Monday, June 02, 2008

Altar Egos

Lewis Black doesn't retain an audience because he tells jokes. We just want to be there if his next phlegmatic contortion finally causes his neck to explode. Likewise, Christopher Hitchens' on-camera appeal derives in equal measure from rhetorical acrobatics as well as the prospect of seeing Bill Maher showered with vomit or Sean Hannity dick-slapped into a concussion. He has the natural gravity to accomplish both without shedding a scrap of dignity. Flush with drink, he's perfectly camouflaged any hint of shame when he says, for example ...

The Trotskyist in him knows that you can't win an argument with an ideologue. The only way to actually confront someone like Sean Hannity is to engage the frightened altar boy inside who's still trying to win mom's love. What better occasion than a biting eulogy of Jerry Falwell?

I have a longer essay on God Is Not Great, but for now I'll just say that I admire Hitchens for being the only pundit to divine an unimpeachably left-wing argument for the War in Iraq. More on that later, too. Of the many play ideas I've abandoned over the past few years, there's one I no longer feel the temptation to resuscitate. It was going to be called The Glutton and it's titular hero was a chubby man with anglo affectations (was this a money-maker or what!) whose superpower was the ability to win any argument from any side on any subject. He was a free-lance philosopher who worked on hire for thousand-word mini-commissions on truth. It was a fun part to write, but the wood-spring gag at its center couldn't sustain a whole play. It would have been, as Feingold once said of some young wit's debut comedy, "a sketch with elephantiasis." Well, Christopher Hitchens essays are rarely more than bon mots with elephantiases, but I enjoy him all the same.

Of all the supermarket aisle atheists out there, he's easily the most battle-ready for televised debate. And unlike Richard Dawkins, he understands that the problem of god isn't just a glitch in the program. He also knows that no matter how many times affectless meat-puppets like Sam Harris rock back and forth in the corner muttering "A=A," Ayn Rand will not come back to life to marshal the objectivist apocalypse. Hitchens may misread Nietzsche in his book, but he has the balls to go on the offensive as an "anti-theist," which leads me to believe he's somehow, accidentally, on the same page as the lovably combative Friedrich after all.

And while I'm on the subject of atheist theatrics, check out this theatre piece about an atheist. I'm back and forth a bunch these days so I don't know if I'll get to see it. But mention the super secret code phrase "I don't give a shibboleth" at the box office to get a ticket for only $18!!

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