October 26, 2006

Judging a candidate by his fiction writing.

George Allen attacks Jim Webb for the tawdriness in his novels. The stuff is rather awful, but it does seem lame to go after fiction. Politicians who dabble in fiction writing usually throw in sex scenes, and these things nearly always look ridiculous out of context. But do the desire to write a sex scene and the failure to do a very good job of it say anything about a person's competence as a legislator? Maybe there's a shred of information in there with all the salaciousness. And it does provide the occasion to remind us of other bad sex written by politicians, like that dreadful thing Scooter Libby wrote about bears.

ADDED: Jim Webb's writing career is clearly more substantial than the usual "[p]oliticians who dabble in fiction writing." And the line involving the father and son -- shown out of context at the link -- is not part of a sexually titillating scene as I discovered by going to Amazon and use the search-inside-the-book function to see the line in context. Click on the comments for more discussion.

UPDATE: Webb explains the scene:
"It's not a sexual act," Webb told [radio host Mark] Plotkin regarding the "Lost Soldiers" excerpt. "I actually saw this happen in a slum in Bangkok when I was there as a journalist."

"The duty of a writer is to illuminate his surroundings," he added.

Coincidentally, a Cambodian woman in Las Vegas is facing sexual assault charges for performing a similar act on her young son, according to an Oct. 14 report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The article quotes an office manager for the Cambodian Association of America, who described the act as a sign of respect or love.

"It's an exception," Thira Srey told the Review-Journal of the practice. According to the report, the act is usually performed by a mother or caretaker on a child who is one year old or younger. In Webb's novel, the child is four years old.

41 comments:

mcg said...

Uh, Ann, I know the stuff has been cherrypicked, but I'd say this is "throwing in a sex scene" is a bit of an understatement. I really want to avoid a direct quote here, but let's just say that at least one of excerpts isn't your garden variety man does woman stuff. Heck, it's not even garden variety man does man stuff.

Ann Althouse said...

That's how crappy novels are written. How about the bears in Libby's book?

What about all the books that depict murder?

mcg said...

I'm sorry, Libby is running for Senate? News to me. Yes, his stuff is sick too. But if you really think this is garden variety stuff, then maybe you ought to do an experiment and actually quote the one passage you know I'm talking about :-)

mcg said...

BTW, what is interesting is that if you click on the link near LIbby's quoted passage in the HuffPost piece, you'll get Taylor Marsh's take on it---at least the take that suited her at the time: "By the read of the snippet above, you'll get an idea of where Lewis Libby's mind resides. The exact trash bin of his depravity."

She seems far less willing to make that judgement about Webb, now. Surprised?

Sloanasaurus said...

I read the excerpts. One depicts oral sex by a father with his young son.

Maybe this wouldn't be an issue in any other year. It is fiction. However, the Democrats blew their chance to be fictional with the Mark Foley campaign by turning that into something it wasn't.

I think it depends on how Webb was trying to portray himself and whether or not he is being hypocritical. After all, it is the perceived hypocricy that riled up the liberal media against Hastert and the Republicans over the Foley affair.

Seven Machos said...

Republicans who write about sex and murder are depraved, fucked-up sickos who write about grisly repressed fantasies. Democrats who write about sex and murder are artists, flowering the world with beauty and challenging our perceptions.

Christ, don't you people understand how it works?

Ann Althouse said...

Did I say "garden variety"? That's how sex scenes are written. It's ordinary for fiction, not for life. Just like the violence in novels. Very bad in life. Not really anything in a book (except, usually, bad writing). I'd be willing to vote against Webb for being a second-rate mind, but not for being sexually perverse. (There's way too much sex in this election!)

Jake said...

"The man grabbed his young son in his arms, turned him upside down, and put the boy's penis in his mouth..."

Any man who writes this has issues. Issues that make him a good Democrat but bad for Congressional pages.

Joan said...

The stuff is rather awful,

No, the stuff is past awful and well into perverse and disgusting. I was expecting heaving bosoms and glistening (things), not the kind of sick stuff in the pull quotes. Cheesy soft core porn would be laughable, this stuff makes me wonder what's going on in his head.

I also wonder if what the press release says about Webb's depiction of women -- in his non-fiction writing -- is accurate. If so, how could anyone except a mysogynist vote for him?

AJ Lynch said...

If Jake's quote is even close to accurate, I would have to agree Webb is one frigging weirdo regardless of whether his book was non-fiction or just a stab at writing the great American sicko novel.

Balfegor said...

"The man grabbed his young son in his arms, turned him upside down, and put the boy's penis in his mouth..."

