularity of Orwell’s 1984 wasn’t because millions of people believed Donald Trump was Big Brother. It was because the bookshops were suddenly laying big stacks of the novel on their display tables, at the same time that the book was being talked up in the mainstream press. If there was a Big Brother entity in play, it was clearly the Fake News machine at CNN and the Washington Post.
Regardless of who wrote this column, “The End of Normal,” it wasn’t done from scratch. It’s largely a précis of Kakutani’s 2018 book, The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump.  There the author or authors had a lot more elbow-room, and scattered innuendo around like confetti. The book reads like a parody of the whole anti-Trump genre. We still get Richard Hofstadter, and Philip Roth, and Trump-Is-Big-Brother, and Russian Trolls Stole the Election. We also get imagined endorsements from Yeats (“Things fall apart,” yada-yada) and Margaret Atwood and Pat Moynihan and Pope Francis and—Heaven help us—even Tom Wolfe.
Just so you know what the book is really all about, the Introduction opens up with Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism:
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or convinced Communist, but the people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer to exist.
What’s alarming to the contemporary reader is that Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling mirror of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today—a world in which fake news and lies are pumped out in industrial volume by Russian troll factories…
Industrial volume, comrade!
And now we must switch gears and talk about how this is all a big change of course for the Kakutani brand. In 2017, like many old-timers at the Paper of Record, she took a buyout from the New York Times. She’d been with the paper for 38 years, most of them reviewing books. She was sometimes noted for her cranky opinions, especially toward the end, but at no time was she a strident Lefty, or any kind of politico.
She was noted early on for her sharp-eyed but easy-flowing critical prose, and so succeeded to the role of lead book reviewer quite young, when she was only eight or nine years out of Yale. Michi was young and different, not an academic or mossy book editor, equipped with a magpie curiosity that must have given her a range of insights inaccessible to such old warhorses as Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. And let us not discount the novelty factor. You saw the name Michiko Kakutani, and you didn’t forget it.
Her reviewing style was quite amiable at first. She mainly covered new fiction, in the same chirrupy idiom that publishers use in press releases and cover blurbs. It was very important in those days to be upbeat and positive when reviewing at the Times. People still laughed grimly over the Legend of Renata Adler. Adler was a tough young movie reviewer in the late 1960s who’d taken a hatchet to every film. “We need positive quotes, Renata, things they can put in the movie ads,” her editors supposedly admonished her. In those days there was a movie house on every block of Midtown, and the Sunday Times ran six or seven pages of display ads for the local cinemas. Renata didn’t care. After a year she got the boot.
But as the calendar pages fell off the wall—ten years, fifteen, twenty—young Michi gradually moved into Dale (“Hatchet Man”) Peck territory. She started mocking the latest offerings, chopping away just to get a rise out of people. Jonathan Franzen, you odious jackass! Slam, bang, take that, Harry Potter! Shut up, Norman Mailer, you garrulous, self-absorbed old man! Nassim Nicholas Taleb, you pompous, pretentious bully!
It appears she was at her most hatchety in her non-fiction reviews, perhaps because in such cases you actually have to read the book and engage with its thesis; you can’t get away with just extrapolating from the press release, the way reviewers do in LA or DC.
In the last decade of her hitch, Michi’s output sometimes got totally loopy. She would write reviews in the “voice” of Holly Golightly or Holden Caulfield. When she reviewed a biography of Adolf Hitler by Volker Ullrich in 2016, she described Adolf as Donald Trump, as imagined by the fever-swamp Left:
Clearly she was having too much fun with this. Maybe she was getting bored. In The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp recalled how he once had a job as an engineer’s tracer, siting electrical pylons across a map of the countryside. Just for fun, he began to place the pylons in people’s back gardens, in schoolyards and football pitches.
I wonder if Michi has been doing something along those lines in the last couple years, parodying Leftist cant with such exact phraseology that no one’s rumbled her yet. If that’s the case, I really must reconsider my theory that her recent, politically freighted stuff is being concocted by a tableful of ghostwriting gnomes.
“Industrial volume Russian troll factories” may be the giveaway here. How long, you think, before they find her out?
 Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Harper’s, November 1964.
