CLAY GEERDES INFO
Your Subtitle text
                                  Anderson Valley Advertiser  -  1995

MEANWHILE, IN ALBION, NEBRASKA... by Clay Geerdes

 

War Games in Albion, Nebraska? Well a friend of mine looked out his window one day in January and...but, let him tell it: “I look out my window and see 3 cop cars, a van, a K-9 unit blazer and assorted state patrol and other official people sneaking about. They were out with the dog, and I panicked....but all they did was let him go pee. So I see them all move into position around a house down the block, and pretty soon 10 SWAT goons pour out of the van on the other side of the block, and sneak up through the back yard, with shields and rifles!!! Then the guy with the dog moves in. It was all over in a matter of ten minutes, everyone drove away...they had an ambulance parked on the other side of the block. And from what I could see, they may actually have got a person out of the house. Now this is the biggest case of overkill I’ve ever seen. Last I knew there was a Mexican couple living there, and the place had been boarded up and was in disrepair, but I thought they’d moved out last month. I mean, I had a clear view of this from my picture window. I went outside and an old deputy told me to get back in the house, as he was hiding behind a tree in the front yard. I mean really! This is Albion, Nebraska, population 2,000...and they probably had all the security forces in the area converging on that old house down the block! I thought it could be a drill, but there were still a few cop cars there awhile later, taking stuff out. I didn’t know what the hell they thought was in that house, but apparently they thought it was really going to fight back. Shit! I never saw this much excitement when I lived in Minneapolis! And no one seems to know about what happened. But maybe I don’t know the right people. It was just really weird, I sit back down to write this and I glance out the window and bang! It’s the thought police. They got me. Hunter S. in hand and a few pot seeds in the carpet somewhere. Dangerous criminals lock ‘em up.” Marc was reading Hunter Thompson’s BETTER THAN SEX. That’ll teach him to read subversive stuff like that.

            Reminds me of a story from about twenty years ago. I had painstakingly grown three pot plants in my Berkeley backyard and all were doing quite well [though all turned out male, so...], but I was concerned that a snoopy neighbor or someone who had it in for me would call The Man and get me busted. The plants were in a protected backyard and tall trees in the next yard screened them from low flying spotter planes or helicopters, but paranoia strikes deep and into my mind it did, indeed, creep. One night I am about to go to sleep and I see these bars of light flash across my ceiling and I hear strange noises outside. I jump out of bed and go to the window and sneak a look out past the drapes and sure enough there are a couple of people out there with flashlights. I race up the hall and into the living room and peek out the windows and I see a couple more flashlights on the street. Well, I figure the cops have found my three plants and it is just a matter of time before they knock on my front door and go into their Miranda routine. Wearily, I get dressed and go from window to window to pass the time while I wait for their knock. Soon, however, they flashlights are gone, moving down the street toward the corner. I get undressed and return to bed. It’s about 2:30. I lay there waiting, but no knock. After going through all kinds of bad trip scenarios, I drop off to sleep.

            The next morning I found out a couple of guys had robbed a fast food place and the police had chased their car to my street where they jumped and ran, cutting through the yard next to mine. The cops had searched every yard on the block, but found no one. I was only a little relieved. How could they have missed my three giant pot plants when they had my backyard lit up like a sound stage? I figured they would be back and I would still go the way of John Sinclair who did five years for having a joint back in the sixties. This was, after all, before the Berkeley City Council passed a motion to make pot smoking a low priority issue.

            First thing in the morning, I checked the street to make sure it was clear, no strange unmarked cars sitting around. I even strolled around the block, casually, nonchalantly, like a neighbor walking his dog. Nothing unusual. Back at home I went out behind the house, pulled up my three plants, chopped them up into nondescript vegetation, packed them in a couple of green hefty bags, and stashed them in the trunk of the car. I drove down by the freeway near Emeryville and stopped in a spot where people routinely did wood sculpture and made signs commenting on people’s politics and sex life. If you drive to San Francisco from Berkeley and look off to your right at the bay you’ll see all these signs and perhaps find a message that expresses your sentiments. I opened the trunk and pulled out the bags, moving them around to the side of the car unseen from the freeway. I knew all the morning commuters were watching me, but I was cool. I just strolled a few feet this way and that like a guy looking for the right fishing spot, then as I walked back past the car I edged the two bags over into a clump of weeds, glanced North and South, hopped back in the car, copped a u-ie, and peeled off for home.

            You have to laugh about the whole thing in retrospect, hell, you’re probably smoking a joint right now, getting ready for your commute, but when you read about some poor guy getting ten years in the joint for selling some blotter acid at a Dead concert--I mean, Holy Shit. Especially since I wasn’t much of a pothead at all. I’d take a hit to keep it all going, but I don’t recall buying more than a couple of lids in the entire sixties! I grew those three plants because I was getting into gardening and I wondered if the soil around the house would support them. So so. Though I’ll never know now since I never got that trio to harvest time. I think most of the guys who decided on careers as pot farmers took off for Humboldt County.

            Boy, a SWAT team in Albion! There’s a town that knows how to empty the treasury. What do you suppose was in that house?

 

 

THE NOVELS OF PAUL AUSTER by Clay Geerdes

 

As disturbing as Kafka in The Trial,  Paul Auster traps his reader in an atmosphere of fear and dread. He gets too close, peels away your defenses, prowls in the dark corners of your mind with a brightly glowing lantern, ready to reveal at any moment those aspects of yourself you thought were safely hidden in the shadows. in IN THE COUNTRY OF LAST THINGS, Auster takes you a few steps into the future to reveal the horror of a fascist dystopia in which the hungry, homeless, and hopeless prey on one another. Told in the form of a letter from Anna Blume to an unnamed reader, this novel comes too close for those of us who see homelessness on the streets around us daily.

            When I first read Auster’s NEW YORK TRILOGY, I heard a lot of echoes; a note of Camus here, an idea of Sartre’s there, a parallel with Richard Matheson’s OMEGA MAN, yet this young writer has his own tight style. If there is a central theme running through his work, it is chance, indeed, one of his novels is called THE MUSIC OF CHANCE. A man picks up a hitchhiker and becomes involved in a poker game that changes his entire life. Auster’s allegorical figures are trapped by their circumstances. His message is:  you go along thinking you have it together, that you know how your life is going to progress, how it will all work out, then you make a wrong turn and nothing is ever the same again. In LAST THINGS, Anna Blume leaves the sanctuary of the library where she is living with a fellow writer in order to get a pair of shoes and finds herself being sold to a slaughterhouse. As the stories in his TRILOGY were labeled mysteries, LAST THINGS was often stocked under Science Fiction though Auster denies it has anything to do with this popular genre; he has told interviewers that Anna Blume lives in the real world, a world very much like contemporary New York though the city in the work is not named. Homelessness is a frightening theme and Auster in no way softens it as Anna becomes a scavenger, searching the streets and alleys for objects to put in her shopping cart, things that may be resold or traded for food or shelter. For awhile she stays in a shelter, but the hopelessness is compounded there for people are given a bed and food for a short time then they have to return to the streets no better off than before. There is no rehabilitation and there are no jobs in Auster’s dystopia. The dead are burned for fuel and it is a crime to bury them.

            Existentialism is alive [or perhaps dead] and well in Auster’s world. Back in 1958 when I started college in San Francisco, European existentialism was at the top of the collegiate chart. Albert Camus was still alive and his work was so popular with intellectuals that I was assigned THE STRANGER and THE REBEL in two or three different courses. Herbert Blau was director of the Actor’s Workshop in San Francisco. His company did a version of Samuel Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT in 1956. They performed it at San Quentin and it not only did well, but stimulated several of the convicts to write and direct their own plays. By the time I started classes at San Francisco State, Blau was interested in Beckett’s ENDGAME. I became interested in modern drama and read all of Beckett, Harold Pinter, and others, seeing each play performed during the regular season of the Actor’s Workshop. Existential philosophy is complex and, relax, I’m not going into detail about it here, but as it applies to dramatic literature it deals with the nature of human existence, what it means to exist in this world, what it means to be human, what it means to try to communicate with other people, and, most important for an understanding of Auster, what it means to communicate with and interpret the meaning of one’s inner self. Jean-Paul Sartre explored the theme of the self and the other in NO EXIT; Auster assimilated this theme--Hell is other people--into LAST THINGS. The interested reader is invited to compare what happens between Anna, Isabel, and Ferdinand in LAST THINGS with the action of NO EXIT.

            While Auster’s books are all about himself, his travels, his friends, his experiences, they include the reader in a way overly descriptive novels do not. To enter a room in an Auster work is like entering one’s own room. In the collection of his essays and interviews published as THE ART OF HUNGER, Auster observes that people always fill out a novel with their own life experiences, with their own space. As for himself, chance and coincidence have played a major part in his life and career. He wrote the last word of his novel THE MUSIC OF CHANCE, in which the central action involves the building of a stone wall, on the very day the Berlin Wall came down. Before the death of his father, he wrote only poetry and some criticism for The New York Review of Books; after his father’s death, he inherited enough money to allow him time to focus on writing prose and he wrote the series of novels assuring him a place in the American literary establishment.

            If you’re looking for fantasy fulfillment, that isn’t going to take place in an Auster novel. Reading MOON PALACE or LAST THINGS or GHOSTS may take you deeper into yourself than you want to go. What happens when you read, after all? You’re listening to someone talk to the other people in his head, all of whom are aspects of himself. The story is most interesting when you begin to recognize yourself. Suddenly, you’re not reading his story; you’re reading your own. In an interview with someone I’ve forgotten, Auster mentioned having four flat tires in his life and made some comment about the same person riding with him during three of those flats, but when he mentioned the flat tire he caused me to turn inward for a moment.  In 1937, my Dad was driving his new Studebaker toward St. Louis, Missouri, to pick up my mother and her three-year-old son, me. As he made a turn in the narrow highway his headlights revealed a man changing a tire on the shoulder of the road. The man was squatting on the pavement. His presence started my Dad. He swerved to avoid hitting him, lost control and was throw from the car as it veered went off the road. Dad lay flat on his back, numb all over, and when he was diagnosed with ALS in 1946 he told my mother he thought it started with that accident. That’s not the etiology of ALS, of course, but he believed that until his death in May of 1949. Elsewhere, Auster mentioned that his father had taken a fall from a roof and that fall was broken by a clothesline. He used this incident in LEVIATHAN, but the idea of that fall sent me on another sidetrack. I was riding by my mother next to the window in a large logging rig driven by my Dad around 1936. We were moving along the highway somewhere in Alabama because my Dad had picked up a load of logs and was taking them to a sawmill near my mother’s hometown, York. Suddenly the door of the truck popped open and out I went onto the highway. That fall would have killed me had the truck been moving fast. This is a second hand memory, naturally, one passed along to me by my mother and preserved by a little snapshot in one of her albums. I am sitting on top of a pile of logs, held there by my Dad.

            It should be evident that I like Auster’s work and recommend him to you. The early work in the NEW YORK TRILOGY may prove less interesting than later novels like THE MUSIC OF CHANCE and LEVIATHAN, but even those early existential exercises have their moments.  Auster deals with being a writer, with the compulsion one has to write and to think about the self that is being expressed through the writing. Most of Auster’s novels are available in paperback. I found all of them at Moe’s on Telegraph in Berkeley, but I suspect your local library will have at least one or two of them.

 

 

BATMAN FOREVER

 

Review by Clay Geerdes

 

No way the Riddler would have destroyed all the beautiful hi-tech equipment in the Bat Cave before he turned it on and tried it all out. That scene was a total violation of the hacker psyche and completely negated the character. The Riddler, like the Penguin, Joker, and most other Batman villains, was pre-TV, but the current run of Batman films has updated them to post-TV. Fine, I love all that digital morphology, but none of it works without human brains behind it on both the creative and user ends. The Batman films cast grunt level low-IQ street thugs in roles far beyond their intellectual capacities, then show them using all kinds of sophisticated weaponry to carry out playground-level revenge plots. Who are their tutors?

            The eight-year-old in me loved BATMAN FOREVER. The sets, art, hi-tech stunts, costumes, music, sound effects, and cinematography, are all stunning, wham, knock you back in your seat, then re-sit you on the edge stuff, but to dramatize human neuroses within all this latex and plastic and cyber chrome doesn’t come out all that well. Would a woman analyst really get the hots for a guy in a rubber suit who runs around at night fighting crime? I don’t think the viewer has any trouble with pyrotechnics and acrobatics, but the love plot always gets a little sticky. And to make the love interest a woman shrink, well, I dunno; hey, the idea seems to be that super heroism is an outgrowth of a kind of neurotic behavior related to a trauma suffered in childhood; fine, but what if Batman were cured? Who would protect the citizens of Gotham from evil assholes like Harvey “Two-Face” Dent and the too-much-in-your-face Riddler?

            A little aside, here, folks. As much as I love the shtick of Jim Carrey, it is beginning to wear thin. If you thought he mugged too much as Ace Ventura and The Mask, his portrayal of The Riddler in BATMAN FOREVER will wear you out. He poses, struts, dances, giggles, gets his teeth in your face, and ultimately destroys any continuity his character might have had [no doubt at the whim of scripter and unit director]; It’s Fireman Bill as The Riddler, bearable and even funny [sometimes hilarious] on the small screen, but deadly and overbearing on the big one. Doesn’t mean I won’t go to see ACE VENTURA’s second adventure this fall, but…

            End of aside, or perhaps a second aside. After all, a movie review is nothing but a long aside; Tommy Lee Jones plays Two-Face like Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Lots of mugging, shouting, and too much [for me] giggling. Realistic for the comic book world from whence those two deviants emerged, but overkill at the mallplex. If it were not for the iconography of BATMAN FOREVER, the ingenious symbology, I would have yelled for the hook every time Jones appeared onscreen. And we ARE dealing with religion here, folks. Whenever Batman appears, the music lets you know you are in for an epiphany. The ritualistic dressing and preparation of Batman, the transformation of tortured, neurotic billionaire Bruce Wayne, into Batman is as stylistic and formal as the preparation of the Pope for High Mass. Problem is, it’s hard to tell Good from Evil at a secular Mass. After all, we are told often enough that Bruce/Batman is a good human being looking out for the welfare of strangers, but what we see is a crazed guy in a rubber suit and mask kicking and punching people or recklessly speeding around the city in a souped-up sport’s car. Whether it’s him, Two-Face, or The Riddler onscreen, destruction follows.

            Human characters are completely dominated by technology in BATMAN FOREVER. Though they have a few lines, women are little more than props.  Since the action dominates, there is little attention to continuity of character. Why would an intellectual like Ed Nigma, The Riddler, bother with a unidimensional clod like Two-Face? All Two-Face wants to do is Kill Batman. I think it was a mistake to bring the two villains into the same plot, but the Disney hacks packed all of Chester Gould’s heavies into one plot in DICK TRACY last decade so what do I know? While Tommy Lee Jones made UNDER SIEGE a successful thriller, l can imagine BATMAN RETURNS without him. I think pitting the Riddler’s computer skills against those of Wayne would have made a lot stronger, more cohesive film. Jones does little more than repeat Nicholson’s Joker from the first Batman film of this series.

            But, Clay, would you want to put all those left over stunt guys from the Kung Fu movies out of work?

            Not at all, I’d just leave Jones and that grunting ballet chorus out of this Batman thriller. For me, there has to be a balance and it was lost in BATMAN FOREVER. The stunts overshadowed the characters and Batman’s setting transcended him. I was upset at the way Dick Grayson was handled. When he first arrived at the Wayne mansion after the deaths of his parents during their circus high wire act, he was a together, witty, interesting young man. Later, in his role as Robin, he is given some dumbo comic book lines. Didn’t work. He’s either intelligent or he isn’t. Nor was this part of the comic book series started by Bob Kane and Bob Finger in DETECTIVE COMICS 27 in 1939; it WAS a part of the campy Batman tv-series that starred Adam West in the mid-1960s. Since BATMAN FOREVER was played straight, it was ridiculous to camp up Robin in those later scenes. This happens often in the film. I think some of the writers thought they were doing it straight and others got the idea they were supposed to camp it up.

            Flaws in continuity abound in BATMAN FOREVER. Don’t ask how Batman automatically knows where to find the villains or how they know where to find him in order to set this or that trap. Scenes are pasted together because of color coordination or the whim of the director, not because they make any sense. Val Kilmer in the role. I thought he was fine, but looks no more like the comic book Batman than Michael Keaton did. Chris O’Donnell, on the other hand, was a very good choice for Robin. The women were cast for the way their bodies would bulge out of their costumes. ‘Nuff said.

            Go see it. Wear some cloves of garlic strung around your neck. They may not ward off the intrinsic evil of the film, but I suspect you’ll be able to sit peacefully in your own row and not have to listen to the popcorn eaters as they try to giggle at Carrey’s lines and chew at the same time.

 

 

BERKELEY IN THE NINETIES: EAST MEETS WEST by Clay Geerdes

 

When I was a boy, you couldn’t get me to play with dolls for love or money. Today, the boys are playing with dolls all the time! How was this accomplished? It was easy, grinned Ebenezer Claus, you just call a doll an action figure and chuckle all the way to the bank. If you live in Berkeley, you never have to make anything up. I’m walking up University toward the campus and there is a short-haired black man in a blue and gold sweatshirt doing push-ups on the sidewalk in front of the Social Security office. He’s looking in one of the doors and he goes up and down, up and down. What does that tell you? Guy is either a vet or an ex-con, because that’s where you do most of your lifetime supply of push-ups. Last time I did one was in boot camp in San Diego in 1954. Across the street from Au Cocolet a bag woman is frozen in one spot right in front of the futon store. She’s actually a two-bagger, one blue hefty and a creamish back-up. It’s been a cold and rainy December and she has all the clothes she owns on her back. I’m headed for Shattuck to do some errands and she is slowly brushing her right forefinger against her right cheek as she stares at the espresso drinkers. When I return twenty minutes later she hasn’t changed position, still in her schizoid pose exercising her forefinger.

            Class contrasts are very sharp in Berkeley. Well-to-do yuppies stand around outside Peet’s on Solano, dressed in orange and green day-glo spandex aerobics drag. Professional beggars slip in and out of the café latté crowd, cadging those spare quarters. What used to be Thousand Oaks hardware at Solano and Colusa is now three businesses. Flanking Front Row Video on either side are an aerobics studio and a branch of the post office, none of which cater to the down and out. Hang around a minute and you hear gossip about real estate deals, marathon races, and local politics, though very little of the latter since Berkeley has a very small voter turn-out.  A handful of people just elected an employee of the University of California Mayor of Berkeley. Conflict of interest?

            Not only do boys play with dolls these days, but they engage in long conversations about their hair, too. On Telegraph Avenue, I listen to a young man sitting on a trash can telling a bald-headed and pierced friend about a serious tragedy. “Yeah, man, like, man, my spikes got all wet and I just haven’t had time to re-set them, y’know? So I gotta wear this cap.” Hair talk is big among the teens who hang around the Piercing Parlor. If you think a single little silver or gold earring in a man’s ear is a bit weird, boy, are you behind the times. These folks are literally full of holes. A girl sitting outside Rasputin’s, Berkeley glass record store, has little silver rings all over her face, several where her eyebrows used to be until she shaved them off, two or three on each ear lobe, a couple in her nose, two or three more on her lip; hey, French kissing can be dangerous to your health these days. Some of these folks have rhinestone studs in their tongues. A segment of REAL SEX on cable took us inside a piercing a tattooing parlor. I had to wince and turn away when a young woman got her nipples pierced. Now I’ve lived around the Bay Area for a long time and I know about the weirdest of the weird, but in the past it was always covert, secret behavior various people practiced in private, now aspects of that behavior have drifted down to the young and if we are seeing it on the streets around here it won’t be long before the rest of America will be seeing it in the shopping malls. Think of it, a piercing salon in Ukiah, perhaps even, in Boonville!

            A fashion show is one thing, but the kids who bought those idiot pants with the crotch between the knees can change into normal jeans when their peer group isn’t around, but what do you do once you’re pierced full of holes and tattooed? Do these people spackle up when the grandparents come to visit?

            Some things never change. Moe Moscowitz still shelves books in his store. I was in there the other day and next to the cash register was a stack of comic books and a little sign that said “Look, it’s Moe.” Sure enough, there was Moe drawn into a comic book story in the 14th issue of THE STRANGERS. Across the street, the Med is still open. New management. Same Med. All the customers sit around the few tables on the front walk now because of Berkeley’s anti-smoking laws. Moe defied this law for a long time, but lately I haven’t smelt his cigar in his building, so can it be...

            The Berkeley Inn was torn down in 1991, and the lot is still empty. Opened in 1911 as a plush resort hotel for the parents of UC students, the Inn had become a rooming house by 1986 when a mysterious fire made all the tenants homeless. After a second fire in 1991, the city ordered the building razed. For awhile the empty lot was taken over by a group of people who named it People’s Park Annex. Absentee owner, Didar Baines was located to okay an order to 86 the squatters and the police evicted the inhabitants of what had become a tent city, a neo-Hooverville. An iron fence was built around the lot, but as the 1990s progressed, guerrilla artists continued to hop the fence, graffiti the wall of the World of Pants, and use the space as a clandestine gallery of street art and poetry. For some reason, toilet art was quite popular, probably because someone saw the irony in sitting up a row of old toilets with day-glo painted seats just across the street from the Intermezzo Cafe where students routinely sit along a window ledge looking out as they eat monster salads and sandwiches. It is one thing to take a window seat, have lunch, and watch the passing parade, complete with locals like the Hate Man and Julia Winograd [who hasn’t been blowing any bubbles lately], but to sit and eat while confronted by a row of toilets? Shades of Petronius.[1]

            People’s Park has survived its 25th year, but the shift to the right in the current mayoral election may be a nod to further gentrification. As real estate values have gone up and up in this area, Berkeley has shifted more in the direction of a bedroom community for San Francisco. A recent Frontline documentary filmed at Berkeley High School suggests that integration has failed in our community, that the students have segregated themselves and are loyal to their race, not to the school or the community; that, in fact, racial conflicts are very strong among the teenagers. White students [meaning to most people whose origins lie in European countries] are no longer the majority at UCB. Nearly 40% of the student population is now Asian. One cause of this demographic shift is the student movement of the 1960s. Conservative parents began sending their children to valley colleges in the mid-sixties when campus protests against the Viet Nam war dominated the evening news. The right promoted the idea that “Reds” and “Comsymps” controlled UCB and they wanted their kids to go to campuses where the modern world was ignored in favor of 19th century nostalgia. An expert in Chinese studies has predicted that the West Coast will be predominantly Asian in less than twenty years. One major factor is Hong Kong. That island, shared by the British and the Nationalist Chinese, reverts to mainland Chinese rule in 1999. The result has been a shift in Chinese wealth to the West Coast of the United States. A lot of Berkeley is covertly owned by Chinese investors. Berkeley’s inner city is a reflection of what has been happening abroad in the past decade. Many of the restaurants and copy shops are leased by Palestinians and Iranians and Iraqis as well as East Indians. There are eight Chinese restaurants in the area of Shattuck and University and a couple of them have no English menus displayed.

            What is interesting about these changes is their invisibility. You don’t read about them in THE BERKELEY VOICE or the EAST BAY EXPRESS anymore than you read about gang conflicts in various schools that have resulted from immigration from Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia; the American press preferring to fan the flames of unrest between blacks and whites. Conflicts between various Asian cultures go back centuries and these conflicts are drifting into Bay Area schools and will have to be dealt with in the near future.

            For several years it’s been my habit to go up to Telegraph a couple of times a week and have some tea at a particular coffee shop on Durant across from the dorms. The other day I was sitting at the counter daydreaming about something and I happened to glance around the room. Students were sitting at all the tables, most of them studying, and I looked back out the window, but I realized something at that moment, that I was the only Anglo there; everyone else was Asian. Well, I’ve been eating in Chinese restaurants around here for years and I’m used to it, but at that moment I felt out of place and slightly uncomfortable, the way I felt in Yokohama or Tokyo back in the mid-fifties. Oh, no one every says anything and I don’t feel afraid, but I know there is a different Berkeley just down the road, one that will no longer include my race.

            In that moment I knew what James Meredith must have felt like at the University of Mississippi back in the early 1960s.

 

 

BETTY BOOP DEDUX by Clay Geerdes

 

Today’s viewer must take the commercial aspect of cartoons and comic characters for granted. But that connection existed almost from the beginning of animation. Most animators did ads and when they got into cartoons some of the ad material followed right along. If nothing else, most of the early cartoons plugged funny animal characters who were associated with products and nearly all of them plugged popular songs. It was fun to sit in a little theater and watch the bouncing ball as you sang along to the lyrics of a popular songs, but the people behind that little cartoon sing-a-long hoped you would leave the theater, go to the dime store and buy the sheet music or the piano roll or the 78rpm platter.

            Betty Boop was a song plugger, a little singer and dancer, designed by Grim Natwick for the Fleischer Brothers in 1930. She appeared for the first time in a parody of a play running on Broadway entitled DIRTY DISHES. Betty Davis was in that play and it was her ticket to a Hollywood career. While she was on the train to Southern California with her mother, Betty Boop was making light of her in DIZZY DISHES [August 9, 1930]. Betty started life, not as a little French doll, the flapper we know today, but as a dog. Her regular boy friend in the series was Bimbo. Shortly after the success of these black and white cartoons, Betty was restyled. Her dog ears became earrings and she acquired the characteristics of a human female. Bimbo remained a dog. Which meant, dear readers, that all through the Depression thirties, folks were watching and laughing at a love affair between a woman and a dog and no one ever expressed any problem with this overt bestiality. Colloquially, a dog was a homely, unattractive, or downright ugly woman, one to be shunned by all upstanding homely, unattractive, and downright ugly guys who were, of course, never referred to as dogs. A Bimbo was a dumb or dizzy woman, usually a blonde, though Betty always sported black hair because it was easy to draw with a wide speedball pen tip. Just how Bimbo, a male dog, became a pejorative for a slow-witted woman probably has as much to do with the intellectual level of the audience of the period as it does with anything else.

            Since everything from telephone poles to fireplugs was animated in those days when the form was relatively new, it is rather absurd to deal with Betty Boop as though she had anything to do with an actual woman, but one cannot deny the inherent sexism and prurience in the cartoons. Betty is cast as a hootchie cootchie dancer and her movements and behavior in most of the cartoons are contrived to titillate the guys in the audience. When Popeye was introduced to the movie audience in July of 1933, Betty caught his single eye with her topless hula dance. The animators enjoyed using Betty as a sex object. When she falls through the rabbit hole in the Fleischer parody of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, her dress flips up so the audience can see her panties. The leer and the snicker were routine responses to Betty’s appearance, always in her skimpy black dress. She was frequently threatened and sometimes terrorized as women routinely are in today’s live action thrillers. Phallic symbols surrounded her as she sang her songs, and there are times when it appears the entire background of the cartoon is out to ravish little Betty.

            Mae Questal was Betty’s voice in most of the cartoons. When you hear Boop oop a doop in your head, you’re hearing Mae. That’s Mae looking down from the sky at Woody Allen in his NEW YORK STORIES. Mae had a long career. After the cartoon series ended in 1939, she developed an act and took it on the vaudeville circuit. For awhile she had competition from Helen Kane, another singer who claimed she had originated the distinctively high-pitched Boop voice. As I recall, the two women became involved in a lawsuit.     

            Cab Calloway appeared in one or two Betty Boop cartoons and these musical vignettes of Minnie the Moocher and Old Man of the Mountain made him internationally known yet Cab thought so little of the experience he never even mentioned it in his autobiography. Today’s audience is perhaps more sexually sophisticated than the barely literate folks who watched Betty in the thirties, which means those who attend the Betty Boop Confidential retrospective currently making the rounds won’t have to be told that the drooling old men leeching Betty onscreen have phallic noses.

            As an image or nostalgia item, Betty just won’t pass into anonymity. Leslie Carbarga revived interest in her when he published what is still the major study of the Fleischer studio, THE FLEISCHER STORY, in 1976, and when Leslie settled in New York he was soon drawing greeting cards and producing other Betty memorabilia. I still see Betty Boop ceramics and dolls in the shopping mall video and movie outlets. The cartoons are still fascinating, filled with dozens of gags and surrealistic ideas, but why Betty Boop has survived as kind of a public pet is anyone’s guess.

 

 

THE BLONDIE SYNDROME by Clay Geerdes

 

Blondie! Blondie!

Dagwood is yelling for his wife over the radio in the 1940’s. Blondie, the last refuge of the nuclear family, the ultimate reactionary comic strip, a testament to how out of synch a comic strip can be with the contemporary world and still survive. Was Blondie ever in synch with an American lifestyle? What does the survival of this comic strip say about American life in general? Here is a strip started in 1929, the year the stock market crashed by Murad “Chic” Young, whose previous success was a flapper character named Dumb Dora, one that continues to reflect the unenlightened attitudes of an America long gone. Whether that’s good or bad depends upon your point of view. If you just glance at the strip, chuckle, and toss it aside, that’s one thing, but if you think about what is being presented, it’s quite another. Dagwood is a lazy, timid, inept, clumsy, forgetful, fumbling nerd who couldn’t get a job in any business I know of. He’s the stereotypical henpecked husband whose wife rules the roost. If anyone ate the way Dagwood does, he would weigh in at well over 200 pounds; he wouldn’t be skinny. Ditto Blondie. If he wore that weird spiked hairdo to work, old Julius Caesar Dithers would send him out for a haircut and if he ran into any mail carrier I know he would be in court defending himself against a personal injury claim. No one bothers to think about a comic strip world, not seriously. Hey, the mail is not and has never been delivered at the time people are going to work in the morning. Why is Dagwood always racing for the bus? Every know anyone in the suburbs who didn’t have a car? Every wonder how The Bumsteads can maintain their lifestyle on a single income?

            Why was Blondie a blonde? Dumb Dora and Beautiful Babs, Young’s earlier flappers were both brunettes. Hair symbology has religious connotations, dating back to a time when light was associated with God and darkness with the Devil. On film Eve was always blonde, Lilith brunette, hence a WASP like Blondie had to be light-haired. Chic Young’s wife, Athel Lindorff was dark-haired. This dark and light symbolism has long been a staple in American entertainment. When Archie began in 1945, Betty was the blonde and Veronica the brunette rival. On film, Jean Harlow, Ann Sothern, Penny Singleton [radio and screen Blondie], Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors, Kim Novak, Grace Kelly, Cheryl Tiegs, Farrah Fawcett Majors, and countless others have played the blonde role, though few were natural blondes.

            A lot of changes took place before Blondie began to symbolize middle-class American life. In 1929, Dagwood Bumstead was the son of a wealthy railroad owner; when he went against his parents’ wishes and married a young flapper named Blondie Boopadoup, he was disinherited. Though uneducated, Dagwood got a job with J. C. Dithers’ construction company and was soon designing plans for buildings. Blondie gave up her independence and became Super mom, cleaning, cooking, and raising her two children, Alexander and Cookie. Daisy completed the archetypal comic strip family and soon had five pups. By 1938, Blondie was onscreen with William Randolph Hearst’s buddy, Arthur Lake, playing Dagwood. The two fit the characters so well, they had a twelve year run, 28 movies and the CBS radio show by 1950. I suspect one reason for the success of Blondie has been its focus on feminine strength and male weakness. In spite of the costuming, Blondie is in control of her world. The strip makes fun of men, not women.

            And it makes fun of white men. How could it do otherwise since the strip suggests that everyone in this country belongs to the white middle-class? I’m sure this is not a problem in many rural areas of the United States, but in any urban area the strip is an anachronism. It certainly is in Berkeley where my neighbors are Japanese, Chinese, African-American, German, Jewish and Scottish, not to neglect a couple of gay couples. Whenever I see Blondie on the front page of the Sunday funnies, I can’t help but be aware that it implies none of my neighbors exist. It makes me question why the editor of the San Francisco CHRONICLE chooses to run a white comic strip on the front page of the funnies in a community that is anything but all white. Chic Young died in 1973 and Blondie has been continued by his son, Dean, who has tried to update the strip a bit from time to time, but more often simply restyles his father’s old strips and pages. Young and Rick Marschall published BLONDIE AND DAGWOOD’S AMERICA in 1981, but the book was mainly a promo for the strip, not a critical look at what it represents, nostalgia for a lifestyle that never really existed outside the panels in which it was contained.

            Like a great many of the older American comic strips, Blondie has become a repository of ideas whose time has long gone. Like it or not, this country is becoming multicultural and it’s time comic strips like Blondie caught up. This is unlikely as long as the choice of comic strips and their distribution remains in the control of a few strongly biased syndicates. There are a lot of nonwhite artists and cartoonists working today, but you have to look in comic books for their work; these people have been excluded from the syndicates by de facto racism. If you talk to those who control the syndicates you will be told that they accept submitted strips on the basis of their appeal to a wide audience, which is all right, but they continue to assume that audience is predominantly white, hence no ethnic comic strips. I think one solution is regional strips, but this means breaking the hold of the syndicates, and that would take an organizational effort against the Blondie syndrome.

 

 

BOOK BYTES by Clay Geerdes

 

For the latest on the LSD revival of the early nineties, check out Leigh Henderson and William Glass” LSD: STILL WITH US AFTER ALL THESE YEARS. [New York: Lexington, 1994]. LSD, as you recall was a gift from the good old CIA who gave it away free as part of a program known as MK-ULTRA. Our friendly government agents were trying to find an effective means of crowd control. When they discovered that people high on acid just didn’t give a shit one way or the other, they scrapped the drug. Curiously, it became illegal in October of 1966 and people who continued to go on weekend trips were harassed and turned into criminals. The Henderson-Glass text is somewhat pharmacological, but interesting.

 

Are they still poisoning our body fluids as we learned back in DR. STRANGELOVE? Douglas Rushkoff thinks so. See his MEDIA VIRUS: HIDDEN AGENDAS IN POPULAR CULTURE. [New York: Ballantine, 1994]. Rushkoff thinks there is more to tv than you think you see. Well, we’ve known that since the days of THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS and SUBLIMINAL PERSUASION, but Rushkoff updates everything.

 

How do I know there are people who do horoscopes for horses? Vicki Hearne says so in ANIMAL HAPPINESS [New York: Harper, 1994]. She adopted Peppy the Wonder Horse, who, it turns out, was an Aquarian.

 

The new Lord of the Flies? That would have to be Robert Friedel who has just published a history called ZIPPER [New York” Norton, 1984].

 

Barry Sanders doesn’t think anyone wants to learn to read these days, particularly young black students. A IS FOR OX: VIOLENCE, ELECTRONIC MEDIA AND THE SILENCING OF THE WRITTEN WORD has all the details about the decline of literacy in urban high schools. [New York: Pantheon, 1994].

 

And how do gang members really think? Sanyika Skakur tells all in his MONSTER: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN L.A. GANG MEMBER [New York: Penguin, 1993]. Monster was Shakur’s nickname in the gang. While we’re on the subject, Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters have published MAKING MONSTERS: FALSE MEMORIES, PSYCHOTHERAPY, AND SEXUAL HYSTERIA [New York: Scribner’s, 1994].  False memory syndrome means you may not remember your childhood experiences clearly and if you do you may not remember them correctly, hence you need a therapist to hypnotize you and lead you through the dark bedrooms and barns of yesteryear in search of a bogeyman who might have been your Dad or a favorite uncle or even your Mom!  Lo and behold, people in their thirties and forties who can afford a hundred or a hundred and fifty bucks an hour suddenly remember being molested by their parents. For some more hundreds, revenge is near at hand; the offending parent can be sued. Entire families can be destroyed and disgraced as FMS victims make the rounds of the talk show circuit. Well, lots of people have been molested as children, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who forgot or repressed it; I’m sixty and the people I’ve talked to about the subject remember every little detail and are skeptical about those who suddenly claim Daddy molested them thirty or forty years after the fact. Ofshe and Watters interview victims and therapists and offer chapter and verse re a subject that needs to be discussed within the family.

