L.B.: SMA April 28, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 268-274

Wherein Buck and Steve watch TV, a couple of comic bits fall flat, and Nicolae tells the Beave, in detail, about his plans to bring the U.N. into accord with premillennial dispensationalist numerology.

Buck finally finishes his shower (this time he only spent five pages in the bathroom) and learns from Steve that NYPD detectives have just been by the office, looking for Buck. Apparently, his reputation as a workaholic has saved him this time — since it's around 10:30 p.m. and the police decided to check the office first instead of coming to his apartment.

They decide to stick with Buck's plan of asking Nicolae for help and they hop into a cab just as the police are pulling up outside of Buck's place. To prep for his "exclusive" interview with Carpathia, Buck wants to watch his prior interview on Nightline, so they head over to the home of Marge Potter, Steve's secretary and the Global Weekly den mother:

[Marge] said her husband like to watch his M*A*S*H rerun at that time of night but that she could talk him into taping it tonight.

Back when I lived in the Metro NY broadcast area, the M*A*S*H reruns were on at 11, ending before Nightline. But that's kind of a minor quibble compared with, say, the fact that Buck hasn't slept or eaten in the past 24 hours. The point of this, though, was to introduce Marge's husband as a "just folks" observer, someone who would show us the common person's reaction to Carpathia while injecting a bit of comic relief.

Marge's husband was none too pleased to be displaced from his favorite spot and his favorite show, but even he was intrigued when Nightline began. Carpathia was either a natural or well-coached. He looked directly into the camera whenever possible and appeared to be speaking to individual viewers.

The host, "Wallace Theodore," begins by saying that the live broadcasts of both of Carpathia's press conferences and his speech were replayed throughout the evening on all the news channels. "You've become a popular man in this country seemingly all at once," he says.

Carpathia smiled. "Like anyone from Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, I am amazed at your technology. I –"

"But isn't it true, sir, that your roots are actually in Western Europe? Though you were born in Romania, are you not by heritage actually Italian?"

"That is true, as it is true of many native Romanians. Thus the name of our country. But as I was saying about your technology. It is amazing, but I confess I did not come to your country to become or to be made into a celebrity. …"

The Romanian = Roman bit might work a little better if Nicolae's surname were not taken from a mountain range that's nowhere near Italy, or if there were any truth to the idea that many Romanians are ethnically Italian, but such inconvenient facts don't matter as much as the requirements of the Bible Prophecy Antichrist Identification System, which calls for a Roman Antichrist. I'm also not convinced that Nicolae's feigned "amazement" at the technological marvel of broadcast television makes him seem either "a natural or well-coached," but let's move on to Wally Ted's next question:

"But is it not true that you just came from a photo session with People magazine?"

"Yes, but I –"

"And is it not also true that they have already named you their newest Sexiest Man Alive?"

The idea here ain't bad: People declaring the Antichrist the Sexiest Man Alive. That's got potential. The annual honor is, itself, inherently funny, and juxtaposing it here with the avatar of pure evil ought to provide rich raw material for comedy.

"I do not know what that means, really," Nicolae protests before contradicting himself, "… and I was under the impression that they do the sexy-man coverage in January each year, so it is too early for next year and too close to this year's."

The title was, indeed, given out in January of 1995. It seems that Jenkins actually broke with his usual practice and looked this up. When you consider the multitude of factual and geographical errors in this book that could easily have been avoided with the slightest effort at research, the fact that he took the extra step to make sure he got this right is deeply odd.

Oh, and he didn't quite get this right, either. It seems 1995 was an unusual year for People, and the annual honor is not usually done in January (here's the complete list).

The Cleaver Brothers point out that Nicolae's off-schedule coronation is an even bigger deal than usual. "People magazine is breaking tradition by, in effect, unseating their current sexiest man and installing you in his place," he says.

All of which might be funny if L&J hadn't tried to spring this joke here, a mere one week to the day after the Event.

We're told that the reigning Mr. Sexy, a "young singing star," had gotten into trouble for trashing a hotel room, so the magazine was looking for a face-saving replacement. It would have fit in better with the previous 250 pages if the incumbent SMA had disappeared during the Event, though of course any acknowledgment of those disappearances would also spoil the joke.

Think for just a few seconds about what the first few post-Event editions of People magazine would look like. You'd have pages profiling those celebrities (in the expansively elastic, People-sense of the term) who were among the disappeared, including tastefully mournful coverage of the "heartache" now facing the parents of every child-star in the world. Think about the unbridled frenzy of coverage given to little Suri Cruise or to the newly adopted children of "Branjelina." Now imagine all those strangely named celebrity babies suddenly vanished. Do you really think that even Nightline, let alone People, would be able to spare a moment's notice for a speech at the U.N. by the president of Romania?

Beaver moves on to a different subject:

"How do you respond to those who say you skirted protocol and that your elevation to the presidency in Romania was partially effected by strong-arm tactics?"

"I would say that that is the perfect way to attack a pacifist, one who is committed to disarmament not only in Romania and the rest of Europe but also globally."

