Monday, February 11, 2013

Best of "The Realist"

1984, Running Press edition
Edited by Paul Krassner
Best of The Realist
Bought newish for $8.95
Very worn hardcover

The aunt who bought me so many books got me this one as a belated 17th birthday gift.  As a hippie, she didn't worry about Harry Reasoner's claim that Krassner "not only attacked establishment vaulues; he attacked decency in general."  I'm almost the age my aunt was then, and I definitely can't see giving this book to a 17-year-old girl.  Yes, it captures its time-- 1958 to '74, although most of the book seems to be from the JFK era-- but so did Caricature capture the first decade of the 1900s.  And, although Krassner and some of his contributors sometimes voice sympathy with women and/or feminism, this book is easily as sexist as that collection from 1909.  Also, some of the writing and much of the art here are gratuitously grotesque.  I don't feel like we're being shocked to make a point, to become enlightened.  The people who would be offended were not, for instance, LBJ (who from all accounts was an incredibly crude man himself) or Nixon (whose profanity on the White House tapes is legendary).  Besides that, there's not really anything funny here.  Yes, it's better than Caricature (which I gave a D), more intelligent, more ambiguous, but like so much of the '60s Left, it's over-rated.  The best of the lot is Psychita, a satire of Psycho and Lolita, but even that has a heavy-handed ending. 

When I first read the book, I thought, "Who is this Norman Mailer jerk who thinks that masturbation is worse than rape or murder, who thinks all middle-aged gay men are depressed, who thinks that stabbing his wife is a private matter?"  I hadn't read Sexual Politics yet, but it's funny that I was intuitively more sympathetic with the second-wave feminists than with the male-dominated Left.  Reading the book this time, I was of course less shocked by Mailer but I still think he's a jerk.  Krassner doesn't let Mailer, or even Ken Kesey, completely off the hook, so points for that.  But I can't really recommend this book, and not just to 17-year-old girls.

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