 Michiko Kakutani, The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump. New York: Tim Dugga
From the Federal Correctional Center in sunny Lompoc, California comes news that my old pal Barry Landau has been released. Oh wait—not quite. It turns out he’s just been transferred to a halfway-house in Riverside, and has a few months left on his bid.
This semi-prison is one of those private-contractor outfits that specialize in rehab and prisoner “re-entry,” but strangely enough (and unlike the Federal pens) it doesn’t let its wards use e-mail. So Barry and I are playing telephone tag right now and soon I’ll know when he’s getting out.
Barry Landau, you will recall, is the White House party animal and self-styled “Presidential Historian” who got arrested in Baltimore in 2011 while he and an accomplice were filching archives from the Maryland Historical Society. The Baltimore documents weren’t terribly exciting—e.g., 1881 presidential Inauguration programs. But then a Federal raid on Barry’s apartment in New York turned up a trove of choicer nuggets, lifted from a half-dozen historical libraries. A letter from Ben Franklin, an inscribed volume from Karl Marx, a note from Marie Antoinette, the autograph of Christopher Columbus.
That made it more than small-time local museum theft. A federal case was opened, by none other than Rod J. Rosenstein, now U.S. Deputy Attorney General, but then the U.S. Attorney for Maryland.
Barry and his young accomplice, Jason Savedoff, had a routine. They’d research an institution’s holdings online and draw up a wish-list. Then they’d show up, wreathed in smiles and bearing a plate of cookies or cupcakes for the library staff. Barry would schmooze personnel and distract them, while Jason pocketed precious paper.
The usual ruse was that Barry would show up at a library or museum and announce himself as an historian researching a new book. This seemed plausible. A few years earlier, Barry had published a lavish coffee-table book about White House banquets (The President’s Table: 200 Years of Dining and Diplomacy), and this got him appearances on C-SPAN, 60 Minutes, Martha Stewart, Today Show, etc. etc., as an erudite foodie-historian. Nevertheless his CV was odd for an scholar—“America’s Presidential Historian,” his website proclaimed him. He’d spent most of his career as a celebrity publicist.
Eight or nine years ago, when I was at Food & Wine magazine, I became aware that this neighbor of mine had somehow reinvented himself as a fine-dining expert. Sometimes I’d see him in our apartment building’s elevator or lobby, dressed in a souvenir roadie jacket from some Clinton Administration beano. “So you know Bill Clinton, then?” I asked.
“I’ve known lots of Presidents. Almost every one since Eisenhower!”
* * *
It was during Barry’s second visit to Baltimore (July 11, 2011) that a Maryland Historical Society staff member got suspicious and called the cops. Police and staff found up sixty MHS documents in a museum locker. The next day, they raided Barry’s New York apartment.
Initially the press treated it all as a big joke, a man-bites-dog story. “At the Maryland Historical Society, they’re calling it the Great Cupcake Caper,” wrote the Baltimore Sun (July 12, 2011). “Before being arrested by police on Saturday and charged with stealing dozens of historical documents, author and collector Barry H. Landau had brought cupcakes for the center’s employees. They figure he was trying to ingratiate himself with the staff, much as he has for decades with political and Hollywood elite.”
Indeed, the Cupcake Bandit had been a demi-celebrity for most of his life. Barry Landau turns up, Zelig-like, in old news and stock photos, with George Hamilton, Cheryl Tiegs, Tom Selleck, Patricia Neal, George Plimpton, the Bushes, the Reagans. Andy Warhol mentions him 20 times in his Diaries, usually rather sniffily. (“Barry Landau, that creepy guy we can’t figure out, who somehow gets himself around everywhere with every celebrity.”)
In 1979 Barry’s picture was in the New York Post and NY Times for grassing on Hamilton Jordan, President Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff. Barry claimed to have seen him trying to score cocaine at Studio 54. This led to grand jury investigations in which 30-year-old Barry was a star witness, under the guidance of a bushy-haired young attorney named Andrew Napolitano.
But could Barry Landau really, truly be the mastermind of the Cupcake Caper? That looked unlikely at the outset. His lawyers denied it. They said Jason Savedoff was to blame. They portrayed the 24-year-old “aspiring model” from Vancouver BC as a persuasive, greedy Svengali. Savedoff had wormed his way into Barry’s confidence, and then used “America’s Presidential Historian” as a front-man to gain access to valuable archives. Unlike Barry, Jason wasn’t interested in history, or presidents; he just wanted to steal a lot of autographs and make a lot of money.
