Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 17-18
Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have set out to destroy America.
They’ve obliterated New York City and Washington, D.C., with perhaps-nuclear bombs and followed that initial attack with perhaps-nuclear missile strikes at airports in Chicago and Dallas.
And this is just the beginning of the horrors the authors have planned for America. It’s going to get much, much worse as this series of books goes on. The authors will destroy ever more of America with earthquakes, flaming hail, scorching sun, toxic water and a host of other calamities.
That’s their plan. LaHaye and Jenkins are plotting the destruction of America.
That’s a bit unnerving, but not terribly unusual. Hollywood plots to destroy Manhattan several times every summer. Blockbuster moviemakers like Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer and Roland Emmerich have made huge fortunes by repeatedly plotting the destruction of New York, America, or even the entire world.
What separates LaHaye and Jenkins is their contention that their plot to destroy America is not fiction. The Left Behind series, its authors insist, portrays events that will really happen, soon, to America and to the world. They say that their story is more than just a story. It is, they say, “prophecy” — a foretelling of the future.
The future may not all unfold precisely as they depict it, in every particular detail, but something very much like the story in these books, L&J say, will certainly and inevitably happen. That is the central contention of this series. It is, the authors say, the main reason they wrote these books.
That distinguishes the Left Behind series from all those other stories that plotted out the destruction of America and of the world. The storytellers who gave us Independence Day, Armageddon and Deep Impact weren’t claiming that their stories foretold anything certain to happen in the future. They set out to destroy America because doing so raised the stakes in their stories. They put the fate of the entire country in jeopardy so that they could show heroes heroically saving the day (or, at least, President Morgan Freeman inspiring us to find the strength to survive).
But it’s also more than that. LaHaye and Jenkins aren’t just saying that America will be destroyed. They’re also saying that America should be destroyed.
L&J’s story won’t allow for Will Smith or Bruce Willis to save the day. It says, rather, that the destruction of the world is inevitable and right and just and good. Any so-called heroes opposing that destruction are on the wrong side of the struggle. This is what will happen, so no one can stop it. And this is what should happen, so no one should stop it. The heroes can’t save the day. This story allows for only one Savior, and he shows up at the end not to save the day but to deliver the final, graceless coup de grâce.
That makes this a very odd story.
And this section of this very odd story is particularly odd for American readers. The authors are plotting to destroy America. I’m rather fond of America. I grew up there. That’s where I keep all my stuff. My kids were going to live there after college. Some of my best friends are Americans.
So it’s difficult for me to get into the spirit of these opening chapters of Nicolae. The authors are destroying America city by city and airport by airport. And they’re celebrating its destruction as the long-awaited fulfillment of a righteous prophecy.
I just find it horrifying.
Fortunately, the horror of LaHaye’s vision for America is undercut by the unintentional hilarity of Jenkins’ attempt to portray it. Seeing these great cities destroyed at the hands of Jerry Jenkins is about as horrifying as watching a man in an ill-fitting rubber suit stomping on a bunch of shoddy miniatures meant to represent Tokyo.
And but so, America is under attack as it must and should be, and so our dashing young hero Buck Williams mustn’t waste his time trying to defend it or to prevent its destruction.
Still, though, he has to be doing something. And since he’s meant to be a heroic-seeming guy, he needs to be doing something that seems heroic, bold and decisive, even if it’s also irrelevant and ineffectual. Thus as World War III begins and bombs fall on Chicago, Jenkins has brave young Buck Williams dashing to decisively purchase a luxury SUV.
The final two pages of the first chapter thus continue what has been a major theme so far in Nicolae: Things Insecure American Men Regard as Signifiers of Masculinity. You’ll recall that we’ve already covered several of these, including:
1. Driving cars with powerful engines,
2. Belittling subordinates (or those one perceives as subordinates — meaning pretty much everybody one meets),
3. Knowing the best shortcuts so you don’t get stuck in traffic like those other losers,
4. Demonstrating one’s superior cleverness by driving in the douchebag lane.
These have all been portrayed as important indicators of essential manly competence. Each has been depicted as a proper and laudable source of masculine pride. Each is meant as a powerful signal to the world that our manly heroes can still toss the old football through the tire swing.