Frankly, this is so bizarre that I suspect it comes from some real life incident he observed when he was serving in Vietnam. In addition to which, while disgusting, it does not seem to be sexualised at all, really, in the narrative. I don't think it suggests latent infantophilia on Webb's part.

Freeman Hunt said...

In context the passage doesn't seem to be there for titillation. I agree with Balfegor that it sounds like something he actually witnessed. Perhaps used as an anecdote of feeling disoriented. Here I am in this strange place and all these strange things happening. Geeze, but look at that. Where the hell am I?

Ann Althouse said...

You can use the search inside the book feature in Amazon and read the whole passage. It's not really a sex scene and not written to be titillating. As Balfegor indicates, it seems to be something strange he saw in Vietnam.

Nitpicker said...

Caspar Weinberger, perv?

He wrote, "Readers may recall my unbounded admiration for James Webb, one of our finest war novelists since Stephen Crane. It is a pleasure to report that Webb's Lost Soldiers (Bantam Books, $25) is fully up to his high standards--taut with skillfully narrated realism. It is a tale of the search for two American traitors who caused the death of Marines in a remote outpost in Vietnam. No one else has ever conveyed better the dangers, risks and horrors of our war in Vietnam. Once again we see and live through the misery, terror and hardship of infantry fighting in that strange land--a land that Webb has clearly come to love."

downtownlad said...

Didn't Lynne Cheney write about lesbian sex?

Seven Machos said...

If Lynne Cheney wrote about lesbian sex (and this is probably just another baseless charge by Dowtown Lad), voters in Virginia are free to factor that in or not when deciding how to cast their votes in the upcoming election.

downtownlad said...

If Lynne Cheney wrote about lesbian sex (and this is probably just another baseless charge by Dowtown Lad)

Wow Seven - when are you going to learn to stop disagreeing with me on facts? You are going to keep on losing. I have an incredible memory.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/gossip/story/171998p-150026c.html

Sloanasaurus said...

I don't think it suggests latent infantophilia on Webb's part.

Fair enough. But it's a good campaign tactic by Allen to point out what kind of Author Webb is..

Contrast Webb and Allen now. Before, Webb was a gruff military guy who "shares our values and served his country in Vietnam." and had the values of Virginia. His Webb site said he basically writes war novels.

However, now the wizard has been revealed. Now Webb looks more like an elite from New York City than Virgina. Now we see a Webb who likes to write about pediphilia and sex scenes - a man who works with hollywood producers.

Virginians might look further and find out that Webb isn't even from Virginia nor did he attend college there. He just moved there when he started working for the federal government.

Virginians might start to decide that James Webb is a guy they really don't want to hang out with nor do they want him as their Senator.

mcg said...

That does it! Lynne Cheney's campaign for the Senate is doomed. Looks like she won't be the next Hilary Clinton.

Ann, thanks for the Amazon idea. Now that I've done my research :) I too am satisfied that the passage in question isn't intended to titillate. But I'll be damned if I know why it's there at all. I almost hope it really happened (almost) because then at least we can say it didn't spring from his imagination.

Johnny Nucleo said...

The scene is a "freak out" scene. Freak out scenes are meant to freak you out. Sometimes freak out scenes are sexual and sometimes they are violent and sometimes they are sexual and violent - these are called double-whammy freak out scenes.

For a freak out scene to work, it must be super-gross. For instance, having a character puke is not enough. The character must puke and then eat the puke and then french-kiss someone and then, for a double-whammy, shove a leaf-blower up someone's ass, turn it on, and masturbate.

Writers write freak out scenes for two reasons.

The first reason is egg-head critics love freak out scenes. "Gravity's Rainbow", an egg-head critic favorite, has a freak out scene where a chick gives a blow-job to a turd. Egg-head critics think the scene means something very deep. It does not. It's just there to freak you out.

Which leads us to the second reason writers write freak out scenes: Writers like to freak people out. Writers want readers to go, "Wow." If it's, "Wow, that's the most disgusting thing I've ever read," at least there's a wow there.

Revenant said...

The bit about the woman who can slice fruit with her vagina brings to mind images I really wish weren't in my head.

Anyway, while I've seen better sex scenes written by anonymous Usenet posters with names like "The Dark Seducer", I don't think this sort of thing suggests an inability to work in Congress. Just an inability to work as a writer.

amba said...

I had the same thought as Balfegor (and also thought of doing a "search inside the book" but am glad to see it's already been done): that this was not meant to be titillating, it was something bizarre he witnessed in Vietnam that shocked him.

amba said...

And it just goes to show that if you think you might want to run for office, someday, you better not do anything. Don't even live.

Ernst Blofeld said...

