A magnificently poxy poster-boy for the double-jeopardy of absolute power and repressed sexuality, Edgar was director of the FBI from its inception in 1935 through the Nixon administration. At the peak of his powers, in the 50s and early 60s, he was like a warlord with a badge, the country's leading underworld figure. Using a repertoire of dirty tricks, high tech surveillance, blackmail and strong arm, he made the Bureau into an autonomous RoboCop, assaulting labor unions, real and alleged communists, the civil rights movement, the constitution, and personal enemies of its chief. Presidents wiped off their sweaty palms before shaking his hand and requesting the services of the bad old FBI.
CAREER CRIMINALS: James "Whitey" Bulger
The Last Don
"Pale Irish skin burns easy."
Just as real mafiosi copied the styles of their Scorcese and Coppola counterparts; legitimate businessmen envied and imitated the gangsters no bullshit brand of capitalism. More than any other business, organized crime captured the American fantasy of entrepreurial glory. By the time of his disappearance in 1997, Whitey would be the last Big City Gangster.
A poor Irish kid from South Boston, he stole cars, robbed banks across the country, and went to Federal prison at 26. He earned early release for participating in an experimental LSD trial. Whitey returned to Boston and set to the insanely bloody work of breaking the Italian mafia monopoly and edging the Chinese out of the port's drug trade. (Meanwhile, his fat brother Billy had begun a dynastic tenure in the Massachusetts State Senate, where he would preside for decades.)
When he was done, Bulger's Winter Hill Gang dominated illegal gambling; loan sharking; and heroin, cocaine and marijuana import from the New York line to the Canadian border. He enforced the apartheid line of Broadway, keeping Dorchester and Mattapan blacks out of Southie. When Boston Mayor Kevin White tried to integrate the public schools in 1975, Whitey put the fear of death into him. He shipped guns to the IRA. He was a multimillionaire crimelord with an entire community as his camoflage, and sat at the table with Five Families of New York when the Cosa Nostra was big.
But his best deal was his last. Whitey's clean record had long been a source of wonderment. But he had a secret. When the FBI began hanging around Whitey in the 80s, the Don secretly became a stoolie, wearing wires and handing the Bureau his enemies in exchange for immunity and valuable information. And early on the morning in 1996 when the secret warrants for Bulger and his lieutenants were finally handed down, someone tipped off Whitey, and before the cops arrived he had vanished into legend.
SCIENCE: Dr. Robert Oppenheimer
"I am become death, shatterer of worlds. --quoting the Bhagavadgita after watching the first a-bomb test.
The chief scientist of the Manhattan Project and father of the atomic bomb retired his post at Los Alamos two months after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left a quarter million dead, and entered a state of pathological ambivalence which would come to define American morality--and foreign policy--over the next half-century. Having used his brilliance in molecular quantum theory to create the worst invention ever, Robert, in the months and years after the bombings, manifested a strange confusion. He simultaneously expressed "a profound grief...we were hideously uncomfortable with being associated with such slaughter," and repeated that "I have no remorse...I never regretted having done my job." The scientist's morally insane self-contradiction would be repeated time and again as America's role of corrupt world cop left a trail of civilian bodies across the third world in the name of anticommunism.
LITERATURE: Tyrone Slothrop
The Subliminals of World War Two
Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow will be remembered as the most important book of the 1900s, a labyrinthine, visionary cipher of the War as a pivotal event in the planet's consciousness, in which the stories and people of Europe, America, Africa and Asia came together with immense violence and perversity and a strange new world was born in the smoking ruins.
MIND CONTROL: Jerry Mathers
Post-war America watched with an increasingly vacant amusement as the Beaver, an undisciplined towheaded youngster, was steadily molded into a model citizen of the suburban 1950s. It was ironic that after fighting fascism in Europe, corporate-sponsored America was apparently so eager to institute a rigid, moralistic disciplinarian technocratic order at home. Having successfully passed off this propaganda as entertainment, television became the most powerful social and political force of the century.
