A work of art is, at once, the creation of an individual or individuals, and the collective product of a particular culture or civilization. It seems to me a clear mark of the decline of American (and Western) civilization that very few universally acknowledged masterpieces of art and literature have appeared in the past several decades. I suspect that works at the level of the creations of a Beethoven or Dostoevsky are not forthcoming at present. What is missing is not the individual talent, but a solid cultural framework – a commonly held body of traditions and experiences, with a common orientation towards truth and beauty. In a society lacking this, art ends up decadent, or escapist, or satirical, or simply incompetent.
This is not to say that artists of today have nothing worthwhile to do. Probably the need for artists and writers is greater than ever today, to help us understand the truths that a rational, quantitative approach cannot apprehend, and to comfort and encourage us by evoking the beautiful and true in a world in which these qualities are hard to find. But we should expect that works engaging honestly with the ugly realities of our society will bear the marks of doing so, and may not be able to lift their audience to the heights that have been reached in other eras.
Consider, for example, dystopian fiction, a genre exemplified, in the 20th century, by great works like Brave New World; 1984; and The Camp of the Saints. The particular evils associated with modernity seem to naturally suggest to writers scenarios which take those evils to their ultimate logical conclusion. The artistic results are unlikely to be beautiful, but by showing the ugly and evil results of seemingly benign ideologies of social equality, they can nevertheless be of great value.
Gary Wolf, the creator of the site AWOL Civilization, specializes in dystopian fiction. In his description of the site, he writes: “This website can be summarized in one phrase: ‘Updating Orwell for the era of political correctness.’ ” Mr. Wolf’s writing ranges from sophisticated cultural commentary to satiric lists of the headlines he imagines appearing in the future, when political correctness has been carried to levels we can hardly imagine even today. I particularly enjoyed Michelle Knows Best, his ‘70s TV sitcom-style chronicle of the ghastly events unfolding in America from week to week, from the perspective of the Obama White House. The laughter provided made it a little easier to bear the ongoing tragedy. But Mr. Wolf’s preferred genre – at least for now – is dystopian fiction. He aims, with much humor and spoofing but a deadly seriousness of spirit, to portray the future of America and the West if today’s trends are allowed to continue. Naturally, he hopes that doing so will help prevent the worst from occurring.
I was a little sorry to learn – just when I’d finally gotten around to linking Mr. Wolf’s site on this blog – that he is putting it on hiatus for the foreseeable future. But his reason is unimpeachable: he wishes to devote himself exclusively to writing a new novel. I recently read his latest, entitled The Kicker of St. John’s Wood (Bloomington: iUniverse, 2009).
Kicker is a light first-person narrative in the style of a mystery or spy thriller, short enough to be read in a day. If the cover were truer to the contents it would show a dark-skinned beauty clad in the brutal armor of a professional football player, holding a ball and looking out with frightened eyes as a pile of giant men move in to flatten her. It does convey the central theme, though: the introduction of women to professional football, engineered by a coalition of American leftists and United Nations bureaucrats as an adjunct to their plot to overthrow democracy in the United States. The year is 2020, and the story is narrated by one Jayesh Blackstone, the English-born son of an American father and an Indian mother. Jayesh, a thoughtful, literary-minded chap, found his way to the unlikely profession of American football through his unique talent for kicking. When his team makes it to the Super Bowl, he finds himself forced to kick with a female holder, thus becoming an unwilling player in an international theatre of political correctness. As events unfold, he uncovers a larger and much more sinister plot, which sends him traveling around the world James Bond-style to save a friend who has fallen into the clutches of the villains. These events force Jayesh to figure out who he is and what he stands for.
In Kicker, all major institutions of Western society have been taken over completely by the forces of modern liberalism in their various embodiments – to quote Wolf’s site again: “political correctness, multiculturalism, the victim industry, declining standards, affirmative action, feminism, post-modernism, scientific hoaxes on a global scale, and the rest of the intellectual decadence that is reducing the greatest civilization of all time to a state of mental cacophony.” Racial and gender equality, white American guilt, anti-Christian sentiment, are all tools used cynically by leaders and institutions for no other purpose than to amass power. 1984 indeed.
The results of this takeover of society tend to take the form of parody rather than realistic projections. Feminism, for instance, is personified in the beliefs of Ashley, a radical feminist writing a Ph.D. dissertation on “the contribution of Christian fundamentalism to sexist attitudes in professional sports.” Despite her beliefs, Ashley “hooks up” with Jayesh just as any football groupie might do, then insists that their physical interaction follow the rules of “alternating reciprocity” in which the partners take turns making sexual moves in order to ensure “equality” – an obvious take-off on such things as sexual conduct codes on college campuses. Ashley’s initial intention was to observe some real-life football players for her research. However, in spy-novel manner, the female antagonist soon finds that her lover has brought out feelings that are incompatible with her formal allegiances.
