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A Mythic Election

Marie Antoinette as portrayed in a scandal sheet before the French Revolution. These "libelles" were the tabloids and Fox News of their day. The hate speech they used with abandon led to the guillotine.
I’ve never enjoyed mythology, fairy tales or biblical stories nor have I –consciously—used any such references in my writing. I have not had a classical education, never learned Greek or Latin and was terrified by the grim Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales my European parents read to me. “The child intuitively comprehends that although these stories are unreal, they are not untrue ...” wrote psychologist Bruno Bettleheim in his book, “The Uses of Enchantment.” Exactly. And so it struck me as bizarre to find myself conjuring the character of Jezebel—that wicked, controlling woman from the Book of Kings --in an attempt to understand the unrelenting demonization of Hillary Clinton. Beyond the objective reality of her political and personal “mistakes,” why has she been so vilified? Why have those vicious accusing words “crooked,” and “liar” stuck to her and not come unstuck. She has been portrayed as a demon and as Satan himself.

I am reminded of Marie Antoinette’s fate during the French Revolution. Long before she was beheaded, she had been lampooned and stripped of her royal dignity in “libelles,” the tabloid scandal sheets of the day. Many of the writers were hacks tempted by money, without conscience or professional ethics. Gossip and rumor titillated a willing public fearful of the Austrian princess who had arrived in Paris to marry Louis XVI at the age of fourteen. Pornographic images of the Queen often accompanied salacious text. She was accused of stupidity, sexual deviance and treason. Surely, her entourage were all spies for her Hapsburg relations, these spin masters wrote. The constant repetition of words and images ignited a deep mythic fear in the French populace. It remains to this day. Ask anyone about Marie Antoinette and they will probably know nothing about her artistic achievements, her courage, or her devotion to her children.

How can we, as writers and journalists, begin to rewrite the false myths and false analogies we have been pummeled with in this election? Because it isn’t only Trump supporters who believe that they are true; I know Democrats who would never vote for Hillary. These educated “liberals,” believe everything they have heard or read about her. She is a lesbian, surely, one male friend said to me without blinking the other day, which, he implied, is much worse than being black. He is either going to abstain, or write-in a candidate, or vote for a third party candidate. I have tried to persuade him that he is deeply mistaken but I haven’t, as yet, been able to find the right words.

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