Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal, Milton Friedman, and…Teenage Hookers


Like Jesse Walker, I think highly of the just-deceased Gore Vidal's novels and other writings and I especially cherish Burr, his 1973 retelling of the American founding from the POV of the man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton. Although they are mass-produced commercial items, relationships with books are always highly personalized and I can remember stumbling across the novel as a kid sometime in the post-Watergate, post-1776 (the musical) haze of the Me Decade. Burr fuses in my memory with snippets of the Church Commission hearings (which revealed massive wrongdoing by the National Security Administration, the FBI, and the CIA) and, believe it or not, Milton and Rose Friedman's Free to Choose: A Personal Statement.

What the Church hearings, Burr, and Free to Choose all had in common was a thoroughgoing questioning of the offical story of the goodness and greatness of government actors and government actions. Burr is a particularly well-told tale, very literary in its structure and style and very American in its quest for paternity and eventual exile. The novel was not just an exciting read, it opened by younger mind to the idea that history and literature didn't need to be dull or dusty and that the past informs the present and future far more than we might ever imagine. On a more direct ideological angle, it helped drive home the notion that stories, especially when promulgated by self-interested authorities, are explicitly designed to obscure much more than the explain. I don't have my doctoral dissertation handy so I can't check it for sure, but if Vidal didn't make it into the actual pages of that dreary text, Qualified Authority in American Fiction: Participant Observers and Market Orders, his ghost haunts almost every page.

That said, as I got older and especially as Vidal got older, he came to represent something else in my mind. I enjoyed the public spectacle he made of himself on talk shows and in magazines and in the political arena, but I think he also became less and less interesting as a thinker and a writer because he had ascended to a place where he no longer had to really engage with the world of ideas and criticism. He had his coterie and his renown and his shtick and was all set. This is partly a place every public intellectual aspires to, I suppose, and it's something they should seek to avoid if they want to stay at the very top of their game. He could still be flat-out funny: As Brian Doherty once reminded me, Vidal immediately answered "Duluth" once when asked what his best novel (a turgid parody of both the TV show Dallas and Pynchonesque metafiction, it was anything but).

But Vidal's lack of real-world grounding leads to the sort of weirdness that bubbled up in a 2009 interview with The Atlantic regarding self-confessed predator Roman Polanski's drugging and assault of a 13 year old girl:

So what's your take on Polanski, this many years later?

I really don't give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she's been taken advantage of?

I've certainly never heard that take on the story before.

First, I was in the middle of all that. Back then, we all were. Everybody knew everybody else. There was a totally different story at the time that doesn't resemble anything that we're now being told.

What do you mean?

The media can't get anything straight. Plus, there's usually an anti-Semitic and anti-fag thing going on with the press – lots of crazy things. The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, Polacko – that's what people were calling him – well, the story is totally different now from what it was then.

Vidal, I'm afraid, could talk out of his ass because at some point he just kicked free of any need or desire to engage in real discourse rather than spout whatever he could dream up. That's an all-too-common endpoint for many eminent writers and thinkers.

More in that vein, including Vidal "just asking questions" about 9/11 and commenting on America's "unfree" press, here.

The Nation's Jon Weiner remembers Vidal and his life and work and controversites here.

NEXT: Romney Takes My Advice (Without Even Reading My Column)

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  1. A 13 year old girl gets drugged and sodomized and he calls her a hooker. Vidal was a great writer. But he was a thorough piece of shit as a human being. Talent and morality are two different things.

    1. Gets drugged or took drugs? There’s a difference.

      I don’t care enough to argue about it, but I will agree with the premise that perhaps things didn’t happen exactly the way the media reported it, and Polanski’s still a sick fuck for sleeping with a 13 year old girl regardless of whether she was a hooker or not.

      1. She was 13 and he gave her booze and a Quaalude. I think it is safe to say she did not have a full understanding of what she was taking. Read her testimony.


        Polanski is a sick fuck who ought to be shot.

        1. Like I said, I agree with you that Polanski should’ve just been shot because he’s a sick fuck, but there are only 2 people that know what actually went down. Her story doesn’t really “fit” to me; if you want to leave somewhere, generally you just fucking leave.

          1. It is a simple rule anon, if you are a 30+ year old man and you are sodomizing a 13 year old girl, there really are not any mitigating circumstances.

            1. I agree, even if there was consent.

          2. but there are only 2 people that know what actually went down.

            Nope, Anjelica Huston was there.

            if you want to leave somewhere, generally you just fucking leave.

            What was she supposed to do? Drive away in her car?

            1. Uh, open the door and walk through it? That’s generally how I leave places.

              1. Ok, I’ll drug and booze you up and then let you loose in an unfamiliar neighborhood after being raped. Let’s see how far you get.

