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America's tired of "Norman being Norman..."

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted February 18, 2002

Apparently Americans are too patriotic; at least according to the twisted thinking of controversial writer Norman Mailer. According to Reuters News Service, in a recent interview the 79-year-old Mailer slammed what he called the "patriotic fever" that's been gripping the United States since the horrendous 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001.

Norman MailerBritain's Daily Telegraph quoted Mailer as saying, "What happened on Sept.11 was horrific, but this patriotic fever can go too far ... America has an almost obscene infatuation with itself. Has there ever been a big powerful country that is as patriotic as America? And patriotic in the tiniest way, with so much flag waving? ... "

Mailer, whose statements are as apparently as bizarre as his actions (he's still renowned for the stabbing of his second of his six wives 40 years ago) told the Telegraph that last year's terrorist attacks have helped America's right wing.

"The right wing benefited so much from September 11 that, if I were still a conspiratorialist, I would believe they'd done it," he said.

And just in case you're wondering if this ridiculous comment was a one time slip, or whether Mailer is prone to making outlandish comments, perhaps the following "Mailerism's" may help you make up your mind.

Mailer on marriage -- "It is an excrementious relationship, we can take all that is bad in us and throw it at the mate, she throws it back at you and you both shake hands and go on with your business - you can't do that out in the world." (It's important to reiterate here that Mailer has been married six times!)

Mailer on the Internet -- so if you're reading this on line you know what he thinks about what you're doing! "I think the Internet is the greatest waste of time since masturbation was discovered."

Mailer on critics -- apparently their thoughts are more important to him than most, although for obvious reasons. "I care about reviews - they affect your wallet in the most direct fashion."

And Mailer on what he thinks would be an appropriate epitaph for himself. "He may have been a fool, but he certainly did his best ... and that can't be said of all fools." (These comments by Mailer came from two Mailer interviews and a live appearance which along with additional information about Mailer are available on line at http://www.iol.ie/~kic/).

Who is this man who so freely makes blistering comments about America's patriotism? Born in 1923, Mailer entered Harvard in 1939, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1943. While attending Harvard, Mailer began writing, which resulted in the publication of his first story when he was 18.

Mailer went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and was a National Book Award recipient for his book "Armies of the Night." The book recounted Mailer's experiences at the 1968 Washington Peace Rallies, during which time he was also jailed. The other book for which Mailer is most well know is "The Executioner's Song," a novel based on the true life story of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore.

While author Mailer is credited by some as being "A major figure in post-war American literature," and given credit by others for appearing, directing and writing in numerous movies, he also appears to be an author of embarrassment and poor taste and possess a wicked temper.

For example: an interview with Mailer in a recent edition of London's "Guardian" newspaper was headlined, "Machismo isn't that easy to wear. Fistfights, headbutts, drunken brawls, attacks on feminism: Norman Mailer's reputation as a bruiser has overshadowed his life - and fueled his writing. Oliver Burkeman meets the hard man of American letters."

Burkeman wrote that it was one day in 1960 at four in the morning after an "argumentative party" when he was drunk and stoned, that Mailer stabbed his wife twice with a pair of scissors-once each in the back and chest.

Burkeman continued, "He only narrowly missed her heart. Adele did not press charges and Norman's literary friends rallied round; he spent 17 days in a psychiatric ward and got a probationary sentence. The couple did not separate for the best part of a year. Nobody in his circle seems quite to have addressed the incident at all, and the same seems to have happened when his fourth wife, Beverley Bentley Mailer, said he had physically attacked her, too. Uncomfortably, the episodes seems to have been swiftly filed away under Norman Being Norman..."

Apparently, Norman has been Norman (translated, that means crude, rude and totally ill bred) for most of his 79 years. Burkeman commented that Mailer's "drinking- like writing, fighting and womanizing - is a sport he has pursued with reckless force ever since he crashed on to the literary landscape at 25, and it has led to fistfights in the street, headbuttings of hostile reviewers, and a vicious clubbing from a policeman whose car he was trying to hail as a taxi. Well into his 60's, he stumbled drunk on to stages and television shows, all the time railing against feminism, friends and fellow writers ..."

So the point is? Well, this is the way I see it. When someone as morally obtuse as Mailer complains we're too patriotic, that's a signal to me we're on the right track. With that in mind, if you've put your flag away recently thinking that after all 9/11 was a while ago, Mailer's lunatic ravings should be a timely reminder for all of us to go get those flags out and fly them again in a prominent place where they're easily observed by your entire neighborhood and more.

It's beyond argument that America needs its patriots. It's doubtful that we need Mailer.

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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