Ackerman-Kennedy Parallels

Elliot_Ackerman_2015jfkpt109

WHEN STUDYING history one finds parallels between this period and that one. Between the past and today. They can sometimes be amusing parallels, and other times informative ones. Patterns of the past give us clues to the present. On rare occasions, they help us predict what might happen next.

The career of Elliot Ackerman, a Finalist for the National Book Award in the Fiction category, has similarities to the early life and career of John F. Kennedy.

The most important factor in both cases is the presence of a powerful father. A self-made, dominating figure who the son needs to please, impress, and match. Both fathers, Joseph Kennedy and Peter Ackerman, can be considered complex and contradictory personalities embodying the contradictions– the virtues and failings– of America itself. Both, determined realists and steadfast idealists, accused of corruption while achieving laudable success and spectacular wealth. Both combined business with politics.

The oldest Kennedy son, Joe, died in a foolhardy airplane mission during World War II, trying to prove his courage. The second son, John, proved his bravery in the PT 109 incident in the Pacific during the same war.

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Elliot Ackerman plunged into war in at least as dramatic a fashion– proven by his Silver Star and Purple Heart. WHY does a young man of comfort and privilege behave in this manner? What internal or external needs drive him?

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Patriotic? Indisputably. Ambitious? How ambitious? A son seeking to escape the very large shadow of a strong and successful father.
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jfkand dad

Remember that the JFK myth was based not solely on a heroic resume, but also the credentials of an intellectual. John Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his book, Profiles in Courage. A necessary step in his quick ascension to power.

Elliot Ackerman is building as impressive a resume. We can legitimately ask of this man of action if his writing career is one step toward a larger goal. Warrior. Journalist. Author. He’s been involved in politics through he and his father’s organization, Americans Elect.

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HOW BIG a role does Elliot’s father play in the construction of Elliot’s career? How far does Peter Ackerman resemble Joseph Kennedy. HOW MUCH does Peter Ackerman want his son to win the National Book Award? These are questions a literary critic and analyst must ask. Peter Ackerman’s life and career, his remarkable attainments and ambition, his ability to push the limits, demand that we ask them.

One recent war hero, Phil Klay (who has interviewed Elliot Ackerman), has won the National Book Award, for Fiction in 2014.

Can Elliot Ackerman do less?

-K.W.
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NEXT: We assess the odds in the Fiction category– and perhaps make a prediction.

(Read our previous posts! Ours is THE most thorough coverage of the 2017 National Book Awards.)

 

 

Fake Diversity

national-book-awards-2013

NO DOUBT those involved with the National Book Awards are congratulating themselves on the diversity of their selections. Yes, the identity politics crowd is happy. Of the 20 finalists, 11 are persons of color. (Two others immigrated here.) 15 of the 20 are women. Four out of five finalists of the most prestigious category, Fiction, are women of color. For those at home counting, double bonus points. For Fiction alone, there’s a Chinese-American and Korean-American and Cuban-American and African-American.

AS LONG as we’re playing the hyphen game, where are the Polish-Americans and Serbian-Americans and Slovak-Americans? The Croatian/Greek/Hungarian/Ukrainian/Lithuanian/Italian-Americans? Those whose people were brought over here to work brutal jobs in steel mills and coal mines and auto plants– who were never given the privilege to which white skin color supposedly entitles one in the hallucinatory visions of the actual privileged at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford; in the imaginings of those who write the PC rules that organizations like the National Book Foundation now follow.

If one is meant to see representatives of identity at such affairs– where’s mine? They’re not in the white publishers pulling strings behind the scenes, with whom I have nothing in common beyond skin color.

If appearances matter, the Awards appear to have eliminated an entire large swath of America from consideration– especially if one adds in working-class whites in Appalachia, Kansas, the Rust Belt, and other parts of the nation overlooked by Manhattan mandarins eager to appear as correct as possible; those who dominate such “charitable” organizations. (The actual charity involved being minimal.)

