Thursday, May 6, 2021

Hall of Mirrors

 

When the Internet is used as an instrument of “affirmation, repetition, and contagion,” it is deadly to promote an alternate reality in its hall of mirrors. 

 After Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Trump’s culpability seemed abundantly clear.  During momentary “weakness” even political insiders who had publicly supported Trump such as Mitch McConnell expressed that view.  But that was then.  Since, the pro-Trump propaganda machine has kept its shoulder to the wheel and behold, today most Republicans still believe the election was “stolen,” and at least half believe that Trump bears no responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Also since then Republican State legislators have gone to work, to “make elections fair” and to “stop voter fraud.”  Indeed, this disenfranchises minorities which would seem to be the major issue.    As important, it gives subliminal credence to the unfounded claim of voter fraud and a kind of legitimacy to Jan. 6, at least in the minds of the True Believers,

How can this be when our very own eyes and all evidence refute both points? 

I have referenced before the pioneering work of Gustave Le Bon and his 1895 classic The Crowd; A Study of the Popular Mind.  I read this in college and never forgot it. I still have my old paperback edition, with all my original notes and underlinings; strange to look through it some sixty years later in an effort to understand today.

This was written even before radio.  I can only imagine what Le Bon would say about the Internet, other that it merely magnifies the ease in which an obvious falsehood can seize the popular mind, an alternate reality taking on the trappings of the truth.  Read the words of this man talking to us from 1895 and decide for yourself how these beliefs can possibly be. 

This is an excerpt from Le Bon’s work with some passages truncated just to get to the heart of the matter:

When…it is proposed to imbue the mind of a crowd with ideas and beliefs…the leaders have recourse to different expedients. The principal of them are three in number and clearly defined--affirmation, repetition, and contagion. Their action is somewhat slow, but its effects, once produced, are very lasting.

Affirmation pure and simple, kept free of all reasoning and all proof, is one of the surest means of making an idea enter the mind of crowds. The conciser an affirmation is, the more destitute of every appearance of proof and demonstration, the more weight it carries….

Affirmation, however, has no real influence unless it be constantly repeated, and so far as possible in the same terms. It was Napoleon, I believe, who said that there is only one figure in rhetoric of serious importance, namely, repetition. The thing affirmed comes by repetition to fix itself in the mind in such a way that it is accepted in the end as a demonstrated truth.

The influence of repetition on crowds is comprehensible when the power is seen which it exercises on the most enlightened minds. This power is due to the fact that the repeated statement is embedded in the long run in those profound regions of our unconscious selves in which the motives of our actions are forged. At the end of a certain time we have forgotten who is the author of the repeated assertion, and we finish by believing it….

When an affirmation has been sufficiently repeated and there is unanimity in this repetition...what is called a current of opinion is formed and the powerful mechanism of contagion intervenes. Ideas, sentiments, emotions, and beliefs possess in crowds a contagious power as intense as that of microbes….Contagion is so powerful that it forces upon individuals not only certain opinions, but certain modes of feeling as well….The opinions and beliefs of crowds are specially propagated by contagion, but never by reasoning...

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

To Publish or to “Un-Publish” – That is the Question

 

A friend called yesterday after it was announced that Blake Bailey’s Philip Roth: The Biography had been withdrawn from circulation although just recently published by WW Norton and Company.  Bailey is now accused of being a sexual predator.  In effect, the book is being declared out of print as a consequence of the accusation alone. My friend knows I am a former publisher and correctly thought I must have an opinion on the matter. He was right, although I’ve been away from the publishing scene for some twenty years now.

In full disclosure, I was a “fan” of Blake Bailey’s biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates (two of my favorite writers), and had praised them in this blog. 

In fact, I was hoping Bailey would be John Updike’s biographer, who, along with Roth, I considered to be the two most important writers of my generation.  But the son (Adam Begley) of another favorite writer (Louis Begley) had an inside track on that and as it turns out Adam Begley’s Updike biography measures up to the work Bailey has done.

