Reading Edward Raiden’s political satire ‘The Gogglers': where ‘most big’ wins
Stumbling upon a pristine copy of Edward Raiden’s 1967 political satire “The Gogglers” is like discovering literary gold.
I however had no idea what I had found when I came across the tome on a dollar book rack in Santa Fe last year. My eye was simply attracted to a highly stylized font that through a 21st century lens looks like “The Googlers.”
Late lawyer-cum-author Raiden would have had no idea what a “Google” is, yet his tale of an astronaut stranded on a strange planet raises questions about democracy, majority rule and social and sexual norms that our nation still struggles with today.
Only a monster would be able to resist shelling out a buck for this gem. First, it’s called “The Gogglers,” a titillatingly unique name for a political satire. Second, the description is simply too good to be true: an astronaut named Peter Longfellow crashes on a planet where the leader, called the Gogg, is selected by the size of his penis. “The man with the biggest wins.” Incredible! Plus it has illustrations, so you know there was no way I was passing up this puppy.
[An illustration of Longfellow being inspected for the election. "In a few seconds no covering remained around his crotch, and the measuring, by both men and women, made him so standupish that some stood back in awe."]
The next few days saw me trying and failing to get past the “The Gogglers'” frustrating first pages. In them, Peter Longfellow crashes on Goggle ahead of elections, is mistaken for a candidate, manhandled and subsequently introduced to a world where clothing reveals genitals rather than limbs, ape-link citizens do backflips to show respect and the simplistic tongue is dominated by “Gogg,” or some variation of the fictional locution. For example, “Measure show clear Gogg not Gogg and not be Gogg.”
“The Gogglers” soon joined other forgotten volumes on my bookshelf. It wasn’t until months later, after I decided to do a bit more research on Edward Raiden, that I endeavored to give it another go.
Information on Raiden and his life remains scant. According to “The Gogglers'” back cover, Raiden “[believed] one should be able to laugh at and face the hazards” of the legal realm. To that end, Raiden regularly contributed caricatures to legal periodicals, penned a play called “Mr Jefferson’s Burr” and submitted satirical poetry to the Los Angeles Daily Journal. He also found himself in 1947 the subject of tabloid gossip after suing the actor George Raft for an alleged assault at actress Betty Doss’ apartment. (The case was later settled out of court.)
More compelling than decades-old scuttlebutt was the revelation that Raiden once worked for Don Slater, co-founder and editor of ONE, Inc., a then-revolutionary gay magazine first published in January 1953.* Slater wrote to Raiden in 1965 that ONE began ” [because] a periodical seemed to be the most productive way of spotlighting for society (heterosexual and homosexual alike) its infantile attitudes and laws regarding sexual relationships.”
He continued, “Sex between consenting adults in private is not the business of state; you cannot legislate morals; homosexuality is not, per se, morally degenerate or neurotic.”
[A One, Inc. cover from after it was deemed "obscene."]
All was not well behind the scenes at ONE, however. Slater and co-founder W. Dorr Legg suffered “irreconcilable differences” that led to a 1964 lawsuit over rights to ONE, Inc. and its various off-shoot organizations. (The writer C. Todd White provides a great history of ONE Inc. in his book “Pre-Gay L.A.: A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights”) Raiden represented Slater’s side.
“He came to use through [activists] Joe and Jane Hansen, who of course were married and both homosexual,” said Billy Glove, a former ONE employee and a Slater ally. “Ed was the perfect person to handle the case; he fit Don’s laid back attitude and didn’t charge us.”
Though Slater came out of the lawsuit bruised — Legg won rights to ONE, leaving Slater to establish the Homosexual Information Center — Slater and Raiden became good friends. According to Glover, Slater offered his thanks by imploring ONE allies Jim Kepner and Jim Schneider to help Raiden publish “The Gogglers.”
Considering Raiden’s close association with Slater, ONE and other “homophile” activists during a period when gays were more than encouraged to stay in the closet, I assumed that Raiden was also one of the boys, so to speak. He was not. He was clearly an ally, though, and as I delved back into “The Gogglers” it became clear why: he saw the moralist, discriminatory and illogical roots of what a Goggler would call America’s “democrazy.”
