- Holly Case's thoughtful and extensive review essay on Taner Akçam's latest book, The Young Turks' Crime Against Humanity The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire, in the April 1 edition of The Nation.
St. Crispin's Day (Crispin is the patron saint of cobblers, tanners, and leather workers, if Wikipedia is to be believed) is, of course, the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 -- the battle where French knights were massacred by English longbowmen (who aided by the decision of the French to charge headlong toward their lines over a muddy field while wearing heavy armor)
Oddly enough, October 25 is also the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, which taught English soldiers just what a bad idea it is to be on the attacking side of an ill-conceived and ill-executed cavalry charge.
Now, the question is, who wins in a head-to-head battle between the literary giants of St. Crispin's Day: Shakespeare's St. Crispin's Day speech in Henry V, or Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade?"
|What's he that wishes so?|
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin.
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires;
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart. His passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse.
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispian's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
|Half a league, half a league,|
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldiers knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
Then, of course, there's the question of who performs the best version of the St. Crisipin's Day speech (though the answer is clearly Laurence Olivier):
Historians, as a general rule of thumb, don't like playing the what-if game. This partly reflects the often-fantastical nature of “what-if” novels (what if aliens invaded Earth in the middle of World War II?), but it's mostly due to the natural and laudable tendency of historians to stick to the facts and avoid wild conjectures. “What if Hitler had never been born?” The world would be different -- beyond that, it's pure guesswork to say what might or might not have happened. Even military historians, who deal most directly with issues of historical contingency (what if the weather had cleared after the Battle of Brooklyn? Would the Continental Army have been destroyed instead of escaping to fight another day?) tend to shy away from counterfactuals.
But there's one notable exception: the Cuban Missile Crisis. The reasons are simple: the world came within a hair's breadth of a nuclear war (there were any number of points at which the crisis could have -- and logically probably should have -- erupted into full conflict); even after the end of the Cold War, we still remain morbidly fascinated as a culture with apocalyptic scenarios (be it in books, movies, TV shows, or video games); and, unlike with most counterfactual scenarios, we have a pretty good idea of what would have happened if the Cuban Missile Crisis turned hot: nigh-Armageddon.
The JFK Library's interactive documentary website “Clouds Over Cuba” weaves together narrative documentary, talking heads commentary from historians and political scientists. It's extremely well-done -- and it includes an alternative history scenario that's both chillingly presented (right down to aged veterans of the "Cuban War" recounting their experiences) and frightfully believable.
Due to bad weather, the U-2 overflights which historically detected the Soviet R-12 intermediate-range missiles on October 14 are delayed, and the Soviet missiles are not detected until after they are operational.* The U.S. is subsequently forced to invade -- remember, historically the preference of virtually everyone on the ExComm on October 16 (including Bobby Kennedy) was to invade, but as the missiles were not yet operational JFK had more room to maneuver with the quarantine. Cuban and Soviet forces respond by using tactical nuclear weapons on the beachheads -- the U.S. retaliates by bombing Cuba (presumably with nuclear weapons, though this isn't explicitly stated), but a nuclear-equipped Soviet Il-28 bomber evades the American counterstrike and destroys New Orleans with its payload. Kennedy then gives the order for a massive retaliatory strike on the Soviet Union.
The truly frightening aspect of this scenario is that Kennedy acts perfectly in character. The Soviets use tactical nukes on the invading Americans -- which Kennedy and his military advisers knew was a strong possibility -- but instead of a massive retaliatory response on Russia (which had been standard operating procedure under Eisenhower for how to fight a nuclear war), he decides to limit the U.S. response to attacking targets in Cuba. Only after a major American city is destroyed does Kennedy press the button to attack the Soviet Union directly. He's already clearly lost control of the situation, but he's still desperately trying to impose his will and prevent an all-out nuclear exchange -- unsuccessfully.
* * * * *
*It was a close-run thing the missiles were detected at all. A National Intelligence Community estimate from mid-September predicted the Soviet Union would not introduce nuclear weapons to Cuba, and, as Max Holland and David Barrett describe in their book Blind Over Cuba, U-2 overflights were suspended after September 5 due to fears that newly-installed SA-2 missile sites (the same kind of missile that shot down Gary Powers over the Soviet Union in 1960) would bring down another U-2 and spark another major international incident. Flights over western Cuba were only resumed October 14, leaving, as Holland and Barrett put it, a 39-day “photo gap.”
This post is sponsored by the JFK Library
Soviet R-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (NATO reporting name: SS-4) on parade in Red Square. The CIA used this photo as a reference point when identifying the deployment of this type of missile to Cuba. Photo Credit: CIA/National Security Archive.
Yesterday, October 14, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (To be more precise, yesterday marked the fiftieth anniversary of the U-2 flight that detected the Soviet deployment of missiles on Cuba -- it wasn't until October 15 when U.S. intelligence analysts identified the installation near San Cristóbal where Cuban and Soviet troops were constructing launch sites for SS-4 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and it wasn't until the morning of October 16 when President John F. Kennedy was informed of the build-up -- hey, this is a history blog, I can be a little pedantic.)
