Happening Here

Subtitle: Well, like, it’s Almost Happening Here And Other Thoughts on Sinclair Lewis’s Novel.

What goes around comes around. Or?

That’s sometimes how I feel when it comes to reading. Especially since I’m trying and failing to get back to reading all those old authors that I blew off when I was young because, at the time, I was preoccupied with something more titillating–and, of course, mind numbing. Hence, middle age changes things in a man. For one, titillation these days can be less mind numbing and, well, eye-mind opening.

“In World War 2 the Germans lost but Fascism won.” -George Carlin

We are worst-writing today, dear worst-reader, ’bout Sinclair Lewis and “It Can’t Happen Here”. I’ve traversed the Atlantic twice this month (meaning flown across it 4x) and I’m pleased to say that this book has been my favorite read on the long flights, layovers and hotel stays. I remember years ago reading Elmer Gantry in college, and thereby learned what a “satirical” novel is. Gantry makes fun of America’s obsession with religion mixed with money and greed. Although some, I suppose ,might consider the story more a soap-opera, I found it quite intriguing, especially since I read it at a time when questioning religion was at full force. Of course, at that time (a quarter century ago) employing the trick of satire in a novel–and a novel is a kind of trick in and of itself, or?–was beyond my redneck and jock mindset. But I got through it and through that silly mid-level college English Lit class.

The thing that left an impression on me from Lewis, as opposed to Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald, (other English Lit required reading), was the obvious and sometimes blatant political and social themes embedded in Lewis’ work. With that in mind, next on my Lewis read-list is “Arrowsmith“.  Anywho.

It Can’t Happen Here is a unique, compelling and systematic look at the potential rise of Fascism and a corresponding dictatorship in the US in the 1930’s. The insight and knowledge Lewis has on this subject is, in a way, mind-boggling. As I read the book I couldn’t help being interrupted by that other voice in my head:

Tbone, how the hell did Sinclair come up with this shit at a time when exactly what he was describing was actually taking place in Germany?

Nomatter. The most unique part of this comic-dystopian tale has to be the characters and the familiar wording. The characters are the ones that embody the political ideologies that to this day haven’t changed. That is, one could take this story from the late 1930s and put it in the year 2000 and renew it with the Bush neo-con regime, including the whole talking head right wing propaganda freak show of Faux Newz, Limbaugh, etc. As far as terminology goes, I was shocked how Lewis uses catch-phrases like “main street and wall street”, “terror”, republican and democrat, let them eat cake, etc. Heck, Lewis even refers to the supreme court as a politically bent institution. Of course, in my life-time the rabble-rouser talk of Faux Newz has to be the culmination of the underlying fascism that is forming the American 21st century. Yet Lewis pins it all on an open clipboard for the world to see/read seventy years earlier and yet it happens anyway.

“He … tried to read a new novel about a lady whose husband was indelicate in bed and who was too absorbed by the novels he wrote about lady novelists whose husbands were too absorbed by the novels they wrote about lady novelists to appreciate the fine sensibilities of lady novelists who wrote about gentleman novelists.”

Note. One of the reasons I interjected this book into my reading list was because of a political podcast I was listening to called No Agenda. (Highly recommended, btw, if you’re into a bit of pseudo-libertarian politics and off-the-cuff news deconstruction and entertainment.) The so-called god-father of podcasting, Adam Curry, mentioned this book in his show. In fact, Curry said something about it that kind of startled me. He said that this book was a of forerunner to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The comparison didn’t make much sense at first. But then again, even though Rand seems to be in the pocket of a few republican politicians, I do not believe for a second that she would in any way support the republican party today. But that doesn’t make her left enough on the political spectrum to be compared to Lewis. Perhaps more of a comparison-contrast would be appropriate. Anyway. At least Curry motivated me to read this Sinclair Lewis book and I’m glad he did.

Great read for those interested in understanding America’s political extremism.

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Rant on.

-tgs-

PS for those interested this book is available online here.