Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Gore Vidal: the United States of Amnesia

If you don’t mind, please name five current celebrities who everybody in America knows……
……Okay, are you done? Good. I have no idea who is on your list (mine is Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and Katy Perry), but I do know that you didn’t name a single intellectual.
That’s because there are absolutely no celebrity intellectuals today. The last one died in 2012. His name was Gore Vidal.
“Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia” is a loving, reverent documentary about one of the towering celebrity figures of the 20th Century. Gore lived to be 86. But based on the film, it was as if he did enough exciting things to take up two full lifetimes.
Vidal was born into a passionately political family. He was raised by his grandfather, who was a US Senator during the early decades of the 20th Century.
Vidal’s grandfather was one of 8 Senators to vote against the declaration of World War I. In perhaps the movie’s most powerful clip, we see a fiery speech by the Senator in defense of his unpopular position. “I say to the women of America: I would never rob your cradles to feed the dogs of war.”
It was a brave, provocative speech in defense of an unpopular issue. This pretty much sums up what Gore Vidal did again and again throughout his career.
Young Gore Vidal found immediate success as a novelist. But when he released a novel – “The City and the Pillar” – that featured explicit gay sex scenes, Vidal suddenly found himself shunned by the literary establishment.
Undaunted, Vidal moved out to Hollywood, became close friends with Paul Newman, and made a decent living as a screenwriter.
Vidal was inspired by his friend John F. Kennedy. Vidal campaigned for Kennedy and ran for Congress in 1960.
Vidal lost the election. And he lost his political idealism by the end of Kennedy’s presidency. In one of the film’s most memorable clips – from about 1965 – Vidal rips apart JFK’s legacy, accusing him of doing nothing positive and blaming him for the Vietnam War.
The disappointment of the Kennedy years left Gore Vidal more cynical, more negative, more extreme, and more eager to offend.
Vidal moved to Italy with life partner Howard Austen and penned a series of popular, provocative historical novels and essays. He famously argued that Abraham Lincoln didn’t really want to free the slaves. And that FDR was complicit in the attack on Pearl Harbor because he was eager to start fighting WWII.
Vidal was often wrong. In the late 60s, he predicted that the counter culture and civil rights movements would lead to a revolution. In the early 80s, he predicted that the Reagan administration’s goal was to start an apocalyptic nuclear war. After the Patriot Act was signed into law, Vidal predicted that America would soon become an undemocratic police state.
Throughout the decades, though, Gore Vidal remained a witty, uncompromising voice in defense of personal liberty, pacifism, and atheism.
And he also partied with Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger, Johnny Carson, Sting, and Tennessee Williams. He was truly a celebrity intellectual. I wonder if there will ever be another one.


The Rover

The Rover

Without the strong arm of the government keeping us in line, life would be “nasty, brutish, and short.”
I don’t know whether Thomas Hobbes was right. He basically accused us of being rowdy, violent beasts who need a powerful paternalistic state to keep us in line.
My experience of living 37 years in America has been completely violence-free. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never seen anyone pull out a knife to do anything but chop vegetables. I’ve never even been in a fist fight. And I don’t make any special effort to avoid cities or shady neighborhoods.
Based on what I’ve seen with my own eyes, people who don’t ask for trouble can live their lives in peace and harmony with their fellow man.
But that doesn’t prove Thomas Hobbes wrong. Perhaps I owe my lifetime of safety and security to the State. No would-be criminal in America can hope that there won’t be armed cops to arrest him if he hurts me. And no would-be criminal in America can hope that the State – or State prisons – will go away and leave him free to commit acts of mayhem.
What is happening in Iraq and Syria right now seems to underscore Hobbes’s argument. Without a stable regime to keep the masses in line, anarchy and unchecked violence has engulfed the region. I doubt that there are too many people in Baghdad and Damascus who view humanity as fundamentally peaceful.
Writer/director David Michod certainly agrees. “The Rover” is a two hour meditation about how necessary a stable government is for people. And how damaged and desperate people get without it.
Guy Pearce stars as Eric. He’s a haggard man driving through the Australian outback 10 years after the government in Sydney collapsed.
He doesn’t show emotion. He hardly talks. We don’t really know anything about this guy. But we do know that there is something very important in his car. Because when a trio of thieves steals it, Eric takes action.
Eric gets some guns, kidnaps the brother of one of the car thieves (Rey, played by “Twilight”’s Robert Pattinson), and begins tracking his beloved vehicle. Along the way, we slowly learn more about what happened to Australia and what it did to these two unfortunate men.
“The Rover” is kind of a buddy movie. But you won’t mistake Eric and Rey for Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Eric and Rey are buddies only to the extent that they silently come to the conclusion that they don’t want to kill each other. That’s about as kind as anyone ever gets in this movie.
At its heart, “The Rover” is a pro-government message movie. It shows us a dystopia in which man turns against man, brother turns against brother, and husband turns against wife. Without laws and legitimate authority holding us in check, the film argues, we will be savage and alone.
I truly don’t know whether the people here in the peaceful West are fundamentally more civilized than the the people of Iraq and Syria. Or whether the United States would become as violent as the Middle East if society collapsed.
“The Rover” makes a pretty convincing argument that the entire human race is fundamentally violent.
Thank goodness for the government and the police. I guess.