NRA: Don’t smile for the camera

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 135-139

This is an odd little section of our story. The Antichrist has finally arrived back at his capital city after flying half-way around the world while nuking a dozen major cities because … well, because he’s the Antichrist and bombing cities apparently was the first evil thing he could think of to do.

Upon arriving in New Babylon, Nicolae Carpathia decides to have a short press conference on the tarmac at the airport, and Jerry Jenkins gives us a semi-competent account of what such an event might look like as imagined by someone who had never seen a press conference before. Jenkins wants to convey the manipulative sophistication of the Antichrist and his assistants and to show us that Nicolae is a master communicator and politician. But the problem is that Jenkins doesn’t really have any idea what that looks like.

This is a variation on the “greatest orator in the history of the world” problem we’ve discussed before. It’s a trap Jenkins keeps setting for himself, compounding the problem by lazily refusing to do anything like research.

“Leon Fortunato instructed everyone on the plane when to get off and where to stand for the cameras when they finally reached New Babylon.”

Imagine we were all in some kind of writing class and we were assigned to write a short scene describing a surprising upset in an Olympic fencing match. I’d be in big trouble with this assignment, because I know next to nothing about fencing. I don’t know the rules or the language, or what distinguishes the best competitors from the rest. One doesn’t need to have mastered the art of fencing to write about someone who has, but one has to learn enough about it to be able to describe what mastery looks like.

Before beginning to write our assigned scene, then, I’d need to do some research. I’d need to talk to or read some experts who know all about this stuff, and I’d need to watch some fencing. Ideally, I would watch some fencing with some of those experts, so they could help me understand what I was seeing, what to look for, what’s important. Only after doing such research could I begin to write. Then, after finishing a first draft, I’d want to take it back to those experts to allow them to correct, refine and sharpen my attempt to portray their art.

That’s one approach. Jenkins takes the other one. He seems to figure that it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t know anything about fencing, because 99 percent of his readers probably don’t know anything about it either. No need to do all that hard work of research, then, he can just bluff and bluster his way through it. Maybe he won’t be able to write something that would be convincing to fencing enthusiasts, but that’s OK, because most readers won’t know enough to be able to tell if he gets everything wrong.

This bluff and bluster is on full display here in this section, as Jenkins insists that we see Nicolae and his henchman Leon Fortunato as masters of political stagecraft while at the same time revealing that neither he nor his characters has much of a clue as to what such expert stagecraft really looks like.

This is a pattern in these books. We’re told that Buck Williams is a master journalist, but since the authors couldn’t be bothered to learn what good journalism looks like, we’re shown that Buck is a clumsy hack (“like saying the Great Wall of China is long”). We’re told that Nicolae is a great orator, but since the authors couldn’t be bothered to learn what constitutes good oratory, we’re shown that Nicolae is a droning bore (“Afghanistan, Albania …”).

Worst of all, we’re told that Buck, Rayford, Bruce, Chloe and Tsion are devout disciples of Jesus Christ.

And the pattern holds.

The authors clearly could not be bothered to learn what real Christian discipleship looks like, and so while they tell us that these characters are good, Christ-like saints, what they show us, instead, is a bunch of self-centered, oblivious, obnoxious sociopaths who hold all of their neighbors in contempt.

Here again the authors try to lazily bluff their way through, figuring it won’t much matter if they don’t know the first thing about the subject because most readers probably won’t know enough to tell when they’re getting it wrong.

I cannot claim to be an expert or to have mastered Christian discipleship any more than I could claim to have mastered journalism or oratory or political stagecraft. But I’ve seen all of those things done well and I’ve seen all of them done poorly. And even if I’m not an expert, I’ve learned enough about them to recognize the difference. I suspect that’s true for most readers of these books. So when the authors bluff and bluster, telling us that we’re seeing mastery while showing us, instead, the clumsy posturing of ignorant amateurs, I don’t think most readers are convinced. At least, I hope not.