So (to me) it was logical someone of Bailey’s stature in the literary biography world would be a leading candidate for Roth’s.  I do not know the ins and outs of how Norton, Roth, and Bailey got together, but I have grave doubts it is, as some have contended, one misogynist finding another, a marriage made in cancel culture heaven.

I have always purchased the hard cover editions of literary biographies of the writers most important to me, but because of the sheer size of the Roth biography, and the fact that I had hoped to read it on our travels after COVID shots set us free, I purchased the Kindle edition.  I now live in fear that Amazon will be forced to “withdraw” those already purchased and refund the $$, Norton making Amazon whole.  Could that be?  Seems Orwellian, but so do the past five years, no make it ten plus starting with the Tea Party and now culminating in the post Trump era with the anti-vaxxers vs. the vaxxers. 

I was primarily an academic publisher and as such we published books from all over the political spectrum.  If we had to run police records on all our authors, and I published more than 10,000 titles in my career, I’m sure we would have found some unsavory people on our list.  But no, provided the author documented his/her arguments, be they conservative or liberal on the political spectrum, we published the work.  We also published works on and/or by people who I would not want as a friend and I’m sure there were misogynists among them, but hopefully no axe murderers.  

I confess that we didn’t have to deal with the kind of high profile cases trade publishers do.  I never liked the business of “trade” meaning books that have potentially wide readership, sold in bookstores and now Amazon, and are sometimes published in large editions or subsequent editions, such as Roth’s biography.  Trade publishers, when publishing non-fiction, want to have a popular subject or writer as they have to compete not only with other books, but with media in general, everything demanding one’s time.  So, the more controversial the better! 

The trade publishing world is now considering cancelling planned publications of some of the people from the Trump administration.  I think it is fine for a trade publisher to take a political position, but thankfully there is always another one with the opposite position.  Imagine if the “me too” or the “cancel culture” was able to dictate not only what should be published in any form by any publisher or what books already in circulation should be declared out of print?   We’d probably lose a majority of the classics.  This is a symbolic form of book burning that only fascists might applaud.

No, there is only one answer to publishing these works in general:  it’s called the 1st Amendment.  If someone chooses not to read the Roth biography as he/she neither likes the subject nor the author, don’t buy the book!  If it’s proven that Bailey is the monster he is accused of being, let the courts decide what to do with the royalties.


 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

“Not with a bang but a whimper”

 

I quote the famous last stanza of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” as it has such relevancy today.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper

This vile pandemic has claimed lives, the means of making a living, disrupting every aspect of our entire society.  The tragedies that ensue have been a tsunami of pain and heartbreak.  More than a half million lives lost in the US alone, and the impact on small business, and all the people they employ incalculable. Restaurants, the arts and all the other service industries have been particularly hard hit, rendering actors, technicians, waiters, kitchen staff, hairdressers, unemployed.  One such victim is our beloved Double Roads Tavern in Jupiter where we were regulars for years to enjoy their Sunday night jazz sessions.  I’ve written about the restaurant in these pages and my Twitter feed on Sundays frequently highlighted a brief clip of performances.  They give a sense of the restaurant’s community experience and the high quality jazz they sponsored on Sunday nights.  Vince Flora and his wife Kelly opened the restaurant in 2014.  Vince frequently played on the DR stage with his rhythm and blues band, Big Vince and the Phat Cats .

The Palm Beach Post tells the story at this link. 

I would be remiss in not covering the closing in this blog as it has been an important part of our lives, and so many others.  My wife, Ann, said it best in a heartfelt letter to Kelly:

Dear Kelly,

It was such a pleasure getting to know you a little and seeing that gorgeous smile during the several years we were regulars at your Sunday Night Jazz Fests.  You always saved our favorite table, right in front of Rick and the band.  I loved seeing Cherie too, who always gave us a hug.  We never knew who we were going to see, from little Ava Faith to an eye-popping, sophisticated Ava only a few years later belting out the standards like a pro.  We met Yvette Norwood Tiger there and still follow her very successful career, booking her Palm Beach International Jazz Festival from its beginning.

