ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
What used to be called citizens are now just a bunch of consumers waiting to be told
what to do next, and automatically voting, even though they know the machinery is
going to reverse their vote. Weve lost too much in the way of the Bill of Rights.
Gore Vidal Kam Williams
Books by Gore Vidal
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Gore Goes Off on Bush, Katrina, The War, and More
Gore Vidal Interview with Kam Williams
National Book Award winner Gore Vidal was born in 1925 at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His first novel, Williwaw, written when he was just nineteen years old and serving in the Army, appeared in the spring of 1946. Since then he has written twenty-three novels, five plays, short stories, well over two hundred essays, and a memoir.
Vidal is also an accomplished screenwriter, evidenced by his scripts for Ben Hur, Caligula and Myra Breckenridge. A true Renaissance Man, he has even found the time to act in a dozen films, including Gattaca, and to found a political party, the US Peace Party, and to run for Congress.
Because this indomitable firebrand has been a thorn in the side of the Establishment for so long, some might forget that he actually is a very well-connected blueblood. On one side of his family tree, he is related to former Vice President Al Gore, on the other to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Mr. Vidal might be interested in conducting this interview on behalf of Marcy Winograd, the anti-war, pro universal healthcare candidate who is mounting a serious campaign to unseat pro-war, hack incumbent Jane Harman in the upcoming, June 6th Democratic primary to represent Californias 36th District in Congress.
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KW: You have such an illustrious career I dont know where to begin. Why dont I start with the present and ask you why youve decided to endorse Marcy Winograd for Congress?
GV: Well, its a Democratic primary, and I thought it would be nice to endorse a Democrat against the incumbent, Ms. Harman, who is sort of a Republican Bush-ite. That was my first instinct, before I listened to Marcy and watched her campaign. I thought shes very well-suited for this time and place. So, Ive gone as all-out as I can.
KW: Do you think she has a decent chance of unseating Harman? The rate of re-election of incumbents is incredibly high.
GV: Well, we all know about the safety for incumbents laws that come out of gerrymandering and so on. I think that Harmans been around a little bit too long, to the extent that her constituents really think about her at all. Shes not been a Democrat in the progressive sense, by which I simply mean shes not been against the war. Nor has she had much intelligent to say about Intelligence, and she sits on the Intelligence Committee. In other words, shes pretty hollow while Marcys alive! The living candidate usually wins.
KW: What makes Marcy alive?
GV: Shes organized the progressive Democrats across the State of California, as opposed to the ones who pretend to be Democrats and vote Republican, like her opponent. So, its not as though she came wandering in on a whim. She came marching in out of a sense of duty, and also with a fire in the belly to get rid of the sort of candidates like the incumbent.
KW: Why are so passionate about a congressional election in the House?
GV: The House, you see, is the closest thing to the people that we have. Every two years they have to go out for an election. To the extent that we have any form of democracy, its the House of Representatives.
KW: My sense of American politics is that most of our politicians are for sale, whether they are out and out crooked, or simply beholden to corporate interests because theyve taken so much money from their lobbyists. I believe thats a big part of the problem.
GV: Of course it is. Its been like that for quite some time. With Marcy, shes not beholden to anybody, except me and Susan Sarandon. She got a check from me, and I think thats not quite enough to buy her.
KW: I reviewed your book Dreaming War in which you predicted that Bush would attack Iraq. At the time, he had already invaded Afghanistan, but people didnt realize
GV: that the target was also Iraq, and American mastery of the entire Middle East which is what seems to be going on now, as we head toward Iran.
KW: How would you describe the State of the Union?
GV: This is an Empire gone berserk. Youve got a President who had every intention of militarizing the economy and militarizing the society. This had nothing to do with governance. He was mostly smearing people who pointed out his shortcomings. Now we dont have the money anymore We dont have the will People are disgusted Katrina has turned off half a nation And theres all the nonsense about borders and so on This is the worst period that Ive ever seen for the United States. And Marcy Winograd, at least, is a good candidate who is intelligent.
KW: Given your WASPy, blue-blood background, where did you find the strength to buck the system?
GV: If you study the Gores, and you dont really have to study Albert whos a worthy person who does good work, the Gores were the founders of the party of the people at the end of the late 19th Century. They represented the people whod been wrecked by the Civil War and by Reconstruction, people whod lost their farms. And they made common cause with the city machines, which turned out to be a big mistake. Like in New Jersey, which is how we got Woodrow Wilson as President. But the whole family has been, from the very beginning, totally aligned with the people against The Interests as they used to call them back in the 19th Century. So, it just comes to me naturally.
KW: I suspected something was funny about the 2000 Presidential election when, instead of conceding, Bushs confidently responded to all the networks projecting Gore as the winner in Florida with, Thats not what my brother tells me.
