pseudopodium
. . . New Diversity

. . .

The usual defenses against accusations of racism or sexism demean all parties; it's better to admit that that's one of the risks of associating with white American males.

. . .

Hey Hey in the Hays Office: Sex, (Christian) blasphemy, and violence were explicit targets of the written Production Code, and they make great marketing for pre-Code film festivals. But the individuals responsible for implementing the Production Code also took care to safeguard such American family values as racism and antisemitism.

On The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, 1939

The original plan was to show Astaire and Rogers accompanied by black musicians, to represent the orchestras of Jim Europe and others who often worked with the Castles. The idea was scrapped, however, when Hollywood's censorship office gratuitously pointed out to RKO that this would "give serious offense to audiences throughout the sourthern part of the United States... and your studio is likely to be deluged with protests." A similar admonition was wired from RKO's New York office: ".... strongly advise use of white men. No one remembers or cares which they used and we should not take chance with colored."
-- John Mueller, Astaire Dancing
On Three Comrades, 1938
... many changes between the original script and the final one were requested by the Hays Office before approval was granted.... no use of the Nazi emblem or mention of specific German leaders were to be used; a scene in which a bookburning takes place had to be removed; a "We are Jews" speech delivered by the character Dr. Becker was to be deleted; some additional lines of dialogue, situations and character names concerning Jews were to be deleted.... Additionally, suggestions were made to change the setting of the film from the 1930s to two or three years after the end of World War I. According to a 27 Jan 1938 letter sent to Louis B. Mayer by Joseph I. Breen, PCA director, the Hays Office suggested, "It might be better to make the Communists the 'Heavies'... do not indicate by emblem or uniforms that the period is other than following the war." Another suggestion offered by Breen was to delete a reference to Felix Mendelssohn.
-- The American Film Institute Catalog, Feature Films, 1931-1940
Much of the crew from Three Comrades reassembled two years later to make The Mortal Storm, which was able to attack the Nazis openly -- albeit with a blanket substitution of the term "non-Aryan" for "Jewish."

. . .

Never say "Your mother!" to an Irishman: Just in time for AMC's John Ford tribute is a new online summary of Bridget Cleary's 1895 murder (pointer via Robot Wisdom). I wonder what Yeats, Lady Gregory, and other Anglo-aristocratic defenders of Irish cultural integrity had to say about the case....

. . .

Ich bin ein Danish: The heck with some preachy art-school video, and the heck with Cannibal Holocaust. What The Blair Witch people really ripped off was a horror hoax documentary about witchcraft made by the first (of many, I'm sure) great director from Denmark. And then they had the nerve to name their production company after it! Wudda they think we are -- stupid!?

. . .

The prole thrillers which came closest to the jokey splatter of neo-noir weren't from Mickey Spillane but from Chester Himes. I recently read the second volume of Himes's autobiography, which, amidst hundreds of pages of complaints about girlfriends, royalties, and his Volkswagen, revealed just how liberating Himes found the hard-boiled genre after a dozen years of working the Richard-Wright-defined mainstream:

I would sit in my room and become hysterical thinking about the wild, incredible story I was writing. But it was only for the French, I thought, and they would believe anything about Americans, black or white, if it was bad enough. And I thought I was writing realism. It never occurred to me that I was writing absurdity. Realism and absurdity are so similar in the lives of American blacks one can not tell the difference.

.... I was writing some strange shit. Some time before, I didn't know when, my mind had rejected all reality as I had known it and I had begun to see the world as a cesspool of buffoonery. Even the violence was funny.... If I could just get the handle to joke. And I had got the handle, by some miracle.

I didn't really know what it was like to be a citizen of Harlem; I had never worked there, raised children there, been hungry, sick or poor there. I had been as much of a tourist as a white man from downtown changing his luck. The only thing that kept me from being a black racist was I loved black people, felt sorry for them, which meant I was sorry for myself. The Harlem of my books was never meant to be real; I never called it real; I just wanted to take it away from the white man if only in my books.

-- p. 109, 126, My Life of Absurdity by Chester Himes

. . .

Benton County News: "World-Wide" Web? I don't think so, pal. Not without Foley, Minnesota, it's not.

Luckily for our favorite domain-prefixing acronym, this chink has now been daubed through a generous donation of a full run of the Benton County News to the Hotsy Totsy Club by Asian Art Museum curator Kristina Youso.

