NRA: What Would Rayford Do? (Do the opposite)

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 165-174

This chapter offers scenes featuring Rayford Steele at his Rayfordiest.

He and Hattie Durham are at a restaurant. That gives Rayford another chance to interact with people who are at work, and whether that’s at a restaurant, an airport, a store or a traffic stop, it’s an opportunity for more cringe-inducing Rayfordishness:

They were led to a table set for four. But even though two busboys hurried out to clear away two sets of dinnerware, and the waiter pulled out a chair for Hattie while pointing Rayford to the one next to her, Rayford was still thinking of appearances. He sat directly across from Hattie, knowing they would nearly have to shout to hear each other in the noisy place. The waiter hesitated, looking irritated, and finally moved Rayford’s tableware back to in front of him. That was something Hattie and Rayford might have chuckled over in their past. …

To fully appreciate the Rayfordosity on display here, keep in mind that this isn’t just any restaurant. This is Hattie’s restaurant. “Hattie herself had helped conceive it,” we are told. Rayford knows this, but — despite several pages of small talk in this chapter — he never says anything to her about it. No comments or compliments on the decor or the place’s success. No questions conveying an interest in her project. No acknowledging her work at all.

Most of us, on visiting a restaurant with an acquaintance who helped design the place, would find something encouraging to say about it, even if the place was a total trainwreck. “You must have had fun bringing all this together,” or some other such vaguely positive comment would seem like the least one should say. Hattie’s Global Bistro, we’re told, is doing very well. It’s a magnet drawing discerning patrons who have come from all over the world to work in the new global capital city.

Yet it never occurs to Rayford to say one word about it. Instead, within five minutes of arriving he’s giving the waiters a hard time for no reason (“I’d prefer to sit here, please,” would have avoided the irritation he seems to have provoked deliberately), rolling his eyes as though visiting such a restaurant is an ordeal. And he imagines that Hattie would be “chuckling” over this behavior if she weren’t otherwise in a bad mood.

The irony is that Rayford’s appalling behavior stems from his “thinking about appearances.” His aim, on arriving at the restaurant, was to appear virtuous — and he seems to believe he succeeded at doing so. He and the authors both seem wholly unaware that the main appearance he is creating is that of being a callous, condescending jerk.

That gets at the core of what it means to be Rayford Steele: the vast chasm between how he imagines he appears to others and how he actually is. That difference is a product, in part, of the fact that he seems to spend a great deal of time preoccupied with imagining how he appears to others and of the related fact that he is terrible at doing so accurately.

Consider this part of his conversation with Hattie, where he seems to think that imposing a lawyerly control on the terms of their former flirtation is a better way of asserting his goodness than, say, the long-delayed apology Hattie deserves from him:

“Well, to tell you the truth, when you dumped me –”

“Hattie, I never dumped you. There was nothing to dump. We were not an item.”

“Yet.”

“OK, yet,” he said. “That’s fair. But you have to admit there had been no commitment or even an expression of a commitment.”

“There had been plenty of signals, Rayford.”

“I have to acknowledge that. Still, it’s unfair to say I dumped you.”

One of the things that I find fascinating about Rayford Steele is the way he subverts the readers’ expectations about the significance of a character’s motive. Broadly speaking, we expect good characters to have good motives and evil characters to have evil motives. That’s a conventional way of distinguishing between the heroes and the villains of a story. Rayford doesn’t fit into such tidy categories. He has horrible motives, but he seems to believe — sincerely — that his motives are good. He’s a bad guy who thinks he’s one of the good guys, a cad who thinks he’s a gentleman, a jerk who thinks he’s a mensch, a negligent bystander who thinks he’s a hero.

This also separates Rayford from antihero protagonists. Antiheros may spend time “thinking about appearances,” but they tend to be aware of the difference between the appearances they strive to project and the characters they actually are. Antiheroes tend to be aware of their own conflicted motives.

With an antihero, redemption is always a possibility. Think of Tony Soprano. One could argue that the theme of The Sopranos was that Tony knew he needed to change to become a better person, and he even seemed to want to change to become a better person, and yet at every opportunity he chose not to. The show would have been a stagnant, repetitive mess except that Tony was perpetually aware of his need for redemption, of the possibility of choosing it, and of the cost of that choice.

The difference between a literary masterpiece and something else can sometimes boil down to whether the artifice of the unreliable narrator is conscious or unconscious.

Rayford is not aware of any of that. He thinks of redemption only in the past tense. Where The Sopranos gave us an antihero struggling, and failing, with the ever-present possibility of redemption, Left Behind gives us a Rayford, a man so wholly entombed in his delusion that he can’t even imagine changing or choosing or growing.

Whenever I think about this, trying to plumb the bottomless depths of Rayford’s shallowness, I’m tempted to think of him as a remarkable literary creation. He epitomizes the kind of delusional narcissism that enables one to enable evil. There are layers of complexity to his simple-minded self-absorption. Had any of that been a deliberate effect intended by his creators, these books might be read in literature classes. Jerry Jenkins — despite his shortcomings as a stylist, his tin ear for dialogue, and his delirious disregard for continuity and research — might be spoken of in the same sentences as Nabokov or Dostoevsky or, at least, David Chase.

But we don’t commend the authors for this achievement because they seem as wholly ensconced within Rayford’s delusion as Rayford is himself.

It almost seems unfair that such an accidental, unintentional achievement isn’t recognized. I suppose that’s partly because such accidents are all too common. Consider, for example, the polar opposite appreciation and literary reputation of Lolita and Known and Unknown. Both books feature an unreliable narrator desperate to charm the reader into forgiving the unforgivable by weaving a tapestry of self-serving rationalizations. Both narrative voices are a painstaking construct — the product of labor and artifice. Yet the former book is hailed as a masterpiece and one of the greatest novels of all time while the latter collects dust on remainder tables as an unwelcome relic from a time most of us prefer not to remember.

But imagine if “Donald Rumsfeld” was a wholly imaginary character and that the events recounted in his memoir were audacious fiction, a wicked satire describing an implausible campaign of deceit that ultimately ensnared even the deceivers themselves, leading to a catastrophically lethal blunder in which trillions were squandered and hundreds of thousands slain. Yet despite that all-too-predictable outcome, this fictional narrator with the oddly Dickensian name is unrepentant, effusively praising himself as a hero and a champion of virtue. If it were fiction — the product of conscious artifice rather than of unconscious artifice — Known and Unknown would be on the syllabus of English literature classes everywhere.

Now imagine the other side. What if Lolita was actually a memoir, written by a real-life Humbert Humbert? All that gorgeous prose would be reviled and rejected. Copies of the book would sit, unwanted and unread alongside copies of O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It.

Rayford Steele is, in his own way, a literary achievement that ranks up there with Humbert Humbert and the Underground Man, and with “Donald Rumsfeld” and “O.J. Simpson.” But because, like those last two, Rayford was not a deliberate artistic creation, he isn’t celebrated as such.

I don’t want to celebrate Rayford, but I do want to learn from him. He has a great deal to teach us. And so do his creators.

That, more than anything else, is why I’m still reading these books after nearly 10 years (!) of slogging through them page-by-ludicrous-page.

I’ve seen this referred to as “hate-reading” — analogous to the diversion of “hate-watching” so-bad-it’s-good TV shows or movies just for the fun of mocking their shortcomings and reveling in their failures. I appreciate the pleasures afforded by this pastime. It can be a lot of fun in small doses — especially in the company of quick-witted friends.

But hate-watching for its own sake can’t be sustained very long before it turns into something else. The whole point of the exercise isn’t just to absorb the awfulness of some so-bad-it’s-good movie or show, but to respond to it. And that response leads to something richer than just quips and mockery.

Just responding, “This is bad,” is unsatisfying. It lacks specificity. To get more specific — to identify and articulate that specificity — means switching from statements to questions. Why is this bad. How is this bad?

And that, in turn, leads to bigger questions: What is the nature of badness in general? What is the precise nature of the precise badness we’re witnessing here? What, if anything, would make this good? What is the nature of goodness?

These questions are not asked explicitly or didactically — that would ruin all the fun of getting together with your friends to watch Plan Nine From Outer Space or The Real Housewives of New Jersey. But such questions are also unavoidable if you want to say anything funny, clever or incisive. Without considering those questions on some level, you’d be left with nothing but puns and funny noises. (Not that I’m opposed to puns and funny noises — I still giggle at this YouTube classic starring Robert Tilton. But we surely there are also more substantial critiques that need to be made of Tilton’s brand of deceitful, predatory sanctimony.)

Even if you only start asking such questions in order to sharpen the edge of your mockery, thinking about such questions leads you beyond mere hate-watching and into something more like what we could call apophatic criticism.*

“Apophatic” is a fancy word from the world of theology. It usually refers to a kind of negative theology in which we strive to clarify the nature and character of God by saying what God is not like. The idea was put forward by folks like Maimonides and Dr. Seuss (“the way to find a certain something is to find out where it’s not”).

The idea of “negative theology” sometimes gets a negative response because the word “negative,” of course, has negative connotations. So some people hear that word “negative” and assume that negative theology must involve destruction — a tearing down or a tearing apart. But it’s actually a helpful approach that yields positive results. Negative theology allows us to be more constructive — to speak with greater clarity and confidence about the nature of God than we are able to do when attempting to make “positive” statements, which tend to be inadequate, anthropomorphic, or limiting and, therefore, misleading.**

That apophatic principle from The Cat in the Hat is what allows us to learn so much from the World’s Worst Books. These books are an almanac of awful — an exhaustive catalogue of “where it’s not” that enables us to better locate many certain somethings. These books fail on every level — storytelling, characterization, continuity, theology, politics, ethics, logic. They’re also clearly “so-bad-they’re-good,” and thus suitable for the amusement of hate-watching, but more than that, they are instructively bad. Every page provides an opportunity to ask all those questions above — an exercise in negative theology, or negative literary criticism, or negative ethics.

