YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

September 13, 2013


URWANDCOVERThis is an impression of Harvard Junior Fellow Ben Urwand’s new book, to be released in October.  I was initially appalled when I saw a puff-piece in TABLET. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/06/13/hollywoods-pact-with-hitler/. I had not yet read the book and expected some archival research that would establish the veracity of Urwand’s title.) In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined such a mendacious book published by one of the most prestigious academic presses. In this brief blog, I will mostly focus on the depths of antisemitism between the wars, and then suggest that calling the moguls “Jews” plays fast and loose with what it means to be a “Jew” in America, today or any other day. For a related blog that quotes from Urwand, see https://clarespark.com/2013/10/10/urwand-undoes-chaplins-dictator/.

I suggest that the interested reader look at both an article from History News Network from circa 2002 on Joseph P. Kennedy’s antisemitism, which may look “extreme” to the eyes of the reader, but was not different in intensity from that of his contemporaries, let alone from that of much of the Left today. See http://hnn.us/article/697  “Joseph Kennedy and the Jews.” Or, see Steven Alan Carr’s Hollywood and Anti-Semitism (Cambridge UP, 2001), that poses “the Jewish question” as “the Hollywood question” in a masterful review of antisemitica in America, and nullifying Urwand’s claim that there were lots of good Jews in the movies before the cowardly, money-mad moguls capitulated to Hitler’s German consul in Los Angeles. Carr also shows, through implication, that Urwand’s startling thesis is nothing new. Quoting The Nation, September 20, 1941: ” ‘Far from being too vigorously anti-Nazi’…the film industry ‘as long as they could, avoided making films that might endanger their markets in Germany and Italy. Business was their first consideration.’ ” (p.269)

Then read David Denby’s recent unfavorable review of Urwand’s book, that makes many points I would have made, namely that Urwand spends much time in speculation about why such and such a film was not made, but makes wild surmises that are not verified by his evidence. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2013/09/16/130916crbo_books_denby, also http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/09/how-could-harvard-have-published-ben-urwands-the-collaboration.html.  (Yet another unfavorable review says mostly that business is business, and Urwand is naïve to make so much of the censorship; see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/09/did-hollywood-collaborate-with-hitler-a-new-book-makes-bold-claims.html. ) In yet another review (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/does-collaboration-overstate-hollywoods-cooperation-595678), Thomas Doherty’s competing book HOLLYWOOD AND HITLER, 1933-1939, is compared with Urwand’s nasty book, but the description of Doherty’s conclusions does not match what Doherty actually wrote: Doherty is said to praise Hollywood for resisting Nazism, but Doherty trotted out the Warner brothers as exceptional only to castigate them as caving to HUAC and the Martin Dies Committee by producing super-patriotic movies that hid controversies in U.S. history, such as labor unrest. And in his concluding sentences, he wonders what he, Doherty, would have done about coming out against the Third Reich were he in the shoes of the Hollywood moguls.

None of this should surprise us. Ben Urwand begins his acknowledgments with tributes to some of the New Left Berkeley faculty: Michael Rogin, Lawrence Levine, Leon Litwack and Martin Jay (the latter a noted critical theorist and historian of the Frankfurt School  that blamed mass media for the corruption of the working class, hence the working-class failure to stop Hitler). And the book is getting support in high liberal venues: see http://chronicle.com/article/When-Hollywood-Held-Hands-With/140189/, in a long and informative article by Alexander C. Kafka.

The novelty of COLLABORATION exists in the claim that Jewish moguls allowed Hitler and his minions to control “Hollywood” not only throughout the 1930s, but on into the war years, and worse, inured to the Pact, Hollywood continued its baleful influence by suppressing the horrors of the Holocaust until decades after it became known. Urwand’s earlier work was on aboriginal rights in Australia, and his latest work wants to present America as a capitalist, hence fascist country, in cahoots with the Third Reich, and carrying on its mission. There are even suggestions that American movies “infused” Nazi culture, an innuendo comparable to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/. I do not intend to blame Goldberg for his take on movies (not his target), but rather on the progressive nanny state and eugenics as inspiring fascist programs in Germany.)


I have only dipped into the vast literature on the history of film. As far as I could tell, Joseph P. Kennedy’s role in virtually inventing the complicated financing of the movie industry (as revealed in Cari Beauchamp’s book published in 2008 after crucial Joe Kennedy papers were unsealed in the Kennedy Library), was unknown to the various authors I have read: two by Thomas Doherty (1993, 2013); David Welky (2008); and one co-authored by Clayton Koppes and Gregory Black (1987).  Of these scholarly works, Welky’s seemed the least biased.