Leon Fortunato instructed everyone on the plane when to get off and where to stand for the cameras when they finally reached New Babylon.

“Mr. Fortunato,” Rayford said, careful to follow Leon’s wishes, at least in front of others, “McCullum and I don’t really need to be in the photograph, do we?”

“Not unless you’d like to go against the wishes of the potentate himself,” Fortunato said. “Please just do what you’re told.”

Is this a thing that happens? Do world leaders and dignitaries arriving at the airport pose for pictures with the pilots who flew them there? Are the flight crews usually asked to stand around behind the dignitaries throughout their tarmac press events? I’m trying to recall ever seeing this. Yet here it’s presented as a customary practice — as something routine and expected whenever a world leader travels by plane:

Rayford buttoned his dress uniform jacket and put his hat on as he stepped out of the cockpit. He and McCullum trotted down the steps and began the right side of a V of people who would flank the potentate, the last to disembark.

Next came the flight service crew, who seemed awkward and nervous. They knew enough not to giggle, but simply looked down and walked directly to their spots.

I might point to this as another example of the pervasive misogyny in these books, but I’m afraid the authors might point to this same passage as part of their defense against that criticism. After all, the little ladies in this scene “knew enough not to giggle” during a press conference following the nuclear destruction of a dozen or more major cities. I’m guessing the authors regard that as a sign that these are exceptionally smart and capable women, able to suppress their natural womanly tendency to be constantly giggling and batting their eyelashes and what not. I’m also guessing that the authors would expect brownie points for not using the word “stewardesses” — even if every aspect of the scene reeks of sexist stewardess imagery from a 1960s “Fly Me” ad campaign.

Before departing the plane, Nicolae reminded everyone not to smile for the class picture they were about to take:

“Remember,” Carpathia said, “no smiles. This is a grave, sad day. Appropriate expressions, please.”

That warning could have been a chilling illustration of Nicolae’s monstrous evil except that, in this story, everyone needed to hear it. Including Rayford.

This is all happening the very same day that New York, London, Chicago and many other cities were destroyed, killing millions of people. If these books were populated with human characters, they would not need to be reminded that this is “sad.” If these were human characters, then Nicolae would be telling them to dry their eyes, to be strong, to not let their devastation show in front of the cameras. But instead he has to remind them not to smile — not because he’s an evil monster, but because everyone is.

When Nicolae finally departs the plane, we get Jerry Jenkins’ best attempt at a description of a polished, sophisticated politician — along with the hint of some vague supernatural mojo at work:

The potentate always seemed taller than he really was in these situations, Rayford thought. He appeared to have just shaved and washed his hair, though Rayford had not been aware he had the time for that. His suit, shirt, and tie were exquisite, and he was understatedly elegant in his accessories. He waited ever so briefly, one hand in is right suit pocket, the other carrying a thin, glove-leather portfolio. Always looking as if he’s busily at the task at hand, Rayford thought.

Rayford was amazed at Carpathia’s ability to strike just the right pose and expression. He appeared concerned, grave, and yet somehow purposeful and confident. As lights flashed all around him and cameras whirred, he resolutely descended the steps and approached a bank of microphones. Every network insignia on each microphone had been redesigned to include the letters “GCN,” the Global Community Network.

The hand in the pocket is a JFK thing — a detail plucked from the same Mad Men era conjured up by the giggling stewardesses, exploding flashbulbs and “whirring” cameras.

What with the still-unfolding outbreak of war, I’d have had Nicolae lose the tie and maybe even the jacket. Rolled-up shirtsleeves tend to convey a leader “busily at the task at hand” better than an “exquisite” suit and tie with “elegant” accessories.