We can learn, in other words, how not to do theology, how not to tell stories, how not to treat others.

This is the value of contemplating Rayford Steele in all of his insufferable, overwhelming Rayforditude. Rayford serves — albeit unintentionally — as a flashing red danger sign warning us of the perils of delusional narcissism. He is worth studying and contemplating in the same way that Charles Sheldon taught us to contemplate Christ. “What would Jesus do?” Sheldon famously asked. And we can ask — just as fruitfully — “What would Rayford do?”

The difference there, of course, is that we should then make sure we’re not doing it.

If you’re a storyteller and you’re trying to write a story with an actual hero, ask WWRD? Then write the opposite.

If you want to be the hero of your own story and of your own life, ask WWRD? Then do the opposite.

Try it out next time you’re at a restaurant and the waiter comes to your table. WWRD? Do the opposite. You’ll make one person’s day and help to make the world a better place.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* We shouldn’t make too much of this distinction between “hate-watching” and what I’m describing here as an “apophatic” approach. Don’t conclude that the former is frivolous or that the latter is ponderous. The whole point of hate-watching, after all, is to say something funny — and that means to say something true. So the real difference here may be something more like the difference between poetry and prose.

** This is part of why so many of my favorite bloggers are atheists — and why I often find myself agreeing with what they think and write about God. We can agree on the statement “God is not X,” even if we still disagree on the shorter, more sweeping statement, “God is not.” The atheist channel here at Patheos features several really excellent apophatic theologians.

Stay in touch with the Slacktivist on Facebook:

NRA: 'The Fugitive' meets 'Mad Max'
Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 86: 'Full House'
Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 85: 'Sunday morning coming down'
Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 87: 'Episode IV'
  • fraser

    First?

  • fraser

    I love this discussion of unreliable narrators and will have to link to it at a later date.

  • Daniel

    Can we be sure you mean that?

  • http://twitter.com/Sean_C2 Sean Curley

    I’m confused by the restaurant setup. Isn’t it normal for people to sit across from each other, even on dates? It’s much easier and more comfortable to talk that way, rather than sitting next to each other. I have no idea why the waiters would automatically sit Rayford and Hattie right beside each other.

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

    Indeed. I cannot imagine being out with one man, be it father, brother, friend, or boyfriend, and sitting next to him at a table instead of across from him.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    It’s odd to me too. When I go out to dinner, I almost always sit across the table from my date, so I can comfortably look at them. The only exceptions are sometimes, with a date I know well and am feeling affectionate towards, I might sit next to them in a booth. But not at a table.

  • Lujack

    “So, sit on the same side of the booth, eh? I just think its a little unusual, for two people to sit on one side, leave the other side empty…”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4LCiqyxDlo

  • Sue White

    I don’t know but sitting in the right spot must be terribly important in the world of Rayford.

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

    as opposed to… the white spot. ;)

  • Vermic

    When Carpathia established a worldwide religion, government, and language, he also established a new paradigm in restaurant etiquette. Guy’s European, this stuff matters to him.

  • Daniel

    Guy’s Romanian and evil- this is their preferred seating plan:

  • Launcifer

    And since they’ll likely be eating according to the conventions of Service à la Russe, that makes everything one evil Commie plot. Or something.

  • spinetingler

    Isn’t it likely that the “beside her” description refers to sitting at adjoining sides together (i.e., at a corner) rather than side by side on the same side of a table? That’s a pretty standard intimate date seating arrangement.

  • http://twitter.com/Sean_C2 Sean Curley

    I’d say it’s more likely that the writer began with the premise of showing Rayford keeping his “proper distance” from Hattie at didn’t put too much thought into it otherwise.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    They have to leave enough space between them for the entree and the Holy Spirit.

  • Daniel

    So the Holy Spirit is an aperitif?

  • reynard61

    *snerk!* Sure, let’s go with that! (And, no doubt, they’ll be serving only the best Sacramental wine from the most exclusive Vatican City stocks…)

  • Larry

    It must be a circular table, then, because he’d be trying to sit diagonally across from her if it was a rectangular table.

  • FearlessSon

    It makes sense to me if you assume that the two of them are seated at a large round table suitable for six or eight people. You know, the kind that a restaurant sets out for large parties of guest so they can all sit together.

    The fact that only two people could book a table this big in the middle of a room at a popular restaurant is probably a means by which the author underscores how important and influential the people sitting there are.

    So not only are they insufferable pompous wastrels, but unappreciative ones at that.

  • That Other Jean

    Surely Hattie has more sense than to book such a huge table for just the two of them. I’ll bet she knows down to the penny how much money she’d be wasting, and how pointless it would be to waste it on Rayford. I’m betting it’s a small, square table and Rayford is terrified to sit across from Hattie at a corner, in a spot where they might actually touch.

  • http://rapturepractice.wordpress.com/ Phoenix Feather

    I’ve been imagining that, since Hattie designed the restaurant, she’s one of the owners and therefore can sit wherever she wants and not have to pay a penny. Although I can also see Hattie booking a small, square table in the corner just because she knows the quasi-intimate setting will freak Rayford out.

  • Daniel

    I think Tinkins imagine most people sit in restaurants ON each other, as the world of the unsaved is a hotbed of lust and sodomy. Some “specialist” eateries put patrons back-to-back, others insist on spooning while you eat (mostly ice cream places).

  • FearlessSon

    In that case, “Tinkins” has quite a dirty imagination.

    Man, those guys are really fixated on sex. Their whole set of dom/sub rules (like the precise distance to sit at a restaurant table demanded by the dom) would not be nearly as unhealthy if they could just admit to themselves that is what they want.

  • Daniel

    It might take away some of the frisson though. They’ve actually managed to create a sort of fractal dom/sub thing because every person has an internal controller relentlessly on the watch out for anything even remotely sexual, which their internal submissive really really wants. To follow their weird view of sexuality you basically have to turn your own body into a police state, always suspecting your right hand might really really want to do something that might offend you.

  • Persia

    Maybe if the tables were stupidly large? That seems like an Ellanjay idea.

  • themunck

    Then that isn’t clear from the text. This is why having an editor is important, people.

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

    Verna Zee Sensible Shoes Confrontation Countdown: 174 pages

    Exactly halfway there!

  • VMink

    I can’t wait for Zeno to put an arrow through the target of THAT scene!

    … I’ll get my coat.

  • X

    That, more than anything else, is why I’m still reading these books after nearly 10 years (!) of slogging through them page-by-ludicrous-page.

    And for that, for all of your hard work and insightful prose, you have our profound thanks. :)

  • s_noe

    This is the post where I, after weeks of slogging, have caught up with Fred in his LB posts. Yes, I started at the beginning. (Someone at Roy Edroso’s blog linked to this, I clicked, and that was that.) Among other things, I’ve learned a lot about theology, how not to write, and the pleasures of intertextuality. (That’s just a tiny piece of what I’ve learned.)
    It’s been awesome.
    As this moment neared, I thought I would have something meta to say about Fred’s project. I was feeling a bit put out, because I wouldn’t be able to see the future anymore: what happens to Rayford “Buck” Steele? (They’re one dude in my mind.) What are Nicolae et minions gonna do next? What will it look like when shit starts getting biblical, with rivers of blood and fields of toenails or whatever?
    It seems really well-timed that I ended up stalled on this post, because Fred’s own little meta-bit about hate-reading points toward something I absolutely adore about his approach to Christian living – scratch that, just living – and is a great antidote to that growing why-isn’t-he-done-yet resentment I have been feeling.
    Given the pace here, it’s entirely possible – maybe probable? – that he won’t ever catch up with LH&J. But being FINISHED is not the point. It’s what you learn, and what you do, and who you do it with, and whom you do it to, that counts.
    Unless LaHaye and Jenkins are right. In which case I’m emulating Huck Finn: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”
    So thanks, Fred and commentariat. I hope I’m right in thinking you all made a difference in my life – time will tell!

  • kenfair

    Hear, hear. I’ve been reading Fred’s Left Behind posts since the very beginning, and I still can’t wait for more. As someone not raised in evangelical culture, I have learned greatly from Fred’s window into that culture. And Fred is a constant reminder to me that there are evangelical Christians who actually act like Christians rather than self-centered bigots.

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

    Most of us, on visiting a restaurant with an acquaintance who helped
    design the place, would find something encouraging to say about it, even
    if the place was a total trainwreck.

    And frankly, given the kind of budget Hattie probably had, it was probably a really swank, classy place. Of course, Rayford the asshat just couldn’t bring himself to admit that Hattie, on her own, had accomplished something nice, as opposed to the “tee-hee, I pwanked you!” bit L&J had her cop to when the complaint was filed against Rafe about his Bible-ing.

  • Vermic

    Because it’s the Global Bistro, it’s impossible for me to picture this scene without there being an enormous globe sculpture somewhere. Just this brass 20-foot rotating Earth in the middle of the joint, maybe with fountains around it, like the ground floor of the Daily Planet. I dunno, maybe I’ve already used more imagination than the authors did.

  • spinetingler
  • Mark Z.

    I’m thinking more this.

  • Jamoche

    My first thought was that was a scene from Logan’s Run.

  • FearlessSon

    Nope, it is from the genre-bending classic Deus Ex. Fun game, lots of references and influences. Think of it as kind of “conspiracy kitchen sink.” Warren Spector said he wanted to make a game that takes place in the world that conspiracy theorists think we live in. Unlike L&J, he knows that kind of world is fiction.

  • malpollyon

    Pfft.
    Deus Ex is a great game, but it’s amateur hour when it comes to “conspiracy kitchen sink”. The pros know that when it comes to conspiracy theory narrative there can only be one — Illuminatus!.

  • Mark Z.

    The Man Who Was Thursday. What do I win?

  • Daniel

    A copy of the Anarchists’ Cookbook.

