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Saturday, February 24, 2024
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HomeCulture WarsHurrah for a play that doesn’t tell you how to think

Hurrah for a play that doesn’t tell you how to think

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I MUST admit I was kind of dreading my trip to London to see the award-winning play Best of Enemies. Five years ago, it might have been right up my street: a dramatisation of an epic televised 1968 feud between two titans of the right and the left, William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal.

Problem is, since my Awakening, I find it much harder to buy into any of the mainstream’s political or historical or sociological assumptions because they are all essentially fictions.

I no longer accept, for example, that ‘conservative’ Buckley was my guy while ‘liberal’ Vidal was the enemy. I think that the very concepts of left and right are just a chimera devised by our dark and sinister overlords to divide and weaken us. I don’t find anything to celebrate about the moment that gave birth to the adversarial, opinion- and personality-driven, more-heat-than-light style of political debate which continues to distract us from reality (or anything that matters) on TV today.

And while we’re still in diatribe mode, let me treat you to a few more things that annoyed me . . .

Some of the language was off. I do not believe that Gore Vidal would have referred to ‘homophobia’ in 1968 because the term was hardly current then. Its first recorded print usage was 1969. I’m also sceptical that someone as fusty and reactionary as Buckley would have used the phrase ‘we’ve become a Thing’. Perhaps I’m wrong and someone can correct me, but I suspect that the concept of anything or anyone becoming ‘a thing’ is a 21st century notion.

Also, the programme was crap, telling you virtually nothing about the historical context or the personalities involved. Instead, you get facile questions which sound like they were written by some teenager on work experience (‘If you could play any character in this play, who would you play and why?’) and vapid answers from the writer and the director (‘I think James’s play is illuminating and funny and humane’) which tell you nothing about anything. I most especially vomited over the bit where the playwright James Graham tells us that it was a ‘privilege’ to rediscover the writing of James Baldwin. Can you imagine him using that word about any male author who wasn’t black and gay? I don’t think so.

Oh, and its entire socio-political premise is bunkum. It invites us to take sides on what it was that caused the turmoil of ’68: was it, per Vidal, an expression of the alienation of the marginalised classes (the poor, the black, the oppressed etc) from the selfishness and greed of the white privileged hegemony – or was it, per Buckley, overindulged, undisciplined freeloaders with impractical ideals and no real moral values trying to ruin it for the law-abiding, decent, prosperity-generating majority? Well, neither, I’d say. More on that in a moment.

You may suspect if you’ve seen the play’s posters that I’ve been saving my biggest gripe till last: the fact that Buckley is played by a black actor, David Harewood. I had wondered about this before the show, ‘diversity’ casting being one of my bêtes noires and Buckley having been a real – and very white – person who ought surely to have been represented by someone looking at least vaguely like him. But in this particular instance I think the casting is a masterstroke.

Most theatre audiences, you need to remember, hold impeccably bien-pensant views and would naturally disincline towards rooting for an overtly ‘right-wing’ character such as Buckley. At one point in the play, Buckley is shown giving a sympathetic hearing in an interview to – boo! hiss! – that supposedly even more right-wing demagogue Enoch Powell. I can’t imagine how this vignette would have been received with a white actor playing the Buckley role. But here, in this staging, we have black actor Harewood looking supremely unruffled as Powell delivers those ‘incendiary’ passages from his ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. This gives the audience the permission they need to listen impartially to the subsequent points the Powell character makes about the problems with mass immigration. All this matters because if this play is to succeed, it’s essential that the audience’s sympathies veer back and forth between the two protagonists. Otherwise there’d be no drama. It would just be a left-wing sociology lecture delivered by Gore Vidal.

An even bigger surprise about the play, for me, was how much I enjoyed it. It’s the mark of a good playwright that he doesn’t tell you what to think, that though you can guess what his politics are he doesn’t ram them down your throat, even to the point of leaving his work open to multiple interpretations. James Graham is evidently a good playwright.

