One of the reasons I enjoy reading John D. MacDonald is because he was a fantastic social commentator: long before it became common in mainstream fiction. You got to thinking while reading a MacDonald book. The following is from A Man of Affairs:
“You see, he’s in the most cynical and potentially dangerous business in the world. Telling people what to think and what to believe. It has been frightening me ever since I’ve been in it, which isn’t long. Its’ the power that frightens me. There’s more power in Manhattan, more power over the human mind, than in any city since the dawn of time.
Just suppose, Sam, that every public relations firm, every advertising agency, and every press agent and every columnist joined in a concerted effort, a coordinated effort to convince the nation that…oh, say that everybody is entitled to one homicide a year. They’d sell it, Sam. They’d sell it big. And it would sure cut hell out of the population.”
First off, John D. MacDonald was way ahead of Hollywood. He wrote that in 1957. In 2013, the movie The Purge was based on the premise that one night a year, all crime was legal (Hollywood never gets tired of making stupid movies). Moving on, we see this all over modern society. When I was growing up, a car for sale, which somebody had owned before, was called “used.” There were used car lots everywhere. Somewhere along the way, the auto industry got the idea that didn’t sound very appealing. You never hear about a used car anymore. I think “reconditioned” came and went as the proper phrase and now it’s “pre-owned.” And everybody bought into this.
The murder of a baby in the womb is “a woman’s right to choose.” The act is as morally acceptable as the Greek practice of exposure (unwanted newborns were left outside, to die from exposure to the weather or to be eaten by wild animals). But there are over 3,000 legal abortions a day. The image has been painted and the terms made more acceptable.
There is no shortage of examples. And polishing an image is at the root of public relations. MacDonald laid it out in a paperback original over fifty years ago. I’ve said many times that I think he’s one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers – in any genre. Whether he was writing about Travis McGee, the environment, business, science fiction or something else, John D. MacDonald was a great voice for our time.