Pulp Fiction for a Digital Age - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Pulp Fiction for a Digital Age

Conservatives’ discovery of Liberty Island comes at a good time. The online publisher of “right brain” fiction embraces conservatism in the best sense; not a series of policy prescriptions but a preservation of that worth keeping.

The idiocracy has unfortunately rooted out good popular fiction—enjoyable stories without any highbrow pretentions—from many of its former hideouts.

“Pulp fiction” now conjures up images of a Quentin Tarantino movie more than a shelf at the newsstand. Television anthology series—Twilight Zone, Ray Bradbury Theater, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales from the Darkside—have vanished in a whodunit fit for a plot in the genre. Fiction on the radio, once the staple of the airwaves, has been almost entirely missing in action since CBS Radio Mystery Theater’s 1982 cancellation.

The relegation of stories to the big screen, the theater stage, and the book page strikes as a less serious offense than the widespread confusion of fiction as an extension of journalism (the reverse is another column). Perhaps the best thing about the emergence of a site of conservative fiction is that many of the stories featured don’t bear a politicized message. An English lit professor might call this irony.

The short stories uniformly offer more pleasure than watching television or spying on an old acquaintance on Facebook, which means you’re cheating yourself if you’re not reading their stuff. Steve Poling’s “Southern Fried Cthulhu” concludes of aliens: if you can beat ’em, eat ’em. Set in an animal research lab, Roy Griffis’s “Pentecost” ponders the humanity in the subjects and the scientists. Aaron Smith’s “Test” explores a father’s dilemma in a dystopian society: Does he make his son stupid or a slave?

Jamie Wilson writes as one of the site’s great talents. In “A Murder at CPAC,” she pens a tale of an unnamed baseball-capped documentarian’s corpulent corpse discovered in a conservative celebrity starlet’s hotel room. Set simultaneously today and when men were palookas, women dames, and fedoras played as essential rather than eccentric headwear, the story pays homage to hardboiled detective fiction more than any political program. “Look, I have six panels to be on, a debate, a book signing, several meetings—I don’t have time to tell the cops that I have no idea how this piece of crap got in my room and turned into a corpse,” the bombshell tells a private detective. “And they shot my pillow. MY pillow. The one I travel with.”

Literature goes with the audience. The eyes, even if they skim more than read, look online. It’s too bad the pulps no longer reach us in pixilation or through medium-wave radio transmission. But popular fiction finding a home in the age’s popular medium makes sense.

So, too, does a publication for writers not reflexively genuflecting to political correctness. Surely sledgehammers replaced subtlety among political novelists long before anyone here reading learned to read (see, Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward). But striking the approved political note has been increasingly misunderstood as striking the right aesthetic one.

Upon winning an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules, novelist John Irving told the glitterati, “I want to thank the Academy for this honor to a film on the abortion subject and Miramax for having the courage to make this movie in the first place…. and everyone at Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights [Action] League.” The novelist understood the reason for the honor and expressed gratitude accordingly.

When literature reads as politics by other means it becomes propaganda. It’s a strange world in which a publication identifying itself in ideological terms becomes a repository for even apolitical writing uninterested in making demonstrative salaams to the age’s sacred causes. Is everything not Left now Right?

Pleasant literature often serves as an escape from rather than a regurgitation of real life. Subtlety has been lost among politically minded fiction writers, as has the idea that make-believe needn’t be moored in the latest headlines to provide a reality check or provoke a thought.

Liberty Island is a place that won’t, generally speaking, hit you over the head. In a world full of airport Hare Krishnas pushing this or that palliative or panacea, that’s liberty. Unfortunately, that’s an island, too.

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