“In a democracy everybody is equal, even if they can’t vote, but if they can vote, all the more so,” Longfellow explains when his Goggler host, Perceiver, expresses confusion over the concept and its presumptive spawn, equality.
Raiden clearly smirks in the background as his protagonist inadvertently highlights the inherent incongruity of how Americans envision our nation’s founding ideal: “Those who have more, need less equality. Those who have less, need more equality. The very young need more equality. And so on up and down the scales of equality. And that leads to justice.”
Perceiver is less interested in talking politics than trying to pimp Longfellow out to his wife and daughter. The young astronaut, you see, has become the planet’s most eligible bachelor, the reproductive key to full “assimmolation,” Raiden’s hybrid of “assimilation” and “immolation.”
[Longfellow encounters a statue of assimmolation's goal: a white, hairless woman. The caption reads, "Longfellow gazed at the concept of what further assimmilation would do for the Gogglers. It was a visionary piece."]
Assimmolation is the Gogglers’ greatest goal. It is a path to progress and civilization. Or so they’ve been told by their first human visitor, Peter Jenkins, also known as Peter One. Those who have been assimmolated “have more Peter,” meaning they’re lighter and have less hair. The higher castes, the “more Peter,” “be more culture and more civilize.”
It is a duty and an honor to seek assimolation. Anyone who opposes becomes an enemy of the state, worse than “No-Peter,” the lowest, hairiest cast.
Longfellow can’t understand. How could a society thrive, let alone survive, with such loose political and sexual morals? He soon finds the answers in Peter One’s journal.
Peter One was twenty-five when his boat — yes, a boat, which suggests Goggle is either on earth or extradimensional — crashed on Goggle’s shores three hundred years ago. Realizing he’s stranded, the interloper immediately plots to declare himself a messianic king with the right to power, to riches and to create the planet’s laws. He has dominion over even the Gogg and wastes little time creating a farcical judicial system, parliament — the Logg — and erecting a new election law based on penis size.
“I find self able to convince [the Gogg] what right and what wrong in all situation and soon he respect me as be of great wisedome,” the clearly uneducated Peter One confesses in his diary. “Always these ask about pale and clear skin and whether other people be like I. I explain this be natural condition in my home and it did come about by custom where lead man of country be King and father all child.” The tradition of assimmolation was thus born, bearing predictable consequences.
Gogglers age differently than we humans. One of their years are two of ours. Women start breeding at 7-and-a-half years and incubate for only five months. Peter One therefore presided over and impregnated generations of increasingly inbred — and mentally deficient — Gogglers. As assimmolation and inbreeding continued, the more damaged Gogglers were classified as an insane minority and locked in the planet’s asylum. But that population soon became the majority and demanded freedom, voting rights and political control.
“True democrazy be by will of majority. If majority change, will change,” says one of the lawmakers who supports the so-called insane. A professor, meanwhile, problematizes the definition of “normal.” “On sanity question what majority think be normal.” Goggle’s social norms have been turned on their head and the former majority found itself marched off to the asylum.
Always a schemer, Peter One played both sides to cement his status as top dog. What happens to the erstwhile majority is none of his concern. He boasts in his journal’s final pages, “I teach true democrazy, except for control I keep as King.”
Longfellow is absolutely horrified to learn the truth and promises “to conduct himself righteously with these people,” which means imparting his democratic and Christian beliefs upon them.
[The level of political discourse on Goggle makes even our Congress look civil.]
Longfellow’s resolve to renovate Goggle’s political and social systems is soon tested as an upstart political movement challenges the legitimacy of both the current Gogg Dram’s rule and the electoral system as a whole. “Loggic” proves that their candidate, a Goggler named Astute, exceeds current Gogg Dram’s “most big” in every way. Besides, they wonder, what does “most big” truly mean? Is it really just penis size? If so, does “most big” correlate with girth or length? What is the base of measurement?
