Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Month: November 2017

The Times Still are A-Changin’

 

Our law school put on a show every year, spoofing the faculty. Ham that I am, I participated  in all three shows. I want to tell you about one of them. 

It was 1977, and I was in my second year. Two classmates and I wrote the script, and two others penned lyrics for our song parodies. Except for two that I had written. One was a parody of Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say.”  It was called “Res Ipsa Loquitur,” which means “the thing speaks for itself,” riffing on accident lawyers. The lyrics were funny enough, and we had a tort professor named Robert Waters, who many students called Muddy. The other song was an original entitled, “Be My Chicken.”  It was a pastiche of blues songs with risqué double-entendres. It had nothing to do with law.  

I rehearsed both songs for the cast and crew. They decided that the Chicken song was too dirty. It included the word “cock,” as in rooster. But I didn’t  mean rooster, Besides, rooster didn’t scan. The Chicken song was cut, but the ambulance chaser song remained, and it got lots of laughs.  Did I mention that Professor Waters was African-American, and I performed in black-face? In today’s America, the reactions would be the opposite.  I still do the Chicken song at parties, while the other received a suitable burial. I am embarrassed by my lack of judgment and empathy, but it was Florida in the Seventies. Red Ipsa Loquitur, y’all.

“My Fair Lady” is a 1956  musical about an uneducated Cockney girl who becomes  an elegant, middle-class woman under the tutelage of a self-proclaimed misogynist and elitist.  They fall in love – sort of—and she comes back to live under his aristocratic roof, the curtain falling as she retrieves his slippers.  She makes this choice despite the declared affections of an idle-rich young man, who haunts the woman’s neighborhood, winsomely singing,”Let the time go by, I don’t care if I can be here on the street where you live.” In other words, a Stalker.

In the 1978 film, “Animal House,” all types of debauchery and mayhem are exploited for laughs, including a college freshman’s attempt to intoxicate and have sex with an under-age girl. Statutory Rape.  Now that scene would end up on the cutting room floor.

Also in 1978, Rodney Dangerfield joked,” I have three children —one of each.” His joke about homosexuality was a harbinger for the politics of gender identity and its bathroom conundrum.

These are cultural touchstones marking the changes in sensitivity on issues of race and sexuality in American culture in the last sixty years.  We can look at the past as unenlightened, but except for myself perhaps, the talents behind these celebrated works were not cave dwellers. The current outpouring of accounts of sexual assault helps us as a culture move from the theoretical to the actual.  Millennials may know intuitively what we boomers had to learn. 

Victims of sexual assault have broken free of repressed and suppressed recollections, many involving cultural icons.  The accounts offer a look into sexual roles  going back thirty or more years to the present. Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have been accused of rape. Bill O’Reilly has paid off cases of sexual assault.  Kevin Spacey and Roy Moore allegedly forced themselves upon minors.  Louis C.K. has admitted to exposing himself and jerking off in front of  several female comics,  a rumor that had circulated for years.  Those women have issued reports now.   At first, they did not speak up, in deference to his power in show business and that he’d been generous helping them build their careers. 

The case of Al Franken raises different  issues.  Franken, then a comic on a 2006 USO tour, admits  to aggressively kissing another entertainer in a scene calling for a “stage kiss.” This scenario was a recurring gag in 1982’s “Tootsie,” in which Dustin Hoffman’s cross-dressing character is repeatedly over-kissed by her soap opera co-star with a reputation for such hi-jinks. By the way, Dustin Hoffman himself stands accused of misconduct. The USO tours were enormously popular during earlier wars, when Bob Hope paraded a number of voluptuous women, immodestly dressed, in front of an audience of drooling GIs.   With Franken, the kiss, which was immediately repulsed by the victim, was embellished by a photo taken of Franken fondling or appearing to fondle the victim’s breasts while she was asleep on a transport plane.  The photo was included in a commemorative album distributed after the tour,  to the victim’s horror. 

Franken’s behavior creates a different kind of problem for the people who traditionally side with the victim.  Franken is now a U.S. Senator for the State of Minnesota, and he unfailingly takes the victim’s side in these situations. His allies and constituents are forced to reconcile Franken’s private lechery with his admirable public work.  Michelle Goldberg, a New York Times columnist, has called for his resignation or at least an ethics hearing. He is receiving a pass from many of his supporters.

The politics and the less invasive nature of the offense support Franken, but so do the outdated  mores of earlier times.  Franken grew up in the sixties and seventies.  Our “take” on sexual matters was different. A male was expected to be the initiator, and the female was the boundary setter. “No” was the word when uttered in combination with a physical withdrawal. The line was thus drawn. One might say that “No”  should have been sufficient.  But there was countervailing  part of the ritual that called for a certain amount of female protest, as if to say, “I don’t l, do this but, well, because it’s you…” Face was saved, parental encomiums heard but not always followed.

Franken and his fellow player were performers in a show. This isn’t meant to suggest that Franken was justified: it was “Tootsie” for real.  As a performer, he knew better. The photo was at the least in bad taste and at worst evidence of a battery, touching without consent while the woman slept.  Franken crossed the line.  Yet, I can’t equate it with the other scandals because it is by degrees closer to the aggressiveness that once was condoned.  However, if later we find out that Stuart Smalley really wasn’t good enough, his show will be canceled too. 

 

Louis Louis, Oh Baby, You Gotta Go

Louis CK

Louis CK, comedian, writer, produce and mentor to  young  male and female comedians, has also been a big jerk-off for a long time. This past week, accusers from past and near-present, told similar stories about Louis asking to masturbate in front of them. Louis rose to stardom as a stand-upcomecdian, from which he gained the power to help or hurt another performer’s career. Thus, several people, fearful of  reprisals, stood silently for this treatment until this week, when’s Loius’ situation erupted.