For one thing, Welky gave several paragraphs to Joe Kennedy’s speech to fifty Hollywood “moguls” in late 1940, which I quote here: “…Recalled to the United States during the British negotiations [regarding the import of US films], the ambassador accepted Jack and Harry Warner’s invitation to speak to movie executives. His talk during the three hour lunch on the Warner Bros. lot left the gathering of fifty industry leaders speechless. Kennedy told them the United States should limit aid to Britain in case the Nazis won the war, an event he thought likely. More important, he asked producers to “stop making anti-Nazi pictures or using the film medium to promote or show sympathy to the cause of the ‘democracies’ versus the ‘dictators.’” Pictures like The Mortal Storm, Escape, and Arise, My Love, an anti-Nazi comedy released by Paramount a few weeks before Kennedy’s visit, did more harm than good because they highlighted Jewish control of the movies. Many Anglos blamed the war on the Jews, Kennedy warned, and anti-Semitism was on the rise in Britain. He advised producers to “get those Jewish names off the screen.” After Kennedy’s lecture, screenwriter Ben Hecht remembered, “all  of Hollywood’s top Jews went around with their grief hidden like a Jewish fox under their Gentile vests.” MGM and Paramount canceled several anti-Nazi projects, including Heil America, Heroes, I Had a Comrade, and Invasion.

[Welky, cont., quoting Kennedy] …The “Jewish boys…are quite nervous about the conditions and they have reason to be…Smart British interests have already taken over the Jewish boys…and have sold them an idea they already had, that they must work for England, even if it means getting us into war.” (pp.244-45, THE MOGULS AND THE DICTATORS) Compare these quotes to Urwand’s brief reference to the Kennedy speech, referring to Ben Hecht’s warning to the movie heads: “Hecht told the studio heads not to buy into Kennedy’s arguments that such pictures would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism in the United States. He said that such thinking had been designed merely to play on their fears.” (p.234) (Which contradicts Urwand’s earlier axiom that profits were primary and fears of increased antisemitism were either minor or submerged in the lust for shekels.)

Ben Hecht is the only good Jew in Urwand’s book; indeed his departure from his early Zionism seems to have inspired Urwand. But Urwand hasn’t cited  PERFIDY (by Hecht) that displayed Hecht’s own social climbing and insult at the home of an antisemitic New York socialite, while Hecht went on to blame Rudolf Kastner,  a Hungarian Jew,  for collaboration with the Nazis.  (See http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Power-and-Politics-Perfidy-revisited. This is a big and apparently unresolved fight.) Urwand is following longstanding trends among left-wing Jews: apparently to condemn anti-Semitism (thus distinguishing themselves from contemptible commercial Jews), while separating antisemitism from anti-Zionism. The remainder of this blog considers the distinction between “intellectual Jews” (like Urwand and his mentors at UC Berkeley) and “commercial Jews” (like the moguls). [Update: since writing this blog, I have read Hecht’s autobiography, and Urwand utterly misunderstood Hecht’s objection to “Zionists.” Hecht supported the Irgun and called the Anglophile Jewish Agency members “Zionists.” Could Urwand have even read the final section of A CHILD OF THE CENTURY? See my blog on that subject https://clarespark.com/2013/12/07/ben-hecht-v-ben-urwand-the-un-jewish-left-and-assimilated-jews/.)

The money-grubbing commercial Jews. I write these thoughts on Yom Kippur eve, September 13, 2013. I have asked the question, “What is a Jew”? Urwand and multiculturalists in general, take ruling definitions of Jewishness for granted.  As readers of my blogs know by now, the multiculturalists in the dominant culture define Jewish identity by race. It is not only a practice and belief system, much of which I share as a secular Jew.  Rather, the “intellectual Jews” [liberals and leftists] are put in a different box from the lower-class and unseemly “commercial Jews.”

I first heard this distinction in 1959, at a party hosted by the Harvard Law Review. It might have been a prominent professor who made that statement, and being twenty one years old and a babe in the woods, I had no comeback, and it would have been impolite to embarrass my fiancé, whom I married shortly afterward. His name was Ron Loeb, and he told me at the time how recruiters from the big NYC and Washington law firms would come to Harvard, warning that “our clients don’t want Jewish lawyers in our firms.” Ron (who made Law Review) told them that was really too bad, because 18 out of the 25 Harvard Law Review third year crop were Jewish. Note the date.  It is 1959.

