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‘J. Edgar’: Hoover’s Hubris Writ Large

Posted on Nov 9, 2011

By Richard Schickel

(Page 2)

Which rather leaves out of the picture one Clyde Tolson. He was a Mormon, an FBI agent and he is beautifully played in the film by Armie Hammer as an obliging, good-natured fellow—lovable in ways that Hoover never was. He lived with Hoover, took virtually every meal with him and every vacation too. Were they just “pals”? Or was there something more intimate in their friendship? The movie implies a sexual relationship. But again, there was something in the spirit of the times that protected them. Male “bonding,” as we’ve since learned to call it, was considered a rare, but not unknown, alternative lifestyle. (So was female bonding, and Hoover had the evidence on Eleanor Roosevelt’s lesbianism to prove it.) This was especially true in the case of Hoover and Tolson. There was nothing furtive in their pairing, rather the opposite, as the movie would have it. One would not call it redemptive, but it does render Hoover almost likable—even pathetic—on occasion.

This is a brave film. There was a time when J. Edgar Hoover was among the most prominent Americans and there was no way to make a reasonably honest movie about him. Now there is a tendency to ask, J. Edgar Who? And to wonder how so much secretive power came to reside in one man of rather limited, if dogged (and creepy) skills. And it is somewhat odd that Eastwood, not a man known for publicly espousing his political interests, has chosen to make this film at this time. And to make of it such a devastating portrayal of a rather ordinary man caught in the grips of paranoia and hubris.

Does he intend it as a warning shot, a reminder that men like Hoover are an ever-present danger to democracy, which is always looking for simplified images of muscular virtue to celebrate? It would be hard to think anything else—especially since Dustin Lance Black’s script is a model for enterprises of this kind, tracing Hoover’s rise from momma’s boy (Mom is perfectly played by Judi Dench) to a posturing machismo figure, without ever raising its voice. The hollowness of the man is suggested merely by the odd lilt in DiCaprio’s voice at certain tense or uncertain moments. Most of the time he is just calmly going about his business—which is the subversion of republic, about whose best values he has not a clue.

The danger, of course, is that Hoover is too distant a figure, too much a man of another time and place for today’s audience to forge an appalled relationship with. Eastwood, obviously, has bet the other way. With this handsomely crafted, impeccably acted movie, he is saying that it can happen here—again and again. In making this point, distance (Hoover died almost 40 years ago) lends an eerie enchantment to this tale. It helps us to objectify the man, to see that he is far from being a rare bird in our political life—just a very busy and a very dangerous one. I don’t think there has ever been a calmer, and therefore more potent portrait, of the demagogue as a tense yet serene bureaucrat.

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By mapol, November 18, 2011 at 6:04 am Link to this comment

“J. Edgar”  sounds like an interesting film, but it’s too bad that the part about the
fact that he had Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated has been left out, because
that’s an extremely important part of what J. Edgar Hoover was all about.

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By kcunning, November 12, 2011 at 7:50 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Schickel, you may have dozed off and missed the scene in which J. Edgar tells Tolson that he’s been dating,& is considering marrying, Dorothy Lamour, & that revelation precipitated the fight they have after Edgar answers yes to Tolson’s question whether they have already had a physical relationship.  Otherwise, an excellent evaluation of the film.

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By emily jane squires, November 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment

It seems like humanity began an epic economic struggle beginning with the Industrial revolution. The only time much of humanity had economic freedom and self-determination was apparently the 19th and 20th centuries. The rise of a strong and independent Middle class… agricultural, commercial, merchantile and small industrial business enterprises…who were responsible for their own and family livelihoods in mutual cooperation providing the food, clothing and shelter locally and regionally.
But, now after the creation of the Wall Street publicly owned ‘corporations’...first national and then multi-national…humanity appears to be headed back to the age old struggle of a new form of Monarchism vs a new form of Democracy.  The new forms seem to be a choice between a capitalist ‘Corporate fascist dictatorship’, or a capitalist ‘State worker’s communist dictatorship.’
Either of the two seem to be nothing more than a return to a two class modern, feudalistic existence.

