Saturday, September 21, 2013

James Michener analysis - part 5: Michener's 'Space': Rel. to the film 'Pulp Fiction'


Pulp Fiction is a 1994 American dark comedic crime film directed by Quentin Tarantino, who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Roger Avary. The film is known for its eclectic dialogue, ironic mix of humor and violence, nonlinear storyline, and a host of cinematic allusions and pop culture references. Directed in a highly stylized manner, Pulp Fiction connects the intersecting storylines of Los Angeles mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals, and a mysterious briefcase. Considerable screen time is devoted to conversations and monologues that reveal the characters' senses of humor and perspectives on life.[a]

From Pulp Fiction: Mobster Vincent Vega, high on heroin, driving on his way to pick up Mia Wallace. The music playing during this scene is the song Bullwinkle Pt. II, originally from the album Surfer's Pajama Party (1964) by the surf rock band, The Centurians (formerly, The Centurions) (listen on YouTube here). Surf music is a genre of popular music associated with surf culture, particularly as found in Orange County and other areas of Southern California. It was especially popular from 1961 to 1966, has subsequently been revived and was highly influential on subsequent rock music.[b] The use of surf music in this scene serves as a reference to something in Michener's 1982 novel, Space, that is, that one of Space's characters, Millard Mott, is involved in surf culture. This reference is discussed in more detail below.

Michener's Space is a fictionalized history of the United States space program, with a particular emphasis on manned spaceflight. In order to further elucidate the connection between Space and Pulp Fiction, we begin by listing the four main husband-wife pairs in Michener's novel, then we go over preliminary information from the novel. Following this is quoted a section of dialogue from the novel, in which all four of the couples are gathered together, interacting with each other. The children of these couples are included in the list. (In the below, 'Fremont' is a fictional American state created by Michener, and 'Clay' is a fictional city in Fremont).

List of major characters and their children
Mott, Stanley. Born Newtown, Massachusetts, 1918.
Mott, Rachel Lindquist. Born Worcester, Massachusetts, 1920.
      Millard, born 1943.
      Christopher, born 1950.

Pope, John. Born Clay, Fremont, 1927. U.S. Navy.
Pope, Penny Hardesty. Born Clay, Fremont, 1927.
No Children, but have tried.

Grant, Norman. Born Clay, Fremont, 1914.
Grant, Elinor Stidham. Born Clay, Fremont, 1917.
      Marcia, born 1939.

Kolff, Dieter. Born near Munich, Germany, 1907.
Kolff, Liesl. Born Peenemünde, Germany, 1916.
      Magnus, born 1947.

Preliminary information
By the time the reader gets to chapter 7 of Space, which is set in the year 1969, it has already been revealed that Millard Mott is gay (and that his parents know this), and he has also spent a lot of time hanging out with a group of like-minded surfers while living in Southern California. The other Mott son, Christopher, has gotten into trouble for exposing himself to a female. Marcia Grant has become somewhat estranged from her father. She has been 'seduced' by an unscrupulous man named Strabismus, into working for his organization, which pushes the idea that 'little green men' from outer space are about to invade Earth. She has also been seduced by Strabismus, who is significantly older than she, in the literal sense. Strabismus is known for having quick sex with younger women, then 'dumping' them. Marcia's mother, Elinor Grant, has also fallen prey to Strabismus to the extent that she believes in his 'little green men theory', and contributes money to his organization. Magnus Kolff is quite accomplished, learning to play trumpet at an early age, and is now playing in a formal orchestra. All four fathers in the above-listed group work for the space program, and two of the wives, Penny Pope and Rachel Mott, work in related fields. Liesl Kolff devotes her time to being a homemaker. Stanley Mott started out as a rocket engineer, but has relatively recently become more of a space scientist, working with more 'abstract' ideas than do engineers. Stanley's devotion to his work results in him being a 'distant' father to his two sons, and it is implied in the novel that his indifferent and uninvolved parenting is one of the main factors in his two sons becoming 'dysfunctional'. As of 1969, Norman Grant is a Senator, John Pope is an astronaut, and Dieter Kolff is a rocket engineer.