Fiction Finalist Jesmyn Ward says of the notion of a color-blind America: “I don’t know that place. I’ve never been there.” (This despite achieving degrees at both University of Michigan and Stanford.) Except there’s no choice but to live in a post-racial America if there’s to be any kind of harmony in this chaotic nation.

More important for an arts organization than superficial diversity of the cosmetic or hyphenated kind is diversity of ideas. At the big Awards ceremony Wednesday night one can be assured there will be NONE.

Will there be a single individual holding an opinion on politics and culture different from the rest of the audience? (A Trump voter, for instance?) If there is, the person won’t announce it! (First reaction if did: “How did he get in here?” Second reaction: Naked hostility. Third reaction: Career over.)

Which brings us to the token straight white male among the Fiction Finalists: Elliot Ackerman. A white guy? How did he slip in there??

Working-class whites are readily thrown overboard when equality and diversity become an issue– though few were on board to start with. But there’s always room for the super-elite, or children of the super-elite, and Elliot Ackerman is proof.

Eliot_ackerman_8929(Elliot Ackerman.)
A genuine war hero in the war in Afghanistan, Ackerman, methinks, is on his way to becoming a U.S. Senator. JFK anyone?

(We’ll assume, for the sake of his own survival Wednesday, that he’s a proper liberal. Likely a neo-liberal. Afghanistan may be tough, but inflamed ideologues in a mob are another matter.)

A Marine for eight years, Elliot served as a CIA Special Operations Officer as well. More recently he was Chief Operating Officer of Americans Elect, a political organization founded and chaired by his father. Elliot was a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. He’s written for every establishment publication in existence, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Republic, and others. Conspiracy theorists out there can note he’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

THE FATHER
Elliot’s father Peter Ackerman has been a liberal icon, an international scholar, a consultant to student protesters in China, and on the boards of several liberal political organizations. He’s also worked for the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert where he made an estimated 300 million-plus dollars, was involved in the Michael Milken junk bond insider trading scandal, and paid a $73 million settlement with the FDIC. In 2005 the U.S. Tax Court ruled that Peter was involved in an illegal $1.7 billion tax shelter. He’s had either an exciting establishment career, or a typical one, depending on how you look at things.

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How did Elliot get his book in the Awards, indeed!

Why focus so much on the writers, anyway? Writers are merely the outward excuse for throwing a lavish party for Bigs of New York publishing, with accompanying tax write-offs. The party, not the writers or writing, is the point.

-MORE TO COME-

K.W.

Where Are the Journalists?

See_No_Evil,_Hear_No_Evil,_Speak_No_Evil

IT’S COME TO OUR ATTENTION while looking into the National Book Awards, whose lavish awards dinner at Cipriani Wall Street is November 15th, that no one covers the established publishing business. NO ONE.

Oh, there are articles. A host of back-slapping herd-following articles. But no one looks beneath the surface of the manufactured glamour and glitz unless forced to– as in the Daniel Handler fiasco at the NBF awards dinner three years ago.

Where the publishing industry is concerned, what we have in New York City and elsewhere are not journalists in any sense of the word, but cheerleaders writing puff pieces.

cheerleaders

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AN EXAMPLE of the tame coverage given PR productions like the National Book Awards is this Los Angeles Times blurb from Michael Schaub. The operating principle: Make No Waves. Note the “see no evil” treatment of Daniel Handler. Schaub is the typical go-along-to-get-along personality type which permeates today’s literary scene. Don’t look behind the accepted version. Give the Big Boys of letters what they want.

schaub(Michael Schaub.)
There’s no need to single Michael Schaub out– though we have. Hundreds are like him– interchangeable cogs. Throw a rock in Brooklyn and you’ll hit a dozen of them. Michael Schaub clones, proceeding obediently along prescribed paths like workers entering Metropolis.

They don’t exist to question. They are not paid to think. Learn the doctrine and the script. “Established lit is wonderful. Our novelists are the best!”
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cipriani
(Book Awards venue.)

Available stories for media:

-How much is Cynthia Nixon being paid to host the National Book Awards? Is the amount more than the awards themselves?