We met Mike and Linda at your Club, a very fortuitous friendship as they insisted we consider joining them on the weeklong Jazz Cruise in early 2020.  We did and it was the highlight of a most dismal year.  Thanks to them, we saw Emmet Cohen again on board the ship, a young brilliant and charismatic jazz pianist we had seen once in a NY Jazz club and totally flipped over.  He has held Monday night jam sessions in his NY apartment on YouTube which we never miss.  That lifted our spirits during this Pandemic.  And it’s all thanks to you guys and Double Roads!

Once COVID hit, Bob and I went into quarantine on March 12th and never left the house for most of the year.  That hurt us too, as it meant the end of our standing Sunday night Jazz dates.

Now I can only imagine what you and Vince are going through, closing what was a labor-of-love restaurant/dive/bar/music hangout.  Whatever you two decide to do, wherever you go, I’m sure your hundreds and hundreds of faithful customers will follow. I wish you good luck and good health.  You contributed so much to our well being that we will never forget you.

Fondly,

Ann & Bob

P.S. we LOVED your hamburgers!

I think of that tragedy as being emblematic of the larger issue, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and the infinite number of similar wide ranging effects of the pandemic with an overwhelming sense of sadness and anger: as a nation we failed.  Period.  While it would have been impossible to avoid the impact completely, it could have been ameliorated by not denying it and listening to science, and following their recommendations scrupulously.  How many lives were needlessly lost as a consequence?  Even one is too many if the result of negligence. We must hold our leaders accountable.

The saddest part is we are still fighting a cultural war using the pandemic as the battle ground, the anti-vaxxers taking up Trumpism.  How can we reach herd immunity when “leaders,” such as our Governor DeSantis, comes out against some form of “vaccination passport?”  One anti-vaxxer wrote a letter to the editor of the Palm Beach Post, asking that vaccinated people “respect” her “right” not to be vaccinated and not to segregate her from public venues. It was a reasonable letter, but the logic deeply flawed.  I tried to write an equally reasonable letter to the editor, but it turned into an essay so they published it as a “guest columnist.”  Here is the link but as they sometimes do not allow non subscribers to view, I include a photograph of the column.


Will we be forced to live with this virus for the foreseeable future due to “perceived” personal liberties?  In a rational society, that would seem unthinkable, but we’ve lived with outdated gun laws for decades due to the same problem.  There are now so many of these mass killings that I’ve given up writing about more sensible gun control laws, particularly to eliminate military style weaponry (which was not the intent of the Second Amendment).  Is this America’s future, an uncontrolled pandemic, wearing masks, having high hospitalization rates, those injured by gun assaults lying next to those with COVID?  Mass burials?  Are we already spiritually dead as Eliot implies in his poem?

Perhaps this is how a once great society, a representative democracy formerly the envy of the world, finally implodes.  “Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Saturday, April 3, 2021

‘So We Can See to See’ – The Belle of Amherst

Margery Lowe as Emily Dickinson
The heading is a variation on the final line of one of Emily Dickinson’s best known poems,” I heard a Fly buzz - when I died.”  A joint production by Palm Beach Dramaworks and Actors’ Playhouse of this well known play shines a bright new light into the very soul of the enigmatic poet so we can see to see her art and Emily, the passionate human being. 

In full disclosure, I feel a personal association with everything Emily.  In college I found myself memorizing several of her poems, or even parts of ones, which opened to truths so transparent that it literally took my breath away. 

I grew up in the Northeast and so did she, although her locale was New England’s Amherst whereas mine was New York City’s Borough of Queens.  One would think they have nothing in common, but when I read the first stanza of poem 320, “There's a certain Slant of light, / Winter Afternoons –/ That oppresses, like the Heft / Of Cathedral Tunes –“ it hit me in the solar plexus.  I know that light.  I have experienced it, and to actually feel it from literature left a never ending impression and I became a reader of Emily Dickinson.  I felt she spoke to me; and the truths about life and death.  What a wise, worldly poet I initially thought, not fully knowing that her wisdom came strictly from within.