Rayford slept for several hours crossing the ocean, so he shouldn’t be so bewildered that Nicolae appears freshly showered and shaved. But I like the hint here that maybe something else is at work. Maybe this is another part of the Antichrist magic — the ability to appear however he needs to appear in order to sway the masses. I wish Jenkins had pursued this a bit more. Maybe Nicolae is not actually clean-shaven and dressed in an impeccable suit and tie, but that’s how he appears to Rayford because it’s what Rayford expects to see. (Rayford’s divine protection is supposed to keep him from being influenced by Antichrist mojo, but maybe not this particular special power.)

I’m disappointed that the Antichrist still doesn’t seem to appreciate the economies of scale afforded by his one-world government. His OWG owns every media outlet in the world and he controls what all of them print. Is it still necessary, then, to keep paying the expense of a New Babylon desk at every one of those media outlets?

The only person he couldn’t fully control chose that moment to burst Carpathia’s bubble of propriety. Hattie Durham broke from the crowd and ran directly for him. Security guards who stepped in her way quickly realized who she was and let her through. She did everything, Rayford thought, except squeal in delight. Carpathia looked embarrassed and awkward for the first time in Rayford’s memory. It was as if he had to decide which would be worse: to brush her off or to welcome her to his side.

Nicolae is the Antichrist, so unlike a good, godly man, he cannot “fully control” his fiancée. Hattie Durham has rejected the gospel, so she refuses to be fully controlled by her man. Tim LaHaye has written many books describing his ideal for Christian marriage. This book is one of them.

There’s a nasty little bit more in which Hattie — who does not know enough to suppress her constant giggling — tries to “plant an open-mouthed kiss” on Nicolae’s lips during the middle of his press conference. That’s another reminder that Hattie is not a virginal madonna, and therefore she must be the other thing.

(Kind of odd, too, that the potentate’s fiancée doesn’t have any kind of security detail. The whole pretext of all the war and bombing in the previous chapters is that armed insurrectionists are in open rebellion against the OWG. Shouldn’t Hattie have at least a bodyguard?)

The press conference ends with the authors providing yet another example of what they insist is Nicolae’s masterful oratory.

That’s what they tell us, anyway, but here’s what they show us:

“This is a difficult time in which we live, and yet our horizons have never been wider; our challenges so great, our future so potentially bright.

“That may seem an incongruous statement in light of the tragedy and devastation we have all suffered, but we are all destined for prosperity if we commit to standing together. We will stand against any enemy of peace and embrace any friend of the Global Community.”

 

  • Zippy

    No flags?
    When a leader 1) wants to impress the audience, or 2) is in Big Trouble, they hold the press conference against a background of as many tidily wrapped flags as can fit into the picture.

  • aunursa

    The place was on the ground and secure in New Babylon for several minutes before the doors were opened and the Carpathia-controlled press was assembled.

    The only person he couldn’t fully control chose that moment to burst Carpathia’s bubble of propriety…

    If Nicolae controlled everyone else, and Fortunato is such a micro-manager that he determined where each person will stand for the media photo, how was Hattie able to enter the area? And why does it matter if she creates a scene? Nicolae controls the press. He could simply order the media to delete any photos and videos of the inappropriate scene.

  • Zippy

    Oh, and as regarding Hattie … does it seem strange that Hattie has managed to plant a big wet kiss on Nicolae when she couldn’t plant one on UnSaved!Rayford for years? We know what they’ve been doing, of course, but it just gives the impression that Rayford can do one thing well: he sure can run faster than Nicolae.

  • aunursa

    In two chapters, Hattie will confide to Rayford that it was all just a big façade.*

    Rayford : So when you saw him at the airstrip…
    Hattie: I was testing him. I won’t deny it. I wasn’t as eager to see him as I let on, but I was giving him one more chance. Wasn’t it obvious I spoiled his big appearance?
    Rayford: That’s the impression I had.
    Hattie: When I tried to kiss him, he told me it was inappropriate and to act like an adult. At least in his remarks he referred to me as his fiancée. He said I was overcome with grief, as he was. I know him well enough to know there was no grief. I could see it written all over him. He loves this stuff…

    Nicolae, p 173

    * Skip to 3:30 in the video

  • aunursa

    Do world leaders and dignitaries arriving at the airport pose for pictures with the pilots who flew them there? Are the flight crews usually asked to stand around behind the dignitaries throughout their tarmac press events? I’m trying to recall ever seeing this. Yet here it’s presented as a customary practice — as something routine and expected whenever a world leader travels by plane

    I have to disagree. Based on Rayford’s response, it would seem to be the opposite. Rayford assumed that the pilots wouldn’t be in the photo.