Ashley’s dissertation contends that:
Christian fundamentalists, spreading out from their original cells in Texas, gradually took over the educational institutions in the American heartland (and seriously threatened to take over the rest). The central pillar of their influence was the entrenched patriarchy, which was fueled by violent sports, such as football and ice hockey; merciless economic exploitation of the weak members of society; war; racism; homophobia; and the relegation of women to the most menial and accursed existence they have ever experienced on the face of the earth. The men indoctrinated in this way become addicted to a steady diet of sports, guns, porn, and cut-throat business practices. If they are not stopped soon, they may very well attempt a violent takeover of the U.S. government, depose President Malpomme [the “bad apple” female U.S. president who is in fact plotting a takeover herself], and institute a regime of martial law. (p. 20)
In real life, feminists do not write like this (if only they did write this clearly!), but the point should be taken. Is the substance of what they are saying much different?
Despite Kicker’s use of feminism as the central adversarial ideology, the story suggests that the real threat is something different, bigger, more difficult to pin down. This threat is personified in the character Joseph Hoompty Azala, a sinister United Nations bureaucrat from India, who alternates cajoling with threats as he attempts to win his perceived co-ethnic, Jayesh, over to his side.
“You know, Jayesh, I think there is one thing we can agree on right now, and that is the subject of your American women. They are corrupting society with their behavior. We have great fears in my country that it will spread. This is very dangerous. In Asia, as in most of the world, the women are busy with their real obligations; that is, taking care of their families. Look what is happening to the Super Bowl. A woman playing in your greatest game? You can’t be too happy about that.”
“No, I’m not,” I said, newly fascinated by the man across the table….
“Tell me,” I said, “if my American women repel you, why are you cooperating so closely with our chief woman, President Malpomme?”
Azala began rubbing his thumb against the handle of his fork. “Because she supports us on almost every issue. One has to be realistic, n’est-ce pas?
“Yes, I suppose.”
“She will be replaced, like all your presidents.” (p. 79)
This scene suggests the true nature of the alliance between Western liberals and the Western-educated Third World bureaucrats found in the United Nations and other international organizations. The latter use the former to gain power and funding in support of their own ends, which ultimately have very little to do with democracy and human rights as we understand them.
As suggested by the unusual ethnic background of its protagonist, Kicker also ventures, gently, into the role played by demographic change in the Western civilizational crisis. Jayesh is of mixed Indian and Western background, but regards himself as not at all Indian. When so labeled, he responds with gentle exasperation:
What good would it do to explain…one more time that my only connection to India, aside from my first name, is that it happens to be my mother’s native land. I never lived there, I don’t speak any of the dialects, I’m not a Hindu, and we never ate curry at my house while I was growing up (my father hated it). (p. 3)
This turns out to be not quite true. Jayesh’s main spiritual influence comes from his Indian grandfather, and he later finds himself drawn to an Indian woman who belongs to a revolutionary movement. Consequently, political events force him to decide just what his identity is. Here, his relationship with his multi-ethnic football teammates, based on a shared goal, shared standards, and absolute mutual trust, suggests the model for a functioning multiethnic American society. Jayesh’s true fellow countrymen, it seems, are not ethnic Indians but rather people like Thelonius Brown, a patriotic black man who loathes being thought of as a victim of racism, and other characters who refuse to be pigeonholed into superficial “ethnic” identities. Conversely, the novel imputes a complex Norwegian, Apache, Scottish, and Russian Jewish origin to one white character. What makes Jayesh align himself with America is that “In America, I can define myself. It’s quite a luxury. Of course some people don’t like that.” (p. 158)
I have no doubt that there are plenty of non-white and mixed-race Americans who, like Jayesh, dislike being categorized as “disadvantaged minorities” and would side with the majority culture if forced to make a choice. At the same time, the effects of 40 years of mass non-Western immigration are beginning to throw into doubt the idea that America can survive as a “proposition nation” consisting, not of a concrete, particular people, but as a collection of all the cultures and ethnic groups of the world, united only by some abstract creed of personal freedom. When the European, Christian element of the population is reduced to minority status, will honorable members of the new majority take over the role of custodians of our traditional culture? If our present culture of race-based power jockeying and creeping race-motivated socialism is any indication, the answer is: certainly not.
In this respect it must be said that Kicker does not fully tackle the implications of phenomena like Hispanic immigration and the growth of Islam in America, although there are a few hints of these issues in the text. Still, Mr. Wolf’s delightful pummeling of political correctness as he reveals its essential tyranny will be appreciated by open-minded moderates and rock-ribbed conservatives alike. The dystopian vision, paradoxically, can help one imagine a better future. I, for one, look forward to the knock on my door by some Paul Revere who has a simple plan of action for taking back our country:
“All right, listen up,” he declared. “Things are happening very quickly, and there’s no time for explanations. Go back to your rooms. Pack one small travel bag each, and keep it light. Hopefully we will return soon for the rest of our belongings. A helicopter is on its way here to pick us up. The war has begun, my friends. Meet me here, just outside, in exactly five minutes. Go!” (p. 205)
The war has begun!