Blacklisting Myself: The Informed Speculation Review
One of the perks of being a blogger is that you are sometimes offered review copies of books. Being a voracious reader, this was great news to me – but after a while, I quit accepting review copies, because I felt obligated to read the book (after all, that’s why it was given to me), and somehow that made me not want to read the book, and as a result, I accepted some free books that I never read, much less reviewed, and the whole thing felt a bit uncool.
However, when the opportunity arose to receive a review copy of Roger L. Simon’s new autobiographical work Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror, I decided to accept. After all, I was once associated with Pajamas Media, Simon’s Internet news/advertising company, and I’ve always enjoyed Simon’s work…and, of course, I am a huge movie buff, and Simon is the author of the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Enemies: A Love Story (you can read his IMDB entry here).
Still, I couldn’t shake that ‘obligated’ feeling as I set out to read. I needn’t have worried. Within a few pages, I was hooked. Simon’s book is full of life – an entertaining mix of insider gossip, improbable encounters, lucky breaks, and blown opportunities. It’s also notable for what it is not – those expecting a ponderous examination of the sins of liberalism will be (thank God!) disappointed. We’ve got more than enough Ann Coulters and Jim Hightowers already, thank you very much.
Indeed, Simon has a hard time identifying himself as a conservative (that might come as a surprise to the countless detractors of Pajamas). He eschews labels, but admits that he comes closest to ‘classical liberalism’ in his embrace of Enlightenment values. The book spends some time tracing his drift from early activism in causes that today are deemed ‘progressive’ (Simon rightly scoffs at the abuse of that term in its modern usage) through traditional Hollywood liberalism (think Streisand, Penn, and Sarandon) to a growing unease at his traditional assumptions brought on by O.J. Simpson and, of course, the extreme anti-Westernism culminating in 9/11.
O.J. Simpson? You needn’t be surprised – the O.J. Simpson trial remains a watershed event in American culture, one that affected me nearly as much as Simon. O.J.’s trial seemed a mockery of everything a true crusader for racial justice would hold dear – the perversion of Dr. King’s dream that we would one day be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin. Instead, O.J. brought us a world where a notorious wife-beater and double-murderer would walk with the help of lawyers who argued, with no hint of sublety, that “black=good and white=bad”, regardless of the content of character. Simon, who had once hung out with Black Panthers and helped them start a breakfast program for needy children, knows from personal experience how far removed the Butcher of Brentwood was from the cause of civil rights. The O.J. trial, in the sweeping injustice of its verdict and the methods employed by the defense team, set racial relations back a good twenty years. The worldview of the O.J. defense team was predicated on the notion of African-American as perpetual victim – a notion hopefully put to rest with the election of Barack Obama, who may be many things but is certainly no one’s victim.
And, of course, there is that OTHER, much more important watershed event. Simon is hardly the only former leftist to part company with his brethren over Islamic extremism (the most famous being, of course, Christopher Hitchens). Simon deals with 9/11 and its consequences in just a very few pages, the gist of which boils down to this: in the aftermath of those airplanes, it was the much-maligned neoconservatives who displayed the idealism formerly associated with the Left, and the Left was revealed to be full of cynical pragmatists who would bend over backwards to make excuses for some of the LEAST progressive (anti-woman, anti-homosexual) societies on Earth.
Simon could hardly write a biographical work that left out his blogging and the formation of Pajamas Media, of course. Simon admits that Pajamas was launched with a thud and owns up to many mistakes during the launch, and he stresses throughout the precarious state of the company (indeed, as I write this, most of the original Pajamas bloggers have been let go, and the company is refocusing on its PJTV efforts). Pajamas has always seemed like a company unsure of its purpose, to me, and Simon’s book reinforces the notion. Certainly, when compared to the success of the Huffington Post, another ‘new media’ company centered around blogging that launched during roughly the same period, though of course with a radically different political slant and much deeper pockets, Pajamas has to be deemed a disappointment.
Blacklisting Myself is not the story of Pajamas Media, however: it’s the story of Roger L. Simon. It’s the story of a remarkable journey with surprises I’ve not even hinted at here (here’s two to whet your appetite: among other adventures, Simon has smoked crack with Timothy Leary and been recruited by the KGB. No, I’m not joking). It’s not without flaws – the editing is a little sloppy in a couple of places, with some stray typos and such, and the pacing seems a bit off in the middle sections – but it’s a good yarn, told well (Simon is a professional writer, after all, and the author of the award-winning Moses Wine mystery novels – see, his life is so full I haven’t even touched on that incarnation at all to this point), that leaves the ponderous punditry mostly to the side in favor of breezy retellings of improbable escapades that will leave you smiling and shaking your head at the wild unlikelihood of it all.
I must leave you with a warning, however – after you read about all the different hats worn by Simon, don’t be surprised if your final thought is, “I’ve wasted my life”…