 

Question is where the hell did all these Angels come from? We have Angels in San Francisco and ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD remade by Disney and now ANGELIC HEALING. Yep. Eileen Elias Freeman saw an Angel in her room after a long operation and it changed her life. She subtitled her book WORKING WITH YOUR ANGELS TO HEAL YOUR LIFE [New York: Time Warner, 1944]. Ms. Freeman is head of the AngelWatch Foundation and publishes a newsletter four times a year.

 

How do I know there are surgeons who have been experimentally transplanting animal organs into humans? Deborah Blum tells all about it in THE MONKEY WARS [New York: Oxford, 1994]. Blum discusses the complex conflict between animal research and animal rights activism, noting the way contemporary research is funded by grants which would be taken away if the animals were freed from their cages.

 

Rob Huizenga was team internist for the Los Angeles Raiders back in 1983. He confirms that all the things you suspected about those professional football players is true. YOU’RE OK, IT’S JUST A BRUISE [New York; St. Martin’s, 1994] reveals what it’s like in the Raiders’ dressing room after the media people have gone home. Drugs, steroids, and go on playing or kiss your career goodbye. Nice portrait of Lyle Alzedo. 

 

Claudia Johnson became upset back in 1986 when she heard the local school board had voted to ban LYSISTRATA and Chaucer’s MILLER’S TALE. She went to see the Principal of the high school and he pushed a page of the MILLER’S TALE in her face and said “Ain’t you think that’s pornography?” Overwhelmed by the staggering intellect before her, Johnson left and filed a lawsuit against the school board. She was joined by two other women from her home town of Lake City, Florida. The story of her five year fight against illiteracy is told in STIFLED LAUGHTER [Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, 1994]. The account of the trial is hilarious. Johnson found few people who had read a complete book and learned that censors are seldom readers. A typical sign in front of a Lake City church proclaimed: FEAR IS THE DARKROOM WHERE SATAN TAKES YOU TO DEVELOP YOUR NEGATIVES.

 

 

CALVIN AND HOBBES: 1985-1995 by Clay Geerdes

 

I’ve read the local eulogies to Phil Watterson’s CALVIN AND HOBBES, pretty dreadful pieces written by uncritical slobbering groupies. Enough of that loudmouthed, miserable, unhappy little kid! Onward. Contemporary strip art is in a serious state of decline not because the panels have been reduced, but because the syndicated cartoonists as a group have allowed their craft to be bowdlerized to the point of ridicule and insignificance. Compare the pages of Roy Crane, Al Capp, Milt Caniff or just about any seminal cartoonist with the majors in today’s establishment papers, and you have to blush. I look at the strips in the Oakland Tribune, and, frankly, most of these people can't draw at all. Once in awhile, I chuckle, but the gags are predictable and tired out from overuse. When someone does insert a bit of social relevance as Lynn Johnson did recently in her FOR BETTER OR WORSE, papers start censoring like mad. For the most part, it's a pathetically reactionary form, dominated by mediocrity. Something like DILBERT is funny once in awhile, but it’s not comic art.

            When I think about comic art, I see Winsor McCay, George McManus, Fred Opper, Richard Outcault, Bill Holman, Cliff Sterrett, Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, Elsie Segar, et al. Today I read paeans to people who don't even draw, people like Trudeau who script their dailies and Sundays like movies and hire others to draw the panels. 

            Phil Watterson can draw well and sometimes he does, but most of the time he just gives his strips a lick and a promise. I enjoyed his CALVIN AND HOBBES strip, but was long past its peak when he retired it December 31, 1995. He was bugged by the limitations of the form, he said in a lecture, but I'm not sympathetic.  For years he has had the economic security to do anything he wanted to do. He could do something fresh. He could draw a comic book of his own. He could do a graphic novel. If the strip artist's lifestyle traps him in those little postage-stamp sized boxes, reject it. Break out!  In the late sixties and early seventies, numerous underground cartoonists told the straight syndicates off and burst out of the three and four panel jail. If Robert Crumb felt the story took twenty pages, he did twenty pages. He didn't cut it to eight because some editor said that was all he could have. I've had guys write me and say gee, it's too bad Crumb never got a regular strip with the syndicate. What a joke that is. Why would he want to work within those narrow limits? The comic strip is such a backward form in the nineties, it's pathetic. You look at most of those "family" strips and you know there are no families like those. Everything is designed not to offend some imaginary reader in North Dakota and I find this very inoffensiveness more than offensive.  BLONDIE, as I have written in a previous AVA, is a freak in the nineties; we live in a multicultural, polyglot country, particularly in the urban areas, and even in the heartland, there are no people like the Bumsteads.

            What will Watterson do next? The public never did accept anything from Ketchum but Dennis the Menace. His strip Half Hitch was short-lived. Will people accept a new concept from Watterson should he develop one?  I never saw CALVIN AND HOBBES as an original. The idea was a swipe of Milne’s Christopher Robin and Tigger. It was a narrow concept to begin with and as it continued it revealed a nastiness in the cartoonist, a great deal of unrelieved misogyny [Susan, the only girl, is always a victim of Calvin’s rotten behavior.], numerous little things that gradually drove me away from the strip. Watterson should have quit several years ago, because he had exhausted the theme and was beginning to repeat himself.  His reality/fantasy Sundays were entertaining, but if you look at all of them together you will notice a lot of repetition. Watterson was never the master Cliff Sterrett was [I still love his surreal POLLY Sundays.] and he has a lot higher opinion of the ‘philosophical’ content of his strip that I have.  Does he really compare himself with Kelly or Capp? Nothing kept him from introducing new characters and ideas into his strip. Schulz has done it over the years. Still does. What happened in CALVIN AND HOBBES was Watterson’s choice. Of course, newspapers have reduced comic strips to make room for more advertising or simply to reduce their number of pages; the papers have been in decline since the ascendance of television and video games. A few years ago when Watterson tried to force various papers to run his strip without reducing the panel size, cancellations came in, and Watterson, rather than sticking by his demand, gave in and took the money. That was his choice.

             Watterson could have drawn something else. I think he simply burned out, that he drew what he had in him. He maintained his integrity in a way many cartoonists do not. After all, he kept his characters off cereal boxes and drinking glasses. The commercialism really bugs me. That’s for sure. When I see the characters from TOY STORY eating Big Macs long before I’ve been to see the film, I am inclined to skip it entirely. I noticed in the TOY STORY tv short that Buzz Lightyear thinks he’s a real astronaut just as Hobbes often seems to think he’s a real tiger.

             I think Watterson’s strip went into a serious decline after he began to see himself as a critic. As he developed an intellectual overview of the craft, he lost his focus; he was a cartoonist outside his panels instead of inside with his characters.  Watterson drew himself into a corner and couldn’t figure any way out; with Calvin and his stuffed tiger, he created a closed world, and once he had exhausted the possibilities of their relationship, he had no place to go.  He did not have Milne’s forest or Walt Kelly’s swamp or Al Capp’s Dogpatch in which to expand his philosophical ideas. Though he blamed editors for degrading his work by reducing the format, it was Watterson who failed to develop a microcosm which he could expand.  He owes a strong debt to Schulz and Ketchum, but unlike these cartoonists, who were content with careers doing strip gags, Watterson had higher aspirations and perhaps now that he has retired CALVIN AND HOBBES, he will be able to realize some of them.

 

 

CRUMB: A documentary film by Terry Zwigoff: Background by Clay Geerdes

 

The story Terry Zwigoff tells is that he went to San Francisco in the late sixties, read a book about the mistreatment of animals, got involved with some animal rights activists, and, after seeing some underground comic books, thought a comic book would be a good way to inform the world that animals were being badly mistreated in the labs. If he could get someone like Robert Crumb to draw a story for such a book, a lot of people would read it, quit eating meat, become vegetarians, and the world would be a better place. Terry arranged to meet Crumb through a girl they both knew in San Francisco and she told him Crumb was a nut for old 78 rpm records, that he would do just about anything for the right sides from the twenties and early thirties, so when Zwigoff saw a collection of 78s for sale in a local paper, he ponied up a couple hundred bucks and found himself with a couple thousand old records. The next time Crumb fell by the apartment, Terry asked the ZAP cartoonist if he’d like to have a look and Crumb took the bait. He wanted some of the records, but he wasn’t really interested in the animal comic. He said he would do a story, but told Zwigoff it would not be that easy to get the entire funny book together. Terry wanted guys like Justin Green and S. Clay Wilson and both were involved in a lot of other projects. You didn’t just walk in the door and say I need a couple of pages for this animal lib comic book, then walk out with the finished art. Unlike the factory produced Eastern comic books, underground comix came out when and if the artists got all their artwork in; after Crumb drew the first few ZAPS, it became routine for ZAP to come out about every two years. Terry would have to wait his turn and hope for the best. When FUNNY AMINALS came out some time later, it was not what Zwigoff had in mind, and most readers thought it was just another nutty underground comic book and ignored the message.

            A friendship between Zwigoff and Crumb developed out of the project and the two men spent a lot of time talking. Along with Al Dodge and Bob Armstrong, Crumb had started playing old time music with the group that came to be known as The Cheap Suit Serenaders; he played banjo and crooned some of the songs. Zwigoff played with them for awhile, but did not like the pressure of performing.

            In the early 1980s, Terry did the photographs for some of Crumb’s foto funny stories in WEIRDO magazine and during that period he was listening to old 78s and he heard one by a blues man called “Louie Bluie.” He began to wonder what happened to Louie and when he met the man, he was impressed enough to want to make a documentary film about him. He couldn’t get anyone else interested, so he took his life savings, hired a cinematographer, bought some film and made LOUIS BLUIE.  An NEA grant provided the money to finish the film which was a hit at some of the film festivals. Inadvertently, Terry had become a film maker.

            Zwigoff had met Crumb’s family in Philadelphia in the early seventies. He was impressed by them and thought they would make an interesting film. He approached Robert Crumb about it in 1985, but Crumb nixed the idea. He didn’t want a film made about his family. Crumb had had his brush with public fame and didn’t like it. After his signing tour with Edward Abbey in 1983, he told me he hated it, that he felt “like a fish in a bowl.” Terry explained that his main interest was Charles and his influence on Robert, but Crumb wasn’t convinced. Zwigoff thought he had a good rapport with Crumb’s mother and his brother Max had agreed to the film, but Crumb didn’t really want the film to happen. When Terry got his camera and sound people to Philadelphia, he found Mrs. Crumb had done an about face and was now saying no to the project. Behind the scene, Robert had been calling his mother to discourage her from going on film. Faced with losing his entire investment in time and money, Terry decided to drive over and see Mrs. Crumb and try to get her to reconsider. The visit worked out and Zwigoff was allowed to film the interview with Charles. Crumb’s two sisters, Carol and Sandra, refused to have anything to do with the film, and Sandra threatened to sue if she was even mentioned in the film. Crumb’s version of his relationship with Sandra is in the film, but her side of the story is left untold.

            The film reveals Crumb’s intense relationship with Charles, his older brother. Terry told the editor of CRASH: “Robert told me at one point he still feels when he’s drawing something, that he imagines Charles looking over his shoulder, and wonders what he’d think of it. For a long time, since they were kids, Robert was under Charles’ spell. Charles was in charge and he drove him to do those comics, to be as good as he could. At the same time, meeting Charles, you can see where Crumb’s sense of humor comes from, his philosophy, even where his alienated view of life developed. His influence was profound. . .he was very astute and perceptive, always trying to figure out what made you tick so that he could manipulate you. And he could be sadistic about it. . .I thought he [Charles] was brilliant in the state he was in, which was living in solitary confinement and taking anti-psychotic medication and tranquilizers for thirty years. At one time though, he must have been a force to reckon with [Solomos, Steve. “A conversation with Terry Zwigoff,” Toronto, Ontario, Canada: CRASH: THE QUARTERLY COMIC BOOK REVIEW, V. 1, No. 2, Winter, 1995, p. 33.]

            Terry told Solomos he felt the film was rough on Crumb, a result of his attempt to offset his own bias, but he doesn’t think any film can be objective. David Lynch’s name appears on the film but in the end it was completed without any of Lynch’s money. No doubt people will continue to ask what David Lynch had to do with the project, so to them the answer is nothing. Someone introduced Zwigoff to Lynch when he needed money, but before Lynch got around to the proposal, the money came from elsewhere and the film was completed.

            For those who know Crumb through his autobiographical underground comix, this film may or may not extend their understanding. When Crumb was a kid he, his brother Charles and his older sister, Carol, spent a lot of time drawing little comic books together. If you are interested in Crumb, best go back and read his early comic books before seeing Zwigoff’s film. The jams between Crumb and his sibs are reprinted in the first couple of volumes of THE COMPLETE CRUMB [Fantagraphic Books].

            Artists tend to be rather private people and it has not been easy for Crumb to deal with the kind of celebrity status forced on him after the publication of ZAP 1 in February of 1968. To deal with it, Crumb kept moving around the country. He often drew mock interviews with himself in which he lampooned himself, the type of media person who usually conducted such interviews on TV, and the process itself. He moved to France a few years ago to escape the public and to raise his daughter, Sophie, away from the kind of violence that was becoming common in urban America, but given jet travel and fax machines, etc., it’s likely this film will cost him emotionally.

            CRUMB opened Thursday evening, April 20, at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. Crumb followers who missed earlier coverage of the film’s history may wish to consult the following articles:

 

Guthman, Edward. ‘Crumb’ Film Trucks to Sundance,” San Francisco CHRONICLE, January 25, 1995, p. E-1, 5. A review of a showing of Terry Zwigoff’s CRUMB in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival. Photo of Crumb, p. E-1.

 

Guthman, Edward. “‘Crumb’ to open S. F. Film Festival,” San Francisco CHRONICLE, March 30, 1995, p. E-1, 5. Terry Zwigoff’s CRUMB“is one of four films to open the 38th San Francisco International Film Festival on April 20 at the Kabuki [E-1].”

 

Guthman, Edward. ‘High Steppers at Sundance,” San Francisco CHRONICLE, January 30, 1995, p. E-1, 3. Terry Zwigoff’s CRUMB won Grand Jury Prize as best documentary at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival.  Ross McElwee praised CRUMB which “spotlights Crumb’s bizarre and  tragic family, for ‘getting at the root of human existence.’” Zwigoff worked on the film for nine years, during which time he was in psychotherapy and thought of suicide. He credits his producer, Lynn O’Donnell, with the idea of restructuring the film as a mystery that unravels, said she held his hand and guided him through the whole thing. Photo of Crumb with two women, p. E-1.

 

 

 

ROBERT CRUMB IN EXILE by Clay Geerdes

 

Robert Crumb’s self-image continues to deteriorate.  On the cover of the first issue of SELF-LOATHING COMICS [Fantagraphics Books, 1995], the ultimate public confessor stares at himself in the mirror, obviously quite horrified at the reflection of his aging self. Born in 1943, Crumb is 52 this year. In his half of this 32-page book, Crumb details his current lifestyle in the small French town where he lives as an expatriate with his wife, Aline, and daughter, Sophie. Awakening from a dream about a visit to a haunted castle with his family, Crumb stays in bed reminiscing about his sexual experiences with groupies of yesteryear. If you have followed his graphic career over the years, you will recognize the women Crumb refers to, if not, no matter, because this is another of those husband and wife jams Crumb began in the seventies when Aline had a bum leg and the duo drew a couple of issues of DIRTY LAUNDRY to get themselves past her convalescence. SELF-LOATHING is a comic book for insiders, not for newcomers and even those obsessed with the minutia of Crumb’s personal life are likely to stifle a yawn in this tedious book. It was outrageous when Crumb drew his character taking a leak on the cover of YOUR HYTONE COMICS in February of 1971 because no cartoonist had even done such a cover, but post-Mapplethorpe, the same drawing becomes mundane. Drawings of Crumb fixing his sink or washing the dishes or sitting in front of an empty drawing board are SIMPLY BORING, BOB! Though the flipside of this comic has a more interesting cover drawing by Aline, her half is as tiresome and tedious as Crumb’s.

            The attitude of the Crumbs seems to be that everyone is insatiably curious about the intimate details of their lives, so they will satisfy this curiosity in a three dollar comic book, and, while there was an element of truth in that assumption circa 1969, it is no longer true.  Today’s Ninja Turtle of Power Ranger fan could care less about Crumb’s French ennui. Back in the sixties [a title of a Crumb story], readers were fascinated with the comix of R. Crumb or R. Scum, because it was unrepressed and El Crumbo was blatantly honest about his macabre sex fantasies. The Henry Miller of underground comix, he told it all and it was true. None of his peers revealed the same honesty or directness in their art; all hid behind their characters or stayed off-panel entirely. Who is going to admit to having fantasies about living in a woman’s anus? Crumb in BIG-ASS COMICS. Who’s going to admit having a fantasy about getting it on with his entire family? Crumb in his most often busted story, “Joe Blow,” in ZAP 4. Crumb made his rep by refusing to censor himself in any way at all. He fought with the feminists early on, telling them if they didn’t like what he drew, they could fuck off, because he was going to draw anything he goddamned pleased.  In the final issue of WEIRDO, a neo-MAD style mag Crumb edited in the mid-eighties, he outraged everyone with stories about when the “Niggers” and “Nazis” take over America. His early drawings of black people in ZAP circa 1968 were considered racist, because he drew in a thirties cartoon style in those days; later when he did the research for his stories and drawings of Delta blues musicians, he was praised for his authenticity. All of Crumb’s early work, incidentally, is available chronologically in THE COMPLETE CRUMB [Fantagraphics Books, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115]. There are ten volumes extant.

            In the sixties, Crumb was the ultimate gadfly. Strongly influenced by S. Clay Wilson, a fellow ZAP artist who told him he shouldn’t hold anything back, Crumb began to open up in his comic stories; taking LSD for the first time in 1965 caused him to overflow and for nearly a decade the ex-Catholic cartoonist produced more single-handed comic books than any other artist in the history of the medium. He invented characters in seconds and put them through their paces in strips and stories. Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont, Angelfood McSpade, Bo Bo Bolinsky, the Sewer Snoids, Honeybunch Kominski, the Vulture Demonesses--Crumb’s list could go on for pages. Donald Fiene, associate Professor of Russian at the University of Tennessee, published his CRUMB CHECKLIST in 1981, printing pictures of over a hundred characters Crumb had invented and before his book was printed the cartoonist had created a couple dozen new ones.

            While he let it all hang out in his comic art, Crumb did not like to be bothered with people, particularly press people and folks with schemes that required him to use his talent to promote them. He wasn’t inspired to draw things other people wanted him to draw; hence he rejected offers from numerous magazines. But fame had its way with him.  He gave in and allowed Ralph Bakshi to make an animated film out of his FRITZ THE CAT stories [published in CAVALIER in 1965, and collected by Ballantine in 1968], but he hated the final result and took his revenge by having Andrea Ostrich kill Fritz by stabbing him in the back of the head with an ice pick [in THE PEOPLE’S COMICS, a book Crumb gave to his friend, Terry Zwigoff, as a favor during the short period when Zwigoff was into being a publisher]. To deal with all the people constantly trying to get to him, Crumb moved to the country and began to interview himself, publishing these graphic interviews in mags like HIGH TIMES. The more Crumb tried to hide, the more people chased after him. He didn’t want to be an editor and make decisions about other people’s art and writing and, after Wilson and others joined in on ZAP, he distanced himself from the project, contributing a story every couple of years, but refusing any deeper involvement. In the eighties, he gave in and agreed to edit WEIRDO for Ron Turner at Last Gasp Comix, but he found he felt no different about editing than he had when he was younger and before long he passed the job on to Peter Bagge and took off for France.

            He had virtually the same experience with music. For awhile he played banjo and sang old twenties and thirties songs with Dodge, Armstrong, and Zwigoff in The Cheap Suit Serenaders, but when it came to touring with the band, making it something more than a hobby, Crumb opted out. He felt too exposed, too public. People came up to him after the gigs and wanted too much of him. In the mid-seventies he was still suffering from the trauma of the Entertaining Comics Convention he had attended in 1972. He had gone to New York, because MAD and HELP! editor Harvey Kurtzman pressured him into it. Once there, he was mobbed by fans that had seen his strips in underground papers and read the first few issues of ZAP. The experience terrorized Crumb. It was too much. He couldn’t take all that adoration. He stayed away from comic conventions after that.

            Crumb’s ZAPS are still in print; indeed, ZAP has been in print longer than any other comic book, which means Crumb has to deal with reactions to artwork he did when he was young. The 52-year-old man who drew SELF-LOATHING is a pale shadow of the young cartoonist who used his pen to deflate everything from his father’s inflated ego to Mansonesque hippie gurus and rock stars, nevertheless, he has to answer to young people who have just discovered his graphic sex fantasies and are curious about the personality and character of someone who could think about such things let alone have the nerve to draw and publish them.   

            But the young Crumb looked outside himself as much as he did within and for nearly two decades he functioned as one of America’s sharpest satirists. The older Crumb appears to have withdrawn. Hiding in a small town in France where he chose to move to protect his daughter from the violence of contemporary America, Crumb has no more to say than anyone else in a comparable situation. His daughter, Sophie, comes across as the most interesting character in SELF-LOATHING, but she is only shown reacting; Crumb does not move into her life, show her at school, or give any indication what it is like for her to live in exile in France. He does indicate the beginning of what will develop into a more serious conflict in the future by having Sophie correct his amateurish French. At twelve, she is probably already comfortable with a language Crumb has yet to master. He casts himself as a not-so-innocent abroad, a rather lazy middle-aged man whose wife clearly rules the roost, but what shows through this comic book attempt is the artist’s lack of interest in the project. The reader who wants to see a better side of the elder Crumb should have a look at his illustrations for INTERPRETING KAFKA.

And if you want to laugh and enjoy yourself, go back and read the early issues of ZAP, MOTOR CITY, and BIG ASS!

 

 

 

DYING HARD AGAIN: a quasi-review by Clay Geerdes

 

In DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, a vengeful terrorist sends Bruce Willis into Harlem wearing a sandwich board with I HATE NIGGERS printed on it. He is saved from certain death by Samuel L. Jackson who takes pity on him. A exercise in political incorrectness from start to finish, DIE HARD 3 gave the first-nighters at the Emeryville complex two hours of rampant violence, torture, misanthropy, sadomasochism, gratuitous gore, and razor-sharp wit. The audience was a mix of blacks, whites, and Asians, and we were laughing half the time, gripping our seats the rest. Jackson and Willis work well together, doing essentially the same shtick as Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in THE DEFIANT ONES [1958] which was most recently popularized by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the LETHAL WEAPON trio. These films all go back to Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN, the first integrated thriller. DIE HARD is a cathartic film. There is a lot of racial tension on the streets these days and a film which confronts it head on and deals with the feelings on both sides works well with a 1995 audience. If anyone gets a rather bad shake in this film, it’s neo-Nazi white guys. What the film does is try to provide escapist fantasy for the broadest possible audience.

            Women with a lot of repressed anger and hatred toward men will get off on the Nazi slasher scene. A cold-blooded number, she kills a cop for pure enjoyment. The repressed and depressed proletariat will get off on the treatment of the police force as a bunch of dumb clods, who are all suckered by an Aryan terrorist gang--only Willis is hip enough to figure out what is going on and take appropriate action against it. You’ll like Willis in this one; guy has the stamina of Spartacus and the observation powers of Jessica Fletcher. If you get your jollies on brutality and torture, you’ll get off when Willis gets his ass kicked and bloodied. The intensity of the fight scenes makes them parody. Like Glover and Gibson, Jackson and Willis are a couple of supermen, essentially invulnerable. Gays will enjoy this one. The main love affair is between the two leads; the only hetero sex scene is between two of the Nazi villains, both of whom use violence to get their hormones active. Great symbolism, too. Beyond Hitchcock, who used to think it was subtle to have the train slide into the tunnel at a tense moment; in DIE HARD Willis chases the villain into a tunnel only to have the water released on him; the scene culminates as he is ejaculated through one of the escape hatches and lands in a puddle. With impeccable timing, Jackson drives up at precisely that moment. Willis dives into the car window and off they go.

            Lots of great reckless driving here, guys, including a high speed run through Central Park. Villain Irons runs Willis around from pay phone to pay phone the way the psychotic serial killer teased Harry Callahan in Eastwood’s first DIRTY HARRY film back in 1971.

            But does DIE HARD have a message?

            What’s the moral of this story?

            I’m always tempted to say who gives a shit after one of these kids-in-jeopardy stunt spectaculars, but there is some moral stuff spliced into DIE HARD 3 and it will cause the PCers to raise their eyebrows, I’m sure. In an early scene a couple of black school boys drop in to see Jackson and fence a stolen ghetto blaster. He gives them a moral lecture on not having anything to do with the thief, staying away from drugs, staying in school, and generally keeping on the straight and narrow. Jackson is the Jack Armstrong of Harlem in this scene. As the story progresses, we want to ask why he is helping a white cop fight a gang of Aryan terrorist gold thieves, but, hey, turn on the neon lights: BLACK PEOPLE HAVE TO JOIN WHITE PEOPLE TO FIGHT THE RISING TIDE OF NEO-NAZISM. It’s like the Laugh-In, folks, a two-second morality break and back to the fightin’ and chasin’ and shootin’!

            As for women, Willis’ wife has been drifting further into the background since the first DIE HARD in 1988. In this one, he gets her on the phone a couple of times, but in the end she is left on hold. What I’d like to see in DIE HARD 4 or 5 is Willis and Jackson going up against a dynamic duo like Sigourney Weaver and Grace Jones. It all starts when Willis gets word that this militant Feminist enclave has been stockpiling CS-10 at an abandoned Girl Scout Camp just this side of Ukiah, then…

 

 

WAS NANCY DREW GAY 

Have You Looked at Teen Fiction Lately?   By Clay Geerdes

 

 I'm sure it was embarrassing to Jane Ginsberg in 1974 when she wrote her piece in Ms. concerning Nancy Drew and found out the character was created by a New York publisher with an eye to developing a series for the young girls’ market. Since so many girls grew up reading and enjoying Nancy Drew, I'm sure it would be comforting to feminists to think a woman created the character, but, sorry, the research proves otherwise.  Laura Lee Hope, alas, was also a house name and as many men wrote books under the name as women.

            Edward Stratemeyer wrote the first three Nancy Drew books circa 1926 and they came out the year of his death, 1930. After that time, his daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams took over the Stratemeyer Syndicate and continued the house routine. Nancy was a clone of an earlier character named Ruth Fielding who was popular for awhile during the First World War.  Hey, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Pritchard [1984 edition], lists Carolyn Keene as a real author! An intellectual tome of this stature with no understanding of house-names! Even Franklin W. Dixon, the name invented by Stratemeyer for his Hardy Boys mysteries, is listed as a real person. Stratemeyer, creator of the Rover Boys and writer of well over 500 series books, isn't even listed.

            House names were expedient in series books, pulp magazines, and comic magazines, because quantity got the nod over quality. This was assembly line fiction aimed at the broadest market, prose with no literary pretensions and fast-moving stories about stereotypical characters. The house name allowed the publisher complete freedom. If the assigned writer failed to meet a deadline, someone else was called to complete the book. The gender referred to the target market, not to the author. Stratemeyer made up Carolyn Keene for the Nancy Drew series. He used Clarence Young on The Motor Boys series and Victor Appleton on the Tom Swift stories, many of which were written by Howard R. Garis, the creator of Uncle Wiggly Longears. Both Garis and his wife, Lillian MacNamara Garis, wrote stories for the Bobbsey Twins.  The reader interested in the type of man Stratemeyer was and the way he operated is referred to Roger Garis’s biographical work MY FATHER WAS UNCLE WIGGILY. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966. Though Garis became famous for his rabbit character, he and his family made their living for many years ghosting series books for Stratemeyer.

            Stratemeyer was a prolific writer; it was his routine to develop a character and test it in the marketplace with two or three books written by him. If these were successful, he outlined a series of plots and farmed them out to freelance writers who completed them for a fixed fee and returned them to the company where the books were rewritten to comply with the house style by Stratemeyer or an assistant. The system is analogous to contemporary television. A successful series like Stratemeyer’s Rover Boys ran its course, and then was updated and the material and plots recycled. In 1926, the Rover Boys and the Motor Boys were combined into the Hardy Boys. A new house-name was invented for each series.  Simon and Schuster bought the Stratemeyer inventory shortly before the death of Harriet Stratemeyer Adams in 1982 and the books are currently distributed by Pocket Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, as THE NANCY DREW FILES.  Following standards established by television programming, the series books now have spin-off titles. Successful supporting characters are given their own series. The earlier stories have been restyled several times in the past several decades, but the characters remain fairly static. Marginal characters are ridiculed or excluded.  Those who reflect on Nancy Drew’s bright, cheerful attitude should consider her origin in the optimistic twenties, a period when a middle class prospered and young women had more freedom than ever before in their history.  Nancy’s fictional history is recounted in Carol Billman's meticulous study The Secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, New York: Ungar, 1986.  Jessica Fletcher, the character portrayed by Angela Lansbury in MURDER SHE WROTE, is a senior version of Nancy Drew, complete with the cheery demeanor and the unusual penchant for noticing minute details to which no one else would pay a lick of attention.

            There was a strong white heterosexist bias in the world of Nancy Drew and that attitude is reversed in a 1994 parody of the infamous girl detective by a gay Ohio Catholic feminist artist who writes under the name Mabel Maney. Whether the all-white homosexist bias inherent in THE CASE OF THE GOOD-FOR-NOTHING GIRLFRIEND [Cleis press, 1994] balances Drewidic het bias is open to debate, but Maney has a lot of fun lampooning Stratemeyer’s peachy-keen suburban Americans.  Written for the approval of the lesbian-feminist caucus of the women’s movement, Maney’s Nancy Clue and four friends embark on a cross country trip to save the Clue family’s faithful retainer, Hannah Gruel, who has been accused wrongfully of the murder of Nancy’s abusive dad, Carson Clue.  All males are bashed in this tale of lesbian love on the road and only a couple of gay men are treated as human beings. Mabel Maney told Suzanne Rush in an interview published in SF WEEKLY [12/14/94, p. 11] she had always loved her mother and hated her father. She used the Nancy Drew formula to indulge in a series of lesbian fantasies and worked out her hatred for her father by symbolically killing him in her story. There was nothing overtly sexual in the ga-ga world of the girl’s mystery books, but there is a lot of sex play and innuendo in GOOD-FOR-NOTHING GIRLFRIEND. Maney is appealing to adult gay women who remember Nancy Drew from their teens.

            I think the book is too long, about three times the length of an average Drew.  Though witty and funny at first, the naiveté of Cherry Aimless, the young nurse who falls for Nancy in San Francisco and goes with her on the journey back to Illinois, rapidly becomes sticky, cloying, and repetitious.  Harping on her stupidity undermines the character of Nancy Clue. Why on earth would Clue ever take up with such a moron?  Cherry is about as interesting as a tampon ad.  She raises serious questions about Clue’s judgment. Indeed, Clue never takes the lead in this adventure; rather she is often off drinking in a bar or hanging out with someone else while we are treated to the flirtatious and erotic behavior of mannish Midge and her girl friend, Velma.

            Maney delights in manifesting all of the latent aspects of the Nancy Drew series, but these were latent for a purpose in those books. Character was loosely defined in order to leave room for the reader. Too much description and the identification factor necessary for the success of teen fiction is gone.  Maney’s reader cannot fill out Nancy Clue with her own feelings, not unless she has the same specific problem. Clue is too specific. She’s an alcoholic who likes to play the gay bars and her behavior is justified by her childhood as the victim of an abusive father. She killed Carson Clue for molesting her.  Maney told Rush she often had fantasies of running away with her mother and GIRLFRIEND is one of those fantasies.  It’s a heterophobic book. The Nancy Drews were balanced. Not all the villains were men.  Maney said “the characters are just my idea of male authority. They have the power they don’t deserve. They’re corrupt and evil and absolutely not what they’re supposed to be [ibid, p. 12].” ALL of them? Come on, Maney. What are the odds that all of the mechanics called upon to fix Nancy Drew’s Chrysler in those small American towns would be women? Ah, well, whatever gets you through an oil change.

            I know what the author is reacting to, because the Nancy Drew books were and are heavily biased.  I read a recent one to see what was going on and was surprised at how unenlightened it was. The covers are now photo-realist paintings of beautiful white models that look a hell of a lot older than Nancy Drew and her teenaged pals. I read DEATH BY DESIGN, Case #30 of THE NANCY DREW FILES [Pocket Books, 1988], and what pushed my buttons most about the story was its inherent racism and sexism. There is a strong bias against anyone foreign. The young reader is told that American fashion is superior to anything anywhere else in the world. A Japanese editor is insulted. The villain is an Italian woman.  Nancy Drew is praised for modeling American fashions by a man. She derives her approval from compliments from men. She eats nothing, feigning lack of hunger, but what is going on here is promotion of the image of a skinny anorexic model. The story is completely fat-tist; anyone with an appetite and a little bit of weight is grinned or sneered at.  Interesting that Maney dumps on heterosexism, yet accepts fat-tism. Her gay heroines have the same attitude toward the woman who likes to eat and doesn’t think being skinny as a rail is the ultimate definition of a real woman.  Maney, let me add, is a much better writer than the current ghosts on Drew et al. I enjoyed a lot of her repartee and her fifties patter. I found DEATH BY DESIGN poorly written and structurally ridiculous. Nancy is poisoned by a poison that is never named and cured by an antidote in the end; meanwhile, she is going around solving the mystery of some threatening telephone calls. My seven-year-old nephew couldn’t even accept such nonsense.

            So what, you’re saying? Well, in this period when television tells our kids what to eat, drink, play with, how to talk, give attitude, and bite the hands that feed them,  I think it is important to keep track of what they are watching and reading.  I’m more bothered by the covert racism and white supremacist attitudes built into the new Nancy Drew series than I am by the eclectic heterophobic fantasies of Mabel Maney, because there are millions of those Nancy Drew files in circulation and  they are having an effect on children we will have to deal with in the future. In a 1994 televised documentary on Berkeley High School, there was a short segment about the school paper, edited almost exclusively by white students. One of the Latinos wanted his group to have control of a page of the paper and he was opposed. A white student said the Latinos could do their own paper. No. Not so. We are one culture and everyone should be represented and I would like to see Asians, Latinos, Afro-Americans, Pakistanis, and all of the other people who make up our community represented in mainstream children’s fiction. Separate is not equal. I don’t think it is responsible for a school to sponsor a paper dominated by a single racial clique and I don’t like to see children’s series books teach sexism, racism, and separatism.

            Was Nancy Drew Gay? She might have been. No one can say for sure, because it never came up in the adolescent world conceived by Stratemeyer in 1926, but it wouldn’t have mattered a lot unless Nancy discriminated against heterosexual friends.