"So you deny having a business rival murdered seven years ago and using intimidation and powerful friends in America to usurp the president's authority in Romania?"

Well, unlike Buck it seems the folks at ABC News have actually done a bit of homework on this guy before their interview. Fortunately for Nicolae, Wallace Theodore subscribes to the Tim Russert school of interviews. He asks "tough" questions, but doesn't bother to follow up when the interviewee dodges them:

"The so-called murdered rival was one of my dearest friends, and I mourn him bitterly to this day."

That's a non-denial denial, but it satisfies Theodore, as well as Buck and Steve watching the interview on TV. Col. Potter is particularly impressed:

Marge's husband growled, "This Roman kid is light on his feet."

"Romanian," Marge corrected.

"I heard him say he's a full-blood Eye-talian," her husband said. …

Ah, nothing like over-broad comic relief. But I wonder, could we make this less funny by making it even broader?

"I heard him say he's a full-blood Eye-talian," her husband said. Marge winked at Steve and Buck.

There it is, the prose version of a laugh track. Fortunately, this is the last we ever see of Mr. Potter.

Not-Ted-Koppel then asks a few open-ended questions about Nicolae's larger plan and vision and we're treated to two opaque pages outlining the details of his scheme for U.N. reform leading to global disarmament: He wants a security council of 10 permanent members instead of five, and he wants to get rid of the veto power held by the current permanent members replacing it with a system in which all votes must be unanimous. (I don't understand how that's different from giving everyone the veto power, but he seems to think it is.)

There's no real rationale for the changes Nicolae is seeking other than the authors' attempt to reconcile the structure of the U.N. with their interpretation of the numerology in the book of Revelation. I tried to follow the rest of the details of his plan, but frankly, St. John's fever-dream visions made more sense than this section of LB. The bottom line seems to be that Nicolae wants the world to disarm completely, destroying 90 percent of all weaponry and "donating" the remaining 10 percent to the United Nations.

Here again what we are told cannot be reconciled with what we are shown. Nicolae, we are told, is preternaturally charismatic, "the consummate politician" and even the "Sexiest Man Alive." See if you can hold that in your head at the same time as the following:

Carpathia went on to educate the audience that it was in 1965 that the U.N. amended its original charter to increase the Security Council from 11 to 15. …

"Sir, where did you get your encyclopedic knowledge of the U.N. and world affairs?"

"We all find time to do what we really want to do. This is my passion."

This is the ultra-charismatic Sexiest Man Alive? He sounds more like the Guy You Don't Want to Get Stuck Next to at a Dinner Party. He could at least have said, "This is my passion. That and rock climbing."

NTK asks if Nicolae is seeking "a leadership role in the European Common Market," but he denies he is seeking any such office. "Romania is not even a member," he says (which was true in 1995, but not anymore).

I should point out here that the European Common Market has long been a favorite bugbear of PMD Bible "prophecy" seminars. Hal Lindsey, whose apocalyptic best-sellers of the 1970s helped to create the market for the Left Behind series, was somewhat obsessed with trying to reconcile the membership of the ECM with St. John's numerology. Its seven members corresponded to the seven hills in Revelation. Its 10 members corresponded to the 10-horned beast. Its 11 members corresponded to the 10-horned beast and to the little horn. … (It's possible he's still at this. Such interpretations seem to be infinitely pliable. For example, the European Union today has 27 member states. Revelation 13:1 describes the beast out of the sea: "He had 10 horns and seven heads, with 10 crowns on his horns." 10 + 7 + 10 = 27. What else could this passage possibly mean?)

Part of the subtext here may be L&J taking a swipe at Lindsey. Of course the beast in Revelation 13 isn't a reference to the European Union. That's just silly. Clearly the U.N. Security Council was what St. John had in mind.

Carpathia concludes his interview with this rallying cry:

"We must disarm, we must empower the United Nations, we must move to one currency, and we must become a global village."

What he never explains, of course, is why "we must" do any of these things. The world is traumatized, still reeling from an unprecedented and incomprehensible disaster, so the situation is ideal for the rise of a demagogue. But every demagogue needs an enemy, a "them" for "us" to rally against.

It's relatively easy to get frightened people to rally around a call to arms, but a call for universal disarmament is likely to be met with a bit more skepticism. Nicolae's urgent plea for disarmament seems particularly poorly timed. A paragraph of technobabble about electromagnetism isn't likely to overcome the suspicion that the earth has just been attacked. That being the case, most people wouldn't be particularly inclined, just now, to get rid of their defenses.

Nicolae can't even appeal to the concerns that fuel real-world calls for nuclear disarmament, since in the world of LB, nuclear apocalypse has already been unleashed and nobody got hurt. Now you've got a situation in which one former nuclear superpower has already been completely disarmed and in which the world has learned that full-scale nuclear war isn't so bad after all, so who's going to listen to some Romanian calling for universal disarmament and an end to national sovereignty?

It's not just that I don't find Nicolae's plea persuasive, it's that I don't find it persuasive that anyone would find it persuasive.

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