L.B.: Narcissus reflects

Left Behind, pp. 142 – 144

Our narcissistic friend Rayford at last takes a long look in the mirror.

I mean "narcissistic" in the clinical sense, as in NPD, the description of which reads like Cliff Notes character summary for Rayford Steele:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

3. believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

4. requires excessive admiration

5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

These final pages of Chapter 8 are a continuation of Rayford's dark night of the soul. LaHaye and Jenkins do allow their hero a few kernels of self-awareness here, but even these quickly slide back into self-obsession.

We begin with Rayford deciding that this was "the worst season of his life." He remembers the death of his parents, but decides that this experience is worse:

Rayford had grieved in a way, but mostly he was just sentimental about them. He had good memories, he appreciated the kindness and sympathy he received at their funerals, and he got on with his life. Whatever tears he shed were not from remorse or heartache. He felt primarily nostalgic and melancholy.

The rest of his life had been without complication or pain.

The subject and object of that entire passage is Rayford and only Rayford. We don't know anything more about his parents as people and we don't learn much of anything about their deaths other than his feelings about how their deaths affected his feelings. It rings true as a description of detachment, but is itself just as detached.

This occurs in a section in which Rayford is supposed to be hitting a kind of spiritual rock bottom, where he's supposed to be realizing his own selfishness and sinfulness and need for salvation. Somehow, though, he always seems to be confessing sins other than the actual ones he should be.

There follows a short Rayford's-eye summary of his painless, uncomplicated life until the present. Here's his description of becoming a pilot:

He came through the ranks in the usual way — military reserve duty, small planes, then bigger ones, then jets and fighters. Finally he had reached the pinnacle.

The pinnacle? He's not flying the space shuttle, or landing an F-14 on an aircraft carrier. (See, again, No. 1 above.)

Rayford met his future wife in college:

They were married when Rayford was a senior in college and Irene a sophomore. She dropped out when he went into the military, and everything had been on schedule since. They had Chloe during their first year of marriage but, due to complications, waited another eight years for Ray Jr. Rayford was thrilled with both children, but he had to admit he had longed for a namesake boy.

So here's a question for all the young ladies in the church youth group: What have we learned today about the role and place of women?

Irene Steele is L&J's notion of an ideal woman. She is pious and submissive, with no personal ambition beyond getting her MRS degree and then attending to the needs of her husband. This is the ideal of womanhood promoted by Tim LaHaye's wife, Beverly, and her advocacy group, Ladies Against Women Concerned Women for America.

I'm not sure that women such as Irene Steele really exist, but if they did, they would be caught in a vicious Catch-22. Their only ambition is to marry a good man. But the kinds of men who would be interested in marrying them — the kinds of men who are attracted to servility, who need others to "submit" to their will — are not good men.

As Rayford begins remembering the next phase of his life — the "most trying time" in his marriage — he first lays out his excuses:

Unfortunately, Raymie came along during a bleak period for Rayford. He was 30 and feeling older, and he didn't enjoy having a pregnant wife. Many people thought, because of his premature but not unattractive gray hair, that he was older, and so he endured the jokes about being an old father. It was a particularly difficult pregnancy for Irene, and Raymie was a couple of weeks late. Chloe was a spirited 8-year-old, so Rayford disengaged as much as possible.

I can't quite follow the logic of that last sentence. Rayford had a lively young daughter, "so" — therefore — he disengaged as much as possible. Wha-hunh?

The point of view here is third-person sympathetic — it's Jenkins talking, but offering Rayford's perspective. So it's tough to know what to make of that observation about Rayford's "not unattractive" gray hair. Is it intended to be read as a glimpse of the character's clownish vanity? While it's clear that Rayford is clownishly vain, it also seems that the authors are as blissfully unaware of his vanity as the character himself. My guess, then, is that this is Jenkins lurching in and out of his chosen POV in order to reassure readers that the protagonist's gray hair does not diminish his manly good looks. (And keeping in mind that Rayford seems to function as Tim LaHaye's Mary-Sue substitute, we can guess which of our coauthors insisted on including this reassurance.)

He was frequently late getting home and at times even fibbed about his schedule so he could leave a day early or come back a day late. Irene accused him of all manner of affairs, and because she was wrong, he denied them with great vigor and, he felt, justified anger.