Reading Urwand’s  book gave me anxiety attacks. It was not only horribly written from a historian’s point of view, for it was based almost entirely on speculation and innuendo, not to speak of its subtextual identification of Jews with Nazis.  Yet, in today’s ideological atmosphere, so toxic to “the Jews” (all of whom may be imagined exactly like the immigrant Jews who were prominent in founding the international business of cinema, unless as acceptable, assimilated Jews they are antisemitic themselves). Though Urwand’s book will find even more kvetchy reviewers, the fundamental questions will remain unanswered: “What is a Jew” and what institutional constraints have figured in the censorship of movies?

So far, besides the constraints of an international market, I have found through reading, the Will Hays Office (supported by Joe Kennedy), Joseph Breen and the Legion of Decency, and the Office of War Information (described in detail in Koppes and Black). But more than these censors, like other immigrants, the early movie moguls adapted to the regnant populism that appealed to the mass market, inhabited as it was by other immigrants. (Upper and middle class WASPs were mostly off elsewhere uplifting urban folk.)  And the movies remain populistic, with the support of movie critics and other journalists who partake of the general  sadism and masochism we see all around us.

The following photo and caption was used in David Denby’s New Yorker review (linked above), but not in the Urwand book.

"Breen (center) had power to censor anti-Nazi films"

“Breen (center) had power to censor anti-Nazi films”


March 18, 2013

Babel vs. Sinai

Sinai desert sunrise over Red Sea

Sinai desert sunrise over Red Sea

This is the second of two blogs on the awful effects of collectivist propaganda, including Obama’s deployment of “the rhetoric of the political family.” See https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/

My son-in-law Steve Chocron, after discussing with me what Jews and Christians have in common (i.e. “western humanistic values” as opposed to David Nirenberg’s fixation on “anti-Judaism” as the corrupt core of “the West), came up with the contrast of Babel (or Babylon) versus Sinai:

Babel is collectivist and its language is muddied and muddled even as it promotes “politically correct speech,” while Sinai’s speech is clear, if subject to increased precision over time.

Babel promotes “victimology,” while Sinai promotes individual responsibility and the development of free will.

Where would Freud fit into this scheme? Some determinists, misappropriating “Freud,” would seize on repression, oppression, and bad families as excuses for anti-social behavior (including sadism and masochism), while the residents of Sinai, in the spirit of the true Freud, would probe the darkness in their minds and bodies, would demand that individuals take a complete family history, then do what is necessary to comprehend both family and social sources of wounds, anxieties, and malfeasance, but then would make the effort to correct or sublimate those impulses (rage, hypersexuality, submitting to illegitimate authority whether that be an abusive state or an abusive sibling or parent). Such efforts constitute a form of atonement and are life-long tasks that may never be completed or fully comprehended. They do not resemble the “adjustment” advised by ego psychologists, but rather distinguish between forms of activism, eschewing utopianism, while embracing the necessary and possible. (On Nirenberg’s indictment of “the West as corrupt to the core, see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/15/nirenbergs-mischievous-anti-judaism/. On free-will vs. determinism, focused on Melville and Moby-Dick see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/08/is-ahab-ahab-the-free-will-debate/.)

What is sublimation? Freud advised instinctual renunciation to protect precious relationships, while advocating sublimation: Using repressed rage or Eros as energy for sports, creativity in any medium, excelling in an intellectual or artisanal skill, participating in those political movements that honor individuality and independence. Above all, learning about the body, about preventive medicine (impossible without study of nutrition, hygiene, anatomy, and knowledge of the natural world; about child development, and raising children to maximize their own gifts and readiness for participation in the larger world outside the family).

Brueghel the Elder Tower of Babel

Brueghel the Elder Tower of Babel

March 4, 2013

Romney v. the cultural politics of “Mean”

WSJ cover art March 2-3

WSJ cover art March 2-3

Fox News Sunday, March 3, 2013, ran a long interview with Mitt Romney and Ann Romney. I was struck once again by how nice the Romneys were, and how “gentlemanly” were Mitt’s opinions and demeanor.