  • FearlessSon

    Incidentally, expect to find several extracts from that book scattered about Deus Ex. They know their influences are not are afraid to wear them on their sleeves.

  • Daniel

    Isn’t that the wig sphere now?

  • MikeJ

    That’s in Knoxville.

  • Daniel

    I think this is a little more like it:

  • reynard61

    Actually, the Clamp Industries logo from Gremlins 2: The New Batch seems weirdly apropos as well. (Top photo. Sorry about the image quality, but it was the only one that I could find.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Our local zoo has a fountain in the entrance with a large granite globe that floats on the water just enough that you can turn it and look for whatever country or continent you want to find. There’s a youtube video of it here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCdzG-gWrCc

    That would be a nice touch.

  • P J Evans

    that’s a cool fountain!

  • Vermic

    This one right here, this is what I was picturing. Except bigger and gaudier, and you can’t touch it because of the OWG guards with truncheons.

  • Tapetum

    Huh, we have the exact same fountain at our local zoo.

  • Vermic

    This is one of those moments when the absurdity just boils up all at once and I remember that scenes like this are taking place in a time period unironically labeled the “Tribulation”. We should never forget that this is the darkest time in human history, for nobody more than the persecuted and suffering followers of Christ. This week, Rayford goes to a fancy restaurant and gets the stink-eye from a waiter.

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

    The sheer banality embodied in these books is unbelievable.

    There are events Rayford and Buck undergo (as relayed to us, the readers) which are utterly prosaic, but the sheer overwhelming fact that momentous, Earth-changing events are happening does not suffice to stop Rayford from casually picking up groceries and putting his house on the market as though it were just another day in the neighborhood.

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

    Banality is the way of life for narcissists. And the “trauma” of going to a restaurant and getting the stink-eye from a waiter is exactly the kind of story the narcissist would tell everyone, forever. The phrase “oh, the drama” was invented for narcissists. There are never simply minor annoyances in their day, the kind of things that everyone deals with all the time. In their minds, the world really does revolve around them, so tiny problems that anyone else would forget in two minutes become epic tales of persecution.

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

    Fred is right. These books would’ve been an amazing study of a narcissistic newly converted Christian who has no grasp on the fact that he got the 2×4 in the nose God wanted to get his attention with, but instead of changing his entire life, he only thinks it’s all about his direct telephone line to God.

    And over the course of the books little by little, his bubble breaks until finally he realizes he needs to really embrace the fact that if he loves himself, he needs to love every other person just as much.

  • rrhersh

    Oddly enough, I just read “The Darkness Deep Inside,” a short story by W. P. Kinsella (best known for “Shoeless Joe,” the novel “Field of Dreams” was based on). It is about a loud-mouthed, dirty-playing, womanizing baseball player who is converted by a televangelist. He proceeds to drive away everyone around him. The fans turn on him, he gets traded, and his wife divorces him. She had been OK with his womanizing, but was unwilling to tolerate his lectures about the husband’s authority. The interesting thing is, written just slightly differently this would be a “persecuted Christian” story rather than an “insufferable Christian” story.

  • Daniel

    “In their minds, the world really does revolve around them, so tiny
    problems that anyone else would forget in two minutes become epic tales
    of persecution.”

    I’ve written this on a few of these posts before, so forgive me for repeating myself, but I think one of the best possible ways this series could have developed is by having Rayford and Buck eventually seen from someone else’s point of view, and at that point it’s revealed that both men are actually so severely narcissistic that they’ve imagined the rapture and everything else about it to make themselves important. They have both had some sort of personal blow- Buck being replaced by Verna Zee because he did no actual work and Rayford’s wife having left him for his repeated (though sincerely denied) philandering- which lead them to imagine that the rest of the world was also being punished (because it couldn’t be just them). So the reason they fail to achieve anything as tribbles is because there is no antichrist- just some Romanian politician who Rayford managed to get a job with when he was kicked out of his original airline. There hasn’t been any nuclear attacks, which is why radiation isn’t a problem and why no one else seems to have noticed, but Buck made up the story to rationalise his enforced absence from Global Weekly’s offices- the cities were no longer there.
    As the novels climax, the characters are finally forced to realise all the windmills they’ve been tilting at, and accept that they aren’t important.

  • Jamoche

    They’re generating a Reality Distortion Field and need to be introduced to the Total Perspective Vortex.

    (which is essentially what happens to Buck in my Night Vale fic :) )

  • Redcrow

    Link, please?

  • Jamoche

    http://archiveofourown.org/works/901518

    (Posted at work, meant to come back and edit)

  • Redcrow

    Thanks.

  • flat

    sounds good to me.

  • guest

    That’s brilliant–I’m glad you repeated it, since I hadn’t seen it before.

  • Daniel

    For the idea to work properly Bruce Barnes turns out to be a conman who’s perfectly willing to exploit Buck and Rayford’s delusions, take all their money and start a cult before realising the police are onto him and faking his death. Chloe had to rush across country from California to look after Ray when he was found staggering around the runways at a major international airport mumbling about how everyone was dying. All were agreed “it’s a shame about Ray”.

  • guest

    It’s a damn shame I bet you’re too busy doing other things to actually write this.

  • Daniel

    Sadly you’d lose that bet. Now, had you said “lazy”…

  • guest

    Oh well in that case…GET CRACKING! It’s a marvellous plot, and would be a fascinating pastiche of what we understand to be extraordinarily popular novels.

  • Skweisgaar Skwigelf

    Eh, even if it’s mean and/or humiliating to the characters, it doesn’t sound very good. “This one event didn’t happen, it was all a delusion” only works if all the action surrounding it still makes perfect sense when you know what reallty happened. The more events that had to be completely fabricated, or recontextualized so heavily they may as well have been fabrications, in order for the delusion to maintain itself, then the closer the story is to just being “it was all a dream”, which is garbage. There’s unreliable narrators, who stretch and misinterpret and recontextualize and omit minor details, maybe even imagine a scene or two, and then there’s “oh yeah nothing even a little bit like anything this character has narrated so far actually happened”, and the latter is terrible.

  • Evan

    i like the idea, but it should end with their inability to cope driving them to suicide, or else with Buck and/or Rayford trying to “bring down the antichrist” with a shooting rampage in the Global Weekly offices, ending with them being shot to death by the police

  • reynard61
  • Vermic

    Rayford’s so distraught over the nuking of Chicago, New York, and London that he may not finish his sweet potato fries.

    I’m suddenly reminded of the middle of Jurassic Park, where half the cast is running around in the rain getting devoured by ravenous dinosaurs, and then we cut to the other half eating ice cream in the break room. But they’re eating it introspectively, so.

  • Jenny Islander

    But that scene actually served some dramatic purpose. They’re sitting there eating ice cream by emergency lighting because they don’t even know where everybody else is and going out in the storm would be worse than useless; they can’t even get the power back on. They’re also having a depressing conversation, at which it is traditional to eat ice cream for comfort–but they’re using this comfort measure in the middle of a situation that is rapidly becoming hellish. And it’s a contrast to the fancy dinner earlier. Chilean sea bass and ambitious dreams for dinner, melting ice cream that is mostly going to be wasted anyway with a nice sprinkling of hopelessness for dessert.

  • Persia

    And aren’t they hungry at that point? Or am I mixing it up with the later scene with the kids?

  • Alix

    That, and it’s a pretty good way to quickly contrast the situation of those stuck “safely” inside and those stuck outside.

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

    That may be the one part of Jenkins’s writing that pisses me off more than any other, mainly because it’s usually the sign of an amateur. It’s a case of something traumatic happening, and then passing it off as Just Another Bad Thing. In the past month, I’ve seen books where one character survives a suicide attempt and two teenagers watch their father die, and in both cases they’re fine by the next chapter. Both books were self-published, which – whether or not you think it’s fair – are judged at a lower standard.

    Meanwhile, Jenkins is a professional. He’s created a world in which everyone has lost loved ones, the globe is engulfed in war, impossible things are happening on a daily basis – and no one cares. Wasn’t there anyone among the millions and millions of readers who noticed this?

  • aunursa

    Wasn’t there anyone among the millions and millions of readers who noticed this?

    Very few. Most of them were hypnotized by (what they believe to be) the prophecies from the Book of Revelation being fulfilled in the 21st century.

  • otrame

    Too busy fapping away to the scenes of just how SAVED all the Christians are. Just like them.

    I’ve been reading these posts since about half way through the first book and I have to say that they still leave me with my jaw swinging in the breeze sometimes. I am happy Fred is continuing his public service of showing us just how to write really bad fiction. Seriously, I have read het fan fiction written by emotionally stunted 15 year old girls who spend most of the story talking about how cool the Mary Sue character is, that was much, MUCH better than this shit. These men have made millions doing this. The world is not fair.

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

    “professional”? “Jenkins”?

    Perhaps by the most unrestrictive of definitions in that he got a book advance and gets royalties.

  • MikeJ

    Cashing the check is the only thing that makes one a professional. “Professional” says nothing about quality.,

  • http://rapturepractice.wordpress.com/ Phoenix Feather

    I think Jenkins’ plot is one of the rare situations in which the fact that no one cares makes the story far more palatable.
    If everyone in Left Behind cared, if they reacted with the levels of shock, loss, and utter devastation that most people would feel in this situation, Jenkins’ readers would be naturally horrified. No one would want to read about people having emotional breakdowns, throwing themselves off bridges, spending their few remaining years trying to piece together what’s left of their shattered sense of reality. Such a scenario would make the readers question whether the whole Rapture thing is such a good idea after all.

    Whereas with Left Behind, the reader can feel ok about wanting the Rapture to happen because, See? The people who are left behind will be fine. They’ll forget about the disasters by the next page. You can fly away to heaven and not worry about them anymore. Realistic? No. But comforting in that it allows them to look forward to the apocalypse without feeling guilty.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    This week, Rayford goes to a fancy restaurant and gets the stink-eye from a waiter.

