Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor

The mass suicide at Jonestown happened 30 years ago today; the following morning, a Sunday, readers of newspapers awoke to this photo on their front pages. The 1980 TV mini-series, with Powers Boothe, Angela Cartwright, and Randy Quaid, gives a flavor of the place, within the limits of television.

Anthony Burgess's 1981 novel, Earthly Powers, refers to a Jonestown-like cult. In the novel, the irony is that the cult's founder, Godfrey Manning, was a boy dying of meningitis in a Chicago hospital in the '20s, restored to health through the intercession of a priest who had unavailingly prayed for his own dying brother. In the year of Jonestown itself, Burgess had published his dystopian novel 1985, about British society crumbling while militant Islam claimed an ever larger place in English life.

Speaking of society crumbling, this morning's New York Times contains the startling headline, "Many Dealings of Bill Clinton are Under Review," which is rather like announcing that the universe is still subject to entropy. Perhaps a suitable subheadline would have been Psalm 130:3. Commenting on overtures to Senator Clinton from the Obama team, the former President rather artlessly commented, "If he decided to ask her, and they did it together," but fortunately, he remembered that he was discussing national politics and reined himself in, concluding "I think she’ll be really great as a secretary of state." Plus ça change...

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

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