The truth was, he was hoping for and angling for just what she was charging. What frustrated him so was that, despite his looks and bearing, it just wasn't in him to pull it off. He didn't have the moves, the patter, the style. …

Oh yeah, LaHaye and Jenkins know what the ladies want. They want "the moves, the patter, the style …" They make it sound like all Steele needed to do was listen to Billy Dee ("Colt 45. Works every time").

Despite the pseudo-confessional tone of this passage, Rayford never comes to grips with what seems the likelier explanation for his inability to "pull it off": He doesn't like women. I don't mean that he likes men — I'm sure he's 100% heterosexual (not that there's anything wrong with that). He just simply doesn't like women. Some misogynists get their kicks by using, and discarding, women, but Rayford seems to be the variety that can't even bring himself to touch one. Consider the sentences that immediately follow the passage above:

Sure, he had access to any woman with a price, but that was beneath him. While he toyed with and hoped for an old-fashioned affair, he somehow couldn't bring himself to stoop to something as tawdry as paying for sex.

It's not really the idea of paying for sex that Rayford finds "tawdry" and "beneath him." It's the women he would have been paying. And it's not because of the money, or because of the sex, but just because they're women.

I can't decide at this point which would be worse: To allow your daughter to read this book, or to allow your son to.

As one by one the lights go out
Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 51: 'No change of power'
Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 53: 'Finishing Chapter 6'
Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 52: 'Making the cut'
  • Jeff R.

    You know, to my knowledge in the military if you fly fighers you fly fighers. You don’t start off on crop dusters and if they decide you’re good enough move you up to the A team.
    My understanding, at least for the Navy, is that once you finish flight school, you’re tracked to helicopters, fighters or P-3s (4 engine turboprops). In some ways, P-3s are preferrable: they’re safer and they’re more similar to commercial transports. The Air Force is probably similar and they have lots of transports and other non-fighters.
    I think to supposed high status of jet pilots has been mentioned before. At one time that certainly was true. 747 pilots on the big airlines were very well paid and they had generous (and early) pensions plans. One of the big problems the old line airlines have is they’re paying more pilots to not fly than to fly.
    Someone mentioned the Mary-Sue pheonomem of self-insertion and wish fulfillment again. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing and if done well it can be quite good. I think you could make a good argument that Pride and Prejudice is such a case. Of course, as Fred has pointed nearly every week, Jenkins is not a good writer. A couple installments of LB Friday ago, Rayford “was told” something important. The passive construct of that shows you everything you need to about his skill with narrative.
    Have LaHaye & Jenkins said how they divide up the work?
    If you look through Fred’s archives, I believe there’s a description of their work style. IIRC, LaHaye writes up an outline, and Jenkins fills in the details.

  • Fhydra

    Actually, as a non-conservative coming from a conservative household I have never heard my family say that women should stay at home. In fact, my dad, who is one of the most fervent republicans I know, is the one always encouraging me to get a job and go to collage (and finish collage!). He’s also a big supporter of Ann Coulter, and I think I would have heard from him by now if she had said women should be submissive.
    Of course, I have never read any articles by her (In fact, I don’t know any woman that reads her articles. Is her audience even mostly female?) so please correct me if I’m wrong.

  • E. Nonee Moose

    At this point you do have to wonder how much of the authors’ own character traits are making it into their characters…

  • Michael “Vendor X” Heaney

    Some insights by Ms. Coulter regarding women :
    “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 – except Goldwater in ’64 – the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted.”
    Assessing President George W. Bush’s recent gains among female voters, according to some polls, Coulter remarked during an appearance on the September 23 edition of FOX News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes: “I’m so pleased with my gender. We’re not that bright.”
    Moments later, Coulter claimed that Bush is making inroads with women because “women, though they’re not as bright, don’t want to die any more than men.”
    “I think [women] should be armed but should not vote…women have no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to spend it…it’s always more money on education, more money on child care, more money on day care.” – Politically Incorrect, February 26, 2001.
    In an interview afterward, Coulter criticized the feminist movement for pushing women away from their traditional role. “Women are the bearers of morality in society,” she said. “That’s one of the problems with feminism. The women have become so aggressive and bestial.”
    this piece by her rather ties it together,
    There is no quote I’ve yet found where Ann specifically says the words, “women should submit to men,” but in her descriptions of the traditional roles she’s angry ‘liberals are driving women away from’ she makes it fairly clear that she believes women should behave in a particular way in relationship to men. She’s attacked single motherhood and lesbian motherhood, she constantly argues that women should not be allowed to fulfill high endurance roles in society (police, army, etc,) and it’s clear that while she likes to invoke reason (while never using it,) her motives are notably moral (see above.)
    I’m sorry, Fhydra, but if your Dad actually supports this violent, psychotic little spaz then he most hate most other humans a lot, because that’s really the only message she has to promote.