    Larry David is Rayford Steele in Curb Your Revelation. I know I’d watch.

  • general_apathy

    #FirstWorldTribulations

  • Daniel

    “This week, Rayford goes to a fancy restaurant and gets the stink-eye from a waiter.”
    Next week the antichrist gets into Rayford’s bathroom and rehangs the toilet paper… UNDERHAND!
    Next week the GIRAT picks up a newspaper (which he hasn’t written an article for) to find someone (probably Satan) has already done the crossword!
    Then when he gets home he finds Chloe has bought a six pinter of milk because there were no smaller ones left in the shop- but it goes off in three days! Will Buck and Chloe be able to eat enough cereal, drink enough cocoa/ovaltine/horlicks/milky coffee to finish the milk off or will they admit defeat and throw it away?

    So the true believers suffer for their faith.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    “Hattie, I never dumped you. There was nothing to dump.

    You know, if Rayford had been written as slightly slow-witted, or clumsy in speech, and if the text had shown him embarassed by his mis-speaking here, it would work.

    Sadly, we read the LB we have, not the LB we wish we had, and Rayford’s remark here is to call Hattie “nothing”, to say there is “nothing to” her.

    ” We were not an item.”

    So close to workable writing, and yet so far.

    “Hattie, I never dumped you, because you were never mine to dump.”

    See LaJenkins? It’s not that hard. But again, we’re playing by Mary-Sue-rules, which means the Author Insert can never lose an exchange with another character, never be seen as getting the short end of any exchange.

    “OK, yet,” he said. “That’s fair. But…”

    “I have to acknowledge that. Still, it’s unfair…”

    Just to recap, Rayford in his pre-Christian days, treated someone poorly. Now, after coming to Jesus and resolving to do the Lord’s work, he’s being confronted with his past as a sinner, but because Jesus has forgiven him, he can skip asking for anyone else’s forgiveness.

    Jerkwad.

    ETA: seriously, it’s infuriating how the Mary-Sue rules of character conversations work. Not only can Rayford not ask for an apology, not only are his admissions of guilt forced and immediately followed by rationalizations, but he can’t even admit that he failed to successfully pursue Hattie!

  • aunursa

    But we don’t commend the authors for this achievement because they seem as wholly ensconced within Rayford’s delusion as Rayford is himself.

    And the READERS are in the delusion as well.

    I can’t emphasize enough how many the 65 million readers don’t see the characters as we recognize them. They don’t see the misogyny, the narcissism, the anti-Semitism, the anti-Catholicism, the arrogance or egotism. (This includes tens of millions of female readers who absolutely adore Rayford and Buck.)

    Many of them are demanding that the new Left Behind movie be true to the book which they so cherish.

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

    Maybe they see it and don’t care. Some evangelicals don’t seem to regard rudeness or callousness as character flaws, provided that they’re employed in service of spreading the Gospel.

  • aunursa

    Alas, no, they don’t see it. I’ve read thousands of comments on the LB website and LB Facebook page from adoring fans.

  • Dylan

    If the context were changed and we weren’t in Rayford’s head, I think many of those readers would see some of the flaws in this scene clearly.

    After all, I don’t think most people go into an affair intending to have an affair–many deny anything is happening until something does happen (and sometimes even after that). That’s exactly what’s happening with Rayford–we’re seeing him revisit that long pattern of denial.

    If he were some random side character, it would be obvious. But because he’s the POV good-guy (very literally, having been “saved”) character, he’s lying to us in the same way we lie to ourselves.

  • Lori

    many deny anything is happening until something does happen

    Ah yes, the old “It just happened” defense. Few things are more likely to make me want to punch the speaker in the neck. Unless a tornado came by, ripped off all your clothes and literally deposited one of you on top of the other it did not just happen you mealy-mouthed jerk. Own your shit.

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

    “That’s fair. But you have to admit there had been no commitment or even an expression of a commitment.”

    Wow. That’s dialogue.

    Writing the way people talk is a lot harder than it seems. There are whole workshops dedicated to mastering dialogue that is both realistic and compelling. Some writers spend years studying the concept of voice, learning how to depict characters of widely varying cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic, and personal backgrounds. They study real-life people in real-life situations until they can hear their fictional versions speaking in their heads.

    And then there’s Jerry Jenkins, who wrote the above line and is more successful than the vast majority of them.

  • themunck

    Hell, that’s one of the reasons Tarantino does so well. Say what you want about him, but he can write people speaking naturally.
    I guess what I’m saying is that Left behind would’ve been far better with Tarantino at the helm.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    BUCK: C’mon, throw in a buck.

    RAYFORD: Uh-uh. I don’t tip.

    BUCK: You don’t tip?

    RAYFORD: Nah, I don’t believe in it.

    BUCK: You don’t believe in tipping?

    BRUCE: You know what these chicks make? They make sh*t.

    RAYFORD: Don’t give me that. She don’t make enough money that she can quit.

    BUCK: I don’t even know a f*cking Jew who’d have the balls to say that. Let me get this straight: you don’t ever tip?

    RAYFORD: I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doing their job.

    BRUCE: Hey, our girl was nice.

    RAYFORD: She was okay. She wasn’t anything special.

    BRUCE: What’s special? Take you in the back and suck your dick?

    BUCK: I’d go over twelve percent for that.

  • Panda Rosa

    OOWee, and that’s the part even the purest RTC readers really want to read.

  • Daniel

    RAYFORD: She was okay. She wasn’t anything special.

    BRUCE: What’s special? Take you in the back and hold your hand?

    BUCK: I’d go over twelve percent for that.

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

    What’s special? Eat a cookie on international television while you eat a cookie at home?

  • Daniel

    Bruce: All her life it’s been “cookie cookie cookie cookie cookie cookie”

    Buck: That’s a lot of cookie.

  • general_apathy

    You know what they call a chocolate chip cookie in France?

  • Daniel

    You know you can walk into a church in France and get a glass of wine? And I don’t mean in no paper cup- I’m talking about a full silver chalice of wine.

    And in Amsterdam? You can get married to a guy.

  • Daniel

    It was a teenage wedding

    and the old folks were in Hell,
    You could see that Buck had truly met the Mademoiselle,
    And now the GIRAT and the student have rung the chapel bell,
    C’est la vie said the Raptured

    They hopefully won’t go to hell.

  • Daniel

    John 3:16- When you absolutely, positively gotta convert every mother-kisser in the room… accept no substitutes.

  • otrame

    Tarantino is a frigging genius, but a seriously flawed genius. His “conversation” scenes are ….sorry, I don’t have words. Excuisite, maybe? Better than that. But over all, his movies tend to leave a lousy taste in the mouth.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Inglourious Marteyrs!

  • Donalbain

    Hell, that’s one of the reasons Tarantino does so well. Say what you want about him, but he can write people speaking naturally.

    Tarantino? Naturally? Sorry. but no. There are many great things to be said about Tarantino’s dialogue, but I would never say it was natural. I think it is more like Sorkinese than real, natural dialogue. It is the way that people WISHED they spoke naturally, but is in fact far quicker, far more clever, far more witty.

  • themunck

    Can we compromise and say it’s more natural than L&J’s?

  • Seraph4377

    It’s natural enough to allow suspension of disbelief; that’s what people really want when they talk about “realistic” dialogue anyway. Nobody wants to read or watch the way people really talk, with all the ums, uhs, you knows and banalities.

  • Donalbain

    I think it is compelling enough for that, rather than natural enough.

  • Panda Rosa

    And still I am haunted by The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe.
    If nothing else: Hattie needs to join Fenchurch, no doubt her ideas shaped Milliways.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    “Hattie, I never dumped you. There was nothing to dump.”

    “I was just leading you on. I didn’t care about you. Sheesh, get over it!”

    /Our Hero

  • Jared James

    Rayford reminds me of no one so much as Pointy-Haired Boss Michael Scott. Utterly convinced that not only does everyone love him, they must because he is damned amazing at being an all-around Good Joe.

  • aunursa

    Left Behind Movie UPDATE:
    Ashley Tisdale has left the cast. The role of Chloe will be recast. LB fans are divided over whether they like or hate this development.

    Meanwhile, 2007 American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will play a passenger named Shasta.

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

    But WHO will play Ambiguously-Gay-but-RTC flight attendant Tony?

  • aunursa

    Amy **** What I’m not sure about is this turning into a Glee musical with 50% of the cast being from Hollywoods popular stars and the other 50% from the Disney channel. I understand to have to appeal to the masses but this story isn’t a popularity contest. It’s about making the decision for God and not being Left Behind.
    6 hours ago via mobile

    Tammy ******* **** The cast from the original movie would be great just updated version and older I can not see anyone else as buck than Kirk Cameron he takes it very serious

  • Baby_Raptor

    Hey, lady? Movies have to make money to pay your paycheck, and maybe employ you again in the follow-up.

    And one of the ways movies draw crowds is to get big name stars people already really like.

    And what effect does whose acting in the movie have on what it’s about, anyway? Left Behind is going to be RapturePorn no matter who acts in it until it gets rewritten.

  • MikeJ

    Even if you didn’t care about making money, nobody is going to be converted if you don’t put asses in the seats.

  • MarkTemporis

    He’d never do it, but Kirk as Nicolae would actually be kind of cool.

  • Jamoche

    Not sure what they want – Hollywood’s unpopular stars? Also not sure about their math – Nicolas Cage is the only one I’d call a top star, and I’d bet anything he’s only in it because his finances suck.

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

    Oh, oh, oh, and what about GUY BLOD :P

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

    Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family has my vote.

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

    X-D

  • Lunch Meat

    I’ll do it! I’ll do it!

    …I’ve about given up hope of them casting me as Jaina Solo in the new Star Wars anyway…

  • aunursa

    And as I mentioned on an earlier thread, Nicky Whelan is playing Hattie.
    Although Nicolae won’t appear in this movie, LB fans can look forward to Nicky/Nicky action in the sequel.

