NRA: Cater to their feelings

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 120-122

First, a quick reminder that Buck Williams is a jerk:

It was nearly time for Buck to head for Palwaukee Airport. Verna Zee was back at the Global Community Weekly office with the new (to her) used car Buck had promised to buy her from the fleet of leftovers from New Hope.

Verna, you’ll remember, had graciously loaned Buck her car so that he could go to look for Chloe after the bombs fell.

He abused it, blowing a tire, and then abandoned it. He’d promised Verna to replace it with “a better car,” and, apparently, has fulfilled that promise as minimally as possible.

A few chapters back Buck bought a car for himself. He used his Global Weekly credit card to buy a $100,000 Range Rover even though it was for personal use, not for work. (Buck stopped doing work in the last book, although he still collects his salary.) But he won’t use the company credit card to replace the car he took from his employee. She’ll have to make do with one of the Rapture-surplus cars Loretta had collected at New Hope.

I’m sure Loretta and Donny Moore gave Buck a competitive price for the car — just like with the laptops. I’m picturing them in the church office, counting the money, as Donny asks, “Do you think Buck will ever realize we just sold him Irene Steele’s car?”

Loretta, we’re told, “was at the church office fielding the constant phone calls about Sunday’s memorial service.”

And here’s how I imagine those calls going:

“No, it’s just for Bruce. Only Bruce. … Yes, I realize that our church lost dozens of members in the bombing, and millions more are dead all over the country, but … no, no, you’re right. You’re absolutely right, but it’s not up to me. … Buck Williams planned it. … Exactly, yes. …”

Chloe hobbled around on a cane, needing crutches but unable to manage them with her sprained wrist in a sling. That left Amanda to take Buck to the airport.

“I want to ride along,” Chloe said.

“Are you sure you’re up to it, hon?” Buck said.

Chloe’s voice was quavery. “Buck, I hate to say it, but in this day and age we never know when we might or might not ever see each other again.”

“You’re being a little maudlin, aren’t you?” he said.

The last time Chloe left the house she was badly injured in a car wreck due to a nuclear bomb. She also knows, for a fact, that the second, third and fourth seals of divine wrath are being poured out on the world, meaning that “a fourth of the world” will be dead in the weeks to come. So rather than seeming maudlin, her comment seems appropriate.

But the authors have to treat this like a “quavery” bit of overly emotional thinking on her part because that will allow Buck to callously dismiss her feelings, after which the authors, through Amanda, can deliver yet another Lesson in Christian Marriage.

That’s the point here, with this lesson meant to be some Mars-Venus business about men being too practical and unfeeling while women are overly emotional. The authors here are thus reminding good, godly husbands that they need to cater to the sensitivities of the weaker sex and pretend to be paying attention when their wives prattle on about their feelings. This is similar to the earlier Lesson in Christian Marriage in which godly husbands were urged to pretend to appreciate any “frilly,” feminine knick-knacks their wives have used to decorate the home.

That’s my summary, but look at what the authors have written here and judge for yourself if it’s accurate:

“You’re being a little maudlin, aren’t you?” he said.

“Buck!” Amanda said in a scolding tone. “You cater to her feelings now. I had to kiss my husband good-bye in front of the Antichrist. You think that gives me confidence about whether I’ll ever see him again?”

Buck was properly chastised.

The lesson here seems to be, roughly, “Husbands, cater to her feelings and make her think you’re really listening when your wife talks about … oh, you know … whatever it is that wives talk about when they talk about all that woman-ish stuff.” I can’t figure out whether the authors are simply unaware of the way their lesson on listening reveals that they don’t listen, or if this is actually meant to sound patronizing. I may think of “patronizing” as a bad thing, but I’m not sure the authors agree that it is. (If husbands are patrons, after all, why shouldn’t they be patronizing?)

After the lesson, Buck, Chloe and Amanda pile into the Range Rover — Buck driving, of course, because it’s his car and because penis — and head toward Palwaukee Airport.*

Buck was amazed that the built-in TV had survived Chloe’s crash. He was not in a position to see it, but he listened as Amanda and Chloe watched. Nicolae Carpathia, in his usual overly humble manner, was holding forth.

Nicolae Carpathia, we have just been told, usually comes across as “overly humble.” He seems like a fake, in other words, a condescending phony.

He is a fake, of course. He’s the Antichrist — a false messiah. But the thing about any decent false messiah is that he has to seem like the real deal. That’s the salient fact about actual phonies — they seem genuine.

I think part of the problem here is that the authors simply do not trust their readers to dislike Nicolae without making him utterly unlikeable. This despite the title of the book: Nicolae: Rise of the Antichrist. His rise, we are told, is due entirely to his charisma, his preternatural charm and superlative eloquence. Yet they’re afraid to allow him to be or even to seem charismatic or charming or eloquent.

Instead what we get is every bad writer’s favorite method of making one character seem smart: making everyone else seem stupid. Consider poor Chaim Rosenzweig. He’s supposed to be a genius, but he comes across as clueless and dimwitted, utterly fooled by Nicolae’s obvious fraudulence and “overly humble” phoniness.

In this scene it’s not just the foolish Rosenzweig who is fooled by Nicolae’s obvious pretense — it’s the entire world.

Jerry Jenkins’ provided himself with another way of handling this. Back in the first book of the series he went to great lengths to establish that the Antichrist has supernatural powers of mind control. I keep waiting for him to make use of that in scenes like this — to suggest that Nicolae is working his mojo on the whole world through this broadcast while only the redeemed, those who enjoy the magic of divine protection, can hear what’s really going on.

