David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Damaging Bunkum


Nil de mortuis nisi bunkum, as the ancient Romans so well expressed the decorum that anyone writing an obituary about the recent dead should keep in mind. The death of Gore Vidal spurred The Times of London yesterday into a magnificent outburst of bunkum. The paper carried five items about him, a two page obituary, an editorial with the title “The Best Man,” and no less than three separate articles, and all of it eulogy.

Here is an outstanding example of the way the media manipulate public opinion and so create fake reputations. Vidal became a media mascot by imputing every sort of evil to his own country. That’s what they want to hear out there, isn’t it, that the United States is going down, and deserves to, though it’s taking the world with it. Besides, Vidal was connected to some upper class people, so he must have been telling it like it is. One of the Times eulogists heard a critic on television describe his novels as meretricious. To which Vidal responded, “meretricious — and a happy new year.” Someone will have to explain to me why this journalist thinks that ranks Vidal as a wit the equal of Oscar Wilde.

For the record, I have never succeeded in reading more than a few pages of a Vidal novel. Twice I have been sent books of his to review, and twice I had to return them because there is nothing to them except concealed boasting. Devoid of interest in anything human, the writer’s voice oppresses. For the record again, I can’t remember meeting anyone so full of himself as Vidal. Oozing self-love, he was insufferable. I crossed the room to avoid him. The bunkum will fade fast, but it has done the damage of keeping out better writers and making a travesty out of what long ago was a living culture.


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