Did John Kerry fight not only Viet, but Vampire Cong in the Mekong Delta? Is the GOP considering replacing Dick Cheney on the ticket with the zombified corpse of Ronald Reagan? Is the Bush family, along with Martha Stewart, embroiled in a satanic plot to take over the world?
Recently, artists in various media have taken to casting the foes of the Democratic party as monsters. Literally. With so many voters dismissing the Democrats as the lesser of two evils, these characterizations call Republicans the much, much more evil of two evils, – think Barbara Bush (the elder) pulling a baby's head out of a gory sheep bladder – as if to say to conservatives, "You think we're godless and immoral? Well, you worship Satan!"
One of the milder portraits of the "Satanic Right" is in the Image Comics series, Sword of Dracula, which concerns a government agency that hunts vampires. The current issue (#5) includes a brief scene with a courageous swift boat captain helping to track Dracula himself in Vietnam, circa 1968. The soldier is only identified as a lieutenant who once chased on foot a Viet Cong fighter who had fired on his boat with a rocket launcher, but series creator Jason Henderson acknowledges the character's identity.
"I chose [Sen. John] Kerry because Sword of Dracula is about what good can be done when many nations work together – the heroes of the comic are a multinational force," said Henderson. "Kerry's message of strength through multinational respect and co-operation fit well with that."
GOP supporters are unimpressed by this latest account of Kerry's tour of duty (which one might argue is at least as truthful as that in the "swift boat" ads). Audrey Mullen, a partner at Republican public relations firm Advocacy Ink in Washington, D.C., says, "I don't know anyone on the right who has the spare time to indulge in [comic books], but maybe this is how Democrats reach their base. We, on the other hand, have National Review."
Henderson, however, denies that Kerry's appearance is a political statement. "The Republicans aren't evil. John McCain is a righteous man. George W. Bush is a righteous man," he said, although he did let slip that "My hope is that with the next story arc, Kerry will return as the president."
Earlier this summer, Greg Knauss, a 36-year-old computer programmer who is married to a Republican, put up a website devoted to a presidential ticket of Bush and "Zombie Reagan." Not only does the site make merciless fun of the dead, it describes the late president as "a lumbering, flesh-eating corpse" who will replace Dick Cheney because of the current vice president's need to devote more time to bathing "in the blood of virgins."
According to the site, "Zombie Reagan... no longer needs to sleep and can withstand any wound save the complete destruction of his head. By way of example, Zombie Reagan would have been able to shrug off his 1981 assassination attempt and eat his attacker. He and President Bush enjoy clearing brush together."
The site has received more than 400,000 hits, most of which came during its first week online, and its content has been widely circulated on the Internet. It was popular enough to spawn a related product line (mugs, T-shirts, hats and the like) and to inspire dozens of visitors to offer campaign slogans such as "Zombie Reagan – Still Less Evil Than Cheney," "Putting the Voodoo Back in Voodoo Economics."
With the buzz generated by the site, Knauss expected a storm of criticism. It never materialized. "I mean, geez, what does it take to enrage people these days?" he complains. "Here I am, poking a recently passed icon of conservatism with a sharp stick and nobody threatens to kill me? I thought these were polarized, overly serious times!"
Not everyone is amused, however. "That's just disrespectful," says Bobby Eberle, president of GOPUSA.com, a conservative news site boasting 300,000 subscribers. "Mocking the memory of a former president who was beloved around the country, that's juvenile and in poor taste." The site is inactive now because Knauss felt that the joke had run its course. And profits from the product line benefit the Alzheimer's Foundation. "It's my atonement for being a bastard," he says.
Meanwhile at the Sacred Fools Theatre in Los Angeles, where a new play, "Dubya 2004," begins its run in mid-September, there are no such reservations about attacking conservatives with any weapons at hand, theatrically speaking. "I think of it as shock therapy," says actor and associate producer Jacob Sidney.
"Dubya 2004" depicts two supernatural, warring clans – the Bushes and the Kennedys – battling not for the soul, but control of America. In the play, the Bushes have gained the upper hand through their dealings with a diabolic figure known only as "He Who Shall Not Be Named." Their end of the bargain includes bloody rituals, sacrifices and murder plots."How the hell else do you get George W. Bush elected if you're not in league with Satan?" asks Sidney.