But Jenkins doesn’t do that here. Instead, he falls back into the trap he set for himself by insisting that Nicolae is the greatest orator and most convincing speaker of all time.

Again, don’t ever do this to yourself as a writer. Don’t ever give a key character any superlative skill that will at some point have to be demonstrated on the page. Robin Hood stories are fine — you can describe an arrow hitting its target without having to wield the bow yourself. But don’t try to tell readers about the world’s greatest poet, or the world’s funniest comedian, or the most compelling orator of all time, because eventually you’ll have to back that up by supplying the poetry, jokes or oratory that live up to such descriptions. And unless you are, yourself, the greatest poet, funniest comedian, or most compelling speechwriter in all the world, then you’re trapped.

Jenkins is trapped. He is not the greatest speechwriter in the world. He is, rather, a terrible writer of terrible speeches.

And instead of great, or good, or even adequate oratory from Nicolae, what Jenkins gives us instead is this:

“Make no mistake, my brothers and sisters, there will be many dark days ahead. It will take tremendous resources to begin the rebuilding process, but because of the generosity of the seven loyal global regions and with the support of those citizens in the other three areas who were loyal to the Global Community and not to the insurrectionists, we are amassing the largest relief fund in the history of mankind. This will be administered to needy nations from New Babylon and the Global Community headquarters under my personal supervision.”

So New Babylon, the capital of the one-world government established after all nations were abolished, is going to oversee the distribution of “relief funds” to the various nations that need them. What?

“With the chaos that has resulted from this most sinister and unwise rebellion, local efforts to rebuild and care for the displaced will likely be thwarted by opportunists and looters. The relief effort carried out under the auspices of the Global Community will be handled in a swift and generous way that will allow as many loyal members of the Global Community as possible to return to their prosperous standard of living.

“Continue to resist naysayers and insurrectionists. Continue to support the Global Community. And remember that though I did not seek this position, I accept it with gravity and with resolve to pour out my life in service to the brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind. I appreciate your support as we set about to sacrificially stand by each other and pull ourselves out of this morass and to a higher plane than any of us could reach without the help of the other.”

It’s difficult to imagine that banal, contentless speech uniting the entire world behind its beloved leader. I’m not sure I can imagine anyone listening to the whole thing without changing the channel.

Buck shook his head. “He sure tells ’em what they wanna hear, doesn’t he?”

Set aside that the meaningless pile of throat-clearing noises above is being presented to us as an example of superlative oratory. Focus, instead, on the idea that this speech is also the authors’ best attempt to convey an oily politician pandering to the masses and giving them exactly “what they wanna hear.”

Who, ever, in all the long history of human experience, has ever wanted to hear that? How are the masses being pandered to by that indecipherable puddle of rhetoric?

This echoes the problem we saw earlier with the Lesson in Christian Marriage. Husbands are instructed to seem like they’re listening to their wives when they say all that stuff they’re probably saying, whatever it is. And politicians are criticized for pandering to the masses for saying all that stuff the masses want to hear, like …  you know, whatever that stuff is that the people want.

The authors have no idea what it is “they wanna hear,” because they view ’em — the masses, the maddening crowd, the hoi polloi — the same way they view their wives: as alien, inscrutable and unknowable. As a different, and subordinate, species.

And thus it doesn’t occur to the authors that it’s actually very easy to portray a politician saying what everyone wants to hear. Just have him say what you want to hear. To portray a crafty Antichrist spinning words to deceive the entire world, have him say the kinds of things that would deceive you.

Sometimes the authors’ lack of empathy is due to a lack of imagination. But here — with their world as with their wives, with the masses as with the Mrs. — they avoid empathy because they regard it as impossible. Empathy works by remembering the ways that you’re just like everyone else, and the authors refuse to accept that they are.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* This is not a long trip. I looked it up. Palwaukee Airport is only about 7 miles from Mount Prospect.

Yes, they’ll be driving through a post-nuclear wasteland, but we’ve already seen that the roads are fine. The only after-effect of the nuclear attacks on Chicago’s highways seems to be that there’s less traffic than usual. And anyway that’s downtown, in Chicago itself. The city was attacked with nuclear weapons, not the suburbs. If things that happened in cities were in any way connected to life in the suburbs, then, why, suburban churches would have to change almost everything they’re doing. And that’s just silly.

Palwaukee Airport is a good 18 miles from downtown, so no problem there.

Oh, and Buck Williams is certainly the only person who decided to fly out of the smaller suburban airport after O’Hare was destroyed in the bombing. So no need to worry about crowds or a riotous mob-scene when they get there.

In real life, it’s not called “Palwaukee Airport” any more, by the way. It’s now “Chicago Executive Airport” — they changed the name about 10 years after Nicolae was written.

There may be a lesson there for anyone writing stories with a near-future setting. It’s probably best to avoid using the present-day names for any airports, stadiums, concert venues or convention halls. Those names are too likely to change, making your “future” seem oddly antiquated.

I’m not criticizing Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins for failing to foresee this name-change. It’s just a novel, after all, it’s not like the authors claim to be prophets or something. Oh, wait …

The fact that, 15 years after this book first came out, Palwaukee is now called “Chicago Executive” does not undermine the credibility of their prophecy. What does undermine their credibility as prophets is the fact that, 15 years later, the airport — and the rest of the world — is still here.

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