Notes from a Malcontent
“I never wanted to kill. I am not naturally evil. Such things I do just to make myself more attractive to you.”
Morrissey, The Last of the Famous International Playboys
None of Morrissey’s recent albums have melted my heart with his sardonic wit and frequently homoerotic lyrics. I have come to grips with the fact MTV has decided to pass on Gregg Araki’s series This is How the World Ends. Bourgeois and club gays are increasingly palatable to mainstream society since Will and Grace and Queer as Folk have stepped up to represent the 10% in popular media.
I am happy there are gay themed television shows that have entered the public consciousness, but this does not negate the homophobia that has also remains in that consciousness. We cannot forget that Eric Burns on Fox News Watch can say that being gay is a very negative thing and that being outed is by far the worst excess of journalism without being seriously rebuked by the discussion panel. Sexual minorities have made progress but TV shows and beer ads only show that companies view them as a commercially viable group.
Queers remain viable only so long as they remain innocuous to the mainstream or safely distant in the gay ghetto. It is for this reason I crave more controversial permutations of queer identity. Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the radical drag documentary Third Antenna have offered me some respite. I respect and appreciate gender bending on an aesthetic and intellectual level but what I really want is something even more controversial thing. I want a gay man who knows how to kick ass. I want a gay man who steps into the traditional role of American antihero, and does not remain just a few feet from the closet.
James Robert Baker’s novel Anarchy provides just such an outlet for my radical queer desires. Anarchy exhibits not only the all out gay as malcontent radical stance of Greg Araki’s The Living End or Stephen Beachy’s Distortion but also provides a more complex social theology.
As exciting as the novel is, it was unfortunately edited posthumously. I am normally reticent about the practice of editors tinkering with rough manuscripts after the death of an author. I am filled with the dread image of the editor dressed in black twisting his handle bar mustache, as the innocent manuscript lies bound to his desk with no protection from the red pen racing towards it. The author is gone and cannot protect his original intent. However, the editor Scott Brassart was remarkably careful. Anarchy was originally a longer and unruly work entitled Mean Beach; Brassart was able to cull a strong story from the rough manuscript while staying close to the intent. His alterations are near seamless. There is only one reference to our current president that seems if not out of place than too contemporary to have been in the original manuscript.
Anarchy has the narrative texture of a Tom Robbins novel but there is more heft than merely an outlandish plot of convenient coincidences and colorful characters. It is a heart felt reaction against the troubles in our society. Baker’s enemies are all the vestiges of the twentieth century’s harsh conflicts. Specters, which linger even to this day. The Russian Mafia, German Neo-Nazis are manifestations of the external empires America had to fight by gun by proxy and by media. Christian fundamentalist and Hollywood bigots represent the moral oppression not only by institutions like the Hays Code but also the media manipulation of the populace from every news outlet from CNN to CBN.
Anarchy follows the tradition of the wish fulfillment novel. It is honestly the best example of this genre since Hadrian VII by Frederick Rolfe (and possibly the best and under-printed book about a smoking malcontent who becomes pope.) In a similar vein, Baker envisions himself with a vast influence like Rolfe albeit less official and not rooted in the closet. Baker uses his influence, and quite often a gun to ameliorate the issues he finds most concerning, and pragmatically make a profit.
Anarchy in its entire narrative arch is a great retelling of the old hero myth that has been refurbished for the early twenty first century. Certainly Lord Raglan and Joseph Campbell would recognize the protagonist as the hero with a thousand faces. He is even killed and reborn to make way for the Second Coming by killing God since, “God gave him (Christ) an excruciating death and brought him back here (Heaven). And since that time, Christ has been imprisoned by his father.” Overcoming death and God puts Baker up there with all the great heroes from Adonis to Spawn.
Anarchy is a compelling read for anyone who is fond of Queer New Wave, or just wants a thrilling read. James Robert Baker and Scott Brassart have created a work that transcends contemporary sit-com sexuality, and which will remain poignant as the face of popular culture changes.
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