YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 7, 2015

The “change of heart” explanation for Dr. Ben Carson’s “redemption”

ben-carson-one-nation_bookThis blog addresses the most effective theme in American popular culture: religiously based sentimentality. It tries to explain how The Kelly File (hosted by Sandra Smith November 6, 2015), attempted to exonerate Dr. Ben Carson from charges of inventing an autobiography, first introduced by CNN, Politico, and the Wall Street Journal, this week: the famed neurosurgeon conquered his urban black rage/poverty through a “change of heart.” (I wrote about Carson’s appeal to many conservatives here: https://clarespark.com/2015/11/06/ben-carsons-appeal-to-republican-primary-voters/. For a related blog noting the meme of “one Nation” see https://clarespark.com/2013/09/17/the-illusion-of-national-unity/.)

What follows is the liner notes “About the culture” that I wrote for the Yankee Doodle Society’s first recording, “Sentimental Songs of the Mid-19th Century” (Takoma Records A-1048, 1976; songs by composers Stephen Foster, Henry Clay Work and George Root).

[Liner notes:] The music of this recording is the sheet music of the mid-century parlor, songs performed by the genteel family at leisure. The self-improving impulses of these log-cabin graduates found satisfaction in decorous language freed from frontier crudity, boisterousness, and sexual innuendo. Gathered around the piano, the entire family could join in the harmonized chorus, affirming the values and sentiments suited to their new station, and experiencing the reassuring world invoked by the sentimentalists.

For the American Eden had been shaken by the tremors of industrialization. The system of laissez nous faire or unfettered economic competition in an open marketplace had promised both personal freedom and social harmony. Instead, the 19th century witnessed the growth of an alarming gap between rich and poor, with terrifying social strife: depressions, panics, riots, class, race and sex antagonisms. The Puritan’s “heavenly kingdom on earth” had frequently turned out to be “hell with the lid off” — as Dickens described Stephen Foster’s Pittsburgh.

Rather than scrap the entire economic kit and caboodle, as various utopians were urging, middle class Americans tinkered and fussed, relegating hopes and memories of personal happiness to a sacrosanct Home Sweet Home, nestled in benevolent, maternal Nature.

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Protected from the unpleasantness of business, the genteel woman guarded the hearth: priestess to the cult of domesticity.  From her privileged position as the national repository of moral purity, she led the crusade to clean up society, the untiring foe to alcohol and prostitution: home wreckers in whatever guise.

Social evil, all of it, was viewed by the reform-minded gentility as the product of individual corrupt hearts, a coronary lapse in social empathy. Clogged by the polluting passions, the offending heart required purging through exposure to the Noble and the Pathetic, with tears and sighs conferring absolution upon the wayward self.

What constituted the Noble and the Pathetic, the preponderating subjects of sentimental song? They were teen-aged soldiers defending the Flag, “happy darkies” and steadfast maidens contented in service to their masters: doomed draftees and perfect angels consigned to the shadows of public life. Those who were about to die, or who had barely lived, were saluted by the millions…whose own capacities for action were increasingly crippled as wealth and power were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

The sentimental song, like the chaste ministrations of genteel mothers and sisters, served to reconcile ordinary Americans to loneliness and social impotence. Dreaming of curatives, their condition was eased with the catharsis of a good cry, and the glimmer of Union provided by a well-made song in the fellowship of performance. [End, liner notes by CS, emphasis and quotation marks added]

PBSonlineFoster

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4 Comments »

  1. […] of political economy,) since the antebellum period of the 19th century that I wrote about here: https://clarespark.com/2015/11/07/the-change-of-heart-explanation-for-dr-ben-carsons-redemption/,  https://clarespark.com/2009/08/24/the-people-is-an-ass-or-a-herd/, and […]

    Pingback by Trump’s taxes and Clinton’s “sacrifice” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 4, 2016 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

  2. […] blog (supplemented by https://clarespark.com/2015/11/07/the-change-of-heart-explanation-for-dr-ben-carsons-redemption/) attempts to lay out reasons for the politically inexperienced neurosurgeon’s broad appeal to […]

    Pingback by Ben Carson’s appeal to Republican primary voters | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 11, 2015 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  3. Didn’t Lincoln Steffens call Pittsburgh Hell with it’s lid blown off?

    Comment by Ross Rosen — November 8, 2015 @ 4:57 am | Reply


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