Our times are especially susceptible to satire. Both the subject-matter and the satirists can come from all sides. Something that began as a real issue can be driven into the realm of the absurd, then resurface as serious discussion. Nothing and no one is safe. The new political satire, “The Einstein Sisters Bag the Flying Monkeys” by Irving Wesley Hall, is built on the situation of three Jewish great-great-granddaughters of Albert Einstein who have been abandoned by their parents and enrolled in a conservative Christian school. Their story is a biting critique of religion and politics.
The fictional Einstein Sisters are Tina, Norma and Maxine, ages 7, 14 and 16. Shepherd’s Vale School is run by the Rev. Moriah Godley. Miss Bowdler watches over the school library. There are student pals named Matthew, Mark, Luke and Juanito. The school mascot is a red heifer that will be sacrificed at the end of the football season. And in satirical disregard of the First Amendment, this parochial institution has been established as a public school. That may all be an opening for comment and comedy, but the time and setting of the story are crucial: it happens in the state of Florida around Election Day in the year 2000.
“‘Excuse me, sir,’ [Mr. Cassandra, the football coach] said hesitantly, choosing words with care, ‘isn’t Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity as subversive of our Old Testament physics as Darwin’s theory of evolution is subversive of our Old Testament biology? I’ve been teaching here eight weeks and I haven’t observed the slightest hint of relativity. Everything at Shepherd’s Vale is absolute. You even condemn ‘intelligent design’ as a sinister liberal plot.’
‘Albert Einstein was a socialist!’ Miss Bowdler declared. She certainly didn’t need a trio of uppity Jews in her one-woman library second-guessing Shepherd’s Vale’s rigidly limited book selection or highly restrictive Internet filters.
‘Most Jews are left-wing liberals,’ she added. ‘Everyone in Eternal Memory Beach will vote Democratic next month, especially with Joseph Lieberman running for vice president. Didn’t you remind us during prayers, sir, that Bush’s election is critical for the success of the Ten Commandments Charter School movement?’
— from “The Einstein Sisters Bag the Flying Monkeys”
The stalemate of the 2000 presidential election in Florida is foretold by a student with the gift of prophecy. The story unrolls through 614 pages and touches on almost every hot-button issue of the day, from gay marriage to the situation in the Middle East. The long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians takes up much of “The Einstein Sisters Bag the Flying Monkeys”, especially the ongoing debate over Christian Zionism and dispensationalism, including the notion that the founding of the modern State of Israel is a harbinger to Christians of the Second Coming. The Einstein Sisters sense that they are being guided to go to Israel and take part in the battle of Armageddon. In preparation for that decisive event, students at Shepherd’s Vale are developing an Armageddon Theme Park in Florida.
Instead, the three girls work to change attitudes among their classmates and challenge neo-conservatives (the “flying monkeys” of the title). As Irving Hall explains, “the core conflict is the irreconcilability of Old Testament tribalism (Zionism and Christian fundamentalism) and New Testament universality (Albert Einstein’s secular Judaism and Jesus’ Christianity).”
Irving Wesley Hall was a student radical in California in the 50s and 60s, earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California – Riverside, debated William F. Buckley, Jr. and then-Governor Ronald Reagan and, by his own description, “has been born again once, bankrupted once and jailed four times.” He has worked on a dynamite crew and as a mortician’s assistant, ran an interior design and construction company. Hall’s articles on the health dangers of depleted uranium have been widely distributed. He lives in New Berlin, NY and teaches history at the Norwich campus of Morrisville State College.
Hall joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to tell about writing his monumental political satire and speak about his rebellious past and the nation’s political future.