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Stephen King gets his domes confused


Like a lot of people, I was hooked on the miniseries "Under the Dome," based on Stephen Kings' novel of the same name. And like a lot of people, I was frustrated by the cliffhanger that ended the first season- not expecting a miniseries to even have two seasons.

In fact, I was frustrated enough to order the book from the library. It's so much better than the series that I'm not sure I'm going to even bother watching the second season (and other than the title, the basic situation, and the names of the characters- some of them, anyway- there really isn't all that much similarity between the two). Without revealing too much, the miniseries has already basically precluded the scary, weirdly almost plausible Stephen King-esqued explanation fof the dome that suddenly descends on Chester's Mill, Maine, cutting it off from the outside world. And precluding the explanation also precludes the solution. It's hard to see how the denouement of the miniseries could be half as satisfying (suffice it to say, without spoiling anything, that the aliens in the book are not benign, as the miniseries has been hinting. Nor, oddly, are they exactly malevolent- at least in the sense we might expect).

As a major King fan, I think I enjoyed The Dome more than any of his books since The Stand. But I was troubled by something I subsequently read about the book.

It seems that King based Big Jim Rennie- the Chester's Mill Second Selectman cum ruthless dictator-on Dick Cheney. Bum ticker and all. The First Selectman, Andy Sanders, is a dimwit who, though not himself really evil, allows Rennie to basically run things from behind the scenes.

Get it?

King has gone so far as to explicitly say that he saw Bush in precisely the same way he paints Sanders- as more of an incompetent than a villain. Now, King is certainly entitled to his opinion of these gentlemen, just as he has the right to quite properly lampoon the birthers, racists, and other such wackos on the other side of the political spectrum. But he has himself passed over into the world of malicious nonsense when he puts their rhetoric in the mouth of Rennie, the Cheney character. And if he's going to base his characters on slanderous partisan stereotypes, he could be a bit more self-aware about it!

A goodly percentage of us would disagree that Dubyah was either incompetent or evil. History, of course, will have the final say. But right now, Iraq is still free- and compared to his successor, Bush 43 is looking pretty good right now. Further, beyond the determination of the Left (based more on Dubyah's tendency to become tongue-tied than anything else, combined with the Left's own malice) to bash the man any possible way they could, there never was much of a reason to regard this holder of two Ivy League degrees as intellectually limited to begin with. Or if there is, what does that say about Joe Biden? Or Biden's boss, for that matter- who trips over his own verbal feet every time he's separated from his teleprompter?

Modeling a character like Rennie after Dick Cheney is beneath contempt, a bit of moonbat mudslinging unworthy of King. Frankly, I find the fact that he did so a great scarier than the character of Rennie himself. It's exactly the kind of baseless partisan hyperbole and reckless badmouthing that has divided America as deeply as it's divided today. Even given the worst possible take on Bush and Cheney's eight years in office, nothing they did hurt the country as badly as divisive crap like "basing" a nearly satanic character on a political figure whom one simply doesn't happen to like.

And even as clichés go, this one is old. Even before the current epidemic of partisan hyperbole began, consider the Left's habitual characterization of Republican presidents:

Dwight D. Eisenhower: stupid

Richard Nixon: evil

Gerald Ford: stupid

Ronald Reagan: stupid AND evil

George H. W. Bush: stupid AND evil, but probably not quite as much of either as Reagan

George W. Bush: Both stupid and evil. By this time, though, it had occurred to Lefties that one obviously can't be both an evil mastermind and an idiot. So the more thoughtful character assassins- like King- opted for the later, and on the basis of neither reason nor evidence decide that Cheney was really running the show. Or something.

As partisan slander goes, the Left could use some new material. And I'm reminded of William F. Buckley's cogent comment to the effect that if you disagree with a conservative, he's apt to regard you as ill-informed or guilty of bad reasoning or betrayed by faulty philosophical presuppositions, but that if you disagree with a liberal, she's apt to regard you as a moral blight on the universe.

I'm especially disappointed in this nonsense coming from King, who usually makes a good-faith effort to see both sides of controversial issues and often bends over backwards to avoid this sort of nonsense. Personally pro-choice, I can recall his going to great lengths to include sympathetic characters who are revolted by abortion. Even in Under the Dome, the Chester's Mill Democrat is owned and edited by a Republican, Julia Shumway- who turns out to be one of the novel's most sympathetic major characters and the love interest of the novel's hero, James "Barbie" Barbara.

Of course, at least twice in the novel Barbie responds to something sensible and/or compassionate Julia says by observing that she is sounding less and less like a Republican. On neither occasion did I find anything particularly un-Republican about what Julia had said. But at least King didn't portray her as Ann Coulter with rabies.

Now, again, far be it from me to question Stephen King's right to editorialize politically in his books- or, as I think is probably a more accurate characterization of what happened here, to base his characters on the hyperbolic polemical caricature of people he disagrees with politically. But with rights come responsibilities- and it saddens me a bit that an author who, by and large, I think makes a good-faith effort at least not to be part of the problem when it comes to the superheated, over-the-top rhetoric and ridiculous character assassination which characterizes what passes for political discourse on both sides these days failed so badly this time.

Like the dome that descended on Chester's Mill, the Capitol dome may have a great deal of hot air trapped under it. But it probably would have been better if King had distinguished a bit more clearly between the two in his own mind before writing Under the Dome- or at least avoided making his own contribution to our nation's political hysteria, and at least kept Jim Rennie's origin to himself.

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