Aimee and Apocalypticism; or The 3 Days of the Sutton

Paul Harvey

Send lawyers, guns, and money,
The s*** has hit the fan
(Warren Zevon)

Warhol had his 15 minutes (leading one wag recently to opine that in the future everyone would be anonymous for 15 minutes), The Condor had three days, but this week our friend and contributor Matt Sutton has had his three days -- with some more to come. Call it the 3 Days of the Sutton.

First there was the New York Times editorial in Monday's paper, which we blogged about here. Then there was the appearance on the Lawrence O'Donnell show (and the usual hate mailers afterward). Then an hour later after the show, as if to personify the point (much more literally than Matt ever meant it), there was a heckler yelling at President Obama about how he was the anti-Christ. Then there was the inevitable commentary about how the heckler was a "plant." Yada yada blah blah.

(Here I digress just for a moment to quote from @MartyVanBuren, some very funny historian tweeting from "The Great White House in the Sky" as President Martin Van Buren: Obama heckled at campaign stop as the 'Antichrist.' Been there. Some folks just don't understand us Masons.)

Then there was Lawrence O'Donnell commenting on the previous evening's segment with Matt, replaying the heckler and Matt's comments and inserting his own measured commentary on the basic point here, which is the way the extreme has become part of the mainstream in political rhetoric (Ponzi schemes and Bachmann's fact-free speculations about vaccinations being some recent cases in point). Then there was Matt's appearance on the Michael Medved show, where he made some points that apparently left the conservative radio host apoplectic. I don't know if there's a link, but here is Matt's summary:

Just did the Medved show . . . I ended up comparing evangelicals to Muslims -- the vast majority are good people:-) He was not pleased.

I'll see if I can find a clip of that to link here.

Then there are the proliferating internet commentaries on the editorial and O'Donnell segment, by which point the subtler points of Matt's analysis have long since been muffled in the media noise.

And this doesn't even get to Matt's other career -- as an advisor for the musical Saving Aimee, premiering soon in Seattle with the hope of getting it to Broadway. Matt recently met with Kathie Lee Gifford, who is involved closely with this production in some way that I can't remember offhand, and maybe one of these days he will blog about that. In the meantime, here is a wonderful segment from Seattle Channel Video recorded in August; the first 10 minutes or so features Matt talking about Sister Aimee's life, the rest features various producers and actors from the musical talking about their roles.

You can also go here for a podcast of an interview with Matt by Ian Masters, where Matt talks about the conspiracy theories floating around the loonier sections of the media about the timing of that heckler (some have accused Matt of paying the heckler -- no way a university professor can afford that! And never mind that the New York Times piece was submitted about a month ago and delayed several times since then).

Finally, you should also check out his piece at the Harvard University Press website, "The Resurrections of Aimee Semple McPherson," which concludes with a comparison of Aimee's failed attempt to star on Broadway in the 1930s, but the hopeful success of the current theatrical revival of her life:

McPherson’s continuous reappearances in pop culture illustrate that the issues raised by her life were not simply about Los Angeles in the 1920s. Rather they illustrate how the mix of religion, sexuality, and mass media that she represented cut to the heart of modern American culture—then and now. In crafting a powerful, culturally engaged, theologically conservative movement in an era saturated with controversy over the roles of women in society and the relationship of fundamentalism to American culture, she garnered a lot of attention.

Although Aimee tried—and failed—to star on Broadway in the 1930s, she may yet get her chance. The new musical, Saving Aimee, will once again revisit her compelling, complicated life. With Aimee as the subject, it is bound to be an excellent show.

On a more serious side, there have been some excellent discussions of Matt's points, which ultimately are about the role of apocalypticism in American political discourse through the 20th century. Sarah Posner discusses Matt's piece together with Michael Kazin's consideration "Whatever Happened to the American Left" in Sunday's Times (short answer: the right has organized, the left has not; Diane Winston challenges that view here).

Aimee and apocalypticism represent different forms of religious theater that ultimately play towards ideas of the resurrection of Christian America. Michele Bachmann has mastered this point, as evidenced in her speech before Liberty University's students, which "found the precise sweet spot where testimony and Christian American exceptionalism mythology intersect" (the link takes you to a C-SPAN video of the talk). Bachmann's campaign is faltering and she'll be out of the picture soon enough, but she's made an impact with this kind of galvanizing rhetoric, bringing certain strands of apocalyptic themes into mainstream discourse through her own form of theatricality. God help us.

P.S. Forgot to mention the most startling thing of all: Sutton's fantasy football team is now 2-1, and he's a threat to make the playoffs. Truly the time of tribulation is upon us.


Tom Van Dyke said…
Then there was the inevitable Rush Limbaugh commentary about how the heckler was a "plant." Yada yada blah blah.

The provided link is not to Limbaugh, but a fan site. He does not appear to have said what's alleged here. For the record.
John G. Turner said…
Sutton, could you start marketing whatever it is you drink?
Paul Harvey said…
Tom: sloppy on my part, now fixed.

John: Sutton was all over Twitter last night, people were asking me for his twitter handle. I told them, "Sutton hates social media. #irony."
Matt Sutton said…
Harv's slop was mine--I got the link from another producer who thought it was RL's website.

John--I drink juice, pepsi, and beer, but not all at the same time. And no coffee and no twitter and no facebook.

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