                1. The point is to leave *before* you get raped.

                  Ok, I’ll drug and booze you up and then let you loose in an unfamiliar neighborhood

                  I’ve found myself in such a situation more times than I can count, starting when I was probably 12 or 13.

                  1. Well, it’s a shame that Geimer wasn’t as much of tough lil’ streetwise punk as you were then.

        2. This meme that the girl somehow wanted to have Polanski penetrate her anally spread by his friends filled me with disgust.

          Polanski’s a piece of crap, and the people apologizing and minimizing his actions because they like him are pieces of crap as well.

      2. Gets drugged or took drugs? There’s a difference.

        There’s no difference if you are judging Polanski’s behavior.

        Decent grown men don’t fuck 13 year old girls. Full stop. Drugged, undrugged, paid, unpaid, makes no difference.

  2. “opened by younger mind”


    Also Duluth is hardly Pynchonesque. Just because some novel has some rambling seeming unrelated passages doesn’t make it Pynchonesque. ARGH. Just thinking of mentioning those two in the same sentence is infuriating to me.

    Also you left out the best part of the Atlantic interview, when he talks about how Errol Flynn got away with rape because he didn’t have a hair on his body (and he was also somehow a virgin or something).

    Definitely a Teamer type, as even direct, documented contradiction of his supposed ‘argument’ makes no impact on his platform.

    1. This is clearly the Hit ‘n Run’s best comment ever.

      Also, I dig the new format.

  3. J.? Jerk? Jimbo? Jesus?

  4. the man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.

    Truly an American hero.

    1. Yes because things would have been so much better if we all lived on small slave holding farms as Jefferson intended. Who needs that whole industrial economy thing?

      1. You really think Jefferson intended that?

        I think one of Jefferson’s points was that government shouldn’t “intend” shit.

        1. I think Jefferson believed a lot of daffy things that are now forgotten. And yes, he thought that was the ideal and that government should try to create such a society. And the future proved him horribly wrong and Hamilton right.

          1. Having read the Federalist Papers, Hamilton got a lot wrong.

            Things he said would NEVER happen under the constitution, have happened.

            The anti-federalist arguments were almost entirely right.

            1. RACIST!!!

      2. Yes, slave holding farms are the only alternative to a centralized empire. It#s a binary choice.

        1. Yes, slave holding farms are the only alternative to a centralized empire. It#s a binary choice

          No, if you look at the history of Rome, it’s more analog.

          Jus’ sayin’….

      3. There are reasons to hate Hamilton besides being pro-slavery, you know. You are acting like a liberal who thinks that the only reason somebody who could disagree with Obama is because they are racist.

    2. Truly an American hero.

      If you think Arron Burr was a hero, you need to actually go and read about Arron Burr.

  5. Sorry, it’s too early to talk ill of the dead. I’ll just cite two of his quotes and leave it for you all to decide:

    “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little part of me dies.”
    “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

    Let those quotes tell you what kind of person just died.

    1. It’s never too early to talk ill of the dead.

      “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”

      1. Since you put it that way, by every indication I can find Vidal was a disgusting excuse for a human being and the world would have been slightly better off if William F. Buckley actually had “knocked his block off”.

    2. “”Whenever a friend succeeds, a little part of me dies.”
      “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

      Let those quotes tell you what kind of person just died.”

      Stalin has been dead for like, a really long time.
      Oh wait, sorry, I got mixed up. Stalin did say a bunch of shit just like that.

  6. my friend from kindergarten was Gore Vidal’s last personal assistant (fired about a year back). I visited him on saturday and sunday, kind of trippy to have engaged in the most conversation about Gore in my whole life, read 190+ pages of a manuscript about Gore, and then have Gore die the next day.

  7. I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?

    What was that about rape culture?

    1. Just wondering, does Vidal get the Daniel Tosh treatment for this quote, or does he get a pass?

      1. At least Vidal knew he wasn’t funny.

  8. does Vidal get the Daniel Tosh treatment for this quote, or does he get a pass?

    Did he vote for Booooooosh?

  9. Note to Nick Gillespie:
    Please leave a directive to Reason to run a decent picture with your obituary (may it not be for many decades hence).

    Nobody wants to see you in your old man pants with a cat at your side.

    1. That is a handsome orange man, though. I’m a huge fan of handsome orange men with Ms on their foreheads.

      1. That is a nice looking cat. And you can tell the cat is thinking “I don’t give a fuck that the old bastard is senile and he smells, he makes a hell of a warm bed”.

        It is all about heat and comfort for cats.