 

 

FASHION INDUSTRY REVIVES BIG BREASTS by Clay Geerdes

 

As to who wants acquired enlargements, there are geographical differences. New Yorkers are too paranoid to rush into breast surgery. They lie on the couch, worrying about losing sensation in their nipples, ugly scars, collapsing silicone, leaking saline, and radiation treatments for cancer. Cleavage queens in L.A., on the other hand, form car pools and stop off for an operation on the way home from the mall.

 

Anka Radakovich.

THE WILD GIRLS CLUB, 1995

 

Is there a better index of corporate corruption than the New-York/Paris/Rome based fashion industry? Last season’s “little girl” or “waif” look was the ultimate in public pedophilia. Well, it didn’t sell and this year, Brian Bouldrey proclaims in “Catwoman vs. the Catwalk,” [BAY GUARDIAN, March 8, 1995, p. 18-19.], “big breasts and big hair” are in. Since DC comics’ Catwoman has big breasts, “she’s the direction we’ll follow.” Well, who’s “we,” Brian? Going for a sex change, are you? Glancing through any of the hypezines of the fashion industry from VOGUE to HARPER’S BAZAAR to MADEMOISELLE, I’d say good luck with the big tit hustle. 99% of those anorexic models are flatski and pretty certain to stay that way without surgical help. Now, maybe “the industry” will scout around and see what Chesty Morgan and Carol Doda are doing, but it’s doubtful. I think the big tit hustle is likely to be a bust. While it’s true that men like to look at big tits [if we can believe the magazine sales stats on PLAYBOY, HUSTLER, et al], breasts tend to be a negative, not a positive for most women. They represent a source of anxiety and insecurity from the time they begin to pop out on a young girl’s chest and anyone past adolescence knows one horror study or another about breasts. Bouldrey talks about breasts as weapons that can hold “us” at bay, but this is within a context of artificial cartoon and photographic images of breasts, certainly not related to the real world. Cartoonists, being the wigged-out nutty symbolists they are, may have the breasts of female androids and cyborgs firing missiles, but, alas, the real breast is a source of food at times, a source of pleasure via erectile nipple tissue at others, and a source of dread when it malfunctions which is far too often in our carcinogenic environment. BIG ‘UNS may be Al Bundy’s favorite mag, but most women would toss it in the trash the way Peg does.

            The fashion industry promotes insecurity and dissatisfaction; if it didn’t, what woman would buy any of the artificial chemicals, clothes, and accessories? The idea is to make a woman feel inadequate, and then offer her a way to renew herself. Beauty and skinniness are two or the biggest lies in our culture. Unlike Brian, I don’t believe the fashion business reveals much about ‘our’ taste. It’s certainly successful at selling artificial images otherwise it would be buried in the scrap heap of history by now, but that says more about the expertise of the psychologists who sold their souls to the ad companies after World War II, than it does about “us.” Remember back in the mid-fifties when Vance Packard revealed their agenda in THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS? Well, the same guys who worked on brainwashing and torture methods for the OSS [the CIA after 1947] brought their discoveries to the largest ad agencies in New York after they were mustered out of the Army and we have reaped the reward. Ads began to sell love and comfort and security, not products, but the industry has gotten more and more corrupt until today’s ads are embedded with impulses that are dangerous. Ads are ubiquitous now. The budget for a major film includes a list of ads to be included and most major adventure films are simply conglomerate ads. You didn’t think it was an accident that THE TERMINATOR hung around a familiar soft drink machine, did you? If you’re an older person like myself you might wonder why none of the characters in a period film drink a HIRE’S root beer or a NEHI orange soda [that’s what I drank at the time], but, hey, those companies are no longer in business; Spielberg and the big bucks boys are not going to waste an ad slot on a product that no longer exists, nevah happen.

            If the fashion industry focuses on big tits this season, what do you suppose will happen? A lot of women will run out and buy “support” garments, Wonder bras, “falsies,” as they were called in the fifties? Yes, a percentage will. Look what happened in the early sixties after the topless bathing suit fad. Rudi Gernreich showed up in San Francisco with one of his topless bathing suits. The late Davey Rosenberg, a hustler and promoter who ‘managed’ some of the women who worked in the clubs along Broadway, suggested that Carol Doda model the bathing suit and dance in it. Carol was a 32 at the time. By 1965, she had started to enlarge her new assets. After the police busted her once, topless dancing was okayed somewhere in the city power structure and soon the street was filled with topless dancing college co-eds and specialty acts. Carol had silicone shots and before long she had gone from a 32 to a 44 and her act at the Condor was a sell-out most weekend nights. In those few years, hundreds of women patronized the plastic surgeons, only a few of them professional dancers and entertainers. The majority did it for their husbands and boy friends or their own self-image. I heard a lot of different stories when I was covering North Beach for COAST Magazine during this period. The implants tended to be hard and heavy. Carol told me she couldn’t sleep on her side; she could only sleep on her back.

            Fashion as it exists only applies to a handful of women in each generation. A few have “the look.” The many never have it. A certain number will try for it and a larger number will console themselves with a small part of the look; a heavy woman will have Farrah’s hair or Christie Brinkley’s smile. A woman with asymmetrical breasts will pack them into a Wonder bra. The healthiest segment of the population will ignore fashion hype and ad brainwash.

            Hollywood promoted big tits for years; Jane Russell in THE OUTLAW, Marilyn Monroe in SOME LIKE IT HOT, Jayne Mansfield in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, and Anita Ekberg in Fellini’s films. It worked out well for the garment industry. Bust pads were a growth industry in the fifties. But what if you were a real woman with large breasts? What was your life like? I recall the girl from my high school that had the biggest tits on campus. During the lunch hour, we had a rec room where someone played 45 rpm records for dancing. Guys danced with those big tits. Outside, they talked about them, stared at them, giggled about them, and made endless jokes and puns about them, but no one dated the girl. She was treated like a freak. Popular? She never had a single date in her high school years. Bigger is better, Bouldrey? Ask one of the hundreds of women who have breast reduction surgery every year.

            Movies and comic books have created such a male fantasy world around breasts that few young men ever consider their reality. A young girl suddenly has to deal with a couple of lumps on her chest. Will they be big or small? Big enough or small enough? Will they be even? What if there are more than two? Surprise, there are a number of these women born each year and a larger number of women born with three or more nipples. A girl’s breasts fill out and she has to deal with them. If her mother has stretch marks from nursing, she fears she will have them. If she doesn’t want to wear a bra, it is assumed she is showing off her breasts or flaunting them; the majority of girls in high school wear bras. On a date, a girl has to deal with her breasts again. A guy never has to think about protecting his chest from attack. In her twenties, a woman starts to feel anxious about her breasts. If a small lump appears, it may be nothing but a benign cyst, a fibroid tumor, nothing to worry about, but in their late twenties some women develop malignant tumors in the lymph nodes of the breast. Sometimes these can be taken care of through limited surgery, lumpectomies, but often the entire breast must be removed. Men seldom if ever think about a woman’s breasts in other than aesthetic or erotic terms. I’ve never known a woman who felt completely secure about her breasts. Some years back I lost a woman friend who had had a mastectomy. Phoebe Cates was a guest on Letterman in March. She did a nude shot back in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and he asked her if she would do it again if asked. She said no. “I’ve nursed two children.”

            I don’t think the big tit hustle is going to work for the fashion industry, mainly, because one of the not so subliminal factors involved is the feeling of superiority the average woman feels toward “those skinny New York models.” That thin flat bony anorexic unhealthy look leaves Ms. Average America feeling pretty good about herself. If high fashion starts trotting a lot of Miss America contestants down the old catwalk, the reaction may be purses clanging shut.

 

“Japanese claim the nape’s allure is far more subtle than the Western breast fixation, perhaps closer to the magnetism of an exquisite smile. Breasts, colloquially called oppai or chichi, never used to be sexual targets in Japan, where mothers breast-fed babies in public until about thirty years ago. Provincial women stripped to the waist when they worked, until defeat in World War II brought gawking U.S. soldiers to the country. Laws allowing breasts to be shown on television with impunity are a remnant of past attitudes, but the titillating nature of many such broadcasts is a sign that the Western fetish seems to have taken hold. Despite the new trends, many Japanese men confide in secrecy that big breasts are overwhelming--even scary [21].”

 

 

CAT FIGHT ON THE FIRING LINE by Clay Geerdes

 

 I watched a debate on FIRING LINE on December 23, 1994, presumably about the Women’s Movement [as though this were a single entity instead of a collection of groups with goals that differ as much as the various pressure groups organized and controlled by men], and all it did was remind me what a facile snot Bill Buckley is. Did I learn anything about any aspect of the various groups within the women’s movement? No. Did I hear a word about the real history of women in America? No. Did I see any black, Latino, or Asian women at the podium? No. Did I see Betty Friedan take credit for being “the mother of the women’s movement?” Yes. Which is a joke, huh? Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN in 1792 in England and in America, Amelia Bloomer and Elizabeth Cady Stanton attended the first Women’s Congress in 1848, so who is Betty Friedan to take credit for anything but her book THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE [1963]?

            Those PBS debates always irritate the hell out of me. Who are those people? Mostly the rich with their class-ist view of the world, badmouthing the poor as though they were responsible for poverty, crime, and violence. No one said a word about drugs or alcohol. I listened to one political party blame the other for the rise in crime, for teenage abortions, for domestic violence, but the rich are to blame and they never accept their guilt. Their greed has created the conditions we all have to live under. Poor people didn’t move any factories to Taiwan and Thailand so products could be assembled by slave labor. Poor people didn’t set up the network that now imports tons of cocaine into this country from Bolivia and Peru via Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, and Arkansas, the drugs necessary not only for ghetto control, but the cash to finance the expansionist wars necessary for the survival of the oligarchs.  Poor people don’t own the major media that broadcast disinformation and infotainment designed to pit race against race, nationality against nationality. One can only laugh at Camile Paglia’s diatribe against Eastern “liberal media.” The New York Times and Washington POST are owned by billionaires and speak with the voice of an international conglomerate. Paglia is a flake who takes whatever side pleases her at the time, a writer more contradictory than Walt Whitman. Oriana Huffington was the perfect representative of the arrogance of wealth yelling at Betty Friedan to shut up. Huffington dictated her canned remarks to the camera and paid no attention to the comments of the other women, running off the mouth about “volunteerism” and a “return to community.” A woman reminded her that women’s crisis centers and day care centers are already using volunteer help, but the Queen bee was deaf to it all. What she means by community is a return to slavery; that poor people in this country should be happy for a chance to serve the rich without pay and certainly without the group support of any trade union. The right to abort unwanted babies is critical to those who want the right to control their lives because an unwanted pregnancy is the end of a woman’s freedom. There was no discussion of this issue on the program, just a lot of yelling. It’s going to be a war between the rich who can afford to have babies and the poor whose chances of survival are ruined by them. Only those who know the facts can make choices, yet those who advocate teaching these facts are often fired--ask Jocelyn Elders.

 

 

 

FRANKENSTEIN: MARY SHELLEY’S BABY by Clay Geerdes

 

            “..my blood boils in my veins, and my gall arises against all that bears human form, when I think of what I, their benefactor and ardent lover, have endured of enmity and contempt from you and from all mankind [49-50].”      Percy Shelley in a letter to William Godwin. Muriel Spark. MARY SHELLEY. New York: Dutton, 1987. Revision of CHILD OF LIGHT [1951].

 

 

Victor Frankenstein ran away from the responsibility for his creature’s growth and care just as Percy Shelley ran away from the responsibility for the care of his children, those by his first wife, Harriet Westbrook, and those born to his mistress, Mary Godwin. While Mary was depressed over the death of her first born in 1815, Shelley was hiding to avoid creditors out to put him into prison, leaving her to suffer alone. Neither he nor her father, philosopher William Godwin,  were aware of the intensity of her grief and guilt and she could not make light of it all as daddy advised in his apathetic letters. To cope, she feigned illness. When she wanted to get out of her stepmother Clairmont’s sphere, she was allowed to fake sickness and stay with someone else, so she used the same ruse with Shelley. He wanted to talk poetry and politics with Byron, not to deal with Mary and her ‘female’ problems. Ironically, Shelley looked upon William Godwin as his guru for a time and accepted his ideas as a good plan for life. In his younger years, Godwin opposed the institution of marriage because of its unequal social and economic treatment of women. Shelley agreed with him, but both men married when children entered their lives. Mary and Shelley lived in exile most of their time together [1814-22], thus avoiding his creditors and the pressure of English morality.  Shelley was heir to an Irish fortune, but Baronet Timothy Shelley didn’t agree with his son’s libertarian lifestyle. He kept Percy on a small allowance. To get around his father, Shelley borrowed against his inheritance and was always in debt. William Godwin was always in debt and became dependent upon money from Shelley, many of whose books he published. Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, died as a result of her birth.

            When we arrive at the monster’s tale in FRANKENSTEIN, it can be interpreted as a young girl telling her story through the medium of an imaginary friend. The author, Mary Shelley, was 19. As children we all watch the world of adults the way the monster watched the DeLaceys. We don’t know what our parents mean, why they laugh or cry suddenly; indeed, it takes many years of maturation before we understand certain aspects of adult behavior.  Mary describes the world through the eyes of a child.  It is easy for her to inform the monster with her own feelings, because a child does not know how it looks, whether it will be accepted [pretty] or rejected [ugly]; and while Mary knew her father loved her and wanted her to read, learn, and perfect herself, she was equally aware that she was not the son he might have had. She was to have that son in early 1816 and give him her father’s name, only to lose the boy to typhus in Italy.  The death of William at the hands of the creature in FRANKENSTEIN had a double meaning for her.

            Though I have seen no critical references to Jonathan Swift in the secondary research about Shelley, I feel she was strongly influenced by GULLIVER’S TRAVELS and invite the reader to compare Gulliver’s arrival among the Lilliputians with the monster’s experience with the Delacey family. To me, Shelley’s itinerant monster is a lot more like Lemuel Gulliver than a “modern Prometheus.” The section where Victor Frankenstein drifts ashore in his boat to confront the Irish villagers is right out of Swift. The Monster has killed Henry Clerval and they assume Victor did it [165]. The death of Clerval, clearly based on Shelley at that point, projected Mary’s worst fear, that she would lose her lover and husband as she had lost her children. Though she gave lip service to Goethe, Plutarch, Milton, and Shakespeare, I detected a lot of fairy tale parallels in FRANKENSTEIN. Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm published the revised edition of their collected fairy tales in 1812 and it is extremely unlikely that Mary missed reading them. Her father published an edition of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in 1811 when she was 14, and, in 1814, the year she ran away with Shelley, he published a version of ROBINSON CRUSOE as SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. The ideas in both these stories are clearly assimilated and reiterated in FRANKENSTEIN.

            In 1816, Lord Byron suggested to his guests, Percy and Mary Shelley and Dr. Polidori, that they all write a ghost story, but of the four only Mary completed a story, perhaps because she had the best motivation. The others were accomplished poets and had no need to publish ghost stories. Mary used FRANKENSTEIN for catharsis. Victor and his creature were her scapegoats. Through the characters and incidents she alleviated her guilt over the death of her mother, over deserting her father to have a sexual affair with Percy Shelley, over seducing Harriet Shelley’s husband and being a cause of that woman’s suicide on December 15, 1816, and over the death of her premature baby, Clara, who died in March of 1815. Mary also felt guilty over the suicide of her half sister, Fanny Imlay Godwin, who poisoned herself with laudanum in October of 1816. Fanny was Mary Wollstonecraft’s love child and she had been adopted by William Godwin, but never felt a part of the family and when Godwin’s book business began to fail, she felt more and more like a burden on the family and finally killed herself.

            The monster’s life was one of alienation, loneliness, and misery, and in many ways this was true of his creator’s life. She had moments of happiness with family and friends, but most of Mary Shelley’s young life was filled with sorrow and guilt. I found FRANKENSTEIN of interest for what it revealed about Shelley’s life, but as a novel it suffers dreadfully. What is it? A few letters and dialogues interspersed with a travelogue of Several European countries. Bits and pieces of things she has heard from her father and husband.  Whenever she feels like it, Mary parks the monster and rambles on about her travels with Shelley. Since the novel is pre-photography, excessive natural description was necessary and expected, but in a time when we can look at a video of Geneva, Scotland,  or the coast of Italy anytime, Mary’s prose is tedious. She is at her best when she is putting her own anxious thoughts into the mouths of her characters, at her worst when she is trying to plot.

            Mary subtitled her book, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS, but there is little exploration of the myth in Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Against the will of Jove, Prometheus stole fire from the sun and gave it to mankind, enabling man to develop and evolve in the direction of civilization. For his benevolence, he was punished by Jove who chained him to a rock. In various versions, a vulture or an eagle comes each day to feast on Prometheus’ liver. Mary’s alternate title had more to do with Shelley than her. He was working on PROMETHEUS UNBOUND at the time and some of his ideas made their way into her text, but most of what happened between Victor and his monster had to do with Mary’s feelings. She worked out her guilt feelings through her characters. A pregnant Mary was thinking out a fantasy of creation when she wrote these lines: “Every night I was oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful degree; the fall of a leaf startled me, and I shunned my fellow creatures as if I had been guilty of a crime. Sometimes I grew alarmed at the wreck I perceived that I had become; the energy of my purpose alone sustained me: my labours would soon end, and I believed that exercise and amusement would then drive away incipient disease; and I promised myself both of these when my creation should be complete.” [2] Victor is talking about his monster, but Mary has her baby in mind. Born prematurely on February 22, 1815, Clara died in March. Obsessed by the death of her baby, Mary transferred her feelings about the child, the horror of her loss, onto the monster she was creating in her novel. “The form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was forever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him [61].” Elizabeth Lavenza, named for Shelley’s sister, is the closest analogue to Mary in her novel.  Here she describes her son: “I must say also a few words to you, my dear cousin, of little darling William. I wish you could see him; he is very tall of his age, with sweet laughing blue eyes, dark eyelashes, and curling hair. When he smiles, two little dimples appear on each cheek, which are rosy with health [64].” Mary’s William was born in 1816 while this section was in progress. Victor’s brother, William, is murdered by Mary’s monster. Victor catches a glimpse of him and says: “...the filthy demon to whom I had given life. What did he there? Could he be . . . the murderer of my brother? No sooner did that idea cross my imagination than I became convinced of its truth; my teeth chattered, and I was forced to lean against a tree for support. The figure passed me quickly, and I lost it in the gloom. Nothing in human shape could have destroyed that fair child. He was the murderer [73].” Mary then projects the blame for the death of William onto Justine, who is based on her half-sister Fanny Godwin, and Justine is hanged for it. Symbolically, Mary tried herself for killing her child and accepted hanging as her just punishment, another attempt to free herself of the burden of guilt. A moment later, Elizabeth says: “...misery has come home, and men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other’s blood [88].”

            In her mind, Mary always felt guilty about her mother’s death. She fused that guilt with the death of William in FRANKENSTEIN when she put the miniature portrait of her mother in the monster’s hand. Through the monster, she says: “As I fixed my eyes on the child, I saw something glittering on his breast. I took it; it was a portrait of a most lovely woman. In spite of my malignity, it softened and attracted me. For a few moments I gazed with delight on her dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips; but presently my rage returned; I remembered that I was forever deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow and that she whose resemblance I contemplated would, in regarding me, have changed that air of divine benignity to one expressive of disgust and affright [136].” This is the feeling of a child never destined to know what her mother would have thought of her or the novel she was writing. As soon as she was conscious, Mary would have known about her mother’s reputation as the writer of a major treatise on the rights of women.[3] Deprived of her literate mother, Mary never liked her uneducated stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont, and she chose to run away and live in exile, like her monster.  In the very next scene, the monster finds Justine sleeping in the barn. He leaves the portrait in the folds of her dress so she will be blamed for the murder of William.

            Hollywood threw out most of Shelley and made a clubfooted monster movie in 1931; a comparison of Shelley’s text with that 1931 monster movie is enlightening. Mary’s monster kills a little boy to get revenge against his brother. In the Whale[4] film, Boris Karloff[5], kills a little girl for self-preservation. The monster finds little Marie playing by a lake, throwing flowers in the water and watching them float. Karloff joins her and tosses a few flowers, then he decides to toss her in the water as though she were a flower. When she screams, he drowns her to keep her from calling the villagers down on him.[6] This scene was cut from the first showing. The monster was shown with the child, then little Marie was carried through the village by her father.  Someone thought it was too much to show Karloff tossing her into the lake. Hollywood makes a simple, but coherent fairy tale out of FRANKENSTEIN, cutting all the intellectual matter. For some obscure reason, Victor becomes Henry Frankenstein. He has an assistant named Fritz. Not a small matter, because having anyone else privy to what Henry was doing would have altered everything in Shelley’s novel. The whole idea is that he is alone in his endeavor to create life. Hollywood has Fritz steal a criminal brain which Henry then installs in the Monster. Mary’s monster had no criminal brain.  Karloff is clumsy. He grunts and rages. Mary’s monster is fast and agile. He zips around like Ariel in The Tempest. Now you see him, now you don’t. Mary’s monster is an intellectual, articulate enough to lecture his master for several pages.  He kills to avenge himself against a creator who refused to take any responsibility for him, not because he has been abused by an assistant. Karloff throws his creator off the top of a burning windmill to his death, and then perishes in the flames. Mary’s Victor dies in pursuit of his creature and the creature grieves at his passing before he goes off into the frozen waste[7] to burn himself to death on his funeral pile. Among his farewell comments, the creature includes: “You hate me, but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed: I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived and long for the moment when these hands will meet my eyes, when that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more [210].”

            But Mary was to lose two more children and her husband would drown in 1822 when his boat capsized off the Coast of Italy. She would return to England in 1823 to face the sickness of her father, the hostility of the Shelley family, and her own frequent illnesses. She would never remarry and would die of a stroke in 1851 as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, destined to be remembered as the creator of one of the greatest fantasy characters of all time, while her father and husband would drift into the obscurity of college English departments.  She gave lip service to Shakespeare, but she wrote her own version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.[8]

            You are now prepared to watch Robert DeNiro’s interpretation of FRANKENSTEIN. Directed by Coppola, 1994.

 

ADDENDA

 

MARY SHELLEY [1797-1851]

 

Father, William Godwin, died, 1836, 80

Mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died, 1797, 38

 

Frankenstein, 1818

Mathilda, 1819

Valperga, 1823

The Last Man, 1826

Ladore, 1835

Falkner, 1837

           

 

On January 28, 1995, PBS telecast THE REAL FRANKENSTEIN: AN UNTOLD STORY, narrated by David Frost. Disguised promo for a couple of new books re the monster and Shelley as well as the Coppola film, the documentary presented a number of errors and implausibilities, at times using film versions of Shelley’s characters as though they were real, notably the actress who portrayed Mary Shelley in Ken Russell’s GOTHIC, a film about June 16, 1816, the night when Byron suggested that the four friends write a ghost story. Though Mary was pregnant at the time she wrote FRANKENSTEIN, she is not shown pregnant in the Russell film.

            One critic who has written a new thesis re FRANKENSTEIN argued that Mary Shelley and her husband visited the Frankenstein castle a couple of miles from Gerscheim, Germany, on one of their trips a couple of years before Mary wrote her story. His thesis is that she remembered the story of Johann Conrad Dipple who was born in Castle Frankenstein on August 10, 1673, during the time the castle was under-siege by Louis 14th. Dipple grew up to become an alchemist and scientist who robbed graves in order to pursue his anatomical research. He theorized about creating life and actually developed various patent medicines and poisons, one of which was used by Polidori who killed himself after completing THE VAMPIRE, a precursor to Stoker’s DRACULA. Dipple even took a variant on the name Frankenstein. Mary Shelley has said she was inspired to write her story by a nightmare she had, but I have argued above that she was in fact inspired by the guilt she felt at the loss of her children and the betrayal of her family via her adultery with Shelley. Neither of these motives is mentioned in this sensationalistic documentary. Instead, a lot of footage of Karloff and DeNiro is displayed and the movies are promoted.

            A critic argues that Mary heard the story of Dipple in Frankenstein’s Hof, an inn, and remembered it two years later, but I would argue that there were a lot of medical students buying corpses around England in the early 1800’s, that vivisection was common knowledge around Godwin’s bookshop, and It is more likely Mary heard about this practice there. Needless to say, she based her character on Shelley, not on someone she heard about years before.

            Professor Mellow from UCLA calls Mary a visionary and gives her credit for writing one of the earliest Science Fiction stories, but shows now insight at all into Shelley’s motivation. She even thinks Mary had the monster brought to life by electricity but this is not in the text. That giant laboratory was first based upon Edison’s in 1910 when he made the first FRANKENSTEIN film, and then it was copied by Hollywood in 1931. UNTOLD STORY is a male-oriented video. There is very little of Shelley here, mostly paintings, drawings, and film portrayals by actresses. We are not given a sense of her feelings. The video ran on Biography in 1994.

            Rollins’ book, THE FRANKENSTEIN SYNDROME poses the idea that genetic engineering, the biotech industry, is a collective Victor Frankenstein, creating the monsters of the future. This is quite plausible. If some of these genetic mutants escape into the general population in the future via war or earthquake, the future would be altered. Rollins’ and others are concerned about who controls the genetic selection process, who decides what. If a woman can ensure a healthy baby by having various genes deleted, it would certainly be possible for a genetic engineer to create a monster or an army or mindless monsters.

 

Roger Corman made FRANKENSTEIN in 1990 with Raoul Julia as Victor Frankenstein.

 

Peter Boyle in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN had a zipper in his neck instead of a bolt.

 

John Steinbeck was strongly influenced by the Whale film of FRANKENSTEIN when he wrote OF MICE AND MEN. Note the parallel between Lenny and Frankenstein's naive monster.

 

WEIRD SCIENCE brought the Frankenstein story up to date. Two boys create Lisa, a genie, with a computer program. The series deals with their attempts to deal with their 'monster' and her capricious magic spells. The sitcom was running on the USA channel in the mid-1990s.

 

 

 

GANGS by Clay Geerdes

 

“I had no idea of peace and tranquility. From my earliest recollections there has been struggle, strife, and the ubiquity of violence. This ranged from the economic destitution of my family to the domestic violence between my parents; from the raging gang wars to the omnipresent occupational police force in hot pursuit…Everything in my life has been subject to drastic change or subtle movement, without so much as a hint or forewarning. I’ve always felt like a temporary guest everywhere I’ve been, all of my life, and, truly, I’ve never been comfortable. Motion has been my closest companion, from room to room, house to house, street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood, school to school, jail to jail, cell to cell-from one man-made hell to another. So I didn’t care one way or another about living or dying--and I cared less than that about killing someone [103],”

 

Sanyika Shakur

MONSTER: The Autobiography of an L. A. Gang Member, 1993.

 

“People feel protected and secure in a tribe, as evidenced by the popularity of gangs in cities all over the world. Their members are responding to an atavistic impulse that has nothing to do with current social conditions; it is a part of every person and culture. The Holocaust wasn’t unique: what made it different was its scale, which to a large degree was simply a product of technology and organization. From time immemorial people have responded to similar impulses to exterminate other groups; Nazis were more efficient at it. Nothing has eradicated our fundamental instinct to kill one another, usually under the guise of what is inevitably called a just and noble cause, religious or secular.”

 

Marlon Brando

SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME.

New York: Random House, 1995.

 

It’s in to bad rap gangs these days but only kid gangs. And mainly ghetto or barrio kid gangs. You rarely hear about the gangs of men who meet in secret boardrooms on the upper floors of Manhattan banks and insurance companies and hatch plots that rip off millions of regular folks just like you and me. Those high tone drug addicts are into Chivas Regal, not Bud or diluted crack. They’re also rich and untouchable. You can bet the cops are not going to smash up their homes and shoot up their neighborhoods trying to catch one of the buggers for bribery, blackmail, embezzlement, consumer fraud, false advertising, and any of the other crimes they commit daily under the aegis of business. No, you watch COPS and you’ll see the Network’s Revised Standard Version of good versus evil; don’t expect any exposés of corporate crime there, just workers beating on workers.

            Gangs are nothing new. To listen to the news, you would think they were, but the form has been around for centuries. The gang is a natural unit, not something unusual. It provides a group identity and protection whether it is formally organized like a fraternity or less formally in someone’s basement or garage or tree house. When I got together with the other boys in my neighborhood to play baseball in the vacant lot across the alley, we were an informal gang. That lot and the adjacent chicken houses, barns, and old buildings were our territory.  We all knew it whether anything was said or not. If a stranger showed up, he could play with us, particularly if we needed more guys on the team, but it was understood that he wasn’t a member. For that, he would have to live in our neighborhood.

            I didn’t think of us as a gang in any formal sense and neither did any of the other guys who lived in my Nebraska suburb. I learned about organized gangs when I saw the East Side Kids in the movies. They were the Dead End kids in Sidney Kingsley’s play, DEAD END, but they became the East Side kids in LITTLE TOUGH GUYS in 1938, Hollywood studios never paying royalties for anything they can steal; by the forties Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and a few other survivors were the BOWERY BOYS. A lot of changes happened between the realistic street drama of Kingsley and the Bowery Boy comedies. The Dead End kids had a tough time, dealt with ghetto reality, but it was all fun and games in Louie Dumbrowski’s sweet shop. Slip Mahoney and the guys were the precursors of Kotter’s TV class. Irving Shulman’s THE AMBOY DUKES [1947] told the real story of a street gang, paving the way for Evan Hunter’s THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE [1955] and the musical based on ROMEO AND JULIET, THE WEST SIDE STORY. While Jane Addams told about kids from 9-13 dying of overdoses of heroin in and around her settlement houses circa 1909, subsequent writers continued to have an ambiguous attitude toward kid gangs, now chronicling their activities realistically as James T. Farrell did in his STUDS LONIGAN trilogy [1933, ‘34, and ‘35], then glamorizing them as Hal Ellson did in HOT ROD. The idealistic trend began in the boy’s books of Horatio Alger, Jr., where young boys made their way to New York and went from rags to riches after a series of setbacks borrowed from the melodramas of the time. Alger’s heroes overcame poverty and climbed into the regularly employed class, but rarely without a lot more luck than talent. In Alger’s standard formula, a young man usually happened along just as the daughter of a banker needed to be rescued from a runaway horse; that bit of luck resulted in a job in the bank for a farm boy who, in reality, would have been illiterate. In real life, Alger was a pederast who was run out of town in 1851 for having sex with a couple of eight-year-old boys. He went to New York where he continued his lifestyle, using young boys he found selling newspapers on the street. Those interested in the details will find them well documented in Edwin P. Hoyt’s HORATIO’S BOYS [Radner, Pa, Chilton, 1974].

            The first person to counter Alger’s idealistic boys’ fiction was Nathanael West who wrote a stinging parody of the Alger rags to riches hokum called A COOL MILLION. In his story, the naive Alger character is taken for everything he has, mutilated and finally assassinated. Most proletarian writers from Theodore Dreiser to Upton Sinclair to John Steinbeck rip the idealism of the early fiction to shreds as they expose the American nightmare for what it was to over 90% of the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island to be assimilated into the sweat shops and steel mills and coal mines.  To understand street gangs, you need to understand immigration. Go back just a single century and you’ll find the majority of the people living on this ripped-off land were immigrants. The others were slaves brought here against their will to make the cotton and tobacco growers the tycoons they are today.

            My dad’s father, Ben, emigrated to the U. S. from Germany in 1888. My mother’s people came from Ireland and Scotland during that same period. Ben debarked in New York, learned English, learned something about lumber and timber and made his way to Iowa. My mother’s uncles worked in Southern sawmills. Had Ben come to some family member instead of showing up by himself, his life might have turned out differently. Henry Roth told the story of his childhood in CALL IT SLEEP [1934] and Emmet Grogan recounted his in RINGOLEVIO [1972]. From my reading, I know that the early gangs in New York were ethnic and protective. A young Jew like Meyer Lansky went out on the street and he was challenged by the Irish and he learned to get together with his brothers to defend their turf. Lansky became one of the most powerful gangsters in America and lived to retire in Florida [See Dennis Eisenberg’s MOGUL OF THE MOB, New York: Paddington Press, 1979].

            There was a huge clash of cultures in New York in the late 1880s and early 1900s. The old wanted to hang onto what they had known all their lives, while the young were ashamed of their parents and wanted desperately to assimilate. On the street, Irish stuck with Irish, Italian with Italian, Jew with Jew, and the blacks [actually Negroes, black was a negative term to Africans then and it remained so until around 1966 when young black men began to discard and reject their slave names and research their African roots] stayed in Harlem, originally a Dutch settlement. For the young, it was about freedom from family restraint, personal and group identity, and respect. The teen gangs followed what they saw in adult culture, adapting it to their own style. Their parents belonged to synagogues, lodges, orders, churches, and shrines; they wore symbolic clothes and had special handshakes and other forms of phatic communion [nonverbal communication], so it was to be expected that the gangs would have their own emblems, colors, signals, and symbols. One of the first thing teenagers do to separate themselves from their parents is create their own language or adapt the current language to their own needs by changing the meaning of words. When Sanyika Shakur wrote his MONSTER: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN L. A. GANG MEMBER [New York: Penguin, 1993], he revealed that his people routinely referred to their group as the set, not a gang. He was an Eight Tray Crip and the loyalty of the Eight Tray Crips was to their set. He was a Crip during the early eighties when they were at war with the Bloods. Why was he in the set? “I had no adequate answer then for Mom about what was happening to me. Actually, I wasn’t fully aware of the gang’s strong gravitational pull. I knew, for instance, that the total lawlessness was alluring, and that the sense of importance, self-worth, and raw power was exciting, stimulating, and intoxicating beyond any other high on this planet. But still I could not explain what had happened to pull me in so far that nothing outside of my set mattered [70].” Words that might have been spoken by George Walker Bush after his initiation into Skull and Bones at Yale, huh?

            The gang or set may not have a constitution and by-laws, but as generations pass and the sets survive their rules and regulations become as complex and intricate as those of any established fraternal order. “Crips wear their left ear pierced and their flag in the left back pocket. Bloods are on the right [40].” Shakur, known as Monster Kody Scott in his Crip days, was a warrior and he considered himself at war from the time he was eleven years old. His friends were the others in his set; anyone else was either an enemy or a civilian. Enemies were to be killed. Civilians were often robbed if they had something the set needed like a car or some money or a weapon, otherwise they were left alone, never intentionally killed. Kody was always armed, always on guard, always a target for someone. The police were considered an occupying army. Black people were New Africans. Whites were Americans. Most of Kody’s friends were killed or sent to prison. He is still in prison today. He wrote: “with each new generation of Crip and Blood bangers [shooters] comes a more complex system, which is now reaching institutional proportions. It is precisely because of this type of participation in the development and expansion of these groups’ mores, customs, and philosophies that gangbanging will never be stopped from without. The notion of the ‘war on gangs’ being successful is as realistic as the People’s Republic of China telling Americans to stop being American. When gang members stop their wars and find that there is no longer a need for their sets to exist, banging [killing] will cease. But until then, all attempts by law enforcement to seriously curtail its forward motion will be in vain [79].”

