If Rabbit Was Alive Today [The Rabbit Angstrom Series by John Updike]

Rabbit Angstrom became the de-facto American perspective in the literary world from 1960-1990 because of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom Series, in which he wrote another installation at the end of every decade that served as a summary of the previous decade and a look forward towards the next. I was not actively reading these books as they came out, but I imagine, for the small clique of people who read Updike and anticipated his works, the end of a decade was fraught with anticipation for how Angstrom felt about the goings on in the world, not because his opinion was correct, but because it was representative, and what Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom and his family went through served as a microcosm of what America went through.

So I feel a bit left out, like watching a TV series after it has ended. I wish I could have been there for these book releases, not just retroactively reading them. And, it does not take much of a leap to then ask what would a Rabbit Angstrom book read like now, amidst the tumult of American life in the 2010s and into the 2020s? So, to feed an experience I wish I had, here is what I think Rabbit Angstrom’s opinion would be on what is going on in America right now (Updike forgive me if there is any offense).

Election

He would vote for Trump, but he would not like it. He would think Trump should stop all the social media nonsense. He would miss the Reagans and the HW Bushes who went about their business without sounding off to the world on every little thing. But he couldn’t tolerate the tolerance and softness of the left, so he would silently cast his ballot for Trump, telling himself the politics were good even if the man was not. He would be frustrated by political conversations with others and how quickly they turned to anger and tribal allegiances. This coupled with his unsurety of his own vote would prompt him to tell people he didn’t know who he would vote for, even though he knew he could never cast a vote for the doddering Biden. At the end of the day he would like the idea of Trump, a man who says what’s on his mind, who doesn’t play by the rules, who came in to disrupt the system, and Rabbit would even think he could do it too, if the Democrats would give him some room to breathe. But could he maybe do it with a modicum of decency and American ideals? 

Black Lives Matter

He would be conflicted on the racial justice movement. One thing is for sure, he would have no tolerance for athletes, paid to do what they love, what Rabbit had loved-to shoot hoops and make millions- complaining, boycotting, and kneeling for the flag. He would think they need to respect the nation that fed them. But he has always had empathy for the plight of the black man after his education by the hand of Skeeter. He would empathize with the protestors marching for the lives of those killed by police officers but struggle how to verbalize that empathy amidst his fear of unsatisfied youth and a changing nation. He would most likely draw a distinction between peaceful protests and looters and rioters, and yet he would dedicate more time to excoriating looters and rioters and how awful they were than voicing support for the peaceful protestors. And he would refuse to say Black Lives Matter. Of course they matter… all lives matter. And he couldn’t support, or more importantly, be seen as supporting an organization that is founded on socialist principals, like all his buddies at the country club pointed out BLM was.

He would draw the line at statues being torn down. The absurdity of it! These statues did nothing but remind us all of what makes America, America! And now some people wanted to pretend that they were horrible people, and not people like you or me, caught in tough spots and doing their best to make the most of it. Deep down, unacknowledged, those statues would be emblems of times gone by, and his nostalgia for the past, and what America used to be would be imbued in those motionless arms legs and faces, so their destruction would cause him unexplainable anger and resentment.

COVID

He would hate wearing a mask. He is allowed to decide the risks he puts his body through all by himself, thank you very much. And he would dive, massless, into the most populate and dense masses of people without batting an eye, like popping cashews after a coronary. 

This would especially be true because Nelson would most likely take the virus very seriously, which, to Rabbit, would be indicative of the coddling he received at the hands of his mother. All the youth these days need safe spaces and protection from things unseen (words and germs and over-blown viruses). Rabbit, on the other hand, had seen Vietnam, and SARS and grew up when kids were spanked and forced to deal with tough situations. He could survive a trumped up version of the flu.

News Media

He would distrust the media, thinking it had an agenda. He would find solace and comfort in Fox News, a place that was more likely to tell it how it is. But the Carlsons and Hannitys were poor replacements for the integrity, candor, and composure of by-gone newsmen. These guys were all bluster and bravado. It wasn’t really even the news anymore, it was opinion pieces from men in suits. But he would watch it anyway because he was an informed citizen who would do his part before voting.

Sports

He would have gotten into the NFL, but the NBA and the casualness of the regular season games that slowly built to such intensity and skill in the playoffs would always be his favorite. He would know he is not supposed to like all the protesting and politicking the players did, and he would prefer they didn’t, but he would love how powerful they were, how much everyone listened and responded to them as they went about their causes. He may not agree with their stances or how they went about it (especially walking around in those absurd clothes) but their captive-audience was something to be admired.

Social Media

He would hate social media. He would see all these kids looking at their phones all the time, out of shape and uninspired and wonder how they changed so much from when he was a kid, how they won’t go outside anymore or have conversations. They don’t play sports or stay in shape. He would imagine that whatever they do on their phones, texting and chatting is turning them into self-involved zombies.

He would have a Facebook though, just to stay informed with his friends from a long time ago. He would follow old players on his team and from opposing teams, secretly taking pleasure in how out of shape they had become and also being secretly jealous at all the places they went with women he found more attractive than Janice. He wouldn’t really post though. Only an interesting political article or commentary that he thought his friends could benefit from. And he wouldn’t really comment in all that toxic conversation. Only when he saw a really absurd statement made would he jump in and tell them how it really is. He just wouldn’t be able to understand people on social media and how crazy they get…

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If you liked this, you may also like:
Personal Top 50 Fiction Book List (Ranked)
Noteworthy Book-Movie Adaptations
A Very American Reading List
Empathy Through Reading: Recommendations During Racial Unrest
Quaid Reads [The Right Stuff]

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