Saturday, March 13, 2021

Iran-Contra in Popular Culture, 1987

I've already said that the casual sexism of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany irritates me. I'm still only 388 pages into the 627-page novel and it has not let up. I almost gave up on it, but the occasional humor has kept me going, as has one other aspect of the story: the incandescent rage of the then-present-day-1987 narrator about Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal.

He's an ex-pat draft dodger living in Toronto, whose guilty pleasure is reading the New York Times, much to the consternation of his Canadian friends. His takes on the Reagan administration are scathing, such as this one as he reflects on the time when he and his childhood friend Owen learned that John Kennedy was sleeping with Marilyn Monroe:

...the fact that President Kennedy enjoyed carnal knowledge of Marilyn Monroe and "countless others"—even during his presidency—seems only moderately improper, and even stylish, in comparison to the willful secrecy and deception, and the unlawful policies, so broadly practiced by the entire Reagan administration. The idea of President Reagan getting laid, at all—by anyone!—comes only as welcome and comic relief alongside all his other mischief! (pp. 375–376)

I read that last night and thought, Oh, John Wheelright, wait until you see what's coming in the Bush II and Trump administrations. But it also made me remember how bad Iran-Contra was, and how much it has been memory-holed by Republicans and the mainstream media, too. 

Saint Ronnie — lost as he was in early Alzheimers at that point — gets no blame for those crimes at all in popular memory. Even Oliver North has been redeemed. That failure of government oversight is incredible in the fullest meaning of the word and reading this contemporary piece of fiction brought it back to me.

Another outraged contemporaneous cultural reference to Iran-Contra: Alison Bechdel's "Dykes to Watch Out For" comics, this panel from 1987. The characters' reactions to the news reports and hearings were an ongoing part of the strips for years. And you can read Bechdel without having to put up with Irving's sexism. Bonus!

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

Oliver North now seems like a dress rehearsal for the zealots who stormed the Capitol.

I remember shopping for glasses frames circa the Iran-Contra hearings, and the salesperson pointing out a pair like the ones that North’s lawyer wore. That was supposed to be a selling point? Yeah, it was.