            Rehabilitation? Not from Kody’s vantage point. “The juvenile tank has got to be the most blatant exercise the state has ever devised for corrupting, institutionalizing, and creating recidivism in youths. At the behest of a judge or on the recommendation of the probation officer or district attorney, these youths can be whisked from a structured program monitored by a civilian staff--who attempt to counsel the captured youths by developing a healthy, human rapport with them and their parents--and dropped into a prison-like setting with not so much as an inkling of counseling or adult support or the benefit of any meaningful, structured program to aid them in correcting whatever problems they may have. Removing them from a program designed for immature, unsophisticated youths and hurling them into a highly competitive, one hundred percent criminal population and setting--where the only adults are the very same police deputies responsible for their initial capture--is clearly a way to breed a criminal generation [136].” Because young people are subjected to the teaching of hard core lifetime criminals, Kody sees the system as one designed to perpetuate and train a criminal class. “…the criminal class is very strong. It saturates every level of every jail, from juvenile hall to death row. And so each individual going and coming back learns a new scheme to be used in the ever-growing arsenal of criminality.  The ‘hood also gains yet another expert in another field [164].”

            Kody’s status came from his willingness to kill and his loyalty to his set. Just surviving to write his book made him an exception. Most of his set died in street battles, many of them in their early teens. Work was difficult. Nothing but service work was offered and it was not the “gangster-ish thing to do. You either jacked for money or you sold dope. Working was considered weak [251].” Kody’s attitudes remained those of his set until he met a Muslim in prison and began to develop a wider awareness of the black man’s situation in contemporary America.

            One of the things he became aware of is that gang actions are considered self-destructive and not a threat to the security of this country, hence the police often sit back and watch rather than intervene. As the drug business grew larger in the eighties, “so little money in the community came from employment that some elderly people had even gotten into the drug trade just to make ends meet [368].”

            Kody’s autobiography is about a man coming of age in a time of despair. It many ways it’s a deadly story, certainly one which has none of the light moments of Richard Price’s THE WANDERERS. Kody doesn’t glamorize himself or make excuses for his past. One thing most readers may find enlightening re the relationship between tv/movie violence and reality currently being promoted by a political candidate: Kody doesn’t refer to a single movie or TV show in his book, not a one. For him and his set, the major consideration was respect and it didn’t come to them through education or work; it came from the ability to defend their territory against anyone who tried to encroach on it. This primitive defensive instinct arises in those who have been deprived of meaningful roles in society, those denied access to fraternities, those who are expected to accept the poverty in which they were born, not try to fight their way out of it; in Kody’s world, it would be unnatural not to join and fight for the set. To his mother, Kody was a disappointment, but to his peers, he was a hero.

 

 

 

CON GAMES by Clay Geerdes

 

Here is how Jim Thompson described the role of a news butcher in HEED THE THUNDER [1946]: “The news butcher … was so much batten for the corporation that employed him. Rather than depend upon a percentage of his sales, they absorbed his cash bond by means of ‘loading’ him with near-spoiled fruit, perishable sandwiches, and unsalable knick-knacks. Then, when he could not or would not supply more bond, they wrote him off and employed another agent. The individual…could not get his desserts in a contest with a corporation; and so the news agent who hoped to survive did so at the traveling public’s expense and by the predication of his own morals. He who has wondered at the quick spreading of a filthy joke has never seen the news butch’s line of pornographic booklets. The news butch was in on the green-goods racket. He was a peddler of brass watches and glass diamonds. He sold marked cards and crooked dice. And almost always he sold whisky [145].”      In other words, a lot of people got their little eight-pagers or Tijuana Bibles from news butchers. These hustlers sold jewelry they claimed was gold and people only learned it was false when a finger or an arm turned green from contact with it, hence the green goods racket.  Marked playing cards are often off-sized with the aces and royal cards slightly smaller or larger than the other cards. The variation is minimal and it takes a sharp observer to tell the difference.  Since it is possible to buy these cards, pros could pull out a brand new deck in a small town game and win a reasonable amount of money before losing a few small pots and taking off.

            Crooked or loaded dice are weighted so that the player always throws a seven. The con man who used a crooked pair of dice could win in the short run, mainly with country rubes, but he was in danger if he stuck around too long. The con would enter a local game, bet low, pull a switch when the dice passed to him, win for awhile, then switch back and loss a few low bets before easing away from the game.  It is as easy to palm a pair of dice as it is to palm a coin and with practice a good con can pull the switch easily as he shakes the dice before his roll. He shakes the straight dice, but releases the palmed loaded pair. Since the shooter picks up the dice after a win and only passes them by hand after crapping out, others in the game have no opportunity to feel the weight difference between the straight and loaded dice. Their eyes are always on the rolling dice, so the other players do not see the con hide the second pair of dice in a side pocket. He easily switches the dice while the others are picking up their money or laying down fresh bets. While common, dice games were illegal in most states, so they were held in alleys and warehouses and garages, usually in areas that were not well-lighted, because the players did not want a passing cop to see too much light. This made life easy for the traveling pro. Jim Thompson dealt with this lifestyle in THE GRIFTERS.

            A Depression-era journalist, editor, and writer, Thompson wrote for the Federal Writer’s Project and turned to popular fiction to make his expenses. Unlike other graduates of the Fiction Factory like Frank Gruber and Max Brand [Frederick Faust], he often went a step beyond the hard boiled realistic trend which prevailed after the publication of Dashiell Hammett’s RED HARVEST in 1932. Never a sentimentalist, a first person narrator might go on talking after his death if that felt right to Thompson as he projected his personal vision. A number of his 1950s novels were republished by Black Lizard Press a few years ago and are still floating around the used bookstores, books like RECOIL [orig. 1953], in which Doc gets a man out of prison in order to frame him in an insurance scam; A SWELL-LOOKING BABE [orig. 1954], which recounts the life of a bellhop never destined to wind up with the big money; A HELL OF A WOMAN [orig. 1954], in which a salesman kills an old woman for her hidden money; and NOTHING MORE THAN MURDER [orig. 1959] in which the insurance scam of a movie operator goes wrong. Thompson told his own story in ROUGHNECK [ORIG. 1954], referring to himself as a hobo writer of the thirties who directed the Federal Writer’s Project in Oklahoma where he married, had three children, and went through a serious bout of alcoholism.

            Thompson is an intense writer who knows his characters inside out. From the opening line he grabs the reader and he doesn’t let go. His 1963 novel, THE GETAWAY, has been filmed twice. His stories are as strong today as when they came out and the reader who is curious about the feel of life during the toughest Depression America ever endured could do no better than to read ROUGHNECK.

            Jim Thompson.

            A people’s writer.

 

 

 

HALBERSTAM’S FIFTIES by Clay Geerdes

 

I have to object to Halberstam calling his book about the fifties THE  FIFTIES because that implies it is a definitive and complete study of the decade, which it is not; Like Todd Gitlin’s THE  SIXTIES, Halberstam’s book is his version of events of the decade, ultimately a corporate view which assimilates historical material from his previous books, THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST, THE POWERS THAT BE, and THE RECKONING; it is highly selective and not at all definitive.  In his FIFTIES, Halberstam relates in detail the careers of politicians like Richard Nixon and Generals like MacArthur and Eisenhower and outlines many of the historical events which we have come to associate with the 1950s; i.e., McCarthyism, Suburban development, fast food, the roots of rock and roll a la Elvis Presley, and the postwar Civil Rights Movement triggered by Rosa Parks when she sat in the white section of an Alabama bus. I don’t have any problem with what Halberstam covers in his book, but I am concerned with what he chooses to exclude, particularly in light of what happened the following decade.

            The Washington POST hype reprinted on the cover of Halberstam’s FIFTIES says he “leaves no stone of the 50s unturned.” What? Let me mention just a few unturned stones. While Halberstam goes into detail re the hostile relationship between atomic scientists Oppenheimer and Teller and narrates Joseph McCarthy’s rise to power via the televised HUAC hearings, he doesn’t cover the Rosenbergs’ trial at all. He talks about Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady and the roots of beat literature, but he gives no history of the founding of the VILLAGE VOICE in 1955 and the importance of Norman Mailer’s column THE HIP AND THE SQUARE in that tabloid paper which was to serve as the prototype for the East Village OTHER, Berkeley BARB, Los Angeles FREE PRESS, and countless other underground papers which flourished in the sixties. One of the major philosophical debates of the fifties involved European existentialism, a topic of hundreds of sermons in American churches, and Norman Mailer was one of the [perhaps the] main writers to assimilate the concept into his novels and bring it to the American literary public. It was Mailer’s column about “The White Negro,” published in the VOICE and later as a small pamphlet, that defined the influence of negritude on the generation of young people coming to maturity in the fifties, the group of students and dropouts who would go to the Jazz/poetry readings, actively seek out the company of blacks, and imitate their lifestyle and patois. While Halberstam relates in detail the biography and career of Ed Cole who designed the two-tone ‘55 Chevrolet, a man as influential as Normal Mailer isn’t even mentioned.

            Neither is J. D. Salinger, whose CATCHER IN THE RYE [1951] was read by millions of students and whose short stories are taught in English classes all over the U.S. and haven’t been out of print in forty years.

            Perhaps the most glaring and curious exclusion from Halberstam’s version of the fifties is Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD MAGAZINE. Is there anyone who hasn’t read MAD at one time or another? Is there any stand up comic who hasn’t been influenced by MAD? Ah, but Halberstam, the elitist, no doubt considers MAD and other magazines [not the WALL STREET JOURNAL or VARIETY, of course] to be popular culture, hence not worth a mention in a serious tome. Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their televised kids are, on the other hand, worth a chapter, but there is no mention of Disneyland, certainly one of the main events of the fifties [opened 1955 and revived the dying concept of the amusement park], nor is there any mention of the success of Walt Disney as the first entrepreneur to realize the value of having his own television show to promote his park and his products. What’s the rationale for discussing Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley and ignoring MAD? Can it be that Halberstam doesn’t realize that Ricky and Elvis were the ultimate in pop culture?

            I don’t want to sound like I’m completely trashing Halberstam’s book here, because I enjoyed his accounts of people like the rags to riches Nixons and the heartland Trumans and his revelation that we were actually fighting the Red Guard in the Korean “police action,” but, hey, a book called THE FIFTIES which doesn’t tell the story of Izzy Stone’s WEEKLY? Or the beginning of Krassner’s REALIST? One that fails to mention the impact of the EC horror comics that had suburban moms gasping at the corner drugstore and ignores the fads and crazes of the time, the 45 rpm records and the hula hoops and the Bermuda shorts, one that says nothing about the young playwrights, the angry young men from England, guys like John Osborne and Harold Pinter--I think the book should be re-titled THE CONSERVATIVELY SAFE FIFTIES.

 

 

 

ONE SUMMER OF LOVE by Clay Geerdes

 

            Joel Selvin’s memoir of the Bay Area acid rock scene of the late sixties, SUMMER OF LOVE [New York, Dutton, August, 1994, now in paperback, late 1995]  tells it like it was; rich white punks on dope. Lots of folks have never known that ultra-hip musicians like Grace Slick and Steve Miller and David Crosby came from wealthy families; Selvin’s analysis of the music business reveals far more wealthy kids at play than rags to riches runaways with cheap guitars and talent. The book is an ideal buster so if you love some of those sixties groups, avoid the book and remain a happy fan. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. If, on the other hand, you want a detailed account of the lives of a number of selfish, self-centered junkies like Janis Joplin and Jim Gurley, this is the book for you. Selvin keeps his focus on the music scene that developed in San Francisco, describing the evolution of bands like the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and a handful of others. He includes biographical information on the major players who made the hippie scene what it was, those who established the look and feel of Haight-Ashbury. Some get more attention than others, but this is to be expected in a music-oriented book.

            While acid [LSD-25, the 25th derivative of lysergic acid diethylamide] was still legal, Augustus Owsley Stanley III set up a lab in Orinda, California, and began mass-producing it. His goal was to turn everybody on. Selvin talks about the various brands of Owsley that were given out at rock concerts. He subtitled his book, The Inside Story of LSD, Rock & Roll, Free Love, and High Times in the Wild West!,  which is quasi-true, but not quite, because he does not give the details on MK-ULTRA, the CIA’s use of LSD on a target civilian population, namely the runaways in Haight-Ashbury. Though the prophets of LSD were not working directly for the CIA, they nevertheless accomplished the government’s mission through their endless promotion of psychedelic drugs. The reader interested in the true story of LSD is referred to Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain, ACID DREAMS: The CIA, LSD, and The Sixties. New York: Grove, 1985. What Selvin says about acid in the Haight is true as far as it goes, but he is more interested in rock music than the drugs that fueled it. What does come out of his discussion was vehemently denied at the time, that many of the band members had serious heroin habits; those of us who lived in Haight-Ashbury during this period remember a lot of discussions about the benevolence of psychedelic drugs like acid, marijuana, and peyote, in contrast to the negative bummers of “hard” drugs like heroin [smack] and cocaine [coke or blow]. All the time those hypocrites were beating the drum for acid, they were shooting speed and smack.

            Heroin killed a lot of musicians in those days. Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix, Ginger Baker. Jim Morrison. Selvin relates the details of the death of Nancy Gurley. “Gurley, deep in drug addiction, wanted to spend some time in the country with his wife and child to clean up. But, in classic junkie fashion, he brought along a hundred dollar bag of potent heroin. They spent a lazy Sunday rafting down the Russian River, drinking wine and getting drunk under the summer sun. By the time they pitched camp outside Cloverdale, they were both bombed and Gurley dug into his bag of junk. He was so drunk he missed his vein and jabbed the needle instead into his muscle. But he found his wife’s vein. The heroin was strong, stronger than he expected. Nancy Gurley, who had not been using regularly recently, did not have her tolerance built up. After he fixed her, she turned to read Hongo Ishi a children’s story. She pitched forward, face-first, right in front of her little boy. Gurley threw her in the car, grabbed their son and raced off to find a hospital. When he looked at his wife, her face had turned black [231].” She died in the Cloverdale hospital. Janis Joplin overdosed a number of times before killing herself with a needle. Martha Wax ran into her one time at the Landmark in Hollywood and made a remark about an ugly bruise on Janis’s thigh. Janis laughed. “She’d passed out giving herself a shot of heroin, she told Wax, and when she woke up on the floor, she still had the needle jabbed in her leg [244].” William “Pigpen” McKernan, keyboard man for the Grateful Dead, drank himself to death at the age of 27. David Crosby has told his own story in LONG TIME GONE, another life wrecked over and over by heroin. In his story, PAPA JOHN, John Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas confessed to shooting up his own son.

            Glamorous times, huh? There were a lot of rules if you wanted to be an insider in the hippie trip. Acid was the rite of passage. You had to drop acid and if you didn’t want to someone would “rabbit-punch” you. Selvin tells a number of stories about people rabbit-punched with unwanted and unexpected acid trips, including Bill Graham, the Czar of rock and roll himself. You had to grow your hair long; no short hair was allowed; you wore second-hand clothes out of places like The Third Hand Store; no suits were allowed. If you didn’t display an elated attitude about drugs, you were rejected as a “straight.” A blasé attitude toward money was hip, but it was easy for rich kids like Grace Slick and Steve Miller, people who had gone to private schools and never paid their own bills to affect this attitude, more difficult for someone like Bill Graham who grew up poor in New York. He comes across as something of a villain in Selvin’s history, but it is easy to see his attitude in a different light and I suspect a fairer evaluation of his life and career exists in BILL GRAHAM PRESENTS.   Graham had to work with a lot of irresponsible drunks and junkies and he still managed to get the shows on; a lot of the people who enjoy badmouthing him would have had no careers and made no records had it not been for him. He was a major figure in what became known as the hip community. He established a space where people could go and put on their personal show and if he had been the kind of wimp a lot of people wanted him to be the shows never would have happened. The Family Dog tried to function as a commune and when the chips were down, Chet Helms was left holding the bag for the taxes and everything else.

            You were supposed to “turn on, tune in, and drop out,” in that period. By growing long hair, you started the process, because you couldn’t get a straight job wearing long hair and free store clothes with little patterns sewn into them by friends. Where the money was supposed to come from was anybody’s guess. Parental and trust fund checks were the major source. Theft was the other. Fact is, most of the several thousand teenagers who came to the Haight Mecca that summer never thought about getting jobs. They believed all the hype about everything being free. The Diggers stole most of the food that was given away on the panhandle of Golden Gate Park late in the afternoons [See Emmet Grogan’s RINGOLEVIO for the best history of this period, then take a look at Abbie Hoffman’s REVOLUTION FOR THE HELL OF IT.]. People who had to go on working resorted to subterfuge and Macy’s did a good business selling hippie toupees and moustaches along with their own second-hand conception of hip hugger slacks and see-through blouses. Runaways who had been in town a few days snickered at and put down the “weekend hippies.” At night, they went around trying to find a crash pad with a spare mattress. Women were often raped by strangers because it was considered un-hip to refuse sex. When the kids got sick they went to the Free Clinic on Clayton. David Smith said in an article in his JOURNAL OF PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS that he treated more than 5,000 teenaged heroin addicts during 1967-8.

            Sexual freedom mostly applied to men, as is clear from the attitude expressed about women and groupies in Selvin’s SUMMER OF LOVE. At one point he refers to Luria Castell as “a powerful lady, hardly the fragile hippie squaw [28].” Chris Brooks is described as “a mother hen to musicians [29].” When Shelley Duncan went into labor “her husband simply dropped her and a girlfriend off at the hospital and told her to call if it was a boy. She phoned anyway after having a baby girl. ‘Are you disappointed?’  She asked. ‘Yes,’ he said.” While it is taken for granted that it is fine for male band members to fuck anyone who comes around, Selvin seems to imply something negative about Janis Joplin when she practices the same behavior. He is clearly critical of her and unsympathetic; I refer the reader to Peggy Caserta’s short book GOING DOWN ON JANIS for comparison.

            Selvin is into male bonding behavior which is what bands are all about and he is at his best when he is describing people like Owsley. “Owsley held strong, usually unconventional opinions on almost everything, always willingly expressed in detail. The price of his patronage was to be subjected to his peculiar regimen. At the Los Angeles home he shared with the Dead, only meat and dairy products were allowed in the refrigerator. He believed in a strictly carnivorous diet and kept huge slabs of beef, gallons of milk, and flats of eggs. There was no furniture, only mattresses on the floor, so the band fed themselves by slicing off hunks of steak and eating them, standing up, straight out of the frying pan [49].”

            Selvin confirms that the music scene was fueled by drugs and the straight reader is likely to conclude “those hippies were a bunch of useless junkies. I knew it all the time.” As I was not that close to the actors in that scene, I enjoyed a lot of SUMMER OF LOVE as I would a trip back to an earlier time. I had all those records and I was a regular at the Fillmore and Avalon, but I remember a lot of nice afternoons in the park, snapshots of Jerry Garcia [a recent diet and drug tragedy] and other people in my album; what was distinctly different then was the presence of the musicians on the street. Selvin says nothing of this; I suspect he was too young to know about it, but when I walked down Ashbury and hung out during the afternoon, I recall Garcia and Pigpen hanging out across the street from the Drogstore Cafe. I recall Mimi Farina walking into the Blushing Peony with her new husband. I remember Peter Yarrow looking at an East Village OTHER in the Psychedelic Shop. I was in Peggy Caserta’s IN GEAR many times. Selvin doesn’t mention the name of her store. The antique hustle hadn’t started back then and she was selling old movie magazines for their cover price. I still have the PHOTOPLAY I bought from her clerk. I know how the street got its look and feel. Sign painters saw the early Wes Wilson posters and they imitated the lettering on their windows. I know people started using the hip language they heard from disc jockeys over KSAN and KMPX. I remember drag queens like Hibiscus, Sandy, and Tajara, who used to costume themselves out of Marshall’s Third Hand Store and camp it up for the tourists.   Every Friday someone sold various underground newspapers on the corner of Haight and Stanyan. I bought several of them and sat in the I-Thou coffeehouse reading about drug busts in Berkeley and happenings in the East Village in New York. People read Max Scherr’s Berkeley BARB because he always had stuff about the Haight, about regular people and what they were doing, mostly getting busted by the narcs or told to get jobs by people who had no choice but to work.   The only person in the CHRONICLE who knew what was happening was Ralph Gleason, though Charles McCabe soon got into it. A lot of the straight newspaper guys still thought it was beatniks and poetry and wine at the Celler, but Gleason knew early on that the scene had shifted to the Haight where it was acidhead hippies and psychedelics. The musicians didn’t star on people back then. No lines of helmeted cops. No bodyguards. Jerry Garcia stood in line at Petrini’s just like the rest of us. Selvin says the “summer of love never really happened,” but it did, Joel. It did for a lot of us. I was there. It happened for me and a lot of my friends. Now 1970, there was a bad year...

 

 

 

HUCK FINN ON THE RUN AGAIN by Clay Geerdes

 

Mama, the next time you hear the word nigger, don’t you get upset, they’ll just be advertisin’ my book.

 

--Dick Gregory

 

I see Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN has been censored again, this time by Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo of the West Hills Middle School in New Haven, Connecticut. How come? Mayo said the frequent use of the word nigger in the book was inciting racial tensions at the school and dividing parents along racial lines. He said the book would remain in the library, but would no longer be taught.  The American Library Association said HUCK FINN was one of the 10 most often challenged books at schools, school libraries, and public libraries.

            Makes you wonder what they’ll do with Dick Gregory’s autobiography, NIGGER, doesn’t it? Or where they’ll hide Joseph Conrad’s THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS and Carl Van Vechten’s NIGGER HEAVEN. And those are just the titles. What do you suppose will happen to all the books of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and, gasp, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, and… but you get the point. If a word in a book is justification for suppressing that book, well, goodbye Afro-American literature in the schools, because there are lots of non Afro-American or African-American books that do not use that pejorative, but very few African-American books that do not.

            Ironic, isn’t it? If you’ve listened to any rap “music” this decade [and who can avoid it?], you hear that pejorative word a hundred times a day if not more. I hear it hundreds of times on the street around Berkeley High School every day [and, dear white liberal reader, I know--when the kids use it, it is bonding, if I use it, it is an insult--I know the game, so don’t write the letter.]. The point is that this word will be used as an excuse to suppress a lot of African-American literature if someone doesn’t question this type of repressive behavior.  When the NAACP was formed in the forties and began to lobby against the casting of black people in Hollywood films as “Toms, Coons, Bucks, and Mammies,” the result was deadly to hundreds of black actors because the Hollywood power structure said, fine, you don’t like the roles we have, we’ll just phase them out. The majority of blacks who had been working in Hollywood never worked again. Stepin Fetchit wasn’t onscreen shucking and jiving whitey anymore, but no other blacks were there either. It took a decade or more and a lot of activism in the Civil Rights Movement before Bill Cosby made the breakthrough in I SPY.

            A couple of years ago a teacher friend of mine taught HUCK FINN at Berkeley High and he ran into this same problem. I suggested he confront it head-on and ask the students how they felt about reading a book in which a major character had the name Nigger Jim. Because, folks, you may have forgotten, but Nigger Jim is the hero of Twain’s story. We’re not dealing with any grinning, shuffling, Stepin Fetchit clone here, but with a brave man who had the nerve to escape from the slave South, make his way to freedom, and return to free his wife and family. If he isn’t a good role model, who is? I suggested my friend ask his students if they thought Mark Twain was a racist and if they did what was a racist doing creating a brave black hero? He followed some of my suggestions and I read the final papers for that course one afternoon and was pleased to see that the students had learned to deal with Nigger Jim as a fictional hero in a late nineteenth century novel by a writer they found to be “pretty funny.”

            I hate censorship in any form, frankly, and I don’t care if it is racial, political, sexual, or what the rationale is. I think we will have a far healthier society if we keep everything out in the open where it can be discussed. One of my friend’s students wrote it well when he said he understood that Twain was using language which was okay at that time, that he knew if Twain were writing today he would use a different name.

            Hitler thought he could reshape German society and make it over in his image by burning all of the books with which he disagreed as early as 1933 and there are people in this country who would like to follow in his footsteps. I think it is important to confront this impulse when it occurs and to reject it out of hand. Mark Twain made an important contribution to American literature and I say HUCK FINN should remain in the curricula of the schools. Believe me, if you allow a book to be banned because it contains an unpopular word, you will soon see someone come along and say, hey, I found the word here in NATIVE SON and here it is again in INVISIBLE MAN and here on page something in TAR BABY and before you can say Ice T, one hell of a lot more African American books will have disappeared from the shelves than those of Mark Twain.

            We have to deal with racism up front, not hide from it.

 

 

IN LIVING TV: PUBLIC PERVERSITY by Clay Geerdes

Soap Sex

 

Is your Mom sitting around the condo watching a lot of sleaze sex on the tube all afternoon?  Michigan State Prof Brad Greenberg and his associates did a little survey of afternoon soap operas and after looking at 50 episodes, they counted 120 acts of extramarital sex and 36 acts of married sex. They counted 57 long kisses, and rape was discussed or occurred 71 times. 7 simple pettings. Tsk! Tsk! The stuff our parents watch in their retirement years.

 

Ad Sex

...our culture has decided that some forms of eroticized child sexuality are okay--such as advertising, Hollywood movies--while other forms--images of clothed children sold to people expressly interested in such material as a turn-on--are not. The reality is that there is a very thin line between what turns people on and to what purpose. It would be absurd to insist that the depictions of eroticized girls in Interview With A Vampire and The Professional are not intended to turn on some members of the audience. That is clearly the visual and thematic intent of these films.

 

--Michael Bronski

 

You have to wonder about the layout people at the San Francisco CHRONICLE. On Wednesday, January 18, 1995, the headline top left on page A-14 was Kiddie Porn Appeal Rejected. Stephen Knox, a Penn State grad student, had argued that he could not be convicted of possessing child pornography because the videos he had purchased were not nudes, but pictures of girls who were dressed. He had been prosecuted under a federal law banning exhibition of a child’s genitals or pubic area. His appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court. He’s serving five years. Right next to the article is a picture of a woman sitting in an easy chair in white bra and panties. The text reads: “Get a free not so innocent nudes panty from Warner’s with purchase of two from the collection.” It’s an Emporium ad. Below, filling the rest of the page are four photographs of models in white bras and tight white panties. It’s pretty clear that someone thinks Knox should have bought the CHRONICLE rather than that naughty kid video. You have to wonder about a government prosecuting and imprisoning a man for having in his possession pictures one can find in any department store or chain store catalog. Companies dealing in theatrical costumes periodically mass mail catalogs which feature photographs of children in tight, skimpy costumes, wearing lipstick and eye shadow, their hair washed, set, and blown dry. You want to see blatant child porn, take a look at the cover of Van Halen’s Balance album. The CHRONICLE Datebook ran it full page on January 22, 1995, p. 29. A computerized composite of a naked child on a teeter totter board designed to look like one child is hurting the other one. The advertiser: The Wherehouse. As far as I know, neither Van Halen, The Wherehouse, or the CHRONICLE are doing any time.

            In his reaction to the Knox case, Michael Bronski recalled tv ads showing dads and kids playing together in the bathtub, and “the Fruit of the Loom ad featuring a drop-dead hunk of a dad and his 6-year-old son walking hand-in-hand in their undies to take a morning leak together [“Sex and Kids,” Z, January, 1995, p. 57.].” He went on to discuss the sexualized adult poses of the child actors in THE LITTLE RASCALS, and the nine-year-old vampire girl in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE [who was only five in Anne Rice’s novel] who has the sexuality of an adult, ending his discussion with commentary about the sexual tension between a 12-year-old girl and a 38-year-old hit-man in THE PROFESSIONAL. Like this writer, Bronski is concerned about the hypocritical mindset that advocates the pretense that “the depiction of eroticized children in advertisements has nothing to do with adult sexuality [59].”

            Advertising has become more blatantly sexist and pornographic in the past decade and we are now at the point where we no longer see it and call it what it is. An honest ad for a product contains a drawing or photo of the product whether it’s underwear or a bed; when there is a model in the underwear or on the bed, something else is being suggested. And, of course, that child in the Van Halen ad is being exploited. Children don’t make choices. Some adult participated, signed a release, accepted the concept, collected the model fee, and thought it was a good sales gimmick. In case you think such ads have little effect, hundreds of teenaged girls lined up to buy autographed men's jockey shorts at Macy's in San Francisco back in 1992; they were drawn to the store by male model, Marky Mark [Mark Walberg] whose photograph appeared on bus cards and billboards that month.

            Lest you think that’s the ultimate ad trip, on January 21, 1995, Macy’s ran a three quarter page ad on C-1 of the CHRON for DONNA KARAN New York Parfum. If you get the Parfum in the signature 24k gold and black bottle, numbered and hand painted by a skilled artisan, it’s only $375 an ounce. The bottle is shaped exactly like an erect penis and balls. Does this mean that hard-ons will become the fashion statement of the late nineties? When he found out about it, Herb Caen referred to the ad as Phallus in Wonderland. We’re not through yet. In the lower left hand corner, a few inches from that perfume bottle’s left testicle is an item entitled GERE LINKED TO BRITISH MODEL. Who needs Leno and Letterman when we’ve got the CHRONICLE ad department? Of course, the ultimate phallic ad aimed at kids was Joe Camel. Ever look at the shape of that nose and those cheeks? A class action suit is currently in progress against the tobacco company for using a cartoon figure to seduce under-aged children to smoke cigarettes.

            By the legal logic in the Knox case, one could have publicly perverse newspaper ads all over the house, but if one were to videotape the underwear ads out of a catalog, Big Brother would show up on the doorstep with a warrant. Mr. Knox strikes me as an honest pervert, stimulated, no doubt, by the dishonest perversity of contemporary fetishist advertising. One might ask why the person who sold Knox the video was not prosecuted, but one might also ask why corporations are allowed to use under-aged children as models, depriving them of their childhood by indoctrinating them with attitudes and make-up inappropriate to their age. A private citizen goes to jail for doing what a corporation does without legal jeopardy. But then, a private citizen goes to jail for murder, too, and a country can commit mass murder with impunity.

 

Television does influence behavior. Anyone who says otherwise is sadly deceived. If TV didn’t influence behavior, why would advertisers spend millions on it every year?  If TV influences kids to buy Nikes and British Knights, how can corporations claim the violent programs they sponsor do not stimulate imitative violence and general vandalism? I was a radio kid.  I read Captain Marvel comic books. My Dad took me to the movies on Friday nights. If we saw a Three Musketeers movie, I went around that week using a sword I made out of stick of lath, chopping up the weeds that grew along the alley behind our house in Lincoln, Nebraska. Sometimes Mom pinned a towel around my neck for a cape. If I saw a western movie, I wore my toy guns around and shot bad guy neighbors like the next door mailman who rolled a tennis ball up the sidewalk so his black Cocker Spaniel could chase it and bring it back to him. I shot the dog, too. I figured that little bugger could have been Jack Elam in a black hat.

            A novelty in 1945, television has had several decades to infiltrate every household in the country; I see little kids karate kicking each other on the streets and playgrounds; am I supposed to believe their behavior isn’t influenced by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers? If I see an eight-year-old girl wearing lipstick and a tight little dress as she shops with her Mom at the mall, am I supposed to believe Madonna’s little-girl MTV image had nothing to do with it? Some kids are less suggestive than others and some may repress their inclination to imitate, but all are influenced by what they see. Be honest now, don’t you get the impulse to kick a kid’s butt when he raises his hand and says a loud “Yes!” like one of those asshole sitcom kid actors? Let’s face it, a couple hundred people may watch THE TERMINATOR in one of those coffin-shaped mall theaters and experience an emotional catharsis, even a collective orgasm, but it only takes one character to get so elated over watching Big Arnie shoot up the police station that he gets his AK-47 out of the trunk of his Firebird and shoots up the parking lot. Violence on film and video may not be bad per se; there is a lot of latent violence in everyday living these days, but let’s stop pretending people can watch hundreds of violent acts in their entertainment and not be somewhat predisposed to respond in a violent rather than a peaceful manner when they get frustrated in traffic or a work situation. While we’re at it, let’s stop pretending the association of human bodies and body parts with products has no dehumanizing effect on our community.

            If there is an improper subject for entertainment today, someone write and tell me what it is.  PULP FICTION,  in which a white man rapes a black man, then gets his balls blown off in flaming technicolor has just received one of the film industry’s highest awards. IN LIVING COLOR reveled in booger, fart, and shit jokes, thereby making stars of the Wayans Brothers and Jim Carrey [Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber]. MTV’s Beavis and Butthead, a parody within a parody medium, love naso-fecal humor. Television movies of the week could be collectively titled TORTURED WOMEN. A friend of mine watched one of these serial and stalker thrillers in which a woman was scalded to death in a shower while villain Robert Mitchum skulked outside the glass door; upset enough to write to the network in protest [NBC, naturally], the reply told her the network had no control over the content of the movies; that would be censorship! Really?? Well, the Networks certainly have no problem censoring any criticism of capitalism, nor are they troubled that labor has no public voice, but brutalizing women, well, they consider that just good fun. 

            Believe it or not, the phallus, the penis, may come into its own in 1995.  On Cybill, a guy referred to his new red Porsche as a “$70,000 dollar penis.” An ex-hubby referred to Cybill’s breasts as “the pointer sisters,” and the episode ended with Cybill laughing hysterically while she stabbed a man to death in a movie shower scene. In the following episode she fought with a fellow soap opera actress and threw the woman off the balcony of her house. Now there’s good family entertainment. In the third episode, Cybill held up a large cucumber with a knowing look on her face. After a long run on MURPHY BROWN, Robert Pastorelli is starring in a clone of TAXI, a sitcom about bicycle messengers called DOUBLE RUSH. All the actors are male and all except one are white, meaning a show with a token black and a token blonde woman. I watched one episode. Pastorelli’s business has been robbed so he goes to a boutique to buy a gun. The men are stereotyped. After the robbery, all they think of is the loss of a lot of old PLAYBOY magazines. The entire scene in the Sisterhood gun shop is devoted to the size of the gun. He didn’t know size mattered. “I always thought if it would fire the bullet, what difference does it make how big it is?” Two women laugh. “The size of a man’s gun is crucial,” says the saleswoman. “Let’s say I walk into the room and you have your gun out. It’s not going to impress me very much if I have to squint to see it.” More giggles and chuckles and raised eyebrows and knowing looks as she talks about the “power of it” as Pastorelli checks out a large 45. The blonde asks, “Can I hold it?” The saleswoman is getting heated up, almost panting. After making the sale, she shows Pastorelli her special Sisterhood target. It’s male and guess where the bull’s eye is located? In one scene, the blonde points the gun at the men in the office and thinks it was fun. Back in his office, Pastorelli does DeNiro from TAXI DRIVER and winds up shooting Trotsky, a pet rat belonging to one of his messengers. The episode is little more than a glorified gun ad. The phallic humor continues in the next episode. “My dear, I do not dip my pen in the company inkwell,” answers an old man when a young blonde tells him she needs a date. On L’ARROQUETTE, telecast February 2, 1995, a Latino woman says, “Did you know what it means when a man carries a money clip? It means he’s got something to clip.”

            The young black on DOUBLE RUSH eyes a woman at a party and says, “That chick wants me to make a move.” Do women like to be called chicks these days? I heard a woman clerk at Amoeba Records say to a guy, “You’re just jealous because he gets the chicks.”

            PULP FICTION has established the theme of the nineties: excessive sexual and violent scenes are fine as long as they have a parody cover. On NYPD BLUE a couple of episodes back, we had to watch Dennis Franz and the female District Attorney shower together nude. Sex object equality lives. How long before THE LORENA AND WAYNE BOBBITT STORY hits prime time? They could get the old Coasters’ hit Searchin’ and use it for a theme song. And President Bill fires Ms. Elders for talking about masturbation. Holy hypocrisy, Batman.

