The Boy Scouts & Philip Roth

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Our Gang, a prescient political satire by the novelist Philip Roth, features a thinly veiled parody of President Richard Nixon, but at the center of this Shakespearian comedy you’ll also find the Boy Scouts of America.

In short, President Trick E. Dixon condemns abortion because the medical procedure, he argues, terminates the rights of yet unborn American citizens. This stance, however, draws ire from the Boy Scouts, who believe President Dixon has positioned himself as a radical activist promoting heterosexual intercourse. A riot of Boy Scouts ensues in Washington D.C. while Dixon stands accused of committing a sex crime.

The President orders the Army to quell the Boy Scout uprising, which results in the death of three scouts. In a televised address to the nation, Dixon describes how the Boy Scouts were incited to riot by Charles Curtis Flood, an African American baseball player who has fled the country and sought refuge in Copenhagen, Denmark—a city Dixon describes as the pornography capital of the world.

After ordering the destruction of Copenhagen by nuclear assault, Dixon is assassinated while having his sweat glands removed at the Walter Read Hospital in Washington. Condemned to Hell for all eternity, the ex-President runs for election, hoping to unseat the local incumbent—Satan.

Philip Roth, date unknown

Philip Roth, date unknown

Our Gang is an example of Roth’s lesser work. The novel consists mostly of monologue and the plot is pointedly absurd as well. It’s no Portnoy’s Complaint or American Pastoral, but it’s hardly insignificant. In 1971, Roth keenly predicted the resignation of Richard Nixon, when President Dixon declared that he would resign tomorrow—“an unprecedented act in American history”—if he was ever accused of playing “party politics.”

Later, when aerial photographs of Charles Curtis Flood’s supposed hideout legitimate the invasion of Denmark but ultimately prove false, the episode feels eerily similar to the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was similarly vouchsafed by aerial photographs that inaccurately identified mobile weapons laboratories on the ground.

At its worst, Roth’s novel is an entertaining critique of political and Scouting rhetoric.

“There is an angry mob of Boy Scouts out there, Eagle Scouts among them, and they are growing angrier and more threatening by the moment. I say shoot ’em, and shoot ’em now.” President Dixon’s Spiritual Coach, Our Gang

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