  • R Lovett

    An amazing number of posts here…
    I’ve really enjoyed Fred’s deconstruction of these books, but in this one, I’m not sure he’s completely correct. When I read the book, long ago, I took this “confessional” section to be a crudely written attempt to portray Rayford in a less-than-sympathetic light: i.e., that L&J really intended to paint him as a narcissist because that was his primary sin. The problem is that when he repents, he never really loses his self-centeredness: he just expands his definition of “self” to include his fellow travelers in the (upcoming) Tribulation Force. I found THAT to be truly disconcerting. The portrait of a “left behind” character who’s so wrapped up in his own life that he disengages from his pregnant wife and daughter didn’t bother me because I didn’t think I was supposed to like him until after his repentence, anyway.
    The problem was that I still didn’t particularly like him! Thanks to Fred, I’ve decided that the reasons aren’t simply due to bad writing.

  • Fhydra

    That link helped explain her views a little more than I ever wanted to know. Thank you, Michael.
    However, now that I’ve read a couple more of her recent articles I think you guys here are mistaking Ann Coulter’s purpose. Ann Coulter isn’t there to preach to women and convince them to join or stay with the Republican Party. She’s just supposed to be a fantasy figure for Republican men.

  • Isabeau

    OT, but I think you should know that when I clicked on your blogroll link to Zizka five minutes ago it took me to a porn site.

  • Michael “Vendor X” Heaney

    Fhydra, I’d definitely agree with your assessment of her role. She’s almost like a game show hostess or a magician’s assistant.

  • Adam

    Re Coulter’s comment that “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 – except Goldwater in ’64 – the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted,” I read a while ago that if only women had voted in England since the War, we would have been ruled solidly by the Conservative Party.
    Not sure what that tells us, but interesting, anyway.

  • NBarnes

    Re Coulter’s comment that “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 – except Goldwater in ’64 – the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted,” I read a while ago that if only women had voted in England since the War, we would have been ruled solidly by the Conservative Party.
    Not sure what that tells us, but interesting, anyway.
    It tells us that men have more of a share of social power and women have less of a share. On the balance, people with more to lose will be more conservative. QED

  • bellatrys

    No, she’s way more than that. She’s the female equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, mainstreaming eliminationist hate by being the extreme pole of the Right, so that anyone less vitriolic looks like a moderate by comparison. See Dave Niewert’s extensive discussion of the subject for an explanation of how that works (or just think about the impact Limbutt has had over the past twenty years.)
    But nobody in this country, left or right, would pay attention to a *female* media personality who physically looked like El Rushbo – see Ampersand for the Fat Wars deconstructed – so she looks as much like a supermodel as it’s possible for a woman in her 30s? 40s? to look.
    –Yes, there’s a BDSM aspect to it, eye candy for those whose idea of a hottie is She-wolf Ilsa, and her shtik starts to fall apart without frenetic passionate blonde delivring it, notice how her newspaper column runs very few places and is often dropped, even NRO found her too nasty – but the point is, she gets to sit up there for hours on TV and pontificate to the nation and while guys who like Aryan gazelles are goggling they’re also taking in hour after hour of slick rhetoric, and conservative-leaning women who would be turned off hearing a guy tell them this stuff will take it from a woman more easily without rebelling.
    She’s the female avatar of Big Brother, up on the wall leading the Two-Minute Hate.
    Now, does she believe any of it? I doubt if she knows at this point, frankly. Olbermann says that he knows personally that Limbutt’s a fraud, that he found a successful shtik and is stuck in it – but why and who is bankrolling him all along, then? Who dumped the seed money into Clear Channel? Our Countess Bathory may likewise be laughing all the way to the bank, but there’s a frenzy about her that has never been there in Rush’s oiliness, so I suspect it’s not all a put-on.
    And her views – that Americans should kill all the heathen leaders and foricbly convert them to Christianity, that women don’t belong in the workplace or voting booth (by arguing this, conservative women gain “honorary male” status) and that liberals should have their heads beaten in as traitors within – are all too popular with far too many people in this country.

  • ajay

    NBarnes: read it again. It’s saying that women in the UK are more Conservative than men, but women in the US are less Republican than men. Strange.