But as the months rolled on, the media soured on Barry, and convicted him in the press long before the trial date. On TV and in the newspapers they’d show old file photos of him beside his vast horde of presidential memorabilia—acquired honestly over a half-century, ever since he first met Ike and Mamie Eisenhower in the 1950s—and insinuate that his 17th-storey corner apartment was an Ali Baba’s cave of stolen archives.
They’d write that Barry had grossly exaggerated his experience as a publicist and White House event manager. Famous names got phoned up for snotty comments. (“He was a name-dropper,” sniffed Barbara Bush.) And inevitably such outlets as The Daily Beast would speculate snarkily about the nature of the relationship between Landau and Savedoff.
Thus in the end it was Barry who got a ten-year sentence (7 years prison, 3 probation), while pretty young Jason got off with a slap on the wrist (one year in prison). At his trial in Baltimore, Jason’s attorneys drew a portrait of a pathetic, mentally ill youth who believed “conspiracy theories”; a naive kid who got hoodwinked by a worldly old reprobate.
This “victim” argument was probably inevitable; it’s an accusation that requires no proof, as was illustrated recently with the lurid, ludicrous rape tales aimed at Justice Brett Kavanaugh; or as we keep seeing over and over with the ancient, transparently fake “clerical abuse” stories.
But the Jason-as-victim argument looked brazen and presposterous. It came at the end of many months in which the consensus among press and prosecutors was that Jason Savedoff was a pathologically dishonest male hustler.
Barry’s sentence amazed me. How in hell does a 63-year-old first-time offender get a ten-year sentence for a non-violent crime? A crime, ladies and gents, in which most of the stolen goods were recovered—and (a crucial but overlooked point) had little historical significance. Most of them were ephemera—tickets, programs, cartes-de-visite—or autographed letters from the junkier end of the antiquarian world, the equivalent of a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle.
You don’t send an old guy to prison for seven years because he was an accomplice in the theft of a mint 1940 copy of Batman Comics #1.
Did Barry have the worst legal representation in the world? I don’t think so. I think Barry and his counsel got conned. Rosenstein’s office did a bait-and-switch on them.
When the case began, Barry could have had a jury trial. He could even have pled not guilty because of extenuating circumstances.
Rosenstein’s office didn’t want that. That would be blaming the thefts on Jason Savedoff, and Jason Savedoff’s testimony was the whole foundation of their case. His allegations would never have stood up under cross-examination.
And so Rosenstein’s office . . . lied. The prosecutors offered Barry a deal: they promised leniency if he pled guilty, and waived that jury trial, with right of appeal. They told him the trial would be over quickly, and that Barry wouldn’t have to serve much time in prison.
And then, instead of giving Barry a suspended sentence or maybe a year (like Jason) they threw the book at him. And he couldn’t even appeal the verdict, because he signed that away when he signed the plea agreement.
Is there a murky backstory to all this? Did Rod Rosenstein have some personal interest in the case, perhaps on behalf of a friend? I don’t know, but his discussion of it was most peculiar and bespeaks a personal grudge. On television and in press releases, he repeatedly referred to Barry as a “con man” or “con artist.” Here he is announcing the verdict in 2012: “Barry H. Landau was a con artist who masqueraded as a presidential historian to gain people’s trust so he could steal their property.”
A con artist? There was no con or flim-flam involved here. Barry wasn’t taking people’s money for swampland deeds or forged documents. He didn’t masquerade as “presidential historian Barry Landau,” that is who he really was, with a big book and everything!
If he did in fact steal or misappropriate original documents . . . okay, that is not a transgression unknown among professional historians. But that’s not being a flim-flam man.
Rod Rosenstein’s choice of words is revealing. It suggests that Barry Landau’s real crime was not helping Jason Savedoff steal historical bumpf, rather it was having been a show-off, a social-climber, a celebrity hanger-on, a name-dropper (yeah; as Mrs. Bush said). The kind of person who would crash Andy Warhol parties and boast about seeing Hamilton Jordan try to buy cocaine.
Of course there might be some other, specific offense from the olden days that Barry had to be punished for. I just don’t know yet, dear readers. But I think it’s pretty safe to say he wasn’t sent on a long prison stretch just for lifting some ephemera from museums.