GV: I think that tells it all. They already knew about the Diebold voting machines, and how an election like that could absolutely be switched around. In other words, you could beat them and beat them and beat them in the popular vote, but it will not be recorded, as long as these machines are out there.
KW: The same thing happened in Ohio in 2004.
GV: Congressman John Conyers, as you know, went up there and did a very thorough analysis with a lot of first-rate detectives to determine who had stolen that election, starting with Mr. Blackwell [J. Kenneth Blackwell], Ohios Secretary of State, who was also in charge of the Bush campaign. The whole thing was shocking beyond belief. To have two Presidential elections stolen in a row means that you have no republic.
KW: Ive called it a post-democracy.
GV: To use the word democracy is nonsense. And here we go again. This coming November, were going to have the same machines with no paper trail.
KW: And besides manipulating machines, theyve used a variety of other tactics to disenfranchise black voters.
GV: Oh yeah, it was well thought out. After 2000, I said, Watch out for 2004. Theyll have four years to perfect that one. After 2004, you know I wrote the preface to Congressman Conyers book [What Went Wrong in Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election], thinking that might help get it off the ground. But it wasnt reviewed by The New York Times, The Washington Post, or any daily paper in the United States, after this highly-respected Congressman and ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee had taken the time and gone to all the personal expense to do the book. When nobody would even mention it, that sounded to me like the end of the republic.
KW: What do you think was Bushs agenda for this Presidency he wanted by any means necessary?
GV: To give his corporate friends jobs and tax cuts, from the oil people to General Electric. To make sure Halliburton wouldnt have to bid on its contracts to rebuild a country we first knocked-down with our tax dollars.
KW: By deliberately ruining Iraq so war profiteers could rebuild its infrastructure, he ended up ruining this country in the process, given the record federal deficit, which is why so much of the Gulf Region looks the same as the day after Hurricane Katrina hit. I wonder whether Bush has a sense of the irony about that.
GV: He has no sense at all. Thats the problem. I dont think he deliberately set out to wreck the United States, but he has. Itll take two generations to get this country back, if we can ever get it back.
KW: Why arent the people up in arms?
GV: Acquiescence. What used to be called citizens are now just a bunch of consumers waiting to be told what to do next, and automatically voting, even though they know the machinery is going to reverse their vote. Weve lost too much in the way of the Bill of Rights.
KW: How do you think Bush feels about his disastrous Presidency?
GV: I dont think he cares. There are so many different kinds of stupidity. In American politics, you get to meet every kind. But hes a little exceptional. Very few politicians who got to be president are as ignorant as he is. Usually, they knew something about economics, something about how the world works. I would say even some of them have a bit of conscience, not much, not much, and talk about impossible dreams. Aside from ambition, they do have an idea that theyre going to serve a certain group.
KW: How has this played out with Bush?
GV: So, if theres a really difficult job, like running FEMA, you pick the dumbest person you know, because hes a really good guy. To watch Bush do this time and time again, I sit there and my jaw drops. Each time he does it hes in deeper trouble. He learns nothing.
KW: What will be the Bush legacy?
GV: If you remember, in one of my other books, I prophesied at the time of his election in 2000, He will leave office the most hated President in our history.
KW: Howd you know?
GV: I put it together just from things he was saying along the way and from what I knew of his career in Texas.
KW: What do you think of his War on Terrorism?
GV: First of all, its a metaphor. Secondly, terrorism is an abstract noun. Its like having a war on dandruff. Its something from advertising, its meaningless. You have to have a country for a war. Congress also has to declare it. So, he has no declaration, and no countries to fight, except the ones he chooses to attack. This is against all the rules of the United Nations which weve sworn to uphold, since we started the damn thing back in 1945.
KW: Do you think he deserves to be impeached?
GV: Hes totally illegal on every level, which is impeachable. And thats not partisan talk. Thats patriotic talk, Constitutional talk. Hes got to go. Hes got to be punished for what hes done.
KW: Your cousin, Al Gore, has a new movie out about global warming entitled An Inconvenient Truth. Do you think hes going to run for the Presidency again?
GV: I have no idea at all. I assume so, as hes very much on the scene. Politicians do that when theyre getting ready to run. But I know nothing from the family about what hes up to. I know hes had trouble raising money, which I think is going to be a great barrier for him, if he does decide to run.
KW: How did you feel watching what unfolded in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina?
GV: That was wanton cruelty shown toward the native inhabitants who were left there to die. But you might say that someone was really very eager for the City to go. Putting Brownie in charge had to be a slap in the face of the people. I used to live there. Have you ever lived there?
KW: No, and I had a friend there, Randy, who urged me come visit every year, till he left town.