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    At least we’re spared a description of the early 1990s communication technology (2400 baud modems, maybe?) used to connect Nicky to the world. I was also hoping for some sort of “teleprompter” reference since that seems to be the wingnuts’ favorite way to portray a public figure as lacking depth. Perhaps they hadn’t advanced far enough to have teleprompters?

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Verna Zee Sensible Shoes Confrontation Countdown: 209 pages

  • aunursa

    I’m also guessing that the authors would expect brownie points for not using the word “stewardesses” — even if every aspect of the scene reeks of sexist stewardess imagery from a 1960s “Fly Me” ad campaign.

    Here’s another peek ahead to Chapter 9…

    Think about it, Rayford. All I ever wanted to be was a flight attendant. The entire cheerleading squad at Maine East High School wanted to be flight attendants. We all applied, but I was the only one who made it. I was so proud…

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “But instead he has to remind them not to smile — not because he’s an evil monster, but because everyone is.”

    I’m actually working on a story right now in which nearly everyone everywhere is murderously insane. Something of a satire of White male lone wolf-hero fantasies and authoritarian fears of ‘disorder’, plus a lesson I gleaned from Monty Python that hyperbolic violence can be hilarious.

    Unless you seriously believe that everyone outside your own tribe is like that; then it’s just disheartening.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Rayford said, careful to follow Leon’s wishes, at least in front of others

    What a fucking douchebag.

    It’s people like that who, as teenagers, were total jerks as long as they weren’t around the teachers, but as soon as a teacher came along they were the biggest asskissers on the block.

    People like that are complete terrors to work for as underlings, but if you’re their boss, they’ll blow so much smoke up your arse you could get the mother of all contact highs.

    They’re like the depictions of strict dog pack hierarchies, where these asshats are like the dogs that’ll instantly bare their throat before the head dog, but as soon as the head dog vanishes they’re off growling at all the other dogs until those dogs bare their necks.

    So because Rayford doesn’t want to risk social oppobrium he actually does what his nominal boss says, but the instant they’re alone he’s this truculent mulish asshole who thinks Leon should be obeying him.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The only person he couldn’t fully control chose that moment to burst Carpathia’s bubble of propriety…

    Even with Jenkins’s attempt to retcon this into a kind of gambit on Hattie’s part it’s still grossly misogynistic and it’s still a put-down of Hattie’s intelligence. I’ve long taken up on Hattie’s part in indignation at the way L&J write her and this is no exception.

    She’s just bright enough to “test” Nicolae, but she’s still committing all kinds of social no-nos in the process, so she’s clearly just a blonde who got an extra brain cell in the allotment process, according to L&J.

    Because clearly a manly man like Rayford can concoct a much BETTER plot to “test” Nicolae!

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    No, that’s how they portray President Obama as lacking depth. They never hit Clinton with that. The right-wing media message evolves with astonishing quickness.

  • aunursa

    Even the “wingnuts” acknowledge that President Clinton was and is a great speaker.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Forgive them, Lord. They know not how to write.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    Reading through that airstrip bit, my first thought was “This feels like padding.”

    There are really two kinds of padding. There’s direct padding, where you overwrite scenes to make them look more impressive – Jerry Jenkins is a big fan of this. But there’s also indirect padding, where you write something that just doesn’t work, but ultimately leave it in because you can’t afford to lose another hundred words. That’s what this whole part feels like. It’s the kind of thing that should be caught in editing, but obviously the tame staff on this one wasn’t willing to touch the master’s work.

