Co. Death and Taxes
I can't say I've been down to the Occupy Wall Street. In fact, I can't say I've been anything but cynical about, save for a few spurts of helping distribute videos of police brutality in my internet watering holes. One of my music-idols, however, managed to get past his issues, drag his ass down there, and play a set for the people. So, here's Jeff Mangum's surprise visit:
So, I grew up Jewish, and the grandson of a World War 2 veteran. This means that, for as long as I can remember, World War 2 has been everpresent in my life. Originally, all I knew was that there were the Russians (that's us! the good guys!) and the Germans, and that I was never, ever supposed to draw swastikas (I drew a lot as a kid) -- even if it was on the bad guys! Otherwise, the government would take my family to jail. I may be misremembering that last part, but I was definitely and harshly scolded for drawing swastikas at some point, pre-America.
My fifth grade teacher was a Holocaust scholar/activist so around then I also got a big, real dose of what happened outside of the fighting. Every kid got this brand-new -- schoolbooks were rarely, if ever, new -- copy of a book about the Holocaust with a picture of an wartime atrocity on the cover and a whole lot more inside. And you had to do a report on it.
Repeat that through growing up, through Jewish summer camps and trips to the Holocaust memorial museum and Anne Frank and Life is Beautiful and god-knows-what-else and I can honestly say I am done with Holocaust history. I've had absolutely enough. I fervently avoid books, movies, whatever, having to do with the Holocaust.
All of this is a rather awkward lead-in into this recent discovery. Conceived as a "lost tape" series (in roughly the vein of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, but blamed on the Americans, naturally) Heil Honey, I'm Home is an absolutely bizarre example of what was happening with sitcoms in the era of Married With Children. It will not surprise you that it was cancelled after exactly one episode.
I have to say, though, it is amazing. The theme song is pitch-perfect Leave It To Beaver saccharine. Hitler has a working-class accent and breaks the fourth wall. Long-suffering Eva refers to him as Schicklgruber and mentions his previous career as a "housepainter," a joke Mel Brooks also used in The Producers. Hitler, even when he is not in a sweater-vest, is decidedly un-Hitlerian, laughing and dancing and admitting to Eva that "you were right and I was wrong." Lines like Eva's offhanded "Adolf will kill me" -- she reveals to her fellow housewife and friend Arny Goldenstein that Neville Chamberlain is coming for dinner to make sure "Adolf isn't hiding any tanks or battleships" -- have an incredibly dark bent to them.
There was no way this series was going anywhere. Attaching the most artificially wholesome period of television to one of history's blackest souls yields a great gag, but isn't meant to last. However, as a single-episode artifact, it is a piece of work. I can see why my grandparents and their generation would absolutely despise this, but I can't.
Yesterday, The Awl posted something awesome that I will reproduce below. The trick is to play Mr. Beck and Godspeed simultaneously and you get a through-the-looking-glass version of what happens when you cue Dark Side of the Moon up with The Wizard of Oz:
Considering how fond GY!BE are of bizarre, impassioned ramblings, I'm surprised there aren't more of these. I managed to find another one on YouTube however, also using "Moya" but with a different Glenn Beck track, and some delightful cover art:
I found this ad in a 1991 issue of Computer Gaming World.
However morbid that copy may have been during the Gulf War, it's a lot worse now.
"When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today is the tenth anniversary of the national recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Ten years ago it stopped being the impotently-named “Civil Rights Day” in Utah and “Lee-Jackson-King” day – wherein General Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson got top billing over MLK – in Virginia. As a nation we get closer and closer to readily acknowledging that we have and continue to be terrible not just to blacks, but to everyone. Martin Luther King Jr.'s efforts, the efforts which eventually won him a bullet in the head, worked toward dismantling the mindset of a nation which emancipated its slaves only to treat their newly-fellow citizens with as much vitriol and derision as it could muster. A nation where the poor took up arms against the poor on the basis on the basis of tradition. The same “tradition” which prevented them from ever seeing past these artificial divisions long enough to rise out of the shit they were born into, lived in and died surrounded by.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a dangerous subversive at a time when the country desperately, desperately needed dangerous subversion. It is important to remember the need if only because it is easy to imagine the '50s were Leave it to Beaver and the '60s were long hair and free love. These years were a peak of institutionalized hate; a time when giving your fellow citizen the shit end of the stick on principle was status-fuck-quo. I'm not saying we live in some sort of post-racial wonderland right now. I'd like to think things are a bit easier for blacks, but we still have sundown towns, and constituencies which would elect Strom Thurmond's desiccated corpse were they allowed to. And we still institutionally (that is: without openly acknowledging it even to our individual selves) maltreat fellow citizens on account of race, class, creed, gender and orientation. I can't even acknowledge that I or anyone I know are totally free from the prejudice of even a single one of those concepts.
