Sunday, May 13, 2007

John D. MacDonald's The Quick Red Fox

The following rant is an excerpt from John D. MacDonald's crime novel The Quick Red Fox, the fourth in his Travis McGee series. All four of them came out in 1964.

In this passage, McGee, reluctantly trying to recover photo evidence of a famous actress's sexual indiscretions, is visiting Santa Rosita, California on the trail of a blackmailer. He sees the city as a banal Anytown, USA -- a place where mass culture tramples down individuality, whether personal or geographical.
You see, Virginia, there really is a Santa Rosita, full of plastic people, in plastic houses, in areas noduled by the vast basketry of their shopping centers. But do not blame them for being so tiresome and so utterly satisfied with themselves. Because, you see, there is no one left to tell them what they are and what they really should be doing.

The dullest wire services the world has ever seen fill their little monopoly newspapers with self-congratulatory pap. Their radio is unspeakable. Their television is geared to a minimal approval by thirty million of them. And anything thirty million people like, aside from their more private finctions, is bound to be bad. Their schools are group-adjustment centers, fashioned to shame the rebellious. Their churches are weekly votes of confidence in God. Their politicians are enormously likable, never saying a cross word. The goods they buy grow increasingly shoddy each year, though brighter in color. For those who still read, they make do, for the most part, with the portentous gruntings of Uris, Wouk, Rand and others of that same witless ilk. Their magazine fare is fashioned by nervous committees.

You see, dear, there is no one left to ask them a single troublesome question. Such as: Where have you been and where are you going and is it worth it.

They are the Undisturbed. The Sleep-Lovers.

And they fill out an enormous number of forms every year, humbly and sincerely. Each one is given a number to use all his life. ...

In the meanwhile, Virginia, Santa Rosita still exists, and it is as if some cynical genius had designed a huge complex penal colony in the sunshine, eliminating the need for guard towers and barbed wire by merely beaming a gigantic electronic message at the inmates, day and night, saying You are in heaven! Be happy! If you can't be happy here, you can't be happy anywhere!
The title, incidentally, probably comes from the pangram "The quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog," a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet. It has been used to test typewriter keys and to show typefaces.

The illustration on the cover of a German edition of the book, shown above, may be an allusion to the blackmail photos of the actress, in flagrante delicto.

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