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.”


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  • ChristianPinko

    It’s striking how strongly LaJenkins’s world seems rooted in 1969. The idea that stewardesses are sex symbols, the idea that an airline pilot is a remarkably glamorous profession, even comparing Nicolae to Robert Redford (instead of Brad Pitt or a more current leading man) all serve to date the authors’ imagination.

  • flat

    I haven’t read asimov, but hey atleast he is honest about it.

  • To be fair, we’re talking about short stories that are designed to be solved a la Sherlock Holmes (and Doyle is apparently also notorious for being fast and loose about some of his research) so I don’t really hold it against him.

  • Magic_Cracker

    He could be one (or all) of those kinda of admirable bit characters Fred points out occasionally He keeps coming back as a different character because Computer keeps writing them out of the story.

  • Sounds about right. Frank Abagnale’s book notes that the longest he spent in one uniform was when he masqueraded as an airline pilot circa 1967. In that era it seemed to really help him pick up the ladies, as mass air travel was only just starting to come into its own then.

  • aunursa

    I can’t blame Jenkins for not choosing Brad Pitt. Left Behind was published in 1995 — right about the time that Pitt began to be recognized…

    Interview With the Vampire (1994)
    Se7en (1995)

  • Jessica_R

    The Poison Kiss

    She was giggling, how could she be giggling now? Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was the solution starting to work. She began to run, her lips burning, Nicolae and the others appearing in front of her. She picked up her speed, not long now, she strangely began to feel in two places at once. She was here and she was in Georgia. Georgia long ago, the house on Grove Street. Running, running to her grandmother’s arms her hair streaming gold and milk behind her. Her heart was beginning to throb. Nicolae’s detail spotted her and did not stop her, why would they? He saw her now. He frowned. Rayford saw her and frowned even more. Now. Now at last. She threw her arms around Nicolae and pressed her lips against his. He forgot himself a moment and pushed her back forgetting how that’s look to the cameras. Her vision was beginning to blur, her body, her little body was beginning to feel more real on Grove Street. Had it worked? If it had not? It was why she had not taken the antidote. Nicolae’s eyes widened and his fingers began to claw at this throat. Strange. She thought the room would be louder, it seemed everyone was shouting. But they were just shapes underwater now. She smelled grass, the lawn of Grove Street. It was dark now, a peaceful dark. The warm dark of burrowing her head in her grandmother’s shoulder. Somewhere, nowhere, she heard someone call her name.

  • If anything, the standard evil mastermind bag of tricks would include having his arrival videotaped instead of aired live, so he could always mind-whammy everybody into just pretending Hattie hadn’t collided into him.

    (“Hattie, you will leave the tarmac and go into the airport proper. People, you will erase the previous recording and we will proceed as originally planned.”)

  • Lori

    Thelma and Louise came out in 1991. That was his first real role and it was a small one, but it got everyone talking about him (like, a lot) because the part was basically “walking sex”. I suppose no RTC would claim any knowledge of that though.

  • Panda Rosa

    Don’t smile for the camera, eh? For no good reason I keep thinking of Paula Abdul, and the way I misremember one of her hits, and how it just made more sense to me that way:

    Don’t sleep in the subway, darling,
    Don’t sing in the pouring rain.
    Don’t sleep in the subway, darling,
    Inste-ead take/ the elavatah-ted,
    Inste-ead take/ the elavatah-ted train!

  • Panda Rosa

    Oop, I meant Petula Clark, not Ms. Abdul!

  • Judging by commentary below, the frozen-in-amber portrayal of Left Behind’s universe in a kind of pseudo-1969 would buttress the fact that Jenkins picked Robert Redford as the go-to sex symbol that Nicolae supposedly looks like.

  • Air travel was a lot more glamorous in the 60’s. These days it’s just another form of transportation, but back then the airlines put in a lot of effort to make it feel special.

  • Lori

    Sadly, it’s not all that vintage.

