Okay, I guess I am just not all that cool. I know I am not all that intellectual. Still I do read a whole lot, so how come I just can't get the deal with James Ellroy? I mean, I long ago decided to read the Underworld USA trilogy. Made my way through book one. Eventually started book two...several times...but I just cannot get past all the white supremacist, sexist, patriarchal, Jew hating, Mexican hating, homophobic rhetoric and portrayals which fill these books. I know, I know, it's supposed to be some sort of a literary device meant to shock the likes of me and all that. Well, I guess it works. What I can't figure out is where does one draw the line. When does all the bigotry exemplified by the characters actually exemplify the bigotry of the author? I mean, who thinks up and writes every racial slur imaginable...and to what end.
The story lines of these three books are intriguing. The Weekly Standard says,
All three novels explore vicious American racism—Mafia chieftains and J. Edgar Hoover being among the most vicious racists. All three novels indicate that American involvement in undeveloped countries (Cuba in the first book, Vietnam in the second, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the third) consists largely of support for Third World dictators who brutalize and oppress their impoverished subjects. Ellroy does not romanticize communism, but all of the books’ anti-communists are either far-right fanatics or greedy businessmen. Admirable, principled opponents of Communism on moral grounds are nowhere to be found.
Finally, the books embrace conspiracy theorizing in a big way. American Tabloid culminates in the assassination of JFK—murdered at the behest of organized crime, which was angered by Castro’s expropriation of its Cuban casinos (and then by Kennedy’s unwillingness to continue to try to oust Castro after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion), and by Robert Kennedy’s crusade against organized crime. (The assassination is given tacit permission by J. Edgar Hoover, who refers to it obliquely as a measure “of great boldness.” Lee Harvey Oswald was a fall guy; the real assassin, we learn in the next volume, was a rightwing French extremist.)
Mutatis mutandis, the next volume, The Cold Six Thousand, tells a similar story. This book culminates with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Both of these assassinations again receive tacit permission from Hoover: King’s assassination is an offshoot of an FBI campaign (orchestrated by Hoover) to discredit the civil rights leader; Mafia leaders are responsible for the RFK—as for the JFK—hit, because they know of (and fear) his intention to fight organized crime if he is elected president in 1968. (James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan are, like Oswald, patsies, made use of by the actual assassins to obscure their own guilt.)...
When you read the back cover you are sure you are going to want to read them. The writing itself is dark, evocative, noirish, and all that. Ellroy proclaims himself to be sort of a right wing Marxist...and I mean right wing. What the hell does that mean.
I understand at the end of book three if I ever get there, we come to "love" some female lefty or something. Boy, there is a whole lot of shit to plow through before we get there.
Again, every time I pick it up and start reading book two, I feel dirty, and I don't mean nasty. I mean slimed.
Did I mention the violence, the violence directed at women, at blacks, at just about anyone really? I am not afraid of violence in books, in TV, in movies, in life, but it gets old and it gets sickening after a while.
They tell me Ellroy has changed his perspective from his youth as a neo nazi loving a-hole via a period one could call right wing talk radio ideology to...well, I don't know what.
Ellroy likes to describe himself as a Tory. Meaningless...
But then there is the "other" Ellroy, the one who in one interview stated correctly that,
Can't argue with that.
But where is any hint of another possible world? Nowhere, that's where.
Some fellow at the Straight Dope writes:
I've read a bunch of James Ellroy's novels, including the L.A. quartet, American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and a couple of others. I find his writing to be extremely intelligent, densely plotted, and remarkably thought provoking. I think that American Tabloid is the best novel I have ever read about the JFK assassination.
However, one thing disturbs me about his work, and that is the rampant racism of most of his characters, even his ostensible protagonists. Now I understand that he is depicting the thought processes of specific characters set during a specific era (usually cops in the 1950's) and I don't confuse the attitudes of a character with the attitude of the author, but I have also noticed that Ellroy never seems to depict any black character who is not a pimp, a drug addict, a rapist or a murderer. Granted, he is portraying seedy underworlds, but wouldn't at least ONE good black person pop up once in a while, even in this milieu.
The same goes for homosexuals in his novels. They are routinely sneered at by his protagonists and are often portrayed as amoral.
The poor guy likes Ellroy's books and wants to know if he should feel guilty. I understand the feeling. I wanted to like the books, but that went away the more I read. I wonder how I would feel if I were an African American reading this stuff. I know how I feel when I read the Jew hating parts, disgusted, appalled...not good. And the Jew hating is nothing compared to the white supremacy.
Mike Riggs writes at ArtsDesk,
Ellroy has professed a love of racist language, and in (a) video of a pre-election lunch with Rose McGowan and Bruce Wagner, the crime novelist says that Obama "looks like a lemur."
That says to me, at least that Ellroy's actual views on race deserve as much attention as his fictional depictions of race.
Now let me tell you who I can’t stand, and to top the list I would put that neo-Nazi in American writing who is James Ellroy… And to begin with he’s not a good writer. He’s a kind of methamphetamine caricature of Raymond Chandler… Each of his books is practically a Mein Kampf, it’s anti-communistic, it’s anti-Mexican, and it’s racist.
That is what it seems like to me, too.