In Youso's honor, our first news item is "Music Bridges Cultural Gap":

A year ago July 4th, the Chinese Boys Choir performed in St. Cloud. That performance marked the beginning of a year of planning to bring to pass a cultural exchange between Minnesota and China. The exchange involved folks a lot closer to our hearts here in Foley than just saying "Minnesota".
...
"We were quite a site," Mel said, "traveling in these large air conditioned buses." Nearly 7.4 million people live in the city of Beijing. (The population of the entire state of Minnesota is only 4.6 million.) There are people everywhere. Mary Ann commented, "There was no translation for the words "excuse me". There are so many people trying to move on the sidewalks that bumping into each other is just normal and people didn't say 'excuse me'."
...
The Haucks watched ditches dug by hand, not backhoes, and they saw no semi-trucks.
...
"The meals were just wonderful," Mel said. They did not drink the water, though.
...
The Hauck's felt very safe on the street in the evening. It was explained that there is no civil justice system in China. When someone commits a crime against someone, they are simply taken before a group of people and a sentence is meted out.
...
The 30 hour trip home was a long and tiring one, but, in visiting with the Hauck's, you would know the chance to share in this cultural exchange was well worth it.
 
"After a performance, concert goers rushed the stage
to have their photo taken with blonde American."
"It was better if we didn't ask what we were eating."

. . .

This week, Constance Kandle's Nonprofit Chronicles leaves Bossy the Clown aside for a look at The Big Boss and The New Diversity:

There's a new Big Boss at the nonprofit, and he wants his staff to know he's culturally sensitive. At a recent staff breakfast, he introduced himself to his new employees by telling them a little about himself:

"My personal style has sometimes been described as aggressive and hostile. I think that's because I come from a heritage of embattled minority cultures. My grandfather was Catalan; in fact my name is an anglicized version of the Catalan word for 'lawyer.' And my grandma was Scottish. So you might see how we would have an underdog mentality."

Constance has a few questions about this. To begin with, how did the Big Boss manage to have only two grandparents?

Let's all share a moment of silence in memory of those beleaguered Catalans and Scots (not to mention lawyers) who've never been granted the dignity of an official US holiday. Perhaps only the English aristocracy has been treated so shabbily on our shores....

. . .

Reuters brings us this uniquely reassuring analysis:

Russian authorities have said the vast nation will not suffer computer chaos after the clock strikes midnight on December 31, promising that citizens would experience only small changes in their lives.

"Russia already lives in a situation which Western experts have described as the most deplorable results of the 'Problem 2000'," Andrei Barkin, project manager at the Y2K resource center of government agency USAID, told a news conference.

Many Russians already battle with an unreliable telephone system in which calls often fail, while power cuts and hot water shortages are common in some far-flung regions.

These are the type of problems which many other governments are trying to prevent after December 31 when the millennium bug might strike, scrambling systems that cannot read the two final zeros [sic] when the date changes to 2000.

"Y2K is a civilized problem, meaning that if a country is more civilized it poses more of a problem," Barkin said.

. . .

Although the pacing's a bit stodgy, 1936's Mayerling wins on performances, especially from the youthful-but-still-middle-aged Charles Boyer as Prince Rudolf: dissipated, undisciplined, and 100% tragically noble. I would say that Boyer was over-the-top great, but one of the reasons Boyer was always middle-aged was that he was never over-the-top. Under pressure, he just got more impacted.

Besides instigating this woman's marriage, Mayerling's other great achievement was getting me interested in the history of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. 'Cause, I've read Robert Musil and listened to Arnold Schoenberg till the cows came home, but not even the cows ever had the decency to tell me about Only Heir to Empire Dead in Double Love Suicide!, and, brother, that's what I call news.

Well, allowing some elbow room for glamor and the use of French actors, it turns out the movie actually does present the semi-official version of the story pretty accurately. Alas! for romance, it also turns out that not that many people ever believed that version of the story -- what's more likely to hit a Hapsburg: romance or assassination? -- and now it's been thoroughly disproved.

Even after learning that love means nothing, the "what happened next?" factor was still strong, especially since the next thing I found that happened next was the assassination of Prince Rudolf's mother, the Empress, less than a decade after the murder of her son. And by then we're getting close to the Great War.... Would I have to, like, go buy a book or something to work all this out?

No fear of that, because the Atlantic's already bought a book (coincidentally also from 1936) and put it up on the Web: Rebecca West's big dummy's guide to the Balkans, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. I remember when its posting was announced as a public service during one of the more recent genocides, but of course it took an old movie to attract my attention....

West works a well-established mainstream genre -- travel notes alternating with history lessons -- but you can't beat the combination of Balkans history and fascist-era travel for human (i.e., morbid) interest, and in its smoothly mainstream way the series builds to near hysteria by the time it reaches Sarajevo in Part 4:
'So when the poor mayor began to read his address of welcome the Archduke shouted out in a thin alto, "That's all a lot of rot. I come here to pay you a visit, and you throw bombs at me. It's an outrage." Then the Archduchess spoke to him softly, and he calmed down, and said, "Oh, well, you can go on." But at the end of the speech there was another scene, because the Archduke had not got his speech, and for a moment the secretary who had it could not be found. Then when it was brought to him he was like a madman because the manuscript was all spattered with the aide-de-camp's blood.'


