Saturday, July 10, 2010

Century of Truth, Mark Twain to LeBron

Secrets are not what they used to be. The nation's greatest storyteller has made us wait 100 years to find out what was in his heart, but LeBron James spilled the beans on a TV special after only weeks of teasing our interest in an era when everyone from Elizabeth Edwards to Levi Johnston is sharing.

Isn't it better this way? Mark Twain's reticence recalls that memorable Jack Nicholson line in another American classic, "You can't handle the truth." But in the 21st century, we can not only handle but package and promote it in media that Mark Twain only vaguely foresaw.

Before his death in 1910, the creator of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn instructed publishers of his memoirs that "all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out...There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see.”

A hundred years later, is there ever! In a time of 24/7 exposure, his unexpurgated truths will be competing on the best-seller lists with those of Chelsea Handler, author of "My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands" and an unforgettable sequel, "Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang."

There won't be any carnal revelations in the three volumes of unvarnished Mark Twain, but advance word from the University of California Press suggests no shortage of relevance to our times.

There is a foreshadowing of today's populist rage against Wall Street, as Twain notes dryly: “The world believes that the elder Rockefeller is worth a billion dollars. He pays taxes on two million and a half.”

Twain's opposition to intervention in Cuba and the Philippines was known in his own time, but not the angry designation of American troops overseas as "our uniformed assassins." In the days of Iraq and Afghanistan, the New York Times notes, such remarks "would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers."

But not to worry. Those who are outraged by such old-fashioned truth-telling will have Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Karl Rove to comfort them with contrary views, and they won't have to wait 100 years to find out what they are.

Aren't we lucky?

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