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The Songs I’m Not Defending

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Department Of Seasonal Surprises

Is there anything as incongruently optimistic as the appearance of a yellow rose in winter?

 

 

 

 

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Department Of Just Wondering

Regarding the Baby It’s Cold Outside controversy I’ve a confession to make: up until this year, Baby It’s Cold Outside was just one of those background holiday songs for me. I knew it existed, but I’ve never seen any of the films within which it had appeared, nor had I ever even heard the original or any of the cover versions in their entirety.  I just plain hadn’t paid attention; it was, to moiself, an earlier generation’s “classic,” of which I caught snippets every now and then on radio or TV.   [1]

What with all the brouhaha about the song, I finally listen to it the other day, and found moiself thinking, Is this really what I’m hearing? And so I googled the lyrics.

I simply must go (but baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it’s cold outside)…

The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)

Yep. I heard what I thought I heard.

 

 

“I don’t know about you, darlin,’ but nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like a retro duet about impending date rape….”

 

 

 

It was a different time;

it’s a relic of our heritage;

back then it was all in fun….

Many are the defenders trotting out these (and more) defenses for the song’s lyrics – about which, BTW, I am not horribly offended (nevertheless…ick).

And I do understand the complexities of judging the art of the past by the standards of the present. Still, I wonder about such things, and how we judge what is OK, and what needs to be relegated to the trash pile of cultural history.

It has long seemed to moiself that far too many people, especially certain Well-Meaning Liberals ®, give sexism a “cultural” pass in situations where they do not do the same for racism:

* The segregation and subjugation of black Africans – e.g. Apartheid –  is wrong and there are no excuses for it!  [2]

* The segregation and subjugation of women and girls in Muslim countries…well, it’s their culture, so hold on a minute, don’t be an anti-Muslim bigot!

I know, I know, it drives me crazy, too.

 

Coon Songs,  a genre of music that presented stereotyped images of black people, were wildly popular in the United States circa 1880 to 1920, so much so that the 1905 song “If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon“, sold three million copies (which would be the equivalent of 11 million copies today). Some of Tin Pan Alley’s greatest composers, including Irving Berlin, were enlisted to write coon songs with such cringe-worthy titles as, “All Coons Look Alike to Me”, “Old Black Joe”, and “Pickaninny Paradise.”  These songs are an undeniable part of our past, and most of them had quite catchy, sing-along melodies.  Would such a defense – It was a different time; it’s a relic of our heritage and back then it was all in fun –  survive if someone should try to revive, say, coon songs as a remembrance or acknowledgement of our legacy?

Coon, coon, coon
I wish my color would fade
Coon, coon, coon
I’d like a different shade
Coon, coon, coon
Both morning, night or noon
I’d rather be a white man
Instead of bein’ a coon
(chorus to “Coon, Coon, Coon,” Max Hunter Folk song collection)

 

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Department Of Yes, I Want It All

While I’m on the subject of art from the past… Category: Christmas movies. I really like It’s A Wonderful Life ,   [3]  but not for the reasons so many people heap praise upon it – praise I believe to be…well, predictable and even/ultimately shallow.  Because if you think IAWL is the “ultimate life-affirming, feel good holiday classic,” you are missing the point.

The idea that the love and support of one’s family and friends ultimately trumps any financial woes  [4]  is manifested in the movie’s heart-wedgying end scene, by the arrival of war hero Harry Bailey, who toasts his big brother George: “…the richest man in town…”  And I weep like a bitch baby, every time, at that line.

But, that doesn’t change the fact that the movie is dark.

Sure, IAWL is filled with some memorable characters and great dramatic and comic lines – and dreadful/sexist trope or two  [5] – but the darkness permeates it, IMHO, and, despite the Happy Holiday Ending ® George Bailey’s existential gloom is never fully resolved.

 

 

 

 

George Bailey is filled with the frustration of a lifetime of unrealized desires and seemingly unattainable goals, compounded by the guilt that comes from that over arcing/underlying message from your society/culture/religion that whatever you have should be enough to make you happy [6]  or at least content with your lot in life.  And it usually is….but what if you also want something more?

