‘The War Room’ captures the era’s wars, from benefits to healthcare

The story of US culture wars, as told by two men who wrote about, then started the events that ended up producing them. #TheWarRoom

From Jon Ronson’s book, The War Room:

I used to love New Yorkers. I loved the city. I loved it in a way only New Yorkers love the city. It’s as if the Atlantic Ocean divides them, separating the superior modernists from the traditionalists. I knew it when I was there: you’d see a mysterious old guy driving a sort of ice-cream van over the bridge from Lower Manhattan to Queens, where you could find the neighborhoods that hate New York with every cell in your body. When I was a child, Manhattan was the most intense and liberal and Jewish part of the country. We lived and breathed it. We couldn’t wait to move back to Manhattan, the most exciting part of the country. But I see now that it all came from an Irish Catholic man named Abe. A man who was Jewish—French-Catholic—and grew up in Toronto. My first point of principle was that he deserved not to have two fathers. I liked New York City because it was like the Canadian version of New York. It was safe, friendly, and feminist. But Abe? There was nothing but hatred. The battle between the modernist and the traditionalist factions—for jobs, homes, and entertainment—was small-scale and direct. But then it became a matter of killing the messenger.

After visiting a movie theater that carried only the silent Frank Capra movies of his day, Ronson found himself infected with liberal ideals. But who was the messenger? Enter actor-author-culture warrior George C. Wolfe, a man he knew as a sharp intellectual. Wolfe organized a fundraiser at which two advocates of black-power politics were introduced to liberal organizers. The first was a young Asian woman, Melinda Shields, who had just graduated from Stanford and was living on a Berkeley rent-controlled apartment. The second was an old New Yorker named John Collins, whom Ronson met at Princeton and moved in with after graduation. Ronson is skeptical: “This association—Joe and Melinda and John—would seem to have been coincidental.”

Though a manager left them in a high-profile location, Ronson and Collins attracted enemies. They worked at ease in the civil rights movement, but when they decided to start a “soul food” restaurant, Ellis Island, it attracted anti-limiting groups. Anti-war activists marched in, shut down the place, and created rumors of a black mafia buying up Melinda’s recipes. Collins started believing that Melinda was a lesbian and Evans had left him for Shields. Even children joined in. The public posthumously banned the Jackson 5 from a Paulie Gee’s nightclub on a late-night show. Reporters called Melinda a lesbian and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who had had children with Melinda, called Collins “hypocritical.” They found themselves in favor of true country music and anti-gospel music.

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