Friday, February 10, 2006


The Irony Age: State of Fear wins Journalism Award

When Hesiod, that wise man of ancient Greece, looked back into the dim recesses of time he thought he could discern five great ages of human history: the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age, and Iron Age.

RSR, though not nearly so wise as Hesiod, believes we are now living through a new era: the Irony Age. One of the key characteristics of the Irony Age is the turning of fact into fiction, and fiction into fact. We've commented here repeatedly over the past year about the ID movement's conflation of science with dogma and dogma with science.

Now there's been a striking parallel development in the popular culture that may, in the end, become one of those memorable little events that, when we look back from the future, turn out to be one of the defining events of this new Age of Irony.

Just a few short weeks ago, James Frey, author of the best-selling memoir -- and Oprah Book Club selection -- A Million Little Pieces, was publicly taken to task by Oprah on national television for having passed off his highly fictionalized account of addiction and recovery as a work of non-fiction.

"My mistake, and it is one I deeply regret," Frey later wrote in an author's note to be included in future editions of the book, "is writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience."

Yesterday, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists announced it will present its annual journalism award to novelist Michael Crichton for two books, State of Fear and Jurassic Park, at the group's annual convention in Houston in April.

Crichton's latest techno-thriller, State of Fear, casts environmentalists who call attention to the dangers of climate change as terrorists. Crichton's tree-hugging Al Qaeda conspire to calve a giant iceberg from the Antarctic continent; generate terrible storms and flash floods in the US; and trigger a Pacific tidal wave.

State of Fear will undoubtedly convince many who are unfamiliar with the overwhelming evidence that the case for global warming is weak. In an appendix to the novel, Crichton warns of the dangers of politicized science.

Go ahead and say we have no taste, but we like Chrichton. We've passed any number of cosy, rainy-day afternoons reading, with guilty pleasure, his fast-paced thrillers, including the two that won the Petroleum Geologist's journalism award, Jurassic Park and State of Fear. Like other reviewers, however, we find his one-dimensional characters less than convincing.

Red State Rabble feels a bit under-qualified to write with any confidence about climate change, but, as a writer with an advanced degree in English -- and a personal history we'll reveal in a moment -- we have no such compunction about analyzing the characters Crichton has created in his mind to stand in for environmentalists in State of Fear.

Crichton opens his novel with the assassination Jonathan Marshall, a graduate student in physics who works at the "ultra-modern Laboratoire Ondulatoire -- a wave mechanics laboratory -- of the French Marine Institute in Vissy, just north of Paris."

Crichton describes the woman, an environmental activist, who lures Marshall to her apartment in order to extract information before killing him with an exotic poison, as having "dark skin, high cheekbones, and black hair, she might have been a model. And she strutted like a model in her short skirt and spike heels."

At that point, we were only a couple of paragraphs into the novel, but Crichton had already lost us. The novel's verisimilitude had been shattered into a million little pieces. We found ourselves utterly unable to suspend our sense of disbelief from that point on.

That's because, in our formative years, RSR dated any number of environmentalists, radical feminists. and other assorted do-gooders. Many of these women, like Crichton's assassin, were quite good looking. Better, they were interesting and exciting to be around. Some wore hiking boots, and some wore Birkenstocks. Some wore ballet flats. We've even known environmentalists who wore Dr. Scholl's exercise sandals. But anyone who knows anything about the environmental movement knows you'd never catch any self-respecting tree-hugger in spike heels.

Crichton's inability to create multi-dimensional characters, which is demonstrated beyond any doubt by his clumsy caricature of environmentalists as terrorists, provides a mirror with which to examine the weaknesses in his argument that global warming is a dangerous fraud. It doesn't take long to conclude that neither are believable.

Like Frey, Crichton has constructed characters, and a case against the science of global warming, that exist only in the author's mind. We now have fiction as memoir, and fiction as journalism. To our way of thinking, neither works.

In the writing seminars RSR used to attend as a graduate student, we talked of writing fiction as a way of getting at deeper truths. The problem with Frey and Crichton is that they've turned this process on its head. Each has held up a mirror, not to show us the world as it really is, but as they wish it was. And, in doing so, each has entered into an abusive relationship with their craft.


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