The protagonist’s dilemma was presented as a choice between two conflicting destinies:

(1) George Bailey can have a happy domestic life; or
(2) He can shake off the dust of his one-horse town, hop on a cattle boat and see the world.

It was either/or, not and – to choose one path would be to negate or even erase the other.

But, every time I watch that movie, after that joyous, cinematic denouement, I want an addendum. Just give me one scene, as the credits roll, showing George and Mary hitching a ride on that cattle boat, or rafting down the Zambezi river, or sipping espressos at a Parisian sidewalk café….

 

 

 

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Blog Department Of Isn’t It Funny, The Things You Miss

My first official  [7]   Happy Birthday wish came from a friend on the East Coast, ~ 6:30 AM. I was already up to feed the cats, and was delighted, while getting dressed, to see the message.  [8]  I thought of how my parents (back when they were both alive…which probably goes without saying but oops, too late) used to call me way way way early in the morning on my birthday – we’re talking around 5:15 am – and sing the Happy Birthday Song ® to me.

They started doing that when I was in college, and kept doing it for years afterward. Once upon a lifetime I would go running in the mornings, before college classes and then before going off to work, which provided my parents with justification (in their minds) for the early intrusion wakeup calls, which they said were my “fault” in that they wanted to call me before I was up and gone out for the day (yes, kiddies, those were pre-cellphone days).

Sometimes I would pretend to be grouchy about the timing of the calls, such as when my birthday fell on a weekend and, for just once, sleeping in (until 7 am – is that too much to ask?) on my birthday might be nice… And although I always/ultimately loved and appreciated the birthday calls, I also have always loathed that damn tedious birthday song.

On more than one occasion I asked my parents to please sing me something else – how about The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song? Ah, but what I’d give today, to be able to complain about having them sing me that damn song again….

 

 

           

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Department Of The Partridge [9]  Of The Week

As per an earlier warning post, we will be hosting a different Partridge, every week, in our front yard’s festively lit pear tree. Can you guess this week’s guest Partridge?

 

 

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May you be serenaded with the song of your choice on your birthday;
May you be surprised by your equivalent of a yellow rose in winter;
May you judge the art of the past by the past, present, and future;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

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[1] Even though a portion of it was used in a scene in Grey’s Anatomy, which is Must-See-TV for moiself.

[2] It was indeed the culture of the white/Afrikaners to discriminate against black south Africans…but the world ultimately did not allow them that excuse.

[3] I like it in spite of the ridiculous Clarence The Angel angle, not because of it.

[4] A sentiment I think is usually – but not always – true.

[5] In an alternate reality, Mary is revealed to have…gasp…suffered the worst fate for a woman – without George, she never married, and became an OLD MAID LIBRARIAN!

[6] A Buddhist message from early Hollywood?

[7] As in, on the day itself. There is a committee to certify such things – but , you knew that, didn’t you?

[8] Via Facebook messenger. No Russian hacking involved that I could see.

[9] In our pear tree.

The Catastrophe I’m Not Having

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The Fallout From Ten Years of Watching Grey’s Anatomy:

After escorting a friend to a PT appointment I boarded the hospital elevator, as did a Handsome Young Doctor ® .  One man, one woman, in one hospital elevator….?  For a moment, even as I noticed the really, really serious expression on HYD’s face – a look that made me realize he probably would not get the joke/reference – I considered flashing him a perky smile and saying, “So, aren’t we supposed to be having sex?”

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Still more reasons to go on living…and quit writing? 

The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct.  This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.” 

“I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing.”
(Tim Kreider, “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” NY Times op-ed)

 Like Kreider and many other writers, I’ve had “opportunities” presented to me, from media and other publishing outlets, wherein I could write articles, guest blog posts, even a regular op-ed/feature column.  Opportunities to work, without pay.  Sometimes these offers were presented via fellow writers, who should know better…and perhaps do… and perhaps inwardly cringed when they offered their bosses’ party line, which was, essentially, that being published in ____ (The Oregonian, The NY Times Review of Books, The Furrowed Eyebrow Literary Review) is an honor, and that such “exposure” is equivalent to compensation.