-Is it conflict of interest for those funding and running the National Book Foundation to in effect be nominating for awards their own books? Does this correspond with the proper actions of a nonprofit charity?

-Would there be a less costly venue for the awards than Cipriani Wall Street– so that more of the money raised could be given to the authors themselves?

-Does the extreme ideological slant of the nominations, and the propagandist nature of several of the books, violate strictures of the 501(c)(3) law governing nonprofits– “no substantial part of the activities which is carrying on propaganda”?

AND, one unrelated but topical question:

-What kind of buyout did Harvey Weinstein receive from Hachette Publishing when they dissolved his imprint?

The questions are out there, but don’t expect answers. No one looks into such matters. It isn’t done. Sports reporters, of all people, have more an adversary relationship with the subjects of their coverage than does anyone covering the publishing world.
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The National Book Awards aren’t about the writers, and never have been. They’re a celebration of New York publishing. Of the monolith itself.

Book reviewers and critics on proliferating media sites play the role of affirming chorus to the National Book Foundation’s stage show. One can picture it. Power people at tables in tuxes and gowns applauding as various winners enter the spotlight like vaudeville performers.

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Cynthia Nixon, soprano, host: “We’ve gathered here to celebrate.”

Baritone chorus: “We here are all so won-der-ful.”

Soprano Executive Director: “We’ve done this year a smashing job.”

Chorus: “We here are all so won-der-ful!”

Huge applause.

This is not a gathering of peers. In the New York publishing pyramid, power is strictly tops-down, with writers at the bottom.

Liberal Morality Play

NBF

The National Book Foundation finalists have been announced. We plan to present some quick examinations of the choices. We intend to ask questions. We may not have answers– the National Book Foundation is a puzzle. A mystery. A morality play.

For instance: This year’s Non-Fiction finalists, all from “Big Five” conglomerate publishers. The list:

  • Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
    (Atria / 37 INK / Simon & Schuster)
  • Frances FitzGeraldThe Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
    (Simon & Schuster)
  • Masha Gessen, The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
    (Riverhead Books / Penguin Random House)
  • David GrannKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
    (Doubleday / Penguin Random House)
  • Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
    (Viking / Penguin Random House)

Skewed heavily politically one way, we’d say– as were the other nominees. But after all, this is not a time for competing viewpoints. No– this is a period of crisis. Of outright hysteria! No room for objectivity. Except here.

What’s the reality? Are we seeing from the publishing industry a scripted liberal morality play?

The National Book Foundation is an appendage of the New York publishing industry. A nicely-concealed publicity campaign for the industry. Funding comes from New York publishers in various forms– including the awards and accompanying Benefit Dinner. Publishers whose books become finalists are required to help publicize the book and awards. It’s a win-win situation. Each side publicizes the other. The Dinner, at tres chic, tres expensive Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan’s financial district is a major fundraising event for the foundation. Attendance appears to be by invitation only. One can believe it will be a collection of New York publishing insiders.

The National Book Foundation’s Board Chairman is David Steinberger, CEO of the Perseus Books Group. Vice Chair is Morgan Entrekin, Publisher of Grove-Atlantic. The Treasurer at NBF is Chairman of W.W. Norton & Company, W. Drake McFeely. (NBF’s Board Secretary, Calvin Sims, a long-time internationalist, former Ford Foundation executive, former Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former New York Times overseas bureau chief, brings rather different qualifications to the table.)

steinberger and weinstein

(David Steinberger and Friend.)

Power! The National Book Foundation is an extension of cultural and societal power.

Conflict of interest? No one is watching. Nobody cares. Least of all journalists at NYC media outlets like the New York Times and The New Yorker. Fellow Members of the Club, most with novels in drawers they’d themselves like to someday have published. Most attended the same Ivy League/Oxbridge/Stanford elite schools as did the scions of publishing.

Thirteen years ago the price of a table at the Awards dinner was $10,000. What is it today? There’s no way of knowing. The information is available nowhere on the NBF website.

Everything about the event reeks of money. Publishers and high-salaried employees sit at high-priced tables and applaud the politically-correct, even radical, selections, which for the most part are window dressing. (A couple bonded-and-bred Insiders are included among the various finalists, along with one outright professional propagandist– attack dog for American Empire.)

