DATELINE: TV at Its Worst
Best of Enemies may be one of the most striking and tragic of all documentaries. In it the two people we most admired in the 1960s devolved into caricatures of themselves.
Now collected forever, their 1968 debates on ABC TV during the Democratic and Republican conventions set the tone for media fracas that are now nightly irritations on Fox and CNN.
The two men were denizens of snobbery, elitist representatives of politics and entertainment who became emblems of clashing cultures in a divided America.
Their witty and amusing opening debates quickly became nastier and ended with slander and mockery. Neither man ever recovered from their encounters and fed off a lifelong hatred for the other that now extends into eternity.
Vidal famously called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi,” though many incorrectly recall terms like neo-Nazi. Buckley promised to punch his counterpointing enemy as a “fag” who was “smashed.”
It was live TV and beyond censorship while TV executives watched it in unabashed shock. Delayed tape followed not long after—and fireworks became the massage of Marshall McLuhan’s medium. Yet, the first time this happened it was between the coolest of intellectuals and gentlemen.
Buckley and Vidal were two of the most dissimilar peas in a pod you could find: it was more like matter and anti-matter. Their lives combusted as a result of these short encounters.
The documentary runs the gamut from hilarity to morose despondency over America’s crushing problems. The two combatants seem to have given birth to a political monstrum horrendum in 1968 on live television. This film may provide you with numbing insight, or devastating disgust.
You need to see it.