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By drbhelthi, November 11, 2011 at 5:16 am Link to this comment

@ Lafayette
The „Reckless Ronnie“ legacy ended when the son of GHWBushSr´s close friend
shot Reagan.  The short-term removal of Reagan enabled GHWBushSr to step
into the PotUS slot, and since that time his entourage self-elected.  That Ronald
Reagan ever made presidential decisions alone, is questionable.  Former
insiders know who made the decisions, after Reagan´s almost demise. 
Reagan was not responsible for the CIA destruction of the 3rd World countries,
nor was he ever the secretive CEO of the C.I.A.  Reagan had nothing to do with
the fraudulent “War on Terror”, nor 9-11,  nor the Patriot Act, nor the Obama
intensification of the Patriot Act - which classifies Americans who disagree with
Obama/USGOV decisions as “Homeland Terrorists.”  Reagan had nothing to
do with an Obama appointed, secretive committee that decides which
Americans are to be assassinated.

The Western World is not suffering from Ronald Reagan´s naivete, but rather
from the nazification of the U.S. that was induced by Operation Paper Clip, with
five years of repetition.  GHWBushSr as secretive CEO of the CIA, the thousands
of coup détat illegally conducted around the earth, and the acceleration
subsequently by the GHWBushSr entourage carried out the NAZI-Plan, carried
over from WWII.  Dr. Carol Rosin reveals a bit of the warning given her by
former NAZI, Dr. Werner von Braun, dying of cancer, who charged her with
revealing to the world, the NAZI fraudulent plan to overtake the earth and
space.  This link summarizes the history of the NAZI-Bush family:

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By Lafayette, November 11, 2011 at 1:22 am Link to this comment

A1954: He is a good example of why you don’t but demigods into such positions of power and why such positions should be limited in both scope and time.

Well put.

Which is why a true democracy continually changes (or should change) its representation in Congress. We should extend the rule of two-terms limiting a PotUS’s tenure to both chambers of Congress as well.

About 40% of the Senate are millionaires. Does anyone in their right mind think that they have Jack ‘n Jill America’s interest at heart?

Only during the campaign for re-election when they shmooze all over the Boob-Tube - and what they want of us is so patently obvious. Which is why we need a Progressive Agenda for Change  as a litmus-test for those who represent us in Congress.

If you want change, if you think reform is a fundamental necessity for our democracy to obtain a more egalitarian, a more just society, then get out and vote for that change.

Rather than sitting on your duffs reading a blog.

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By Chuck, November 10, 2011 at 6:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m sure they’ll leave out the part where J. Edgar hated MLK and had him killed.

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By Aarky, November 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

President Nixon was his usual self when informed of Hoover’s death, “So that old cocksucker finally died”!The FBI sent a crash crew into his house and cleaned it out including hundreds of pictures of Clyde Tolson. Tolson was named as his sole benificiary. When Hoover’s armored limo got in a minor fender bender in a left had turn across traffic, the order came down; no more left hand turns.From that time on all turns had to be made to the right. All new graduates from the FBi Academy carried handkerchefs before the handshake with the boss, because he was reputed to mistrust anyone with sweaty palms. There would be a scandel in US Customs in the early 1990’s when they discovered that an Assistant Regional Commissioner for the Investigative Agents was taking young agents on field trips and sexually molesting them. He would be allowed to retire after a fake stroke and would wind up as head of security for a large department store in Chicago.There were too many cover-ups for the top officials and these are only two that were finally outed.

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By Lafayette, November 10, 2011 at 4:11 pm Link to this comment

Another JEH? Dubtfully. Possible but improbable.

Nations learn and evolve ... or implode.

Let’s worry, rather, about getting beyond the awful legacy of Reckless Ronnie.

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By Tobysgirl, November 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

proletariatprincess, I didn’t see any mention of his gambling habit, which is why he didn’t go after the Mafia. They forgave his debts in exchange for the obvious.

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By DA, November 10, 2011 at 12:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hoover began his career as a cataloguer at the Library of Congress. Upon
graduation from law school, he worked at the Justice Dept. in the Enemy Aliens
Registration Section.