    Oy. That’s scene never fails to make my eye twitch. (I have a love/hate relationship with Love, Actually. There are parts of it that I love unreservedly and will watch any time they’re on. There are other parts that make me want to smack the crap out of Richard Curtis.)

  • Of course, he could have also done that without the supernatural powers. As a normal, albeit conventionally powerful man, Nicolae could have just ordered the press to edit the tape, knowing that they’d be scared of what he might do if he got mad.

    That’s kind of sad, come to think of it – Jenkins misuses his characters so badly that the villain would be scarier if he wasn’t a mind-bending demon of legend.

  • Deborah Moore

    The whole Teleprompter business began in the 2008 Democratic primaries with a grain of truth. Obama really did give soaring speeches when reading off the Teleprompter and really did stumble more spontaneous formats like debate. His enemies took this to mean that he was just an empty suit reading what his real controllers wrote for him.

    What they failed to notice, though, is that he got better at debates with practice and ended up doing just fine in spontaneous give-and-take formats. This had not yet become an issue in the 1990’s, so Telepromters were of interest.

  • Lori

    Oh, definitely. My point was just that the fact that the first book was written fairly early in Pitt’s career is not the reason that L&J went with Redford instead of him.

    I do wonder if they ever saw Spy Game and if so did the obvious passing of the torch aspect make their heads explode.

  • God has a shitty imagination, then.

  • Will Hennessy

    That two-paragraph section you post where Rayford’s POV is describing Nicky’s suit? Yeah… it smacks of meta Nicky-Rayford SlashFic. Or maybe Nicky-Jenkins SlashFic.

    All you Right-Behinders? You have been prompted. Go now. Make it hot…

  • Think of it as a divine experiment – God inspires two men to write the worst books ever, just to see how we’d react. Tell me you wouldn’t find all of this hilarious if you were omniscient.

  • In fairness, I don’t consider the scene itself all that sexist – it is kind of romantic (I’ve experienced a more subdued version of this in real life). But L&J seem to consider it less romantic and more irritating, which is kind of sad. It’s the product of the kind of man who considers any expression of emotion (other than rage, of course) to be excessively feminine.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Also, W. used teleprompters and still stumbled around like a deer with a head wound caught in the headlights.

  • For the love of God, indeed.

  • Lori

    I can’t find it romantic given the context which is that David is the PM and the woman climbing him like a tree in front of news cameras is his (presumably former) secretary or whatever her exact job was, who is notably younger than he and from a lower class background. I think Curtis meant for it to be romantic and sweet, but it feels both sexist and classist to me in a really icky way. Maybe it reads differently to British people?

  • Lori

    In fairness, I’m pretty sure that some form of dyslexia (or something similar) runs in the Bush family and Shrub has it.

  • Dogfacedboy

    I’ve got $5 that says neither LaHaye nor Jenkins has seen Thelma and Louise.

  • I bet if Al Gore had become President the Repubs would have still tried to dump all over him for being someone who allegedly couldn’t extemporize.

  • aunursa

    I would love for one of our writers to compose a crossover scene in which Thelma & Louise meet Rayford & Buck.

  • Lori

    No, but you didn’t have to see the movie to hear the talk about Pitt at the time. It was everywhere. L&J simply stopped having any cultural awareness somewhere in the late 60s or very early 70s.

  • Dash1

    Brad Pitt might be too late (as others have noted), but a glance through
    People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive covers shows Mel Gibson, Richard
    Gere and Tom Cruise, among others that would have been more current at
    the time Jenkins was writing. Granted, he’d want someone with some
    longevity–the sensible writer wouldn’t want to cite someone who’d be
    forgotten by the time the book was a couple years old–but I think at
    that point Mel Gibson was looking like he’d be, um, a young Robert

    And yes, I just implied Jerry Jenkins would possibly act like a “sensible writer.” That was wrong of me.

  • Catering manager.

  • Lori

    I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.

  • aunursa

    She was a junior member of the household staff, and served his tea and biscuits. When he unexpectedly met his sister (played by Emma Thompson) backstage at the performance, he introduced Natalie as his “catering manager.”

