Because I live in L.A.’s bohemian Silver Lake neighborhood and this is an election year, I regularly get invited to Bush-bashing parties by people who assume I’m a fellow traveler. (For some reason, the notion of a female Republican who doesn’t look like Phyllis Schlafly seems difficult for many liberals to comprehend.) Usually I politely decline, for obvious reasons.
But there’s something to be said for seeing the other side in action now and then. So when my old friend Adam Parfrey, who runs the cult L.A. publishing company Feral House, invited me to a double-header election-year salon Saturday night featuring the author of the Feral House book 50 Reasons Not to Vote For Bush, followed by a speaker from the anti-nuke group Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), I decided to go.
Besides, Adam’s fantastically eccentric Snow White’s castle of a house–it was built in the ’20s by a Disney set designer–is something to see, although the framed oil portrait of Stalin over the fireplace, lit with candles like a shrine, doesn’t always go over well.
“He means it ironically,” I explained to an appalled party guest, an anti-Communist Leftie who lived in Eastern Europe for a while and considers Stalin no joke. But even though I was sorry she was offended, I’m glad to be reminded that not everyone on the left is a Stalin apologist.
Some background: Although Adam once described himself as a “pot-smoking Green Party member,” Feral House’s catalogue of conspiracy theories, serial-killer art, crime-scene photography, and stomach-turning sex cults manages to offend across the political spectrum. He may be on the left, but it’s the libertarian Left.
Last year I helped organize an L.A. Press Club party for It’s a Man’s World, a Feral House collection of post-WW II men’s magazine art, and found that many feminists boycotted the event because they were offended by the book’s pulp-magazine illustrations of Nazis terrorizing half-naked women. But I think there’s something to be said for reducing totalitarian evil to kitsch, a la The Producers.
“Everything the establishment extols as comfortable and right and good makes me sick,” Adam once told the ‘zine Cyber-Psychos. The Village Voice, in a mostly positive review of the sequel to the Feral House perennial favorite Apocalypse Culture, described Adam scoldingly as “a Luciferian Noam Chomsky [known for] mean-spirited ‘retard’-bashing, his seeming endorsement of wetbrained conspiracy theories about Waco, and his creepy coziness with neo-Nazis.” (Full disclosure: Adam is not only an old friend, he was many years ago my boyfriend. Also, Adam’s brother Jonathan is an earnest, straight-arrow leftie peace activist who’s long been involved in the Catholic Worker community and is executive director of PSR’s L.A. chapter; thus, the anti-nuke part of the evening.)
I didn’t quite have the stomach to be the only Bush supporter in the room, so I invited my friend Peter Stuart, a documentary filmmaker who’s recently moved back to L.A. after almost 20 years in Paris and London, where his TV program Eurotrash was something of a small-screen version of a Feral House book. Peter is also the co-writer and director of the punk documentary Another State of Mind, which recently celebrated its 20th-anniversary at the L.A. Film Festival.
Superficially, Peter and Adam are two peas in the pod (although they’d never met before this evening), with their background in ’80s punk culture and shared taste for the transgressive. Peter, in fact, has long collected Feral House books, and often used to horrify his wife by hauling out the serial-killer volumes to share with dinner party guests. But seeing the rise of Islamofascism up close in Europe moved him hard to the right, and now he always seems to be getting into it with someone.
He made an effort to remain politely quiet during the anti-Bush speeches, though, saying nothing even as 50 Reasons Not to Vote For Bush author Robert Sterling listed some rather absurd reasons: “He stole the election, he’s a recovering alcoholic, his Granddaddy was Hitler’s American banker, he knew [in advance] about 9/11.” But when Sterling suggested that military troops are underfunded “so all the profits can go to Halliburton,” Peter raised his hand and pointed out mildly that “actually, the $87 billion you’re referring to was for rebuilding Iraq. So that’s a little different, isn’t it?”
When a woman in the audience began reflexively laughing at the mention of “Christian fundamentalists,” though, Peter turned to her and snapped, “What’s funny about Christian fundamentalists? Are Islamic fundamentalists funny too?”
But that was as tetchy as things got. What actually cheered me about the evening was that not everyone in the devoutly anti-Bush crowd was entirely sympathetic to the speakers. My French journalist friend Emmanuelle Richard, an L.A. correspondent for Liberation Publications, began shaking her head in disgust as PSR’s Bruce Gagnon complained that “the Pentagon expects people across the world to lift the totalitarian boot off their neck–but when they do, they’re called terrorists,” and that China would never attack the U.S. because Wal-Mart is such a good customer for made-in-China products.
PSR’s position that even non-military use of nuclear power is evil, along with anything developed by “the military-industrial complex,” didn’t go over so well either. A screenwriter raised his hand and pointed out he has a boat, and global-positioning satellites come in mighty handy at sea. And I caught Spinsanity’s Ben Fritz rolling his eyes, although the new Spinsanity book All the President’s Spin is not exactly Bush-friendly.
It was hard for me to hold my tongue when Gagnon asked “What does it say about us as a nation that our number one export is weapons?” Because I think the obvious answer is, “It says, Don’t Tread on Me.” But I realized shouting that out would be impolite, and I felt I should do my part to counter the prevailing notion in my neighborhood that Republicans are all obnoxious blowhards.
Perhaps I did, a little. “If only all Republicans were like you,” someone told me later.
I should add that Adam, despite the whiff of sulfur that surrounds his reputation, is a courteous and perfectly genial host. His only complaint about Peter and me was that at one point we stood too close on the patio to the property next door, and he worried about disturbing the people there. For a Luciferian Noam Chomsky, he’s an excellent neighbor.
–Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.