Collecting & filing information was Hoover’s forte.

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By Archie1954, November 10, 2011 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

J. Edgar vacuum cleaner has a reputation that is compromised to say the least. He is a good example of why you don’t but demigods into such positions of power and why such positions should be limited in both scope and time.

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By proletariatprincess, November 10, 2011 at 9:50 am Link to this comment

I will enjoy this movie, I am certain, but why no mention of his protection of the Mafia?  He was notorious for denying the existance of organized crime and refusing to cooperate with Robert Kennedy efforts to go after Hoffa et al.
It has been rumoured that the Mob had something on him (ie a photo of him in drag) which insured that he would never go after them.  Kinda like using his own dirty tricks to entrap himself.

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By Viet Nam Era 1-A Protester, November 10, 2011 at 9:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The one personal memory I have of the FBI was when two agents showed up one
day in 1969 at the lumber truss fabrication company I worked for outside of
Boston.  They were looking for a co-worker who was evading the draft.  As a 1-
A resister myself, I developed an immediate intense dislike for the FBI from that
moment on. They were well dressed, neat, conservative looking accountants.

I have two promises that I would act on if elected POTUS.  The first would be to
free Leonard Pelletier, as due to ongoing FBI abuse of power and subversion of
any group resistant to the 1% elite, I sincerely believe he was framed, or at least
unjustly imprisoned.  I believe that he is still held as an object lesson to those
who would resist the brutality of our fascist government’s power.  Noam
Chomsky has done the best analysis of this perverse quality of our government.

The second action I would take is to have the FBI building renamed the Martin
Luther King Memorial FBI Building, in honor of a great man who the racist J.
Edgar Hoover spent his career trying to smear and suppress.

While there have been decades of TV show propaganda trying to make the FBI,
cops and military out to be spotless heros, when I watch “Criminal Minds”, I am
often rooting for the criminals, especially the ones going after the agents.

Because the FBI has been, and continues to be, a criminal type organization in its
heavy handed actions of trying to suppress first amendment dissent and action
in all spheres of our democracy.  They seem to put the most effort into trying to
frame groups like PETA, not the Mafia (with whom they had quite an incestuous
relationship in Boston for decades).  Environmental activists are “terrorists” but
Wall Street banksters are to be protected.  The FBI needs to be cleaned out, top
to bottom (are you listening Obomber—why of course, we’re all tapped) starting
with dumping the Bush family’s man in charge, Mueller.  The FBI is a danger to
Democracy, not a protector.

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By drbhelthi, November 10, 2011 at 4:54 am Link to this comment

Currently available information indicates that the “cold war” was an artificial
situation brought about by the NAZI master spy, Gen. Reinhard Gehlin.  Which, does not mean that the “cold war” was not real, but rather, that it was created by Gehlin´s desire to maintain his secretive spy force around the world, thus generated fairy tales to enable its continuation, and the paid employment of his spy entourage.

NAZI-SS General Gehlin re-formed duties of the defunct OSS into the C.I.A. and provided the propaganda fuel to guide the C.I.A., the USGOV and the world into the “cold war.”  Naturally, the former leadership of the C.I.A. deny the idea.  “The company” denies everything that ties its history with 3rd world destruction, the millions of deaths, murder, even genocide, that have resulted, and the recent destruction of the African nation with a higher standard of living than is currently found in the U.S.A., and degenerating.

The murder of Muammar AL GHADAFFI and the razing of Libya, was an act of vengeance by the GHWBushSr entourage, for having been revealed by AL GHADAFFI as FRAUDS.  Sad, that the leadership of the EU permitted NATO to be misused as a tool of the Zionist GHWBushSr entourage.  Sarkozy and France?  Flush two times.

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By emily jane squires, November 9, 2011 at 10:04 pm Link to this comment

J.Edgar Hoover was eminently qualified as an authority on communism.  Since 1924, he was Director of the Federal Bureaqu of Investigation(FBI), the broad responsibilities of which include jurisdiction in internal security matters involving communism, espionage, sabotage, and related subversive activities. Mr. Hoover wrote a book providing a penetrating analysis of the Communist threat to freedom in 1962; A Study of Communism.

