Daily Archives: February 3, 2009

Forrest Plumber

Wait, what?

Fresh off his stint as a war correspondent in Gaza, Joe the Plumber is now doing political strategy with Republicans.

When GOP congressional aides gather Tuesday morning for a meeting of the Conservative Working Group, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher – more commonly known as Joe the Plumber — will be their featured guest. This group is an organization of conservative Capitol Hill staffers who meet regularly to chart GOP strategy for the week.

Wurzelbacher, who became a household name during the presidential election, will be focusing his talk on the proposed stimulus package. He’s apparently not a fan of the economic rescue package, according to members of the group.

I think it’s nice that the GOP has found its new BFF with Joe the Plumber, but if memory serves correctly, every time Mr. Wurzelbacher opens his mouth on the issues of the day, ignorance vomits forth in rushing gouts. I believe the GOP is packaging this as “wisdom from the heartland,” but speaking as one in the heartland, dude, it’s just ignorance. And what’s not ignorance is a GOP talking point, so I expect from the GOP point of view, whatever Joe says is going to be pure gold. He makes so much sense! He’s saying things we’ve always believed! Well, yes.

This is not to disparage Mr. Wurzelbacher for being an opportunist, incidentally, and if you are of a mind to, here’s a quiz for you:

Hey, you’re a bald, chunky, blue-collar nobody from a crappy little midwest town! By chance, you find yourself thrust into the national spotlight and have a chance to do something more interesting with your life than sit in your crappy little midwest town and get balder and chunkier. Do you:

a) Say, “no thanks, I’d rather stay a nobody”;

b) Do all the wacky crap everybody asks you to do for as long as you possibly can, because in your heart you know it will never ever get any better than this for you for as long as you might possibly live.

Take your time on that one, people.

So, no: I don’t blame Joe the Plumber one bit for taking up the invitation to talk strategy with the GOP, or fly to the mideast, or any other thing he might be offered to do that sounds interesting to him. Dude’s living the dream, man. As long as they keep letting him, why shouldn’t he. I support Wurzelbacher milking this thing. Good for him. I hope he’s having fun. I suspect he is.

The real question is not what Joe’s doing, but what the hell the GOP’s thinking. Maybe they haven’t been keeping up with current events, but the last guy who hitched his wagon to Joe the Plumber found that wagon in the ditch. Joe the Plumber is an everyman, perhaps, but he’s the sort of everyman who got outvoted by all the other sorts of everymen out there, and whose numbers appear to be shrinking as time goes on in any event. Which is to say that it’s good for Joe the Plumber that the GOP wants to hear from him; it’s probably not so great for the GOP.

The Big Idea: James Morrow

James Morrow is one crazy cat, and I say this with great affection. It takes a special sort of person to imagine, for example, using a supertanker to tow the two-mile long corpse of God, as he did in the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Towing Jehovah, or, in his latest, Shambling Towards Hiroshima, to imagine a real-world basis for Godzilla (or, more accurately, “Gojira”), featuring the closing days of World War II and a b-movie Hollywood actor. It’s a nutty idea, but as Publishers Weekly notes in its starred review, “the sheer insanity of the premise only makes the eventual payoff even more powerful.” Indeed. Here’s the author to explain how everyone’s favorite Tokyo-stompin’ lizard was part of his secret history of the world’s greatest conflict.

JAMES MORROW

The great Gojira, that walking metaphor for the atomic bomb, that ambulatory parable of nuclear annihilation, that radioactive allegory on the Hiroshima tragedy, remains among the most potent tropes ever to emerge from the low – but honorable – brow of popular culture. So resonant is the Godzilla myth that even a degraded emanation like the 1998 Roland Emmerich iteration boasts a certain crude appeal. I came out of that crummy movie saying to myself, “The legend still resonates. One of these days, I’m going to do something with it.”

My first Big Idea for a Godzilla homage manifested itself as an outline for a novel, What Rough Beast, which I never wrote. According to my notes, the magnificent lizard travels to Washington DC in 1995 to inspect the controversial Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute, his intention being to incinerate the city unless the curators prove willing to acknowledge certain political, military, and human truths about Hiroshima. I’d just finished reading Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell’s Hiroshima in America, an impassioned revisionist critique of Truman’s decision to wage nuclear war on Japan, and I was brimming with indignation over what might be called A-Bomb Denial Syndrome.