At that moment the young man smashed his fist down on the table and cried into Constantine's face, 'Judas Iscariot! Judas Iscariot!'

'No,' said poor Constantine to his back, 'I am not Judas Iscariot. I have indeed never been quite sure which of the disciples I do resemble, but it is a very sweet little one, the most mignon of them all.'

Marie Vetsera
I'm a little worried about West's preoccupation with obesity, though. Would you agree with her that "Marie Vetsera was a very fat and plain little girl"? Ess, ess, Rebecca!

. . .

The New Diversity: Some of the darkest checkers of my checkered college career were supplied by Mr. T, a math teacher with a head like a pyramid and a voice like a Korean cappucino machine (link via Obscure Store). No one would call mathematics a universal language after sitting through one of Mr. T's lectures. Only his blustering protest "But you have this in algebra!" was parsible -- and that only through repetition, since it was his answer to any request for clarification.

Although most of his students flunked most of his tests, Mr. T realized that our grade security was closely linked to his job security, and so every student passed his courses satisfactorily enough to muffle protest.

Since I was a very bad math student, I should probably feel more grateful towards Mr. T than I do. OK, then: Mr. T, all is forgiven!

. . .

Henry James Dept.: The most consistently interesting thing about BBC America is its list of advertisers, which seems to have been bought lock stock and barrel from a late night UHF station in Mississippi (Oxford, maybe?). After years of PBS's white glove treatment of turds like that department store sitcom, it's a salutary shock to see Helena Bonham Carter constantly interrupted by ads for trusses, electric nose hair trimmers, arthritis cures, ginsu knives, and Boxcar Willie retrospectives.

. . .

Support Our Sponsors: Here's Juliet Clark to tell us more!

"HAPPY MILLENINIUM [sic]!" from Playmobil HQ in Zirndorf, Deutschland, where smiling figures from an alternate Fisher-Price utopia transport kids over 4 into the paramilitary future via System X. Before and after: first encounter the Aerial Police Unit (aka SWAT team), then stay a while in the lovingly detailed Hospital Ward.

Although most of these toys are equally applicable to European and North American situations, there are some differences -- for instance, between the American and German versions of the "Western" scenes. (One shoots, the other doesn't.) And certain scenarios are reserved for American kids only -- e.g. the buffalo-hunting Injuns. On the other hand, the Germans get their own Sheriff's Office, "with prison cell and escape route". And only the Germans get to play in the Dschungel (Jungle), complete with colorful African mascot.

(Note: the Playmobil site uses cookies and you may have to click around it a bit on your own before all these links will work.)

. . .

Movie Comment: It's not surprising that the best parts of Topsy Turvy ("IT'LL MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE WATCHING A BUNCH OF EXTRAS STAND UP AND CHEER!" - NY Film Critics) are the backstage-verité scenes -- given his working methods, rehearsals are probably pretty much all Mike Leigh sees of life nowadays -- but even some of those seemed a little queasy. Like the orchestral runthrough where an undisciplined fiddler refers to superstar conductor-composer Sullivan as "Dr. Sullivan" and is heartily corrected ('cause I guess it's supposed to be "Sir Arthur") by a fellow orchestra member, earning appreciative chuckles from the elderly Berkeley audience, who undoubtedly have their own problems with uppity underlings.

Man, I was with the sloppy guy: the only really proper title for a musician is "Perfesser." "Doctor" was already pushing it!

As Nature's Nobleman, H. L. Mencken, pointed out in The American Language: Supplement I, us Americans don't get a lot of practice when it comes to English titular grammar like "Lord before His Grace except after Excellency." Since it was clear that his copyeditors were never going to get titles right, in 1942, Robert R. McCormick, editor of the Chicago Tribune, decided it wasn't worth the trouble to print them at all. But then the English Disapproval Chorale (lead tenor the London Daily Telegraph, owned by Baron Camrose of Long Cross, né William Ewett Barry) turned out not to like that either.

Mencken quotes McCormick's response:

Obviously there would be no confusion in any one's mind if we omitted the Sir from Gen. Sir Bernard Montgomery. Nor would any one be in doubt about the identity of the person described as Gov. Windsor of the Bahamas. These changes in style would promote the idea in American minds that our allies, like us, are fighting for democracy....

