Gaslighting 11.0

None of these fellows has read the transcript. But they bought the t-shirt.

Much has been said about the presidency of Donald Trump and his gaslighting of the American public. Indeed whole books have been written on the subject. The results have been truly incredible, leading me to believe that it’s probably true that Trump could, as he boasted, shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.

Of all the many examples of this that there have been, I think the most dramatic has been his command to “Read the transcipt!” Sometimes in all caps. This has turned out to be such a winner of a line that it’s even been printed on t-shirts for his followers to wear at rallies.

The reason I find this bit of gaslighting so remarkable is that there are no transcripts to be read. What Trump is referring to is the summary report of the phone call he made to the President of Ukraine. This is not a transcript. But apparently that doesn’t matter, any more than the fact that the Mueller Report, which Trump claimed as “total exoneration,” concluded that it could not exonerate Trump from the charge of having committed a crime.

What makes the “Read the transcript!” line even stranger though, and what dials it up to 11 on the gaslighting scale, is the fact that the only person stopping anyone from reading the transcript is . . . Trump himself. He could release a transcript of the call, but apparently it’s been locked down on a secure server somewhere. So the command to read the transcript is impossible, and impossible precisely because Trump has made it impossible.

I’d like to think the line was meant as a joke, but I’m afraid it may be part of a new reality.

An English trilogy

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English trilogy: Johnny English (2003), Johnny English Reborn (2011), and Johnny English Strikes Again (2018). I feel like I should be surprised at how long-lived a phenomenon Bond parodies have been, but then Bond is still with us and apparently going strong so . . .

Angry voters

Over the last few days I’ve been watching the ESPN Films documentary O.J.: Made in America. All of that craziness went down nearly twenty years ago and I can still remember it clearly. I think if you are of a certain age it will always be with you. It’s hard to imagine another media event capturing the world’s attention to that degree again. Nearly 100 million people in the U.S. watched the highway procession (not a chase) in the Ford Bronco. And then there was the trial. Or trials. I was actually in Los Angeles during the civil trial. I waited outside the courthouse but there was a lottery to get tickets to go in and my number didn’t get called.

The documentary is a solid bit of reportage, and kept me interested throughout it’s almost 8-hour running time. The only part where I turned against it a bit was at the very end, when Simpson is given the last word, pleading with his fans to remember the good O.J. This struck me as being false, or at least ironic, since O.J. seems to have never changed. So what was the good O.J.? The football player? The celebrity? The idol? However you slice it, I didn’t get the sense that the good O.J. was the real O.J.

What I found most interesting though was the way the politics played out in ways that really foreshadowed the rise of today’s anti-elite populism, only from a different perspective. From interviews with jurors it’s clear that sides were taken early on, and that no amount of evidence was going to change anyone’s mind. African-Americans in Los Angelese saw themselves, with justification, as a group oppressed by the system, leading to feelings of cynicism and even nihilism. The game was totally rigged and no facts presented by the Man, no matter how clearly demonstrated, could be believed. Acquitting O.J. would even be “payback” for a history of racist law enforcement.

Today we usually associate this kind of attitude with Trump voters, so it’s instructive to see how it has played out in other contexts. Either way, people were voting angry. The results speak for themselves.

On the road again and again

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching a bunch of movies about people racing cars around. Not on a racetrack, but across country. For cash prizes or treasure. For a while in the late ’70s and early ’80s these were a thing, especially if they were directed by Hal Needham and starred Burt Reynolds. I guess the Fast and the Furious franchise today is the only direct inheritor, but it’s morphed into something else now. Leaving these movies alone in their nostalgic goofiness. Watching them again was a very fast trip down memory lane, but I’m pretty sure it will be my last with any of them.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Scavenger Hunt (1979)
Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)
The Cannonball Run (1981)

Children at play

But how do you think kids feel about you, Chuck?

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the Child’s Play movies, which are headlined by the murderous doll Chucky. A better-than-average horror franchise that covered a lot of ground over thirty years. Alas, the 2019 reset was a total disaster.

Child’s Play (1988)
Child’s Play 2 (1990)
Child’s Play 3 (1991)
Bride of Chucky (1998)
Seed of Chucky (2004)
Curse of Chucky (2013)
Cult of Chucky (2017)
Child’s Play (2019)

Books of the Year 2019

Well, the end of the year is upon us, which means it’s time for another one of those best-of lists that everyone seems to like so much.

Best fiction: Two books stood out for me this year. I liked Lynn Coady’s Watching You Without Me a lot, and was a little surprised it didn’t get more press coverage. It deals with a couple of important contemporary social issues by way of a well-tuned thriller plot. But I’m giving the top prize to Michael Libling’s Hollywood North, another terrific thriller with a lot more going on than meets the eye. I love books that work on different levels and Hollywood North does that and more.

 

 

Best non-fiction: Last year I picked a book on Napoleon here because I was looking for something outside of the avalanche of books on Donald Trump. This year I’ll stick with Trump and pick Tim Alberta’s American Carnage, which presents a pretty thorough accounting of how Trump took over the Republican Party. An important story, and well told.

 

 

 

Best SF: Overall I’d have to rate this a down year in SF. But I have no trouble recommending Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Redemption, which is the final part of his terrific Wormwood Trilogy. As a columnist, I usually try to stay away from series of novels but I’m glad I gave this one a try.