Producer to “hate radio” jock Pryor Wright:
“We don’t want you to come across as homophobic.”
Wright to producer: “Listen to the call-ins, Al. Nine out of ten will tell you that two fags getting married is “patently offensive by community standards.” So don’t worry about me being homophobic- I’m reflecting America’s core values, and our listeners.”
“What’s our motto, Al?” Wright prompted.
“That’s right, baby. And don’t you forget it.”
This is the leitmotif to Robin Lamont’s new book Wright for America. It appears to be the right wing radio jock anti-hero’s, Pryor Wright’s, views on homosexuality. In fact, it is a profoundly cynical statement about what sells on radio, hate radio—not a political avowal but an ugly astute comment on ratings. There is really no left or right, here, in radioland. It’s what sells.
Before she began writing novels, Robin was an assistant district attorney handling child abuse and sexual offense cases and, before she went to law school, an actress who appeared in the film, Godspell, singing what became an anthem for a generation, “Day by Day.” In 1972, the song was released as a single attributed to the original cast album, and spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at the #13 position on July 29, 1972.
Robin Lamont’s character Pryor Wright appears to have his finger on the pulse of America. If he manages to offend some people with his statements, or even to cause a violent homophobic attack prompted by the hate he has stirred up, he is indifferent. Hate speech is incendiary, ratings go up, money flows into the coffers, and all is Right with America.
Writer Robin Lamont too has her finger on the pulse of radical right politics and their close connection to hate radio. In order to write this book she listened to hours of Wright-style hate radio—the Rush Limbaughs, Glenn Becks, Mark Levins.
And as she listened to their raucous, hostile speeches, she realized that hate speech was indeed powerful, that it reached a huge audience. The experience inspired Lamont to create a heroine, a character whose progressive and compassionate beliefs resembled her own, and whose shock and anger inspired by the hate speech of Pryor Wright made her determined to bring him down. “I began to think that much of the bombast was designed as entertainment but millions of listeners were taking the “ideology” to heart,” she said. “Out of this, I imagined what might happen if certain listeners were propelled by these rightful right wing voices to take action.”
Lamont used her political and personal convictions and her legal experience to excellent effect before in her first book If Thy Right Hand (2011) It tells the story of an ADA, Ilene Hart, working as Lamont did, with cases of sexual abuse, sex offenders, vigilantism, and Asperger’s Syndrome which afflicts her son. If Thy Right Hand was named “Best of 2011” by Suspense Magazine and won the Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards.
Lamont began writing her second book, Wright for America, in 2008 after the Obama election when there was considerable fearful buzz among progressives about militia groups stocking up on ammunition. The radical right—not just the middle of the road Republicans—began to take the stage again. It began to appear as though the right’s agendas had hardened and become more hateful and violent.
Author Robin Lamont could rightly be called by definition a Renaissance woman. It is not given to everybody to create five successive and successful work lives each linked to the last, including performing in a religious rock musical which she helped to write and stage , acting as an undercover private investigation, and practicing as an assistant district attorney. And culminating with motherhood. And, finally, writing some very intriguing and successful mystery/suspense works, including the one under discussion, Wright for America.
Robin’s first career was as an actress and singer. There was a time in the 1970’s when Robin Lamont and her song “Day By Day,” the theme song of the rock musical Godspell, were on everybody’s lips. The movie trailer makes one understand why– the song is catchy, sweet and spiritual without being syrupy.
But Robin’s career path didn’t stop with “Day by Day.” Since Godspell, she has used her acting experience as a private investigator working undercover to expose counterfeit designer goods, and followed that experience with yet a third career, becoming an assistant district attorney who handled child abuse and sexual offense cases. These experiences are reflected in both books, particularly Wright for America which tackles a serious subject with an approach that is alternatively deadly serious and light-hearted in its exposure of the grotesque absurd in hate politics. It is a wonderful combination.
You can learn most of what you need to know about hate radio show host Pryor Wright by the nickname he has given to himself- nickname: “El Magnifico.” He is bizarre, angry, self-absorbed, and an egomaniac. But crazy like a fox- his hate speech radio formula works.
To all appearances Pryor Wright is completely single minded – he really doesn’t care what he says as long as his target audience stays glued to his every word, the calls keep coming in, and ratings keep going up. From gay rights (he’s against them), to the liberal/leftist groups like the card-carrying ACLU (also against them—the list of “against” is a long one), this man brays what appear to be his hateful opinions about them all. And his callers love him.
Actress Maren Garrity, aspiring nemesis, moonlights as an undercover private investigator. Maren’s job is supposed to be temporary until she gets her big break in show business. We first meet Maren/aka Rita dressed to lure the owner of a company that creates knockoff arms under designer clothing brand names, into confiding in her. (In itself a wonderful concept: Fendi = an AK 47). And working with an acting group, who becomes her sounding board and her support system as she later goes into Wright enemy territory.
Then a vicious attack on her gay twin brother Dell, that leaves him hospitalized, leads her to discover hate radio, and the voice of Wright for America! Maren learns that the group that attacked her brother are ardent Wright fans. And she discovers that Wright’s show hits all the evil hot buttons, especially those targeting gays. So Wright might be said – at a stretch—to have created the environment that encouraged the attack on her brother… ?Wright has created a toxic mix — words of bigotry, and hate that draw listeners in, ignite their rabid enthusiasm, and boost his ratings. He has created a formula that works all too well. Even worse, however- Wright eventually reveals that his hate speech is calculated rather than heartfelt—all rantings and ravings—and ratings. … not a fervent belief system. Which makes the inflammatory speech, targeting specific people and groups, even more despicable.
But calculated or not, should Wright be held responsible for hostile mob actions undertaken by his listeners? Maren is convinced that he should. In fact, Maren is determined to bring him down.
Using skills learned in her acting and her undercover work Maren undertakes an investigation of Pryor Wright,. It is not easy. Maren learns that because of First Amendment protections it would be very hard to prosecute Wright for his radio rantings. Nevertheless, with the help of her theater group, she puts together a plan to attack Wright from within. She plans to convince Wright that she is an ardent fan of his views and his show. And to get a job as an intern at Wright’s station.
Lamont’s commentary here on her heroine Maren’s transformation is directly based on personal experience. “[The book] rolls up my three careers… actress, PI, and lawyer—into one story. Also, I think my acting has an impact on my writing. It helps me `inhabit’ a character the way an actor takes on a role. It’s kind of like losing myself in that other person, so that I think, feel, move and talk the way they do from the inside out.”
To make herself an acceptable Wright candidate, Maren immerses herself into her character. She undergoes a total “middle America” makeover from pouffy hair to “just dowdy enough” suit, intended to convince Wright and his people that she is a killer patriot and a rabid fan.
She convinces a friend to write a violently patriotic country-style song for Wright and despite or because of its distasteful messages it is a hit. And it becomes Maren’s ticket into the Wright enclave—and Wright’s new theme song.
Here is one of the theme song’s milder phrases which warns of a nameless war and Tea Party tax possiblities:
Come on and climb in my truck- and strap your mud flaps on.
Cause we’re gonna get down and dirty before this war is won.
From every truck stop on the highway
To every beer joint in the USA
If you’re serving red white and blue,
Ma’am don’t mind if I do.
The story is intensely complicated, very funny, requires “Post Its” to follow, and the temptation for the reviewer is to write on and on sharing the fun. But if you’re on the subway you already have gone two or three stations past your stop. I won’t spoil the ending. Briefly, our heroine and her brother triumph.