Dialogue from Space, Chapter 7 ("The Moon")
Near the end of chapter 7, the four couples listed above (minus their children) are all sitting together eating a meal. There are several switched-on television sets visible from their table, so that they can simultaneously watch different views presented by live network TV programs, covering current events of the space program. Part of their conversation is here given:[c]

[Norman Grant] asked the Kolffs, 'How did your son learn the young?'
Liesl Kolff answered eagerly, 'In America you want people to learn. Mrs. Mott, here, she taught us English at El Paso. No charge. When we move to Huntsville, first day they give out band instruments. How old was Magnus? Four maybe, he took one.'
'But we had trouble,' Dieter said. 'You might say the big decision, when he wanted to do funnies with the football band. I put my foot down. "You do not do funnies with Beethoven." He wanted to cry.'
'How were you able to make him see things your way?' Rachel Mott broke in.
'You tell him once, he don't listen,' Liesl said. 'You tell him twice, he shout at you. So you don't tell him a third time. You get a hammer and smash his trumpet.'
Dieter laughed. 'It belonged to the school. We had to pay for it. Magnus was so ashamed, he said a truck ran over it, his fault.'
'We got him a better one, and with it he joined our little orchestra. Then University of Alabama. Then Munich for one year. Now Boston, maybe forever.'
'You must be very proud,' Rachel said.
'We are,' Liesl replied.

Grant turned to the Motts. 'Weren't you having a little trouble with your son?'
'Both of them,' Rachel said. 'And not just a little.'
'In what respect?'
Stanley Mott was hesitant to speak of family troubles, but his no-nonsense-wife was not, and appearing almost prim and an epitome of rectitude, this forty-nine-year-old New England woman said, 'Life styles, I think, our eldest son-' She corrected herself. 'Our elder son seems not to like girls. He's living with a young man about his own age in Skycrest, Colorado. They run a shop featuring health foods.' And before anyone could comment, she added quite firmly, 'We've made our peace with Millard. He's a fine, gentle boy and we have no doubt he'll be the same kind of man.'
'He's twenty-six,' Mott said.
'I think of him still as a boy,' Rachel said, and her husband added, 'It's a shock when your son exhibits traits that you, well...' He stopped in confusion, then blurted out: 'We're sending him money to get his store started, and I for one am proud of what he's been able to accomplish. He's well spoken of in the Skycrest community.'

'Young Christopher's troubles are more serious,' Rachel said. He's been arrested for selling marijuana.'
'Drugs?' Liesl asked.
'I'm afraid so. Tell me,' Rachel asked, throwing herself, as it were, upon the mercy of her audience, 'How do you keep your children out of trouble in this permissive society?'
'There is a vast difference,' Senator Grant said as he watched the televisions. 'When I was a boy in Clay, every element in the society was supportive. The police were friendly. Sunday School teachers wanted to do the right thing. Our football coach was an admirable figure, and I remember one day when I sneaked into the poolroom to see for myself what infamous things were going on, and two of the town roustabouts took me aside and said, "Norman, you're supposed to grow up into a fine man. Maybe marry the judge's daughter or something like that. You're not meant to be in poolrooms. Now get out."'
'It's not that way any longer,' Rachel Mott said. 'Right now our son's in Miami chanting "Ho ho ho! Ho Chi Minh!"'
Senator Grant turned from the televisions. 'He's what?'
'It's a childish nonsense. They think it's funny to make us older people angry.'
'But what's the Ho Chi Minh nonsense? Surely your son is not...'
'They want the war in Vietnam to end. They insist we get out.'
'That's government policy,' Grant snapped. 'That's not for puling children to determine on their own.'
'Christopher's no child. He's nineteen. He's terrified of the draft.'
Grant rose. 'When we faced a much more terrible enemy, two of them, my generation volunteered. You did, didn't you, Mott?'
'The Army picked me up,' he said evasively, not wishing to admit on this night that he had not been in uniform.
'How about you, Pope? You volunteered, didn't you?'
'I was playing football, sir. Still in high school.'
'But in Korea?'
'I was already in uniform, sir, but I did a lot of combat flying over there.'
'You certainly volunteered for the German side, didn't you, Kolff?'
'I fought on the Russian front,' Dieter said, not caring to explain that it took four Nazi detectives to find him in the fields of southern Germany before the Army could throw him in uniform.

