Frank Robinson: an unexpected (for me) connection between sf and assassinated SF politician Harvey Milk.
I read Robinson’s The Power as a kid because I had just seen the film version on TV and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. (I rewatched it recently, and it turns out I was wrong about this. Still, it has a certain interest, especially the hallucinatory “DON’T RUN” sequence.)
The book and the movie center on a charismatic villain who wields an unspeakable and ill-defined power over people’s minds and even the physical universe. I haven’t reread the novel for decades, but I still remember a speech one of the secondary characters makes to the hero about the dangers of someone who is too charismatic, using the example of a compelling man whom he admired when he was younger and the loss of identity this caused. (He follows this with a rather forced, “Don’t get me wrong: I like girls” sort of disclaimer.) The movie retained the speech but shortened it and, if I’m remembering right, weakened it somewhat.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that this nightmare comes out of Robinson’s life as a closeted gay man. Any time he was attracted to a man in his life he’d have had to resist the power of that attraction, cloaking it with dread, possibly intensifying if tainting its power. Any time he surrendered to his feelings he risked damaging his social identity.
The Power must have been his way of writing about this (and, no doubt, other things as well: I’m not saying any symbol has to have just one meaning). He couldn’t tell the truth of his experience directly; he had to transmute it into fantasy.
I’m against oppression in general (I make certain exceptions), but I wonder if, as society becomes more open, our fantasies will necessarily become duller and less intense. There may be less incentive to mask emotional reality in imagination, more tendency to memoirize rather than to fantasize.