The Belle of Amherst was meticulously researched by William Luce who only recently passed away.  He wrote it in the mid 1970s inspired by the actress who would play the role on Broadway, Julie Harris, who is closely identified with the play and one can still see it on YouTube.  But when I heard Dramaworks was contemplating a filmed version of a fully realized, staged rendition staring Margery Lowe, I was intrigued.

If William Luce could see this rendition he would undoubtedly approve.  In addition to his brilliant integration of 19th century sensibility with Dickinson’s letters and poems, this production breathes real life into the character and her setting.  One would never know there is only one woman on the stage.

Margery Lowe is not only a doppelganger for Emily; she played her in a two-hander premiere at Dramaworks in 2018, Edgar and Emily. That work was light hearted, comic in many ways, and although she was a great Emily, you really didn’t get to know her as you do in Luce’s play.  Lowe is also a “deep diver” into research and she probably knows Emily as few do.  It shows in this production.

Lowe emphasizes that aspect of Emily which is filled with life and expectations and the acceptance of her obscurity as a poet, although secretly hoping for publication.  She has her “words” and words are her life.  Yes, she must seek “the best words” and they swirl all about in her observations of nature, light, love, and the routines of living as well as the inevitability of death. 

An actor’s life can be erratic, filled with uncertainty as casting calls for ideal parts are not in their direct control, but Margery Lowe’s portrayal of Emily IS her ideal role, and although I have seen her perform in many roles over the years, this is the one I will always remember.

I think the fact that this is a one woman show might be lost on the virtual audience because of the Director’s vision.  Bill Hayes doesn’t see this Emily as a shy reclusive intellectual, but, instead, a passionate observer, almost to the point of breathlessness, her mischievous side, capturing her vivaciousness but alas her vulnerability as well.  And she’s a great cook (her own opinion)!  As such he has her moving to and fro, from her writing desk, to her bed, to the parlor, sitting on the floor with her scraps of writing and her finished poems.  And she is delivering dialog not only to the audience, and to herself, but to friends and family, one sided; of course, only she can hear the other’s reply, but the audience can divine the other side from her reaction.  Margery Lowe does all flawlessly.

Hayes and Lowe are in perfect sync, and on a magnificent stage designed by the award-winning Michael Amico.  Every detail on the stage has a purpose, the floral arrangements, the large windows upstage, perfect for lighting touches, her sacred writing desk, not much larger—perhaps smaller – than the one I had in the 1st grade, the tea cart and service, inspired by historical accuracy.  When the view is of the entire stage, it takes on the feeling of a fine tapestry.  And the centerpiece is the trunk of her poems which she finally offers to the audience as her legacy.  “’Remembrance’ – a mighty word.”

The lighting for a streamed stage production is tricky.  When the light comes from the front, it clearly is through imagined window panes, which beautifully frame Lowe.  During a rare display of the aurora borealis, colors flood the stage from the upstage windows.  Kirk Bookman’s lighting is clearly designed for their stage, yet effectively works with the filmed production.

Indeed, light imagery is so important in her poems, illuminating her omniscience.  We’ve twice visited her home in Amherst which is now a museum and on one such visit we were lucky enough to be allowed to linger in her bedroom where her writing desk was, to be able to look out those same windows, and see the late afternoon light as she would have seen it, the very views (sans the cars) and I was acutely conscious of her imagery of light and the sparse, sometime enigmatic content of her poems.  This streamed production, captured, for me, those same moments.  Indeed “there is a certain slant of light….”

Brian O’Keefe’s costumes are stirring, not only did he masterfully design and create Emily’s signature white dress with the cinched waist and voluminous sleeves, but all the accessories, the shawls, the apron, the bonnet and cape add the finishing touches that lend such authenticity to this production. Sound designer Roger Arnold’s ominous church bells chime during a funeral, and when Emily’s normally strict, staid father sound them as the aurora borealis began.  Arnold’s sounds of a train are in perfect sync with Lowe’s gestures of the local train’s labyrinth path to Amherst.