So far as this country is concerned it will make considerable sacrifices to preserve a British democracy, but it doesn't find any great satisfaction in fighting for an aristocratic Britain. In deference to American opinion we should expect the British to abolish their titles and the privileges that go with them. After all, the deprivation wouldn't amount to much; it isn't as if Camrose didn't have another name that sounds less like soap to fall back on.

. . .

"I let them go on and on, and boy are these dissidents capable of it."
-- Keith Geffen, "Exiles on Main Street"

He ain't just whistling dixie. (When I sold my car to a Russian immigrant, I had to throw in five or six hours of monolog attending.) And after watching Geffen carefully prod each and every possible source of self- or other-loathing, you'll probably say the same about their American-born children. But the fate of Soviet dissidents is one of those subjects that can only be exhausted by exhausting everyone else, too. So it's a good exhaustion. Like with endorphins, except more depressing.

. . .

Overheard in the Pacific East shopping mall: "Most people in Russia like Skittles the best."

. . .

Attempt at a response (detached): Racism is largely a disease of attention. The sufferer is hypersensitized to certain classifications and then applies them irrationally.

Institutionally, racism and sexism direct funding and publicity to research studies that focus on culturally transient "racial" or "sexual" factors without consideration of the relative importance of those factors. When it comes to performance on standard IQ tests, does the one-eighth-or-so of African ancestry that makes an American count as "African-American" actually mean more statistically than family income? Than health? Than motivation to spazz out over a test? If not, then there's some other reason it's being focused on.

Those headlined studies in turn support racism and sexism at an individual level. No statistics justify an assumption by a "white" guy that a "black" guy he's never met before is going to be dumb and a "yellow" guy he's never met before is going to be smart -- averaged differences between those groups are dwarfed by the differences between individuals within each group -- but there are plenty who think that's what "studies show."

+ + +

Attempt 2 (personal): I can understand the impulse to stand up for bigotry against smug blowhards with iffy statistics, but I can't understand doing it from behind the billowing skirts of even smugger blowhards with iffy statistics. And if you're feeling bludgeoned by mandated liberal tolerance, try moving into a hostile monoculture. Chances are you're misremembering how a bludgeon feels.

+ + +

Attempt 3 (detached personal): People who've been trapped don't like seeing escape routes closed off.

. . .

More honoured in the breach than in the observance

Google headline of the day:

 
Bush Honors Black Music, Hears 'Take the A Train' - Reuters

. . .

"weird"

 
... later he will tell the story, upstairs in Elvis's private "superstar" suite. Sammy has taken the night off from his own show at the Sands to party with his third wife, Altovise, a handsome black dancer who was once a member of Sammy's troupe, and with Donald Rumsfeld, President Nixon's aide and director of the Cost of Living Council, who is staying at the Davises' with his wife, Joyce.

Tonight is the finale of the Rumsfelds' Western swing that took them from the Republican National Convention in Miami to Los Angeles, to attend the Republican-sponsored party there for prominent entertainers, and then to Las Vegas, to lounge around Sammy's private pool and play a little tennis....

Outside the superstar suite, Sammy pauses in the corridor to do an impersonation of Elvis on stage, mimicking Elvis's catatonic stance and what Donald Rumsfeld calls his "weird" smile. The impersonation is successful; Joyce Rumsfeld takes him by the shoulders, shakes him playfully, asks, "What are we going to do with you, Sammy?"

"Well," he says, "you're stuck with me for the next four years."

- from "Sammy Davis, Jr., Has Bought the Bus" by James Conaway, The New York Times Magazine, 1974,
quoted in The Sammy Davis, Jr., Reader ed. Gerald Early
 

. . .