 

Clint Eastwood will be 65 on May 31, 1995. Can you see ex-Carmel Mayor Clint stopping by the Monterey Social Security office, scowling at the clerk and saying, “Go ahead, make my day.”

 

“What do you call a break in the O. J. Simpson trial?”

“What?”

“Bill Clinton’s State of the Union Message.”

 

 

 

THROUGH THE MEDIA LOOKING GLASS:

Decoding Bias and Blather in the News

By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon.

Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995.

 

Review by Clay Geerdes

 

The Nation’s dominant media companies keep getting larger in size and fewer in number. Meanwhile, leading journalists, TV anchors and pundits move even closer to America’s economic and political elites. The more that wealth shapes the news business, the less we hear critical analysis of corporate power in our society.

 

Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

 

I love these guys. Actually, I love muckrakers in general because they have never been afraid to call an asshole an asshole and to point out that mainstream media has had more than its share of assholes since the first station was licensed by Westinghouse back in the twenties. Today, the main news anchors we are condemned to watch on the networks are not just sucking up to rich corporate sponsors; they are millionaires in their own right; so why would anyone think they were telling the truth about contemporary American life and politics? Believers in National Public Radio and PBS are in for a let down, the “truth” being more often carefully selected and structured propaganda. “What NPR doesn’t tell is that both of its congressional pundits on Morning Edition --former Democratic Rep. Tom Downey and former Republican Rep. Vin Weber--are paid political operatives for private health interests. Downey and Weber are supposed to offer contrasting views. But on health care, they’re both paid by the same side--the side that wants to prevent serious reform. Downey is a lobbyist for Metropolitan Life Insurance and a division of Merck pharmaceuticals; he has also represented the U. S. Healthcare Inc. health maintenance organization. Big insurers and HMOs will benefit from ‘managed competition’ proposals--like those of President Clinton or Rep. Jim Cooper--that keep health care in the hands of a shrinking number of giant corporations [27].” Over and over, NPR trots out “experts” who turn out to be corporate flacks, yet there are those who swear by these PBS propaganda shows. Cohen and Solomon note the absence of anyone from labor; “The real threat to society is that--instead of authentic debate on our country’s pressing problems--we’re bombarded by a narrow range of pundits representing private interests that aren’t even identified [29].”

            Yeah, well, we usually know who owns PBS because they can’t resist displaying their corporate logos any more than dogs can resist marking a fireplug.

            Those folks who, like myself, still consider Richard Nixon one of the most dishonest criminals and liars ever to disgrace the office of the President of this country will enjoy the way that unworthy is deconstructed and condemned for his crimes against humanity by Cohen and Solomon. The media retrospectives which followed Nixon’s funeral wake praised him as a great statesman and ignored his real accomplishments. Nixon made his mark as one of Joe McCarthy’s flacks, doing anti-communist research for the House Un-American Activities Committee, about as un-American an organization as one could find within the shores of a country professing “freedom and justice for all.” Suddenly, Nixon is being praised for opening U.S. relations with China in 1972. “Yet--if it was ‘genius’ to begin dialogue with the state that governed almost one-fourth of the human race--what brand of folly was it to have spent most of the previous twenty years demonizing other Americans who proposed just such a common-sense move [183]?” The NEW YORK TIMES praised Nixon’s “accomplishments of historic proportions” re the Viet Nam war, a complete liar who campaigned in 1968 with a “secret plan” to end that war, then spent nearly a decade escalating it at a cost of over 25,000 American and half a million Vietnamese lives. “U. S. Military advisers were still backing a corrupt South Vietnamese government until it fell in April 1975--eight months after Nixon resigned. He hardly deserves praise for ‘ending’ the war, or U.S. involvement in it [184].” In March of 1969, two months after taking office, the “peace” candidate orders the secret bombing of Cambodia in pursuit of Vietnamese communist bases. “In the next 14 months, the U.S. flew 3,630 bombing raids over Cambodia--whose neutrality in the Cold War and the Vietnam War infuriated Washington. Military records were falsified to hide the bombing from Congress [184].” The clandestine spy operations in the U.S. had a field day under Nixon’s regime and I suspect there wasn’t a dry eye at Fort Langley when Tricky Dick kicked the bucket. Kudos to the guy who had those “I am not a Crook,” rubberstamps made to cancel the Nixon stamps with.

            Media image is often so far from reality that there is little relationship between the two. In 1994, CBS news was praising ex-President Jimmy Carter as a freelance diplomat for negotiating a pact with Haiti. Was Carter the good guy he appeared to be? “Inaugurated 13 months after Indonesia’s December 1975 invasion of East Timor, Carter stepped up U. S. military aid to the Jakarta regime as it continued to murder Timorese civilians. By the time Carter left office, about 200,000 people had been slaughtered [199].” Carter, the good guy, supported the Shah of Iran and Ferdinand Marcos, who ultimately stole $28 billion dollars from the people of the Philippines. Carter supported the death squads in El Salvador and “in Nicaragua, contrary to myth, Carter backed dictator Anastasio Somoza almost until the end of his reign [199].” Sociology Professor Petras of Binghamton University in New York “described Carter as routinely engaging in ‘a double discourse. One discourse is for the public, which is his moral politics, and the other is the second track that he operates on, which is a very cynical realpolitik that plays ball with very right-wing politicians and economic forces [201].’” To those who get their information from public TV, Carter is a kindly old peanut farmer benevolently building homes for the poor.

            Cohen and Solomon deal with all aspects of the media. They call Rush Limbaugh on his lies. There’s a guy pulling in $15 million a year who talks as though he was just a poor working stiff. They ask “why are blacks the Media’s most infamous bigots?” And they didn’t even know how UC Regent Ward Connelly and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas would end affirmative action when Through The Media Looking Glass was written. They talk in detail about “white hate radio” and violence on the screen, but my favorite section is the one that asks 15 questions about the ‘liberal media.’ I’ll close with a couple of these. “If the news media are liberal, why did they applaud conservative White House appointees like Lloyd Bentson and Les Aspin, while challenging liberals like Donna Shalala, Johnetta Cole and Roberta Achtenberg?”

            “If the news media are liberal, why have they buried important facts, such as the shrinking of corporate income tax from 25 percent of federal expenditures in the 1960s to only about 8 percent today?”

            “If the news media are liberal, why does the media spectrum typically extend from unabashed right-wingers to tepid centrists who go to great lengths--attacking progressive ideas and individuals--to prove they’re not left-wing? Why do pundit debates on national TV have Wall Street Journal reporters representing ‘the left.’?”

 

 

 

MEGACARTOONS FOR THE MASSES by Clay Geerdes

 

Cartoons used to parody the absurdities and accesses of everyday socio-political life, but with the advent of the mega-cartoons of the eighties we have seen a reversal. Real life now parodies the cartoon world. Who wants to hear about reality? Homelessness, AIDS, drug addiction, suicide, incest, child-molesting priests, lawsuits over remembered incest, plane crashes, earthquakes, tornados, blizzards, oil spills, toxic waste pollution, mass murder--oy, the talk shows drain the populace daily with endless discussions of subjects once considered private. Today's tragedy is tomorrow's TV movie. How to write a great novel about character when modern telemarketing techniques have changed character into consumer? The choices of the average person are meaningless. If you sit at a terminal, what difference does it make whether you sit in the Metropolitan Life Building or in the Transamerica pyramid? Super movies about superheroes like Superman and Batman proved popular in the eighties because the average person lives in fear and needs the fantasy of someone invulnerable and incorruptible to sustain everyday life. Not a day goes by that we don't read about a drive-by shooting or a hold-up or a mass murder or a gang assault. Don't worry. The mega-marketeers will send THE SHADOW to protect you. THE FLINTSTONES will make you laugh. THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES will teach your kids how to speak intelligently about pizza and the MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS will protect them from muggers and kidnappers and child pornographers.  Territorial wars a la Desert Storm are television shows that spare you the details like body bags, burning villages, and homeless refugees that made the War in Viet Nam unpopular in the 1960s. People are being murdered every day in Central America and Iraq, but TV won't trouble you with that news. Big Brother [Time-Warner/Disney] will take care of you.  Robin will join Batman in the next mega-cartoon. Arnold Schwarzenegger will get pregnant in JUNIOR

            “Ah, it’s only a movie.” True, but in a country where real experience is denied to all but the handful who can afford to travel and have adventures, the only experiences are the vicarious symbolic ones projected on the small screen at home or the large screen at the mall. This is why the debate heats up when DEMOLITION MAN or TRUE LIES or THE SPECIALIST is discussed. There is, in our time, an overwhelming pressure to like the movies, even to love them. After all, they provide the canned escapist fantasies, the erotic imagery that fills our minds when we masturbate or have sex; the movies make us bigger than ourselves, take us to exotic places we can never afford to see, give us the illusion of power and control we are denied in our daily jobs. We are supposed to be grateful to the benevolent assembly line workers in the fiction factory, to the creators who take our daydreams and give them image and structure, to the stunt men who take the chances we never have to take. Didn’t Vic Morrow die for us in THE TWILIGHT ZONE movie? True, they didn’t show us the helicopter slicing off his head, but a jury of twelve didn’t find Director John Landis guilty of anything either.

            We are supposed to love the fantasy makers and not to criticize their product, but only on condition that they keep their part of the bargain. Are they keeping it? Wasn’t that sudden down shot of the choreographer having open heart surgery in ALL THAT JAZZ a betrayal of our trust? Steven Spielberg obviously shot the Indiana Jones movies with children in mind. Wasn’t that scene where a man gets his heart ripped out of his chest in close-up a betrayal of trust? I know the science of make-up and special effects has progressed by leaps and bounds in the seventeen years since STAR WARS and the people who work for Industrial Light and Magic get their jollies coming up with latex imagery that is grosser and scummier with each successive space opera, but haven’t we seen enough gore for its own sake? Has everyone become desensitized? I know for a fact that children today can watch images of incredible violence and brutality and show little or no reaction. I also know their parents pay no attention to the movie rating system, because I have seen a lot of LITTLE kids at mall screenings of R-rated films. I certainly wouldn’t let any child under my care see anything as disgusting as the remakes of THE FLY and THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

            So why don’t I stay home. I don’t have to go to the new thrillers. No one forced me into a seat to see ALIENS 3. Fact is, I like a good thriller. I am always up for a good adventure story with some reckless stunts, but these days I can’t trust the fantasy makers. In their quest for a gorier and bloodier scene, they are willing to violate the deal between filmmaker and audience member. Who are the people who enjoy mutilation and brutality? Who wants to see eroticism associated with open heart surgery? In CATCH-22, Joseph Heller said, “Catch-22 means they can do anything to you that you can’t stop them from doing.” He was referring to a military bureaucracy, but we have an entertainment bureaucracy that has become just as irresponsible and insensitive to the needs of the population as Heller’s military ever was.  There has been no kind of evaluation and control for quite some time now. A new formula has evolved and it includes not only excessive violence and brutality, but mutilation and gore; the deepest levels of the psyche have been farmed to create suspense, fear, and apprehension, often without catharsis. The moral basis of the adventure story or thriller, inherent since its inception in the melodramas of the nineteenth century, has been discarded and an audience watches villains and heroes practicing the same violence. Morality quietly left the thriller in our time and without any moral basis, what have we got left? Monsters were always evil in American movies. Now they are the heroes. Evil more often triumphs than good because there is no good. The man who would suggest a course of action other than violent revenge is missing from the new thriller. As a villain, the alien is a lot easier to deal with than the real villains of modern society,  junk bond dealers who wipe out the savings of thousands of ordinary people, high level drug dealers who use CIA front companies and government resources to supply a product that enslaves thousands and causes most of the street crime and burglaries, and politicians who lie their way through a campaign then spend their term helping corporate cronies loot the country; it’s much easier for Hollywood to have Sigourney Weaver fighting giant insects on a distant planet than to bring her home and pit her against a media conglomerate like Time-Warner. There is little escape in ALIENS, and no satisfaction, particularly when you realize that the alien creature is a mother fighting to protect her nest and Weaver is the intruder, the real alien, the villain. LETHAL WEAPON is much more satisfying because it shows a black man and a white man in unity against some of our society’s real enemies, ex-government agents who use their military connections to make personal fortunes in the drug business. In LETHAL WEAPON, a corrupt U. S. General and his ex-Green Beret thugs are put out of business. 

            As the technological end of the entertainment business continues to move in the direction of bigger and more devastating stunts like the bus/train crash at the opening of THE FUGITIVE and the plane work in TRUE LIES, human character is regressing. When two terminators fight to the finish in TERMINATOR 2, the computer imagery is interesting and fascinating, but who cares who wins? Watching a couple of super beings fight is on a par with watching a bulldozer on a construction sight.

            Perhaps we’re moving toward the time when we will be entertained exclusively by robots, cyborgs, and androids. That clanking sound just over the hill, could it be the technological mime troupe heading for the malls of America to perform their latest biotechnical minstrel show?

 

 

THE WORLD OF WALTER MOSLEY

Review by Clay Geerdes

 

“…little colored children listening to that proper white woman would never hear their own cadence in her words. They’d come to believe that they would have to abandon their own language and stories to become a part of her educated world. They would have to forfeit Waller for Mozart and Remus for Puck. They would enter a world where only white people spoke. And no matter how articulate Dickens and Voltaire were, those children wouldn’t have their own examples in the house of learning--the library.”

 

--Walter Mosley

WHITE BUTTERFLY, 1993

 

Walter Mosley writes hard boiled thrillers from a black point of view. His quasi-detective, Ezekiel “Easy” Hawkins was introduced in DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS. Unlike Hammett’s Sam Spade, who worked as a Private Investigator with his name on the door of his office, Hawkins is a landlord who pretends to be working for Morass, a man who is hired to collect his rents for him. Easy becomes liaison between the mostly white world of L. A. cops and the black world of Watts. The cops need someone like him, because black people routinely distrust white people in general and white cops in particular and there are times when they need information on something going on in Watts. Well, people know Hawkins, because he is part of the black scene, but when they tell him something he needs to know he usually pays cash for the information.

            Easy Hawkins is a complex character. He is not a moralistic good guy who defeats his enemies with his speed and wit. There are a lot of flaws in his character and, since the author tells these stories from Easy’s point of view, the reader is always aware of his vices as well as his virtues.  DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, A RED DEATH, WHITE BUTTERFLY, and BLACK BETTY are all period pieces, each one set in the past. While Mosley is too young to know the 1940s first hand, it is evident that he has listened carefully to stories told by older black people.  The Hawkins series is a history of the black life-style of the forties and fifties, people who immigrated to California to work in the defense industry during the war or returned from the war to live and work there after being discharged from the army. Hawkins is a veteran who fought the Nazis. His characters frequent the night world of Watts; the after hours store front bars, the brothels, and the folks frequently one step ahead of the law. Respect in this milieu is gained through a combination of strength and wit. Easy’s pal and primary enforcer is a killer named Mouse, a money-hungry womanizer who only redeeming quality is his ability to show up in time to keep Easy alive for the next story. 

            There is a lot of brutality, violence, and death in these stories. Mosley is not writing about polite middle-class black people who are into integration and image maintenance. His people speak the language of the street and their motivation is often simple, get what you can get anyway you can get it and survive. Easy keeps his own real life secret, even from his own wife, because he doesn’t really trust anyone. He is cynical about freedom, because he knows a black man can be picked up by the police, beaten, kept in jail without being charged, even murdered, and nothing will be done about it. In his everyday experience, black people are robbed and killed much more often than whites, yet nothing about it appears in the Los Angeles TIMES. Mosley does not fake it in these stories. I am sure they are not approved by the NAACP where the pressure has always been on young black authors to write things about black people that are uplifting, not degrading. Easy Hawkins is no one to admire. He is as real as Steinbeck’s Tom Joad and while he often helps people in the course of his life he is no saint. He drinks too much, sleeps with the wives of friends, and as often loses a fight as wins one. Mosley feels, I am sure, that people have the potential to be better than they are, but a rigid class structure has prevented them from nearing that potential. I find his viewpoint a healthy antidote to the racism inherent in the establishment newspapers and televised news.

 

 

 

MS.ery Magazine: Propaganda for Women by Clay Geerdes

 

Family Values on the latest cover of Ms. What family? Conspicuously missing is a father. Why this blatant hetero-phobia? While Ms. Turns a blind eye to the class structure in this country, the magazine continues to catalog injustice, all of it attributed to men. The mag gives the woman reader the illusion of enlightenment while destroying her morale with page after page of bummers.  23 years of male-bashing! One can’t help but believe that Michael Crichton wrote DISCLOSURE at least partially in reaction to the extremism of Ms. The mag is humorless, sexist, divisive, and reactionary to the max. With Ms. the form goes full cycle, because magazines were designed for women in the mid-19th century. Most focused on fashion, poetry, and homemaking tips a la GODEY’S LADIES’ BOOK, but others were quite political, particularly THE LILY, founded by Amelia Bloomer in 1851. Men didn’t read them. They read the newspapers. American suffragettes, inspired by the Fabian Socialists in England, campaigned for and got a voting bill passed in 1920. Women began to write for popular magazines which were not segregated by gender. The 1960s were dangerously egalitarian and it looked like men and women might co-exist in peace; it became therefore necessary for women to be liberated once again. Since the intellectual rationale for a women’s liberation movement came out of segregated Eastern women’s colleges a la Smith, Radcliffe, Vassar, and Bryn Mawr, Ms. magazine should have come as no surprise when it premiered as an insert in New York magazine then hit the stands in 1972 with a cartoon composite woman on the cover. Gloria Steinem was backed by New York editor Clay Felker who connected her with his ad accounts and Ms. was subsequently subsidized by mega-entertainment conglomerate Warner Communications which put up most of the money, but kept only 25% of the stock. Ms. was set up as a Foundation and administered by a Board of Directors which originally numbered nineteen people including Steinem. The magazine routinely farmed feminine discontent and promoted separatism, consequently few male ad buyers would do business with Steinem and the magazine did not succeed in round one.

            Radical feminists did not believe in Ms. Members of Redstockings “insinuated that Ms. Magazine was part of a CIA strategy to replace radical feminism with liberal feminism. Ms. Magazine had been a source of irritation to many feminists since its inception. A number of feminist writers were especially angry when Ms. first formed and went outside the movement for its writers and editors [Alice Echols. DARING TO BE BAD: Radical Feminism in America: 1967-1975. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989, p. 266].” The link between Ms. and the CIA was strengthened when Gloria Steinem did not defend herself against accusations that she continued to work with an organization discovered to be a CIA front. In 1967, RAMPARTS exposed the CIA’s subsidization of the National Student Association and the Independent Research Service [which Steinem helped found and continued to work with until 1962, see Echols, p. 265]. Members of both organizations were encouraged to infiltrate European youth festivals and bring information back to the CIA. Needless to say, the CIA already had villain status among young activists in the early sixties and Steinem’s refusal to denounce the CIA, FBI, HUAC, and other intelligence agencies designed to protect old American money made her suspect. Whatever else may be said about Steinem, she was a mover and a shaker in those years. She infiltrated PLAYBOY in Chicago and exposed Hugh Hefner’s glorified brothel with its “bunnies” living in dormitory “hutches.”

            Ms. gave up for awhile, but returned a couple of years ago sans advertising and survives to date on subscription and newsstand sales, but Hypocrisy continues to run rampant at Ms. While women writers appear in all major American publications from the TIMES to PENTHOUSE, Ms. rarely accepts anything written by a man. That’s pure sexism.

            My favorite foot in mouth tale from the early days of Ms. is the story of MARY SELFWORTH. Since PLAYBOY had Harvey Kurtzman’s LITTLE ANNIE FANNY, and Gloria Steinem worked for him when he was editing Warren’s HELP!, she wanted her own feminist comic strip. Problem was, she couldn’t find a woman artist who could draw what she wanted. Cartoonist Lee Marrs went to New York and submitted her feminist strip THE FURTHER FATTENING ADVENTURES OF PUDGE, GIRL BLIMP, only to have the 19 woman panel reject it. Not for them. Not the image they wanted. What did they want? Well, a Marvel-style sexist comic book heroine apparently because MARY SELFWORTH appeared in the coming months, drawn by a new cartoonist named Vincenza Colletta. So what’s wrong with that? Nothing, except Vincenza was actually an inker at National Periodicals [DC Comics] named Vincent Colletta, alas, a male, not a woman.            MARY SELFWORTH was a swipe of the strip MARY WORTH, which originated in 1932 as Apple Mary, an idea by Martha Orr, but by the time of Ms. Mary Worth was being produced by men, notably by the late Allen Saunders. Fact is, there were a lot of women artists on the scene when Ms. began in 1972, but the Board wanted a male-drawn feminine image and that’s what they bought. The strip was phony and sententious and it was dropped after a few issues.

            To make matters worse, Ms. refused to advertise any comic books actually drawn and published by women. When Ron Turner, publisher of Last Gasp in San Francisco, sent a check and an ad layout for his WIMMEN’S COMIX, the check was returned, his ad rejected. They didn’t like the content. Interesting, huh? The women’s club never liked any of the comic strips drawn by women cartoonists during that period. A women’s comics movement continues to flourish in Northern California, yet it’s been ignored by Ms. for 23 years.    

             In the introduction to a coffee table book of WONDER WOMAN reprints in 1972, Gloria Steinem wrote: “Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women, sisterhood and mutual support among women; peacefulness and esteem for human life; a diminishment both of masculine aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts.”

            But WONDER WOMAN was not created by a woman. This symbol of feminist values was designed as a feminine version of Superman in 1941 by a New York psychologist named William Moulton Marston. The early artwork was done by Harry G. Peters [his real name] and, with the exception of several issues drawn in the late 1980s by Trina Robbins; Wonder Woman was strictly a male production. Peters used actress Hedy Lamarr for a model, and for most of her comic book career Wonder Woman wore the star-spangled costume she was born in, but there was a short series in the early seventies when she was restyled and tutored by a Chinese guru who specialized in martial arts. DC decided to kill two birds with one stone. They wanted to cash in on women’s liberation and on the Bruce Lee kung fu craze. No sale.  Women buy very few comics. Even in the early days of WONDER WOMAN when I was a kid, boys read it, not girls. By the late seventies, Wonder Woman’s liberated image had been discarded and she was back in costume, bustier than ever. Sales rose enough to keep the character alive, due partially, I’m sure to the successful television series. 

            Am I being too hard on Ms.? Well, unlike most of the men I know, I’m not ignoring it as women’s rant. I read the mag. I collected it the first few years so I have all those issues. But I think it’s become a deadly mag. Bringing women down. Here are a few of the bummers from the latest issue; A woman in prison. Japanese working women getting the shaft due to Japan’s economic slump. Brazilian feminists “cautiously supporting a bill to legalize sterilization [17].” A review about the way the medical establishment exploits women. Obesity studies conducted primarily on women. Pornography and prostitution letters. Pornography is spread across two pages in bright red letters. A poem about prairie women burning themselves on a ladle or killing themselves. Stories about divorce and slavery and teen pregnancy.  A Photo of an older woman on her hands and knees with a piece of glass on her back, Mother as a coffee table. A drawing of a woman and a man, but the woman’s head is complete while the man’s is cropped through his hair. A lot of heavily negative imagery in play here, and nothing positive about any man! Any man would have to see this as hate literature? Ms. is sewing the seeds of discontent, not promoting cooperation and harmony. Issue after issue reveals a calculated exclusion of male achievement even where it would be appropriately included.

            Ms. likes to reprint ads in which women’s bodies are used to sell products. These are printed with “No Comment,” but, sorry, I have a comment. Corporations no longer single out women. Men’s bodies are exploited to sell product, too. Seen a Calvin Klein ad lately? Watched BEVERLY HILLS 90210 or MELROSE PLACE?

            Yo, Ms. There are a lot of men out here trying to balance things out. To exclude all male achievement from a magazine and catalog women’s bad trips certainly causes serious rifts between the sexes, but, hey, for what? What kind of a world do you want? Do you seriously think the average man is living the sweet, easy life these days? Been to the unemployment office lately? What is the message of that Family Values cover? Since hetero women conceive of a family as a father and mother and children, are we to assume that today’s Ms. is a lesbian magazine? Hey, united we stand, divided we fall. Men and women need to ban together and present a united front against the greedy power structure that is exploiting us all.

 

 

 

SCOOP NISKER WRITES A MEMOIR by Clay Geerdes

 

Scoop Nisker tells his version of what happened in the sixties in IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE NEWS...GO OUT AND MAKE SOME OF YOUR OWN. This is a top of the head memoir which reveals Nisker’s wit, not a documented historical document. I’ll give you one example. Nisker wrote:  In the summer of that year [1969], it leaked out that the University of California was going to put a parking lot of a vacant square of land adjacent to the counterculture enclave of Telegraph Avenue. Hippies and radicals decided they wanted to preserve this bit of nature, so they planted a garden, set up benches, and began calling it People’s Park. Although no one recognized it at the time, this was one of the early skirmishes of the environmental movement [55]. Well, sorry, Scoop, but this is what actually happened. Ron Delacour, who owned the Red Square, a little clothing store, looked out at the lot behind the Med on Telegraph and thought it might be nice to have a free rock concert out there, featuring the Joy of Cooking, a band popular in Berkeley at the time. He talked to Max Scheer about this and a few other people began to jam on the idea. On April 13, Max promoted the idea of a People’s Park in the Berkeley BARB and folks were invited to come and plant some flowers. On April 20, the park became a reality when over 200 people came. They cleaned the place up, raked it, landscaped it, planted some trees and flowers, put in some kid’s playground equipment and a few benches, and the park was a reality. Until the Chancellor’s office got wind of what was going on and Assistant Chancellor Earl Cheit decided something had to be done to reclaim the property from the poachers. That was done suddenly on the morning of May 15, 1969, when UC and Berkeley police took the park back, putting up a chain link fence. Governor Reagan called in the National Guard, but he was only able to do so legally because Berkeley was already in a state of emergency from a campus strike by the Third World Liberation Front in early March. Scoop should recall that Hippies and Radicals were at the opposite end of the spectrum in the sixties and did not cooperate. Hippies dropped out and got stoned. Radicals had a political agenda. Environmentalists from the College of Environmental Design at UC were involved in the park from the beginning and everyone around Berkeley knew quite well that the park was an environmental issue. Cliff Humphries of Ecology Action created the first People’s Park in mid-1968 at the corner of Dwight and Telegraph where a friend of his suffered in an accident. The idea was his, and the park initiated by Delacour, Wendy Schlesinger, John Read, and others was a continuation of Humphries’ idea, not theirs. UC had no plan to put a parking lot in that area in 1969. People parked there when it wasn’t too muddy, so it was already partially a parking lot. UC didn’t try to pave it until 1972, and then the paving was broken up by Park protectors. Various radical groups did try to use People’s Park for their own purposes, but this was after the fact. The reader is referred to Robert Scheer’s detailed day to day coverage of the Park war in RAMPARTS, to UC sociology prof Todd Gittlin’s chronological commentary in THE SIXTIES, and to Tom Hayden’s political interpretation in REUNION [he sneaked into the area and observed after it was in progress and had nothing to do with the initial plan.]; my own coverage of the event appeared in the Los Angeles FREE PRESS for three successive weeks in May of 1969.

 

 

ANNE PERRY: THE MYSTERY NOVEL AS EXPIATION by Clay Geerdes

 

“And of course the Vicar would preach a sermon. It was usually on sin, and the need for repentance. The woman taken in adultery was his favourite story, although he never drew from it the same meaning Charlotte did. And why was it always the woman? Why were men never taken in adultery? In all the stories she had ever heard it was women who committed the adultery, and men with whom they were found? Why didn’t the women throw stones at them? She had asked Papa that, a long time ago, and been told with some surprise not to be ridiculous [CATER STREET HANGMAN, p. 81].”

 

He [Thomas Pitt] was used to women in plain, stuff dresses who worked from waking to sleeping, large families living in a few, overfurnished rooms with the smell of cooking everywhere and the intimate usage of faults and pleasures. He could not think of these people as the same, under their silks, and their rigid, stylized manners. Without the discipline of work, they had invented the discipline of etiquette, and it had become just as ruthless a master [PARAGON WALK, p. 4].

           

When Anne Perry was fifteen, she lived in Christchurch, New Zealand, as Juliet Marion Hulme. With her best friend, Pauline Parker, she plotted and carried out the murder of Parker’s mother. Frustrated by Mrs. Parker’s refusal to allow Pauline to move to South Africa with the Hulmes, the girls took her to afternoon tea at Christchurch’s Victoria Park. Afterward, while strolling in the park, the girls placed a brick inside a nylon stocking and bashed Mrs. Parker’s head with it again and again. A policeman later reported that Mrs. Parker had been attacked with a ferocity seldom seen even in the most brutal murders [See Ed Guthman’s “This ‘Heavenly Creature’ wants to let go of Past, S. F. CHRONICLE, March 30, 1995, E-l, 3.]. An entry in one of Pauline’s diaries described the murder plot. It was found in her bedroom and the girls were arrested. At their trial the prosecutor called them “dirty minded little girls” and they were jailed for 5 1/2 years at a maximum-security prison in Auckland, then released in 1960 when they were 21 only on condition they never see one another again. THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT [1964], the story of two teenagers with a crush on an older entertainer [Peter Sellers [, was loosely based upon the Hulme/Parker case, but the actual murders were recreated in Peter Jackson’s film “Heavenly Creatures” in the fall of 1994. On tour to promote her latest novel, TRAITOR’S GATE [Patricia Holt review. March 2, 1995], Perry said she had not seen the film, but was somewhat angry about it, saying she felt it could ruin lives. It was not the film that revealed her secret, however. “…a friend of hers in New Zealand, who in 1992 attended the opening-night party for a play about the Parker-Hulme case” revealed Perry’s identity. The story remained unpublished until the summer of 1994. Perry emerged from prison at 21, assumed the name Anne Perry, and managed to keep her past secret for 35 years.

            She rationalized the murder: “I truly believed Pauline would take her own life if she could not get out of her situation, and if I didn’t help her as she requested [E-3].” At the same time she said she had been suffering from chest pains and was being treated with certain drugs that were later found to cause warped judgment. She told Guthman: “I know that I still have a tendency to be manipulated by a sense of guilt or duty. The weakness is in me to allow people to manipulate me by saying, I am suffering, and if you don’t help me I’m going to go down the drain. I have to make a conscious effort to say, ‘No, if you go down the drain, that’s your choice.’”           

            Perry was destined to think about her crime all her life and to reiterate it endlessly in her novels. Here is how she expressed it in RUTLAND PLACE: “Could it really be that Mina had had no idea whatsoever that she had less than an hour left to live? Had an accident occurred like lightning out of a still sky? No storm, no rumble of far thunder, no oppression mounting before? Murder was not like that. Even a lunatic had reasons for killing: insanity built its slow heat like spring thawing the long winter snows, till suddenly the one more gallon became too much and the dams burst with wild destructive violence [91].” “…but then I suppose murder is always unlikely--until it actually happens [136].” “Sometimes you get to feel so imprisoned by other people’s ideas and habits and expectations that part of you grows to hate them, and you want to break their ideals, smash them, shock those people into really looking at you for once, reaching through the glass to touch the real flesh beyond [176-7].” “Society children can be unhappy, too, and unpleasant. It’s relative. It’s only a matter of wanting something you can’t have, or seeing someone else with something and thinking you should have it. The feeling is much the same, whether it’s for a piece of bread or a diamond brooch--or someone to love. All sorts of people cheat and steal, or even kill, if they care enough. In fact, maybe people who are used to getting their own way are quicker to defy the law than those who often have to go without [146].” “And Charlotte cared enough to kill…morality would stop her, but never indifference [RESURRECTION FIELDS, 1981, 93].” Perry’s heroine, Charlotte Pitt, is closely based upon herself and most often expresses what I feel to be Perry’s personal feelings and philosophy.

            It’s my feeling that Perry’s mysteries are loosely disguised confessions, each designed as an atonement for her past crime. All have a sense of collective guilt, of class guilt; Perry has a strong social conscience and her novels reveal a strong belief that the prosperity of the privileged people she writes about is based upon human misery. The landed gentry in England owe their comfort to workhouses and sweatshops and more than one of her Bishops and Lords owns slum housing and brothels. While Perry always defends the rights of women, she is conscious that inequality is the result of a class structure; hence she is more Marxist than feminist. It is not her way to blame men for the problems of women because she knows there are many wealthy women who are as oppressive as their husbands. While polite Victorians routinely blamed the victims, particularly when they were servants or younger women, Charlotte never let the rich blame the poor without correction. When Selena is criticized after telling of an attack upon her, some people say she must have brought it upon herself [She wanted it], but not Charlotte: “I am obliged to admire her courage. She is defying all the bigoted little people who say she is somehow to blame for what happened to her. Whoever had the fire to do that would have my regard [PARAGON WALK, 185].”

            Perry’s literary technique is to distance herself from the material by setting it a century in the past, hence the time frame of her books, the 1880s and 90s. An impeccable researcher and historian, she carefully avoids anachronism, though she often takes the same liberties with character as writers as diverse as Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton. Perry’s working detective, Thomas Pitt, has married above him, and his wife, Charlotte Ellison Pitt, has access to society through her family and relatives, an access denied Pitt, since detectives have no more status in Victorian England than tradesmen. Like Christie or Grafton, Perry begins her novels with a crime, usually a gruesome murder, then investigates the crime on two levels, Pitt working the street, while Charlotte infiltrates and spies on the wealthy social circles that control England. Her novels always end with a surprise denouement. While there is a great deal of repetition in the series, her stories are unique and in a class of their own. Informed as they are by her personal background as a murderess, one finds an insight here that is understandably missing from the work of most mystery writers.

            In CARDINGTON CRESCENT [1987], Perry rationalizes her own crime. The victim is a murdered dismembered woman. “There was nothing recognizable now but long, fair hair and a crushing injury to the skull [8].” The doctor says: “Of the thousand different ways to murder people, a crack on the head might be less cruel in the long run than some of the ways we ignore [9].” On the one hand, writing murder mysteries is a form of catharsis for Perry; on the other fiction had provided a way for her to continue to commit murder. Her fantasy murders become more and more grotesque as her series progresses and her killers stab, poison, mutilate, dismember, and even crucify their victims.

            When her guilt intensified, Perry often expressed it symbolically through Charlotte’s mother, Caroline. In RUTLAND PLACE: “…I’m as sure as I have even been of anything that there is some--person--here who is watching, watching and laughing!” She shivered. “And hating! I--I have even felt once or twice as if they were following me, in the dusk [25].” Someone stole a locket from Caroline and it contained a picture of a man other than her husband, Edward. She was afraid it would turn up in the wrong hands and embarrass her, but the intensity of Caroline’s paranoia is not motivated by Perry’s plot but by the personal guilt she expresses through the character. RUTLAND takes place in 1887. “Murder,” she wrote later, “was a double tragedy--not only for the victim and those who cared for her, but for the murderer also, and whoever loved or needed or pitied the tormented soul [48].” In BETHLEHEM ROAD [1990]: “…one does not know what happens in the relationships of others. Sometimes what seems close hides voids of loneliness whose pain outsiders can never conceive: others who sound to be remote, pursuing their own paths without regard, actually understand each other and silences exist because there is no need for speech, as quarrels are the strange coverings of enfolding warmth and intense loyalties [94].”