GV: It was a wonderful city, but everybody who lived there knew we were all living with danger. It is below sea level, and those levees just looked like humped sand castles on the beach. We all knew that they were extremely fallible and probably couldnt withstand a major hurricane. But they hadnt had a major hurricane in quite some time. Then, Alberts [Al Gore] predictions all came true. The climate has changed and gave us Katrina.
KW: Yet Bush arrogantly lied after the fact, praising Brownie and saying we had no idea such a disaster was possible, when now we see videotapes of the National Weather Service warning him.
GV: Hed been warned. It was like 9-11, for Gods sake. Theyd been warned by President Putin of Russia. Theyd been warned by President Mubarak of Egypt. Theyd been warned by elements of Mossad. Theyd been warned by our own FBI out in the Midwest. There was a hell of a lot of evidence that we were going to have unfriendly visitors to our serene skies. Bush pretends he knew nothing about it. Well, he probably didnt read the reports. But youd think that at least somebody in the government would be on top of it and say, Youve got to pull yourself together, Mr. President. Otherwise, something terrible might happen to us. He did nothing.
KW: How about his behavior on the morning of 9-11?
GV: That famous shot of him reading the childrens book about a goat to the school kids in Florida tells it all. After the Secret Service agent whispers in his ear, his eyes just go out of focus. You can see that hes so stunned he doesnt know what to do, because theres nobody to tell him. Can you imagine the leader of any country on Earth who would just sit there staring straight ahead? Wed been hit. The Twin Towers were hit. The Pentagon was hit. But he just sat there
KW: And he actually continued reading the picture book to the kids for a while.
GV: He just wanted to prove that he could read. Finally, somebody decided to race him across the country to find bunker to put him in, so he wouldnt get hurt, as if that wouldve made any difference.
KW: Former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, in his book [Against All Enemies] made it clear that when he warned the then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice about bin Laden, her response was to cut his staff. And even before 9-11, Bush was already more interested in attacking Iraq than in tracking down Osama.
GV: He shouldve at least pretended to be interested in getting Osama bin Laden. But they wanted that war and that oil. They want control. They want to knock things down and to frighten the world. But Bush isnt the first. It goes straight back to Harry Truman who started The Cold War because he wanted to frighten Stalin, because he believed that the Russians were coming. The Russians had just lost 20 million people in World War II. They werent going anywhere.
KW: What do you think of Truman ushering in the atomic age by dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
GV: Did you know that every single major military officer tried to get Truman not to drop the two atomic bombs? Contrary to what our history books try to tells us, Japan was already defeated. They had been defeated and the Emperor was trying surrender, but Truman would not respond, because he wanted to drop the bomb.
KW: I never knew that.
GV: These are all things American people ought to know, but history was the first subject to be jettisoned when they decided all they wanted was docile workers and loyal consumers. Why educate them? You dont want to tell them anything.
KW: I remember reading something scathing you wrote about Harry Truman and Zionists.
GV: Yeah, getting the bribe.
KW: Did he really take two million dollars in return for supporting for his support of Israel?
GV: I dont know whether its true, but Ill tell you who told me. It was Jack Kennedy. They did not like each other, Truman and Jack.
KW: Why would Kennedy divulge such a damning secret?
GV: When Jack was running the first time, and Truman said he wasnt going to support him, Jack started telling this story about how a suitcase with two million dollars was delivered to Harry.
KW: Do you believe it?
GV: It sounds in character.
KW: In the Fifties, you wrote a trio of murder mysteries under the pseudonym Edgar Box. I use to be a big fan of that genre until I read those three novels. They were the best, nothing else ever measured up to them, not Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Raymond Chandler, anybody. Ive said that in print before, so dont think Im just buttering you up.
GV: Thank you. Well, I certainly enjoyed writing them. They were a lot of fun.
KW: What made you decide to adopt the sobriquet?
GV: I did it, because I was then being blacklisted by The New York Times. So, in order to make a living I wrote as Edgar Box, and got wonderful reviews from The Times. Eight of my books did not get reviewed.
KW: And what got you blacklisted in the first place?
GV: Homophobia over my novel The City and the Pillar. They were deeply into homophobia. The Times was really the center of it in American culture, and didnt give it up until they were threatened in other directions. Its a very bad newspaper.
KW: I agree. Even though Im published regularly in over 100 publications around the U.S., Canada, England and the Caribbean, and I email their editors every op-ed I write, The Times has never seen fit to publish even one of my pieces.
GV: You dont need The Times. Just keep getting them out there in any form you can.
KW: Thanks so much for such an informative and forthcoming tete-a-tete. I didnt mean to monopolize your time, but there was just so much to talk about.
GV: Thats okay. It was good to talk to you, too, though I need to finish writing a preface I was working on.
posted 30 May 2006
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy
This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literarySchool Library Journal
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 12 January 2012
Related files: Interview with Gore Vidal