I never expected, for example, that he would persuade me to think well, even slightly well, of an Establishment poseur such as Vidal. Sure I can appreciate Vidal’s feline wit, his camp, his hedonism, his snobbery, his classical references and so on. But ultimately, this creature is Predator Class through and through. He is not our guy. To him we are – or rather were, since he’s now dead – just useless eaters. The fact that he cavorted and scribbled and speechified for our entertainment and occasional edification should not be construed as a sign that he identified with us in any way.

That, though, is what’s special about the moment in the play – whether contrived or not I do not know because I’ve not seen the documentary on which it is based – when briefly he flits down to earth and concerns himself with the plight of the little people. It happens at the ’68 Chicago Democrat convention. There are protests from kids who understandably don’t want to be sent to die or be maimed in an utterly pointless war in Vietnam (fabricated, of course, by and on behalf of Establishment families like Vidal’s). At one stage, they raise the North Vietnamese flag and the boot boys of Chicago’s thuggish and corrupt Mayor Daly go in hard. Vidal witnesses it, choking on tear gas, and is not impressed. When he makes the point that this heavy-handedness by the State is unconstitutional, he steals the debate from Buckley who appears to believe that kids who raise the ‘enemy’ flag at a protest deserve what’s coming to them.

There’s another moment when Vidal scores a win by reminding Buckley of an article he wrote where he argued for the nuking of North Vietnam. Buckley denies having written it but I think we can safely assume that he has misremembered. What appals me, slightly, is the thought that there was a time in my life when I might have read such an article and nodded in agreement. The ‘slightly’ modification is not me trying to let myself off the hook for my youthful stupidity. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of the scale of the psyop which has long been carried out against us by the Predator Class. Whether we imagine ourselves to be on the left or the right, we are all victims of the same con trick: the one that corrals us into opposing camps with superficially persuasive arguments which appear to justify our intellectual positions. In my case, for example, I would no doubt have bought into the line that there was such a thing as a global communist threat to Western civilisation, that the ‘domino theory’ was viable, and that therefore the end – saving freedom – justified such extreme measures as nuking a bunch of evil commies in Hanoi bent on world domination.

Now that I am Awake, of course, I realise that Vidal and Buckley are two cheeks of the same arse. Neither of them is Team Us. Both of them are the Enemy, though with different roles to play in the undermining and ultimate destruction of us, the useless eaters. They represent two prongs in this concerted assault. Vidal, like his fellow ‘liberals’, exists in order to corrupt the social order, on the lines advocated by ‘Cultural Marxists’ such as Antonio Gramsci and Rudi Dutschke (who coined the phrase ‘long march through the institutions’.) That is, their job is to wage war on the family, on normal heterosexual relations between men and women, on Christianity, on tradition, on institutions, on truth and beauty. And also, in Vidal’s case particularly, on human nature itself: remember, Vidal was the author of Myra Breckenridge (1968), whose transgender heroine helped introduce to the public consciousness the notion of gender fluidity in a way that at the time probably just seemed edgily transgressive but which with hindsight can be recognised as one of the early barbarians at the gates.

Buckley played a different role but no less dangerous a one. His job – as you’d expect from a ‘former’ CIA man [do you ever actually leave? I doubt it] – was to lead all the God-fearing, tradition-loving, family-revering folk into a trap of their own. One labelled ‘conservatism’. This is the trap that lures defenders of freedom and individual autonomy into building their own prisons and funding their own prison guards. They are fooled into endorsing strong armed forces, America’s key role as a ‘global policeman’, robust policing and so on, in the honest belief that, as Churchill was fond of saying, supposedly quoting Orwell, ‘We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.’

A plague on both their houses.

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James Delingpole
James Delingpole
James Delingpole is host of the Delingpod podcast. The Delingpod: The James Delingpole Podcast (podbean.com)

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