You might recall that just over a year ago I wrote an obit on Norman Mailer. I’ve got a couple of Mailer’s books on my shelf, but it would be wrong – far wrong – to say that I daily think of him.
Nonetheless, Mailer has been on my mind lately, for a couple of reasons. First, PBS recently rebroadcast “Oswald’s Ghost,” the very good documentary on Lee Harvey Oswald, the JFK assassination, and the cult of conspiracy. (We’re always interested in the impact of that historical event – see here for an example.) Anyway, the documentary was based on Mailer’s book of the same name, and Mailer plays a prominent on-screen role in it. And Mailer, for all his pious pontificating, has no doubt Oswald was the single, lone assassin of JFK. The Warren Commission may have been deeply flawed, but it arrived at the right conclusion. Oswald did it – get over it. Mailer offers some provocative comments about the conspiracy theorists and their need to believe in conspiracies, and while I wish he had explored some of the areas which James Piereson mentions in his terrific Camelot and the Cultural Revolution – for example, the mere fact that the anit-Communist Kennedy was killed by the Communist Oswald – you have to be grateful for what you can get.
And there’s no question Mailer could dish it out. You want to talk about provocative? Here’s a story related to Jay Nordlinger, which he recounts today at NRO:
Sometime in the late ’70s, Norman Mailer came to Zellerbach Hall at UC-Berkeley to give a talk. The place was sold out. This was during the period when he was writing pieces refuting Germaine Greer. He walked onstage wearing cowboy boots, Levis, and a shirt and jacket . . . and he had a rolling sort of John Wayne gait.
As he stepped up to the microphone, he said approximately the following: “I know that about half of you here tonight hate my guts because of my stand on feminism. So let’s get that out of the way. I want you to hiss me. I want you to let all of your feelings toward me out. Come on, hiss me!”And the most spine-chilling hiss arose from the audience. It lasted ten seconds. I’d never heard anything like it before, and I haven’t since. It was authentic and deeply felt. And when it subsided, Mailer leaned into the microphone and said, softly, “Obedient bitches.”
As I said, provocative - and irrestible!