Liberating myself: An interview with Roger Simon
By Bernard Chapin
Roger L. Simon is a writer and the co-founder and current CEO of PajamasMedia.com. He is the author of ten novels and his latest effort is a memoir entitled, Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror. Mr. Simon is the creator of the Moses Wine detective series. The initial installment in the series was made into the film, The Big Fix, in 1978 for which Simon wrote the script. His screenplay for Enemies: A Love Story garnered a nomination for an Academy Award. Despite being CEO, Mr. Simon regularly publishes a blog of his own at PajamasMedia.com.
BC: Mr. Simon, let me say first off that all of us are very pleased to have you on our side of the political spectrum. However, concerning politics, throughout your book you display a strong aversion to being called a conservative. Why is that the case?
Roger Simon: Alright, I think it's because all the political terms we use are pretty old and cause a certain amount of blindness. I used to be a liberal or a lefty. Now that I'm no longer one I don't want to take on any new names. I don't think those names are ultimately very useful for me. I'm more comfortable with the term libertarian but not entirely comfortable with anything. I suppose classical liberal comes a bit closer to the truth though.
I talk about this often in the conflation of politics and sports. With me and politics I don't care about the choosing of teams. I want to choose the truth and not worry about the particular team. With sports it is different. At all times I'm for the Lakers, but not for anybody's political party. Winning or losing with a party does not move me.
BC: Looking back on the majority of your years in which you were a man of the left, what do you think is the primary reason that Hollywood—and celebrities in general— always seem to embrace the left over the right?
Roger Simon: I think there are many reasons for this occurring. One of them is job protection. If you're working in an industry that is very precarious and one in which very few succeed like in the entertainment industry you have got to be careful. If you're not part of the right ideology then it's two strikes against you. If you're not Clint Eastwood, a big enough star who can do what he wants, it's got to be that way; however, the more leftist they are in their public lives the more horrible they are allowed to be in their private lives. People in Hollywood get to live out their childhood dreams in a way no one else in society does. Think about being paid a million dollars and having the whole world see your films. That's an outcome that would affect you.
In the book I talk about the idea of "the Mini-Me." It's when Hollywood personalities develop an alternate persona, almost a "Mini-Me" out of the Austin Powers movies, that is an extreme liberal wind-up Good Guy (or Girl) who parades as publicly as possible his unbound altruism and devotion to the poor and downtrodden. Then, once that Mini-Me is paraded and gets his applause and acknowledgment from the masses, he can be put away in his closet again. This Hollywood personality can resume his or her normal life, raping and pillaging all those who come in the way of his success. It's a form of split personality or, more exactly, "splitting," wherein contradictory behaviors are separated off from each other so that the cognitive dissonance is not so readily apparent to the holder of disparate thoughts.
BC: I loved that segment concerning Barbra Streisand. There you tell the story of her posting a blog containing eleven spelling errors which attempted to ridicule George W. Bush for his poor performance in school. How exactly does a person like Barbra become so oblivious to hypocrisy? Is it just a case of her being surrounded by sycophants who do not question her?
Roger Simon: That's one part. Barbra is surrounded by them which is typical. Further, the stars are not all that educated—some are, yes, and some are self-educated in sloppy ways—but when you're surrounded by sycophants then eleven misspellings and getting mocked by Drudge is inevitable. They love to call President Bush stupid but the fact is most of them didn't go to Yale.
BC: There's that great scene in your book where your former Nicaraguan maid Gioconda stumbles across a Sandinista in your house. She acts as if she just met Beelzebub. I was surprised that this made so little an impression on you at the time. Was your blindness towards the Sandinistas a function of believing that there were no enemies on the left?
Roger Simon: Yes, but you should never overlook the coolness factor either. After all, who was cooler than Che Guevara? And the Sandinistas had the same look to them. They were all big womanizers and everyone wanted to be like them. It's the same today as a lot of people still want to be like them. Look at Steven Soderbergh and the movies he is making concerning Che Guevara. Believe me, Soderbergh knows better but he wants to show that he's a man of the people. He doesn't want to get found out. There was no difference between Che and having that Sandinista in my home (Omar Cabezas). I was always hanging around those kinds of people and watched them closely. At a certain level I knew it was all bunk but I exploited it too. It all came down to money and jobs. If you had a certain glamour and cache then they hired you.
BC: Is Moses Wine, your fictional detective and alter-ego, your greatest professional accomplishment? If the Wines series is not then what would you say is?
