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Friday, January 23, 2009

Ahead of the Curve: The Premature Anti-facist.

It's not often that the term "premature anti-facist" comes up in my day-to-day life. This week it has. Twice.

Wiktionary defines "premature anti-facist"as follows: "In U.S. usage, one who opposed fascism at a time when the United States government was still on relatively friendly terms with fascist Italy and (to a lesser extent) Nazi Germany. Especially a supporter of the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. Connotes Communist sympathies. Originally a term of abuse, but one that eventually came to be used more by its original targets as a self-description."

The term came up while reading Head Games, a novel by Craig McDonald, and while listening to a January 12 podcast of public radio host Diane Rehm interviewing the author of a biography about Charlie Chaplin.

The podcast featured Stephen Weissman talking with Ms. Rehm about his book Chaplin: A Life. One of Charlie Chaplin's most famous movies is The Great Dictator. This movie, filmed and released before the United States entered World War II, skewers Adolph Hitler and exposes the suffering of Jewish people trapped within Hitler's regime.

Weissman said on the podcast that this movie resulted in the U.S. government labeling Chaplin a premature anti-facist, and that Chaplin was subpoened to testify before Congress concerning his activities. The subpoena became moot when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war.

This story and many others make the podcast extremely interesting and I recommend giving it a listen. In an odd moment for the author, one caller to the program said that he was a huge Chaplin fan, had been at the bookstore and was prepared to purchase Chaplin: A Life, but decided against the purchase as the 315-page book might actually contain more information than the caller wanted to know.

Uff-da. Some days, you just can't win.

The second time 'premature anti-facist' popped up this week was in a fun, action-packed novel by Craig McDonald, Head Games. Set in 1957, the hero in Head Games is crime writer Hector Lassiter. Lassiter, along with his side-kick Bud Fiske, manage to get custody of the head of Pancho Villa. It turns out that a lot of people are after this head, including Senator Prescott Bush who wants it for the Skull & Bones Society of Yale University.

As a result of the Senator's interest in the skull, Lassiter gets a visit from an FBI agent. The two argue. "'Exactly whose stooge are you, dumbass?'" Lassiter asks the agent. The agent snarls back, "'I'm not going to f**k with you. You were prematurely anti-facist, and-" . . . "What's that make you Johnny-come-latelys? Tardily anti-facist?'" replies Lassiter. "'Can only be the term for it.'"

There is much more to Head Games than this small snippet, but it illustrates the work McDonald put into writing this recommend read. A lot of interesting history is woven into the wild plot, which includes murderous frat boys and other bandits, shoot-outs, and movie stars. McDonald so perfectly captures and carries through the atmosphere of the period in which this story is set that I had to keep looking at the copyright date (2007 and published by Bleak House Books) to convince myself that this was indeed a new book.

Check out Craig McDonald's Head Games.

And T.G.I.F.