I have a number of Google alerts set concerning the OCCK case and today this landed in my in-box. I have not, nor will I, read this book, but please listen before moving on:

Of much greater interest to me, and by coincidence, today an author shared something more compelling:

No outlet would post Jason’s review, but he shared it with me so I could read it. For me, this also raises yet another theme, how “legends” get kudos when maybe they are not due and the power imbalance that influences what people read and believe.

This reminded me of another fiction book written with the “back drop” or “overlay” of the OCCK crimes covered by the NYT in May 2020, For me, this reader’s comment summed it up in a different way:

5 thoughts on “Contrast”

  1. The author has written on many famous cases, specifically from inside the head of a deranged person or killer: Marilyn Monroe, Dahmer (Zombie), Chappaquiddick, and others. It’s always a fetishization of this kind of unhinged mindset, whether killer or victim. The victim is typically further attacked by being depicted as a fatal figure somehow compelled toward abuse if not outright annihilation.

    In August of 1978 she wrote a book called Son of the Morning (this is a quote from the Bible: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning”) about a preacher with an uncertain past in another city from the one in which he lives now. The book is full of his end times visions. The preacher has another preacher over him; half benefactor, half handler. As the book goes on the visions become more persistent, taking over the character and the narrative, infusing it with apocalyptical dread.

    1978 was the year of the Jonestown massacre, so it’s tempting in hindsight to imagine this book was inspired by Jim Jones. But the book was published in August and Jones died in November of that year.

    While there are often plenty of deranged fundamentalist preachers to choose from in the news, many things in this story evoke John McKinney and his congregation. From the case files, it’s obvious McKinney had more than one congregation; not just at the Avon Tabernacle in Auburn Heights, and not just at the nursing home. He was fanatically into the writing of Carlos Castaneda: we know this not just because a few witnesses referred to it but because in the letters between McKinney and his intimate Doug (who had been in Michigan but had recently moved to Arizona) they speak almost entirely from within Castaneda’s shamanistic cosmogony. Further, the shows at the Birmingham Gallery in the year or so before McKinney’s death demonstrated a deep curatorial commitment to ancient Egyptian religious mysticism and to art depicting masked shamans during ritual ceremonies. In one of his letters, McKinney sounds eerily like Oates’ preacher. He writes to Doug that no one seems to understand what’s coming, and so will not be prepared.

    The key here for me is that these details were not and are still not known by the general public.

    Castaneda ended up forming a cult later – or a more official cult. The women in the cult were called witches and they all vanished within days of his death. While Castaneda had various critics during his lifetime, none was more high-profile than Oates, who called him out in print for writing fiction under the guise of archaeological study.

    Oates is said to get a lot of inspiration for her work from crime clippings. It’s fascinating to me that at the time she criticized Castaneda for his irresponsibility she was already taking from real life crime and cementing it into sensationalized telenovela fiction. Since I started reading about these cases in Michigan, I’ve developed a strong opinion about this kind of culture operation. What she does with these crimes is, to me, little different than what celebrity “experts” like Danto did/do.

    An evolved person understands this–and knows that anything you write must be carefully considered, if your desire is to help rather than harm. I’m not saying Oates is evolved. But it does seem unlikely that her interest in real-world crimes would stop at the end of newspaper articles about them. Rather than take known facts and investigate them – even within a fictional approach – she takes the Danto-like speculation and sequined misinformation, and seeks to give them the formidable power of truth. Lots of bait and switch in these cases. Lots of bad faith actors.

  2. Cathy,
    Sorry that your family still has to investigate these murders after 45 years because the people who are paid to do it don’t want to or have been told not to.Nothing stings like injustice especially where children are concerned.It’s incredible that in all these years nobody spoke up about who was involved and to what extent.To live with that burden must be incredible.

  3. As awful as Joyce Carol Oates’ writing on this case may be in “Babysitter”, she is not the first well-known author to sell out to make money.

    As a long-time reader of all kinds of historical non-fiction, I can say with certainty that most of the big name “historians” are shills for the prevailing narrative about an incredible number of events in American (and world) history, particularly in the 20th century.

    The late historian Stephen Ambrose, for example, after getting caught in a plagiarism scandal deep in his career, confessed that the pressure from his publishers to come up with even more best-sellers was terrific. Hence he cut corners, didn’t do his research and generally coasted. Lame, yes, but hardly unique.

    Oates is undoubtedly just coasting now, too.

    Appelman’s line “her most recent book, “Babysitter”, is a book of affirmations for non-readers that they were doing just fine without books to begin with” is an absolute classic!

    What an awesome insult – I laughed out loud (something I’ve never done before when reading this blog.)

    For those who have not yet read J. Reuben Appelman’s “The Kill Jar”, I highly recommend it.

  4. I am not a Joyce Carol Oates fan, but after watching Blonde on Netflix, there is no way in hell I will read anything she’s written regarding the OCCK case. As J. Appel man said, “ it’s fiction, I know, I know”, but it is fiction at its most tawdry and exploitative. I can’t even begin to imagine what she’s done with the already horrific OCCK case. She & her writing should be avoided at all costs.

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