Remember the old days, when loony conspiracy theories had to circulate in what Lee Childs called “the shadow media?” Of course that’s so last century. Specifically, 1998….
I’ve only recently discovered Childs’ Jack Reacher series. Herself turned me onto them, because she likes the progressive take on world events. Unlike many thriller writers, Childs doesn’t idolize the military. For example, in a newer novel he describes special forces troops as “guys who shoot the balls off a tsetse fly at 100 yards but don’t know the difference between a Shi’ite and a latrine.” While vagabond hero Jack Reacher’s inner world is good-or-evil simplicity, Childs paints the outer world in more complex shades that often leave Reacher at sea. Perhaps that’s why Reacher is a perpetual wanderer; Childs seems to realize Reacher could not settle anywhere in the real world.
Unlike Herself, I began the series at the beginning with Killing Floor. It was entertaining enough for me to move on to Die Trying, where Reacher stumbles upon a kidnapping as it is happening and becomes a hostage himself. It seems a wacko group is wants to “take our country back” from the “tyrannical U.S. government,” run by a “puppet” who really works for “foreign interests” and is “killing the middle class with regulations and taxes” before the “black helicopters” round them up for “secret concentration camps.”
In 1998 when Die Trying was published, such groups were far enough off the beaten path of most Americans’ experience that it was plausible they would need a “shadow media” to keep in touch. In the novel they use shortwave radio, password-protected websites, hand-printed tracts distributed by mail, and “the Patriot Fax Network.” Twelve years later they’ve gone mainstream. Will Bunch encountered several such groups while researching the tea party movement, and they no longer need a “shadow media.” They have countless hardcover screeds in bookstores, most (ghost)written by celebrities from talk radio, cable news, and even Newt Gingrich.
In 2010, the villain in Die Trying wouldn’t be hunkered in the remote, shadowy woods of Montana with a hundred followers. He would be running for office … and probably leading by double digits in a Rasmussen poll.
I’ve heard it said that light is the best disinfectant. Maybe so. But life was a lot more comfortable when right-wing paranoia existed in the shadows, brought to light only when someone like Timothy McVeigh blew up a building. At least back then, we all agreed that was horrific. When Andrew Stack crashed his light plane into the Austin IRS building, Facebook groups hailed him as a hero and even Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said terrorism against the IRS was “understandable.”
I don’t want Jack Reacher’s solutions. As an action hero, his problem-solving usually involves brute force. But I want some solution. At the very least, I don’t want to see any more of the villains in Die Trying elected to Congress. This November, let’s send them back to the shadows.