  • Newbiedoobiedoo

    What, no Jane Lynch as Verna Zee?

  • reynard61

    “Meanwhile, 2007 American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will play a passenger named Shasta.”

    Run away, Jordin! Get away while you still can!

  • MuseofIre

    Is there anything that better illustrates the uselessness of winning American Idol?

  • Jessica_R

    I think a better prestige TV example for these books is Breaking Bad. For as monstrous as Tony can be there is a wounded humanity in him utterly lacking in Buck or Rayford. Walter White however is all wounded ego and resentment piling into something murderous, his entire journey is his irrevocable break with anything humane in him and his hatred at himself, and others who remind him of this. All that, he’s still more maybe not sympathetic but understandable than Buck or Rayford. After all, we are not meant to like him.

    The analogy holds double because Jesse is Walter’s Hattie. The seemingly weak, silly person who holds profound depths and is capable of great compassion. The secret story of Breaking Bad is Jesse’s process of becoming a decent person, it’s telling that L&J just see Hattie with contempt.

  • Dogfacedboy

    A white stretch limo pulls up to Rayford’s condo, and he is ushered into the back by a stoic driver in a well-starched uniform. There is room on the seat beside Hattie, but Rayford sits opposite of her instead. She has honored his request not to dress up but, even casually attired, she looks lovely. He decides not to tell her so.

    At the bistro, the table is set for him to dine beside her, but again he chooses the chair across from her, knowing they will have to practically shout to be heard above the din, and forcing the host to move his place-setting to accommodate. Rayford glances about the restaurant Hattie helped conceive without comment.

    Biting her lip, she studies her menu with furrowed brow and darting eyes, as if hoping to discover the solution to a befuddling riddle hidden in there somewhere. She’s uncharacteristically quiet. Her engagement ring is turned so that the diamond doesn’t show.

    An efficient waiter swoops in, takes their order and disappears.

    Rayford waits for her to begin. She has initiated this little meeting – she must have something to say. And yet she says little, stirring her iced tea without taking a sip, brushing a wayward strand of hair behind her right ear at regular intervals and glancing restlessly at the countless patrons and video screens all around them.

    He makes a few halfhearted attempts at small talk. She half-smiles, or half-frowns. He’s not sure which.

    Their food arrives, and they eat. He gives up on the small talk – the place is too loud and he’s run out of things to say. She seems preoccupied, and he wishes that whatever it is, she’ll hurry up and spill it. He wonders why she’s putting him through this.

    When the plates are cleared, she finally begins, if cryptically. “Two years.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Two years – since I was your senior flight attendant.”

    “That long? I suppose you’re right. Time flies.”

    “We had some interesting times, didn’t we?”

    “Oh. Yeah. Please don’t drudge up that whole mess. I feel guilty enough.”

    “A lot has changed since then,” she says, looking away and drawing lines with a fingertip into the condensation on her glass.

    “You could say that,” he answers, checking his watch, promising himself he can be in bed within an hour. International flights are exhausting enough without the added excitement of nuclear war. The last thing he needs is to be trapped here at this noisy bistro in a conversation that isn’t going anywhere.

    “You know how many times I’ve been in love?” she asks out of the blue with the world’s faintest smile.

    “I have no idea. And I don’t like guessing games.”

    “Exactly twice.”

    “Just twice?”

    “Only twice.”

    “That’s surprising for someone so….” He almost says beautiful. Beautiful women of the unsaved variety seem to have many lovers – though he comes to realize lovers and loves aren’t necessarily one and the same. Nonetheless he can’t say beautiful or anything else that will give the wrong impression or encourage her in some way. He’s once again a married man, and a Godly man this time around. Consorting with sinners is something he only does anymore in order to convert them – if the opportunity seems right. Naturally, he wants to save Hattie but the circumstances are doubtful, for she’s betrothed to the Antichrist. He abandons his original thought. “Your fiancé, of course, is the one that matters. You’re marrying him after all.”

    “Hmmm,” she says, with a hint of sardonic amusement. “The man who has the whole world in his hands – I’m afraid – has his hands full. He won’t even give me the time of day anymore.” Her gaze settles in on him in a way that reminds him uncomfortably of the past. “I thought my dreams had finally come true, Rayford. I really thought they had.”

    He looks at her with as much sympathy as he can muster, which isn’t much at the moment. He volunteers little, though he wishes to tell her the truth about her fiancé and the evil role he will play in the end of the world, and try, perhaps, to save her from the Antichrist – to save her soul. But how can he trust her not to give the Tribulation Force away? He doubts she’s bright enough to be discrete, and decides to play it close to the vest.

    “He never sleeps, Rayford. He works twenty hours a day.” She twirls her errant strand of hair absently with her forefinger, giving up on brushing it back. “It’s like he’s not even human.”

    Rayford contemplates this opportunity, and lets it go.

    “He fired me, by the way. I’m no longer his personal assistant.”

    Rayford raises his eyebrows, though he already knows about this.

    “He doesn’t love me, Rayford. I mean nothing to him. I realize that now. And I’m not going to use this pregnancy to force him to marry me.”

    “No! You’re not thinking of….”

    “Terminating it? I think about it every day.”

    “Do me a favor,” Rayford urges, raising his hands into the air as if shielding against some unseen onslaught. “Don’t make any decisions without talking it over with your family and friends first.”

    Hattie capitulates and lets the obstinate strand of hair fall to the place it wanted to be all along, brushing her right cheek. “I don’t really have any friends, Rayford.”

    He wishes to claim himself as her friend, but doesn’t want to mislead her. He’s a married man again, after all, and she could take things the wrong way. So there follows a lingering silence between them made bearable by the ambient noise all around and the music videos on all the stupid TVs. He checks his watch and figures he can be in bed in half an hour, unless she orders dessert. And then at last she breaks the silence.

    “Remember our flight into Rome,” she says, leaning forward, her eyes suddenly brighter, “that new year’s eve in that brand new -400 with the fireworks going off below us? You made that difficult landing after reversing thrust and we later learned the outer port and starboard engines had been switched?”

    “I remember. They were eating the inner engines’ exhaust.”

    “We had a few drinks that night, as I recall.”

    “Let’s not rehash the past,” he says coldly. “You know how I feel about that period.”

    Her right hand turns her cocktail napkin in a slow, clockwise rotation, and then her left hand rises and brushes her left eye, slightly smearing her mascara. He’s afraid she will cry – and how would that look? He wills her not to cry. He hopes to God she will not cry, and she doesn’t. Praise God.

    “What do you want from me, Hattie?” he asks with flagging patience. “When you asked me to meet you tonight, I figured you had something important to tell me.”

    “I’m sorry, it’s nothing. I….” She stops short, balls up her cocktail napkin, turns it around in her fingers and shuts her eyes tight. After a long moment, she opens them again and looks quickly away from him, searching for the waiter. When she finally catches his eye, she puts on the smallest wisp of a smile as she signals for the check.

  • Trixie_Belden

    Thanks Dogfacedboy, that was sad and quite wonderful.

  • http://talkingtocrows.tumblr.com/ VMtheCoyote

    ow. Thank you for writing that – it’s very much Rayford’s character on display, in a bleak and honest light.

  • http://rapturepractice.wordpress.com/ Phoenix Feather

    That was beautiful. Wow.

  • WingedBeast

    The short exchange reminds me of the typical defense of God’s moral character by believers in Hell Theology, which tends to go along these lines “God doesn’t send you to Hell. You send yourself to Hell by rejecting God’s salvation.”

    It has little to do with the substance and everything to do with the semantics. And, they think that this makes a difference.

    Hattie, whatever else she may be doing, is referring to a connection once present but then severed by Rayford. Rayford is referring only to the narrowest semantic accuracy.

    Now, semantic accuracy has its value, don’t get me wrong. It’s valuable in the military, in medicine, in science. But, that value is in clarity of communication. Where it puts up hoops to jump through in order to communicate, it stops becoming valuable and starts becoming a problem.

    Unless, that is, you’re so bound to the idea of winning and the appearance thereof that you have forgotten that the point of having a conversation was to… have… a…. conversation.

  • arcseconds

    I’m a fan of terrible movies like Plan Nine from Outer Space, but why I like them can’t be explained simply. Fred gets at some of it here, but for me there’s even more to like about them.

    It’s important to draw a distinction between bad movies like Plan Nine from Outer Space and ones like, oh, I don’t know, The Neverending Story Part III (or Star Trek: Generations), a distinction that’s often described as ‘so bad it’s good’ vs. ‘so bad it’s horrible’.

    (I think there’s kind of a spectrum here, or perhaps two distinct things that can be mixed together — Left Behind seems to have aspects of both. )

    So, ‘so bad it’s good films’:—

    I laugh at their badness. Most people who have any time for these movies at all do this. But it’s interesting to scratch the surface and ask why do we laugh, rather than cringe? Perhaps it’s just schadenfreude, but I think there’s more to it than that.

    There’s apophatic thing, too, as Fred points out: discovering how good stuff is done by watching people stuff it up royally. I and other bad film watchers have of course recognised this for some time, but I’ll thank Fred for the idea of using ‘apophatic’ to describe it!

    But there are also things that I genuinely, non-ironically like about such films.

    I also enjoy the avante-garde and experimental, too, and there’s plenty of cross-over here.

    I enjoy the sheer craziness of the ideas and the narratives. I’m a bit of a straight-jacketed rationalist, and it bugs me when stories on the face of it buy into continuity, consistency and the principle of sufficient reason and that sort of thing, but then just stuff it up sometimes (Star Trek frequently bugs me for this reason). But when these things are just flouted altogether, I often enjoy that. It’s nice to have such structures undermined completely from time to time — they’re like zen koans in film form.