Webb isn't supposed to be a crappy novelist. "Fields of Fire" is justly considered one of the best books set in Vietnam, so it would be more accurate to say he's a novelist who's taking a stab at politics.

I think I'd be slightly more disturbed by one of his later books. I haven't read it since it came out, and I may be remembering incorrectly, but as I recall "Something to Die For" (1992) favorably presented the idea of mining Japanese oil tankers as an element of economic warfare. He was a bit nutty about the Japanese economic threat at the time.

knoxgirl said...

None of it's as badly written and gross as any sex scene written by John Updike. He's always going on about dampness and hair. Anything less sexy... (besides the bear thing. WTF?)

George said...

What..is...the Democratic Party thinking?

Didn't they think this stuff would come out?

Mind you, Webb's "Born Fighting," a history of the Scots-Irish people, is a great, fun book...

But all over rural Virginia right now this morning millions of church ladies are having apoplectic spasms and fits of conniption. At least with the Ford Playboy dust-up in TN, one could discuss the matter with one's wife or aunt or grandmother. Maybe.

Faulkner was a great novelist, but could you imagine him running for Senate from Mississippi in 1938? "Suh, what is that Popeye a-doin' with that thar corn cob? And, suh, what do you mean by Christ being worn down by the 'minute clicking of little wheels'?"

(And, Knoxgirl, Updike has also written poems about mouse vulva and his own bowel movements.)

MadisonMan said...

Virginians might look further and find out that Webb isn't even from Virginia

As opposed to native-born George Allen, right?

NSC said...

Regardless of what you think of Webb's writing, I believe the election is now Allen's. The obsession by the Dems on Foley makes this fair game after all, and most people are not going to take the time to look into the context of the passages or care about the context if they do take the time.

It is sick stuff and who the hell wants their Senator writing sick stuff?

Shanna said...

But it's a good campaign tactic by Allen to point out what kind of Author Webb is..

Eh, it just makes me think of that Democrat who is trying to campaign against the Republican in Texas who wrote romance novels by calling them porn. It's a NOVEL. It's not meant to be normal everyday stuff. I haven't read any of this, but I would hesitate to hold it against webb...

However...this election has gone beyond ridiculous and Webb has been rolling around in the mud for months. I don't have a high opinion of either of them right now.

Poor Virginia.

Anonymous said...

No, no, no people. I've been assured that OJ Simpson did not kill those two people because Mark Fuhrman used a word in a screenplay pitch session that NBA players call each other for laughs unless they are white, in which case they are John Rocker, I guess, only with short pants. Cased closed.

So there is no question that Webb,hmmm ...well, I don't know, but it's so bad that control of both houses should shift...er.. stay the same... um ...shift back to being the same.

Now if Webb had text-messaged this tripe instead of typing it, then we'd really have something. Ronald Reagan's disapproval rating would go up if that happened.

Or something.

mcg said...

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Here is Webb's explanation of the man-boy stuff.

brylin said...

I can just imagine Chuck Schumer's comments when presented with "The man grabbed his young son in his arms, turned him upside down, and put the boy's penis in his mouth..." quote.

Schumer: "What's wrong with that? He'll make a great candidate!"

brylin said...

Or Schumer might have said: "That would stick a dagger in the heart of Allen's candidacy."

Scott W. Somerville said...

The only thing that makes this relevant, to me, is the claim that Webb doesn't have ANY female characters in ANY of his books that are strong or noble. I had pretty much factored out his ancient statements about the Annapolis dorms being a "horny woman's paradise," but I am troubled to discover that his fictional women aren't any better than his Reagan-era statements.

If you can't write about strong or wise women, can you believe in them?

submandave said...

First off, I want Allen to win, but I must be honest and say this whole business is B.S. of the first degree.

Like Sloanasaurus, many are describing the penis-kissing as incestuous pædophilia; it is nothing of the sort. Yes, you and I and 100% of normal Americans would never consider placing our lips anywhere near the genitalia of our children, but the fact that there are some cultures in which this does happen in a completely non-sexual fashion is a fact. Reading a bit further in the scene, you would find the characters witnessing the event are as "freaked out" by it as we are. Webb is clearly using an extreme example of a cultural difference to highlight the foreign nature and surrealness of the characters' surroundings.

As for the now infamous "banana scene," I heard Sean Hannity going on and on about "how does anyone even come up with something like this?" I am left with the only logical conclusion, and that is that Sean has never heard a sailor telling sea stories about liberty in Olongopo or Pataya Beach. These sorts of bizarre sex acts happen as entertainment all the time. It doesn't make them right or respectable, but neither does it make Jim Webb a sexual deviant for writing about something thousands (if not millions) of people have witnessed in order to make his story more real to the environment and times in which it was cast.

