[Marxism] On the cultural front...

Charlie Parks jcparks5550 at hotmail.com
Mon Dec 13 19:38:36 MST 2004


I haven't been familiar with Michael Crichton's writing since grade school, 
when I read "Jurassic Park" and its sequel. But I just read an interview 
piece about him in the NY Times, and it turns out the guy's been essentially 
been producing "Left Behind" for secular mind, and his latest installment is 
apparently a fictional screed about how global warming's all a hoax.  I knew 
the guy was a potboiler-spewing hack, but I didn't know he was a 
*reactionary* potboiler-spewing hack (come to think of it, his recent 
photograph brings out an eerie resemblance to Boston University's 
cold-warrior ex-pres, John Silber...). His target audience must be 
rightwingers who want to flatter their own political presuppositions with 
little intellectual effort, but also want to gain a little more cultural 
capital in the process than they would otherwise derive from reading the 
"Left Behind" series. And I'm sure the folks over at Living Marxism are big 
fans, too, at least in light of Crichton's latest offering.

I've pasted the interview article below in full, but Michiko Kakutani's 
withering review of the book is also well worth a read, and can be accessed 
here if you're willing to waste the time to  register (for free) with the 
Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/13/books/13kaku.html

December 14, 2004
The Crux: To Worry or Not to Worry
By CHARLES McGRATH

Almost every Michael Crichton novel has embedded in its clockwork plot 
machinery a microchip of alarm, intended to start readers fretting about 
something they hadn't sufficiently worried about before. In his first book, 
"The Andromeda Strain," Mr. Crichton introduced us to space-borne plagues. 
In "Jurassic Park" and its sequel, "The Lost World," we found out what could 
happen if genetic engineering ran amok. "Airframe," it seems safe to say, 
did not swell the ranks of frequent fliers, and "Timeline" ought to have 
made any sensible person think twice about stepping into a quantum 
teleportation machine.

"Rising Sun" raised the specter of a Japanese takeover of the American 
economy. "Disclosure" revised that scenario somewhat to suggest that an even 
bigger problem might be rapacious female executives. And "Prey," Mr. 
Crichton's last book, refined that message still further to suggest that an 
overly ambitious mother who worked outside the home might find herself 
caught up in nanotechnology research and unwittingly turning the world into 
goo.

In an interview last week, Mr. Crichton suggested that we have become a 
nation of worrywarts. "There are many groups in contemporary society who 
find it in their interest to promote fears," he said. "A free society, a 
free press, has a lot of good features, but giving you an accurate view of 
the world is not one."

Mr. Crichton himself, of course, is not without blame for this state of 
affairs. His scary techno-thrillers typically spend lengthy sojourns on the 
loftiest slopes of the best-seller lists and bounce up there again, in 
paperback, when they're made into movies

Mr. Crichton's newest novel, which came out last week, has the classically 
Crichtonian title "State of Fear," and it's about a subject so menacing that 
it's surprising he hadn't got to it long before now. This time he has taken 
on global warming, which provides the book with some cliffhanging action 
sequences including an ice slide, tidal waves, a flash flood and some 
SUV-melting lightning strikes - except they're all engineered, it turns out, 
by a new kind of fear monger. The villains here are the sinister agents of 
an environmental group called NERF, reverse eco-terrorists, bent on making 
us think that the earth is in much worse shape than it actually is. In a 
review of the book yesterday in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called 
the plot "ludicrous" and said the characters "practically come with Post-it 
notes on their foreheads indicating whether they are good guys or bad guys."

Plot aside, the not-so-hidden message of "State of Fear," spelled out in 
copious footnotes, a lengthy afterword, an appendix and a 20-page 
bibliography, is an oddly reassuring one for a Crichton book, even if many 
scientists would disagree with it: there is no such thing as global warming, 
or not that anyone can prove or predict, and when it comes to climatic 
change, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself and the compromised 
and politicized experts who are in the business of purveying it.

For good measure the book also includes a number of mini-lectures 
challenging some of the green movement's most cherished beliefs and arguing, 
for example, that DDT is safe enough to eat, that the giant sequoias are 
practically junk trees and that the methane emitted by termites is 
potentially a greater hazard than the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide.

"For most of my life I have felt burdened by highly publicized fears that 
decades later did not turn out to be true," Mr. Crichton wrote in a recent 
article for Parade magazine, and the new novel appears in some ways to be a 
heave of exorcism. Throughout the novel and in the afterword, he takes the 
opportunity to disparage a number of other widely held fears. Fossil fuel 
shortage? Not to worry, we'll come up with something. Population explosion? 
Nope, birthrates are coming down. Cancer from power lines? Please, you've 
got to be kidding.

Mr. Crichton, who was in New York last week to promote his new book, could 
easily be mistaken for one of his own creations. He is himself an example of 
superior bioengineering: extremely tall (6 feet 7 inches), almost 
unnaturally youthful looking (62, but you'd never know it), and opinionated 
about all manner of scientific subjects. (He is also a medical doctor, a 
successful film director and the creator of a long-running television 
series.) He speaks slowly, without much inflection, in perfectly outlined 
paragraphs that frequently begin with a topic sentence and include 
subsections and analogies.

Sitting in his hotel room, he had at hand a stack of photocopied graphs and 
articles, but he seldom needed to refer to them as he patiently explained 
what he thinks is wrong with the theory of global warming: temperatures have 
not increased at anything like the rate that was originally predicted, and 
temperature data are not especially reliable to begin with; back in the 70's 
we were worried about global cooling. He was particularly dismissive of the 
various computer models for climate change, saying, "You have to remember, I 
come from an experience where you can use a computer to make a 
photo-realistic dinosaur, and I know that isn't real."

He began idly looking at temperature records about three years ago, he 
explained, and even after he became convinced that climate changes were 
impossible to predict and the threat of global warming much less than 
environmentalists were claiming, he resisted writing about it. "I didn't 
want the hassle," he said, adding that at first he didn't see a way to turn 
his findings into a novel. "My message is there isn't a problem," he said. 
"That's not a very good message - it's not a smash-bang one."

Eventually Mr. Crichton shamed himself into starting "State of Fear" - he 
"felt like a coward," he admitted - and his most important breakthrough came 
when he hit upon the notion of inverting everything and turning the 
ostensible good guys into bad ones.

The book's action sequences, he said, were modeled on the old 
Saturday-morning movie serials, though he added that "no one in the 
contemporary world knows what a Saturday-morning serial is."

And, indeed, for readers who may not remember how often cannibals figured in 
Saturday-morning cliffhangers, "State of Fear" includes a doozy of a scene 
in which the heroes are captured and tied to posts by some man-eating 
Solomon Islanders led by a menacing chief called Sambuca, as in the liqueur. 
("Don't ask why this name," another character says. "Him crazy man.")

"This book has been the most wrenching experience for me personally - in 
terms of what changes it has brought about in my view of the world," Mr. 
Crichton said. He explained that two years ago some armed robbers entered 
his house in California and held him and his daughter at gunpoint. "That 
changed me," he said. It taught him "that there really are events that are 
going to take place about which you can do nothing - things that really do 
happen."

"But I think it heightened my attunement," he continued. "I mean, if that 
was a real fear - then what about all the other fears that maybe weren't so 
real?"

Mr. Crichton also said that in his opinion the message of "State of Fear" is 
cautionary. "What you're reading may not be right," he explained. "Take it 
easy, just be careful. Could be overstated, could be not entirely accurate."






More information about the Marxism mailing list