  • pecunium

    Not relevant (and late to boot) but a lot of people join the service after college. Something like 90 percent of the officer corps come from outside the Acadamies.
    No small number of the enlisted ranks as well (at least in the areas I work), esp. in the Guard and Reserves.

  • Devon

    You know, if all women were like Ann Coulter, I would agree with her. If all women were psychotic, then yes, it would be bad to let them vote, hold positions of power, etc. But that’s not the case at all, she’s an outlier, and way out there at that, and her “arguments” fall apart when you take women who aren’t her into account. And that’s good for several reasons. If all women were like Ann Coulter, 1) there would be no women fit for motherhood; 2) there would be no women fit for spouse-hood; 3) the incidence of homosexuality among men would be much, much higher, about 99.9%. (Depending on your orientation, that last one might be seen as a positive.) So let’s all thank $diety that she’s an aberation, and not the norm. (Also, her very existence can help men appreciate the women they have all the more. There is a silver-lining.)

  • sophia8

    …if your Dad actually supports this violent, psychotic little spaz…
    Another OT: Here in the UK, “spaz” is an extreme and nasty term of abuse – it’s short for “spastic”. It’s certainly not used in polite company. (Not even when talking about extremely nasty people.)
    Maybe it’s used differently in the US, but I thought I ought to mention it – it’s certainly not seen in print over here.

  • Michael “Vendor X” Heaney

    Ah, no, I didn’t know that. While I’m sure the original derivative is the same, the word’s etymology is muted here in the states. It’s one of our more benign insults, at least where I’m from, meaning someone who is easily excitable, ridiculous or just manic.

  • cjmr’s husband

    In the U.S., “spaz” has exactly the etymology, but since it’s not one of the Seven Dirty Words, it is considered acceptable in almost all social contexts that don’t include psychologists. Or at least it was when I was in junior high school. Of course, there it just meant “nerd”.

  • Lucia

    Yet another OT: I’ve been hanging out on righty blogs. Why? you may ask. Because, um, it feels so good when I stop. And because (sort of in the compare-your-wife-to-Ann-Coulter vein) it makes me appreciate Fred and all of you here so much more.

  • aunursa

    For be it for me to defend someone as divisive as Coulter, but many of you seem not to realize that her most controversial comments are clearly tongue-in-cheek.

  • cjmr’s husband

    Tongue-in-cheek her comments may be; but it is anything but “clearly”. There are far too many people in this country who literally agree with the tongue-in-cheek comments for them to be considered anything but dangerous.
    And unlike El Rushbo, Ms. Coulter doesn’t try to bill herself as a comedienne.

  • Madpuppy

    I believe that Ann uses the “tongue-in-cheek” defense for the same reason Rush does- it allows them to spew out any garbage they want. When someone calls them on it, they can say they were only joking and then go on to say that it proves liberals have no sense of humor. And their fans will still take everything at face value.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Ah, “tongue-in-cheek.” The first home base of Plausible Deniability used by extremist rhetoriticians everywhere. The beauty of it is, their True Believers know that they are merely being “tongue-in-cheek” when they invoke the defense of “tongue-in-cheek.” Meanwhile, the tut-tutting outsiders like ourselves are fooled. That Rush Limbaugh! Such a kidder!
    So Ann Coulter thinks it would be better if women did not vote? I am sure, then, because she always practices what she preaches, that she stays home on election day!

  • Michael “Vendor X” Heaney

    Aunursa, if Coulter’s comments are usually tongue-in-cheek then what do they relate to? They’re not ‘clearly’ tongue-in-cheek because there’s never any clear definition of an actual point which to relate the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ comments to. As has already been stated, this is really nothing more than a cheap obfuscation technique. Ann’s saying what she really means to say, but she’s saying it with a half smirk on her face so that the less popular aspects of her message are less overt.
    To quote Peter Griffin : “You know, since money’s getting tight, I was gonna suggest that we eat the kids. Jokingly at first, but then I was gonna gauge your reaction and if you were cool with it, we would go from there.”

  • Fernmonkey

    In the U.S., “spaz” has exactly the etymology, but since it’s not one of the Seven Dirty Words, it is considered acceptable in almost all social contexts that don’t include psychologists. Or at least it was when I was in junior high school. Of course, there it just meant “nerd”.
    In junior high school, “gay” is considered a perfectly permissible (but deadly) insult, so I don’t think that’s necessarily such a great yardstick.