"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 July 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Stations of the Dross


[This is Richard M. Nixon.  The guy in the Simpsons got his name from Nixon's middle name.  Pretty neat, huh?]

In these upside down, postmodern

times, nothing is sacred. Not

even the profane.


[This is G. Gordon Liddy.  He's a bad-ass.  He trains professional killers. He holds grudges.]

Last week marked the 25th

anniversary of the Watergate

break-in, and G. Gordon Liddy

took the opportunity to cash in

on the occasion by broadcasting

his radio show from the lobby of

the Howard Johnson Premier, the

digs just across the street from

the Watergate complex where he

and all the president's men

plotted their naughty little

schemes. Far from being

unaccommodating, hotel

management itself was hawking

press tours of their recently

redecorated "Watergate Suite,"

replete with newspaper clippings

and a telescope. They claim the

only bed in Washington with a

longer waiting list and a higher

room-tax, morally speaking, is

the Lincoln Bedroom.


[This is Elvis.  I was in Vegas last week, and I think I saw him.]

It's really just another rinse

cycle in the ongoing process of

laundering old Tricky Dick's

reputation. Indeed, ever since

Nixon's death three years ago, there

seems to be an effort afoot to

canonize the only president in

history to hand himself a pink

slip - and to have a pretty good

reason for doing it. Sure he's

the most reviled American

politician in history. But he

established relations with

China! And he made progress with

the Soviet Union! He put an end

to Vietnam! In fact the only

person who accomplished more in

the way of time-capsule

reputation-proofing during

Nixon's tenure was probably

Elvis, who was busy engineering

the Las Vegas phase of his

career - the one that sealed his

myth and installed him

permanently on the porcelain



Even though it's been 20 years

since Presley's demise,

impersonators still roam the

nation in gaudy sideburns and

jumpsuits. Normally Americans

have the good taste to celebrate

the births, marriages, and

anniversaries of their heroes,

not their restroom overdoses.

But this is Elvis, after all,

and last week The New York

Times published an article by

Karal Ann Marling that strives

to put the Old, Old Story in

perspective for the umpteenth



[This is Elvis, too.  He is omnipresent.  A real 'everywhere' man.]

Presently Marling, a professor of

art history and American

studies, decries recent efforts

by her academic colleagues to

co-opt the King, saying that

Elvis belongs to the people, not

to the tweeds in the high ivory

tower. Meanwhile, she can't

resist calling Presley "a shared

point of cultural reference" and

"the whited sepulchre of pop

culture." Ugh. Still, there was

a diamond of erudition in this

dunghill of clichés:

Lacking for a title - not to

mention a subject - that hasn't

already been flogged to oblivion

("Elvis Lives"), Marling's

editors sagely distilled her

message. "His death," they wrote

in the subhead, "is just an

inconvenient detail."


[This is elvis.  And here he stands with Nixon.  I hear they are very happy on that island with Jim Morrison.]

On the contrary, Elvis and Nixon

share this common bond: Death is

the best thing that ever

happened to their careers.

Whereas in later life both were

moribund old codgers who were a

relative embarrassment to family

and fans, expiring bought them

new leases on pop-cultural life.

Elvis has been getting around

with considerable aplomb, and

it's only a matter of time

before we see a resurgence in

"Nixteria." A modern upgrade on

the Virgin Mary herself, Elvis

and Nixon are great American

martyrs who can't resist

visiting the faithful. Their

numerous transgressions against

the public have gradually been

dismissed as trifles, and their

negligible contributions

exaggerated. After all, Nixon

was a crook, and Elvis was

nothing but a hound dog. Which

just goes to show you can't keep

a bad man down.


[This is Elvis, too.  I think he is an impersonator, tho-]

Traditionally, canonization

requires evidence of three

miracles per candidate. That

these two buffoons reached the

acme of their respective

professions is one. That they

actually met and liked each

other is two. While their best

efforts to sabotage their own

careers hardly smacks of

humility so much as it smacks of

... well, smack, we'll forgive

them the third. Judging by the

perennial press they get and the

garage sales they'll be

underwriting with their trashy

relics for decades to come, it's

not as if these American icons

aren't already enjoying eternal



And that's precisely the point.

Nixon and Elvis illustrate the

ultimate American truism that

any press is good press, and

that there's nothing better to

do with a public-relations lemon

than make public-relations

lemonade. In a few short years,

with a pinch of luck and a

decent executor, it's quite

possible your vices will be seen

as virtues. Really, the only

thing Americans love more than a

hypocrite or a megalomaniac is a

tragic fool. And apparently the

only thing that separates the

heroes from the whores is

knowing which tapes to erase,

and which ones to release.

courtesy of E.L. Skinner.

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