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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Maureen Dowd: Washington Chain Saw Massacre

Washington Chain Saw Massacre

by Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, August 2, 2011

Even before Emanuel Cleaver, the Democratic congressman from Missouri, called the debt deal “a sugar-coated Satan sandwich” and Nancy Pelosi tossed in a side of “Satan fries,” the whiff of sulfur was rising from the Capitol.

The gory, Gothic melodrama on the Potomac is a summer horror blockbuster — without the catharsis.
Most of the audience staggered away from this slasher flick still shuddering. We continue to be paranoid, gripped by fear of the unknown, shocked by our own helplessness, stunned by how swiftly one world can turn into a darker one where everything can seem familiar yet foreign.
“Rosemary’s Tea Party,” an online commenter called it.
If the scariest thing in the world is something you can’t understand, then Americans are scared out of their minds about what is happening in America.
As William Friedkin, the director of “The Exorcist,” observed 27 years after Linda Blair’s head spun 360°, horror movies, like Hitler, pose a chilling, unanswerable question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
The horror director Brian De Palma once described the simple essence of his genre: “There is just something about a woman and a knife.” But, in this case, it was the president — and the federal government — being chased through dim corridors by a maniacal gang with big knives held high. Like Dracula’s castle, the majestic Capitol suddenly seemed forbidding, befogged not with dry ice but with the stressed-out Speaker John Boehner’s smoking. Like all great horror movies, this one existed in that surreal zone between fantasy and reality, as the Tea Party zealots created their own reality in midnight meetings.
Just as horror films moved from niche to mainstream in the late-’70s, with successes like “Halloween” and “Alien,” the Tea Party moved from niche to mainstream.
Tea Party budget-slashers didn’t sport the black capes with blood-red lining beloved by the campy Vincent Price or wield the tinglers deployed by William Castle. But in their feral attack on Washington, in their talent for raising goose bumps from Wall Street to Westminster, this strange, compelling and uncompromising new force epitomized “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and evoked comparisons to our most mythic creatures of the night.
They were like cannibals, eating their own party and leaders alive. They were like vampires, draining the country’s reputation, credit rating and compassion. They were like zombies, relentlessly and mindlessly coming back again and again to assault their unnerved victims, Boehner and President Obama. They were like the metallic beasts in “Alien” flashing mouths of teeth inside other mouths of teeth, bursting out of Boehner’s stomach every time he came to a bouquet of microphones. (Conjuring that last image on Monday, Vladimir Putin described America as “a parasite.”)
As Jason Zinoman writes in his new book on horror films, “Shock Value,” “The monster has traditionally been a stand-in for some anxiety, political, social, or cultural.” The monsters of ’70s films channeled grievances similar to the Tea Party’s about, as Zinoman wrote, “government power and mocking nihilism.” Audiences sometimes sympathized with the monsters, as Marilyn Monroe did in “The Seven Year Itch” with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, who, she said, “just craved a little affection.”
The influential horror writer H. P. Lovecraft knew better than to be too literal in his description of monsters.
In the short story “The Outsider,” Lovecraft’s narrator offers a description that matches how some alarmed Democrats view Tea Partiers: “I cannot even hint what it was like, for it was a compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal and detestable. It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity and desolation; the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation; the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide. God knows it was not of this world.”
I didn’t think I had anything in common with Lady Gaga until I read in a magazine profile of her that she likes to fall asleep watching horror movies. Growing up, my brothers were obsessed with Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman and the Mummy. (There was no model of the Invisible Man.) I have an old picture of my brother Kevin and me as children sitting rapt on a bed in our underwear watching “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”
Kevin spent his free time meticulously building and painting models of monsters, which he still keeps in a spare bedroom, half a century later. For their second date, he took the woman who would become his wife to a triple feature of horror movies.
If Obama were more of a horror-movie connoisseur, he would know that he was cast as the mild-mannered everyman David Mann (get it?), the driver in the Steven Spielberg classic “Duel,” caught in a road-rage episode with a faceless trucker on the highway who “challenges the protagonist’s masculinity,” as Zinoman put it.
Unfortunately, Obama cowered under his seat during the D.C. horror movie and now plans to try to hide behind his Supercommittee. But the Tea Party slashers roaming the corridors of the Capitol have feasted without resistance on delicious victims and will only grow bolder.
In other words, the president is going to need a bigger boat.

[In ancient Greek thought, which has influenced modern literature and Theosophy, an eidolon (Greek εἴδωλον: "image, idol, double, apparition, phantom, ghost") is a spirit-image of a living or dead person; a shade or phantom look-alike of the human form.]

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