New York publishing after all is a prime example of privilege and hierarchy. Centering publishing– and the literary world– in a single overpriced city is the antithesis of democracy, in the view of this commentator.

The Awards– the nominations, finalists, medallions– are theater. An elaborate and gaudy show absolving the ultra-affluent attendees of complicity in any crimes outlined in the books celebrated. Absolution. Pontius Pilate washing his hands. Penance and forgiveness in a one-evening ritual, tasty dinner included.

Is more than this happening?

Stay tuned.

K.W.

 

The Wise Men

American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

Who steered the direction of American literature after World War II?

Editors like George Plimpton, Robie Macauley, Reed Whittemore, Robert Silvers, and William Phillips. Men on a mission who, as much as they professed no artistic ideology, very much pushed an artistic ideology. They’d been formed by various factors, whether by privilege, or the war, or by disillusion with Communism. By 1950 all were Wilsonians out to save the world by making it “Safe for Democracy”– their own special internationalist version of democracy.

Literature was their tool– they fully believed in the importance of the art. Paris Review (like Encounter magazine in the UK) was founded as a cultural ambassador for Anglo-American liberal ideals– presenting an intellectual alternative to the twin totalitarianisms of fascism and Communism. Liberal Cold Warriors, these editors disdained– or had rejected– the populism of the American past. John Steinbeck and his kind were out. Henry James as the ideal cosmopolitan author was in.

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For our cultural aristocrats, literature, to be safe, must never engage too strongly in ideas. As an editor at New York Review of Books told me in a note in the late 1990’s, characters must never serve as mouthpieces for ideas. George Plimpton told me essentially the same thing on the one occasion I met him, at a literary debate held at CBGB’s in 2001. To these people, burdened– as they saw it– with the task of preserving literature, a broad view of the world was considered dangerous. An Ayn Rand or Frank Norris wrote beyond their well-regulated lines.

Focus moved instead to the delicate sensibilities of the bourgeois self. American literature became gnostic: insular and solipsistic. Cleansed, nuanced, refined; denuded of its loud voice but also much of its energy. For prose: John Updike. For poetry: John Ashbery.  Aesthetics was not the only weapon. No longer could a writer appear off the street like Thomas Wolfe or Jack London and be taken seriously. Writing programs and markers of breeding ensured all who entered the Halls of Approval were thoroughly screened.

Did these men and their journals have influence? Tremendous influence. They understood the concept of leverage; that a publication with a readership of 10,000 could determine who did or did not receive a large book contract– chiefly because that small readership was powerful and elite.

The change in aesthetic direction made the wise men– as well as their sources of money– very happy. Literature came under the control not of the unpredictable American people, but of themselves. The Elect.
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American Masters: Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

The thing to know about these men and their journals is that the faces they showed the world were misleading. George Plimpton was a smiling bon-vivant but also much more than that. The notion that he didn’t know the source of Paris Review‘s original funding is an absurdity.

Likewise, New York Review of Books, founded by Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein, postured for a long while as a radical Leftist publication– yet it was started with Random House money during a New York newspaper strike as a way for the giant book companies to advertise their new releases. It’s always been an extension of New York-based Big Corporate Publishing. Sophisticated PR for them, one might say.

In the New York literary world, nothing is ever as it seems.

Turmoil at New York Times?

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The mighty New York Times getting its facts wrong?

Or is the real turmoil within the media establishment itself?

Controversy erupted this week between two wings of Insider media. Between the Times with new op-ed writer Michelle Goldberg, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Vanessa Grigoriadis.  The controversy, over Vanessa’s book Blurred Lines, is described here.

Questions:

1.) Are New York p.c. mandarins siding with Grigoriadis because of Michelle Goldberg’s statements in the review, like this one:

“Campus rape hasn’t become a major political issue because college students are more vulnerable than their peers, but because they are more powerful, able to demand an institutional response to their traumas.”

Or was Goldberg’s review truly as botched as said?

