Popular Culture Review Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer 2017 - Page 10

common thematically with earlier dystopian fiction while also sharing the bleak vision of U.S. mass (media) culture put forward by Frankfurt School theorists Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer in their foundational study, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947). But The Terrible Twos diverges sharply from these earlier writings, whether fictive or scholarly, through its farcical and absurdist depiction of a near-future neo-fascist America in which mass (media), celebrity and entertainment culture reign triumphant even as spaces of resistance take shape amid a seemingly overdetermined ideological and cultural landscape. The novel’s multicultural (postmodernist) “Neo-Hoodoo” aesthetic, modeled after the cultural syncretism of the Vodoun religion that emerged from the African diaspora, further contrasts Reed’s novel to earlier evocations of a future neo-fascist United States. 2 In writings about dystopian fiction published in the wake of Trump’s victory, Reed’s novel and other postmodernist dystopian fiction have been largely overlooked. 3 At the same time, amid the deluge of journalism on Trump, the legacy of the Frankfurt School and its critical relevance to the Trump phenomenon have been lost. Reed’s novel and its sequel, The Terrible Threes (1989), have always received less critical attention than they deserve. As the Trump presidency ushers in a new era in which a celebrity icon has in fact taken the reins of the White House, Reed’s novel, and its intersection with dystopian fiction and Western Marxism, offer an urgently needed critical framework for reading news media coverage as well as “mass culture” approaches to our fraught historical moment. Written in response to Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency, The Terrible Twos narrates the story of Dean Clift, a former model who, because of his fame and “sex appeal,” is chosen to be a vice-presidential candidate. Shortly after winning the election, Clift’s running mate dies, leaving him to assume the Presidency. Like Trump, Clift has no background or experience in politics, and, perhaps also like Trump, possesses the emotional maturity and intellectual capacity of a toddler. The “terrible twos” captures President Clift’s emotional and intellectual condition, forming a running figuration in the novel for American individualism run amok. It also alludes to the United States’ Bicentennial, celebrated a few years before the novel’s 2 See Rushdy for an insightful overview of the four primary scholarly interpretations of Reed’s Neo-Hoodoo aesthetic. Also see Reed’s “Neo-Hoodoo Manifesto.” 3 See, for example, Feffer’s discussion of the Trump presidency in relation to dystopian fiction and Hefner’s similar analysis of major U.S. dystopian novels. Although neither work discusses postmodernist dystopian fiction, Hefner’s essay addresses the issue of why racial bigotry was not foregrounded in early dystopian fiction. 5