Hayes has directed a play of enduring significance, but as it is a streamed production performed without a live audience because of Covid, it is missing some of the laughter, or a chortle, here and there.  There are many comic touches in the play but they are addressed with just the right pauses, or by Lowe’s calculating looks. 

Hayes uses the cameras to their greatest advantage in this production, full stage at times and close-ups for others.  Yet Hayes’ editing is seamless, so the production exhibits the best of two worlds, “live” theatre, but well edited and filmed.

To say this production is satisfying is an understatement.  If only it could remain on YouTube, it would be the “go to” version to view, no disparagement intended towards Julie Harris’ performance, which remains inspired in its own way.  We now have the Margery Lowe classic.



 


Saturday, March 6, 2021

The Belle of Amherst -- Emily Dickinson Speaks to Us Across the Ages

  

Palm Beach Dramaworks, which is known as one of the leading regional theatres in the country, will now bring its professionalism to the world.  During the pandemic its stage has been ghost lit, limiting productions to professional Zoom readings but that is going to change with their upcoming coproduction of The Belle of Amherst. 

This has been a vision of Palm Beach Dramaworks Producing Artistic Director William Hayes and Actors’ Playhouse Artistic Director David Arisco, joining forces on a virtual coproduction of William Luce’s one-woman play based on the life of Emily Dickinson.  Margery Lowe portrays the enigmatic poet and Hayes will direct.  This fully staged, costumed show will be filmed on PBD’s main stage, without the presence of an audience, and will be streamed from April 2-6.

The sudden surfacing of popular interest in Emily Dickinson is reminiscent of decades of relative obscurity of Jane Austen, and then her gradual emergence as an important literary figure and now fully embraced by popular culture as well.  Dickinson is acknowledged as one of the most important American poets of the 19th century with a style connecting the romantic and modern era.  The poet’s growing popularity has recently been adopted by film and TV productions depicting aspects or imagined aspects of her life. 

But first, there was William Luce’s 1976 The Belle of Amherst, in which he comingles her letters and poems and creates a moving Dickinsonian text which was in part inspired by one of the leading actors of our times, Julie Harris, who then played by her on Broadway.  It is a high bar to clear.

Luckily for us, we have one of the great actors in South Florida to perform the role, Margery Lowe, who has already portrayed “another” Emily in Joseph McDonough’s world premiere of the comic fantasia Edgar and Emily at Palm Beach Dramaworks in 2018. 

Margery Lowe as Emily Dickinson

“Margery is a lovely actress, and she has great warmth onstage,” said Arisco. “She’s an interesting combination of maturity and youthfulness in her performances, so she’s a terrific choice.” Hayes added, “Having seen Marge embody Dickinson in a very different play, and having developed a professional bond over 15 years and numerous productions, I know she has the range, the skill set, and the artistry to pull this off brilliantly.”

It also helps that she is a doppelganger for the great poet! 

This is not the first one person play which has been effectively staged by Dramaworks.  Most recently, there was the highly successful Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill by Lanie Robertson,  Equally triumphant were two more single character plays, Rob Donohoe’s portrayal of Truman Capote in Jay Presson Allen's play, Tru, and Terry Teachout’s unforgettable Satchmo at the Waldorf

As diverse as these plays are, they have one thing in common – the unique formula which makes one actor plays so compelling – intimacy.  The audience is directly engaged, the actor often breaking the fourth wall so we see them up close and personal.  The best ones are rare theatre gems– and the three mentioned are certainly among those – with Belle of Amherst in that company as well. 

The play is set in her Amherst, Massachusetts home, the playwright skillfully using Dickinson’s own diaries and letters to create her encounters with the significant people in her life.  It balances the agony of her seclusion with the brief bright moments when she was able to experience some joy.  Luce weaves her poetry throughout the script illuminating her brilliance and her humanity as well.  She basks in the sunshine of her eccentricities and enjoys playing up that part to her neighbors.