LIFESTYLE: Ian Fleming
The Cold War, Shaken
With his spanking fetish, reptilian sang froid and discreet alcoholism, James Bond was a refreshingly corrupt post-War icon, and in 13 books and films became the best known character in serial fiction. The hugely entertaining Bond stories opened the door to a shadowy space between the superpowers, in which the good guys did very bad things and often quite enjoyed the process. Bond's license to kill was our Nietszchean license to revel in our own mortality.
Far from the Eurotrash of the Moore-era Bond films, Ian himself was a lifestyle guru to rival Hefner. He consulted the Times on foreign policy, chainsmoked out of an ebony cigarette holder and inhabited a gin-and-philosophy soaked society of European artists, journalists, war veterans and businessmen. He died in 1964, at the ripe old age of 56.
GOVERNMENT: Henry Kissenger
"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a bit longer."
The Cruel Road to the New World Order
Born a German Jew, Henry fled the Nazis to the US, and entered the world of diplomacy and via Harvard and the Army. He was the invisible architect of post-war US global strategy, working in the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA. Through the powers of five presidents, he instituted a machievellian "realpolitik" which included the Viet Nam war, secret bombings in Cambodia, use of the CIA as a private army, Reagan's Central America program, Middle East policy, detente with China and Russia, and the creation of the New World Order.
BUSINESS: Jack Welch The Military Industrial Complex
The CEO of General Electric is the culmination of the breed of men who actually ran the century: hungry and ruthless; cheap-steak tough; laser-focussed on profit--or later, "shareholder value"; deeply well-connected in Washington via strong lobbys and PR. It was never proved that Welch sometimes fastenened his cufflinks through the flesh of his wrists.
Jack's now legendary "GE Way" began with 132,000 layoffs and 73 plant closings. Books on his management theory--"zen" and "brutal--though actually unreadable, were bestsellers because the very sight of them on a supervisor's shelf instilled fear in employees. Happy the society that can support such lordly, autocratic sons-of-bitches.
RELIGION: Jim Jones ...Kill Everyone and You Are a God
His daddy was a Klansman, but Jim Jones thought of himself as the reincarnation of both Jesus and Lenin, a messiah who would lead followers through the coming nuclear holocaust of the 3rd World War. He began, of course, in California, the terminus of the journey of human spirituality, where he became Chairman of San Francisco's Housing Board. In 1977, he relocated his People's Temple to Guyana and founded Jonestown. When Leo Ryan, a San Francisco congressmen, visited the isolated jungle community to check on alleged human rights abuses, and returned to his plane with 18 temple members and several journalists, the Reverend had them ambushed on the airstrip, killing four.
Returning immediately to Jonestown, Jim ordered a tub of grape Kool Aid mixed with tranquilizers and cyanide. First children were killed, poison squirted into babies mouths with syringes. Some of the adults resisted and were shot or forcibly poisoned by security personnel, while many drank voluntarily. 908 people died, including Jones, who somehow got a bullet in his brain. Cult leaders around the world took notice that Jim had succeed in starting his own religion, with himself as God.
PERFORMING ARTS: Ronald Reagan The Masked Man
"Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first."
If RR did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent him. Tall and smiling blandly, Ronnie wandered from sports radio to B-movies, and dodged WW2 making training films for the Air Force, a gig which he parlayed after the war into 10 years as a spokesmodel for GE. He changed political parties in time to be elected Governor of California in 1966, where he proved his usefulness as a puppet of Western corporations with a "conservative" program of tax and regulatory breaks.
As an actor he was never very believable, but as Ronald Reagan, politician, he found a role he could commit to and Americans, pathetically, bought it. In '80 his wealthy handlers rode his charisma in to the White House, where--as Ronnie pretended to be President--their regime caused painful economic suffering at home and made atrocious military deals with mass murderers abroad.
MUSIC: John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten No Future
At age seven, comas related to spinal meningitis erased his memory and gave him his idiot savant thousand-yard-stare. Ten years later he stumbled into McClaren and Westwood's Sex shop wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt with the words I HATE spraypainted on it. The rest is history--or rather, not, since "history" split open like an incompetently stuffed and rotting hyena when the world first heard him intone his fateful "I YAM AN ANTICHRIST...I YAM AN ANARCHIST!" through curled lips and ground-down green teeth. The Sinatra of the New World Order "burned out all (his) anger" and now lives in tasteful luxury in the Los Angeles hills.