Strange Days Indeed, Francis Wheen, Fourth Estate, London 2009



Another recent addition to the slew of 70's focused output emanating recently, Francis Wheen's 'Strange Days Indeed' is a jolly hopscotch across a multitude of cultural, artistic, social and political verisimilitudes. The focus is fragmented and fleeting, the tone is superficial and anecdotal, however this doesn't detract from the validity of Wheens vivid glimpses into a forgotten, or at best 'histormorphed' decade in post war memory. Wheen's delicate sensitivity towards the zeitgeist of the era and his talent for extracting engaging and textural narratives from the most mundane of political squabbles or the most detached ( through documentation ) periods of happenings is solely something that the books buoyancy rests on. Wheen often recalls various periods of the Nixon administration or Mao's regime with an almost personal familiarity towards the people involved despite himself being no more familiar ( personally familiar ) with Mao and his circle than the average arm chair historian. His recollections and narrations of situations that he's essentially disconnected to are often surprisingly insightful and where his only connection intellectually is through a thorough reading of various secondary texts his descriptions and observations are none the less gripping and poignant. The cynic within me cant help but wonder if this could be from a trickle down effect from various other theatricized accounts of such infamous periods in post war histories. This leaves me wondering if the the dramatization of various accounts are regurgitated regurgitations. The consequence being a very very enjoyable read with wonderfully vivid accounts of turbulent periods albeit unrealistic. This process of distilling drama from increasingly clouded realities is rewarding - and whole spheres of creative output hinge upon these mechanisms, but Wheen's self proposed aim is to show the threads of paranoia between the socio-polictical verisimilitudes of the 1970's. A more sober, lengthier more focused analysis may well discover such widespread paranoia - but instead Wheen has concocted a disjointed and fragmented analysis of  paranoia between the socio-polictical verisimilitudes of the accounts, histories and dramatizations of the 1970's! Perhaps the Francis Ford Coppola films, the A J Pakula films, the Nixonic legends, the plethora of 70's conspiracists are all too inextricable from Wheens subjects of focus? Perhaps these famous re-accounts of infamous scenes are his subject of focus? The answer is likely to be both.

   However a personal anecdote about a young barrister named Tony Blair who accompanied Wheen to a pub in High Holborn where he bought a packet of cigarettes and enjoyed a smoke at the bar ( yes thats right folks! ) holds as much poignance as any of Wheen's more proxied hypo-digesis concerning the petulant and illogical tantrums of a hyperchondriac Ms Mao, or a mad Nixon roaming across the White House lawns. In light of these fleeting glimpses into the 70's Britain that Wheen experienced first hand, hidden amidst the narrations of secondary texts of worlds he's never inhabited, are genuine and honest perspectives. I wish Wheen had attempted a more personal and honest account of his experience of the era, ideally almost auto-biographical. With Wheens talent for insightful observations and wonderfully shrewd recollections of contexts -  this would be so worthy and so vital. There are moments of such gems buried within regurgitated cultural strata of 'Strange Days Indeed', but the majority of the content is sadly re-accounts and re-tellings of familiar scenes. There are already towering examples of 70's dramatization and Wheen shouldn't compete, not because he cant, but because I feel he has something much more valuable to offer.  


   A certain co-incidence or perhaps a wonderfully deliberate meta-metaphor is embodied by Wheen's limbo between extra-diegesi's and personal recollections of his own experiences. Wheen often connects fiction with reality, the fiction or leaked smear stories becoming the foundation of real events, the endless memos of research between Robert Anton WIlson and Robert Shea eventually forming the 'Illuminatus!' trilogy, the paranoia and suspicion of men of power validated by the fact others were actually out to get them. The wonderful thought of Philip K Dick writing letters to the FBI and putting them in the trash can upon the conviction that they ( the FBI ) would get them no matter what - they didn't have to be posted. The thought of a senior aide yelling "Fuck J. Edgar Hoover!" at the beginning of some conversations before joking "just clearing the lines" - his assumption may well have been correct. These latter two paranoiacs could have well founded assumptions considering the explosion of The Age of Intelligence. 500,000 files on US citizens at FBI headquarters and "..the CIA kept an index of 1.5 million names taken from 250,000 letters it had illegally opened and photographed" - Certainly this was an age of muddling the lines between sanity and insanity, paranoia and suspicion... and real life events being confused with fiction and vice-a-versa. A wonderful occurrence in the Watergate Scandal is high-lighted by Wheen on page 118 - "Senator Ervin's committee needed an expert on bugging to assist its investigation, and it found just the man: Harold Lipset, who had recently been working for Francis Ford Coppola as a technical consultant on The Conversation.". This sums up Strange Days Indeed and its contents. The blurring of realities and fictions of the 1970's world told through extradiegesis' from secondary texts and derivatively dramatized/animated by the creative efforts of others. Its engaging and enthralling but not to be regarded as an authority on the truth. There is no truth, just many truths and Wheens own truth would be a great one i'm sure.



No comments:

Post a Comment