There are more than a dozen imaginary characters in the play; Emily has conversations with them all – her dear sister in law, Susan, brother Austin, her stalwart father, her sister Lavinia (“Vinnie”), her mother, with whom she was never intimate, classmates, her stern teacher. There is Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who she hopes will publish her poems, and a man she meets only twice in her life and yet she carries the torch of platonic love for him, Charles Wadsworth (“when I first laid eyes on him that Sunday morning, it was as if heaven’s own lightning struck me”).

These “conversations” are of course one sided, but the audience can figure out what Emily is hearing.  At the heart of the production is her genius and her contentment with her home being her universe.  (“You see, I’ve never had to go anywhere to find my paradise.  I found it all right here --- the only world I wanted….Paradise is no journey, because it is within. But for that very cause, it’s the most arduous of journeys.  I travel the road into my soul all the time.”)

She speaks directly to us and in today’s world of solitude and social distancing.  With the pandemic’s death toll now surpassing a stunning half a million people in the United States alone, Emily Dickinson’s preoccupation with themes of death in many of her poems resonate.  Only a gifted actress can rise above what might on the surface appear to be maudlin, making it profound and even humorous.

When asked about doing a one character play, Margery Lowe said “it's definitely daunting being the only one in the dressing room, and it sure is a lot of just my voice. Plus... oh so many words! But in an odd way, it doesn't feel alone because so much of her family is ‘on stage’ with her.”

She particularly admires the playwright: “the truth of this Emily has to come from what the author writes in the text. I think William Luce wanted to shatter the previous image of a dour recluse, and show a woman in her youth, her relationships throughout her life, her joy and brightness, her existential and introspective struggles, and her immense wit. My greatest hope is that we honor his intentions and show a real, feeling, strange, funny woman that just happened to think differently, using her words in a way that most of us can only dream of.”

It remains to be seen whether this streaming version is a template for future productions or part of a future which might give the audience the option of viewing live or online.  But as this is being professionally filmed and edited, with a Carbonell award winning team of William Hayes as Director, Set Designer, Michael Amico, and Costume Designer Brian O’Keefe collaborating on the production, it is an auspicious beginning of a real theatre season.  Kirk Bookman is the lighting designer, and Roger Arnold is the sound designer. 

Tickets are free to those who subscribed to the upcoming season of PBD or Actors’ Playhouse.  (If anyone is uncertain whether they are current subscribers or wishes to subscribe now to receive a free ticket to The Belle of Amherst, contact the respective box offices). Non subscribers can purchase the link to view the show during its streaming period of April 2 – 6 for $30.  For technical reasons, tickets can be purchased only through PBD’s website: www.palmbeachdramaworks.org or box office: 561.514.4042, x2

Hayes and Arisco are planning to announce their 2021-2022 seasons in the next few weeks. “It’s our way of saying, ‘We’re still here, we’re still creating art, and we’d love your attendance when you feel comfortable,” they said.

    The Brain – is wider than the Sky –

    For – put them side by side –

    The one the other will contain

    With ease – and You – beside –

….Emily Dickinson

 

Emily Dickinson's Home

 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Lyrics for Our Times

 

From Cabaret, the profound lyrics of Fred Ebb:

 

Money makes the world go around

It makes the world go 'round.

A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound

A buck or a yen

A buck or a pound.

Is all that makes the world go around

That clinking, clanking sound

Can make the world go 'round

Money money money money

 

These lyrics came to mind when I read our local Palm Beach Post story (Sunday, Feb. 14), Why upstart political 'sommelier' Blair Brandt says GOP money base is Palm Beach.  Essentially, although Brandt was “saddened and shocked at what he saw” on Jan. 6, he anticipates it will have an impact on his clients, “donors and corporations he advises on political strategy and giving.”  He has found “’people are more interested and curious than ever in terms of what races to support and who is the right candidate.’"