            Perry is an astute analyst of role. “Pitt had found women, especially in Society, to have fancies of an astoundingly practical nature, and to be most excellently equipped to distinguish reality from romance. It was men who married a pretty face or a flattering tongue. Women...far more often chose a pleasant nature and a healthy pocket [106].”

            Aware of class: “…you don’t seem to realize that in spite of not being able to do up their own boot buttons or boil an egg, the higher levels of society are devastatingly practical when it comes to matters of survival in the world they understand! They have servants to do the normal things, so they don’t bother to do them themselves. But when it comes to social cunning, they are equal to the Borgias any day [149].”  Purpose of society: “The basic difference between us and the working classes is that we have the time and the wit to see that very little appears to be what it is. It is the very essence of style [181].” Expressed by Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, Perry’s symbol of old aristocratic wealth in BLUEGATE FIELDS [1984, time of story is 1886]. The theme of this one is child prostitution. A 16-year-old boy is found raped and murdered in a London sewer and an innocent teacher is tried and convicted. Here is Perry at her activist best. The novel exposes and condemns pederasty in the British upper class while rejecting the repressive Victorian view of women. Charlotte Pitt’s “feelings for Eugenie were still very confused. She was irritated by her saccharine femininity; not only did it scrape her raw, but it was a perpetuation of all that was most infuriating in men’s assumptions about women. She had been aware of such attitudes ever since the time her father had taken a newspaper from her, and told her it was unsuitable for a lady to be interested in such things, and insisted she return to her painting and embroidery. The condescension of men to female frailty and general silliness made her temper boil. And Eugenie pandered to it by pretending to be exactly what they expected. Perhaps she had learned to act that way as a form of self-protection, as a way of getting what she wanted? That was the partial excuse, but it was still the coward’s way out [117].” Callantha Swynford: “…I realized it was time I stopped hiding behind the convention that women are the weaker sex, and should not be asked even to know of such things, far less inquire into them. That is the most arrant nonsense! If we are fit to conceive children, to bear and to raise them, to nurse the sick and prepare the dead, we can certainly endure the truth about our sons and daughters, or about our husbands [262].”

            Perry recreated herself in Victorian England as Charlotte Ellison, reversing the “past-life” faddism of Shirley Maclaine et al. I suspect she was an avid reader of journals and diaries, one who took copious notes. The parameters of her alter-ego, Charlotte Ellison, are given in THE CATER STREET HANGMAN [New York: Fawcett, 1979]. This story of a serial killer who targets pretty young women begins on April 20, 1881, the day after Benjamin Disraeli died. Born in 1858 [p. 6.], Charlotte was 23 in 1881. Visually, the “redwood colour of her hair and her honey-toned skin [28]” and gray eyes link the heroine with her creator. Outspoken, Charlotte always says what she thinks and not what people want her to think and say. She is never the proper Victorian. Being honest and forthright were not qualities that would guarantee success to a woman during the reign of Victorian Regina; indeed, they were likely to ensure she would remain unmarried, ergo, a failure.  Her sister, Emily, 19, was born in 1862; her older sister and final victim of the killer, Sarah, was born in 1855 and lived only 26 years. Sarah married Dominic in 1876. Charlotte had a crush on her brother-in-law during her teen years, but was disillusioned when she discovered he had slept with Lucy, one of the house maids, justifying his adultery as a male prerogative.  In CATER STREET HANGMAN Perry attacks the Victorian double-standard wherein men imprisoned women and used them as slaves, justifying their behavior with Christian platitudes. Wives and daughters were not enslaved and denied the privileges men enjoyed; they were protected from physical harm and from any temptation to violate the moral standard which Perry reveals to be chastity for women and profligacy for men. Charlotte discovers her own father, Edward, has kept a mistress for 25 years. A banker, he considered this a privilege of class; Charlotte, a budding feminist, doesn’t buy it. Perry’s novel is an attack on male hypocrisy and the women who support it. She confronts her father and she tells his mother and when Grandmama denies her son is an evil person, Charlotte gives her the evidence with both barrels.

            Adept at dealing with Victorian hypocrisy, Perry takes on the exclusive world of male British clubs. In a dialogue between Lord Ashworth and Dominic, the two men discuss sex. “He was in bed with Dolly Lawton-Smith, oblivious to the world. But that’s irrelevant. Different for a man, of course.” Being found this way wouldn’t do Dolly any harm, according to the two young men. “Everyone knows about everyone else; it’s what is seen that counts, and the vulgarity of being caught. Instead of being a bit of a fellow, makes one look ridiculous. And divorce is of no great importance to a man, but it ruins a woman. After all, it’s one thing to have a little fun oneself, but one is made to look a complete fool if it is seen that one’s wife prefers someone else [CATER, 183].” After the new maid finds one of Dominic’s ties under his mattress, Charlotte knows her brother-in-law has been sleeping with Lucy. She confronts him and he justifies his behavior by saying his wife, Sarah was “desperately stuffy sometimes [219];” in other words, it’s his wife’s fault that he slept with the “uncomplicated” maid. Charlotte doesn’t go for it. She asks him how he would feel if his wife were to sleep with the butler. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says. To Charlotte, it is just as logical for her sister to sleep with the butler as it is for Dominic to sleep with the maid. He says Sarah would be a trollop if she even dreamt of such a thing and suggests it is degrading of Charlotte to suggest such a thing. The argument continues with Dominic using one excuse after another. Men have needs women do not have. But in the end the reader knows Dominic is a selfish, self-centered hypocrite and Charlotte has his number. He expected Sarah to shrug off his betrayal, but she didn’t. He lost her trust. Perry sums up a woman’s feeling about the situation: “If I’d given you all my love, my heart and body, and been loyal to you and thought of no one else, I would be hurt beyond anything I could imagine if I knew you had slept with my maid, and If I thought you had courted my sister. I might hurt you as deeply as I could. If you could betray me that way, murder might not seem so very much worse [220].” Well, all of the men on Cater Street have come under suspicion because of the series of murders, but Dominic is not the killer; not of the physical body, though of the emotional one. Adultery may be good for a laugh at the men’s club, but it is a serious matter among the women. Charlotte’s mother, Caroline, has lived all her married life with the knowledge that her husband betrayed her. “I admired Dominic, although I never did anything about it, never even spoke, and I am immoral; yet Papa keeps a mistress for 25 years, buys her a house and supports her, and he is only behaving as gentleman do; there is nothing dishonourable in it! You hypocrite [Charlotte is telling her father’s mother off.]. I know there is one standard for men and another for women, but even you cannot stretch it as far as that! Why should it be an unpardonable sin for a woman to betray a man, but a mere pecadillo, nothing to raise the eyebrows, if a man betrays a woman? Surely a sin is a sin whoever commits it, only some may be extended forgiveness because of ignorance or greater weakness? Is that man’s plea, greater weakness? They are always saying it is we who are the weaker ones, or is that only physical? Are we supposed to be morally stronger? [238].”

             Charlotte rejected the hypocrisy of her class and married Inspector Pitt; in subsequent novels, Perry used the couple as a model for what she felt to be a positive and trusting relationship between men and women. The Pitts investigate and make manifest the corruption and immorality of Victorian England. Thomas Pitt appears for the first time on page 62 of THE CATER STREET HANGMAN. Inspector Pitt “was tall and looked large because he was untidy; his hair was unruly, and his jacket flapped. His face was plain, a little Semitic, although his eyes were light and his hair no darker than brown. He appeared intelligent. His voice when he spoke was unusually beautiful, quite incongruous against his somewhat scruffy appearance.”

            “I’ve known murderers I’ve felt were victims as much as anyone in the whole affair. And if it turns out to be Angeline and Celeste, I may well this time, too. The old bishop filled their lives, dominated them from childhood, laid out for them exactly the kind of women he expected them to be, and made it virtually impossible for them to be anything else. I gather he drove away all suitors and kept Celeste to be his intellectual companion, and Angeline to be his housekeeper and hostess when necessary. By the time he died they were far too old to marry, and totally dependent on his views, his social status and his money. If Clemency, in her outrage, threatened to destroy everything on which their lives were built, and faced them not only with old age in total public disgrace but a negation of everything they believed in and which justified the past, it is not hard to understand why they might have conspired to kill her. To them she was not only a mortal threat but a traitor to her family. They might consider her ultimate disloyalty to be a thing that warranted death.” Thomas Pitt in HIGHGATE RISE, 1991, p. 3l6. In my opinion, this is a disguised version of the Hulme/Parker relationship with the bishop cast in the role of Pauline’s murdered mother. Bishop turned out to have a fortune gained from his income as a secret slumlord. Josiah burned Clemency Shaw to death when she set out to expose the Bishop’s corruption.

            He [Thomas Pitt] believed that the longer you hid from the truth the less able you were to cope with it when it finally broke through all the barriers like a dammed river, and carried away the careful structure of your life with it [CALLANDER SQUARE, 1980,  p. 26]. Anne Perry knew her time was coming.

            20/20 telecast a segment on Anne Perry on February 10, 1995.Gaining her freedom from prison, Judith Hulme took her stepfather’s name, Perry. She lived in anonymity for a number of years, then she began to write her mysteries. From HIGHGATE RISE [1991]: “Crime was seldom a single act, or the fault of a single person [47].” Her elderly spokeswoman, Great Aunt Vespasia Cumming-Gould declares:  “we must take responsibility for what we destroy, as well as for what we create [279].” Vespasia is an older and wiser version of Charlotte. Emily links them: “I think you are very like Aunt Vespasia, in some ways--or you might be, in fifty years [PARAGON WALK, p. 75.].” Perry’s own past is symbolized in the relationship between Josiah and Prudence. He is a killer and she is a successful romance writer under a pseudonym, her current book LADY PAMELA’S SECRET [289]. As Perry wrote mysteries unknown to Parker, Prudence writes romances unknown to her zealot husband, Josiah. From SILENCE IN HANOVER CLOSE [1988]: “...she knew what it was like to lose your husband suddenly, violently, in the horror of murder, with the knowledge that someone must hate so much that only death could satisfy them. And she also knew the fear that grew day by day, fear of confusion, of a whole world become incomprehensible and full of secrets, some of them hideous; and the fear that the truth might be worse than you could bear. And there was the fear that with knowledge you, too, might become a victim--and at the back of every other fear, the one that you might be guilty of some stupidity, or some neglect that had contributed to it all, a permanent rising, whispering guilt [179].” In CLOSE, the murder of transvestite York was committed by Veronica hitting him in the head with a leaded horse; no brick in a stocking but a close analogy. 

            In CALLANDER SQUARE, 1980, a feminist revenge fantasy, as, indeed, most of Perry’s novels are. Men usually get their just deserts in one way or another. If they are not killed, they are socially disgraced. In CS, a couple of diseased dead babies are found buried in a park and the subsequent investigation leads to an expose of the secret sins of an entire neighborhood.  Perry makes the point that syphilis was prevalent during this period and men often kept it secret while passing it along, usually to naive servant women; if she were writing the book about contemporary society, she might use AIDS since many carriers kept it secret [as did Rock Hudson] and continued their sex lives to the peril of their lovers.

            Yes, Perry’s novels are who done its, but they have depth and insight and never sidestep the serious social issues of the time. Within the structure of the mystery she has taken on the serious themes of her time and, while the setting is Victorian England, the emotional battles between men and women are timeless. Consider the following examples of Perry’s thought:

            Her ideal of marriage is expressed by Emily Ashworth, Charlotte’s sister: “My Dear, very few women marry men they are in love with, and even those who do, frequently find that it was a mistake. The kind of man one falls in love with is usually entertaining, witty, and handsome; but equally often he has no means to support one, is highly unreliable, and as like as not, will in due course fall out of love with you, and in again with someone else. To marry, one requires a man with good character, common sense in business, or else a private income of great proportions; he must be moderately sober and not gamble to excess, and be of gentle manners and acceptable appearance [CALLANDER SQUARE, p. 157].

            On the oppression of women: Charlotte reacts to the male attitude which says men know what is best for women.  “Women have no education, no understanding of political or governmental affairs, no knowledge of the law and seldom any of finance, other than of a merely domestic nature. Can you imagine the sort of people they would elect to Parliament if they had the vote? We might find ourselves governed by a romantic novelist, or an actor [BETHLEHEM ROAD, 1990, 111].”

            “Then I have little sense! Only that which is required to govern a household of eight servants, see to the accounting, maintain discipline and good order and fellowship, raise and teach and nurse my children, entertain our business and parliamentary friends and provide them with fine meals in charming surroundings, and always see that no one is offended, embarrassed, excluded, or paired with someone unsuitable, and to keep the conversation charming, witty but never offensive, and never, never boring!  And naturally always to look beautiful while doing all of this! I am sure that does not make me competent to decide which of two or three candidates should represent me in Parliament [BETHLEHEM ROAD. 1990, 111].”

            Vespasia’s view is pragmatic: “A woman’s appearance is her fortune, and what she seems to be will be the measure of what other people assume she is [180].” Perry’s recent view:  “Smile; no one likes a sulky or nervous woman--women are expected to be easy company, not a strain! And no one willingly marries a woman whose health is not robust. We hide our petty complaints. Courage and dignity are expected of us [147].”

            Why social change is so difficult: “…when the people who have power are comfortable themselves, when they have warmth, food, safety, social rank, families around them, and the position to see that everything remains that way. They cannot and do not want to believe that other people are suffering any pain or injustice, that things should be changed--most especially if the changes involve questioning an order which they find so satisfactory [119].”

            Awareness of social conditions, social consciousness. In RESURRECTION ROW, Perry deals with poverty and the way the rich fail to see it. “Of course, he had always appreciated in his head that there was poverty, but he had never actually seen it before, one did not really see the faces of beggars in the streets; they were simply faces, there--like lamp posts or railings. One was always about some business of one’s own and too occupied to think of them [116].” In an attempt to do something about the workhouses, Carlisle tricks a wealthy man into visiting a London slum. “The fortunate can be any kind of a fool and get by, but the unfortunate have to have a use to someone, or they assuredly perish [185].”

            In early 1995, Perry made a 23 city tour to promote her latest Pitt novel, TRAITOR’S GATE. Now in her mid-fifties, she has never married.  She lives alone in a small town in Scotland, where she writes one or two books a year. In 1993, she signed a million dollar contract for eight new ones.     Her new series is about inspector William Monk. THE FACE OF A STRANGER is the first of that series and she has written six to date. In the series, she continued to use her own experience as a murderess. In STRANGER, Monk pursues a murderer who almost turns out to be himself. An accident has caused him to suffer from partial amnesia and his search for the killer becomes a search for his own past. Like Perry, he wants to know what kind of person he has become as a result of his earlier actions. Though certainly influenced by THE PRISONER, Perry has her own unique way of dealing with character and history and the Monk series transcends the Pitt series.

 

 

THE DAY THE WHEEL STOPPED by Clay Geerdes

 

Someone had fallen from the large double ferris wheel on the Pike. It was a mid-afternoon in 1956. I was there with my brother. We were both sailors. Our ships were at anchor in Long Beach harbor. I was log room yeoman on the Chemung, a tanker. Bones was a snipe on the Benner, a destroyer.  A pretty young blonde girl was working a glass pitch near the wheel and I stopped to take a picture of her. We talked for a few minutes. I had worked a glass pitch for a carnival when I was sixteen back in the summer of 1950. The girl was trying to see the body, but the Pike was too crowded. As word of the accident filtered back through the crowd, more and more people tried to push their way to the distorted corpse. I was certain the guy was dead. It was a good 80-100 foot drop to solid concrete. How could he have survived?  I didn’t try to push my way into the crowd. Instead, I drifted back and stayed near the glass pitch. No one was throwing any dimes at the cheap dishes and the blonde wasn’t hustling. She probably knew the guy who ran the wheel. Beyond the rubberneckers, the games went on, but everything around us had come to a stop as the focus shifted to the gathering crowd near the still wheel.  My brother walked over to us. He looked at the blonde and smiled and I knew he would come on to her. She resembled his girl friend back home in Lincoln. I think they were still going steady, but don’t quote me. I was never able to keep up with all of Bones’ girl friends. He kept them to himself.

            I could hear the siren, but it blended with the routine noise of the Pike. Most of the rides and booths had some kind of music or sound effects and together they formed a cacophony. Like the State Fair, the Pike was kaleidoscopic. Something happened in front of you, then you glanced in another direction and saw something else and when you turned back everything was different. My brother was talking about the guy in the center of the crowd. The medics were having a tough time driving through the mob; past my brother’s shoulder I could see the red lights of the ambulance. It was hot. Baseball caps were not in that year and most of the people around us had red faces.

            “What’d that crazy bastard do, stand up in his seat?”

            “I don’t know. I didn’t see it.” I never saw the guy either, just a couple of lines of reddish blood flowing past the shoes of people standing at the edge. I remember the pattern made by the blood to this day. It reminded me of the top of the old stump in our backyard where my grandfather, Ben, used to chop the heads off chickens with his hatchet. He would swing the body away so that the blood wouldn’t get on his clothes, but a few lines of blood would always flow slowly down to the edge of the bark and down the grooves. Ben often let a chicken go and it would walk around for awhile, blood spurting out its neck, looking for its head. He would look from me to that chicken stumbling to a stop a few feet away and grin like a cowboy at a burlesque show. There was more to the association than just the pattern of the blood. Ben had been on the Pike back in the early forties. My Dad worked for Douglas for awhile and Ben had painted ships up North in the Alameda Naval Shipyard near the Port of Oakland. While they did their bit for what was called the ‘war effort,’ they got in some sightseeing and one of the places grandpa told me about was the Pike. He said it was a good place to look at girls. Go out to the end of the pier and there were hundreds of them tanning out there in the sand. At night, a lot of them would be dancing at the Lido to one of the touring big bands. He remembered the night of the Venice Pier fire and said Spade Cooley often played there. Told me Spade killed his wife and ended up in prison. Old Ben told me a lot of things like that. My Dad never did. I recall walking along Venice beach with him sometime in the summer of 1942 and what comes to mind is the hundreds of different kinds of shells that were everywhere in the white sand. The water was crystal clear and I could stand in a pool and see my feet clearly. When I was back in Venice in 1971, the water was filthy and there wasn’t a shell in sight. All of them were on sale in souvenir shops.

            As the ambulance inched closer and closer, people drifted back near us. Bones and I wore dress whites. Normally, we would have changed into civvies at the locker club, but the whites were just as comfortable and we decided to be sailors that afternoon. Not that we fooled anyone by wearing civvies. People always knew. The short hair and march-y walk gave us away. Though we were a few months out of boot camp, we still had the cadence habit. And the flashy clothes we found in the stores that catered to sailors on liberty told the locals along Ocean Boulevard we hadn’t gone to their high schools.

            Ken was watching the medics pushing people out of the way. There were some cops on the scene and a few guys wearing suits. I moved around to the side of the booth. I didn’t really want to see it all. I knew they would put the guy on a stretcher and slide him into the ambulance and that would be it. I felt like getting away from the whole scene. Ken was still eying the blonde. I strongly suspect she had a regular boy friend. Probably more than one. Didn’t make all that much difference because I knew the girls who worked the Pike and hung out there often dated sailors whether they had steadies or not. We always had money and the high school girls liked to have money spent on them. Their high school boy friends only had money when they could hustle their parents. The girls were looking for something different. They knew the local Long Beach guys as well as I knew the kids I went to high school with. When we talked we found out how similar we were no matter where we were from. The girls knew the sailors would only be around for a little while, and then we would ship out and start writing letters.

            From the flow of the crowd, I knew the stretcher was being loaded. I heard a few dimes ting off the greenish dishes and fall into the cloth below. Someone had stopped paying attention and gone back to the game. A glass pitch is no different than any other carnival game. It exploits your desire to be a winner, no matter how cheap and useless the prize. If you land a dime in one of those little dishes, you’re a winner for a few seconds. The dish cost the owner a fourth of a cent, if that, and hundreds of dimes missed for every one that landed just so. Over at the ring toss, the odds were worse, because the posts were never the same size and the ring had to drop perfectly or no little fuzzy pink bear or duck. At the bottle game a good pitcher had a chance to win, but only if the bottles were straight, often one was lead and you needed a lead baseball to knock that sucker over. If you were a Carnie, you knew the games were all for suckers and that was fine because suckers were there for the taking. They asked for it. Guys used to go into gas stations or pool halls around Nebraska and buy punches from a punch board for half a buck. You paid the coin and got to punch out a number. It was always a loser, no matter what part of the board you picked, because the drummer who sold the puzzles always tipped off the buyer with a template that showed him exactly where the winners were. That way the owner could punch out the winning numbers before selling a single punch to the suckers. I always enjoyed being in the know and my short time with the Carnie during the summer of 1950 was a big help. I could look over the crowd and pick out the dips every time. Hey, a guy wearing a heavy coat in the middle of summer? C’mon. I saw a couple of guys working the crowd around the ferris wheel while everyone was watching the medics. Sailors are the perfect target for dips, particularly the guys who wear the old-style thirteen-button pants. Not having any pockets, many slide their wallets into the top of their pants leaving half of it flapping loose. Easiest thing in the world for a dip to ace that wallet in a crowd. I never carried a wallet that way. Very few experienced sailors did.

            The ambulance turned around slowly and began to move out of the area the way it came in. The crowd started to thin, but I could see a lot of people looking at the cement where the guy had been. I saw a guy in khaki with a bucket and I knew the bloodstain would be gone in short order. That wheel was a guy’s bread and butter, after all. I looked at it for a few minutes. The power was off, the music gone, and the seats hung empty against the late afternoon sun. People waited to get on rides on either side of the wheel and I knew the wheel would be back in action the next day. Carnies are not sentimental.

            I don’t know who that guy was. Never got a look at him. Don’t know whether he was drunk or just standing up to show off for his girl friend when he lost his footing and made his last leap. I don’t know whether my brother scored with the blonde either. Our ships seldom made it to Long Beach at the same time after that. The Pike is long gone now, replaced by retirement condos. I was there a few years back and I didn’t recognize anything. I walked along Ocean and listened but I didn’t hear anything but the cries of seagulls and passing car engines. Off the coast I saw several small islands, complete with palm trees and I was puzzled because I didn’t remember any islands in that area. I looked at them closely through my binoculars and as I watched it came to me that the islands were fake. They were disguised offshore rigs. Someone, rather some corporation, was out there digging for oil.

            Maybe some of the girls who used to walk with us are still around Long Beach. A girl I danced with to Les Brown and his Band of Renown at the Lido might be hidden in one of those concrete condos aging and fading. I wonder if anyone remembers the day the wheel stopped.

 

 

 

PSYCHOTRENDS: THE REVIEW by Clay Geerdes

 

In his 1994 recapitulation of social and psychological trends, PSYCHOTRENDS, Dr. Shervert H. Frazier asks “What kind of people are we becoming?”  lt’s a rhetorical question, because he has a lot of answers, the majority of them surprisingly optimistic. Are we becoming more or less violent? Will crime increase or decrease? Is violence a natural reaction to the frustrations of competition in a class society in which the rich hold all the cards and the poor are powerless to do anything but increase their number? Frazier believes violence will decrease because of the “prohibitive cost, both emotional and financial, of a co-violent society, one that celebrates mayhem while simultaneously condemning it [15],” but his focus is on the “underclass,” not on those with the power to manipulate on a global scale; after all, why is the street kid violent; why does he join a gang and why is that gang violent; where and how does he get into drug dealing? The street kid is violent because he has no status, no meaningful work, no income, and no support group other than the handful of peers he hangs with for protection. He deals drugs for the same reason women become prostitutes; it pays very well in comparison with sacking french fries at Blubber King.

            Where did the street kid learn his violent behavior? Frazier quotes all the statistics on the number of hours kids are left in the care of their benevolent TV set in contrast to the number of hours they spend in school. He knows TV programming teaches the jargon and the forms of behavior. “If even a tiny fraction of TV’s violent content was taught in our schools the outcry would be enormous. Yet in an ongoing trend, parents already distanced from their offspring by work and day care, complacently entrust their children to a TV “teacher” virtually without conscience, a “teacher” whose prime objective is to hold the viewer’s attention, by whatever means proves most expedient, long enough to sell products [39].” Frazier negates the theory that TV violence is cathartic. “When angry or violent subjects are exposed to angry or violent programming they demonstrate, in experimental tests of this theory, not diminished but heightened states of anger and aggression [40].” Since the early 70s researchers have known about the negative influences of TV violence! Well, Doc, who owns the Networks? Who controls TV and its contents? Who profits from the violence? Why were we treated to hours of live footage of people looting stores and burning down Korea town in Central Los Angeles a couple of years back and shown none of the brutal footage of the destruction of the infrastructure of Baghdad during that George Bush made-for-TV movie, DESERT STORM? Frazier notes that Congress has recognized the need for moderation in violent television programming. Because some of the corporations are feeling penitent and want to atone for all that bloodshed at home and abroad? No, because “researchers are finding that people have to be conditioned over a period of time in order to be able to tolerate today’s high levels of media violence. Most people have an actual reaction of distaste, often bordering on nausea, to initial exposures to violence. Continuing exposure gradually results in desensitization and tolerance [43].”  Moderation is coming about because research has shown that violence isn’t selling all that well these days; it may actually lose sales. Christine and Ronald Hansen reported in Communications Research that soft core sex helps sell music videos, but violence does not. Adding violence to music videos actually “decreased the appeal of both music and visual content [43].” Nor does explicit sex do that well in the marketplace. It may be “so diverting that the viewer or reader tends to overlook the product entirely [84].”

            Frazier segues from a discussion of TV violence into a discussion of prisons as a growth industry. Is it working? No. Too expensive. A prison cell now costs $100,000. Rehab doesn’t work. People leave prison only to return, often within a few months. Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree is quoted: “we are spending $7 billion a year to incarcerate black males and less than 10 percent of that amount educating black males [46].” A few paragraphs later we learn there are 27,000 federal and 500,000 state prisoners with serious drug problems and only 20% are getting any help. Again, I have to raise the question of where those drugs came from in the first place, why they are in this country, who is making the profits from them, and what is being done to eliminate them? Frazier does not want to look at a ruling class which has shored itself up using imported drugs and laws against them as a means of controlling the “underclass.” So it costs $20 grand a year to house a single prisoner these days and it would be much cheaper to free most of the prisoners and give them $12 grand a year welfare; that doesn’t mean any change is likely to take place in the entrenched bureaucracies that function on local, state, and federal levels. Head Start programs like drug rehab only work if you can get people to go to them.

            Frazier is a member of the professional elite. He was a professor of psychiatry at Harvard for twenty years and he views the street from his office window. Though he feigns a critical attitude, his own viewpoint is clear: “Intervention treatment for rapists and other sex offenders promises to become big business in the coming two decades. Sex offenders now constitute a ‘growth industry,’ occupying 20 percent of all prison space, up from just a few percentage points of the total prison population two decades ago. This is a category of crime in which repeat offenses are particularly commonplace. Incarceration alone, as a ‘treatment’ option, is a glaring failure. Since 1985, the average time served for rape has more than doubled. . . .Unfortunately, large numbers of sex offenders refuse treatment even though they are institutionalized [51-2].” Well, I’m sure this is reassuring to Frazier’s fellow psychiatrists, but hardly to the rest of us. What we face is more mental patients and unrehabilitated career criminals hitting the streets as the Republicans manipulate the budget.

            Frazier evaluates the modern family as he deals with whether or not we are in for better or worse relationships. What is a modern family? Will the old nuclear family concept survive in a country where a fourth of all families are now single-parent families, where numerous families are same sex relationships or communes? There were 600,000 inter-racial marriages in 1993. Was the nuclear family that good an idea in the first place? Did it raise more problems than it solved? Well, by its very nature, it was a male supremacist concept. Dad was the nucleus, the breadwinner, bringing home the bacon to Mom who dutifully cleaned, cooked, baked and made those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids. We were sold the concept on radio and television for years and even when it didn’t seem to be working out for a lot of people it was considered the only game in town. Frazier notes that divorce is a lot more common than it used to be and that a lot of pregnant women are opting not for marriage but for single motherhood. The “child from a broken home” had worse problems before, not after, the divorce. Once the conflict is resolved, most kids make their peace with two households. I married at the beginning of the sixties and divorced at the beginning of the seventies and none of the couples I knew survived intact; all are divorced.

            Dr. Frasier goes on to discuss trends in sex education, the relationship between religion and altruism--studies showed that nonbelievers were just as likely to “do good [127]”--the problem of in vitro fertilization--If the biological parents are divorced before using them, are the embryos to be dealt with in the property settlement or in a child custody arrangement?--fear of nuclear war-- ‘...Children of activists felt more empowered and more positive precisely because they and their parents were striving to stay informed and to actively oppose nuclear proliferation [184]”--and whether or not we are going to be more or less satisfied and happy as we flounder our way into the 21st century. I enjoyed a lot of the statistics and general happy talk in this survey, but I have to confess I do not share Frasier’s confidence in the psychiatric profession and as to how he rates as a prophet and futurist, well, I’ll leave you with this quotation and you can look up the book in your local library.

            “The political climate is changing here. Some of those who have resisted public-health-oriented sex education and contraceptive services for the young have recently been swept from power, and others, favoring comprehensive teen programs, have taken their places. Jocelyn Elders, Surgeon General in the Clinton Administration, is a strong supporter of sex education and condom distribution. In the next few years, the studies that are so badly needed to help assess sexual behavior and devise tactics for safer behavior will be conducted [87-88].”

 

 

PULP FICTION/PC BACKLASH in the 1990s.

Or John Revolta Rides Again by Clay Geerdes

 

But the market for mass entertainment favors the trend toward violence…

--Lapham, Lewis H.

"Thunder on the Right," Notebook, HARPER'S, January, 1995, p. 9.

 

Newt Gingrich and I agree on two things, at least--that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was (his quote) “The greatest U. S. statesman of the 20th century” and that “Pulp Fiction” is a crummy movie. Wouldn’t you say that “Pulp Fiction” is the most overrated film of the past year?

 

Herb Caen

S. F. CHRONICLE, April 4, 1995.

 

PULP FICTION has been reviewed by all the local reviewers in the Bay Area and the reviews are raves and upturned thumbs for Quentin Tarantino’s pastiche of ultra-violence and gratuitous gore. Two and a half hours of nonstop amoral coolness, glamorizing the underworld and allowing an audience to wallow in a convoluted mix of nostalgia and negative images--it’s all hedonism here, folks; leave your critical faculties in the trunk of your car with your velcro wallet. PULP FICTION is the end result of a decade of MTV [Mass Televised Violence] and violent video games like STREET FIGHTER. What is missing from the reviews I have read by Mick LaSalle, Matthew Gilbert, Michael Covino, and Joe Bob Briggs is any discussion of what is really going on in this film--blatant and unapologetic racism. Since the Civil Rights Movement of the fifties and sixties, public consciousness has tried to keep up. Niggers became Negroes and Negroes became Blacks and Blacks became Afro-Americans. Political Correctness evolved slowly with a minority of students taking the lead. Certain Blacks became visible in films and on television, but these were not the Blacks one saw in the street or heard on the bus stop; they were handsome,  highly educated, carefully picked people just like the pretty blondes and handsome men chosen to sit next to them at the anchor desk on the evening news. On the cop shows, the villains continued to be street blacks and longhaired hippies, the people most frightening to the inhabitants of suburban malls.

            If you lived through the late sixties when Stokely Carmichael and various members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense were shifting from an NAACP integrationist consciousness to a segregationist concept of Black Power and a gradual shift to Afro-Americanism, you know that one day you were supposed to say Negro, the next Black, and the next Afro-American, depending upon where you were and who you were talking to. You learned that older people of color [the new euphemism for colored people] wanted to be called Negroes, not Blacks, because they considered Black an insult. Younger activists wanted to be referred to as Black people, not “Kneegrows,” a term they associated with a slave origin [after all, Spanish slavers called them Negroes, the Spanish word for Black, and they wanted to define themselves, not accept a slave owner’s definition]. Afro-Americanism came out of the universities and was kind of an intellectual compromise. It expanded through the campus speeches of Malcolm X and the later success of ROOTS on television. In graduate school during this time, I heard Malcolm X lecture at UC Berkeley and I was impressed with his erudition and his rational approach to racism in America. It was my feeling then and now that black people have a right to be called whatever they want to be called. If I know what that is and choose to ignore it, I am insulting someone on purpose. My mother was from Alabama, a deep South woman, and she taught me as a child that Negro was proper and anything else was a deliberate insult. Like my peers, I said Nigger when I wanted to insult.

            But--people are arrogant and selfish and opinionated and egocentric and they don’t want anyone telling them what they can or can’t say and what we are beginning to see in films like PULP FICTION is a backlash to PC. Everyone in the cast of this film says Nigger, not Black or Afro-American, and Quentin Tarantino is a calculated racist. The major villains in his film are black and they get punished in rather interesting ways. The head gangster, Marcellus, is run down in the crosswalk by a white man. He is captured by a couple of other white men and raped by one of them. A young black drug runner has his head blown off accidentally by white John Travolta. This man is nothing more than a clean-up problem for two hit men; his life is considered meaningless. No one in this film has any moral position; the cast members being lowlife scumbags who fail to justify the amount of time spent to portray their meaningless lives onscreen. There is no balance of sympathy, no one to identify with. PULP FICTION is a paean to ugliness and brutality. I realize Tarantino is deliberately reversing the moral point of view of film noir, but, hey, I don’t like it. What we have here is a big booger joke at the dinner table. Trashing of the bourgeoisie. What did Henry Miller call his TROPIC OF CANCER--”a gob of spit in the eye of God?” This is it and more. I am concerned about the lack of any moral position by the critics I mention. Blatant images of hatred, brutality, racism, and violence are praised as though such a plethora of imagery had some kind of inherent aesthetic value--bullshit! This film is a parade of sensation for it’s own sake and built into it’s structure are a lot of white racist fantasies. There is no truth here. The major drug dealers in this country are not black men; they are rebel CIA ops who import the major crop of Peru and Bolivia--cocaine. LETHAL WEAPON told the truth and had both a black and a white hero who punished the guilty. In the real world the guilty go on to become presidential candidates and die of old age, but what film fan could get off on that?

            There are no good guys in PULP FICTION so the bad guys win by default. A salt and pepper hit team stroll off into the sunset. A couple of unregenerate scumbags rob and terrorize a restaurant and get away scot-free to spend the money. Hey, it’s the mid-nineties. Crime is all. It pays well. Drop out of Sunday school and steal a gun. Shoot up a Day Care Center. And, hey, remember, Black people are just as evil and crooked and scary as you though they were--Quentin Tarantino said so.

            In San Francisco for the annual International Film Festival, Italian screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico said violence was epidemic in American films and was leaving its stain on the world to boot. “I don’t even see much irony in PULP FICTION. I have the feeling these films have lost their responsibility. Their influence on delinquency among youth--here and in Italy--it’s enormous [said to Ed Guthman, CHRONICLE, May 3, 1995, p. E-1].” G. P. Secki referred to PULP FICTION as “a long, overdrawn exercise in visual masturbation [DAILY CAL, May 5, 1995, p. 10.].”

 

 

THE RAGGIES by Clay Geerdes

 

2001.

He was almost thirteen.

The problem.

How to rebel against his skinhead parents.

            They rebelled against their pot-smoking, acid-headed hippy parents by shaving their heads and piercing their ears, lips, eyebrows, nipples, and genitals. Mom had four rhinestone studs in her tongue. Dad sported a gold cock ring. It was all for fashion. They weren’t into S&M or anything gross like that; they just wore leather drag when they watched Madonna parade around in her underwear on MTV. When his Mom’s hair started to grow back, she rinsed it with orange vegetable dye. She looked great that Halloween! Dad had a green spiked Mohawk for awhile. It was rad.