When we were children, my sisters and I were often ridiculed by our black schoolmates for "talking like white people" or "sounding white." Some of this was purely in jest, some was motivated by envy and some by sheer malice and ignorance, but whatever the cause, I could never reconcile myself to it. First, I was never trying to imitate a white person's speech. At the time, the only white people I knew well were the Italians who lived in the neighborhood, and I recoiled from their ethnic expressions as much as I recoiled from "talking colored." I was imitating the speech of my black schoolteachers, of movie stars like Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Woody Strode, and James Edwards. I had heard the so-called vernacular of actors like Hattie McDaniel, Willie Best, and Stepin Fetchit, and I wanted no part of that. Indeed, I thought black vernacular was an aberration: I assumed that most black people spoke standard English or wanted to. I heard James Baldwin give an interview on the radio and he spoke standard English. So did Martin Luther King and so did Malcolm X. I once yelled at some boys who were needling me for "talking white," "I don't know any white people who talk like this." That wasn't quite true, for like all the black people around me I watched television, and like all the black children around me I read comic books, and whatever one might say about the deficiencies of the literary quality of this genre, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and the like all spoke standard English. But what I said to those boys was very near the truth, for I was never inspired by any white person to use standard English. And I hated black vernacular speech, even though I could perfectly replicate it as a youth, when it suited my purposes to do so. I hated it because it reflected an experience that was narrow and provincial, because its vocabulary was so limited and so heavily reliant on profanity, particularly variations of the word "fuck." And, of course, the word "nigger" was used all the time by blacks, a word I utterly loathed. I hated the vernacular because it was a language with no ability to grow, a language that could not encompass what I felt, what I wanted to express, and I was as black and as poor as all the others in my neighborhood. Indeed, I was poorer than most of the black kids I grew up with. What good was this language to me, if it could not envision or accommodate my emotional or psychological existence? Here, I thought, even as a boy, was a language, this black vernacular, that was meant to be as limiting as the experiences that black people were permitted in this society, and what was even more defeating, more tragic, was that the people who spoke it exclusively had decided to accommodate themselves to those limitations. It was the language of oppression and accommodation. The vernacular could, in a meager but sometimes very affecting, even passionate way, convey anger, resentment, self-pity, the humor of cynicism, a spirituality mixed of hope and frustration, disappointment and hatred -- all the emotional preoccupations of the powerless and the confined. But it could not express the ideas of power or the power of ideas, the necessity of meaning, nor could it even express the idea of itself or of the meaning of itself. I knew instinctively why Davis spoke the way he did. I knew what drove him because some variation of that drove me, too....

.... Davis's speech was a kind of elegance and grace, a dignity, sometimes a bit forced and self-conscious, but all the more affecting for that, that said to me as a young black kid "English is my language, too" and "I may be other things but I'm as American as anybody else." As Davis knew, despite the racism in America, where else could he have had the outsized success he did except in America. I learned from Sammy Davis, Jr., that there was nothing wrong with a black wanting to be an American, with wanting to acknowledge that, with wanting to adopt white forbears and influences as well as black ones, with seeing oneself as interracial, not simply mixing with two races but as a link to bringing two races together. So his speech was not antidemocratic but the fullest personal expression of the democracy in which he lived and for which he tried to live. His speech was, to use a popular word of today, "inclusive."

- Gerald Early, from The Sammy Davis, Jr., Reader

My memory is that the race-traitor routine kicks in solid during the junior high years. And that it was substantially more direct and heart-breakingly destructive than any gender divides introduced by puberty.

When they see themselves as a group, humans act as if their main job is to maintain the group, and, members of the group having consciousness and all, internal variations of behavior and thought are seen as a more present danger to group solidarity than any threats from the outside could be. It's an often demonstrated problem with few known solutions, 'cause for obvious reasons there's not a huge amount of pressure for it to be solved.

This particular variation, which has the desirable side-effect of keeping a underclass persistently under, isn't uncommon among colonized peoples. It's one of the complaints the more skeptical Irish made against Irish nationalists at the previous turn of a century, for example. There are many other examples.

The ray of hope for most colonized groups is the one that's directed back and down at the land behind them. There's always the dream of reclaimed soil, re-established traditions, and reborn language. Anti-assimilationist pressure is justified by hope for a regained (if mythical) glory.

What helps keep American racism such a stable system is African-Americans' near unique status as an imported colonized people: Europeans, finding North American natives more suited for extermination than colonization, kidnapped and relocated an entire nation's worth of labor. The backwards gaze is drowned in the Middle Passage. There's nowhere to retreat to but where we're at, and we're all in the same place. The only glory we can hope for is still, nerve-rackingly, to be sought in the future.

+ + +

2015-12-19 update from Josh Lukin:

"Hughes judged that if Zora Neale Hurston, 'with her feeling for the folk idiom,' had been its author, 'it would probably be a quite wonderful book.' Baldwin, however, 'over-writes and over-poeticizes in images way over the heads of the folks supposedly thinking them' in what finally was 'an "art" book about folks who aren't "art" folks.'"

. . .

Placeholder til I get a frame capture  
Movie Comment: The Arizonian (1935)

The Arizonian is a wonderful anomaly: a 1930s Western B-movie that scrapes the mindless sunny-side-up of Buck Jones or Gene Autry into the slops and rustles us up something more like Marxist spaghetti or the bitter winter rye of Joseph H. Lewis.

There's no roving outlaw gang or renegade Injuns; instead, all hell boils over due to departmental rivalry between marshal, sheriff, and mayor, and the intertwining of money and politics (brought together, as ever, in the person of Louis Calhern). Ethical and emotional compromise is frequent, and sporadically effective at delaying the progression from bullying to murder to group ambushes to massacre. Costumes, sets, and lighting all have a worked-over and lived-in look. So does hero Richard Dix, who carries the gravitas of Randolph-Scott-on-Jupiter -- he's even stolidly tragic about getting the girl.