This book came out for the public not long after:

JFK’s warning of a conspiracy:Address before the American newspaper Association, April 27, 1961

“The very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and secret proceedings, for we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence – – – on infiltration instead of invasion – – – on subversion instead of election – – – on intimidation instead of free choice – – – it is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, economic, scientific and political operations – – – its preparations are concealed not published – – – its mistakes are buried – – – not headlined – – ...– its dissenters are silenced – – – not praised – – – no expenditure is questioned no secret is revealed – – – that is why the Athenians lawmaker, Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy – – –!

I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people – – – confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be – – – free and independent!”

John F. Kennedy

...the above refers to the long planned communist world dictatorship which has been sometimes called a ‘new world order.’

OH! Central banks and the big Western Wall ST stock exchanges are in on it too.
An independent Middle class has always stood in the way of returning humanity back to a
two class feudalism.

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By prisnersdilema, November 9, 2011 at 9:48 pm Link to this comment

People, namely politicians feared Hoover because of the information, real or fabricated
that he had on them. He used this, to intimidate and impose his view of what America
should be, on our politics…This was his sickness and his obsession, and litle more than
a projection of his own self hatred for failing himself…an example and a warning about
what happens when human beings are forced to live in the closet, rather than as who
they really are in the world…

He was a man obsessed with secrets, because he knew the pain of keeping his own..

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By examinator, November 9, 2011 at 7:59 pm Link to this comment

Hoover was among the first messianic bureaucratic insiders in modern America. A clear argument of Lord Acton’s dictum ” power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely”
His transvestitism is in my mind irrelevant what is important is his blurring of the the lines between what was good for America and his opinion…No one person can possibly be the sole definer of what is acceptable or unacceptable for America or the world.
That is called a dictatorship.

Sadly this myopic totalitarianism has morphed into ‘American Conservatism’ and is being manipulated by Me first Capitalism….what it isn’t is Democracy.
Neither was Hoover’s power regime particularly during and after the McCarthy Xenophobic paranoiac purges.

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By Night-Gaunt, November 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm Link to this comment

In an episode of the late great “Sliders”  about a group of people voyaging to many alternate earths. One such J. Edgar Hoover took over the USA and made it a police state. One photo showed him dressed in a kilt. Though the police they meet toting machine guns wear pleated “kilts.” (Some talk about whether J.E.Hoover was a transvestite) but no matter what the cops wore it was still a police state long after his death and most everyone was fine with that since several generations had lived it.

I wonder if Heinrich Himmler the chief police officer for Nazi Germany looked to see how Hoover had such a long term control over a vast nation like the USA and stayed in his august position for so long under so many elected presidents?

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By gerard, November 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm Link to this comment

You know, rethinking this matter of “hubris”:  I doubt that’s the right diagnosis. More like, the driving force is a wider political desire in the very nature of (undemocratic) governance to dominate by frightening people into conformity and complicity with the status quo.  This temptation rears its ugly head particularly at times when people already feel insecure due to gross economic inequity and/or political reversal. 
  At such times, the “power structure” upon which government depends tries to “up-the-ante” to force conformity by raising the fear level (as in the more recent “wars on terror”, the “patriot acts” etc.)
  Raising the fear level in general, and as government policy, because it makes people easier to rule, is the primary motive.  Only secondarily, (if at all) is such repression the result of personal character traits such as arrogance or excess pride.

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By felicity, November 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

I, of course, remember J. Edgar.  Before the days of
the octopustic media, people were able to create for
themselves public personnae assured that (it) would
remain intact - often into perpetuity. 

Almost modeled on the movie star personna (not the
movie actor, but the ‘star.’) one offers oneself to
the people and yet keeps private the hidden,
unguessable sources of that self. Hoover mastered it
as did FDR and I would even include JFK.  (I actually
can’t think of anyone in the public eye today who
would qualify for membership in the group.)

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