            How could a boy to compete with that? It didn’t even help to talk dirty. They had exhausted all the good words. They talked that talk with style. They spoke good Afro-American when they were drinking white wine and eating quiche with the neighbors, but they were just as relaxed with street jargon. Hey, they spoke Black and Nigger with ease, but they were careful to speak only Cracker English in public. It was definitely out to offend anyone.  He heard his uncle, home from Viet Nam, talk about Gooks and Slants, but the Asian dudes around the high school wanted to be called Asian-Americans and he could live with that. He would call people what they wanted, but they all wanted to be called something else. At the record store, it was rap and rap was Nigga Nigga Nigga. But only between the bruthas on the block. A white dude couldn’t even repeat the lyrics of some raps without starting a fight. Black dudes had the edge because they had a lot to rebel against. What’s a white dude going to go up against, his daddy’s money? His home in the suburbs? His second-hand Lexus? His dad hung out at the mall imitating black styles, listening to black rap. He was no leader of the pack. Marlon Brando had become a fat old man who mumbled in his movies, no tough young white biker leading his gang into a little town for a rumble with the old folks. It was Ice-T and Gangsta rap. Black dude wear his cap on backwards to show he’s tough. White dude wear that hat backwards so he neck don’t get red and show up who he really is.

            The kids of his beatnik grandpa became hippies, thanks to that free acid the CIA gave away in Haight-Ashbury and the East Village in the early sixties.  The kids of the hippies grew up with names like Sunshine and Rainbow, shaved their heads like the Krishna’s and hung around in the doorways of piercing parlors looking tough and talking trash for the tourists.

            And it came to pass that the boy discovered a box of his Granddad’s old CDs and a headset long forgotten on a basement shelf. Among those CDs was a collection of ragtime songs, syncopated tunes from the late 19th and early 20th century. He sat down and started to listen to these strange harmonies, melodies with names like The Smoky Topaz and Chrysanthemum Rag and Bigfoot Lou and soon he was tapping his foot and in a few days his friends were listening to the CDs and lo and behold a new craze was born as the teens of 2001 began dressing in seersucker suits and straw hats. They wore red bowties and put steel taps on their shiny black shoes. Many carried ornate canes. They called one another by symbolic names like Joplin and Chauvin, Aufderheide and Guy, Boone and Holzman. In spite of their cleanliness and neatness of dress, they were called Raggies.

            Their parents hated it, of course. Who wanted a kid who took regular showers and never pierced an ear? What would the neighbors think? What was that weird music coming from the bedrooms of the young, those melodic sounds? Pink and blue-haired parents raced to their headphones for some good old screech and rap. It took a Johnny Rotten hit to get rid of that ragtime euphony. What kind of son would listen to the Maple Leaf Rag when his Dad’s CD rack was filled with the best of The Clash, the Butthole Surfers, Violent Femmes, Pearl Jam,  and 2 Live Crew?

            His Dad pulled the cap off a bottle of Bad Asshole Beer with his teeth and spit it across the room. After seeing some of the Raggies on a talk show, he ranted on while Mom drifted into the kitchen raising her eyebrows. “Ah, those goddamned kids were so fuckin’ polite to each other; it was like rilly fuckin’ disgusting, man. What’s the fuckin’ world coming to? What kind of culture would it be if these clean fucks ran things? Christ, the little bastards are even starting to show up on the evening News. Didn’t Mutha Whump have a couple of them on a panel with The Oakland Baldies and the Emeryville Sickfucks the other afternoon? Did you see that? That was a great show. One of the Baldies up-chucked a junk food lunch right in a Raggie’s lap and the polite little shit just shrugged and said “Consider the source.” What was his name, Jawplin? Jerkin? What the fuck kinda name is that? My generation knew music. We had fuckin’ bands like the Deadly Decibels and the Virgin Bunsniffers and the Motown Crotchgrabbers. Now there were some git down git off fuckin’ nitty gritty slam-dancin’ up-chuckin’ muthafuckas. I hadda turn those Raggies off. The little fuckin’ tampons just bummed me out and that’s no shit, baby. I’m gonna call Mutha Whump up and tell that sorry ass fat bitch to stop givin’ scum like the Raggies a forum on her show. Does she think we’re jist gonna sit here and watch this decadent ragtime shit?”

            Mom just stood in the kitchen door. She was used to Dad’s rants. “He did all the dishes and polished the floor again, honey. Go figure.”

             Rag was on a roll and the craze soon spread to the major networks and into the record stores as young people learned to play the new music and form their own bands. The rap racks drifted to the rear as ragtime sales increased. The new ragtime bands climbed the charts, and toured the country and changes began to occur in dance halls as the music revived the dances of the past. Cake Walks became popular once again and tap dancing was revived and when the younger would-be break dancers and rappers saw the Reggae videos on MTV and watched the specials on the major networks, their attention was diverted from the monotony of rap and it was not long before the major rap groups were including token ragtime numbers in their repertoire. As they saw people dancing and enjoying these rags, they shifted away from the anger and cacophony of rap and it came to pass that Rap time became the new craze.

            The Raggies courted and married and their children grew to maturity, taking for granted the eccentricity of their pink-haired, pierced, tattooed, and branded grandparents along with the clean cut simplicity of their seersucker parents. The jewelry was long gone, of course, and once in awhile a grandchild would ask, “Grandma, what are those little holes in your eyebrows and nose for?” That was her cue to talk about the good old days of anarchy and cacophony. Dad would raise his eyebrows as grandpa chimed in with his praise of the real music of his youth, the head banger rock and gangsta rap. “Boy, I wish I hadn’t sold all my CDs at that garage sale a few years back. I’d play you some of the real thing. Why, you realize I had the first punk song in my collection? It was called Dead Puppies.”

            Then it was 2020.

            His son, Scott, was almost thirteen.

            The problem.

            How to rebel against his Reggae parents.

            And it came to pass that one day he found a black beret in the window of an antique clothing store and the salesperson had a little book called Howl and the boy read about the best minds of Allen Ginsberg’s generation being destroyed by madness and

 

 

STAR TREK: THE EXPOSE

Joel Engel. GENE RODDENBERRY: THE MYTH AND THE MAN BEHIND STAR TREK. NEW YORK: Hyperion, 1994. 283 pp. $22.95.

Review by Clay Geerdes

 

Like anything that becomes cultic, STAR TREK is a difficult subject to discuss. The people who participated in the original 79 episode run have gone on to other roles in their acting careers and if you start talking about who  did what in that series, you’ll wind up in  unresolvable arguments. For a number of years after STAR TREK’s early run in the late 1960s, Gene Roddenberry was a familiar speaker at Science Fiction conventions, one who always promoted himself as the creator and founder of all things Star Trekkie. Anyone who knows even a little about the world of television and animation could tell you right off that a television series is a team effort, not the work of a single person, however glib and prolific that person might be, but the fans don’t want to hear a catalog of names; they want to bask in the glow of the one they have chosen as The Star.  STAR TREK was no different. An ex-Los Angeles cop cum tv writer, Roddenberry’s idea for a “Wagon train to the stars” was developed by a large number of science fiction writers, among them people like George Clayton Johnson, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison; indeed, of the 79 original episodes Roddenberry has story credit only on 8.

            Roddenberry died October 24, 1991, from a series of strokes and turns out to be unworthy of a lot of the adoration he cultivated for himself through his personal appearances and huckster enterprises at conventions. Certainly, no one would wish to take away what the man did, but it turns out he has taken personal credit for the work of a lot of other people, often plagiarizing them and manipulating the economics of the business in such a way as to deny them their rightful pay. Turns out Roddenberry reproduced the scripts of other writers, sold them through his own company at conventions for as much as $50 and gave zilch to the author. Turns out folks like David Gerrold did a lot of ghosting for a drunken Roddenberry during the early planning stages of the second STAR TREK series then had to sue him to get their pay and credit. Roddenberry, according to Joel Engel in GENE RODDENBERRY: THE MYTH AND THE MAN BEHIND STAR TREK made it a practice to violate the rules of the Screen Writers’ Guild by routinely rewriting scripts turned in by others, then taking credit for himself. Engel documents a history of calculated plagiarism and personal aggrandizement by a man who manifested one personality for his public and fans and another for those who worked with him. One finishes this carefully researched biography with a portrait of a successful Hollywood hustler, loved in public, hated in private, a womanizing alcoholic who cried betrayal when others in the profession asked for what he should have given them in the first place, a man routinely disloyal his colleagues who lied to protect his own interests.

            From the beginning, STAR TREK was modified and “created” by others than Roddenberry. He had no background in Science Fiction. At Desilu, Herb Solow read Roddenberry’s short treatment for a space opera and realized it projected an anthology series with new characters every week. It would require way too much exposition before getting to the story. Solow suggested the Captain’s voice-over prologue to put the viewer into perspective. What Roddenberry did was develop the parameters of STAR TREK, sell the series, and recruit the writers. He insisted that the cast be multi-racial and multi-ethnic and refused to take Lt. Uhura [Nichelle Nichols] off the bridge to suit a Southern market. At the same time, he was a devout sexist and Network executives had a field day keeping Roddenberry’s sexual fantasies off the little screen. In a production meeting, he agreed that women should be represented equally on a planet, but “you’d never want to let women actually get into power. All women are cunts, and you can’t trust them [p. 241].” The network couldn’t keep his mistress out of the series in spite of her lack of acting ability. Majel Barrett kept showing up as Nurse Chapel. “No one liked her acting,” said Herb Solow. “She got the part because she was Roddenberry’s woman [p. 65].”

            Gene continued to insert his sexual fantasies and when he was jamming possible characters for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, he described Lt. Commander Troi as “a four-breasted, oversexed hermaphrodite [226],’’ a description which made Dorothea Fontana angry. She hated the idea of this character and wrote: “I honestly believe you will offend most women, and maybe a lot of men with this character. Besides, how are you going to arrange those four provocatively shaped breasts? Four in a row? They had better be small. Two banks of two? Do you know how much trouble women have with the normal number--keeping them out of the way of things, I mean, four straight up and down? Don’t be silly [227].” Fontana worked for Roddenberry as a writer and secretary for years, but they had a falling out when he tried to cheat her out of Guild wages on a script. She went to the Guild to complain and was punished by being moved to a tiny noisy office where she could not work effectively. An accomplished writer with many stories to her credit, Roddenberry considered her his factotum and couldn’t accept her independence. In today’s business climate, Roddenberry would be fighting more than one sexual harassment lawsuit.

            He thought of himself as a writer and was not good at sharing the credit. He got into the field by writing scripts about his police experiences for DRAGNET, then doing Western stories for HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. He became involved with the world of Science Fiction and was never able to admit his inability to write the genre. He rewrote his betters and lost a lot of respect in the process. As Engel notes: “For a show as big and as popular as STAR TREK, he might have given thanks where deserved at no detriment to himself, but as the years passed, Roddenberry increasingly assumed credit that belonged to others. On his own STAR TREK: THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY tribute show, he did not convey gratitude to a single writer [p. 88].” Instead, Roddenberry began to lie about his own career, comparing himself with writers like Rod Serling, always making himself superior in the process. Engel pointed out that Serling wrote 92 of the 156 TWILIGHT ZONE episodes and “never rewrote scripts submitted by other writers [116].” Roddenberry’s justification for rewriting pros like Sturgeon and Ellison was that they knew their stuff, but they didn’t know the world of STAR TREK, the intimate relationships between the characters who populated the bridge of the Enterprise, so what his rewriting amounted to was having the characters speak and react the way Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Bones, et al, would. Basically, Roddenberry didn’t want the stories of other writers to interfere with his folksy comfortable TV serial. As time passed, he became overly protective of the characters, most of whom he considered extensions of himself, and he did not want anyone suggesting any behavior that did not fit in with his tight conception of the limits of Kirk, Spock, et al. Roddenberry was very adept at manipulating the people who worked for him. His M. O. was to tell a writer or actor that he was responsible for their success that he had gone to bat for them against the opposition of the network suits. He was very good at good cop/bad cop and bitter when those who were manipulated held it against him later on.

            To understand Roddenberry’s behavior in his later years, it helps to know some of the cardinal rules of “the business.” Writers, first off, have no status in Hollywood; indeed, they are the butt of jokes told at networking parties. I often heard the one about the groupie who was so naive about getting movie roles that she fucked a writer. Beneath the upper echelon that being the Board of Directors of whichever corporation owns the controlling interest in the studio, power lies in the hands of producers, those next to the producers, directors, and down near the bottom is the writer, the poor schmuck without whom there would be no picture or series in the first place. Take a look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s PAT HOBBY stories; that’s the life of a working writer. So Gene Roddenberry had a conflict. He wanted to be the writer, but a writer has no status, so he went for producer and made it, launching the successful series, STAR TREK. But one series is nothing to brag about when you are in competition with guys like Norman Lear and Aaron Spelling who had success after success in their long careers. Joel Engel has all the details about Roddenberry’s life from his umpteen prescription drugs and his drinking and his mistresses, but he doesn’t put the man in the larger context of Hollywood business culture. Roddenberry was in competition with the other guys doing series tv and feature films and he felt like a failure in a scene where you have to prove yourself over and over again and you’re only as good as your last success. The blockbuster success of STAR WARS shook Roddenberry down to his toes. George Lucas took over with one film! How tame and innocuous STAR TREK seemed after the overwhelming speed and excitement of STAR WARS. While a character was beaming up or down from the Enterprise, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker fought several battles against Darth Vader. A special effect on the TV series was created by shaking the camera to simulate a hit by a Klingon photon torpedo and having Sulu and Uhura do a pratfall in the background. STAR WARS took the fans into space and kept everything in motion for nearly two hours. When the executives saw those lines, STAR TREK was hurried into a feature film and lawsuits and contract disputes were settled fast in order to cash in on Lucas’ bonanza. In my opinion, it was no contest.  STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was a longwinded bore, based on the charisma of the original TV cast, a two hour curtain call; STAR WARS had new young stars like Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. By 1977, the cast of STAR TREK was a bit long in the tooth for the kids in the line. One thing I remember STAR WARS having that STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE did not was a repeat audience. There were STAR WARS fans that saw the film a dozen or more times in the theater.

            Few people were as adept at manipulating the Networks and the fans as Roddenberry. He liked to make Network executives the villains in his talks at Conventions and he blamed them for the demise of the original series, but the economics and ratings tell a different story. STAR TREK had a very small audience in the late sixties and it was cancelled along with a lot of other shows due to low commercial sales.  The series gained a cultic following through Science Fiction conventions and only started to make money in syndication. By 1977, it was technologically behind the times, a dated video game. STAR WARS had adventure and humor. Abbott and Costello had become comic relief androids named C3PO and R2D2; STAR TREK was humorless and stilted by comparison. Roddenberry had a pinball mind in a hi-tech video game culture.

            Joel Engel’s study of Gene Roddenberry is a welcome antidote to the many glowing tributes to various aspects of STAR TREK, all those pleasant tales of how great it was having birthday parties and laughs on the set; the fan who can take a dose of reality will find this book a sobering experience; the average Trekkie will hate it.

 

“Apart from drinking immediately upon awakening, Roddenberry also variously ingested both prescribed and illegal substances: quantities of Nyquil, Valium, cocaine, Seconal, Desyrel (an antidepressant that causes drowsiness, particularly when used with other drugs or alcohol), Ritalin (a stimulant when used by adults; generally used by children to counter the effects of hyper activity), Trandate (for high blood pressure), Micronase (for diabetes), Dexamyl (a stimulant), Prozac (an antidepressant), Norpramin (another antidepressant), and a range of diet pills [238].” Said David Gerrold, “I’m not sure I ever saw him sober.” 

 

 

 

GERALD RUBIN [1938-1994] by Clay Geerdes

 

“For us as a generation, the courtroom and jails may be becoming more important than the universities. We are outlaws, enemies of the state. Our enemy owns the police, the courts, the jails. We are no freer than the poorest black woman or man in the darkest jail.

 

--Jerry Rubin

We Are Everywhere, 1971

 

Jerry Rubin died Monday evening, November 28, 1994, at the UCLA Medical Center. Born July 14, 1938, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jerry showed up in Berkeley in the spring of 1965 to form the Vietnam Day Committee. Jerry had a great sense of humor and a flair for happenings. He was a genius at street theater and a fine orator. He would have been a good Mayor for Berkeley had he won in 1967. Run down jaywalking across the street in front of his Brentwood home, I suspect Jerry would have enjoyed the absurdity of his end. We met numerous times over the years and I always enjoyed the short conversations I had with him. During his activist period, he came to Sonoma State College where I was teaching and spoke to the student body. I think he told everyone what a shuck organized education was and suggested the best thing to do was burn down the college and get on with life. It was all part of his public persona at the time. Almost from day one when the media learned Jerry was fast with a sound bite, cameras followed him around. He enjoyed it and he seldom let them down. At the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967, monstrous gathering of the tribes which included all the pop cult intellectuals of the time, Tim Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lenore Kandel, and umpteen others, Rubin showed up in a Revolutionary soldier’s uniform. The crowd wasn’t up for any political speeches and I think all Leary said was “Turn on, tune in, and drop out of all social games,” while Rubin just smiled and waved at the huge crowd from center stage. ‘Twas not the time to talk, not with the Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Sopwith Camel and the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead and a dozen other bands waiting to play. Ginsberg was into his East Indian trip, playing his harmonium and chanting mantras. Snyder was writing about American Indians and retribalization in the San Francisco ORACLE and Lenore Kandel had just been busted for the openly expressed sexual poetry in her LOVE BOOK. Rubin was just one of the players in that incredible scene, but he always held his own. We were at a party one evening at the Great American Music Hall. Jim and Artie Mitchell [May you rest in peace, Artie.] were throwing the party for Georgina Spelvin and Linda Lovelace and I think it was a promo for THE DEVIL IN MS. JONES, but there were so many parties in those days, who remembers; anyway Robert Opel had just streaked the academy awards that April and streaking had become faddist around the Bay Area so Jerry Rubin and Roger May stripped and streaked the party.

            That’s the Jerry Rubin I remember. I wasn’t in Chicago for fiasco of 1968, but I followed the trial of the Chicago 7 with a great deal of interest; most of us considered it kind of a last hurrah for the American Establishment; of course, in subsequent years corporate power assimilated the media into a few easily controlled conglomerates, but we still don’t believe that corporate bullshit and Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman had a lot to do with debunking and tearing the mask off the beast with one republican and one democratic head.

            Jerry’s book DO IT is one of the classics of the sixties and I am sure it will go on inspiring people. If you can’t find this book and you’d like to read some of Jerry’s best stuff, check out his articles in the Berkeley BARB, or his WE ARE EVERYWHERE [New York: Harper and Row, 1971] or his autobiography GROWING UP AT 37. The Berkeley public library maintains a microfilm collection of the BARB and other underground newspapers. Jerry wrote for the BARB off and on from late 1965 through 1969. Unlike a lot of his peers, Jerry made a good living in the last years of his life. He marketed a product that sold well and got the only thing capitalism has to give, material wealth. Some say he sold out, but I never knew Rubin the latter-day businessman, the networker; I knew the social gadfly, the clown, the guy who had no patience with the serious face of fascism, and I’m glad I knew him.

            This afternoon I stopped by a rally of veterans of the 1964 Free Speech Movement in Sproul Plaza on the University of California campus in Berkeley. Mario Savio was speaking about the recent passage of a bill to tighten up on immigration laws as “creeping fascism,” while down the concrete steps past Ludwig’s fountain a cacophonic punk band was whining away in front of Zellerbach Hall. It was Friday, December 2, 1994, and the occasion was the 30th anniversary of the FSM. Lots of folks hugging and enjoying the sun. Old activists and well-seasoned hippies infiltrated by blue-clad cops on bicycles and a handful of yuppie scum; ah, you would have loved it, Jerry.

 

BATMAN WAS A WOMAN by Clay Geerdes

 

But it was the Bat who held her interest; his daring assumption of the detective’s identity, his searching of the house ostensibly for their safety but in reality for the treasure, and that one moment of irresolution when he did not shoot the doctor at the top of the ladder. And thereafter lost his chance.

 

Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Bat, 1926

 

The idea of a double identity, a secret identity, is mainly feminine. A man is less in need a secret identity because all the major social roles are available to him and he can explore roles and identities at will. Men are allowed to go into the world and have adventures, join armies, explore, seek their fortunes, while women have only fantasies about such endeavors. Why are male characters presented with secret identities in popular entertainment? Batman is free to do things Bruce Wayne cannot do? Why? How is it that Wayne can put on a ridiculous costume and ride around Gotham in an armored car, fighting pulp villains--why couldn’t he just ride around as Bruce Wayne and do the same thing? The costume doesn’t give him any powers he doesn’t have as Wayne. He’s not an extraterrestrial like Superman. He works out and keeps his muscles toned, but his strength is not superhuman.

            I mention Batman for a couple of specific reasons. First, the origin of the character is feminine, not masculine. He was invented by Mary Roberts Rinehart in THE BAT in 1926. The novel was made into a B movie in 1931 and was seen by Bob Finger who remembered the gist of it when he started writing BATMAN for DC Comics in 1939. Bob Kane didn’t invent the character. He was asked to develop a clone of Superman after the Siegel and Schuster character became a best seller in mid 1938. Finger took the idea of a secret identity, a masked night avenger using the symbology of a bat to frighten criminals; right out of Rinehart, then borrowed liberally from Walter Gibson’s radio stories about THE SHADOW. In the 1920s when Rinehart was writing her early mysteries, women had just gotten the vote but they were still trapped in a few menial roles. Men ran the government and the corporations and women played passive roles at home and in their communities. The only place they could break out of the wife/secretary/mistress role was in fiction and it is not difficult to understand why Rinehart projected The Bat as a surrogate self, a character who was free to invade the homes of the rich for fun or profit. The flapper was the symbol of this era, a wild young woman who smoked in public, drank a lot of bootleg booze, and flaunted her sexuality; she flapped her wings like a bird and thumbed her nose at the last vestiges of Victorian convention. But there were few flappers and most were the daughters of the rich, women like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda. Most women worked in offices or cooked and cleaned at home while their husbands worked in factories and offices. Movie fantasies acted out by Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, and Bette Davis were aimed at these repressed, hard-working women. Which of them did not relate to the idea of a secret identity? How could they accept the daily grind as all that life had to offer? Look how they fared in male fantasy; in the westerns, they were left standing on the porch in a Victorian dress as the male hero rode his horse off into the sunset. A man was free to leave home and seek his fortune, but a woman had to wait patiently at home doing needlepoint or crocheting her doilies until a man acceptable to her father came along and asked her to marry him, in which case she ceased working in her father’s house to begin doing the same work in her husband’s. That women were dissatisfied with this passive role is clear from the prose of feminist intellectuals like Amelia Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Wollstonecraft, but that dissatisfaction began to manifest itself more strongly in the popular fiction of the 1920s. A shrinking violet trapped in her kitchen, behind the dime store counter, or office cubbyhole could put on her costume at night and ride out to get revenge against the male oppressor. The Bat was a woman, not a man. Rinehart was not content to be anyone’s “gal Friday.”

            If one goes a bit further back in history, it’s plausible to suggest a feminine origin for Superman as well. Jerry Siegel adapted his character from Philip Wylie’s 1930 novel, GLADIATOR, wherein a scientist developed a serum from the bodies of insects, injected it into his pregnant wife, and created a son with superhuman strength. Well, Mary Shelley created a being with superhuman strength in her novel, FRANKENSTEIN, in 1818, and Wylie, consciously or unconsciously, assimilated a lot of the atmosphere and lore of FRANKENSTEIN into GLADIATOR. While her husband, Percy Shelley went off in his boat to have adventures with his friends, Mary was left at home to take care of the house and the children. She was free to explore the outer world only through her fantasy character. Trapped in a feminine role, she would free herself by creating a being able and free to do what she could not. Mary Roberts Rinehart was quite wealthy, being the daughter of a publisher, but she was just as trapped in a feminine role. Agatha Christie had shown the way in England when she broke into print with THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD in 1920. Through fiction, a writer can have as many identities as s/he wants. Christie was Jane Marple in one story, Hercule Poirot in the next. Though never as prolific as Christie, Rinehart was a major influence on American popular culture.

            Children, even more powerless than women, need a secret identity. That identity is who they feel they are in contrast to the identity projected upon them or for them by the adult world. Super-heroism continues to be a major industry in the United States because the average person feels more and more powerless and needs vicarious satisfaction.[9] Though women have made certain breakthroughs since the days of THE BAT, they continue to need symbolic satisfaction, primarily because the culture in which they function is still dominated by men.  In the 1980s, Alexander Salkind made a mega-series of SUPERMAN films. There were four of them, followed by SUPERWOMAN--nope, by SUPERGIRL. While SuperMAN was taken seriously, SuperGIRL was treated like a joke. The villain was not a symbol of the male establishment; hence the fantasy was not structured for an audience of young career-oriented women. Faye Dunaway was cast as the heavy and the film was turned into a cat fight, a soft version of the lesbian fantasy that often precedes the entrance of the male stud in standard American porn. The point is: Hollywood projects the SuperMAN and negates even the possibility of a SuperWOMAN.[10] BATMAN RETURNS was no different. The Catwoman fought against the male establishment and held her own against Batman, but in the end the male world prevailed. Built into that mega-thriller was a lot of violence toward women, perhaps the worst being a scene where a secretary was thrown through a plate glass window to fall several stories to a snow-covered sidewalk where she was menaced and scratched by a pack of scavenging cats. Built or embedded in most male-oriented thrillers are fantasies wherein women are effectively punished for presuming to want the right to participate in the power structure.

            I’ve asked various women I know what they get out of these macho male fantasy thrillers, certainly a valid question since the megabucks from the SUPERMAN series came from a mixed audience, and I learned that the women identified with the male characters and got off on the violence. In other words, they ceased to think of themselves as women, gave up their identities, and became surrogate-males during the film. They saw themselves in male drag doing the chasing, beating, maiming, and killing. My own mother was too independent for this kind of gender-shifting self-denial and she refused to go to westerns. My dad took me and my brother on Friday nights. Mom only went to what she called character movies, by which she meant movies where women had strong roles. She identified with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck. In other words, she wasn’t going to give up thinking of herself as a woman and sit around for a couple of hours pretending to be Roy Rogers or Gene Autry shooting at stock villains from central casting. Though my brother and I were always running around the house with towels pinned around our necks pretending to be Superman or Batman, my mother managed to ignore the existence of cartoon characters. Young mothers in the 1980s were pressured by television ads to come and see SUPERMAN fly Lois Lane around Manhattan. Technology, along with the wit of Mario Puzo and the charisma of Christopher Reeves, made the package successful.

            The new LOIS AND CLARK series was developed by a woman, Deborah Joy Levene, and it downplays male action and gratuitous violence in favor of an exploration of the ramifications of the impossible love affair between a human Lois and an extraterrestrial Clark. We have come full cycle here because Levene, like Mary Roberts Rinehart, can examine the positive and negative aspects of a double-identity, having her cake and eating it, too. In this new series, Lois Lane routinely initiates the action, but Superman does not always save her in the end; she often takes care of herself, physically and intellectually. For the most part, Levene remains true to the fantasy history of Jerry Siegel’s characters, but it is the rapport between the cast members that has made the series a success with both sexes. Any writer explores various aspects of the self through fiction and those that work for a large audience become popular, those that fail drop into the waste basket of history. Like Clark Kent, we all have double-identities, a public and a private self, but I tend to think the gap between these selves is wider for women and children and is likely to remain that way until major corporate and cultural changes occur. I find the paradox interesting. Clark Kent and his alter-ego, Superman, are always deceiving Lois Lane, because he is never what he seems to be. At times she almost realizes that the barrier between the two is nothing but a pair of glasses, but not quite. Why not? Is it because she is afraid to accept his real self? After all, if Lois knew Clark was really Superman, the family structure of the Daily Planet newsroom would be changed. Lois would no longer be the favored reporter of a paternal Perry White, working on exciting news stories with a brotherly Clark and kid brother Jimmy Olsen. Superman could never be subservient to anyone. He’s an immortal extraterrestrial from Krypton.

            Aren’t all human relationships dependent upon mutual deception? While Levene reveals a lot of enlightened feminist thinking in her series, one can only wonder at a figure conspicuously missing from the mix. Perry White is everyone’s good daddy, but where is Mom? Clark Kent’s foster mother is present in the script from time to time, but she is not the head of the Daily Planet. Of course, Levene’s Perry White is an Elvis Presley fan; could it be. . . No, no, we don’t want to think about that too long.

 

 

 

SNOW WHITE REVISITED by Clay Geerdes

 

When he was a kid, Walt Disney saw the silent version of SNOW WHITE[11] starring Marguerite White. He remembered all the details of that 1917 movie and by the time he was a successful animator and studio owner in Hollywood in the early thirties, he had begun to plan a full-length animated film. The result was SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Hundreds of animators worked on this film, which premiered on December 21, 1937, at the Cathay Circle Theater in Hollywood, kicking off the Golden Age of animation. Escapist fantasy was badly needed by a Depression audience that wanted to hear an innocent clod like Snow White sing about the day when her Prince would come to take her away from the drudgery of everyday life. That song sold millions of copies during a time when reality consisted of mass unemployment, starvation,  banks stealing the farms of second generation Midwestern immigrants  to make way for the conglomerates of the 1990s, and Railroad thugs and local police beating the homeless who rode the rails in search of food and a job--Hey, the poor could go to the movies and watch Snow White commune with all the happy little forest critters for a dime and within that saccharine fantasy they got the satisfaction of seeing seven brave little mine workers chase down and kill off the Capitalist witch. What was not to love about Snow White? Didn’t she cook and clean and sew and bake like a good little slave until that random Prince strolled through the glade and saved her with a kiss? Wasn’t every woman working in a sweat shop or standing on her feet in a truck stop diner all day or ironing clothes every Tuesday for half a dozen dirty little kids sitting there in a dark little Kansas theater longing for a wealthy handsome Prince to come along on his white horse and carry her off to eternal bliss and happiness2 ever after?

            Disney did not use the Grimm fairy tale as a source in his long cartoon. Some of the differences are significant. In the first version of the Grimm tale of Schneewittchen [Little Snow White, 1810], a mother, not a stepmother, becomes jealous of the developing beauty of her daughter, so envious that she decides to take the girl into the forest and abandon her to the wild animals who live there. This was too heavy for the Grimm Brothers. By the revised version of 1812, the Queen had become a vain stepmother, whose husband, the King was suspiciously missing from the story. There is a lot of misogyny in the 200 plus tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, neither of whom was a true folklorist; they revised their stories at will and all have a literary structure that is lacking in most oral history. They claimed their source was an old peasant woman named Dorothea Viehmann, but this was found to be a lie; the source turned out to be the educated French daughter of an innkeeper and many of the stories were fabricated by Grimm’s wife and sister-in-law! Tsk! Tsk. The interested reader is referred to John Ellis’s ONE FAIRY STORY TOO MANY: THE BROTHERS GRIMM AND THEIR TALES. University of Chicago Press, 1983.

            Those who are concerned that Disney took liberties with the fairy tale should realize that Walt simply reconstructed a movie version he saw as a kid; he did not care about being true to fantasy history.[12] All that is left from Grimm in SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, out on video for the first time this month, is the character of a jealous woman out to murder her stepdaughter. Snow White’s arrival in the forest and her exploration of the house of the dwarfs is taken from GOLDILOCKS and her awakening to the touch of the Prince’s magic lips is a swipe from SLEEPING BEAUTY. In Grimm, the Prince’s servants were lifting the glass coffin and one of them stumbled, jarring the piece of poisoned apple out of Snow White’s mouth. The sentimental touches like Snow White’s harmony with all the birds and animals of the forest were invented by Disney and his animators. None of this is in any way true to nature; these creatures would scrupulously avoid one another, and none, I am quite sure, would fly around helping Snow White clean up after a group of mine workers. In Grimm, the place is already clean when Snow White arrives and the Dwarfs, like the three bears, discover her presence from the things she has disturbed. Walt’s major change was to age Snow White and develop a romance theme. In Grimm, she was seven years old. Walt’s Snow White, designed and rotoscoped by Grim Natwick who did Betty Boop and Glory [Gulliver’s Travels] is a young woman. MGM did the same thing with Baum’s WIZARD OF OZ in 1939. Dorothy Gale was 5 in the book. Judy Garland was around 16 in the film. Both of these escapist fantasies have become cultic. SNOW WHITE was re-released every seven years, while THE WIZARD OF OZ routinely plays on TV and in re-run houses every Easter.

            Snow White is the heroine of her story, but only in the sense of being the main character. What does she do that is admirable? What heroic acts does she perform? The Queen is threatened by the developing beauty of her stepdaughter and she acts to eliminate this threat to her vanity, but throughout the film Snow White is little more than an innocent victim, one who is ultimately rewarded for being and remaining a servile victim. She doesn’t fight back against her stepmother’s attempts to kill her. She doesn’t even learn from experience. She is suckered three times by the same gentle little old peddler; she docilely bites the apple and goes into a coma. Disney makes the seven dwarfs his collective hero, perhaps the major key to understanding the success of this film in 1937.  They chase the witch up a mountain and off a cliff in the middle of a roaring thunderstorm. We know from previous scenes that they are afraid of her and have to fight their fear in order to go after her, so they grow through experience, but Snow White remains a singing doll, unchanged at the end of the film. As a model of behavior, what does Snow White suggest to her mid-Depression audience? The Queen would be a good contemporary feminist. When something threatens her, she doesn’t lay down and take it, she fights back. Snow White is a passive victim who is rewarded for her looks, not for any of her actions. The huntsman frees her because of her beauty. What would he have done if she were ugly, killed her? Ah, well, she was only exiled from the kingdom because of her beauty; ugliness would have been no threat to the Queen. In the end, Snow White is saved a second time by her beauty. The Prince would have ignored her had she been plain or ugly. The Princes of this world have no use for plain folks. One look at those beauty contest winners on the arms of wealthy movie stars and corporate execs in the National ENQUIRER tells the tale, though the audience never seems to get it.  We are supposed to think Snow White was rewarded in the end of the film that she was saved by the Prince. But what really happens? She was living happily in the forest with a group of guys who loved her and looked after her, the guys who saved her worthless carcass when the chips were down; the Prince did nothing for her. What kind of life will she live in his castle, the life of a trophy? Will she send for her stepmother’s magic mirror and start the cycle over? SNOW WHITE worked for the unsophisticated farm girl in a dark Iowa theater, for the Illinois waitress pregnant with her fourth child and married to a guy who was anything but a Prince, and it worked for Walt Disney who grew up in Marceline, Missouri, and lived for the day he could escape small town life and move to a city.

            Am I the only person who sees that Snow White betrayed the guys who loved her and took care of her by running off with a rich flake on a white horse?

            The question we have to ask in 1994 is how a Depression fantasy from 1937 can come out on video and sell over 20,000,000 copies in a couple of days. One would think we still had widespread unemployment, homelessness, Food not Bombs breadlines in the parks, folks living under the yoke of Democracy longing for the benevolent Monarchies of old. Yeah, well, for most modern Snow Whites the only guy whose going to show up at their doors in uniform will be a mail carrier or a cop and either way the news is likely to be something they would rather not hear.

