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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