Here is something from an interview Ron Hogan did with James Ellroy:
RH: When I read critics of your work, they often react: "Oh my god, he's writing these horrible homophobic, racist, misogynist, psychopathic books." And I'm thinking: "No, he's not writing from his perspective. He's getting into the heads of these ugly characters." You're not endorsing their world by any means.
JE: I think I know what's behind this, especially some of the views expressed by Mike Davis. These are fully rounded characters, and the racism and homophobia are casual attriubutes, not defining characteristics. These are not lynchers or gaybashers, toadies of the corrupt system. When you have characters that the reader empathizes with, who are carrying the story, saying "nigger" and "faggot" and "spic", it puts people off. Which is fine. I would like to provoke ambiguous responses in my readers. That's what I want. There's part of me that would really like to be one of Dudley Smith's goons and go back and beat up some jazz musicians, and there's part of me that's just appalled.
What is your take on that? Mine says, I do not want to be a reader who "... empathizes with (charachters), who are carrying the story, saying "nigger" and "faggot" and "spic"...," Mr. Ellroy. There is no part of me that wants to beat up some jazz musicians, Mr. Ellroy.
Ellroy gets away with his schtick because, I think, liberals lap it up to show how "cool" they really are. Ellroy, meanwhile, laughs his way to the bank, his money made on his "talent" to write bigotry. I think he is a gasbag. I think he exposes himself as a racist yet again during interview found on the Venetian Vase conducted by Steve Powell when asked about his opinions on the Rodney King case.
Interviewer: Would you say that current, or moderately current LAPD scandals like Rodney King or O.J. Simpson are more beyond the pale compared to the good work the LAPD does in the majority?
Ellroy: Well a couple of things. First of all, I wouldn’t call O.J. Simpson a scandal, it’s just, it’s not even a botched murder case—it’s a bad acquittal. And the second thing, Rampart wasn’t much of a scandal when truly dissected. Same thing with Rodney King if you see the entire three-minute tape. The fifty-six hammer blows that put Rodney on the ground, and the contact slash don’t look good, but moment to moment the entire three minute tape leads me to say, and I realize this is revolutionary, I don’t think they did anything wrong. There’s a moment when one of the policeman, and it might have been interestingly enough a man named Powell, kicked Rodney King in the head, which was the only out-of-line and out of policy thing that they did. Yeah he attacked Stacy Koon. The other people in the car were led to safety. He kept attacking: he took a taser, he kept getting up, getting up, getting up. He’s six foot five, two hundred and fifty pounds, and on angeldust, and you don’t engage people like that in one-on-one fights. And I think it was an aesthetic call that people made: they could either see this in the context of white racism and police corruption or overall police misconduct, or they could see it in a more localized context, which in this case, I think, is also a more broader context—that these are the exigent factors of police work, ad hoc, day to day. And you can’t let angeldust-addled shitbergs drive around at one hundred and ten miles an hour on the freeway, where they will kill people: interdict and suppress them. It doesn’t look good, the footage a million people have seen, many millions of people have seen. In a larger context, it reveals itself to be something entirely different, and so pointing to these things, and Rampart’s a crock of shit, and accepting them as historical fact is very dangerous and specious. And so what I’m morally obligated to do with interviewers is try to give them a different view of these speciously alleged facts.
Here is what Ellroy had to say about the movie "Panther" about the Black Panthers.
I believe it is stupid. I think the movie is a joke. They were a bunch of dope-dealing idiot thugs, the Panthers themselves. And the cops were the relative good guys in that whole operation.
Or from the same interview with Robert Birnbaum, we have this nugget,
Read a lot?
No. I think a lot. I listen to classical music. I exercise. I watch boxing on TV and go to the fights occasionally. The only television show I watch is “The O’Reilly Factor.” I like O’Reilly. I profiled him for .
What do you think about his political ambitions?
Let me put it this way. If Bill O’Reilly ever decides to run for office, I will reach into my checkbook make the maximum allowable individual campaign contribution and assist him in his quest for public office to the limits of my ability. He is not a Republican and is no where near as right-wing as most people think he is. He shares my hatred and moral concerns about the death penalty among other things. And he is a pro-environment guy.
I could go on and on with this bit of Scission Cultural Monday on Wednesday, but I have said enough. Surely you understand my problem with Ellroy, his works, his supporters, those who fawn over him.
Me, I wouldn't give this blowhard the time of day.
I've answered my "question" from up top. Yeah, I think Ellroy is a bigoted turd hiding behind a "literary" veneer.
But what do I know? I'm just some guy who lives in Kansas City and as I recently learned after reading the blog of some "old friends" from California who visited the area a few weeks back, that pretty much makes me just some yokel.
But, wait, Ellroy lives here in the metro area, too. In fact, it is only a few miles from my home in the city itself to his in the wealthy suburb of Johnson County, Kansas.
All that said, like here is a different view, which I don't get at all, from the Jacobin.
The woman hated her father, screwed Mexicans to earn his wrath, had a crush on her father and got her white lefty consorts to dress stuffed-shirt traditional like him — so she could tear off their clothes and make a game of humiliating paternal surrogates. She hated her father’s money and political connections, raped his bank accounts to lavish gifts on men whose politics the old man despised; she went to tether’s end on booze, opiates and sex, found causes to do penance with and fashioned herself into an exemplary leftist Joan of Arc: organizing, planning, recruiting, financing with her own money and donations often secured from her own body.