........................................................................Home | Books | Blog | Bio | c.v. ............................. ... ...

Watching Primary Colors

It is my fortune and misfortune to have worked for two presidential campaigns. Watching Primary Colors last night, I felt some of the same unease I felt watching The Big Short as a former banker: we were watching the thing that is too horrific to be true and yet too true not to be horrific. There are hideous operatives in every big campaign – I have seen multiples of them – they come along with the top pros, specially tooled wrenches in a saboteur's revolutionary kit. Everybody at the top has a bag of them. The fact that Hillary has either been obliged to be or chosen to be her husband's top political director is the source of a large measure our present-day angst over the cheapening of our democracy, both for left and right; when this was first read and then seen in Primary Colors, it was thought to be too outre to be true. Nobody thinks that now.

There are now surprises galore in Primary Colors – now we tend even to forget that Mike Nichols, the actor's director, directed, that Elaine May did the adaptation. We forget how bloodlessly spooky Emma Thompson's spooky Hillary is, and that it's likely Travolta's best performance by a country mile. He's not really acting, he's simply mimicking, but mimicry also counts for something, and here it has to count for over two hours, and Travolta truly leads every scene he's in. You may forget that the Dustbuster Kathy Bates commits suicide towards the end; almost twenty years and all this history later, it is even harder, maybe far harder now, to take.

When it came out, this movie was criticized for not being substantive enough; now it is an indictment of a culture that is not substantive enough by design, and we are all falling for the fluff and muck all over again, even redoubling on it. The prescience of this film: after the would-be first couple holds hands through the Sixty Minutes interview, Emma lets go the very instant the producer declares the segment a wrap. The day Hillary and Bill had to walk out to the helicopter, when the Lewinsky affair was undeniable anymore, both holding Chelsea's hands, who was obliged to walk between them – that day was life imitating Mike Nichols' art, on full display as much in this film as in any of his others. His art will make you wince as much as it did in Virginia Woolf or Closer. You're left in the end understanding that Nichols almost always has something to say that is vital, honest, and, alas, terrifying.

What are the Nobels for?

What are the Nobel Prizes for? I don't get worked up much about the Nobels, but I do pay attention to who wins them especially in Literature and in Economics, to see what I might have missed in contemporary thinking that might help me live and work better. The prizes in the sciences may help me live better too, but I don't have a laboratory of my own in which to take advantage of the discoveries, so there's not much I can do about them. But I do work on books and I do have to make money, so I pay special attention to these two awards.

There is always something I can do in response to chancing on a new vein of literary or economic thinking, and the Nobel awards help present these. For instance, the work of the winners of the Economics prize this year was unfamiliar to me, even though it is fairly well known in economics. And looking at it, I found it may help someone who is interested in entering into a contract with someone outside of their own country: how is the contract perceived country to country?

I am a small part of this kind of contracting every time I sell a book abroad through Kindle, technically. And this is important to me, because nearly half of the books I've sold have been purchased in Europe. None have been purchased by anyone in all of Latin America, ever, however (even though I've published a few poems in Latin American publications). I can tell this because Kindle gives you reports of all currency conversions, and from Latin American countries, for me, there haven't been any.

Latin America is also a place where the relationship to American contracts (and predictably such American platforms as Amazon) is likely very different than the Anglo-European relationship to them. People in Latin America use Amazon all the time, but how do Americans with European names present throughout Latin America? I doubt as well as Americans with European names present in Europe. So this year's Nobel award made me think: if I also want to sell some books, even a handful, in Latin America, might it actually be the contracting mechanism itself that's getting in the way? Would I be better off availing the books on a platform other than Kindle, a platform that is less anglocentric to a prospective Latin American reader than Amazon? Those are thoughts, anyway. It's not a thought that is going to change the world, but thank you, Nobel economics committee, for making the kind of choice that enabled me to entertain it.

Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature doesn't impact me like that; I already know his work and also the work of those who most heavily influenced him. I haven't paid much attention to him since the Blood on the Tracks album. I read a book about his early life that a friend of mine published through University of Minnesota Press; I already know the path better than most, I think. That said, I think the choice is a – credible – one.

For anyone who might be interested, here's that book I read, published by that friend in Minnesota. It tracked Dylan's early life down; it was originally written in the sixties.