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”…

6 comments to Blacklisting Myself: The Informed Speculation Review

  • Peter

    Was he recruited by the KGB while he was smoking crack with Timothy Leary? Now that really would have been something.

    I don’t know what his arguments are, but to state that neo-conservatives displayed idealism (by invading and occupying a country which never attacked us?) and the Left is “full of cynical pragmatists” who excuse mysogyny and homophobia because these traits are associated with Islam simply turns facts on their heads. Outside of straw men and nutcases, any responsible person left of center is just as angry about the 9/11 attacks as anyone else, and just as unforgiving of intolerance as anybody else. To imply otherwise is not only false but calumnious as well.

  • Peter, as strange as it may seem, there are many on the left who don’t support the war in Afghanistan, either…and which country is it in the Middle East that is truly the most progressive, yet continually draws the ire of the left?

    Just because you are not guilty of these viewpoints doesn’t mean they don’t exist…

  • And I guess you’ve forgotten the ‘chickens coming home to roost’ attitude that caused Hitchens to say ‘goodbye to all that’ and leave his post at The Nation…this isn’t a figment of Simon’s imagination…here’s an example from a true hero of the left, Noam Chomsky, making all kinds of excuses for Osama bin Laden. Read this…and I eagerly await your admission that you were wrong:

    Bin Laden is…bitterly opposed to the corrupt and repressive regimes of the region, which he regards as “un-Islamic,” including the Saudi Arabian regime, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime in the world, apart from the Taliban, and a close US ally since its origins. Bin Laden despises the US for its support of these regimes. Like others in the region, he is also outraged by long-standing US support for Israel’s brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year: Washington’s decisive diplomatic, military, and economic intervention in support of the killings, the harsh and destructive siege over many years, the daily humiliation to which Palestinians are subjected, the expanding settlements designed to break the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons and take control of the resources, the gross violation of the Geneva Conventions, and other actions that are recognized as crimes throughout most of the world, apart from the US, which has prime responsibility for them. And like others, he contrasts Washington’s dedicated support for these crimes with the decade-long US-British assault against the civilian population of Iraq, which has devastated the society and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths while strengthening Saddam Hussein…

    Now tell me again what part Simon got wrong?…

  • Noam Chomsky discredited himself, with all sentient leftists, decades ago, when he was writing apologia for the Khmer Rouge.

    He and Ann Coulter can have each other.

  • But Jacques, as much as it pains us, there are those on the left who worship Chomsky…I wish it wasn’t so, but it is…

  • His and Ann Coulter’s worshipful fans can have each other.

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