This was familiar territory for me. In the mid-eighties I’d published a caustic fantasy savaging the Reagan Administration’s cavalier attitude toward weapons of mass destruction. The Big Idea behind This Is the Way the World Ends was “the unadmitted,” a hypothetical race of humans whose passports to existence are canceled when their would-be ancestors exterminate themselves via thermonuclear war. Upon receiving a one-year lease on life down in Antarctica, the unadmitted resolve to round up the perpetrators of Armageddon and put them on trial for “crimes against humanity” under the Nuremberg precedent.

After noodling with What Rough Beast for several months, I abandoned the project on aesthetic grounds. To use the historical facts of the Smithsonian exhibition in such a bald and moralistic way, I decided, would entail too few novelistic virtues and too many finger-wagging harangues. When Jacob Weisman invited me to contribute a short book to the Tachyon list, I rethought the whole Godzilla thing from top to bottom, eventually hitting on the Big Idea of a secret biological-weapons initiative overseen by the Navy in tandem with the Army’s Manhattan Project. The Knickerbocker Project reaches its climax in 1945, bringing forth a generation of giant mutant amphibious bipedal fire-breathing iguanas just in time to influence – perhaps – the outcome of the Pacific War.

While the Naval high command is eager to deploy the monsters strategically, the Knickerbocker scientists want to demonstrate the deadly lizards to a delegation of Emperor Hirohito’s advisors. The scientists believe that if they can get a dwarf form of the behemoth to destroy a model of Shirazuka – a hypothetical Japanese city – in the presence of the enemy ambassadors, they might, just might, leverage the unconditional surrender demanded by the Potsdam Ultimatum. Alas, the dwarf behemoths prove much too docile, so the scientists have to hire a horror-movie actor, Syms Thorley, to don a rubber “Gorgantis” suit and wreck the miniature Shirazuka before the eyes of the visiting dignitaries.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima is Syms’s story from start to finish. This conscientious, cynical, world-weary actor, loosely based on Lon Chaney, Jr., must give the performance of his life. If he can raze Shirazuka with convincing ferocity, then the Pacific War could very well end without a bloodbath. If Syms screws up his assignment, Truman will have to choose among three woeful options: invading the Japanese mainland, unleashing the city-stomping monsters, or dropping atomic bombs on civilian targets.

My essential aim in crafting Shambling Towards Hiroshima was to offer readers an amusing satiric tribute to 1940′s horror movies combined with an affectionate celebration of the kaiju phenomenon. As with This Is the Way the World Ends, though, I also wanted to fashion a lament for the victims – both real and potential – of nuclear war. This loftier agenda found me composing a framing story in which Syms Thorley, now retired from the silver screen, attends a monster-movie convention in Baltimore. There he meets a Japanese fan whose aunt was one of the hibakusha, the “explosion-affected persons” – victims of the atomic bombs. This earnest young man tells Syms all about the horrors his aunt witnessed in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Why bring in the hibakusha? Well, I guess I want readers to consider that our affection for Hollywood behemoths may come at a price. By all means, let’s continue to revel in our kaiju eiga, but let’s remain mindful of the point Susan Sontag makes in her classic essay on science-fiction cinema, “The Imagination of Disaster.” Whether we like it or not, such films are often “in complicity with the abhorrent.”

Miraculously, the original Gojira – not to be confused with the 1954 Raymond Burr re-edit marketed to Western audiences – manages to have it both ways. On one level, of course, Ishiro Honda’s low-budget masterpiece is a fun and engaging monster movie. And yet the scenes dramatizing the denouement of Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo – particularly the tableaux set in hospital wards – include images that deliberately evoke documentary footage of the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Rent the beautiful Toho DVD restoration, and you’ll see what I mean.

Looking back on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, can we say that Truman made a morally justifiable decision? A bedeviling conundrum – but not, I feel, the one we should really be addressing. I think we should ask ourselves a different question. Given the fear and remorse that the Hiroshima attack evidently instilled in Emperor Hirohito, was it truly necessary to hit Nagasaki immediately afterwards, as General Leslie Groves had systematically arranged? In my view, that’s a question that must never go away, a question we ignore only at our peril.

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Shambling Towards Hiroshima: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit James Morrow’s Web site here.