Everyone has an opinion on why Obama defeated Romney, but no one has commented, to my knowledge, on the cultural politics of “Mean.” For instance, Seth MacFarlane was ostentatiously mean during his Oscars hosting, yet he is being defended by feminists and conservatives for nailing Hollywood actresses for adding to the dread “hyper-sexualization” that those strange bedfellows (feminists and cultural warriors of the Right) laud in the song “Boobs” that outed all those actresses who had bared their breasts for the [white slavers of Jew-controlled Hollywood]. (See Andrew Klavan’s new piece http://pjmedia.com/andrewklavan/2013/03/03/conservatives-are-boobs-when-it-comes-to-pop-culture/. Then compare Klavan’s defense of MacFarlane with my own analysis: https://clarespark.com/2013/02/25/potus-michelle-and-the-end-of-the-democratic-republic/.)

Similarly, conservatives are on board with the obviously misogynistic insult to mothers when they call the paternalistic welfare state “the nanny state”.  Or take the impressively educated actor David Duchovny, interviewed on NPR last week, who explained why he could watch The Godfather over and over, for he was captivated by Marlon Brando’s transition from Mafia don to murderer, which is Duchovny’s idea of fatherhood, a point he made quite clearly.

Or take yet another example from the hip media: the much-admired series The Good Wife seems to celebrating opportunism over the moral quandaries it had previously explored in a successful Chicago law firm. “Alicia” (played by Julianna Margulies) has made the transition from self-torturing moralist to opportunist, and is demonstrably mean to the (exploited) associates in her new role as “equity partner.” Will the writers take her down in future episodes? I doubt it, because I suspect that “mean” is the new “cool,” and the chic Margulies, dressed to the nines with very high heels, is the role model du jour. Nice guys and gals finish last, and Alicia will go with the winner.

Freud and his ever dwindling followers warned about the brutalization of culture during and after the Great War. Even that outpost of balance and moderation the Wall Street Journal ran a story about female executives persecuting their female underlings, illustrating their piece with a gigantic spike heeled black shoe, the very symbol of sadism and masochism. See the first page of Section C, March 2-3, 2013: “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee: Women who reached positions of power were supposed to be mentors to those who followed—but something is amiss in the professional sisterhood.”


“Mean Streets,” the continued coolness of that train wreck Lindsay Lohan, the viewer interest in The Following, all point to a culture where cruelty is celebrated, and niceness is wimpy and old hat, something our grandparents wear, like sensible shoes. (Note that the dimunitive female mentee above is wearing flat shoes.)

Louboutin "Fetish Ballerine"

Louboutin “Fetish Ballerine”

Underneath all this sadism is the lesson the professoriate failed to spot in analyzing classic American literature. For instance, Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Man of the Crowd” gives the game away. This symbol of the urban mob is revealed as Pierrot, as the Wandering Jew, as the murderer Cain with hairy hands. As the story line of The Following plays out, expect to see the charismatic serial killer (James Purefoy) and his hunter (Kevin Bacon) meld into one fearsome intertwined specter. Both will be heartless and mean, the very embodiment of the barbarism that Freud detected in 1915, for we are not civilized yet.

The too civilized, too nice Mitt Romney, looking at his wife with adoring eyes, never had a chance.


February 21, 2013

Discovery anxiety

Joyce Kozloff Map

Joyce Kozloff Map

This blog is about mental health and idealization of families (for a previous and related blog see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/); but this one emphasizes the fear of discovery, whether it takes the form of self-inspection (examining our deepest, most hidden feelings) or discovering knowledge of other peoples, other places. Some might call this process of locating oneself in a specific personal history/world history a form of mapping. It is possible that many “anti-imperialists” suffer from the fear of actually encountering what is now called “the dark side” of human nature, and which in less enlightened periods, was called savagery or “the primitive.” Even the most enlightened and creative persons in the history of the West (e.g., Diderot) have imagined the “primitive” as exempt from the vicissitudes of growing to maturity in the developed societies. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.)

Perhaps one of the hardest life tasks is this process of mapping, for the darkest continent is ourselves. Many of us will do almost anything to avoid the mapping and I do not blame others for reluctance in undertaking a voyage into choppy waters, where strange creatures lurk.  For many, such monsters are transformations of our repressed rage at being unfairly bossed by parents, or competing with siblings for the love and protection of parents, or the “puritanical” tasks of self-control and the postponement of gratification or instinctual renunciation for the sake of treasured relationships (I refer to sex and aggression as instincts). Sadly, our schools and other socializing institutions may not address such “Freudian” considerations, because even the most advanced societies dare not tamper with the institution of family, lest its “citizens” start defending their political and economic interests with greater energy, focus, and sophistication.