2.) If Vanessa Grigoriadis were an outsider writer whose ideas were distorted– and was not herself a well-connected member of New York’s literary “In” crowd– would there have been any blowback at all? Are distorted reviews and hit pieces the norm, and we simply don’t know about it?

OR: This matter has become an issue because Vanessa Grigoriadis herself is “more powerful, able to demand” a response than the typical author.
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NEXT: “The Wise Men: Origins of Establishment Literature.”

 

Our “Best of the Net 2017” Nominations

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We’ve nominated two stories and four poems for the Best of the Net 2017 anthology put together by Sundress Publications.

The stories are:

“Picture This” by Anne Leigh Parrish
https://newpoplit.com/portfolio/picture-this/
2/10/2017

 “Travelogue” by Robin Wyatt Dunn
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The poems are:”(Terre Noir)” by Jess Mize
https://newpoplit.com/portfolio/inspired-by-death-in-the-afternoon/
7/8/2016

“Shocking” by Dan Nielsen

 08/29/2016

“Frat Boy” by Timmy Chong

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AS WE never know how editors judge these things, our policy is three-fold:

1.) Submit strong writing.

2.) Choose fairly brief submissions– making it easier for overburdened editors/judges to both read and include in a voluminous anthology.

3.) Choose a variety of writing styles, in hopes one of the works will catch the judges’ taste.

All six of these works are striking, albeit in different ways. Have fun rereading them!

Disclaimer

CAUTION: We’re turning this blog into a free speech zone, where we’ll discuss actions of the New Censorship Movement; in some cases mentioning the incidents and names (gasp!) of those writers or literary sites which have been expunged from the Internet. Such actions reek too much of Orwell’s classic novel 1984 to suit our taste. Too many people have fought too hard for the freedom of expression all of us (up until now) have enjoyed, for us to casually sit by when such freedoms are restricted.

Example: Our upcoming new entrants in the All-Time American Writers Tournament include two controversial writers, one controversial in his political ideas and actions and the other controversial in his art. Should they be expunged from memory because they offended people?

We’re frankly amazed by the complacency of writers to what’s happening– but we shouldn’t be, given our own history within a well-regulated U.S. literary world. We may at some point discuss that history here, and the role it’s played in our thinking.
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THE WEEK IN POP LIT

The current week includes a very good new story by Brian Eckert which affirms the right of an individual to live life as he chooses. We also reported on the above-mentioned Tournament (more reportage this weekend). Keep up on pop lit doings at our home page.

Thanks for reading!

The Week in Pop Lit

TO GET THIS NEWS BLOG going again, we’re going to try to provide weekly updates– for now, mostly about ourselves.

And a lot has been happening!

First, twitter wars. At his own twitter account, our chief editor took on anonymous ghosts of the internet– demi-puppets (see Shakespeare’s definition) who were trying to close down another literary site. Apparently there’s a new literary movement afoot– literary journals whose purpose is to shut down other literary journals. A kind of New Censorship Movement. Yes, things have come to that. We’ll have more about what that’s about here at this blog.

At the @NewPopLit twitter handle we engaged in a quick debate with a confused Brown University prof who believes America is about the worst thing that ever happened. We’re obviously more positive about this country than he is.

Second, we posted a lot of new material this week– a new story, a new chapbook review, new photos, and more analysis at the All-Time American Writers Tournament. Get on our home page and check it all out!

 

New Hemingway-Fitzgerald Discovery?

basil and josephine cover

Is New Pop Lit about to make some literary history?

We had assumed someone else had written about this– maybe someone has– but it seems that in the answer to our Hemingway-Fitzgerald Trivia Question lies a different take on the relationship between those two giants of American letters. It’s important because the two talents stand today as THE largest personalities dominating the field of American letters– in particular, the novel and short story. Iconic figures.

The new take is this: Ernest Hemingway took some obvious shots at F. Scott Fitzgerald over the years. But what if Fitzgerald had been creating some snarky portrayals of Hemingway, in his fiction, first? This appears to be the case.

We’re readying an explanation of all this. . . .