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They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Rob Lowe Roast, Comedy Central, 2016.

The roasting at the stake of Anne Coulter was a misstep on the part of liberal Hollywood, or rather a paus de cheval in its usual thinly-concealed nastiness. Like the mopey kid with his spikes in the overcooked old play Equus, a slew of non-entities trapped the vicious pundit for an unbearable length of time while they humiliated and insulted her, paying surgical attention to her naggy features and dredging up references to her most offensive remarks to a roomful of the ironic and self-righteous. At the Wells Fargo Democratic Convention, Madeleine Albright addressed a room of similar types. They looked into eyes sharp as screwdriver tips, mentioned no Iraqi dead, applauded respectfully.

Coulter did not spit back or storm off stage, actions which would have saved face for both her and her persecutors. Her petulance surely would have shown her a coward of the first sort, unable to take the kind of bile she so regularly smears, but perhaps one or two dollops of dignity in refuse might have settled on her tropical dress (Aside, her wardrobe is usually patterned after Mobutu’s). Coulter, her very name a corruption of ‘colt’ (horse not pistol) haunted by ‘uncouth’ (her selling-point), is usually anathema even to her fellow right-wingers. She sat fidgeting, no glower or parched look of innocence disturbing the spell of that second sort of cowardice Musil inflicts on Young Tӧrless, cowardice which ever leads to a Pity called better by Despise. Because she hadn’t the nerve to truly recognize the arena around her or do anything much except sit like a biscuit weevil, her pitiful weakness pulled out a loathsome emotion in the viewer. This morbid feeling had three periods: a hatred of her jellyfish spine; a sympathy (in the old sense of the world: not a recognition of others’ emotions by relation to ones’ own psychology, but a simple following of the object by its gravitational pull); and finally, a hatred of those who have pulled these emotions out of you without your consent–blackmailed and recruited you, pressed you into their Special Forces.

Coulter occasionally moved her hand through her hair, a gesture of no dignity done more to hide the hocker flowing through her Rapunzels. Her potty-mouth stayed shut, unpursed lips slight apart, probably slightly damp but not as foamy as usual. Of the thousands of moony Nazi remarks she lets fall every time she opens her gob, not one of them came up in vomit to defend her. She was robbed of her virulent, cash-friendly pop fascism and returned to the dais shouting nothing but the look of a reviled schoolgirl. There was no history, no political grandstand, nothing that would return her to her past reptilian self, just remarks about racing, races run, bestiality and the glue factory from the aging teen idols in charge. The do-gooders had succeeded in transforming this creature into a memory without a past, the visual repeat of a scene some of us may recall in a cruel city, once when we were very young:

A rainy schoolyard day. A young girl from Poland stands in the center of a crowd of classmates. They hurl spitballs, jeers, mimics of her Slav syllables at her without accuracy and without mercy. She stands stock still and timelessly works her fingers through her musky hair, sometime metropolitan time.

Cutting back and forth between the shitbirds and their awful target, you began to see that Coulter really had no idea of how this simple situation came to be. She even rejected the snappy comebacks written for her earlier so it wouldn’t seem so bad a slaughter, relying instead on her own sallow wit. Unable to pass up a public appearance, she was suckered into a ghastly low-rent Baby Jane act whose audience wouldn’t even laugh at her. A strange sort of moronic honesty played over her stretched face, a lack of expression which shows how the self-obsessed are hidden from themselves by remote viewing stations all tuned in to different likenesses. Looking at her was like staring into the black eyes of a chicken. You could almost say it was moving. And there they have you.

Coulter could not have pried her pestilential opinions from herself with all her might. She could not become stunned or angry or martyred; she returned to her first state, a non-being washed way too many times. Her newspaper columns and radio rants covered her, tourettes of tourettes, until the fire-worshippers really started in. Then she became nothing but a pitiful repetition which says nothing about just deserts or the madness of crowds. But she did let go – without knowing it of course – a flickering, bizarre millipede to crawl over the memories of anyone who has seen or practiced the arts of the milder climes of violence, those little alley things which always lead to bigger. For this, her enemies should not be forgiven.

Exhibit: At the end of Laughton’s Night of the Hunter, the same kids whom Robert Mitchum has been trying to kill cry out in defiance as the cops drag him to the ground and cuff him. This is because the scene exactly mirrors a crucial one at the film’s beginning, when their own father is dragged off by the pigs in exactly the same way. The repetition of humiliations is seen through a child’s eyes, eyes that are unable yet to take in the world of weights and balances. The kid sees only the duplication of events, and in a rapturous moment he refuses both and denounces both based on the symmetry of appearances alone. After this mistake, he will grow up, thanks to home and school, and become immune to the mystery of repetition. The world will then be of age to offer him the darkest of justifications.

Do not think that these justifications are always wrong: they are not, and I am not speaking of the Law. Do not think that most severe of judgments is unacceptable: it must be, if there is to be any kind of judgment at all. It is just that one can never return to the infant state of strict images, of apparent repetition, without being weakened beyond repair. What returns us involuntarily to these moments, without revealing its method and without forcing one to understand the many powers at work in the world, is pure sentiment. No doubt this nostalgic instant is as natural as the terrible judgments above are necessary. And not least because it is the purest of deceits; as a true deceit, it is naturally unassailable. But the flight is different this time around, in older skin, and the sentimental has dragged you a bit in Icarus’ river. To return to this childhood is to go back to the moments of first violence. Delirium, taking part, sympathy for the repulsive, an abhorrent and naive wish to protect any broken creature that in the end will justify only the obligatory corrections of the torturer… In the final analysis, this is the very kind of weakness which, second time around, will ensure the victory of the powerful every time. This thing Coulter and her strange collaborators unleashed without understanding any of its clockwork mechanism, although its wings were felt by some of us who have been brushed by them before.

What is really at stake in this hollow event is a gaping void where the false ‘humanity’ of people is used like a product, ridden down, turned into sentimental mush made of ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’, all at the bid of higher powers, changed rapidly in the mind into an atrocious Responsibility To Protect the most repellant of forces. There is another, older name for it: Bourgeois, the smoothing over of despicable acts by either smugness or exaggeration. Another effect: the suicide of the political, whispered into our ears softly by the Angel of Communication whose burning name is Israfel and who is covered in mouths and tongues.

The sacrificial fool-for-a-day is unquestionably the babbling commentator, silently waiting for the self-inflicted bullet to hit. I never thought much about that overplayed Syd Pollack film, but maybe he was onto something with the scenes of the dance competition where you’re only out by exhaustion. The whole thing is exhausting… horse and rider, Erl Kings and sickly waif, all buzzing in a wild hunt made of dead childhood screams.

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Martin Billheimer lives in Chicago.

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