  10. As a kid, Burr made a big impression on me as well.

    When my grandfather learned that I had read it he told me that when he was a kid, one of his neighbors was an old guy who had worked for Burr, and had also met Jefferson. Suddenly what had seemed like ancient history, almost fiction in my young mind, became real. Two degrees of separation from me and those ancient guys in the history books. Wow. That was when I realized just how short a time ago that all was and how closely we are connected to those people and events.

    1. Hold it, how old was your grandfather? Burr died in 1836 and Jefferson in 1826. Even at the turn of the 20th Century, there would have been few people around who were alive back then letalone adults.

      1. He was born in the late 1880’s and died in 1985.
        I think the old guy he knew was quite old as well. My grandfather said he and his brothers used to go visit the old geezer because he had an irish accent and they were fascinated by that.

        1. I have put the time line together myself before….it is possible. I do wonder if the old fucker wasnt pulling their chains though.

          Still, as a kid, it made quite an impression on me.

          1. You figure he is 10 when he remembers the story. That would make it 1890. Lets say the neighbor was 80, which was really old for the 19th Century. That would mean he was born in 1810 making him 16 when Jefferson died. And perhaps he worked as an assistant or something for Burr after Burr returned to the US in the 1820s. So it is possible.

            My mother’s great grandmother was still alive in the 1950s and could remember being a little girl in Virginia during the Civil War. Things like hearing the guns and her mother and her giving soldiers water. That always amazed me as a kid.

            1. My great grandmother was alive up until the 2000’s and could remember how WWI had absolutely no impact on her rural, dirt-farming childhood. Descendants of farmers never have any good stories to pass down.

              1. My grandmother on my mother’s side was a farm wife. She could remember seeing her first car and the dust bowl and how some of the neighbors’ kids were killed during the second world war. Yeah, being a farmer doesn’t change much.

                1. Yeah, another great grandmother lived to the early 1980’s. I never got a chance to ask her about it, but I’m sure she would have told me all about how the Spanish-American War had absolutely no impact on her rural, dirt-farming childhood.

                  We have some good WWII stories in our family, but so does everyone else.

                  1. Some not so good.

                    My great uncle survived the bataan death march. He was some kinda seriously fucked up too. Probably the meanest, bitterest human I have ever met. Batshit crazy as well.

                    We never saw him much. When he died the whole family breathed a sigh of relief. I have mixed feelings about it now, considering what he went through. However, his brothers said he was always like that, even as a kid.

                    1. I had a great uncle who landed on D-Day. He got a purple heart and a silver star, but would never say how (probably a not so good story, as you say). His favorite story was about how he and some friends almost got court marshaled for attempted murder of a superior officer.

                      Basically they had some down time somewhere in France and “found” some booze. Then they started betting on whether one of them could throw a grenade over the building that was being used as a local command post. Long story short, grenade goes in an upstairs window and actually goes off, but no one was hurt. One of the officers was furious and wanted blood, but the CO wrote it off as a case of “battle fatigue”. I’m sure you can guess who got all the shit assignments from that point on.

                    2. Suthenboy,

                      My mother had a great uncle who was in World War I. He got gassed and could barely breath. He was a sniper. My uncles, all of whom are big hunters, still talk in awe of how great of a shot the guy was. But he also apparently had the job of shooting German messengers, most of whom were 12 and 13 year old kids by the time the US got into the war. He was remembered as being generally fucked up and bitter.

                  2. My family doesn’t some guy. My grandfathers were both a little too old, worked in vital industries, and already had kids by the time the war arrived. And my uncles were too old. My family didn’t have a single member on either side serve in World War II. We are bit I rare I suspect.

            2. It amazes me now. That is fascinating.

              I had coffee in the gun shop this morning with a guy who is 112. He never met anyone famous or did anything spectacular, but he tells excellent stories about the past. This morning he told about sunken hills. It is a place in central louisiana where the land collapsed in the , presumably some kind of enormous cavern in the sandstone there, and swallowed up a town. He said he was in the rescue party that went to search for survivors and they could find nothing, no trace of the town or it’s people. One of these days I am going to kick myself for not recording him.

              1. You could send a tape of him to NPR. They eat that shit up.

                1. He would probably shoot me. He hates NPR and anything lefty.

                  1. To illustrate this I will quote him –

                    “The world dont owe you shit, son. You gotta root hog or die.”

                    I am trying to imagine his reaction to ” Hey mister Old Guy, I taped you and sent your stories in to those socialist faeries at NPR. They want to come interview you.”

                    Yeah, the next thing I would smell would be burned gunpowder. Heh.

    2. Was Burr told from the perspective of the grave? Did he say anything about the experience of being dead?

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