    I sometimes wonder what this series would look like if it was properly edited, with all the doughy non-plot, non-action bits excised. My guess is you could probably cram the first three books into one volume, which is really sad when you think about it. But that’s Jenkins for you. The man doesn’t write, he accumulates words.

  • Adamlangfelder

    I wish that the guys from mystery science theater 3000 riffed the left behind audio books and movies

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Funny thing is, you’d think Nicolae would be able to milk this moment for the cameras. Hattie comes running to him and he, in a breakdown of protocol that humanizes him and endears him to the audience*, grabs her in a bear hug and desperate kiss–”Darling! Thank GOD you’re safe!”

    But I doubt LaJenkins could even imagine a normal couple behaving that way, let alone the Antichrist and his whore.

    *Rayford could see it as a great display of acting, and could even be proved right later–Nicolae, at this point, does not give a rat’s ass about Hattie.

  • Lori

    Or one really big one.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    I’m not even sure what L&J expect a couple to act like. Judging by the shameful display in TF, they’re supposed act like seventh graders on a perpetual first date.

  • Magic_Cracker

    The cameras “whirring” is actually the holodeck trying to accommodate Jordi’s request: “Computer, create an adventure that will tie Data’s logic circuits into knots as he tries to figure what’s going on and what he’s supposed to be doing about it.”

  • dj_pomegranate

    Mr. Fortunato,” Rayford said, careful to follow Leon’s wishes, at least in front of others…

    He knows how to show respect to others, but only bothers to when other people might be looking. Yup, sounds about right.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    According to Wikipedia, teleprompters have been around for quite a while.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    It’s a vintage piece of sexism all right (“Oh, that silly woman, interrupting her man’s business with emotional frippery!”), but it doesn’t make much sense in context, does it? Nicolae isn’t just a powerful man, he’s a powerful man who can break a person’s will like a twig. Why doesn’t he just mind-whammy her? It’s not like he respects her at all, she’s just a means to an end.

    The real reason, of course, it that this would make her look like a victim, and then we couldn’t hold her up as an object of shame later on, now could we?

  • Jurgan

    ““McCullum and I don’t really need to be in the photograph, do we?”

    “Not unless you’d like to go against the wishes of the potentate himself,” Fortunato said.”

    I read that four times, but I’m pretty sure there was a double negative in there, meaning Rayford was just ordered to stay out of the picture.

  • Tofu_Killer

    You are right that it is padding, but it is padding of a particular kind. This is the kind of writing that you find in books by authors who were paid by the page, or word back in the grand old days of pulp. What you are reading is the usual result of a second tier (or lower) author of a certain age who earned their living taking a single idea and stretching it to story length.
    I love pulp fiction, and my current novel is a piece of hack writing from 1914 that is 350 pages of men on horses talking about what they are going to do to Copperhead the rogue indian when they catch him. It’s the purest form of padding, but it’s READABLE padding.
    Jenkins has the idea of padding, and every good reason to draw things out, but he simply doesn’t write well enough for book length efforts.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Wait a minute–not one of the cheerleaders wanted to be a preschool teacher, nurse, OR housewife???
    Oh Jerry Jenkins, I am disappoint.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    So for which of our robotic characters is the android filling in?

  • GeniusLemur

    But it didn’t become a talking point until Obama became president, so as far a right-wingers are concerned, they didn’t exist until then. Kind of like Clinton and guests in the Lincoln bedroom.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Compared to all the other men in Hattie’s life, Nicolae really comes the closest to treating her with respect. At least, in the end, he’s honest with her and treats her like an adult.

  • Tofu_Killer

    AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH….AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH….I’m having Bush era flashbacks!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Magic_Cracker

    If this is the best he can bear the thousand injuries of Fortunato, Rayford better start stocking up on bricks.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Whichever one has displayed the most humanity.