This country, by the very laws which make it free, needs its revolutionaries. We shouldn't be remembering Martin Luther King Jr. as an individual who was honored as an assassinated orator. We should remember him as a man who a malformed social system resisted at every turn. A man who inspired right-minded individuals of all walks to brave police, hoses and dogs to tell the world that society had internalized a disease, and they would put their very lives on the line to expunge it from the body politic. An idealized perspective, definitely, but sometimes idealism is exactly what we need to fight for a day which it is necessary to fight for, but may sadly never come.
I think everyone who is reading this ought to take some time out and watch Spike Lee's Bamboozled (trailer). Spike Lee is a director of eminent skill and has the unblinking fearlessness needed to create a film about a black man bringing back blackface minstrelsy to the people. Black face minstrelsy, you ask? Didn't that go away with vaudeville and penny-farthings? I wish. In 1978, 1978, the British could turn on their televisions and tune into this (the actual clip is from a 1960s episode):
That's the Black and White Minstrel Show. A huge BBC hit up until the year before All In The Family was canceled. (Aside: I am aware that that All in the Family, one of the first sitcoms to deal head-on with social ills, was based upon a British show, but my point stands.) This show wasn't satire or anything but what it looks like. In fact, the show lost audience when they stopped doing it in blackface. And for those of you who are enjoying the entertainment value of this, which it has in a sugary and mindless fashion, Lee addresses that in his film. You will laugh because it is funny and you will feel uncomfortable because … it is funny. Bamboozled is probably the best exploration of the African-American in media I've ever seen, and an amazing (and highly expressionist) film to boot.
I am an immigrant. A naturalized citizen of these United States. I consider myself an American (unless I have to tell someone abroad where I'm from, in which case the answer is a quick-shot “New York.”) My family came, escaped here from the Soviet Union. My fascination with that fallen empire exists only through the visors/blinders of nostalgia. I can't deny where I came from, where I had my formative experiences, where my love for art and culture sprouted. However, I also can't deny that it was a quagmire of a country, started on genuinely valiant terms and eventually run into the ground by a psychotic despot. I don't love the USSR (or Russia, for that matter,) but it is my homeland, just as America is my home. I cannot claim my grasp of history is anything but cursory, so everything I write from hereon may very well be inaccurate, but it is the way things went down in my head. I invite, welcome and cherish corrections.
I am an unabashed member of the left, and a radical one at that. My politics did not come from an even-handed observations of the two sides and a conscious choice, but rather my personal convictions thrusting me into the lefthand wall at 88 miles per hour. You could say I started climbing the damn thing just as I hit it, to see what was on the other side. I can honestly say that every individual within the legislature can agree on some bill, the ends of which result in my imprisonment. I'm being a bit hyperbolic, but you can see my point.
Twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall fell, and a good part of that fall revolved around Ronald Reagan. Between heated proxy fighting (my old tennis coach used to fly planes for the Soviet forces in Afghanistan) and increased worry over the “assured” part of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (not to mention the USSR's inability to feed their populace) the great symbol of superpower division was toppled. The fall wasn't nearly as spontaneous as history makes it out to be, but there is precious little truly spontaneous history. I'll admit to this being a facile treatment of the issue, but I'm no historian.
Ronald Reagan, whether you think of him as figurehead or mastermind, is partially responsible for who I am. Without the Gipper's nominal efforts, without his administration taking a step back from the brink of nuclear annihilation, my family may have never been able to emigrate to the United States. This leaves me conflicted.
One the one hand, Reagan holds a lion's share of responsibility for the mess our country is in right now. The co-opting of the GOP by hardline conservatism is inextricably linked to his bringing Nixon's “Silent Majority” campaign tactic to a fever pitch, molding it into a veritable religion of intolerant Christian extremism, anti-intellectualism and the very denouncement of reason itself. The 43rd presidential administration, riding Reagan's coattails and stealing an election, dropped us to a nadir as a culture. I never thought I'd see the day where issues settled by the Scopes trial in 1925 would be brought up for questioning. Also: Iran-Contra? The president committed treason. Plain and simple. Our fightin' boys in the Middle East are getting blown to shit with the veritable armory he sold them. How did it all end, you ask? Ollie North, the grand co-conspirator, has a show on Fox. And Reagan himself received a sending-off I can only compare to this Russian joke I found on Wikipedia:
Seeing a pompous and lavish burial of a member of the Politburo, Rabinovich sadly shakes his head: "What a waste! I could have buried the whole Politburo with this kind of money!"
...oh did that felt good to get out. Now here's the other side: I can say all that I just said without fear. I can say that President Ronald Reagan was a treasonous blight upon the citizens of the United States of America. I can say that instead of a funeral procession, they should have dumped him in a potter's field. And you know what? I'm not going to get “disappeared.” I was rescued from a life of poverty and anti-Semitism in the shithole that became of Russia after its turnover to “democracy.” I live in a country where the only reason I am waiting on line for a loaf of bread is because I decided to shop at Trader Joe's. My voice, no matter how insignificant in the grand scheme of things, can be heard by anyone willing to listen, and all the while my teapot remain unsullied by Polonium-210.
Ronald Reagan helped me live the life I do today -- and I love this life because I'm free to spit on his grave regardless.