'In time of crisis,' Grant said, 'men rally to the support of their homelands.'
'Millard, out in Colorado, denies it's a crisis. He told us in his last letter that he's sure the whole thing's contrived.'
'Contrived?' Grant snorted. 'When the Congress of the United States...'
'That was his major point,' Rachel said. 'Congress has not had the courage to declare actual war. Millard said it's all a political game, an avoidance of reality.'
'Your Millard had better watch out, Mrs. Mott.'
'He says it's what he calls a ploy. A way to get the children of the poor to defend the privileges of the rich without disturbing business as usual.'
'He sounds like a Communist.'
'He tells us that most of the young people in Colorado think the same way. Two of his friends have escaped to Canada. To avoid the draft.'
'Escaped? America's no prison. If they ran away to Canada, they did so because they're cowards. President Nixon and Congress have laid out certain plans, and it's the duty of all citizens to obey them.'
Stanley Mott, not wishing this argument to proceed any further, asked, 'In a time of wildly changing mores, what can a parent do to keep their children stable?'
'Sometimes,' Liesl Kolff said, 'sometimes you have to take a hammer and smash the trumpet.'

[At the end of chapter 7, it is revealed that Millard Mott has gone to Canada to avoid the draft.]

Correspondence with Pulp Fiction
As mentioned above, the fact that surf music is playing while Pulp Fiction's Vincent is high on drugs, indicates a connection between Vincent and Space's Millard Mott, who was, for some time, involved in Southern California surf culture. Also, Pulp Fiction's Maynard (a 'voyeur' of gay sex; sitting on the far right in the screencap at below left) corresponds, to some degree, to Millard, who is himself gay. (Note the similarity of the names Maynard and Millard).

Above left: From left to right: Zed, 'The Gimp' (a gay sexual 'submissive'), and Maynard, in the basement of Maynard's shop. The shop, though it is portrayed in the movie as being located in Los Angeles, represents a perverted gay 'enclave' whose existence lies elsewhere (as described below). Above right: Maynard looks on as Zed anally rapes their captive, Marsellus Wallace. The music playing during this scene is another 1960's surf song, The Revels' Comanche.

The 'theme' of gay sex in Southern California surf culture, is the connection between Space and Pulp Fiction. As indicated by the modern-day setting of Pulp Fiction, the presence of The Gimp as a character in the film, and the portrayal of Vincent as a drug user, Tarantino not only implies that current Southern California surf culture consists largely of gay men, but also, that some of these men participate in perverted (e.g., 'dominant/submissive' sadomasochistic) sex with each other, and that sometimes, drug use is involved in the commission of these acts. When Michener has Millard's mother, Rachel Mott, describe her son as "gentle" (in the dialog quoted above), what's being suggested is that most people outside the gay surf culture view surfers in a neutral manner, and don't realize that its members are committing savage sexual acts upon each other. As an aside, many surf rock bands were and are using their music as a 'covert' attempt to get across to the general public, that this type of behavior is going on in the surf culture. This is evident not only in the sound of these bands' music, but in the titles (and where present, lyrics) of some of their songs as well. For example, the title of the song Comanche is a reference to the savagery of the aforementioned sex acts: The Comanche were an American Indian tribe whose name is derived from a Ute word meaning "anyone who wants to fight me all the time."[d]

Above left: The portions of a Confederate flag in Maynard's shop, indicates not only that perverted gay sex occurs to an inordinately common degree in the American Southeast, but it also indicates the 'geographical metaphor' in use here: Orange County itself lies to the southeast of Los Angeles. Above right: A rectangular variant of the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag under General Robert E. Lee (during the American Civil War), often referred to simply as the Confederate flag. [Image from the Wikipedia 'Modern display of the Confederate flag' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

a. Wikipedia, 'Pulp Fiction'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Wikipedia, 'Surf music'. Web, n.d. URL =
c. Michener, James A. Space. Random House, 1982. pp. 530-533.
d. 'Comanche'. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. URL =


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