The Cassandra Complex
by James Killough
A somewhat alarming incident happened a little over a week ago in the blogoshpere: Andrew Sullivan had to retract his endorsement of Ron Paul as Republican candidate after Paul’s racist email scandal erupted. I had flagged this immediately after Sullivan’s ridiculous endorsement, but to make a big stink about it felt like I was doing too much Sullivan bashing in this blog, and that was getting boring, not to mention exactly what he would do to a public figure he didn’t like.
In fact, this is a pretty major event in the world of opinion columns and blogging, in which PFC now firmly lives. After all, Sullivan has never apologized before when he went on rampages against Noam Chomsky by calling him a Stalinist, or for his crusade to prove that Sarah Palin’s son Trig was really her daughter Bristol’s, despite the fact the overwhelming majority of Down’s Syndrome babies are born to older mothers.
These are but a few of Sullivan’s colossal missteps. My guess is Newsweek/The Daily Beast insisted Sullivan retract the Paul endorsement; he is no longer his own boss now that his Daily Dish blog (Jesus, can you have a more old-school flaming-queen title?) is owned by them. The man is very smart, but clearly demented, and is being reined in.
Tina Brown, heed my warning: cut him loose now. Suffer the damage to the walls of your reputation no further.
This is a bit of a digression from the subject, but to my regret I also tempered my snippet in my weekly roundup column a few weeks ago about Ellen Barkin and her potty-mouthed tweeting. Barkin and I are barely one degree of separation from each other socially, so I resisted saying what I really felt: that she can be a vulgar, ball-breaking harridan, always has been.
Her run-in with a New York police officer on New Year’s Eve was nothing less than shameful. The NYPD might have gone from heroes to villains in the time between 9/11 and Occupy Wall Street, but that doesn’t excuse Ellie From Da Bronx’s behavior. Trying to then muster support for her cause by tweeting a video her director boyfriend taped, which seems to have been wiped clean from the internet, and also tying her alleged victimization into the OWS movement just makes her actions all the more insufferable.
I did see the video before it was taken down, and basically Barkin is rather politely asked by the cop to move to the sidewalk. When she refuses and abuses him, he puts a hand gently on her back and leads her to the curb. She says, “Take your muthafuckin hands off me,” and her entitled, invective-laden tirade goes on.
In one of her tweets, Ellie FDB ranted, “What happened to the NYPD of my youth? Who are u all? Shame shame on u all.” Ellie, the city you and I were raised in was a violent, corrupt muthafuckin slum, a far cry from our parent’s New York. I am much happier that my young nieces don’t have to experience that same daily danger than I am with your revision of history just to excuse your egregious actions.
“You’re always right, James,” John Wood the Plumber said to me the other day, which might be a dangerous thing to believe if I believed it for a second. I am not always right, but I am right a lot of the time, especially when it comes to predicting outcomes of situations that sometimes seem contrary to the evidence at hand to most other people. Much of the time I’m not listened to, and I end up second-guessing myself, until it turns out I was right all along and then I hop up and down like a niece not getting what she wants yelling “TOLDJA SO!”
I coined the term “Cassandra Complex” for myself decades ago, but a quick dip into Wikipedia reveals that it has been in use in the psychology community since 1949. Cassandra was the high priestess of Troy who was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, but when she spurned his romantic advances (silly girl) he cursed her so that nobody would ever heed her warnings.
You have to admit, Apollo could be a nasty old queen sometimes.
I also have this related magical superpower, which is that if there is an asshole in the room or someone with a latent personality disorder, I will flush him out like a truffle pig, and go after him like an exorcist. In the case of a schizophrenic, I begin to quiver and hum like a tuning fork when I’m within three feet of him.
I am getting better at calming my inner mongoose-versus-cobra since the shit hit the fan a few years ago over Hatter with Adi Cohen and his meshuga plum fairy shenanigans. “You’re a little bit hysterical, James” Alan Cumming said to me on the phone once, when I was hopping up and down in frustration because nobody was heeding my warnings. I realized that I was the asshole in that moment, and being Cassandra just wasn’t worth it any more.
However, it was some small consolation when the man who set up the Adi Cohen/Israeli deal said to me a little while back, “You’re the only one who called it right.” And I had the most to lose financially.
I think my ability to foresee potential future directions of interpersonal relationships is based on many of the same techniques an economist uses to forecast predictions based on precedent and current market analysis. I am often instinctively able to fit together real-life circumstances with my observations of the people involved, and arrive at a reasonably accurate prediction of the outcome well in advance. This means that, much to the annoyance of people around me, I can get jittery and anxious months in advance of misfortune, but I’m preternaturally calm when the shit actually goes down; I’ve already been through it in my head.
I believe this ability comes from my training as a dramatist. You can plot out a story, but once you are in it, the characters, if they are real and viable, will begin to direct the outcome, and there is little you can do about it. If you try to make the shoe fit, if you try to force the characters into a plot that isn’t practicable, you’re just going to get one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters. The same applies to real-life circumstances and people.
As much as I sound like a doomsday prophet, I’m actually an optimist; I know that change and evolution are some of the only constants in existence we know to be true; things must get better eventually. If I stay in a game long enough, I am bound to win at a certain point. Pitbull-like tenacity comes naturally to me, and optimism is far more comforting than pessimism.
To paraphrase an article from The New York Times, the problem with pessimists is they are likewise bound to be right at a certain point, if less frequently. For instance, a somewhat delusional former business associate of mine—a chronic pessimist and alcoholic who smokes four packs of cigarettes a day to steady his self-jangled nerves—also believes he suffers from the Cassandra Complex because nobody listened to him about the recent collapse of the global economy in the years leading up to it.
The thing is, he began making that prediction around 1997, before sub-prime mortgages and other toxic financial derivatives were even conceived, at least five years before economists like Nouriel Roubini issued their warnings. My former associate’s “prediction” was simply neurosis: as a person of inherited wealth, most of whose persona was based on being The Richest Man In The Room, he was afraid of losing it all because he would have absolutely no idea what to do with himself if he did.
This blog has been transformative in many ways, one of which has been that it has mapped out in writing on a timeline the fact that my opinions and predictions are often spot on. My Cassandra Complex has become less of a neurotic syndrome that makes me want to jump up and down screaming “TOLDJA SO!” when the planes hit the towers, which is the first thing I said to my mother when she called at 6 a.m. PST on September 11, 2001 and told me to switch on the TV. I see it now as more of a personal characteristic, my own flawed superpower, which I can objectively appreciate and not second-guess just because my celebrity producing partners are calling me hysterical.
Being an optimist doesn’t mean relentless positivity. It means making the best of a situation no matter how adverse, squeezing the proverbial lemons to make lemonade. One of our more ludicrous cultural phenomena is the New Years Eve Syndrome, when people are prone to saying things like, “I know this is going to be your year. I can just feel things are going to go well.” This “feeling” isn’t based on any rational analysis of a situation or the players involved, but on hope, that last blessing left in Pandora’s Box after she let all the others escape.
Indeed, New Year’s Day is just another day, 2012 just another year, for better or for worse, till death do us part from life. But there is still reason to hope that this is the year Andrew Sullivan finally realizes how full of shit he can be and maybe thinks before he blogs or uses his considerable influence to endorse anyone before it’s time.