Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Straw Men in the Glass Booth

Each time I hear Michael Moore speak, I creep slightly rightward, politically. In fact, I harbor suspicions that he's a closet Republican. His demagoguery, combined with his uncanny ability to exemplify the most off-putting stereotypical qualities of the far left, makes him a sort of living political cartoon. Any exposure he gets amounts to more anti-liberal publicity than conservatives could ever hope to purchase (even post-Citizens United).

And don't even get me started re: Jackie Mason (would someone please pass me a bacon cheeseburger?).

For that matter, has any American ever done more for gay rights than the Westboro Baptist Church's Fred Phelps? Quite seriously, trace it back. Being gay in America pulled in from its beyond-the-paleness just as Phelps was spewing his cartoonish message. No gay activist could ever conjure such a repugnant model of bigotry. Phelps mirrored our lingering prejudices back to us with such ugly clarity as to dissolve much mainstream aversion. We truly must credit him for a lot of recent social progress.

It's often noted that Americans reflexively recoil from extremes. And so our pendulum swings ceaselessly, never quite reaching as far as fanatics might hope. One of the strongest forces behind this equilibrium is the inevitable appearance of cartoonish zealots who unwittingly work against their own goals. I'm not a huge fan of the world's operating system, but that particular line of code is surely a saving grace.

A little-remembered (and even less understood) film in 1975 called "The Man in the Glass Booth" was about a Nazi death camp survivor who falsifies his dental records so he'd be mistaken for a Nazi war criminal. He's brought to trial in Israel where he draws enormous publicity for his remorseless testimony, defiantly proclaiming the old Nazi tenets and relishing the movement's stark contrast to other Nazi defendants, with their meek "I-was-only-following-orders" revisionism. He offers himself up as a straw man, freely inciting backlash (hence the glass booth) in order to shine bright, clear light on wounds so they could be flushed out and healed.

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