Sunday, March 15, 2009

Left Behind Fridays on Slacktivist

If you haven't checked it out yet I strongly recommend the Left Behind Friday series of posts over at Slacktivist. The latest instalment, TF: The Militant Verna, continues his reading of Tribulation Force, the second instalment of the probably world's worst series of of novels of all time, which Fred Clark began last month. Here Fred exposes the misogynist and homophobic assumptions that underpin LaHaye's and Jenkins' worldview and indeed the worldview of that conservative, US-centric, born-again, rapture expecting Protestant Christianity. As Clark points out, as well as misogyny, there is an incredible double standard based on male privilege that underpins L&J's representations of their male heroes as is shown in this incident concerning the journalist character, Cameron "Buck" Williams and his dressing down by his new boss, the "militant" Verna Zee. I quote directly from Fred Clark:

Every sentence in these pages portrays Buck as a swaggering idiot whose only response to his demotion is an expanded sense of entitlement and self-importance, yet we're not meant to perceive Buck this way at all.... It's hard enough to keep liking a character despite such a passage, but L&J want readers to like Buck even more because of it. It's not Buck they want us laughing at and despising here, but the militant Verna.

Yet the word militant is used here without further explanation because LaHaye & Jenkins assume that their intended audience will understand it in the context of a larger, ongoing story. That story is what they like to call the "culture war" here in the United States, and Verna Zee is, in the familiar phrase of the culture warriors, either a militant feminist or a militant homosexual. They needn't explain which, specifically, since in their view the two categories overlap.

The phrase "militant homosexual" is so common in religious-right jargon that L&J seem not to realize how peculiar it sounds to anyone who doesn't share their phobias. It provides us a glimpse of how they perceive the Pink Menace of homosexuality -- a faceless horde in refugee camps south of the border, lobbing deadly, indiscriminate rockets of gayness toward their peaceful homes.

But the key point here, as it applies to the militant Verna, is that for L&J and their intended audience, "militant feminist" is always regarded as a subset of "militant homosexual." For them, in other words, all feminists are presumed to be lesbians, and all lesbians are presumed to hate men.

This leap from sexual orientation to a presumption of militant hatred is illuminating. L&J's visceral opposition to the presumed militant feminists/lesbians is proclaimed as a defense of sexual morality, but that claim is ironic, since lurking just below the surface here is a staggering sexual incontinence. Their cartoonish depiction of the militant Verna Zee is simply L&J's expression of frat-boy douchebag sexual entitlement. Their purported complaint that she fails to display a requisite femininity or wifely submission seems really just the insistence that women -- all women -- provide universal sexual access. They are saying, in effect, "If you don't agree to have sex with me when I want, whenever I want, then you must be a lesbian. A militant lesbian."..

...If we can manage, however, to screen out the appalling contempt piled on poor Verna here, it's also worth taking a closer look at Buck Williams' behavior in this scene so we can try to figure out what on earth he's thinking.

We're told that upon arrival, "Buck winked at Alice, Verna's spike-haired young secretary." After Verna informs him that he will need an appointment to get a meeting with her, he sits down next to Alice's desk and proceeds to flirt with her for the next two pages.

"You can call me Buck," he whispered.

"Thanks," she said shyly, pointing to a chair beside her desk.

They whisper together for several more paragraphs, Alice giggling even though Buck never says anything actually funny.

The authors intend us to view Alice sympathetically. She's accommodating, subservient, fawningly grateful for Buck's very presence. She is, in other words, available...

There are at least two obvious problems with Buck's idly passing the time here with his idea of light-hearted flirtatious banter. First, he's supposedly still in the throes of sappy, first-blush-of-love smittenness over Chloe. Do you think the authors would have approved if instead of Buck and Alice, it had been Chloe and Allen whispering, giggling and winking at one another? Me neither.

But apart from the question of whether light-hearted, flirtatious banter is appropriate with Alice, there's the matter of whether such frivolous chit-chat is at all appropriate or human-seeming just two weeks after the Event... In the wake of the sudden disintegration of every child on the planet and the deaths and disappearances of millions more adults, greeting people with a flirty wink just seems terribly, terribly wrong.

Indeed, as several people observe in the comments to this post, L&J's portrayal of "Buck"'s swaggering ineraction with women borders on pornography. Women must always be available for male desire. And indeed the Left behind series can be considered a species of Protestant porn, both in its sexual and gender dynamics as well as its schadenfreude. I can't praise Left Behind Fridays enough and I encourage you to make it a part of your regular reading, especially if you've at any time had to live in the shadow of the Rapture heresy.

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