    I also like the fact that they’re not beholden to formulae (in some cases because they try and fail completely to follow them). This is something I also enjoy about very early examples in a genre (which of course can also be ‘so bad it’s good’ examples): the formulae don’t exist yet, and these works are sometimes doing something different, or sometimes establishing the formula (a different thing from following the formula).

    Related to this, I also enjoy things which are kind of crude and unpolished. I’m not sure I can say much about why I do, but they seem kind of genuine somehow — like children’s paintings.

    There’s often a bunch of genuine creativity in such works, too, uninhibited by such concerns as making sense or sticking to what ‘works’.

    Finally, they’re often made with genuine passion, and you’ve got to admire that.

    These things are also often what seperates ‘so bad it’s good’ films from ‘so bad it’s horrible’, particularly when the later is a big-budget production. Instead of getting a genuine, passionate, creative work which breaks the usual molds (even while being clumsily executed), we get a paint-by-numbers, phoning-it-in work by people who could do better but apparently just don’t care. Watching those kinds of films make me feel like I’m being used.

  • Sue White

    … discovering how good stuff is done by watching people stuff it up royally.

    That must be the idea behind http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com.

  • Trixie_Belden

    Thanks for that post! It expresses some thoughts I’ve had turning over in my mind for a while. It started when I went to a Riff tracks showing of Manos, the Hands of Fate. Manos is undeniably a bad film and is perfect for riffing – I’m not trying to be contrarian – but when I saw it I was struck by the thought that it was actually more watchable than some of the paint-by-numbers films you’re talking about. There is a certain energy to the storytelling, even though it’s clumsily expressed.

  • arcseconds

    no charge… :)

  • http://algol.wordpress.com/ SororAyin

    Um…. I always _liked_ Star Trek: Generations. Does that make me weird?

  • GDwarf

    Weird? I think it makes you unique. If you report to the Smithsonian they’ll probably put you on display. :P

  • arcseconds

    No, it just means you have no taste.

    Don’t worry, you’ve plenty of company in that regard…

    (*ducks*)

  • ReverendRef

    I don’t want to celebrate Rayford, but I do want to learn from him.

    This made me think of Despair Inc. I couldn’t find the perfect poster, but I thought this came closest: http://www.despair.com/worth.html

    Now I’m imagining a whole line of WWRD shirts and posters.

    If you want to be the hero of your own story and of your own life, ask WWRD? Then do the opposite.

    And this made me think of George Costanza when he began making decisions against his immediate tendency.

  • P J Evans

    I know a lot of people who need that in their cubicles: they think that being necessary makes them important.
    They tend to think it’s funny when told that if you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

  • Jen K
  • ReverendRef

    Very nice!!!

  • jmb

    As I said on the other thread, imagining the TF headed by Marshall Pentecost instead of Captain Steele is an informative exercise. When God IS the Beast, what then?

  • arcseconds

    Apophatic theology (also known as the via negativa, which is how I know it. I always get confused among apophatic, anaphoric, apoptosis, and apotheosis.)
    dates back much earlier than Maimonides (or should we call him Rambam?), of course.

    I can’t let the opportunity to mention Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite here as an earlier example of an apophatic theologian pass, both because of his awesome nom-de-plume, and because he was a neoplatonist.

  • Vermic

    Why in the world are we here?
    Surely not to live in pain and fear

    John Lennon: greatest apophatic philosopher of all time? I’m just putting the suggestion out there.

  • Daniel

    Rayford’s mind was on a room full of people he would never touch. Sitting behind his fully loaded potato skins, sipping tap water (apparently they were going halves on the bill) he knew all eyes in the Global Bistro were on him. He wondered how long this meal was going to last. He felt, sitting staring into Hattie’s large blue eyes, that he had been here for weeks, not eating anything, just watching her peruse the menu and bite her lower lip as she concentrated on the dishes. Her eyes were the window into Hattie’s corrupted soul. Bruce Barnes had pointed out in an obscure self-penned parable (written at the time he confessed his sins, shortly before he paid the bar tab) that the soul is like a woman, and the eyes like all windows allow women inside to see men looking in at them. The eyelids, he added, are the curtains of the soul. Rayford finally understood what Bruce’s parable meant. Though it was beautiful he could not cry as Bruce had done when he told it, he could not cry because Rayford was a man. He checked himself, in case anyone else was watching. Because he knew everyone was watching.

    Any one casually looking over, anyone who had themselves been corrupted by eating the devil’s foodstuffs, could easily imagine they saw a man looking into the perfect eyes of a younger woman he lusted after, a younger woman whose beauty and seductive charms had nearly pulled that man away from his wife, once upon a time. A woman who’s perfect figure and incessant walking and bending and talking and laughing had all been finely tuned to exploit his weakness… his natural weakness as an unsaved man, a sinner, a man
    powerless to control the lust she had deliberately made him feel. Anyone
    looking over would forgive him this natural manly weakness, but since his
    conversion Rayford had become his own harshest critic. Rayford modelled his
    life on Jesus’ now. If there was one thing Jesus hated, it was forgiveness, and
    so Rayford had learned that he whilst he could be forgiven, had he sinned, it
    was not his place to forgive others.

    His weakness had manifested itself most clearly whenever Irene disagreed with him. Bruce had given Rayford this insight into himself. It had been his greatest gift, a chance for Rayford to better understand Rayford, and to realise that his only real error had been his compassion, for Irene, for Hattie. He should have taken a firmer line with them both, and he resolved to do that with the only one of them still on Earth. Rayford was a stronger man now; it had been more than eighteen months since a woman had disagreed with him, and more than a year since one had had the last word. He felt he had steeled himself for the fight he knew was coming. He smiled. That pun was worthy of Buck, wherever he was. As he refocused his thoughts he found himself reflected again in those Adriatic eyes. Hattie was waiting for him to speak. Anyone watching would have known she was eager to be filled with his words.

    Hattie couldn’t- wouldn’t- see what she was doing to him. She refused to acknowledge that Rayford was correct. She wanted to live in her illusion a little longer. She was still trying to convince herself of a lie, she was still confusing Rayford’s words with excuses, rather than statements of fact. He couched his language in as strict and unambiguous terms as he could. He tried to keep his poker face in tact, so anyone watching would not imagine he had any emotional interest in this woman, whom he’d never touched.
    “You have to admit there had been no commitment or even an expression of a commitment.”
    “There had been plenty of signals, Rayford.”
    “I have to acknowledge that. Still, it’s unfair to say I dumped you.”
    She rolled her eyes. Why would she do this to him? She refused to accept that he was right- he had never touched her, on that point he was extremely clear. Without touching there could be no relationship. Anyone watching would be sure to agree.

    Part of the reason he’d talked to her about Irene was that the touching in their relationship had stopped. She’d sat on his lap a couple of times early on in their marriage, and the honeymoon had been a whirlwind of hand holding, lap sitting, even kissing. But such passion inevitably dies and leaves the man bereft of those consolations only a woman can offer. Only a woman- Bruce Barnes had repeatedly made that point. And when that happens it’s wrong for a younger woman aware of her beauty to deliberately attempt to lead that man astray, as Hattie had done.
    “I mean, the flirting, the shopping trips in Paris to buy Chloe sweets- not to mention all the times you sat me on your lap during flights.” A wicked smile drew the corners of her coral bow mouth up toward those sparkling eyes. She patted her belly.
    “I mean, this might have been yours.”
    Rayford maintained his dignity as he spluttered on his water. Anyone watching would have imagined she’d turned him down. Anyone watching would have wondered how such a thing was possible.
    “Don’t be obscene Hattie!” He dabbed the spilled water off the table.
    She laughed. She was laughing. Rayford couldn’t understand why. The joke would have been equally difficult for anyone watching to understand. He wished she’d think of others, just once, like he did.

    “When did you become such a prude Rayford?”
    He straightened up proudly. To the untrained eyes of the people watching it may, possibly, have looked a trifle self-important, as though he was trying to regain his dignity. He wished others would stop watching him.

    But he wondered- could the child be his? She’d sat on his lap, certainly, and he’d been so seized by the moment he hadn’t used precautions. He doubted she’d ritually bathed herself in bleach and burned all her clothes- she was not saved and could not know the right way to behave after a man she wasn’t married to had not-really-touched her.

    He hadn’t been around when Irene had fallen pregnant with Rayford junior or the girl child he’d also had. Rayford had simply followed normal procedure. He’d payed a doctor and then some time later driven an overweight Irene to hospital, where he’d handed out cigars to the other expectant fathers and was eventually given the baby he’d been promised several hours earlier. The delay had been her fault- Rayford had made sure to drive the fastest and therefore best way to the hospital. He explained the route to the doctors and other staff- even before his conversion he had been generous with good news. He’d tried to give the child back when he saw a piece was missing, arguing with several doctors until they explained it was a girl. Rayford, ever the stoic, had decided to put a brave face on it. He asked for a discount, which he didn’t receive, though his parking was validated, meaning he’d won. He chose not to blame himself for the femaleness of the baby, instead realising it was Irene’s fault- after all, she was a woman, which in a lot of ways was basically a tall girl. He’d had better luck the second time. But the mysteries of how the children had actually been made were quite outside his ken. There are some things man is not meant to know, and Rayford, as anyone watching could see, was a man. Babies are women things. So, he realised in fright, Hattie’s spawn might be his.