 

“What he insists, however, is that the future of his ‘political sommelier’ venture is firmly rooted in Palm Beach, a Mecca for the new Republican Party. And as he listens to clients, donors and prospective candidates alike, the focus is all about flipping control of the Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.”

 

After college he started “a concierge-style real estate service” in Manhattan which catered “to wealthy millennia’s.”  That was such a success that he landed on the Forbes list of “up and coming entrepreneurs.”  That led to “a reality television show on the ABC Family network.”  Sound familiar?

 

“Today, Brandt is back in Palm Beach, where he has meshed his entrepreneurial instincts with his new-found passion for conservative politics to create a sort of concierge-style political consulting and fundraising firm, The Brandt Group LLC.”  According to Brandt, "’I kind of view myself as a political sommelier. It's like being a concierge at a hotel, or a Sherpa — you’re kind of guiding people through a massive maze.’"  (The maze being matching wealthy donors to the correct conservative political choices).  Because he grew up on Palm Beach and now lives there with his family, he “had connections. Local donors took his calls and Brandt knew which donors should be invited to exclusive fundraisers.”

 

The article dovetails with yet another one in the same edition of the Post: You won't believe the total sales at the most expensive condominium ever built in Palm Beach County.  There was much controversy over The Bristol condominium in West Palm Beach when it was proposed in 2013, particularly whether such a massive downtown structure was appropriate, or even financially viable.  Well in this era of fast money and $50k Bitcoins, it has sold out.  The total sales make it the “most expensive condominium ever built in Palm Beach County hitting just under $600 million.”

 

“Units at The Bristol ranged in price from under $5 million to $43 million.”  And this is not Manhattan, folks, we’re talking Florida.  But, as the article correctly highlights, “Palm Beach County is in the national spotlight these days as a destination for individuals and companies seeking to relocate to a state with low taxes, warm weather and plenty of luxury touches, from top restaurants to numerous cultural attractions.”  Also the pandemic “sparked a surge in residential real estate sales and the relocation of financial firms seeking to serve wealthy residents in the area.” 

 

The thread tying these two articles together is the tsunami of wealth that has flooded the area with zero interest rates favoring those very individuals who need help the least.  And aside from real estate and the toys of the ├╝ber wealthy, money-money-money gets channeled into politics, frequently as a means of preserving wealth, one back scratching the other.  This is yet an added Democracy headwind.

 

What else could explain Mitch McConnell’s acquittal of Trump in the Impeachment proceedings, and two minutes later delivering a blistering attack which would have been suitable if he was a House Impeachment Manager? (“Give 'em the old razzle dazzle / Razzle Dazzle 'em… How can they hear the truth above the roar?”  Again Lyrics by Fred Ebb, this time from Chicago.)  This way he can appeal to Republican donors for the 2022 mid-terms based on which part of the fractious Party he is addressing.

 

The point is, everything is tied together by the very sick practice of political contributions, and this goes for both sides of the aisle, the now much maligned anti-Trump PAC, The Lincoln Project alone raising $90 million during the last election.  Publix, the major super market chain in Florida, recently gave $100K to Friends of Ron DeSantis for his re-election campaign.  Days later, DeSantis, who has badly botched the distribution of the Covid vaccine ignoring the CDC’s guidelines, designated Publix as practically the sole distribution point for vaccinations, a job for which the Publix appointment scheduling system was totally unprepared.  What resulted for seniors is a version of the Hunger Games. 

 

Some nine years ago after the Supreme Court brought the Super PAC into being by ruling that unlimited contributions can be made by corporations as well as wealthy individuals – that they had such rights under the Constitution -- I wrote about this terrible decision.  The content is as valid today as when it was first written, so here is a truncated version:

 

"Stay tuned, but now a word from the sponsor" --- the despicable political advertising condoned by the Supreme Court. The Founding Fathers obviously anticipated ungodly sums of money being raised by corporations and unions for political PACs so elections can be bought and sold by these "people" whose first amendment rights would otherwise be violated. Or at least I guess that is the Court's interpretation.