I first realized that “discovery” was terrifying in my dissertation research as I read the very private letters and notes of major Melville scholars, most of whom developed frightening physical symptoms while conducting their researches into Melville’s texts—symptoms that they blamed on a dead author (and his demonic character Captain Ahab) who should not have been a real-life threat. Melville’s indefatigable close readings of every kind of “family” that he wrote about, whether that be his family of origin, or “families” aboard ships, or the wider Christian family, was disturbing to very intelligent men, who then diverted their attention from Melville’s texts to his “influences” in the literary history of the West, or perhaps the leftists among them, tore delightedly (and sadistically) into the task of destroying his reputation as a man and a husband and/or father. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/. )

One of my most productive friends in academe, dead at 55 of a massive heart attack, once told me that he was afraid to look inside himself, or even to go to a physician, because he feared the chaos within. The braver artists and scholars have fascinated us because they gave these “imagos” forms and faces. I don’t care if you call them Moby Dick or Leviathan or the State. Just don’t mix them up with Mom and Dad or sisters and brothers.

Joyce Kozloff

January 21, 2012

Huck Finn and the well-whipped child

cleansed edition of Huck FinnWe all know about the controversy about the use of offensive dialect in the writings of Mark Twain. This blog is not about the triumph of the language police, but about a deeper and more sinister subject: the inability to stand up to illegitimate authority. [For related blogs see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/20/links-to-cormac-mccarthy-and-mark-twain-blogs/]

But first take a look at this teaching guide to one of the masterworks of American literature: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/teachers/huck/index.html.

This is one of many teaching guides on how to handle the “hand grenade” of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1885). Here is a hipper one that gives a mini-biography of Leslie Fiedler, whose Love and Death in the American Novel became a major text for New Left literary critics. (In this essay, the story is told that Hemingway confronted Fiedler (the maverick critic who was the first to use the term postmodernism), over his reading of Huck Finn: http://www.bookforum.com/archive/sum_03/posnock.html). The issue for Hemingway was obviously manliness and Fiedler’s suggestions of androgyny and feminization in the American psyche.

Although Fiedler makes more of the homoeroticism of the relationship of Jim and Huck than I would, at least he addresses the retreat into Nature, a nature that is protective and nurturing, unlike the sadistic “Pap” (father of Huck) or the hypercritical, chatty Calvinist female relatives, upholders of slavery themselves, who drive Huck into primitivism.

I advise my readers to read Huckleberry Finn (1885) and Connecticut Yankee (1889) together, but the latter first. See also the passage from Yankee on poor white acquiescence in the institution of slavery that I quoted in https://clarespark.com/2012/01/13/mark-twains-failed-yankee/, for it is my hunch that 6th century Britain is a transposition of the antebellum South that Twain experienced as a boy, with the slave-owning classes analogous to the endless and irrational violence of the alliance between the aristocracy and the medieval Catholic Church—a force that, in Twain’s book, cannot be vanquished, even with modern technology, for men, with few exceptions, seek the traditional rule of abusive authority, not freedom.

The rest of this blog continues the theme of gender difference, with Twain (b. 1835), speaking through the poor white Huck, unable to break through the pervasive moral law existent in the slave states: that slavery was a positive good that uplifted savages: such was “civilization” in the slaveholding states. Huck’s is the lesson of the well-whipped child, a theme that pervades much of popular culture: that even as an adult, the rebel against illegitimate authority is too weak to overthrow the oppressor. The farthest that the rebellion may go is to identify with evil, with Satan, and thence to experience the depression that such an adventure into the dark side perhaps? necessarily? confers.

As the issue of manliness is not always discussed in the scholarly literature (as opposed to white racism), I shall quote from the two key chapters, 16 and 31, that reveal Huck’s moral prison, one from which he cannot escape even with wildly improbable plot devices.

[From Chapter 16. Huck hears Jim celebrating his imagined freedom if he gets to Cairo: “…He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife…and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal them.

“It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn’t even dared to talk such talk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him the minute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying, ‘Give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.’ Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children—children that belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm.”

