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Liberal Bias in the Arts? Not in Crime Fiction

February 17, 2010

The Daily Telegraph recently reported with considerable glee that crime novelist and Tory peer PD James had given BBC Director Mark Thompson an unforgettable grilling on Radio 4’s the Today programme. Baroness James was highly critical of the bureaucracy and the huge salaries at the BBC and Thompson was left struggling to find a decent answer to her criticisms. The Telegraph seemed overtly happy with what must have been an uncomfortable interview for Thompson because, as a newspaper with a conservative editorial position, it is often critical of the perceived left-wing bias in the media generally and at the BBC in particular.

This may be issue in which crime fiction is once again bucking the trend. Literary critics do not carry the same assumption that crime novelists are as left-wing as their contemporaries in other arts, which is perhaps why some critics do not consider crime fiction to be an art form. There are many crime novelists who are left-wing by nature but there are also perhaps more who are conservative in their politics. Mickey Spillane was only slightly less right-wing than his most famous creation, Mike Hammer. The more measured conservatism of Joseph Wambaugh is rooted in his former career as a policeman with the L.A.P.D. Some crime writers have proven almost impossible to define politically. James M. Cain was a registered Democrat for most of his life, but he supported the Republican  candidate Thomas E. Dewey in the 1944 presidential election as he considered, quite prophetically as it turned out, Franklyn Delano Roosevelt to be in too poor health to be President. In the 1948 presidential election Cain returned to the Democrats and backed Harry S. Truman in the election no one thought Truman could possibly win. Cain felt Dewey had become too hubristic in his second challenge for the White House. Truman won. Cain was appalled at the McCarthyite witchhunts of the 1940s and 50s, but as a veteran of the First World War he resented the fact that many communists were writing for the movie studios at the time.

As in the case of James M. Cain it should be remembered that not every writer fits neatly into a category of left or right, liberal or conservative. In an interview on Real Time with Bill Maher, Gore Vidal said of the Bush administration: ‘They were not conservative. I consider myself a conservative.’ One writer who is all too often dismissed as a right-wing lunatic is James Ellroy. I am currently studying the many interviews Ellroy has given over the course of his literary career, and I have found he often expresses complex and nuanced social views in an eloquent manner. On the other hand, there is Ellroy’s Demon Dog literary persona which allows him to give outrageous and wilfully obscene opinions designed to offend everybody.

Below is a clip of Ellroy in brash and extroverted mood on a German television show. He is joined by fellow writer Bruce Wagner and the actress Rose McGowan, and they are discussing the then forthcoming 2008 Presidential election:

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