“Imagine if, say, James Carville wrote a novel in which a band of heroic gay socialists defeated a voracious army of slack-jawed Bible-quoting Republicans to turn the world into a gigantic French-speaking free-love commune.”
That’s Michelle Goldberg’s mirror-universe description of the Left Behind series, which her subtitle describes as “the bestselling series of paranoid, pro-Israel end-time thrillers,” adding that it “may sound kooky, but America’s right-wing leaders really believe this stuff.”
When I first heard about this series on NPR, I bought the
“Dramatic Audio” edition: “An Experience in Sound and Drama”. This wasn’t the audiobook version, where a single voice actor reads the words from the print edition. This was like something made for radio. A play for voices, with a full cast and sound effects. I really enjoyed it.
The Rapture and End Times weren’t part of either my Episcopal or Quaker schooling. The first I’d heard of any of it was in Heinlein’s great novel, Job: A Comedy of Justice. Heinlein’s theological science fiction is literalist only in the perverse and imaginative sense. Left Behind is literalist in the earnest, pressing sense. It reminded me of the televangelists I used to watch as a child (to my mother’s alternating horror and bemusement).
I lent the CDs to a friend of mine, telling him I thought he’d find the series funny. He didn’t. I think my recommendation had him expecting something more ironic. We were mutually confused. I thought, Hey, it’s biblical literalist end-times fiction — what did you expect?
It reminded me of the time a lesbian friend in college lent me a bunch of her pornography, a magazine called On Our Backs. I’d seen plenty of magazine covers from gay-male porn on every subway ride to and from high school. I’ve never seen the inside of one, but they’re not too hard to imagine. Gay male culture was omnipresent in 1980s Manhattan. I had no idea what lesbian pornography would look like. The most fascinating thing about it was that (1) it was just as vaginally obsessed as hetero-male pornography, and (2) it looked nothing like hetero-male pornography. Entirely different aesthetic and presentation for a very similar subject matter.
I told my friend and boss and psychology professor about it. (That’s one guy, not three.) He said he’d be curious to see the magazines when I was done with them. When he handed them back to me, he had that same baffled look that my more recent friend would have 15 years later as he handed back my Left Behind discs.
I said to my professor friend, “You look disappointed.”
He said, “Yeah, I guess I was expecting something more … intellectual?”
I said, “Come on, it’s porn!”
(Somehow my post on biblical-literalist end-times fiction has turned into my lesbian pornmag story, but I guess I’ll just go with it.)
I had a coffee date with the woman who had lent me her magazines. I returned them to her in the brown paper in which she’d originally given them to me. She started to take them out and ask me what I thought. My face began to burn and I asked her to put them back in the bag. “It’s not polite to read pornography in public,” I said.
So we chatted about other stuff. Then her girlfriend came into the cafe. My friend was the femme and her girlfriend was definitely the butch. Butch came in with her leather jacket, big black boots, buzz-cut hair. Stepped up onto our table and walked over it to sit on the windowsill. The windowsill where the brown paper bag currently sat.
Butch says, “Oh! Dirty magazines!” Takes them out and starts leafing through them.
My femme friend: “Brian says it’s not polite to read pornography in public.”
Butch girlfriend: “I’m not reading. I’m just lookin’ at the pictures!”