  • Lori

    I think it’s probably more that it was a public school, which everyone knows are the devil’s playground. Plus, obviously girls who jump around in short skirts and get the boys excited are all whores so it makes sense that none of them would have wanted to fulfill a woman’s proper role and would instead chose to be airborne whores. /asshat RTC

  • arresi

    And the commentariat continues to show L&J how it’s done.

    (For values of it that include writing, drama, POV, and basic humanity.)

  • Rae

    Yep, I re-read it several times, and for the desired effect I think it should be “Yes, unless…”

  • lunch meat

    All I can think is “Suit up!” Which just makes me want Neil Patrick Harris as Nicolae all the more. I mean, “Nicky West Side.”

  • Lori

    I remember that now. That’s one of the parts I haven’t re-watched in years because it annoys me. David lies because Natalie is such an embarrassment (never mind that he’s the one who went looking for her). Then later she acts all low-class and girly and it’s romantic because David doesn’t shake her off.

  • Interesting problem. I’d try to nail down what’s the important detail the audience needs to know. If the important thing is that they’re getting allergic reactions, not what they are, then maybe have a CDC official walk on to say “We’re tracking reports of allergic reactions from…” He would be a good vehicle to explain what’s happening and the patterns in the cases, and has an excuse to not know the technical details.

    If the important thing about the reactions is some particular symptom, then maybe have the doctor notice a pattern in his patients, not in the records? It would be a lot easier to have him say “Wow, all these people have a rash on their right forearm” than to look up the way that would be expressed in medical lingo on a chart.

  • Dash1

    OT and late, but I was offline back when it would have been an appropriate time to wish those celebrating Passover a good holiday. So please accept my belated good wishes.

  • Geniuslemur

    Yes, his specific form is called “stupid.”
    To be fair, he’s also suffering from “child of privilege that’s been shielded from his failures his whole life.”

  • hidden_urchin

    I trust that I don’t need to copy any more of the tens of thousands of commens posted on and Facebook from L&J’s adoring fans…)

    I think if you do then the great Cthulhu will awake and devour us all. Alternatively, it will just break my brain. So, please have mercy and spare us.

  • Me too. It sounds like he’s ordering him not to be in the picture.

  • Lori

    He is an idiot and also soulless and over-privileged, but that doesn’t preclude a learning or speech disorder, which I actually do think he has. Bush 41 has it too and I think I’ve heard signs of it in at least one of the other brothers.

  • “Don’t smile for the cameras” This might actually be realistic. A weird thing I’ve noticed about politicians… they’re always beaming, with big smiles. Usually they don’t look fake, but I’m always thinking… no one can be that happy all the time. I think that when you enter politics, you learn to fake the smile and always turn it on when a camera’s on you.

    “how he appears to Rayford because it’s what Rayford expects to see.” Now that’s an idea for a story, a leader that actually appears as the form you most like, like the salt vampire in the Star Trek episode that appeared as different women to different people.

    A press conference only makes sense in a world where there is a free press. Why is Nicky so worried about how he’s portrayed? Doesn’t he just tell them what to say?

  • I never saw it that way – more that he’s just aware that introducing her accurately will
    a) raise a whole minefield of issues they haven’t discussed yet – is she his girlfriend? his date? or what?
    b) ensure that his sister harasses him until he’s told her everything
    so he’s coming up with the first vaguely-plausible thing he can think of to delay discussion until later.

  • Lori

    If that was the point then simply saying that she worked at 10 Downing should have done the job. Why give her a fake promotion? It makes no more sense for him to be at a school play with his catering manager than with any other random staff member.

  • Don’t forget Bruce Barnes trying to make a topical pop culture reference to a gang of Notre Dame football players from about 40 years before he was born.

  • I feel like if you pulled out all the padding, it would resemble the blurb on the back of the cover. Maybe, if someone was feeling overly generous, a plot synopsis you’d find on Wikipedia.