“Did Mr. Houdini really make the elephant disappear?”
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Did President Bush make the expenses of running two wars disappear? Telling the truth to Dubya’s loyal admiring fans would be as cruel and vicious as trying to take away their guns would be . . . and just as unproductive.
Modern Society is fueled by misperceptions. Ridiculing the Emperor’s new clothes has always been a sure fire way to become an outcast. A book of literary criticism summed it up in its title: “Naked is the best disguise.”
In the early part of the Twentieth Century, there was a Congressman (everybody in Congress was a man back then and so the correct designation was Congressman) who was very popular and seemed destined to land in the Senate or the Governor’s office in Minnesota . . . until he criticized the role that bankers were playing in the effort to get the United States into the War to End All Wars.
That fellow, as a young lawyer, got into trouble when a bank sent him out to foreclose on a farm and he returned with the money that paid the farmer’s loan up to date. The Bankers were furious and fired him. He got his revenge by becoming a political activist who worked on behalf of farmers. To show their gratitude, they elected him as their Congressman.
When a European member of nobility got shot and millions of soldiers were called on to die in the ensuing war, some influential decision makers in the USA saw the fracas as a sure way to increase profits for certain businessmen. The fellow, who had been born in Stockholm Sweden, started saying things like: “The war-for-profit group has counterfeited patriotism.”
Wasn’t patriotism what fueled the British soldiers’ charge into machine gun fire in the subsequent battles for “no man’s land” in WWI? According to information we stumbled upon in a non-fiction book by Len Deighton, a curious thing called “the creeping barrage” may have augmented the patriotism. It was alleged that in an effort to encourage soldiers to participate in the charge against the German line, an artillery barrage was laid down by the British. It started behind the front line. The shells were gradually moved farther forward and the soldiers in the trenches had the option of taking their chances with the barrage or running at the German line and see if they could get past them. The image of brave young men running enthusiastically at the dreaded Bosch was very reassuring to the families on the home front.
The American Congressman had sealed his fate and his career in the halls of Congress was doomed. He remained popular with his constituents, but they just couldn’t reelect him because of his views. He tried in vain to become governor, but that didn’t work.
He was quoted as telling his son “In war it is not safe to think unless one travels with the mob.”
His achievements faded into the history books but not his name. His son, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. became a celebrity pioneer in the field of aviation.
In an article on a notorious TV appearance by the singer Madonna, writer Norman Mailer hypothesized that celebrities (and politicians?), who were rascals, would be forgiven so long as they didn’t commit the one unforgivable sin, which is going against type. Hence celebrities who project an image of virtue are dealt with severely, by the media and fans, when they are caught in a scandal.
You could be a cynic who tells America that Houdini didn’t make the elephant disappear, but showing them how he did it would be completely unacceptable.
Did Robert Capa fake his most famous picture? According to his biographer Richard Whelan, Capa was a rake-hell who often embellished his achievements with heaps of exaggeration and so the possibility that the “Falling Soldier” photo was an elaborate ruse is irrelevant.
Why is it that Elvis Presley was drafted but James Dean wasn’t?
When we first encountered a best selling history of the USA that had a title that (we thought) hinted it would be a “tell all” expose, we had visions of giving it a place of honor in the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory reference library. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be “more of the same” that breathlessly described how various legendary American heroes had made the elephant vanish into thin air.
[Note from the photo editor: the photos we had of Banksy’s Los Angeles art installation called “The elephant in the room” have disappeared from the World’s Laziest Journalist’s photo archives and so this column will run without an accompanying photo.]
Is it hard work to be the World’s Laziest Journalist?
Did a well known folk singer really “burst on the scene already a legend”?
Was Amy Sample McPherson really kidnapped?
Did one bullet really do all that damage in Dallas?
Did a famous editor lie to a little girl named Virginia?
Are Federal investigators still trying to learn who made money on short selling airline stocks on Sept. 10, 2001?
Did Building 7 ever really exist?
Was President George W. Bush really able to reduce taxes, wage two wars, and not make a significant increase in the deficit?
When it comes time to make the call always remember the old journalism axiom: “Always print the legend.”
Now the disk jockey will play “Do you believe in magic,” “That old black magic ” and“ Magic moments.” We have to go try to score some tickets for Houdini at the Hippodrome. Have an “abracadabra” type week.