The Clare Spark Blog

November 10, 2013

The pursuit of happiness, co-counseling, and reality-testing

happinessTimeThe following links are relevant to this blog. I especially recommend the song “A Sunny Disposish” available on YouTube, lyric by Ira Gershwin.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/fashion/After-a-Parents-Death-a-Rush-of-Change-modern-love.html?_r&_r=0.

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2146449,00.html

http://historypsychiatry.com/2013/11/10/the-geography-of-depression/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/11/07/a-stunning-map-of-depression-rates-around-the-world/?tid=pm_world_pop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-counselling

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJEWLnblbzc  (“A Sunny Disposish”)

Why do you suppose that the ever popular Over the Rainbow was nearly dropped from The Wizard of Oz? Could some mean-spirited Republican have sensed that Yip Harburg the lyricist was a Red, pushing utopias? Or could the song have contradicted the major message of the film: that rural life on the farm was filled with attachments that surpassed those of the Emerald City? Why, after all, did Judy Garland want to get away and pursue happiness elsewhere? (See comment below that argues I am wrong, that she always wanted to get home. But the lyrics betray a yearning for something else: some earthly or heavenly utopia? Maybe that is why it was nearly dropped, assuming that my facts are correct.)

I could ask the same question of the song I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, a Vaudeville song from 1918 suggesting disillusion with the promise of American life. (See lyrics here: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/ retitled Film Noir, decoded.) The bluebird of happiness motif is reproduced in the Harburg-Lane hit song, first heard in the Depression year of 1939.

The Declaration of Independence built its polemical foundation on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but never guaranteed that such an outcome of universal happiness would be the case for everyone. Hence, the popular culture emphasis on romantic yearning, laments for lost loves, or admonitions to be happy, lest you lose the regard of your friends and family, not to speak of success in “the community.”

Life is hard, attachments are fraught with ambivalence, and frequent sadness should not be diagnosed as a personality disorder. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia.  Or perhaps I am mistaken and am really a neurotic (formerly called a melancholic), in danger of sinking into a serious depression that could fill my horizon with utter darkness.

Anyone can play.

Anyone can play.

I don’t mean this to be a long blog, so let me end with this anecdote from my two years as a volunteer faculty member at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where I spent a lot of time after my divorce in the early 1970s. It was rather a hippie outfit, very counter-culture with revolution in the air, along with marijuana smoke, faculty sanctioned jerking off, critical theory, and Kierkegaard. “Co-Counseling” was all the rage. The idea was to cut out professionals, and engage each member of the dyad (male-female pair only) with another suffering person. You would hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes, and take turns in talking about earlier traumas to your partner. Then after an hour of spewing forth painful memories, the partner got a turn dredging up the past and you had to focus on what you were hearing. This was considered to be revolutionary and a substitute for “the talking cure.”

Several faculty marriages broke up during that time, while a few partners in co-counseling married each other. My theory: no one had ever listened (or pretended to listen) to the co-counselors for such an extended period before, and without interruptions or otherwise cutting them short, changing the subject, or falling asleep. The partners (supposedly) never lost focus, or at least that was how they were perceived.

I told this story to my son-in-law and he laughed his head off. It is so true. Changing the subject is what we do and what we experience evermore as a result of the internet, mass media, and the Progressive imperative to be optimistic, to maintain “a sunny disposish” at all times, lest we found ourselves “All Alone” like those hapless Americans who have had their health insurance cancelled by Federal fiat.

Bless you, Irving Berlin and every other songwriter who reminded us to “Remember.”

For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/03/eros-and-the-problem-of-solidarity/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/.

positive state

October 19, 2009

Finian’s Rainbow washes out Red

This blog is about the NYT presentation of the upcoming revival of Finian’s Rainbow.  See   http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/theater/18heal.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 . I still remember all the songs, for it had a glorious score with clever and witty lyrics (Burton Lane and Yip Harburg, thank you), and was wildly popular and reproduced in high schools and summer camps from 1947 on. (Those were the days when we all knew Gilbert and Sullivan, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, and other comical songwriters, connoisseurs of art and romance, whose lyrics aspired to poetry.)

    This is how Healy presents the theme: “…arguably the most racially provocative production to reach Broadway in its day. The white residents of utopian Rainbow Valley live and work happily alongside blacks and immigrants. The production featured white and black performers dancing and holding hands, which was almost unheard of at the time [See Showboat, 1927? C.S.] One character, a racist white senator, is magically turned black so he can experience bigotry firsthand — just one of the musical’s satirical subplots about racial reconciliation.”  Although it is represented as concerned solely with “racial reconciliation,” everyone knew during my youth that Finian’s Rainbow was a commie play. And of course communists like to take credit for their leadership stand against racism and imperialism in the 1930s and afterwards as if no one had ever thought of it before. But for the new production to ignore or erase the expropriation of upper-class property by lower-class blacks united with poor whites as THE major theme would be to deform beyond recognition the original conception of the musical. Are they planning to excise “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich” or “On That Great Come-and-Get-It Day?”  And what about the leprechaun’s “When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love, I Love The Girl I’m Near?”  Will that go too because it is off message, which is obviously the racial angle. And “The Begat.” Wonderful send-up of the Bible, and naughty too.

    Or was it a New Deal fantasy about redistributive justice? American communists have not had a great record in producing light-hearted and fanciful art that isn’t canned and predictably didactic; the original Finian’s Rainbow laughed at class rule by fools, Southern Bourbon white supremacy and dirty politics, and, by celebrating romance and even the waywardness of sexuality, hinted at the anti-sex hangups of many Catholics and evangelical Protestants (the only thing missing was the gay issue, but in those days the Reds and their Pop Front allies (?) were not supporting equality for homosexuals). 

    It is an awful prospect that confronts us: so-called liberals worried about offending blacks with blackface or “the shuffle” may be destroying the most popular [quasi-red?] play ever, and it is apparently turning toward “perspectivism”– a kind of resegregation that the original musical did not countenance.  Here is what one of the unfunny producers said to the New York Times:

“One of the senator’s lines, after he has been both white and black, is, ’I can see both sides of it now’ — which speaks very specifically, I think, to the age of Obama, to the ability to see both sides of the way people live in this country,” Mr. [David] Richenthal said.

   You don’t have to be an academic to see the uptight pandering to black nationalism in such a statement: All blacks are in the same socio-economic class, as are all whites, if I read this sentence correctly, hello Whiteness Studies. If class, romance, and charm are still in the musical, along with my favorite songs (as listed above), I’ll eat my little pointy green cap.

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