  • Dogfacedboy

    Here again the authors try to lazily bluff their way through, figuring it won’t much matter if they don’t know the first thing about the subject because most readers probably won’t know enough to tell when they’re getting it wrong.

    Is it possible that Jenkins believes he has mind-whammy powers, and that us readers will mistake these turd-filled pages for competent literature?

  • Dogfacedboy

    Or NFL cheerleaders?

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    The difference is that the old pulp guys knew enough to make their padding interesting. I’d take that posse talking about fighting indians over Our Heroes discussing cell phones.

  • aunursa

    Not us. The readers who buy the books. And he’s right.
    I trust that I don’t need to copy any more of the tens of thousands of comments posted on Amazon.com and Facebook from L&J’s adoring fans…

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    Fair enough. Who was the one that displayed humanity, again?

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    His target audience doesn’t care about the fine details, clearly. As long as the “good guys” win and we get to leave with a feeling of superiority, that’s enough.

  • dj_pomegranate

    That, or he believes that he *has* done sufficient research, that just by being a Real, True Christian, he’s already got all the information he needs.

  • MaryKaye

    I think I could make a stab at “describe a big fencing upset without knowing much about fencing.” (I did take one semester of fencing in college, but have never been to a tournament.) The trick would be to (a) have a tight POV from someone who also does not know much about fencing, and (b) emphasize reaction shots, not action shots. So you would show the crowd hushing, leaning forward in their seats; the judges no longer glancing down at their notes or up at the clock, eyes fixed on the participants; the expression on the #1 seed’s face as he is driven back; at the end, the moment of silence and then the sudden upswell of sound. You wouldn’t talk about parries and thrusts and beats, because you’d be sure to get it wrong, but reactions to an upset–that you could generalize from other sports or events.

    L&J not only don’t know, but they don’t know that they don’t know, which is much worse. So they don’t realize that they should avoid details they don’t know, and try to replace them with details falling inside their area of competence. (They do have an area of competence. They do Everyman reaction shots pretty well: like Buck recalling the smell of his new baby, or Rayford feeling that something evil is watching him, so he keeps checking the door. These things seem to be within their experience and they can write them accordingly.)

    I have a short story that needs to start with a futuristic doctor looking over records of multiple disastrous allergic reaction cases. I’ve tried writing it a few times, but from his POV I have no way to duck the details, and they aren’t good enough for publication. I need to get out of his POV if I’m going to do it, or else bone up on allergic reactions and the way a professional would go about identifying them. It doesn’t have to be all 100% right–it’s set in the future, anyway–but there has to be enough technical meat on the bones, and I can’t make it all up on the fly, I’ve tried and the results are risible.

    Jenkins doesn’t find anything he does risible, that’s his problem.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Then again, the whirring could be a cloaked Romulan Bird of Prey that traveled back in time to prevent the Federation ever coming into existence by using their technology to implement LaHaye’s

  • cminus

    The glove-leather portfolio, I think.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    “McCullum and I don’t really need to be in the photograph, do we?”
    Heh, and they say the Antichrist is the one with “false modesty.”

  • Carstonio

    Ellanjay are obviously fascinated by power and status, as if they never read about Jesus eating with lepers.

  • P J Evans

    Ah, that picture. One of the better past airlines. (PSA: all the planes grinned. The flight crews could be very funny.)

  • flat

    somehow I am thinking of nickie mount tenebrus being played by leslie nielsen in this particular scene.

  • Lori

    He does seem to believe that the books were inspired by God. Presumably he figures the big guy supplied all the details that were required.

  • David S.

    One of my problems with Asimov’s mysteries was just this, that he would fake the details of something. He’d often mention in the epilogue that someone had complained about how he described e.g. museum work, but he had no shame about it; he simply said he didn’t have time to do the research.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-White/1605859612 Sue White

    Of course not. Cheerleaders are all just interchangeable clones in his mind.

  • ReverendRef

    This is an odd little section of our story.

    Fixed.


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