Roger Simon: I think that's a hard question. I'm in my sixties and do not want to look at it that way. I want my greatest professional achievements to lie in the future. With the memoir, I look back on it all with amusement but do not judge whether I did the right or wrong thing. I simply tell the truth. I don't look at my history and judge. We were young then and that is important to remember. I will point out, however, that the best screenplay I ever wrote was Enemies: A Love Story.
BC: Was your last release in the Wine series, Director's Cut, a commercial letdown due to its traditional audience not following your lead and refusing to deviate from their traditional political allegiances?
Roger Simon: That is true to some degree. The publisher was disappointed by the response to it for that reason as well. I needed to find a new audience as the traditional one had no interest in moving in the same direction I was. I needed then, and need now, to find an audience that will make changes with me. That is partly why I wrote Blacklisting Myself. The bottom line is that writers must continually renew and reinvent themselves or they become boring.
BC: You mention that your leftist friends don't like to talk policy or specifics with you. How much is your average leftist's political affiliation a product of their emotional state? Also, how much do their politics arise out of a need to feel superior to others?
Roger Simon: Well, all of that is true. I do think that the main problem is the difficulty people have in making changes. They don't enjoy looking at their ideas. If they started to examine things then they'd have to possibly make a change which is very threatening. And for me it was easier to do this due to my blog. I was posting every day. I did not have the option to hide. My views were on full display, but for the average person making a change is a risky endeavor. Imagine if Maureen Dowd suddenly woke up and realized she was a conservative? What would she do then? How would she make her living? People don't want to know after a certain point in life and don't want to jiggle up their prospects. You have to unravel lots of things to change. I know I did but I was at a certain moment in my life in which I could do it.
BC: Yeah, but I found that when I officially became a conservative a huge weight was lifted off of me. I suppose I was free to be who I always was.
Roger Simon: Yes, I can see why you'd say that. It can be very liberating but fear of change is a major reason why more people don't do it.
BC: A bit off topic here, but is the hat that you ubiquitously wear a Borsalino? Is that a nod to your career as a mystery writer?
Roger Simon: Yes, on TV it's a Boraslino. I started wearing them when I did readings at Mystery writer gatherings. Ross Macdonald had one. The hat is a retro thing and it is fun. It's my signature. I used to identify with Chandler and Hammett who were my writing heroes. They were from the generation of the hat.
BC: Anti-Americanism is very confusing to conservatives at many levels. How much is the anti-American perspective a result of critics refusing to study other countries in the same manner they do their own?
Roger Simon: I think anti-Americanism as a concept is pathetic now. It's such a funny lie that you can't take it seriously. We're still the place where everyone wants to come and live. I haven't noticed a lot of us going to live in other places around the world. If our country were as bad as critics say then everyone would move but they don't. They stay. Immigrants choose this place for a reason. Anti-Americanism is one of the great lies of our culture. It was a part of the recent Obama campaign unfortunately, but what remains both for our country and the greater world is the struggle between freedom and oppression.
BC: Are leftism and utopianism synonyms?
Roger Simon: No, they're really not synonyms. I agree that leftism began as a form of utopianism but I don't think it is utopian any more. Does anybody really believe in the old rhetoric? I don't think they do. I think it is all a charade nowadays. Oh, Karl Marx believed in it but then again nobody had tested out his theories. I don't blame Marx but I don't know what he would have said to Lenin. When I talk to people on the left they don't strike me as holding out for utopia. Of course who knows what William Ayers thinks? You've got to remember that he's been living off of capitalism all of his life. Does he actually think that a Marxist utopia would help us? I have no idea. But who, apart from Ayers, really believes that stuff? Leftism is like looking at a religion. It's not a concrete idea. If you submit it to rational examination then you'll find no particular facts behind it.
BC: I think David Horowitz first outlined the rare phenomenon of radicals having "second thoughts" about the sixties. People like you, Peter Collier, Ron Radosh, and David are examples of those who were brave enough to reconsider their past. Why though has this behavior been so rare among members of your generation?
Roger Simon: I think you have to be somewhat brave to reexamine and some of these people did make mistakes—plain and simple. They would be better off just admitting it. Okay, so you did all of these things as a kid but does that make you a bad person or a liar today? In most cases it doesn't. Your actions were reflective of your understanding of the world at the time. Most folks weren't William Ayers and putting nails into bombs. Most of us just engaged in some drug usage or promiscuous sex. The William Ayers people were actually a very small group. Do I regret my involvement with the Black Panthers? Yes, but why waste time on it? Possessing a healthy positive attitude is what helps you change for the better. A lot of us looked at it the wrong way in the sixties but we were young. You're right that not too many people will acknowledge that what they did was wrong though, but now they're making money and living their lives. They've moved on.
BC: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Simon.