Where the movie doesn't -- for the most part -- rise above its station is in its "comic relief." With scare quotes because it's scary. When it comes to inspiring utter shamefaced horror in post-Jim-Crow audiences, shuffling idiot Willie Best is second only to the sub-Tor-ean Fred "Snowflake" Toones. Best may be the only guy who can really make us appreciate the skill of Stepin Fetchit. (Mantan Moreland and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson are in another class altogether -- those guys were stars.) But wait, there's more! Much more, by volume anyway: Best's "comic relief" "love" interest in the film is Etta McDaniel, the lookalike but much less talented sister of Hattie McDaniel.

So.... The most I can say is that at least white actors weren't being paid to wear the blackface.

But even here the movie holds a surprise if you can get past "the most part." [And if you want to keep it a surprise, stop reading -- but I reckon odds are slim that any of you will get a chance to see it soon.] The film's everything-falls-apart catastrophe begins with the shooting of Willie Best, rather than, I don't know, the love interest of the hero? a drunk newspaper editor?

Then the allies, having arranged a cover of total blankness, walk into total blankness, firing, disappearing. As the smoke clears, the one true melancholy hero stands alone, surrounded by corpses. Making the perfect target for the one true self-assured villain.

Who in turn turns out to make the perfect target for Hattie McDaniel's sister.

A lunatic servant saves the world with a shot in the back. This is a most satisfying conclusion to the sort of story that's being told.

But that's because it's a disturbingly odd conclusion.

The American Film Institute catalog was disturbed enough to repress the memory entirely. Etta McDaniel, despite her surprisingly central role, doesn't get mentioned in the movie's credits. That sort of omission's not unusual in a 1930s B-picture. But it is unusual for the AFI researcher to have not filled that credit in, and then to have simplified the ending to: "The only survivor of the gun battle, Clay leaves a reformed Silver City with Kitty at his side."

After the catalog was printed, the AFI was apparently told that there was a problem and someone tried to correct it on their super-expensive-exclusive-access-only web site. That someone hadn't bothered to see the first hour of the movie, though, because their correction goes as follows: "... a mysterious black woman [who's been in about a half-dozen earlier scenes] shoots Mannen with a rifle."

(A more accurately chaotic synopsis is available online. I'd send a correction to the AFI's web site but they don't give any contact information.)

And the next time I'm in L.A., I'll have to check the Academy records to see how the Production Code office reacted to it, 'cause they usually didn't take kindly to such things. Like in 1938 when Spirit of Youth was made, starring Joe Louis the year after he won the heavyweight title (and giving Mantan Moreland his first big break), Joseph Breen warned that the movie was "questionable from the standpoint of policy, because it shows, among other things, several scenes of a black man victorious in a number of fistic encounters with white men." So assassinating a white man seems like it would be right out.

What I figure is that the screenplay didn't mention the race of the characters and the Production Code people didn't bother watching the movie any more carefully than the AFI catalog people did. But I'm still curious.

. . .

Simperialism

This seems as good a time as any to brush up our reading comprehension skills. Let's have a go at botanist William Bartram's 1791 Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing An Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians (via Sexual Revolution in Early America) :

Having paid our attention to this useful part of the creation, who, if they are under our dominion, have consequently a right to our protection and favour, we returned to our trusty servants that were regaling themselves in the exuberant sweet pastures and strawberry fields in sight, and mounted again; proceeding on our return to town, continued through part of this high forest skirting on the meadows; began to ascend the hills of a ridge which we were under the necessity of crossing, and having gained its summit, enjoyed a most enchanting view, a vast expanse of green meadows and strawberry fields; a meandering river gliding through, saluting in its various turnings the swelling, green, turfy knolls, embellished with parterres of flowers and fruitful strawberry beds; flocks of turkies strolling about them; herds of deer prancing in the meads or bounding over the hills; companies of young, innocent Cherokee virgins, some busily gathering the rich fragrant fruit, others having already filled their baskets, lay reclined under the shade of floriferous and fragrant native bowers of Magnolia, Azalea, Philadelphus, perfumed Calycanthus, sweet Yellow Jessamine and cerulian Glycine frutescens, disclosing their beauties to the fluttering breeze, and bathing their limbs in the cool fleeting streams; whilst other parties, more gay and libertine, were yet collecting strawberries or wantonly chasing their companions, tantalising them, staining their lips and cheeks with the rich fruit.

This sylvan scene of primitive innocence was enchanting, and perhaps too enticing for hearty young men long to continue idle spectators.

