[Marxism] On the cultural front...
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
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
"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
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
"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
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."
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