 

The American electorate is electronic media addicted; broadcast emails, streaming video, Tweets, YouTube, network and cable TV. Outside sleep and work, "video consumption" is the #1 activity, or, if written, preferably 140 characters or less please. Robocalls are part of the political media bombardment. Sound bites over substance.

 

When motivational research was being pioneered by the likes of Ernest Dichter and James Vicary in the 1950s and popularized by Vance Packard in his Hidden Persuaders, little did they know that some of those principles would become part of a giant advertising machine aimed at buying elections. Advertising 101: sell the emotion, not the pragmatic benefit of the product.

 

And, so in this political season, we're selling religion and all the emotions that are attached to the same (and in a negative way, not the way it was used in WW II advertising to spur solidarity and sacrifice):

 

But the real selling job is just getting underway. Sell fear. Just wait until the Super P's roll out their shadowy images of their opponent bathed in a light to look like Jack the Ripper.

 

It is no wonder that a society that consumes movies that are more computer animated than acted, and cannot live without 24/7 video is a perfect target for Super PAC persuasion. Just fork over the bucks and try to buy an election! Sanctioned by the Supreme Court, the same folks who "sponsored" the results of the 2000 presidential election.

 

After four years of Trump and gas lighting, a more virulent version of political persuasion has been created.  I give Trump credit for only one thing, his media instincts.  He capitalizes on a form of agnotology, a culturally constructed ignorance, purposefully aimed to create confusion and suppress the truth.  He even has his Republican sycophants protecting him from being guilty of his Impeachment charges.  Any reasonable person would conclude that he was responsible for the turmoil of January.

 

I’m not the first to note it, but Trump has become the Jim Jones of politics, a cult leader who can say,” march on Washington on Jan. 6” and his obedient somnambulants obeyed under the guise of being patriots.  He incited them to violence after creating the movement.  His mass persuasion tactics are more instinctive than studied, but they work.  As do the names he gives opponents such as “Little Marco” (Rubio), “Lyin' Ted" (Cruz) who now crawl to his beck and call.  The cult views him as Satan’s adversary.  Gotta get a little religion into the mix.  Might has well give Trump the title of “Reverend,” as was Jim Jones’ moniker. 

 

In his “Rally to Save America” he spewed his election conspiracy theories and his cult followers adopted more punchy one liners from his speech and innuendo such as “Stop The Steal!,” “Hang Mike Pence!,” “Fight For Trump!” 

 

These slogans and nicknames are potent manipulative tactics.  This is not new science.  Gustave Le Bon's 1895 pioneering book of social psychology, The Crowd; A Study of the Popular Mind, stated "The power of words is bound up with the images they evoke, and is quite independent of their real significance. Words whose sense is the most ill-defined are sometimes those that possess the most influence. Yet it is certain that a truly magical power is attached to those short syllables" [e.g. “Stop the Steal”] "as they contained the solution to all problems. They synthesize the most diverse unconscious aspirations and the hope of their realization. Reason and arguments are incapable of combating certain words and formulas. They are uttered with solemnity...and as soon as they have been pronounced an expression of respect is visible on every countenance, and all heads bowed. By many they are considered as natural forces, as supernatural powers. They evoke grandiose and vague images in men's minds, but this very vagueness that wraps them in obscurity augments their mysterious power."

 

How in the world did we get to this point?  We’re lucky to have escaped the complete implosion of Democracy on Jan. 6, but the donors are lining up for 2022 and the Palm Beach crowd will be there to urge on the Trump-inspired cultists, and the PACs will be lining up to make THEIR world go ‘round, by gladly taking their money, money, money.

 

Isn’t it time to put political candidates on a more even playing field?  Grant political candidates an equal amount of $$ to spend on elections.  Make it a government supported stipend.  After you spend it, your advertising days are over, so do so wisely: even better, public televised debates and no political advertising.  Time has come to starve the PAC beast.  It will put some fund-raising firms out of work.  Let them raise money for those who need it.