In fine, nature prevailing over reason, we wished at least to have a more active part in their delicious sports. Thus precipitately resolving, we cautiously made our approaches, yet undiscovered, almost to the joyous scene of action. Now, although we meant no other than an innocent frolic with this gay assembly of hamadryades, we shall leave it to the person of feeling and sensibility to form an idea to what lengths our passions might have hurried us, thus warmed and excited, had it not been for the vigilance and care of some envious matrons who lay in ambush, and espying us gave the alarm, time enough for the nymphs to rally and assemble together; we however pursued and gained ground on a group of them, who had incautiously strolled to a greater distance from their guardians, and finding their retreat now like to be cut off, took shelter under cover of a little grove, but on perceiving themselves to be discovered by us, kept their station, peeping through the bushes; when observing our approaches, they confidently discovered themselves and decently advanced to meet us, half unveiling their blooming faces, incarnated with the modest maiden blush, and with native innocence and cheerfulness presented their little baskets, merrily telling us their fruit was ripe and sound.

We accepted a basket, sat down and regaled ourselves on the delicious fruit, encircled by the whole assembly of the innocently jocose sylvan nymphs; by this time the several parties under the conduct of the elder matrons, had disposed themselves in companies on the green, turfy banks.

My young companion, the trader, by concessions and suitable apologies for the bold intrusion, having compromised the matter with them, engaged them to bring their collections to his house at a stipulated price, we parted friendly.

  1. Were you successful in forming an idea to what lengths the protagonists' passions might have hurried them?

  2. Why do you think the narrator described the vigilant matrons as "envious"?

  3. This passage has been described as "sensuously lyrical." How synonymous are those terms with "revealingly coy"?

  4. To feel a sentiment is not the same as speaking sentimentally. To apply rationality is not the same as espousing rationalism. Rationalists claim to fear sentimentality and sentimentalists claim to fear rationalism, but both will shift affinities to avoid an inconvenient marriage of sentiment and rationality. Can you find any examples of such a shift here or in your other readings?

. . .

Look Away, Look Away, Look Away

Tom Matrullo responds to Richard Godbeer:

By some weird-ass coincidence too odd to ignore, I happened across this today in McCullough's bio of Adams:
"A cartoon published at Newburyport, titled 'A Philosophic Cock,' pictured Jefferson as a rooster strutting with his dark hen Sally. In October [1801] the Boston Gazette ran the words to a song of several stanzas, supposed to have been written by the sage of Monticello to be sung to the tune of 'Yankee Doodle':

Of all the damsels on the green
On mountain, or in valley
A lass so luscious ne'er was seen,
As Monticellian Sally.
Yankee Doodle, who's the noodle?
What wife were half so handy?
To breed a flock of slaves for stock,
A blackamoor's a dandy."

Apparently one of Jefferson's own polemicists turned against him and broke the Hemings story, which "spread rapidly."

Jefferson "made it a 'rule of life' not to respond to newspaper attacks."

Jefferson's precepts were typically high-minded, reasonable, and a source of justified ridicule. In this case, though, he also followed a regional habit: the would-be aristocrats of eastern Virginia took a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to rape and to the ambiguous role of the slave.

Slave owners further west were less guarded. Godbeer quotes a horrified traveler's account of breakfasting with what passed for polite society while they traced the lineaments of their host in the face of the slave serving their food, and excerpts a jocular debate in a newspaper's letter column over whether a new shipment of women from Africa was more enticing than the local white girls.

Sex with male slaves offered no equivalent financial reward for female owners, of course: only the risk of pregnancy and, later, legal prosecution. Still, availability would occasionally out....

. . .

The Two Cultures

Every ambitious work of literature was written either by someone who had insomnia or by someone who was supported by their family.

Well, not every. A particularly generous grant or a particularly cushy quasi-job might play the role of the supportive family, as the church did for Laurence Sterne and Jonathan Swift, and the lecture series did for Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, and the tenured professorship did for Vladimir Nabokov and Quincy Troupe. As an ugly, wearying compromise, one might minimize expenditures and alternate periods of insomnia with periods of draining the bank account.

Still, it's universal enough a truth that I imagine it brings the Comp Lit department together with the MFA program every year for discussion. Whenever we read a book, we should ask ourselves "Was this person left alone to write because everyone else was asleep, or because everyone else was at work?" And whenever we plan to write something, we should ask ourselves "Can I go without rest, or can I take someone else's money?"

An aesthete knows few sadder sights than an artist needing both a full-time job and nine solid hours of slumber. If I were rich enough, I'd marry them all.

Responses

If you were rich enough, I'd let you.
Luckily for us both, I'm in the same boat as this guy:
Five and a half and nine bucks in checking
What about Trollope?

