Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Part Twenty-Eight, Chapter Four - Gris Still Doesn't Understand

Now that Gris has talked Madison out of continuing the plan that Gris didn't understand in favor of the plan Gris didn't explain, the Apparatus agent has a peaceful night's sleep, untroubled with thoughts of where the hell Utanc has run off to, as she hasn't been mentioned for several pages.  In fact she doesn't appear at all during this chapter, on-screen or in Gris' thoughts.  After devoting at least a third of the book to Gris' "girlfriend," Hubbard seems to have forgotten about her.

The next morning Gris comes down with what he assures us is a psychologist-verified disorder called Newspaper Anxiety Syndrome, "responsible for the majority of commitments to mental institutions."  It's a condition where the patient freaks out at the sight of a newspaper.  When Gris sees the headline "WHIZ KID CHALLENGES OIL COMPANIES" he starts shaking so hard he can't even finish the article beneath it.  Yes, all the newspapers are carrying the story of how the Whiz Kid is challenging the Seven Brothers.

Who are these Seven Brothers, you ask?  They're a group of (presumably oil) companies led by Octopus Oil, their eldest member.  Have the Seven Brothers been mentioned at any point before this chapter?  Not to my knowledge, no.  Hell, even Octopus Oil popped up quite suddenly.  Like the characters in these past few chapters, I think the author is assuming that we know things about his setting even though he hasn't actually explained them to us.

Gris calms down a bit after reasoning that obviously there's some momentum to this media campaign and Madison couldn't completely stop it overnight, so he decides to check on his nemesis.  He finds Heller examining the same newspapers, confused and annoyed that he's been quoted for statements he never actually made.  Izzy explains that there's nothing he can do about this, as it's par the course for newspapers in Hubbard's satire of Earth, and suggests that Heller buy a ticket to South America.  Heller declines and goes to drive his car in circles.

Later that day while taking a walk, Gris notices that all the billboards in New York City are boasting of the Whiz Kid taking on the oil companies, and sport caricatures of the bucktoothed hero boxing the Seven Brothers.  On the HellerVision he finds Heller looking at the same thing, though Heller at least has the insight to check the fine print and discover that the billboard is paid for by the Americans for Cheap Fuel Committee.  Gris is of course a trained intelligence agent and therefore completely missed this.

I checked, and Political Action Committees have been around since 1947.  For a moment I was afraid I'd have to give Hubbard credit for accurately predicting future political trends, something almost too horrifying to contemplate.  I certainly wouldn't like to live in a world that Hubbard envisioned, whether it's his idea of a utopia or this dystopian "satirical" setting.

Gris tries and fails to reach Madison and Bury, then turns to the TV, only to find talk show interviews with the Whiz Kid.  The dialogue is dubbed over footage taken from the speedway and the interviewer never appears on the same screen as the Whiz Kid, but it'll probably fool the gullible, wretched masses, even though even Gris is able to figure out that they're fake. 

So that's one Utanc-free day.  The next morning Gris turns on a "housewife program" to see the Whiz Kid, in person, talking with the hostesses about the criminally-high energy prices.  He immediately calls Madison and demands an explanation.  And here we learn why Heller was given a prosthetic jaw and buck teeth and fake glasses - see, any public relations rep knows that you can't trust your client to do what you want and say the right things.  So Madison has a body double to do these appearances.  But because Mr. Bury refused to give Madison any double other than this one with bad eyes and buck teeth and the wrong jawline, and because Bury refused to shell out the cash to make this double actually look like Heller by means of plastic surgery and contact lenses, Madison had to give Heller the props to make him look like the body double who doesn't actually resemble him.

In other words, the villains have given their target a disguise as simple as removing a set of dentures and stage glasses.  So we'll probably get a scene where hit men are sent to kill Heller only to be baffled when they can't find a buck-toothed four-eyed young Jay Leno.  Or if Heller and his Not-Double are in the same place, Heller will pull out his teeth and be exposed as a "fake," allowing him to escape unharmed while something dreadful happens to Madison's minion.

Meanwhile on the HellerVision, the real Whiz Kid (please stand up, please stand up) is complaining about being impersonated, while Izzy explains that hiring a lawyer to stop it would cost millions of dollars, and that he's heard of a lovely place in Brazil where the only thing to worry about are all-consuming hordes of "soldier ants" (he means army ants of course).

Gris finally sets up a meeting with the newly-returned Bury, which takes place at the Jewish deli that sells kosher hot dogs for the sake of pointless continuity.  Gris complains that Madison has turned against them and is using Rockecenter bullion to make Heller into a hero.  Bury agrees and says that everything's going according to plan, what with the political cartoons and falsified biographies and editorials and everything.  He orders Gris to ease up on Madison to avoid upsetting him, leaving Gris utterly stupefied.

And no, Gris never asks for an explanation, an elaboration, or even a hint of what Bury and Madison's plan is.  Instead he'll continue to be confused and bewildered because it's so entertaining listening to page after page of someone complaining about how they don't understand what's going on and how everyone's an idiot except them.


That's another Utanc-free day.  The next morning's headlines are about the Whiz Kid facing death at the hands of the Seven Brothers, and the story uses footage of Heller's skid-out on the track three or four days ago, presenting it as the result of sabotage.  A pit crew has even been invented to be taken in for questioning, while in New York itself mobs of demonstrators have gathered outside Arabian-Manhattan Oil Company to protest the "assassination attempt."  And Gris continues to be confused and bewildered.

Bury liked this?

They all belonged in the psychiatric ward!

I sank into a sodden despair.

Maybe the whole planet ought to be in a psychiatric ward!

So either the entire world is insane or else Gris is an idiot.  Which do you think is the more likely explanation?

Back to Chapter Three

1 comment:

  1. "Seven Brothers" is a reference to the Seven Sisters, the seven oil companies that dominated the industry from the breakup of Standard Oil through the 1970s. I think the name was still used when these books were written.