[But then Jim rejoices:] “Pooty soon I’ll be a-shout’n’ for joy, en I’ll say, it’s all on accounts o’ Huck; I’s a free man, en I couldn’t even ben free ef it hadn’ ben for Huck; Huck done it. Jim won’t ever forgit you, Huck; you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had; en you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now.” (pp 126-27)

[Huck is about to turn Jim into the hands of two slave-catchers who demand to know what is the color of the other man on the raft:] “I didn’t answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn’t come. I tried for a second or two to brace up and out with it, but I warn’t man enough—hadn’t the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening; so I just give up trying, and up and says: ‘He’s white.’” [my emphasis]

Huck pretends to be a ghost

A man, in Huck’s imagination, obeys the law that disallows Jim belonging to himself. (But in the preceding chapter Huck had humbled himself before Jim, for his “mean tricks” that impelled Jim to reproach Huck for worrying him that Huck might have drowned during the great fog. “And I warn’t ever sorry for it [the apology] afterwards, neither.” Huck/Twain has actually acknowledged Jim as an equal, momentarily at least.)

Shortly after the interchange in chapter 16 (quoted above), Huck continues his self-examination and concludes that he would feel just as bad doing right (turning Jim over) as doing wrong (breaking the law), “and the wages is just the same.” A few pages later a steamboat capsizes the raft and Mark Twain puts down the manuscript for several years. (Henry Nash Smith says three years, relying on Walter Blair’s scholarship in reconstructing the composition of the ms.). After many chapters in which Jim leaves the narrative, the two runaways are reunited, and Huck, pretending to be Tom Sawyer, is comfortably lodged on the Phelps plantation (with Jim hiding on the raft nearby, then captured by Phelps), where his Southern conscience is once more goaded into a proposed action. This is where Huck unites with Satan as the only felt outcome for the well-whipped and indoctrinated child/man. Huck composes a letter to Jim’s owner, Miss Watson:

“Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

“I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happening so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.” Huck then reminisces about their friendship, emphasizing Jim’s protectively maternal aspects, and utters the often quoted lines: “’All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.” (Ch. 31, p.278-279).

And is one of the wicked things, Huck’s collaborating with Tom Sawyer’s sadistic pranks during the concluding chapters, sadistic because Tom knew that Miss Watson had already freed Jim in her will? By what circuitous route does Huck move from a vow to saving Jim again, to allowing Tom Sawyer to control his actions, in effect, tormenting Jim, perhaps reminding the reader that Twain the author killed off Hank Morgan and his modernization project at the end of Yankee? Having bonded with perfect evil (Satan) in chapter 31 of Huckleberry Finn, was this bond not the juice that enabled the writing of the Jacobin and Promethean Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court? And if so, how could Twain’s next big book not have had a depressing and depressed denouement? We may be fascinated by bad boys, but they are not marriage material.

I do not know what punishment Mark Twain’s father meted out to his children, for the role of yelling or caning in early childhood and youth is rarely taken up in literary histories. We do know that Twain’s father was a slaveowner, an attorney and a judge who died when Samuel L. Clemens was only 11 years old, surely a trauma in itself. Twain mentions his father in Life on The Mississippi as follows: “My father was a justice of the peace, and I supposed he possessed the power of life and death over all men, and could hang anybody that offended him. This was distinction enough for me as a general thing; but the desire to be a steamboatman kept intruding, nevertheless.” (Ch. IV) In the novel, an unnamed judge sides with Huck’s Pap, returning Huck to certain death in his father’s hovel. I have written a very personal, speculative blog. One thing is for certain: Mark Twain was not the name given by the author’s parents. (For more on the Clemens household and slavery see http://www.literarytraveler.com/authors/terrell_dempsey_searching_for.aspx. )

May 20, 2010

“Criminal Minds,” “The Mentalist, “and the pathology of rural America

Thomas Gibson playing Agent Hotchner, scowling as usual

Like it or not, most Americans get their notions of mental health from the media, including the numerous television shows in which serial killers run amok until a heroic band of profilers psyches them out and captures them (but not before we have seen oceans of blood and other mayhem). (This blog was followed up here: https://clarespark.com/2011/05/20/the-mentalist-melville-blake-and-israel/.)

