"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