David L.M. Mcintyre, one of the theater's three artistic directors, says that calling the leaders of what some consider God's Only Party the opposite of what they claim to be is cathartic: "The past four years have generated a lot of confusion, but also rage. [So, since this] administration has been vocally pro-Christian and espousing a 'What would Jesus do?' method of government while corrupting the systems we cherish about our country... to criticize that in a mildly petulant tone, it's an outlet."
The play is a sequel to one of the theater's best-known works, "Dubya 2000," written and directed by Rik Keller four years ago. "2000" was in part inspired by Keller's fascination with George W. Bush's membership in the quasi-occult secret society, Skull and Bones. According to Joe Jordan, the writer and director of "Dubya 2004," the new play is intended to cast a wider net.
"The attacks in this play are not partisan," insists Morrissey-lookalike Jordan. "The Bushes are attacked not because they're Republican, but because they're in power. [In the play] the Kennedys have their own malevolent designs on reclaiming the power they once had. Everyone is suspect."
Crystal Keith, another associate producer of "Dubya 2004," says this kind of absurdist agitprop "demands a response. Even if you're completely on board with the Bush agenda, you can't help but respond to shocking allegations in some way. And that is on some level going to force you to reconsider your assumptions."
But Trudy Thomas, district manager for a Californian government office, finds such mockery disturbing. "This shows hatred for faith, for everything we stand for as Americans," she says. "It's part and parcel with the Michael Moore bunch. There's nothing wrong with the fact that President Bush and President Reagan's faith animates everything they do. They have a responsibility to God, and along with that comes a responsibility to the people they're elected to serve."
Not that conservatives have exactly been shy with the pejoratives. Top commentators on the right have long branded liberals appeasers of evil, or accessories to evil, or accessorizers of evil, or something. In treason-spotter Ann Coulter's January review of big Sean Hannity's "Deliver Us From Evil," she wrote, "The leaders of the modern Democratic Party, Hannity says, have made excuses for evil for so long that they cannot recognize evil anymore... of course, they recognize evil in the person of George W. Bush.... In fact, Bush may be the only force of evil in the world liberals haven't wanted to appease." So as the discourse remains mired at the level of "liar liar pants on fire," do these occult accusations bring anything to the debate? Perhaps the most piquant recent occult comparisons have come in more subtle and complex (and sometimes unintentional) shades.
M. Night Shyamalan's film "The Village" concerns a quaint wooded town in which life is just peachy – unless you happen to wear red or wander into the forest, in which case horrible monsters will treat you like a child-proof bottle in Rush Limbaugh's house. (Warning: Spoiler alert) It turns out that the creatures are a ruse put on by the village elders to preserve the town's idyllic way of life and keep its denizens in a suspended state of innocence. Shyamalan has said that his film carries no political message, so any parallel to any other society's use of color-coded alerts and shadowy threats to control the populace is purely coincidental.
Another, more chilling approach was on display during the Republican National Convention when Oscar-winner Holly Hunter and others put on a staged reading in New York City of two brief scenes by everything-award-winner Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") that hinge on First Lady Laura Bush's encounter with the ghosts of Iraqi children.
The first scene, "Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy," was published in The Nation last year as the war began. In it, the kind, caring Ms. Bush sits down with kids killed by American military actions to read them some Dosteyevsky. "So you are the first Iraqi children I've met and you look real sweet in your PJs. And I'm sorry you're dead, but all children love books," she tells them.
Kushner's vignette offers by far the sharpest and deepest-cutting commentary of all those listed here, ominously acknowledging American guilt ("We'll pay for your deaths one way or another. He just hates it when I say that, my husband, it's not in his nature to think that way," says the fictional Laura) and blithely describing the kill-first mentality of our leaders ("If my husband had been in charge back then Dostoyevsky would've been dead for sure – my husband, he executed everyone they told him to, everyone they let him, I should say.").
All the while, Kushner manages to humanize Ms. Bush, hinting that she's an unfortunate person trapped in a nightmare – sort of similar to the approach taken by "Dubya 2004." The scene ends with a shattering moment: The quiet acknowledgement that, despite the human costs, the human beings with doubts like hers will stay the course. This relatively soft prodding of audiences' minds and hearts may be the most forceful of all.
It remains to be seen whether these tales from the crypt will have any impact beyond momentary amusement. In the meantime, liberals will continue to ignore Kerry's disturbing resemblance to Frankenstein's monster and conservatives will deny that Dick Cheney is actually a malevolent robot hammered together in Karl Rove's workshop.