Or maybe “most big” is something else completely, such as patriotism, as one lawyer argues: “Define most big as who do most for country.” The entire planet is forced to asked whether, to repeat the previous quote, “Gogg not be Gogg and not be Gogg.” Here Longfellow briefly sees a glimmer of political truth:
There are more turns and devolutions in man’s efforts to govern himself than most people know. Perhaps because of the very confusion of new things, new thoughts and new approaches, people cling to the standards and principles for which their fathers and forefathers have always stood.
With Goggle’s legal system teetering on the brink, Longfellow finds himself drawn to the current Gogg’s wife, O Dram. (Second class citizens, women simply add O to their husband’s name). Despite her less-than-desirable features, O Dram is gorgeous when compared to her peers — just like a bad law would appear better when compared to an even worse suggestion. But the deeply pious Longfellow resists the “sin.”
“Sin is the greatest of evils,” he says to a clueless O Dram. “It’s not only violating a man-made rule. It’s violating a rule of God…The supreme being who created and rules the whole Universe.” O Dram, with all her simplicity, tears a hole in Longfellow’s faith. “If God bigger than every…make every…control every…why sin…make more better child…make not sin.”
[A female Goggler tries to seduce Longfellow into assimmolation.]
As his longing for O Dram grows, Longfellow wavers in his beliefs: “If the majority could determine what was normal in sight, smell, touch and taste, then it was perfectly reasonable that the majority would determine what was normal in their sex and other physical relationships.” Finally, after breaking down and laying with O Dram, he concludes, “The code of sexual conduct between man and woman could have been established by man.” Still, he draws the line at assimmolation.
Though agreeing to breed with Goggle’s women would give him ultimate decision-making power on the planet — he would be above not Gogg and Gogg alike — Peter hesitates. It is O Dram who persuades Longfellow to change his mind. She enjoys being the planet’s first lady, and if he makes the opposition back down, she can keep her position — and doesn’t he want her to be happy? The only catch is that he has to spearhead assimmolation.
Sprung on O Dram, Longfellow agrees — and it isn’t long before his self-justification breeds self-deification.
There was little surrender of moral principles here since moral principles were really man made. His superiority in all phases of living and intellectuality made it a duty for him to devote himself to the uplifting of the Goggler’s standards. No one could criticize him for following a plan which inevitably improve these people.
Despite vows to uphold democratic principles and equality, Longfellow becomes what he once loathed: “He was Peter Two, a fact he now admitted, which made him a God.”
There’s so much more to Raiden’s message than just the old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely” or the more lowbrow axiom that men think with their balls, not their brains.
The late lawyer understands that majority rule, so long the golden calf of democratic societies, is not fail-safe. The parameters of normativity are arbitrary. What is sane one day is insane the next. Any one group can claim dominion over another simply because the lower caste deviates from boundaries the dominant group created.
Raiden clearly understands that democracy and majority rule do not guarantee equality. One must not assume that the majority will rule for the best of the rest. True equality must always be upheld and protected, even at the price of some personal power.
Raiden raises more questions than answers in this marvelously incoherent and insightful tale, and my once-pristine copy has since been inked up with notes, analysis and memos. But no matter how many marks I put in “The Gogglers,” there’s no obscuring the lesson Raiden wants his readers to remember: the most just societies protect all of their citizens, even those it may fail to fully comprehend, such as gay people. Any deviation from that truth leads only to oppression and tyranny.**
With our nation heading into an election, and as it continues discriminating against countless citizens, Raiden’s “The Gogglers,” never a critical hit and largely forgotten, still resonates. Do the candidates have the “most big” tools to help improve our country’s lot or are they working for their own interest? And are we the citizens prepared to change our definitions of equality, marriage, stability and wealth to guarantee our countrymen receive the same treatment as the so-called “normal” majority? Or are we as blind to consequences as the Gogglers?
* One, Inc. became an instant target for the nation’s morality police, and in October of 1954 the postal service deemed ONE “obscene” and tried to shut it down. The magazine sued and proved victorious after the Supreme Court broadened the definition of “obscene” in 1958’s Roth v. United States case. It was a win not only for gay rights, but freedom of speech and personal liberty.
** It should come as no surprise that Raiden was writing in the midst of civil rights movements here in the States and anti-colonial movements in Africa and elsewhere.
Illustrations from “The Gogglers” by Penelope Oshatz and Joe Johnson.