Louis’s M.O. was common knowledge in the entertainment industry. There were intimations published in the last few years. Tig Notaro, a Louis protegé,  beseeched him to come clean long before the story became news.  Louis ignored the advce but often made reference to his issues in his stand-up sets.  Writers are told to write what they know, and Louis heeded that.   The story has been  in his material for all to hear. Talking about masturbation to a full house is not the same as putting on show and tell for an audience of one. 

Media and advertising businesses buy Louis’ services. After the Weinstein and Spacey scandals of the past couple of weeks, the industries had an Action Plan in place. Louis’ new film has been shelved, and  his Netflix contract has been canceled.  Don’t for a moment believe that the industry response was caused by sudden knowledge or lucidity. Show biz, like baseball, is morally relativistic.  Louis CK was a moneymaker.  Alas, he’s been felled by a single stroke. 

CK also has a game plan compiled by avoiding the pratfalls of  his  predecessors.  

  • Bill Cosby, a pioneer in the field, and still the poster boy for miscreant behavior.  Just because he wasn’t convicted (yet), doesn’t mean he’s innocent.  Even worse, generations of kids saw him as a model parent.  
  • Harvey Weinsrein could not intimidate or buy his way out of trouble again. He’s accused of rape in addition to multiple incidents of assault. .He’ll never work in show business again, unless he gets to produce prison plays. Max Bialystock, move aside!
  • Kevin Spacey denied having come on to  a 14 year-old  — but if it even happened he was drunk. Spacey  by the way, acknowledged he was gay. Even my Dachshund knew that.  Too like, too late.  He got the Trotsky treatment, being  airbrushed out of the J. Paul Getty biopic.  House of Cards was shut down. Bryan Cranston says that Spacey’s career is over. Cranston’s on a PR feeding frenzy lately. Maybe Bryan wants to play President again and sees his chance to be the new Frank Underwood.. Power’s gone to his head.
  • Anthony Weiner and  Matthew Weiner,  both accused of misconduct, might consider a name change.  The optics, you know.

The big mistake these and other losers have made is that they claim innocence, then additional or new charges surface.  Judge Roy Moore, categorically denies assaulting a fourteen yeas-old when he was an assistant district attorney in Elowah County, Alabama.  Moore has been under invitation of ethical misconduct in the past. Moore was sanctioned for refusing to pull down a Ten Commandment monument he’d commissioned for his courthouse.  Besides he will  rely on the argument that the Mosaic Tablets says it’s a mortal sing to covet your neighbor’s  wife and his ass   It doesn’t comment on the neighbor’s daughter.  The Alabama hound won’t hunt. Right now, he’s running for U.S. Senate, and he probably figures that he has nothing more to lose.

CK may end up OK,  He went against the conventional wisdom by admitting his wrongdoing and the pain he’s inflicted .  Keeping with his confessional style, he also discussed the ill effect of power on his behavior.  He has taken a temporary vow of silence.  He’s a talented writer and producer. He ha a reputation for being supportive of young talent. His rising tide has lifted many of their boats.     CK is finished as a performer, but he may still find writing and producing work once he’s paid his dues.

 

General Kelly Fails History and Arithmetic

 

 

John Kelly, retired Marine General and current White House Chief of Staff, wandered into No Man’s Land the other day without his helmet. Holding court on the roots of the Civil War, he chalked up the conflagration to a failure of the parties to compromise. Please General, , put down your pencil and close your blue book.

Before 1861 the civilized world had rejected slavery as immoral. Racist views remained, as they do today, and colonialism continued to foster those views, but legal and social lines had been drawn. Our country could not come to grips slavery, putting economic interest ahead of principle. Even Russia freed all of its serfs in 1861, and nobody was mistaking Tsarist Russia for a democracy.

At the constitutional convention of 1787 the founders haggled over counting people, The size of a state’s congressional delegation is determined by the size of its population, which included non-voters, such as women and indentured servants, and non-property owners; excluded Indians not being taxed. The slave states originally endorsed equal counting for slaves until they realized that by doing so they would be recognizing equality. They were happy to compromise if it left the rationale for slavery intact

Hence, the odious three-fifths rule, the first of several ante-bellum compromises, treating each “other person” as counting for three-fifths. Still, counting a slave as a partial person is a cynical sort of compromise. After all, General, what marching orders would you assign to three-fifths of a soldier?

The three-fifths rule preserved the precarious balance for the original thirteen states. As a new state joined, it declared itself slave or free depending on its pre-statehood laws. In 1820, with 22 states evenly split, Missouri, a slave-owning territory, was presented for statehood. Seeking to preserve a balance between free and slave states, Congress admitted Maine, a free state, at the same time as Missouri, a slave state. The other part of this law, known as the Missouri Compromise, barred slavery in the portion of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36’ 30” parallel. This line skitters along what became the north boundaries of North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, all slave states. Another unholy compromise that only deferred correction of the structural defect baked into the Constitution.

Onward our sordid history did advance. The Compromise of 1850 strengthened the reach of the fugitive slave law while abolishing slavery in the nation’s capital. Still, the waters continued to roil. Each new state’s admission presented the country with the quandary of maintaining the status quo in Congress between slave and free states until 1861. The center did not hold, and war broke out.

When John Kelly said that the Civil War was caused by a failure of compromise, he can only have meant another deal that would perpetuate slavery in the United States. Each compromise that failed to recognize African-Americans as people, not property, was immoral. General, if you are going to be on the wrong side of history, stay on the other end of the microphone.

 

 

 

 

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