    “I really think, as this is a professional meal between” he couldn’t bring himself to say “colleagues”. They weren’t colleagues. He was the pilot of Global Community One. She was just the World’s First Lady. With his ever present tact he resorted to “professional…people… that we should maintain a certain level of… professionalism.”
    “And that means I accept that you’re dumping me more than a year after we last worked together, more than six months after I became engaged to the Potentate, and after you got married to…”
    “Agnes.” Rayford hated being put on the spot like that. It was just like Hattie to expect him to remember his wife’s name with no revision. She had always tried to sully Irene by asking about her when they had worked together, every time Rayford had very nearly not never touched her she’d say something about Irene- asking how she’d feel if she knew, asking whether there wasn’t a chance Irene and Rayford might not “sort things out”… banalities, awful banalities that made Rayford momentarily hate her for reminding him of their different intellectual levels. This was why he was glad that all these people were watching. Since he’d been saved he’d accepted that Jesus makes the rules, but it is only the eyes of others that makes you follow them. If they were to turn their gaze away for a second, they’d imagine that Rayford would break the seventh commandment with this woman, this disgusting, voluptuous, smiling, shining, radiant, obscene, lithe, lissom, awful woman. He hadn’t got the strength to resist the imagined sins of the masses. So he prodded at his food, and stopped looking at those eyes.

    He thanked the Lord he had the courage and the will to do what everyone else expected him to. This, he knew, marked Rayford out as a hero of the Lord’s resistance.

  • aunursa

    You had me at “Sitting behind his fully loaded potato skins.”

    Better enjoy those skins, Ray. ‘Cause you’ve only five years until potato skins will be loaded with … [all together now] … steaming piles of fresh produce, drenched in butter.

    EDIT: I finished it. Brilliant.

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

    Had me at “fully loaded potato skins,” had me guffawing at “she was a woman, which in a lot of ways was basically a tall girl.”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I know it’s been said before, but those “steaming piles of fresh produce” sum up Timkin’s lack of imagination. Heck, there’s so much excellent meatless food in the world (for instance, I just had a white pizza with broccoli and garlic for dinner), and they never, ever allow their characters to enjoy some of it. You call that heaven?

  • Daniel

    No. People= Penis havers
    Women= no penis
    Penis= meat
    ergo men eat meat, exclusively. Women can have vegetables, but really they should try much, much harder to be like men.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Phhbbbbtt. And I say that with the deepest respect and admiration, and a bit of unavoidable sputtering.

  • Loquat

    Didn’t you know the food in Heaven is an idealized (aka simplified) version of 19th-century midwestern farm cooking? Pizza would be suspiciously foreign, and soy is RIGHT OUT.

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

    Given that Fred has noted the back-to-the-soil motif of L&J endorsing Israel becoming an agricultural powerhouse, I think you’re onto something.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    True, true – but can’t we at least have baked beans?!

  • Lunch Meat

    That was horrifyingly perfect. You are way too good at this. I laughed out loud here: “He’d tried to give the child back when he saw a piece was missing, arguing with several doctors until they explained it was a girl.”

  • Jamoche

    Give her the bow of shame and toss her to the wolves!

  • Kubricks_Rube

    That was amazing. Many great lines, but if I had to pick a favorite: “He asked for a discount, which he didn’t receive, though his parking was validated, meaning he’d won.”

  • Daniel

    Thank you kindly. I should point out, for any biblical literalists reading this, that the line

    “he saw a piece was missing…Rayford, ever the stoic, had decided to put a brave face on it”

    is not meant to be read as a literal account of Rayford’s actions.

  • Launcifer

    Did he use a crayon or a permanent marker?

  • Daniel

    Well a surgeon’s mask with a biroed face on it. I’m in danger of lowering the tone again.

  • Launcifer

    Ach, next you’ll be telling me he made his own machine that goes ping! out of used toilet rolls and sticky-backed plastic.

  • Daniel

    That was the laziest Blue Peter ever.

  • Launcifer

    Yeah, well, I couldn’t find the episode that left Buck with a couple of empty yoghurt pots glued to his ear after he tried to make his own telephone.

  • Daniel

    And poor Chloe tied to the table where he’d tried to make a switchboard from liquorice laces and araldite.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    This is SO perfect – especially Rayford’s constant fretting, like a thirteen-year-old, about the people he thinks are watching him and what he imagines they’re thinking.

    And “very nearly not never touched her” – lovely. Almost as delicious as those fully loaded potato skins.

  • general_apathy

    I was already snickering at the bit about Hattie’s baby, and then this:

    But he wondered- could the child be his? She’d sat on his lap,
    certainly, and he’d been so seized by the moment he hadn’t used
    precautions.

    made me burst out laughing. Brilliant.

  • MuseofIre

    Excuse me for a minute. I’ll be in the back, making you a few Internets.

  • Original Lee

    Oh, Daniel. Promise me that when it’s all over, we’ll remember this pastiche with fondness and laughter, and almost feel the almost having never fallen in love with each other over it.

  • dunesen

    I think one of the driving forces behind Rayford’s actions is this idea that his pre-saved self is dead and gone, and therefore he has no ties to his life from that period. Only he does, in Hattie and his daughter and his coworkers and acquaintances and everyone else he knew but still keeps in touch with.

    I’ve never been a real part of any Christian community, so I have to ask: is this at all common? I know a lot of people, when they take on a new religion and feel reborn, just dive in and try to take on a completely new persona, often cutting many of the ties and friendships from their old life. But do people keep in touch with their old colleagues and expect the others to treat them as a completely different person they have no prior contact with?

    Rayford is acting as if he needs to only make a passing acknowledgment of his relationship with Hattie, thinking ‘That’s no longer who I am, so she has no business bringing our past up.’ Do other people do that? “Don’t mention that time I got s**tfaced and tagged the police car. That person is dead, that event never happened.”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I can only offer a tiny sample size here, but in my experience, no. Definitely not common.

    Of course, it’s possible that RTCs do expect people to pretend their previous personas never existed, and that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. But from what I’ve seen, Christians don’t.

  • Alix

    I only knew one person who ever tried that, back in high school while I was still vaguely involved in church youth group. He got roundly called out for being an asshole, and when he ratcheted up the holier-than-thou behavior, the youth pastor took him and his parents aside for some serious discussions as to what was and wasn’t appropriate behavior for a born-again Christian.

    But a) my mom’s church is Baptist, but weird, and b) while we got a lot of RTC-ish stuff cycling though (Left Behind books on the library shelf, etc.) we were only on the fringes. Enough to be aware, not enough to be a part, really. (Not the whole church body, anyway. Like I said, it’s a weird church.)

  • Alix

    Adding on: what I did see more of, though still not a lot of, was new converts (and some not-so-new ones) acting like there was a massive disconnect between their old and new selves, and they’d rag on their old selves constantly as “sinners.” But that church was more firmly in the “God is love” camp, not the “you are vile sinners” camp, when it came to the general tone and rhetoric, so most people like that either left, changed, or shut up when they realized they weren’t scoring many holy points that way.

    But they didn’t deny their past events happened, and the only dissociating from people I ever really heard of happening was when some people’s new religious priorities caused distance with old friends or (more rarely) relatives. But that sort of thing is typical of any major life change, so.

  • flat

    I believe CS lewis warned against that kind of “christianity” in the screwtape letters.

  • FearlessSon

    “I never dumped you, Hattie, it was… look, I would by lying if I said I had not considered starting something with you then. But that was back then, and the world has changed in that time… and so have I. I realized back then that was not a path that I could walk down with you. I’m sorry feelings may have gotten hurt, sorry if I sent signals I was not ready to follow up on… but that was the choice I felt I had to make.”

  • Jessica_R

    Again, I’m getting lost in the reeds of this restaurant that cannot exist. It’s a super classy bistro that apparently looks and operates like a Planet Hollywood branch opened in a airport.

    Speaking of so bad it’s good, my boyfriend and I are doing the The Great Next Gen Rewatch and the first season requires a great deal of um, patience. But here’s the thing, even when it’s malfunctioning Holodecks and painful Space Pirates era Ferengi there’s an honest effort to entertain, to ponder issues. We just finished the cringe-fest “Angel One” and even with that, I’ll take something that honestly tries and doesn’t succeed versus something with open contempt for audience, so lazy and knowing it doesn’t have to make an effort to get picked up and distributed.

    L&J know these books will be picked up and sold, regardless of quality and that rot sets in. Going back to Angel One, it’s like if they saw it’s hysterical gender politics as dire warning of were feminism leads. Which would be funny if their kind still didn’t have so much political clout.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    It’s a super classy bistro that apparently looks and operates like a Planet Hollywood branch opened in a airport. – Jessica R

    Whether or not Ellenjay know what a top-quality restaurant is like, I’m willing to bet a lot of their readers think of the ultimate Antichrist-approved mix of snootiness, excellence, and decadence as something just like Planet Hollywood.

  • Daniel

    But without the high profile Republican owners.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    Soooo…it’s basically Chuck-E-Cheese with a Satanic motiff? I can well believe that Rayford would regard Chuck-e-Cheese as classy. He strikes me as the sort of person who would consider taking a date to an evening shooting rats at the town landfill.

  • ChristianPinko

    I’m going to destroy my Christian cred here, but now I want a Satan-themed version of Dave & Buster’s. Like, one where you can toss little balls into the Hellmouth, and order jalapeno Hellfire hors d’oeurves.

  • phantomreader42

    Lucifer & Beelzebub’s?

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

    You know, I wonder if L&J were thinking of the Hard Rock Cafe as their notion of what Hattie’s restaurant looks like. There’s only a few Hard Rock Cafes around the world, and they sell t-shirts and whatnot, and part of their cachet is that movie stars have visited their restaurants.

  • Jamoche

    I’m still voting for Guy Fieri’s New York tourist trap – sorry, “American Kitchen and Bar” http://www.guysamericankitchenandbar.com

    barely more extreme than the real thing – http://guysamerican.com/

  • flat

    well Fred let’s thank ellenjay for writting such garbage.

  • JP

    This may very well be my favorite Slacktivist post ever, Fred. Well done indeed.

  • Jenny Mingus

    Mouse here,
    I really have nothing to say except wow! Any other critiques feel paltry when we’re in the presence of the critique-master.
    And now to shamelessly self-promote: If any of y’all wanna see how a hero should act, read my posts on Taylor Graham at my blog. There’s a reason I started a Taylor is Awesome tag.