 

 

 

SPECIES

 

Review by Clay Geerdes

 

SPECIES begins as a feminine revenge fantasy, but ends in male triumph, a standard ploy in current mega-thriller psychology. Ms. Goodbar is the product of another secret government experiment gone awry. Scientists combine alien DNA with human DNA and the result is a beautiful blonde female who contains a slimy alien insectoid creature a la the scorpion-esque ALIEN [1979]. When the head scientist decides to terminate her with cyanide gas in her cubicle, she escapes and enters the general population of Los Angeles, weirdo capital of the United States where “anything and everything is accepted and anything she does will be accepted as normal.” The Government assembles a team of experts to track her/it down and kill it and the chase is on.

            Expect no new assumptions or information in this pot-boiler. It is assumed that human and alien DNA are compatible and would combine in a Petri dish under the right conditions. Alien strength and intelligence is assumed to be superior to that of humans, an assumption I’ve never understood. Though insect species repeat without any advancement from generation to generation with no cerebral evolution, we are asked to believe that this insectoid alien species combined with the egg of a Nordic human female is somehow endowed with superior strength and intelligence. Not only is our new blonde alien able to throw 200 pound men across the room with a flick of her wrist, but she can smash through steel walls and hop around with the agility of Spider Man. The insect origin of superhuman strength goes back to science fiction pulp. The character who became Superman was swiped by Joe Siegel from the lead character of GLADIATOR [1930], a novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. Hugo Danner’s scientist father created a son with superhuman strength by injecting his pregnant wife with a solution contrived from the bodies of various insects, ants and grasshoppers among them. He reasoned that the ant can lift a hundred or more times its own weight and the grasshopper can jump several feet from weed to weed, so why wouldn’t these abilities be transferred to a human being if the right serum was made and injected? Mad science to be sure, but the result was a Samson-esque Hugo who could toss around real rocks like they were as light as the paper maché ones in early black and white movie serials. Siegel rewrote GLADIATOR as a comic strip and Canadian artist Joe Shuster laid it out in panels. They put a costume on the character and called him Superman in 1932. The early Superman lifted cars and leaped over buildings like a grasshopper, but as the years passed he learned to fly and perform numerous other miracles. By the sixties, Spiderman, a more neurotic, hence realistic, clone of Superman was entertaining the kids [and college students]. His origin had to do with a spider and an electrical experiment a la Whale’s early FRANKENSTEIN film.

            SPECIES could have developed into an interesting film, but after a nice opener the ball is tossed to the stunt men and any intellectual speculation is rejected in favor of a long chase through what is supposedly the sewer system of Los Angeles. The alien has a single goal. She is out to mate. She only kills when she is threatened, which means she has license to kill anything or anyone who comes along because how could she be in a strange town like Los Angeles without seeing just about everything as a threat? Fact is, like all the parts of a thriller, she functions the way she does because of the way the stunt is designed to work. If the conflict between intellect and instinct is violated, so what? There is, for example, no reason for her to kill the man she mates with. He has just had sex with what appears to be a beautiful woman and he is happy as a clam, certainly no threat to her. She can just smile, get up, and leave. Instead, she kills the guy. I found this a complete contradiction of her intelligence and a negation of the character established for her.

            SPECIES is designed with built in revenge fantasies for both women and men. When this woman with superhuman powers is strolling down the street in Los Angeles, women in the audience get satisfaction out of knowing she is not under the kind of threat they face in their everyday lives. Whoever harasses this woman is going to die, folks. And sure enough in her quest for a mate, the alien picks up your typical male chauv in a body bar. She goes home with him and is about to do him but she senses he is defective [another power pasted on to her--for her to know from being close to a guy that he’s diabetic implies an extensive knowledge of human medicine she could not possibly have, but onward] and changes her mind. Well, he hasn’t changed his and he tells her to take her clothes off. He didn’t bring her home for any rejection scene. Well, all right, she says, and takes off her bra so we can all look at her perfect breasts [not him, because she could have killed that poor chump without taking off the bra]. After we have seen them for a few seconds, she closes with him and gives him the kiss of death; actually, her alien tongue zaps through and comes out the back of his head covered with brains and gore; it’s that kind of movie, folks.

            Date rape thwarted and woman’s revenge fantasy completed, it’s back to the chase. The government has recruited a claque of “experts” to hunt down the alien, as though anyone on good old terra firma could be an expert on extra-terrestrial life. It just has to be this way, because that’s the way it was in the earliest science fiction movies. The Empathy is used like a hunting dog and a lot of the behavior forced on this black actor is reminiscent of that endured by Eddie Robinson. His eyes bug out and he breaks into a sweat when he sees the alien’s newly born child snap up a sewer rat with his tongue as quick as a toad reels in a passing fly. Subliminal geek show here for the folks upon whom the heady science plot got lost in the first couple of scenes.

            The women get their revenge fantasies worked out early in the film, but once in the sewer it’s a male world again and the guys are after alien who has shed her blonde shell and is now a vicious slimy insectoid monster fighting for her life. The macho male who “hunts things” ultimately blows her into a thousand pieces and the audience cheers. Men and women. The con always works.

            Give you an interesting aside. Alix Forrest wasn’t supposed to die at the end of FATAL ATTRACTION. In the original version, she lived on. The preview audiences wouldn’t have it. They hated her and wanted her dead! That’s what the cue cards said. So the ending was re-shot and Alix was off’d in the bathroom by the betrayed wife. The audience got to see her shot up and bloody in the bathtub and that made them happy. The film, as we all know, went on and on in the theaters, won awards.

            Kinda makes you wonder about the people sitting around you in the theater, huh? If you want a quasi-psychological analysis of SPECIES, I’d say the reason it has to end with the obliteration of the female has to do with feminine ambivalence. Women may get angry and have fantasies of killing or castrating the men who hustle them, harass them, cheat on them, etc., but the civilized part of their psyche cannot accept that primitive killer instinct so the screen fantasy has to be balanced. The alien rapes a man in one scene; she rides on top and is in control and when she feels life begin inside her she no longer needs the male so she kills him. In SPECIES, the women in the audience get satisfaction when the alien kills a macho date-rapist, but they cannot admit to themselves that this impulse is alive in their psyche so they have to repress it; or have it repressed for them by the maker of the film. The male rape scene may not make sense to some readers, but there are a number of women around today who want to have children but do not want to deal with men. For an interesting discussion of this and the revised ending of FATAL ATTRACTION, the reader is referred to Susan Faludi’s BACKLASH.

 

 

SUPER BOWL FOOTNOTE by Clay Geerdes

 

The year’s longest beefcake ad; Baby-faced Stan meets Big Mormon. A product is linked with every announcement via computer. Sublims have been replaced by supralims. We’re into the day of the ultra-liminal ad that beats you over the head with the product.

            Let ‘em eat pizza! Ad during Super Bowl game. 1995. Management sits in a warm office while labor pickets outside on a dreary day. The pizza delivery arrives and one of the workers looks up as he is about to take a bite out of his slice. Management nods in a friendly manner. Great fucking guys aren’t they. Ever notice how management can afford to buy full page ads in the corporate papers to tell the public how good and honorable it is?

            The worker as clod ad. Two soft drink drivers in a diner. One gets a Pepsi, the other a coke. They smile at each other, a little beefcake flirtation here. The Pepsi driver gives the other a drink of his Pepsi. Coke driver reciprocates. Coke driver then refuses to give the Pepsi back. Cut to outside shot of the diner with a stool crashing out the window. As if the workers would fight over the worth of product. This condescending ad implies working people are stupid. In a MacDonald’s ad, the woman announcer, Lesley Visser, gets hit in the head with the football. Message there?

            Helmeted beer bottles in combat? They ought to put nipples on those bottles. Got to be the most insulting beer commercial extant.

            A little boy gets sucked into his Pepsi bottle and a little girl picks it up and squints in the top at him. Poetic truth here.

            Nebraska won the National Championship this year and that fact was printed on everything from t-shirts and whisky glasses to women’s underwear. It’s a fact. You can buy a pair of women’s white nylon panties in the Nebraska Bookstore with GO BIG RED! Stenciled across the buns. Send a pair to Barry Switzer with a tape of Memories are made of this.

            Bowl games, Pageants, Awards ceremonies, and TV specials are annual corporate promotional, mega-celeb ads.  Major athletes sell out to corporations and become extensions of product early on, hence every time they are seen the viewer is confronted with product--cars, tennis shoes, junk food. Bruce Jenner became the world’s greatest athlete at the Olympic Games and the best he could do was a job selling cameras??  

            Another MISS AMERICA PAGEANT coming up. They ought to get those women out there on the astro-turf, suit them up, and let them play for the title. Enough of this baton-twirling, ballet dancing, opera singing, and strutting around with taped-up tits and vaselined lips--Toss the coin! Play ball. Hey, if they need a half-time show, they could sign up the defensive line of the 49ers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FIST FIGHT IN HEAVEN

A review of Sherman Alexie’s short stories by Clay Geerdes

 

 

Coyote, who is the creator of all of us, was sitting on his cloud the day after he created the Indians. Now, he liked the Indians, liked what they were doing. This is good, he kept saying to himself. But he was bored. He thought and thought about what he should make next in the world. But he couldn’t think of anything so he decided to clip his toenails. He clipped his right toenails and held the clippings in his right hand. Then he clipped his left toenails and added those clippings to the ones already in his right hand. He looked around and around his cloud for somewhere to throw away his clippings. But he couldn’t find anywhere and he got mad. Then he accidentally dropped his toenail clippings over the side of the cloud and they fell to the earth. The clippings burrowed into the ground like seeds and grew up to be the white man. Coyote, he looked down at his newest creation and said, Oh, shit.

 

Today is the World’s Fair in Spokane and James and I drive to Spokane with a few cousins of mine. All the countries have exhibitions like art from Japan and pottery from Mexico and mean-looking people talking about Germany. In one little corner there’s a statue of an Indian who’s suppose to be some chief or another. I press a little button and the statue talks and moves its arms over and over in the same motion. The statue tells the crowd we have to take care of the earth because it is our mother. I know that and James says he knows more. He says the earth is our grandmother and that technology has become our mother and that they both hate each other. James tells the crowd that the river just a few yards from where we stand is all we ever need to believe in. One white woman asks me how old James is and I tell her he’s seven and she tells me that he’s so smart for an Indian boy. James hears this and tells the white woman that she’s pretty smart for an old white woman. I know this is how it will all begin and how the rest of my life will be. I know when I am old and sick and ready to die that James will wash my body and take care of my wastes. He’ll carry me from HUD house to sweathouse and he will clean my wounds. And he will talk and teach me something new every day.

 

THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN

Sherman Alexie, 1993.

 

I always listened to THE LONE RANGER on the radio when I was a kid. Knew him and Tonto better than I knew the people who lived in my neighborhood. Created by Fran Striker, the program was first broadcast on January 30, 1933, a little over a year before I was born, so I suspect I heard the program for a number of years before I became aware of what it was all about, but when I did start to recognize the characters and western plots it never occurred to me that Indians hearing the program on the reservations felt toward Tonto the way blacks felt toward Stepin Fetchit or Asians toward Charlie Chan. In my memory, the Lone Ranger would often get into a jam and need Tonto to save his bacon. These radio adventure stories were fast-moving and exciting for a kid and the characters were all make believe. I never thought in terms of white, red, yellow, or black people in my childhood. I lived in a white suburb and I never saw anyone who wasn’t white. In school, I learned a lot about the Indians who had lived on the Plains, and I got the usual homogenized history of the settlement of the Midwest. But I was always aware that Nebraska was an Indian name for Flat Land and that most of the rivers and counties and many of the towns and cities in the state all retained their Indian names. My dad liked to go driving on Sundays and one day we drove through Winnebago, Nebraska, and he told me it was an Indian town, that no white people lived there. I remember being surprised at seeing a regular store with a couple of gas pumps in front and a lot of normal wood frame houses and some white picket fences. Not a wigwam or teepee in sight. A few years later one of my first jobs was making sodas and sundaes at the fountain in the kitchen of The Teepee Room of the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln. Kids from well-to-do families brought their dates there after the movies and I made their desserts. I’m sure no Indian ever set foot in The Teepee. Not in the dining room. Working in the kitchen with me were Mexican guys like the Delgado brothers, descended from some ancient South or Central American tribe, but I didn’t know anything about that in the late forties.

            In retrospect a lot of the entertainment in the movies and on the radio during my boyhood is called sexist and racist, but at the time no one took it seriously. It was make- believe, not real. It made no difference whether Penny Singleton was pretending to be a dumb blonde housewife named Blondie or Bill Robinson was pretending to be Shirley Temple’s butler or Jay Silverheels was doing his Tonto imitation. It was a diversion. I might get to a movie once a week if that often. Television has made entertainment commonplace, but it wasn’t when I was growing up. Most of the time I was working and there was no VCR at home taping sitcoms for me to watch later on. My relationships had nothing to do with the movies.

            I was always interested in Indian lore. I read library books about local tribes and the legends associated with them. My interest continued in college, but it was difficult. Indian reality is hard to take. BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE is anything but light-hearted entertainment. Much easier to read the mysteries of Tony Hillerman and see Indian life at a later stage than to relive the horrors of betrayal and genocide. There is a certain amount of anger and resentment in Sherman Alexie’s THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN, but it is tempered with good humor and the kind of stoicism that has enabled him and some of his tribe to survive in the Spokane, Washington, area. I enjoyed this collection of short stories by a young man who has had to live in two cultures all his life. While he does not deny the problems young Indians are having with drugs and alcohol, he does not dwell on the negative, choosing rather to relate humorous stories told by Thomas Builds-the-Fire and James Two-Horses. Of his father, he wrote: “during the sixties, my father was the perfect hippie, since all the hippies were trying to be Indians [24].” Which was more or less true. Gary Snyder had written in an early issue of the San Francisco ORACLE that people should take a look around them, find out what the Indians had been doing in that area, then get in touch with it, re-tribalize. The great Human Be-In that came together in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on January 14, 1967, was called a “gathering of the tribes.” I don’t recall seeing any real Indians there that day, but I suspect there were quite a few around.

            Alexie is politically aware and unafraid to express his opinions in his short stories. He has a character’s father say: “I don’t know why you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you ain’t had to fight a war. You’re lucky. Shit, all you had was that damn Desert Storm. Should have called it Dessert Storm because it just made the fat cats get fatter. It was all sugar and whipped cream with a cherry on top. And besides that, you didn’t even have to fight it. All you lost during that war was sleep because you stayed up all night watching CNN [29].” A bit later he says: “…why the hell would you want to fight a war for this country? It’s been trying to kill Indians since the very beginning [29].” For Alexie, his people have survived through their strong imagination, their ability to keep their history alive and viable. “Imagine Crazy Horse invented the atom bomb in 1876 and detonated it over Washington, D.C. Would the urban Indians still be sprawled around the one-room apartment in the cable television reservation? Imagine a loaf of bread could feed the entire tribe. Didn’t you know Jesus Christ was a Spokane Indian [149]?”   

            A few years ago, my wife and I flew up to Canada and spent a week on the island of Victoria. During that time, we drove to Duncan to visit the Indian Cultural Center there. We walked along the Kawachin River and back at the Center we watched a young Indian carving one of the many beautiful totem poles one sees in the area. He used a chainsaw to work out the larger areas of the log and smaller chisels and knives to carve the details of the thunderbirds, ravens, and coyotes. Polished and painted, the totem would be sold to a business or to the local government. We walked through town and followed the totems. There were 22 of them, all different, all beautifully carved. Originally, these were used as anchors for the houses. The pole was set first, always facing the sun, and then the house was built behind it. The images were clan symbols, but were also used to ward off bad spirits. Many of the Indian tribes in this area have survived through art.

            This is Alexie’s way. His art is poetry. His first book was I WOULD STEAL HORSES, OLD SHIRTS AND NEW SKINS. Since then he has published FIRST INDIAN ON THE MOON and THE BUSINESS OF FANCYDANCING. THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN is out in paperback from Harper.

 

 

 

JAPANESE VIRTUAL REALITY WAR NOVELS by Clay Geerdes

           

Who you hate depends on how far back you want to go in history. If you were living in this country in 1775, who did you hate? King George and the British. No taxation without representation! Off the redcoats! In 1812, it was the Brits again. Bad guys. The Eastern plantation culture still operated with the labor of African slaves who were counted as one-fifth of a person each, but the landowning class didn’t want to pay any duties to the King, so the Brits were the villains. In 1914, this collection of exiled Europeans and Chinese and Mexicans was collectively Americanized and the villains were the Germans. Many of the older Germans then living here had left Germany to escape the draft. They didn’t want to spend their life guarding the Kaiser’s property. My great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Lampe, was one of these. When war broke out between the United States and Germany, however, those Germans who had immigrated here were not well treated. By 1916, it was against Iowa law to speak German in the Lutheran Church; this during a time when many of the farm people still spoke the language of what they referred to as the “old country.” That war ended in 1917, but the anti-German prejudice did not. During the 1930s when Hitler and his party rose to power in Germany, upper-class America supported Germany, but this isolationist posture was not to endure and by 1941, America was at war with Germany and its allies, Italy and Japan. So if you were an American during the forties, you hated Germans, Italians, and Japanese. Racist propaganda was the norm in those days as the enemy was demonized. Working class people were conditioned to accept the war and to feel unpatriotic if they did not join the army and ship out or leave their homes for the nearest city to go to work in defense plants. By 1942, we were a few generations away from being immigrants and the prejudice against German-Americans was weak, particularly in war plants where most of the workers were Germans, Czechs, Poles, Italians, and other nationalities. My Dad moved us from Nebraska to Southern California that year so he could work for Douglas Aircraft. He had tried to join the army but was rejected, probably because the physical detected the beginning of the disease that was to kill him in 1949 [ALS]. The 2nd World War ended in 1945 and for a short while America was short of villains, then the newly formed CIA got President Harry Truman’s ear and suddenly The Soviet Union, who had been our ally and participated with US soldiers in the liberation of Belsen and other concentration and slave labor camps, became the new enemy. While high level Nazis were being shipped to estates in South American countries along with a lot of the Reichstag gold and stolen art, the former OSS, now the CIA was quietly transferring Nazi scientists into the space industry. Their crimes against us notwithstanding, the US government wanted their expertise for NASA.

            By the time Fat Man and Little Boy were ready, Germany was on the ropes and the mafia had cut a deal with the U.S. army to lead Patton through Italy so there would be few troops lost; that left Japan, hence Nagasaki and Hiroshima got a visit from Enola Gay.

            By now someone my age has lived through a lot of wars and known about a lot of others. I’ve had to deal with all the feelings. How do the young deal with it? A recent trend in pulp fiction in Tokyo indicates the younger generation of writers there is tired of having to apologize for Pearl Harbor, something they certainly had nothing to do with. Guys like Yoshiaki Hiyama and Junpai Gomikawa are rewriting Japanese history more to their liking. Some call these imaginary novels where Japanese battles end with America losing Virtual Reality war novels and they are being discussed in the same way science fiction is in special courses in this country. I can understand this trend. The young Japanese are no more responsible for what Hirohito did in 1941 than I am for what Adolph Hitler did in 1938. I have read several arguments about this trend, arguments that this is historical distortion, that the writers are attempting to rewrite and lie about history, but I don’t see it that way; These war novels while partially based on historical incidents make no pretense at being factual history; actually, they make less claim to historical accuracy than the novels of Leon Uris and James Clavell. I think these escapist novels are a healthy trend.

            Personally, I would vote for a government that would stop using race and nationality to manipulate me, one that would focus upon making friends instead of inventing enemies. The sins of the fathers may be laid at the feet of the sons, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept the legacy.

 

 

 

IN LIVING VIDEO: SERIAL MOM STRIKES AGAIN by Clay Geerdes

 

Good bad taste can be creatively nauseating, but at the same time appeals to the especially twisted sense of humor, which is anything but universal.

 

John Waters, 1995

 

The first time I saw Kathleen Turner in the scene where she’s running down the street with a butcher knife in her hand, it was like a dream come true. I felt like I was in cinema heaven. She is the Breck Girl gone crazy.

 

John Waters, 1995

 

Ever think that Harriet Hilliard may have hated her role as the ultimate housewife that she may have wanted to take one of her butcher knives or a pair of sewing shears to one of her gossipy neighbors? Or that Donna Reed may have hated her peachy-keen Ms. Clean screen image? Well, behind that clean-scrubbed smile, that gingham dress and spotless white apron, that casual looking hair that takes up the evening hours to maintain, lurks SERIAL MOM.

            After the bomb ended World War II, women were untimely ripped from their coveralls and welding masks and shoe-horned back into those starchy frocks that hung slightly above the ankles and well below the knees; out of those sensible working shoes and back into those spiked heels; out of the cozy little bar just down the street from Lockheed and back to the little formica and plastic kitchen. Johnny came marching home again, this time to boot Rosie the Riveter out of her job and back to life in the background. Keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant. Hoo-hah! Dust off those mother-in-law jokes. Toss out the old radio. Get a TV and learn how to be. College on the GI Bill. An Eichler home from the FHA. Don‘t wait up, honey, I’m just gonna have a few belts with the guys after work. Another New Year’s celebration with Guy Lombardo. Confetti storm. Shake, Rattle and Roll! Ah, but at my back I hear, SERIAL MOM coming near! And she’s gonna beat Patty Hearst to death with a telephone receiver for wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

            John Waters is still avenging himself on his fifties Baltimore childhood. He peels off the plastic veneer to show the horror. He knows that women hated the repressive conformity of the fifties, why gory horror films like BLOOD FEAST became very popular during the decade. He doesn’t have to mention that we had to watch that contemptible drunken scumbag Joseph McCarthy insult people on tv FOR DAYS AND DAYS in the fifties [longer than the goddamned OJ trial, folks; it’s true, ask your grandparents.], because his movies reek of repression and the reactions of the young against it. SERIAL MOM’s son, hearing some crazy woman ran down one of his teachers in the school parking lot, says, “Well, I knew he was an ASSHOLE, but I didn’t think anybody would kill him.” Waters loves to clash realities. In one scene, a few heavily made-up Donna Reed clones gossip; in the next a group of teenagers giggle over the goriest scenes from BLOOD FEAST. Hey, the young are into head-banger rock [a women’s band] and body-surfing, but SERIAL MOM and her peers are locked into the warped fifties where nothing was what it seemed. I loved the scene where MOM [Kathleen Turner, who was China Blue in CRIMES OF PASSION, and did a nice job as V. I. Warshowski, a movie panned by local Bay Area cretin reviewers] exchanged obscenities with a neighbor played by Mink Stole; very cathartic to see these two women calling each other cocksuckers and motherfuckers because imprisoned suburban women of their generation felt compelled to watch their language. Get out an old movie mag and look at a picture of Donna Reed or Barbara Hale and try to imagine them saying anything socially taboo. Why, without MOMMIE, DEAREST, we wouldn’t have known how Joan Crawford really talked, huh?

            If you haven’t seen any of John Waters’ films, you’ve been going to the wrong section in the video store. He’s always been quasi-underground, not in the sense that any of his films are pornographic a la, say, the late Curt McDowell, but because John is a social critic who ignores race and gender. Like the midnight scene in North Beach in San Francisco that flourished circa 1969-72 and introduced many of the actors who later worked with Waters, what happens off film is a lot more outrageous than what survives the cutting room. Movies like PINK FLAMINGOS are probably in the Cult section, but, surprise, SERIAL MOM is right up there with mainstream videos like THE SHADOW.

            Waters made his first movie, HAG IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET in 1964, then got together with Divine for ROMAN CANDLES in 1966, but he did not complete a feature until MONDO TRASHO in 1969. MULTIPLE MANIACS and PINK FLAMINGOS followed. In FEMALE TROUBLE, Divine gave birth on a couch in a leopard print dress and heels. In DESPERATE LIVING, a 400 pound maid squashed her employer to death by sitting on his face. P0LYESTER [1981], HAIRSPRAY [1988], and CRY-BABY in 1990 brought Waters up to SERIAL MOM. Anka Radakovich described Waters in an interview for DETAILS as “a cross between a white Little Richard, a creepy Don Knotts, and a lingerie salesman [209].” “Visiting John Waters’s apartment,” she continued, “is like ending up at a guy’s place on the first date and realizing that he is strange and you might want to get out fast [209].” John summed up his cinematic philosophy: “I think people who consider themselves normal are the most bizarre. I like real things that something is the matter with, that’s what I’m interested in. If someone or something is always bizarre, there is no irony. You need contrast. Every person has something weird about him. Try to imagine every person and what their hidden thing is. Every neighbor interviewed about a mass killer always says he was a really nice guy. Two brothers can have the same upbringing, one kills thirty people, the other is a brain surgeon. There’s no answer to that and that’s why I’m still interested--it’s one of my obsessions. Ten years later PINK FLAMINGOS socks me. That artificial insemination scene is really ugly. I mean, I’m proud of that film, but I don’t want to do it again. I did it at an age when it was good to have rage. But I don’t think it’s good to have rage at age 46. It would be like having a mohawk. When you see a 46-year-old with a mohawk, he looks like an idiot [211].”

            Asked to extend his definition of SERIAL MOM, Waters said SERIAL MOM is a comedy about a subject that is normally considered anything but humorous--serial killers and mass murderers. I’ve always thought it very interesting that you can take a topic that is generally considered quite tragic and magically put it on the movie screen, and all of a sudden it has the potential to be funny [212].” No doubt Waters is following the O. J. Simpson trial closely. He has noted that killers become instant celebrities in the 1990s. “As soon as you commit a crime, the agents are there and you’re on TV the next week [213].”

 

 

 

THE WILD GIRLS CLUB: A Casual Review by Clay Geerdes

 

Flattery, the verbal equivalent of foreplay, is important. Unfortunately, women and men have totally different ideas of what that is. Men seem to like it when women compliment them on the size or shape of their privates. Women, on the other hand, do not need to be told, ‘You have a beautiful pussy.’ Women pay so much attention to their appearance that being complimented on their genitalia is low on the priority list. It is the equivalent of being told we have an attractive anus.

 

Anka Radakovich

THE WILD GIRLS CLUB

 

 Anka Radakovich, sex columnist for DETAILS mag, put together some of her funniest columns in THE WILD GIRLS CLUB: TALES FROM BELOW THE BELT [New York: Ballantine, May, 1995]. Anka, who describes a condom as “an extra sock for the third leg,” has done everything at least once, and most things a lot more often. The difference between her and many other women authors is her willingness to talk about her experiences in detail, and like some of the folks in the AVA, particularly on the letters pages, she expresses opinions about everything. “To women, the penis is a peculiar organ. We believe that man’s best friend is actually his penis. Like a dog, it is always happy to see us, enjoys being petted, and often rubs itself against our legs. When we are not calling it “it” or “he,” we are using pet names [8].” Anka denies Freud’s theory that women envy penises: “…we do not envy the penis. The reasons are obvious. First, we would not know how to sit comfortably with one; second, we do not want something veiny falling out of our shorts; and third, a penis looks terrible in a tight dress [11].”  Oral sex, says Anka, presents semantic difficulties. “To man, sperm is ‘nature’s love juice.’ To women, this substance is as appetizing as a glassful of runny boogers [110].” Anka did a survey of sexual attitudes in the 1990s and was surprised at a lot of the answers she received. She asked “What do you regret or resent about sexuality in the 90s?” only to find the general consensus was “people felt they missed out on the sexual revolution They felt cheated and angry that their parents used to get laid more than they do. Whereas the worst fear of our parents’ generation was pregnancy, our generation’s biggest worry is AIDS [31].” Anka was encouraged by the large number of people who expressed a desire for someone to love, but realized since nearly half of her respondents admitted to cheating on their girlfriends at least once “that men are still, in the end, led around by the head between their legs [32].” From some of the kinky answers to her survey, she concluded that “deep down, men would really love to be doing the wild thing way more than they are--and the kinkier, the better [33].”

            Though routinely the tongue-in-cheek parodist, Anka engages in some of the how-to rap that made Helen Gurley Brown’s SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL a top seller three decades back. She includes a chapter on how to dump the boyfriend, noting “the breakup letter should be gentle, soothing, and always take the high road. It’s a kind move to say something about how wonderful he was, how you’ll miss being with him, and how lucky you feel to have known him. Leave out any mention of the fact that his excessive flatulence gave you headaches [39].” Men and women react differently to a break-up. “A woman’s first move is to get together with her girlfriends. She pours out the story, elicits sympathy, and listens to them tell her what a loser he was for dumping her, reminding her that he was conceited about his looks and that his penis was too small anyway [39].” And the guys? Anka pictures them racing off to a strip bar “to seek comfort in the cleavage of writhing women with names like Candy Cantaloupes [40].” C’mon, Anka, give guys credit for a little more sensitivity. Break-ups are always complex. If love has run its course, both parties may be relieved when one or the other calls the hand, but if one is still smitten while the other’s passions have drifted elsewhere, weird things may happen. A friend of mine was still in mid-passion a few years back when the object of his love/lust decided to end it. He couldn’t take it. Developed a response to her car that was almost fetishistic. Whenever he saw the car on the street, his heart pumped faster and he broke out into a sweat. He followed the car all over town, even though he knew everywhere she was likely to go. She wouldn’t talk to him on the phone and if he caught up with her car she wouldn’t roll down the window and listen to him. He was a basket case for months. And it was her he wanted, not Candy Cantaloupes or some stranger in a body bar.

            Since I have known a number of people around the Bay Area who have tried to connect via the singles ads in the various entertainment papers, I enjoyed Anka’s account of her various attempts to find Mr. Right through the ad world. She’s right about everyone lying in their ads, but that stands to reason. Does any ad ever tell the truth? Entertainers certainly don’t. Ever go to a club to see that dashing young blues singer on the poster only to find the performer at least twenty years older with a beer belly and lots of wrinkles? Anka describes one of her dates: “My third bachelor was Tom, a thirty-four-year old doctor who specialized in liver transplants and tissue research. I made the mistake of saying, ‘Tissue research, how interesting!’ and he launched into a monologue about isolating tissue cultures. After fifteen tedious minutes, I changed the subject to avoid slipping into a coma. To liven things up I asked, “when they do sex-change operations from male to female, do they really stuff the meat back up in there?’ He was not amused [59].” A friend of mine who tried the ad scene for awhile learned that a lot of middle-aged men, many of them married, some of them rapists, used the ads as a way to get sex. While she was smart enough to meet first time dates in public places she chose, she was still date raped twice in a few months time.   She never connected with anyone worthwhile in the classifieds and ultimately married a guy she had known twenty years before in high school.                                             

            After the LOVE BOAT years, most people probably thought everyone who took a cruise to Hawaii or the Caribbean Islands had pecs and buns of steel and a witty comment for every occasion, but ‘twas never thus. Says Anka: “I fantasized about an adventure set aboard an elegant ocean liner of the 1930s, a Noel Coward scenario where the men were sophisticated, the women chic. Instead I discovered Middle America aboard a crowded fourteen-floor floating hotel/mall in Vegas. The decks were packed with honeymooners from Indiana and retirees in comfy leisurewear, as well as tour groups of insurance salesmen and Finalube (oil Lubricant) conventioneers from Texas [71].”

            Anka tested out the escort services for one of her columns and interviewed the guys who showed up to service her. She asked them if they worried about AIDS. Most said they always used condoms and got tested regularly. One told her “many women insist on using Saran Wrap when he goes down to taste the tuna [124].”

            THE WILD GIRLS CLUB is a lot of fun. You’ll enjoy Anka’s piece on testing designer condoms. I’m still not used to walking into a drugstore and seeing an entire section filled with dozens of brands of an item I bought with a great deal of embarrassment from a druggist’s wife in my teen years. Anka is right when she says that embarrassment has not disappeared. “Today women and men are buying condoms, sharing both the responsibility and the shopping experience. While some men were raised to believe that a condom in their wallet was a badge of playboy-hood, women now slip them into their handbags as a matter of convenience and safety. Our only problem with shopping for condoms at the drugstore is the inevitable sudden appearance of four male salesclerks who emerge from the woodwork, eager to serve us. This makes us even more uncomfortable when we’re standing in front of boxes with names like ‘Climax,’ ‘Night Rider,’ and ‘Deep Stroker [84].’”



[1]Little in-joke there. In his SATYRICON, Petronius exposed the decadence of imperial Rome where the gourmets sat on large potty chairs. Those who preferred a pre-bulimic style could get up and use the Vomitorium.

[2]FRANKENSTEIN, third edition, 1831, p. 55. I am using the 1994 Signet reprint. The novel first appeared in 1818. A pirate version was onstage by 1823. At that time, it was legal for anyone to write a play from a book and act it out without paying royalties. Copyright law was inadequate until 1892 in England.  Family background on the Godwins and Shelleys come from St. Clair’s 1987 study.

[3]Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792. Mary Wollstonecraft was reacting to Burke’s sexist attitude toward women in his writings about the French Revolution of 1789.

[4]James Whale had a short career, 1931-41. Did 20 features and couldn’t break out of horror. Found dead in 1957 in his swimming pool in Hollywood. See Christopher Bram. FATHER OF FRANKENSTEIN, New York: Dutton, 1995, 276 pp. Rev. by Dennis Harvey, Bay GUARDIAN, June, 1995, p. 19. Whale, gay, died of a stroke. of film SUNSET BOULEVARD.

[5]Karloff was a Canadian coal miner. His name was Theodore Pratt. His main complaint about the movie was spending three hours getting made up and trying to walk around on his built-up shoes.

[6]John Steinbeck was impressed by this scene and used it in OF MICE AND MEN [1937]. His dumb monster, Lenny, encounters a woman in a barn. He just wants to put her soft hair like he pets the mouse he carries around in his pocket, but she becomes frightened and starts to scream so Lenny breaks her neck trying to quiet her. As in the Whale film, the farm workers chase Lenny down, but his friend George shoots him like the dumb animal he is before they can catch him.

[7]People often wonder about this frozen waste, but the answer is quite simple: there was an extreme cold spell in Scotland where Mary was traveling in 1812 and she was impressed when a lake froze nearby.

[8]To be imitated in France in 1831 by Victor Hugo who turned the monster into Quasimodo in NOTRE DAME DE PARIS, and by Gaston Leroux who adapted the idea into his PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

[9]The popularity of video games and the personal computer in general results from the ability of the machine to give the illusion of control and power. There is a correlation between video-game playing and comic book readership and the participants in both media are predominantly male.

[10]There was a SUPERWOMAN comic book series for awhile, but it was cancelled by poor sales because few women buy comic books and the fantasy didn’t appeal to males who are now into kung fu and karate fantasies.

[11]For an updated and more politically correct version of SNOW WHITE, the reader is referred to James Finn Garner’s POLITICALLY CORRECT BEDTIME STORIES: MODERN TALES FOR OUR LIFE & TIMES. New York: MacMillan, 1994. The dwarfs are referred to as “vertically challenged men.”

2 Or as Marlon Brando expressed it in LAST TANGO IN PARIS: “HapPENIS ever after.”

[12]It was standard Disney MO to buy a property then create a Disney version which excluded elements of the original deemed inappropriate for what Walt considered his audience. For contrasting views of Disney, compare Bob Thomas’ in-house bio with Leonard Mosley’s DISNEY’S WORLD or the more recent WALT DISNEY: HOLLYWOOD’S DARK PRINCE by Marc Eliot.

Website Builder