[Another blast from my pre-weblog, this one from 3 October 1995:]
I finally found my missing Humanities notebook (with the later cartoons in it) and that open box with a significant clutch of Reed papers. One of the things I turned up in that box were my Max Rafferty clippings, much damaged and worn over the years, but still there. Nobody remembers him now. I asked various people, but nobody could tell me who he was, and these were people who lived through the time. This is one guy who illustrates that proverb about everybody getting his fifteen minutes of fame. I’m writing this from memory, and maybe my facts are wrong, but as I recall he was a California educator running for public office in 1969, and a series of columns he wrote attacking various celebrities, along with the entire hippie movement, sort of caught on. A lot of papers carried them, and he was praised and celebrated by the people who liked that sort of thing. But like a nova, he quickly burned out. If I am not mistaken, he lost the election, he lost his following, and was quickly forgotten. I have a series of articles he wrote in 1971, suggesting that he tried a comeback, but I don’t think he caught on that time. He had used up his allotment and nobody seemed anxious for more.
And yet the puzzle isn’t why he vanished; the mystery is why he ever made the papers at all. He was an atrocious writer: “Heavy-lidded and dilated-nostriled, the stage messiah trod the boards, filling his palpitating admirers with delicious dreams of dubious dalliance, breathing sighs, telling lies.” “They didn’t dope themselves up and appear in public looking and acting like graduates of one of the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu’s more odorous opium dens.” “They project the fine, constructive public image of two sick termites gnawing spasmodically at the skirts of the Statue of Liberty.” And may I point out, this man was the California Superintendent of Public Instruction.
He wasn’t too hot on facts, either. About “Puff the Magic Dragon” he wrote “One best selling record in praise of marijuana is thinly disguised as a children’s nursery song.” Never mind that the writer knew nothing of marijuana when he wrote the song in the fifties. He had the Smothers Brothers persecuting others, when in fact they were the ones being persecuted. As the quotation above showed, he suffered from the illusion that the Statue of Liberty was made of wood.
Nor did he have the courage of his convictions. He avoided naming names, although we all were supposed to know who he was talking about. With an elephantine mock-coyness he hid behind this thin pretence of anonymity, shooting his shimmering shafts of lackluster wit against all-too-visible targets, while tiptoeing around the pitfalls of the laws against libel by making his descriptions so scurrilous that no one would want to admit to them. If one of the victims of his vile venom dared to fight back, he would have to admit himself to be one of the “reptilian, hissing and spitting apostles of hate” Rafferty spoke of. This preening and posturing prancing about in the minefields was not inspiring. It was not a pretty picture.
No doubt somebody admired his writing; no doubt some believed his lies; no doubt some found his evasiveness clever. I found him then, as now, depressing, though maybe my reasons have changed. It is sad to think that he wrote this trash just to win an election by pandering to public prejudices. If he really believed it, despite being an educated man and an educator, it is sadder still.
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