Next up on our list of requisite manly attributes: Taking pride in one’s ability to negotiate with a car salesman.
Jenkins takes time and great pains to show us that Buck is good at this, because he sees it as being very important and because he assumes that readers will understand it as being very important.
Buck drives a hard bargain, and we’re clearly meant to interpret this as a sign that Buck is, therefore, a Real Man. Jenkins doesn’t use that actual phrase — “drives a hard bargain” — but his emphasis here on hard-driving and driving hardness penetrates this entire passage.
Buck sat in the sales manager’s office of a Land Rover dealership. “You never cease to amaze me,” Chloe whispered.
“I’ve never been conventional, have I?”
“Hardly, and now I suppose any hope of normalcy is out the window.”
“I don’t need any excuse for being unique,” he said.
That’s our Buck — he’s amazing, unconventional and unique. And certainly not just a pathetic surrogate for an author desperately wanting to be thought of by others as amazing, unconventional and unique.
The usual business of the Land Rover dealership continues, unperturbed by the long line of cars in the traffic jam out front, or by the mushroom cloud over the nearby airport that this long line of cars is attempting to flee.
The sales manager, who had busied himself with paperwork and figuring a price, turned the documents and slid them across the desk toward Buck. “You’re not trading the Lincoln, then?”
“No, that’s a rental,” Buck said. “But I am going to ask you to return that to O’Hare for me.” Buck looked up at the man without regard to the documents.
“That’s highly unusual,” the sales manager said. “I’d have to send two of my people and an extra vehicle so they could get back.”
Oh, and also they’ll need radiation suits, because returning a rental car to O’Hare might be a bit difficult just now.
This conversation is occurring on page 18. Here, again, is the pertinent passage from page 10:
Suddenly an explosion rocked their car and nearly lifted it off its tires. … Buck scanned the horizon for what might have caused the concussion. … In the rearview mirror Buck saw a mushroom cloud slowly rise and assumed it was in the neighborhood of O’Hare International Airport, several miles away.
“Continuity error” seems like too slight a term for this. That phrase is sometimes used for things like a bandage one character is wearing in one scene of a movie but not in the next. This is a bit bigger than that. Jenkins drops a perhaps-nuclear bomb on the airport — a bomb so huge it’s concussion rocks cars several miles away. And then eight pages later he gives us a lengthy discussion on the logistics of returning a rental car to that same airport.
That’s not just a continuity error. Jenkins just did to continuity what that bomb did to O’Hare.
But none of that mushroom-cloud, destruction-of-America business interests Jenkins. His focus is on showing us our hero in action, proving his manliness and driving his rock-hard bargain:
Buck stood. “I suppose I am asking too much. Another dealer will be willing to go the extra mile to sell me a vehicle, I’m sure, especially when no one knows what tomorrow will bring.”
“Sit back down, Mr. Williams. I won’t have any trouble getting my district manager to sign off on throwing in that little errand for you.”
Well, he might have trouble doing that, since a perhaps-nuclear bomb might cause some difficulty with the phone lines, and since his district manager’s office might be a smoldering pile of rubble what with World War III raging outside.
(Or — if we play along with the continuity demolition and ignore the war — it might also be that this car dealer doesn’t really need any such permission. It might just be that he’s a veteran salesman and that he’s learned to sniff out the kind of guy who invests his masculine self-worth in his perception of himself as a tough negotiator. The car dealer long ago figured out that the best way to fleece one of these rubes was to puff up their ego, to let them think they’re a manly man who’s getting a special manly man’s deal. “I’m just an underling,” he tells them, “not a proud, independent man like yourself, so I have to get permission to do anything.” They fall for that every time.)
“You’re going to be able to drive your fully loaded Range Rover out of here within an hour for under six figures.”
“Make it half an hour,” Buck said, “and we’ve got a deal.”
The sales manager rose and thrust out his hand.
Yeah, Buck really rose to the occasion, drove a hard bargain, and cut that guy down to size. What an amazing, unconventional and unique negotiator he is.