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

    I have to catch up! Also, “Mingus”? Auggie Anderson from Covert Affairs is a fan of the music group. :P

  • Charby

    You don’t link to your blog. Now I have to (gasp) scroll over to find it. :)

  • aunursa

    What happened to the LB Kids updates?

  • Seraph4377

    By the way, is there anyone here who, by some act of Wayback-fu, can recover the July 25, 2008 Left Behind post, “The Hidden Display”?

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

    Now is one of those times I wish I’d actually bothered to save all the Slacktipages.

  • lowtechcyclist

    My Wayback-fu is coming up against a dead end in this case.

    Here’s how you’d do it, if it was there:

    First, go to the Wayback Machine (web.archive.org), type “http://slacktivist.typepad.com/” (without the quotation marks) into the box with the “take me back” button next to it, then click the button.

    Now there are years across the top, and a calendar below. Click the year you want (2008), then click the first highlighted date after the date of the post you’re looking for.

    That will give you the content of Fred’s blog as of that date, so you normally wouldn’t have to scroll far down to find the post you want.

    But in this case, they didn’t take a snapshot of Fred’s blog between June and mid-September 2008. By mid-September, the July posts were not on the blog’s front page anymore, but were rather several pages back. And the Wayback Machine’s snapshot is only of that first page.

    Unfortunately, my lunch hour is over, and there’s a s***load of work awaiting me, so my efforts have to stop here. But if you Google “wayback machine alternatives” apparently there are a number of other sites that do similar stuff. My suggestion would be to try a few of them. Good luck!

  • Apocalypse Review

    Also, robots.txt is blocking the retrieval of the exact URL as saved to the Right Behind master list.

  • Vermic

    Let’s talk about unreliable narrators! Because they’re pretty neat, and sometimes it’s useful to contemplate neat writing in the midst of reviewing the World’s Worst Books. I never read Lolita (a fact which I should probably remedy), so when I think of unreliable narrators my first example is a sci-fi novel from the ’50s by Wilson Tucker, The Long Loud Silence.

    TLLS is more or less a post-apocalyptic survival tale told in first person. The premise is that the eastern U.S. has been depopulated by a plague; the military has successfully stopped the spread at the Mississippi River and everything to the east is under heavy quarantine, with the few remaining immunes left to fend for themselves. Our protagonist, Corporal Russell Gary, is one of these immunes, and the story is his tale of survival in this lawless, nearly empty land.

    The interesting thing about Russell Gary is what a sociopathic bastard he is, and that he never seems to realize this himself. He sees himself as a smart survivor, and while he is that — as ex-military, he’s better equipped than most to navigate the collapse of civilization — he’s also utterly focused on himself. Other people don’t seem really real to him; they’re just tools; although he meets a few decent folks in his wanderings he always comes to write them off as stupid, weak, and burdensome. From the moment the disaster falls, Gary slips into “opportunistic, survival-at-all-costs” mode with an ease that’s almost disturbing, and he never slips back.

    Ultimately the very isolation that is necessary to keep him alive (or so he feels — there are points where he has the opportunity to live in security and peace, but abandons them) changes Gary into little more than a wolf in human skin. His goal for most of the book is to find a way to cross the Mississippi and return to civilization. He does eventually accomplish this, but by then he can barely stomach the “weaklings” of the civilized world. In the end he sneaks back into the quarantine zone, back to the only place he understands and where he gets to be the Ultimate Badass of the Apocalypse.

    The point is that Corporal Russell Gary never has a moment of self-awareness in all this. His narration shows that he thinks that TLLS is his account of survival, how much more clever and smart and practical he is than everyone else. But it’s clear to the reader that it’s the story of a man willingly abandoning his humanity.

    The interesting thing — and I guess it’s probably true of a lot of unreliable-narrator fiction — is that I can’t prove that this was a deliberate choice by the author (although I’m pretty certain it was). It could be that Tucker also thought he was telling the story of a clever badass in a world of weaklings, which would make Russell Gary the Rayford Steele of his world — an accidental study in dehumanization, a jerk despite both the character and the author believing otherwise.

    Bruce Willis eventually learned he was a ghost, but not every unreliable narrator comes to realize or admit his unreliability. In those cases, there is room for debate: unreliable narrator or just Bad Writing?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Interesting. Why do you think this was a deliberate attempt at an unreliable narrator? My experience with post-apocalyptic wasteland fiction is that an awful lot of it is written by people who want to write stories about clever badasses in worlds of weaklings, and don’t see anything wrong with being an opportunistic survive-at-all-costs wolf in human skin. I don’t think I’ve seen a story where the protagonist was such a person but the author was deliberately aware that, no, that is not actually ther Real True Proper ALpha Male Way for a person to be before, so that sounds interesting.

  • Jamoche

    Given it was written in the ’50s, that puts it in the initial post-nuclear wave when they were more inclined to be cautionary tales. My high school library had a lot of older SF short story collections so I know I’ve read some, just can’t recall titles or authors.

  • Vermic

    I can’t prove that Tucker intended to tell a different story than the one his protagonist was telling; it’s just a very strong impression I got from reading. I could certainly be wrong. At any rate, I think it’s a more interesting read when interpreted that way, whether the author intended it or not, and of course the same can also be said of Left Behind.

  • darchildre

    Looking at the wiki article on the book, it mentions that, at one point in the original draft, the author had the protagonist eat his mistress, but was convinced to change it for publication. Since cannibalism is pretty much universally frowned on, this would seem to give credence to your reading.

  • Nick Gotts

    A bit OT, but if you want a post-apocalyptic wasteland fiction that is nothing like that, I recommend George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949). The protagonist is a thoroughly decent man, an embryo academic before the plague hits, who tries but fails to preserve literacy and rationalism in the “tribe” that forms from the descendants of a handful of people. But it does inherit much of his decency.

  • DavidCheatham

    I was trying to figure out what sort of term describes Raymond, who is, in a way, the opposite of an anti-hero.

    I thought at first ‘anti-villain’, but that is the absolute opposite of what Raymond is. An anti-hero is a ‘bad person’ attempting to go a good goal, and thus an anti-villain is a ‘good person’ attempting a horrible goal.

    Anti-villains aren’t that common. But there’s actually a current example. Kira, the protagonist on the TV show Continuum, is one. She is a completely moral person who cares about others, who is a law enforcement officer, and is trying to make history turn out the way it originally did…so she can get back to 2077, to her fascist corporate-owned future with literal mind-control slavery. (Of course, the victors wrote history…and control the news…and make claims of ‘necessity’ that probably are untrue. She really doesn’t seem to understand how bad her future actually is for most people…and her goal of ensuring her son actually _exists_ is entirely sympathetic.)

    That is an interesting universe, but it’s not what we have here.

    What we’re _supposed_ to have is a universe where Raymond is internally a hero while pretending to be a villain. (The writers do not understand that such a thing is defined by _goals_, not ‘internal morality’…nor do they actually appear to understand how ‘internal morality’ works either.)

    What we’ve actually ended up with is a universe where Raymond is actually a villain internally, or at least an ass, but thinks he’s a hero. And externally he’s pretending to be a villain, while _actually_ being a NPC.

    This is, indeed, a fairly strange setup. Raymond is an …anti-NPC? Anti-heroic-bystander? It’s such a strange setup we don’t even have a _term_ for it. (And thanks to TV Tropes, we have a term for _everything_.) No one has ever deliberately written such a thing, where the protagonist is not actually a good person, has evil endgame, and does not even do anything to attempt to accomplish _that_.

    It probably wouldn’t even work if done deliberately. Maybe as some sort of character study, but not as an actual _plot_. It certainly can’t work when the writer doesn’t seem to realize what’s going on.

    Meanwhile, we do actually have an anti-hero. It’s Nicky. But that’s only because they made God into an outright villain. But you can’t really be an anti-hero (Or any sort of hero) unless the narrative admits you are one.

  • DavidCheatham

    I’ve got it! I figured out the term.

    Raymond is an anti-protagonist. (And Buck also.)

    They either are villain anti-protagonist, or possible anti-hero anti-protagonists. Depending if you think what they’re doing is a good goal or a bad goal. (As they’re not doing anything to effect the actual real problem of ‘this is the apocalypse’, it’s almost a moot point.)

    I personally, vote villain anti-protagonist, because they aren’t even sharing their knowledge or preparations with _their own church_.

    Anti-heros would be jerks who selfishly refuse to explain themselves or speak politely…but would secretly be planning to save as many people as possible. (And, due to self-loathing, probably wouldn’t even plan to save themselves.) Raymond and Buck are jerks who selfishly refuse to explain themselves or speak politely who…who are secretly planning to save _themselves_ and their wimmin. And no one else.

  • Apocalypse Review

    Pssst… Rayford. :)

    Otherwise your analysis is excellent, especially with regard to the analogy to Continuum. :)

  • ASG

    A couple of years ago, Harper’s magazine published a glorious piece on The Room, an earnest, overwrought drama that is much, much worse than it thinks it is and which has become a cult hit due to its surreal, almost sublime badness. (Seriously, look on YouTube: its badness will blow your MIND.) The article itself is behind a paywall, but it’s well worth finding a copy if you can, because it’s about as good a discussion as I’ve ever seen of the phenomenon of let’s call it the inverted or doubly-unreliable narrator — the story that thinks it’s doing one thing while subtextually doing something completely different. I strongly recommend the piece to anyone who’s still reading this thread, because it captures something amazing about the “unskilled and unaware of it” quality of the worst writers we know, and, by troubling extension, the ways in which we all think we’re above average while perhaps not interrogating quite as carefully as we should the ways in which we fail at kindness, leadership, generosity, wit, and so on. I believe we are called upon to question ourselves and try to overcome our weaknesses; the Tim LaHayes of the world, by contrast, double down; and that itself is a fascinating glimpse of the workings of sin.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X