Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why Mark Twain, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Nancy McClernan are not racists

I grew up among Philistines. My parents never had any interest in any form of culture, ever. My mother always bragged how she was able to pass English literature class tests by reading the Classic Comics versions of famous novels.

They aren't bad people (my father died in 2004), really, in spite of their tendency to vote Republican, and their devotion to the Catholic Church. But they just didn't see the point of reading anything except the local daily newspaper, the occasional self-help magazine, and the church bulletin. They had no interest in movies as art - to this day my mother refuses to see any movie that doesn't have a G rating. They had no interest in going to a museum, and they didn't care for rock and roll, let alone classical music - and they both came of age during the heyday of Elvis. Neither of them ever saw a play that wasn't a relative's production - usually a school production, except MAN OF LA MANCHA, which I took them to see; and my mother saw my JANE EYRE.  She thought Jane should go off and become a missionary with St. John Rivers.

Often Philistinism is associated with religious extremism, which makes sense. Religious extremists want solid, simple answers to the meaning of life. And if you don't agree with those simple answers you are most likely doomed to an eternity of torment, or even worse, you could be in league with the Devil yourself. And the fact that artists sometimes portray ugly evil things make them suspects - why would you want to write about ugly evil things unless you approved of such things? That's how Philistines think.

Religious extremist Philistines - evangelicals and the Catholic hierarchy - were responsible for opposition to the Harry Potter books. Harry Potter even inspired a response in a Chick tract.

A hallmark of Philistines is ignorance. They are proud to be ignorant and they don't need to gather information before leaping to a conclusion - information only impedes quick and simple conclusions. 

Philistines aren't just religious extremists though. Every now and then "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is banned by people who don't want children to read the word "nigger." 

Part of the problem is that Huck Finn really isn't a children's book. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is a children's book, and Huck Finn is a sequel to Sawyer, so you can understand why people would be confused. But Huck Finn deals with much more adult topics than Tom Sawyer. Kids really don't get a lot of Huck Finn - it should be reserved for high school curricula.

But only a Philistine could believe that Mark Twain includes the word "nigger" because he was a racist. Twain uses that offensive word because that is what the people at the time used to refer to slaves. And to remove the "N" word - as someone tried to do - only whitewashes history. 

But Philistines don't want to hear about such fine points as "history" and "irony" - a bad word is a bad word, period and anybody who uses that word - in any context - is bad.

It is this kind of thinking that caused a mob of Philistines to claim that John Lennon and Yoko Ono are racists for writing a song called "Woman is the Nigger of the World." If you don't know about this song, you can read about it on Wikipedia.

But if you'd rather just assume they are racists because they used the word "nigger" you are probably a Philistine.

Now the people who claim that Lennon and Ono are racists don't disagree - I think - with the idea being expressed by the song - which is that no matter what group of people is being oppressed, the female members of that group are even more oppressed. Women have the double trouble of being part of the oppressed group and then being oppressed as a female.

Lennon/Ono are making a feminist point - and the people who are accusing them of racism seem to fancy themselves feminists.

I suppose Lennon/Ono could have entitled the song:
"Women as a group are more oppressed than any other in the world, even more oppressed than black people, a group which is understood to be the most oppressed at the present time."
But the title they did choose is more succinct. And also the word "nigger" is more extreme and shocking. That's what they were after - that's what artists do, try to get an emotional/intellectual response.

But you simply cannot reason with Philistines on this kind of thing. They flat-out don't get it. Lennon/Ono used the word "nigger" and that's all they want to know.

Lennon and Ono certainly didn't need to be told how ugly racism is. Yoko was subjected to plenty of racist slurs after she and Lennon became a couple. You only have to watch cartoonist Al Capp confronting John and Yoko when they did their "bed in for peace" in 1969 to understand the kind of responses Yoko provoked. Capp was a proud Philistine.

Philistines don't understand art, but they do understand the politics of personal destruction and thanks to the confluence of Tumblr and Google, they have the power to brand anybody a racist. Even someone like me who is a life-long anti-racist and is on the record as such.

Thanks to Tumblr, it's Philistine mob rule, all the way.