This blog is about the episode of CBS’s Criminal Minds that aired on Wednesday May 19. Although most of their prey reside in Southern, Midwestern, and Western rural and small town America (and this was no exception), this show that weekly demonstrates the prowess of a team of Quantico-trained FBI agents strongly came out against the internet (especially social networks) as a source of murderous “narcissism”.  Social networks, they allege,  primarily cater to vanity, enabling voyeurs and attention-hungry techies (like last night’s murderer). The output of these new-fangled maddening inventions is [the Red State of] “Anarchy.”  Narcissism is understood as a craving for attention among those who, sucked into celebrity culture, have inflated self-esteem and have found their own niche among the pale-faced perverts who populate these non-urban , almost wilderness, areas. But most subtly of all, the killer of May 19 wanted to kill women who looked like him (this exact phrase was repeated several times). Is it too much of a leap to propose that embedded in this horrific tale is a reproach from liberals to conservatives who have resisted affirmative action and other liberal remedies for institutional discrimination? Are conservatives indeed all nativists and racists who instinctively abhor those who are “different?”

As many of these blogs have argued, “narcissism” is the term of opprobrium traditionally ascribed to everyone from actors and artists to mad scientists, and to technicians of every kind, including greedy Wall Street businessmen.  It is a reproach emanating from communitarians and other corporatists whose diagnosis of fascism rested upon the idea that Hitler’s supporters were one-sided in their educational training and experience, hence lacked the spirituality that can only be instilled by “faith.” Or Faith, Hope, and Charity, as Glenn Beck likes to put it, echoing centuries of religious conservative thought.

But Freud and many of his followers described normal or “healthy” narcissism, understood as having developed a strong sense of self, and being able to soothe oneself in the face of social disapproval or grievous losses. One gets this healthy narcissism from a strong maternal bond (I am referring here to attachment theory as put forth by John Bowlby), with separation from the mother managed successfully. This healthy narcissism grounded in early echoing and mirroring of the child’s feelings, never came up in the episode, though it could have been worked in by the didactic genius team member Reed, who did simply state that “narcissism” was overused in today’s world, while later brilliantly analyzing the facial configurations of the killer’s prior victims to show that key elements coincided with his own face.

It is true that Facebook is used by many for trivial purposes, but to condemn the internet as a dangerous innovation that causes sadism and a life of mayhem directed against women is overreaching of a particularly dangerous, almost criminal character. And, oh, the internet is possibly the most democratizing technical innovation of the recent past. Finally, the gatekeepers of mass media have lost their monopoly on news and opinion.

Added 5-21-10: The Mentalist ended its second season on 5-20, beginning with a televised murder of a woman alone in her bed. The plot was remarkably similar to that of Criminal Minds, except that now it is clear that the threat of the internet extends to ordinary persons possessed of movie cameras, hence able to realize their demonic ambitions. But this series was more literary than the Criminal Minds episode, for the serial killer Red John, having mentalist Patrick Jane in his clutches (wrapped in plastic), and wearing a mask quotes Blake’s famous poem about the Reign of Terror (1793-94), “The Tyger”. (The first verse only: Tyger! Tyger! burning bright /In the forests of the night,/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?)  . Blake’s poem is not just about the Terror and the furies of unleashed mobs, but about the Promethean element in civilization that has continuously terrified the upper classes in the Age of Revolution. But here is the best part. Patrick Jane returns to his austere prison-like room (the iron cage of materialism?), lies down on a mattress very much like a pallet, with the Red John smiley face painted on the wall above his bed. And the mentalist (an opponent of magical thinking) then repeats the first verse of “The Tyger.” What to make of this?
Bruno Heller (writer for the HBO series Rome as well as The Mentalist) is an educated man. He knows about Doppelgängers. As a rejector of the supernatural, Heller probably knows that artists who write against the centuries of magical thinking are educating the lower orders in the ways of empiricism, and no less than Herman Melville, fears the volcanic rage within himself that he could be releasing in the proto-revolutionary audience by mocking those who do not rely upon close observation of this world. Bruno Heller’s Promethean characters, no less than Melville’s Captain Ahab and other red-flag-flying usurpers of priestly authority, are both the mentalist (does he have a heart?) and Red John.

[Added 12-15-10. I have read Zoe Heller’s The Believers, and in an interview she discloses that her father Lukas is anti-religion, married a non-Jew, and has or had a half-sister who survived Auschwitz. I cannot know what her brother Bruno Heller’s beliefs are regarding the Nazi phenomenon. Perhaps he is one who sees the seizure of power as the revolt of the masses and an outgrowth of Jacobinism in the West. From the Wiki description of the family, they all sound like liberals.]

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