A true hero of the insomniac class, Anthony Trollope wrote for hours before and during the commute to his post office job, finishing twenty-five books before he resigned. My personal role model.

. . .

Correspondent Matt Wall sends us disturbing news from the Monterey County Herald :

Panicked by word of Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, Pacific Grove has been plunged into Wild West vigilante justice!

. . .

World Wide W. E. B.

For the Happy Tutor & Luther Blissett 7

Color & Culture: Black Writers and the Making of the Modern Intellectual
by Ross Posnock

Posnock opens by claiming that the first and paradigmatic "public intellectuals" in America were black.

Good hook, but it doesn't land square. His examples aren't like Zola and Sartre, Sontag and Mailer, high-falutin' forthright four-steely-eyed heroes swooping down from atop the editorial page to right a wrong and then move on. Instead, he tells and re-tells the story of African-American aesthetes and scholars not given a choice about going public. Maintaining any intellectual existence at all meant (was forced to mean) either taking a stand as a public intellectual or being posed that way.

This could be thought of as the high-culture special case of racism's general rule and fuel, selective attention. No matter what you do, it "reflects on the race," because race is what the polarized mirror shades let through. You take a seat, you're making a statement; you play golf, you're making a statement; you publish a book, you're making a statement.... Very tiring, very OK I get it I get it here you go then.

Or you could think of it as the American special case of a more general type of public intellectual. Not the Zola or Sontag type, though more the GarcĂ­a Lorca or Mayakovsky type. In a totalitarian state, if you take a seat, you're making a statement, and if you're unwilling to make a statement yourself, the nearest cop will volunteer one. Hell, sometimes even if you do try to make it yourself! That's what Nabokov really hated about the USSR: It wouldn't allow nuance to the poet or naturalist; you had to live with coarse distinctions like dissident or collaborationist.... And that's what he really loved about the USA: It didn't care!

About white Russians, anyway. But for a specially selected, near-exlusive clientele, the USA has always offered add-on totalitarian services.

Aside from the odd depression or civil war, the tactic's worked out pretty well. Black-and-white racism, guaranteeing a permanent yet permeable underclass, grounded our economic class system. Meanwhile, the donnybrook everlasting of more transient bigotries (occasionally freshened by immigrants) resisted high-voltage demagoguery.

With full globalization, though, there's no work for our working class, and a single coast-to-coast church professes a universal creed of selfish self-righteousness.

And so the colorfully corroded spaghetti-wired and chewing-gum-soldered circuit shorts. Smear tank by Diebold machine, gerrymander by gerrymander, state by state, the fuses pop and leave a dim red light behind. Newspaper by radio station by cable network, vouchered school by grant-grubbing school, we lose what Du Bois and Benjamin lost before us: the right to be harmless.

It was our greatest privilege.

Responses

Could you summarize what you're trying to say here? I'm having a hard time understanding.

Me too. But if you summarize your misunderstanding maybe we can get somewhere. Working this out is like rock climbing, I think.

Not that I've ever rock clumb. It's like something that can paralyze you, anyway.

That one hurt.

The Tutor will be so proud!

The Tutor hisself, and hisself again:

Yes, I am proud. You have given up your right to be harmless, what you say has and will be used against you. Fortunately you have mastered the art of writing in riddles, parables, jests, aphorism and conspicuous irrelevancies. You will go, but not in the first wave.

And the plaudits continue to spit:

a thousand mile journey begins with
This is so confusing. Its literally mind-blowing!

"Not since the Necronomicon has a piece of writing so reduced me to gibbering insanity!"

Of course, given my compositional methods, the real miracle is that any (deaf as a) post ever manages to communicate any meaning at all, intended or not. Still, when particular posts particularly irritate readers, I can't help but want to make up for it somehow. Could it be that a few sentences of rococo metaphor weren't enough to clearly convey both an unfamiliar theory of American political-economic stability and a diagnosis of destabilization? Must we drudge through something longer and more conventionally expository?

In the meanwhile, readers offer a few diagnoses of their own:

The man who fears his shadow learns to hate the light
I'm still harmless.
It did care! It did, America, then, care. It liked that, it felt validated, confirmed, its ideals upheld etc. Who cares what happens next, said America, that wall's coming down! Nabokov being "just another brick" in. Which dangles a segue into Krazy Kat, but I'm running late.

And Tutor again, showing how to compress with clarity:

We lose the right, maybe, like loitering blacks in the old South, to be treated as harmless by the authorities until proven innocent. - The Happy Tutor

In January, 2011, Josh Lukin adds:

That's odd I found it perfectly intelligible and indeed familiar: June Jordan made a similar point several times. But she knew that Du Bois usually has a space in it, like Le Guin.

 

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.