Reviewed by Richard von Busack
CUJO, TEKO, Teko, Cinque, MizMoon, Zoyal, Fahizah and Gelina. On
funny-name-value alone the Symbionese Liberation Army should have
been doomed from the start. Almost exclusively country-club-class
rebels, these revolutionaries of the mid-1970s were disowned by both
the Black Panthers and the Weathermen. These warriors left behind a
couple of unarmed corpses, a couple of plundered banks, a shot-up
sporting goods store and one very famous victimor was she a victim?
In Patty's Got a Gun: Patricia Hearst in 1970s America, historian
William Graebner, using trial transcripts and the reliable
time-travel device of old newspapers, delves into the way Patty
Hearst changed from a person to a personality. What was she? A dizzy
heiress? A woman who, as her fiance, Steven Weed, wrote, longed only
for "two kids, a collie and a station wagon"? Did she drop into the
SLA's hands like ripe fruit, radicalized by Berkeley's
"violence-prone eggheads"? Or was she the threatened, brainwashed
victim of a cult?
Her own words are little help. You don't have to be Slavo Zizek to
suspect that a memoir titled Every Secret Thing is bound to be a
smokescreen. Patty's side of the story ultimately fogs matters more
than illuminating them. The outline of Patty's trialloonier than the
one in the movie Chicagointroduces the popular film into the
subject; the author's citations of Phil Kaufman's excellent remake of
Invasion of the Body Snatchers seem appropriate for understanding how
America understood Patty. So does mentioning one of the 1970s'
greatest hits, The Exorcist.
What entices the author is the way this woman became a Rorschach test
for popular fears of "permissiveness," cult mania and fear of crime.
Patty was, Graebner writes, a nexus for "a wide variety of cultural
anxieties." And her misadventures are key to the beginning of the big
chill of the 1980s. (By William Graebner; University of Chicago; 218
pages; $20 hardback)