Friday, November 7, 2008

Reality is not all nice

As I watched Sarah Palin complain about "the media" on the news tonight, how they made a big deal out of the clothes the Republican National Committee bought her, I thought about Hunter Thompson's book, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang. When this book came out in 1966, you were not likely to see in your downhome neighborhood restaurant, as I did today, a Dad in a Harley tee-shirt feeding a baby girl with a spoon. The Hell's Angels were greatly feared, with reason.

Thompson hung out with them for a year. I vaguely recall reading this book, a college-student housewife fascinated by the unfolding New Journalism, all the barriers that were breaking down in the arts and the society just then. Later, Susan Brownmiller's book, Against Our Will, would criticize Thompson's flippant acceptance of the Angel custom of gang-rape. I recall reading one particular scene in disbelief. Until feminism emerged, rape was not a subject of open discussion. I wonder now that I read the damn thing through. It had the fascination of a horror movie, and it was real.

Nothing had prepared me for Thompson's postscript to the book. It tells how a group of Angels suddenly turned on him and "stomped" him, might have killed him. He compares the event to sharks in a feeding frenzy. He ended the book quoting from Joseph Conrad, "The horror! Exterminate the brutes!" I had the impression that it was all interesting until then, that he'd never realized that he might be a victim. He was fond of his own violence, bragged to them that he settled quarrels with a shotgun. He didn't have it with him that night.

I sat there tonight feeling like I have lived too long and read too much, and watched Sarah Palin do the kind of thing she has still not learned to avoid, an impromptu press conference. Her voice has become more strident, with an overtone of a whine. People made a big deal about her makeup artist, she said, but what about his? Someone powdered his nose, too. (Her makeup artist had been paid $23,000 the first month, as I recall.) And she didn't get to take home those clothes. I wondered what the RNC will do with them. They would probably sell well on eBay to those conservative men who "fell in love" with her. An uncomfortable thought.

Sarah knew how to swim in Alaskan waters. With all her experience in the competitions of both women and men, she has learned to present a strength and confidence that seem to be bone-deep. But that's no preparation for swimming with sharks. Now, like so many beautiful women who outlive their usefulness, she has been discarded.

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