Like I said, I want Allen to win, but as much as I hate when Democrats and the Kos crowd distort and misrepresent what Republicans say and do, I can't stand idly by and watch the water flow the other direction without speakign up.

Ann Althouse said...

Seven Machos: You got quoted on Instapundit.

Ann Althouse said...

Scott: That's a concern, but do we really want to test every candidate for whether they believe in women on a deep psychic level? I'd rather make it simple and just assume that they don't -- certainly before adopting a special hostility to the guy who writes novels.

Seven Machos said...

Thanks for the tip. I guess this is my 15 minutes.

ShadowFox said...

Those who expressed doubts about Lynne Cheney's lesbian sex scenes, rest assured that you're not alone--Cheney herself claimed earlier today that she wrote nothing of the sort, responding to a reporter's question on the very issue.

Alas, she is not a very good liar. After all, one can find her books easily enough if one desires, and verify the scenes for himself.

On the other hand, I have not noticed anyone commenting on Bill O'Reilly's novel with pedophile themes. Worse for Dirty Bill--he recorded an audio book, so you can actually hear him read the text. But, of course, his and Cheney's excuse will be that it's just fiction and they are not running for a political office. Funny that!

Webb wrote his fiction from the perspective of a journalist and a soldier (he's been both). Moreover, at the time when he wrote his books, he was a... Republican! Hmmm... I wonder what that means? Was Fox News sending subliminal messages that all pervese things eventually come out Democrat by repeatedly showing Foley's name with a D after it? Wishful thinking?

Several bloggers noted that if Allen people think it fair game to go after fiction, then non-fiction should be even better--let's have a look at Allen's divorce papers. What's in there that we don't already know? There is no issue of protecting children or fortunes--the usual excuses for sealing divorce proceedings. So what's that bastard hiding?

I have no love for Webb. He's an opportunist with questionable outlook on the relations between men and women. But his ethics are questionable. There is no questions about Allen's deep-seated bigotry.

Allen himself dispersed any doubts about his views when he accused the reporter asking about his mother's family of "casting aspersions" on his mother. Since when is being Jewish an "aspersion" unless one is an anti-Semite. And why would his mother suspect that her son would not love her any more if she told him that she was Jewish? She knew more about him than any one of us. But the explanation is obvious--if he'd be hurt enough to "hate her" for being Jewish, he is quite clearly an anti-Semite. The racism that was attributed to him both before and after was just icing on the cake. And this bastard was the governor of Virginia, then its senator??!!

Given the two problems--questionable choices in writing fiction vs. real, live bigot, I'll take the fiction writer any time.

mockmook said...

Shadowfox, please give us a quote from Cheney's book to expose/prove her shocking lie.

And, when you quote Allen, isn't it just possible by only quoting two words from him, you are taking him out of context?

Finally, I guess from your logic, Allen's mother was ALWAYS afraid of telling her son (Damian?) that she was Jewish, i.e., even while he was very young. So, she knew he (Damian?) was an Anti-Semite from birth?

ShadowFox said...

Mockmook,
If you want quotes from Cheney's books, feel free to check them out at your local library or Google blogs for the quotes--there are plenty of them out there.

As for Allen's quote, no, it is not possible that it was out of context--there is no question of his bigotry. Note, in particular, that the only three people that he found to claim that he DIDN'T use racial epithets are major contributors to his campaigns, including one that he appointed to a state position as governor and who's been jumping between state commissions ever since, and another whose company was hired by the state while he was governor as well. The people who provided damaging commentary, on the other hand, had nothing to gain.

But, more to the point, Allen blew up when a reporter asked him about his mother's heritage. Then, after he had a chance to cool off, he came out with the "aspersions" remark. No, there is no mistake--his remarks were anti-Semitic.

The story about Allen's mother "being afraid" is a complete BS. She married into a racist family, although the coach clearly did not join in their beliefs to the same extent (or he would not have married a Jew). Apparently, little George picked up a few things from his grandparents.

I actually know someone who grew up in Tunisia at the same time Allen's mother was growing up there (and is actually related to her through a marriage). There is no question of her being Jewish. There is no question of her knowing that she was Jewish and not fearing for her life because of being Jewish. The whole "fear" story was fabricated to protect Allen's lies--that he did not know that his mother was Jewish. His sister knew at least ten years ago and put it in print. Perhaps he CHOSE not to know--what do you think this would say about his attitudes?

Even if the choice was simply between a writer of crappy fiction and an honest racist, it would be no choice at all. The fact that Allen has been lying about his attitudes for years, after being blatant about it in the past, makes him an even less palatable choice. I may not like Webb, but I detest Allen.