Such offers almost always begin with the Those Offering the Guest-Permanent Writing Gig telling you, the writer, how much they admire your work.  Although not enough, evidently, to pay one red cent for it.

FACEP

Like Kreider, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that people who would never ask their barber to give them a haircut for free or expect their market to provide them with a bag of groceries at no cost (“I’ll tell everyone these organic brown eggs are from New Seasons – it’ll be great exposure for your store!”) will, with a straight face and a clear conscience, ask authors and artists to write an essay/illustrate a brochure for them, for nothing.

(In his essay Krieder briefly and drolly compares his situation to that of his sister, a pulmonologist:  “as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.”)

And then there is Patricia J. Williams’ so-good-it’s depressing article, “Writing as Women’s Work” (The Nation).  Williams uses the case of zoologist and Scientific American blogger Dr. Danielle Lee, a busy scientist who politely declined an offer to do a guest blog gig for no remuneration, [1] to illuminate the situation of those of us who labor in disciplines that have been deprofessionalized and undervalued in the digital economy.  Although I shouldn’t be surprised by the phenomenon, until reading William’s article I didn’t know that writing is also falling victim to outsourcing (“…companies like Journatic, which supplies supposedly ‘local’ news coverage, have outsourced stories to nonlocal freelancers across the U.S., as well as in the Philippines, where writers are given ‘American-sounding bylines’ and asked to commit to 250 pieces/week minimum at 35 to 40 cents a piece.”).

In the year since I’ve started this blog I’ve no doubt  bellyached mentioned several times the fact that every week (and some weeks, every day), I consider the business end of writing fiction [2] and ask myself why I do what I do. And I come across these two wonderfully written – and likely poorly paid for [3]–  articles, and I feel…I don’t know how to describe how I feel.  Like the lyrics of that immortal C & W song: I don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling.

The business end of writing

The business end of writing

********************

Public Service Announcement #1
And now, we pause for a moment to piss off the faithful
before returning to our regular programming.

Theology in a nutshell [4]

THEOLOGY

Public Service Announcement #2, aka
Law and Order, WPD [5]

 

A small but fervent request:  let’s all do our part to halt the creeping catastrophization of our language.  You can be upset about something, you can have your feelings genuinely and even painfully hurt, without being “destroyed” or “devastated.”

Definition of DEVASTATE

1 :  to bring to ruin or desolation by violent action
2:  to reduce to chaos, disorder, or helplessness

(The flood devastated the town; The disease has devastated the area’s oak tree population; The hurricane left the island completely devastated.)

You didn’t get the promotion, you flunked the [6] admissions test, you were snubbed by the in-crowd at the school or office cafeteria, maybe you even received an alarming medical diagnosis.  But were/are you devastated, or destroyed:

1.  Ruined completely; spoiled.
2.  Torn down or broken up; demolished.
3.  Done away with; ended.
4.  Killed.
5.  Subdued or defeated completely; crushed.
6.  Rendered useless or ineffective.

If I make an upsetting or dismissive remark to you, I may be acting rude, but you have not been bullied.  Your child’s exclusion from the neighborhood kid’s birthday party is hurtful, and the memory of being left out may affect him/her for some time, [7] and you, as a parent, were disappointed on behalf of your child, and maybe more than a little pissed off.  But really, was your child – were you – demolished or destroyed?

WOW

Stop the hyperbole, and reserve such catastrophic classifications for situations (The Rwandan Genocide, The Space Shuttle disasters, the LA Dodgers trading Pedro Martinez for Delino Shields)  that can truly and accurately be described in no other way.

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I hope these PSAs have not annihilated your sense of your place in the cosmos, and that your hijinks will still ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] And was subsequently smeared by the blog editor (“Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”)

[2] And increasingly, nonfiction, as these cited articles illustrate.

[3] Kreider contributes to some of the most prestigious online publications in the English-speaking world, for which he is paid “the same amount as, if not less than, I was paid by my local alternative weekly when I sold my first piece of writing for print in 1989.”

[4] A fitting container.

[5] Word Police Division.

[6] No reason for this footnote. Move along folks, nothing here to see.

[7] Including, eventually/hopefully, in a positive way, as a catalyst to develop empathy for the socially excluded.