As befitting one of the seminal foreign policy crises in American history -- and certainly the most severe crisis of the Cold War, when President Kennedy himself rated the chance of war as 50/50 -- there's a slew of events scheduled in the Washington, D.C. area to mark the anniversary. (A full list can be found at the Cold War International History Project, which is sponsoring or co-sponsoring many of them.) Since I've relocated from the already-frigid climes of my native Minnesota to Washington, D.C. (probably the biggest reason I haven't written a blog post in a few months!), I'll be blogging about most of the upcoming panels (I'll be out of town for a few of them) as well as the new exhibit at the National Archives, "To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis," which opened on October 12).
The first major event marking the anniversary in D.C., "Is the World More Dangerous 50 Years After the Cuban Missile Crisis?," was held yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson Center, part of the Wilson Center National Conversation series. It featured Michael Dobbs, the author of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink on Nuclear War and the author of a Foreign Policy blog on the missile crisis (he's also doing real-time tweets as if it were 1962); Graham Allison of Harvard's Kennedy School, considered the doyen of Cuban Missile Crisis scholars and the author of one of the first studies of the crisis, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis; and Timothy Naftali, formerly the director of the Richard Nixon Library, current research fellow at the New America Foundation, and the author of an upcoming JFK biography. NPR's Tom Gjelten (who, interestingly enough, is the husband of ABC News's Martha Raddatz -- who says the Beltway media establishment isn't clubby?) moderated the panel, which proved to be quite lively, especially for history nerds (such as myself) and the foreign policy wonks who were in the audience. (Scroll down or click here for the full video, including opening remarks by Wilson Center president, director, and CEO Jane Harman.)
So is the world more dangerous fifty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis? At first glance, the question may seem to be a little ridiculous -- fifty years ago, two superpowers who collectively possessed enough firepower to annihilate most of the world's population (and within a few years would have enough to annihilate all of the world's population) came within a hair's breadth of war. Graham Allison noted that Kennedy was given estimates of the casualty figures of two potential scenarios -- a U.S. pre-emptive nuclear strike (30 million Americans killed) or a Soviet first strike (90 million killed), which are numbers so outlandish as to be worthy of ridicule were they not a reflection of the horrible destructive power of nuclear weapons. That's 16 to 50 percent of the total U.S. population (by comparison, the Soviet Union, fighting in the single deadliest theater of the single deadliest war in human history, lost 20 million people over four years -- around 14 percent of its prewar population).
Laconically: it would have bad. And Kennedy himself said that war was a 50/50 proposition.
So, in that sense, the world has gotten safer -- Allison, in his keynote remarks, estimated the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack against a major city in the next ten years as somewhere near 5 percent -- still a major concern, but much better than a 50/50 chance of nuclear armaggedon. Potential wars and confrontations -- namely a U.S./Israeli conflict with Iran, and even a possible confrontation between the U.S. and China -- lack the same "end-of-civilization" component that really was a fundamental element of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Unremarked at the Wilson Center panel, but in all likelihood an outcome of a Cuban-sparked war in 1962, would have been the nuclear decimation of Western and Eastern Europe, China, and possibly even Japan as well as the United States and the Soviet Union.)
Both Allison and Dobbs aquitted themselves well, but it was Tim Naftali who really shone in his remarks, offering a provocative and thoughtful take on the missile crisis and its aftermath. "John F. Kennedy drew a red line about missiles in Cuba" in the months before the Soviets introduced them, he said. Kennedy did this, Naftali argued, because he didn't actually believe the Soviets intended to put missiles in Cuba -- they thoroughly deceived him -- and he probably wouldn't have drawn a red line if he thought the Russians were planning on deploying nukes). "His leadership was on the line. ... [the crisis] was a political problem." This has an obvious resonance with the calls of congressional Republicans -- and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- to draw a red line on Iran's nuclear program, which Naftali explictly addressed. "Presidents ought to be very, very careful when drawing red lines," he concluded, "because if you do, that will mean war if the other side does what you've told them you can't do."
Naftali also drew sparks by arguing -- citing David G. Coleman's just published The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis: The Secret White House Tapes -- that the Joint Chiefs of Staff consistently argued for an invasion of Cuba knowing full well that the Soviets had deployed tactical nuclear weapons to the island, and their invasion plans were actively anticipating a nuclear battlefield in and around Cuba. This is a point that's been a matter of contention amongst historians -- Michael Dobbs said (and Graham Allison agreed) that -- while the Soviets had indeed deployed tactical nuclear weapons -- at the beginning of the crisis, Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs didn't know about the tactical nukes in Cuba and only learned of the possibility of a tactical nuclear battlefield at the very end of the crisis.
All in all, an excellent panel, and a worthy kick-off to the next two weeks of missile crisis events in Washington, D.C. and across the country . The next one I'll be blogging about will be this Thursday's book talk on Blind Over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis by Max Holland (editor at Washington Decoded and a frequent contributor to HNN, including recntly about the missile crisis) at American University.
One final thought, on something that's been bugging me recently. The very last question posed to the Wilson Center panel during the Q & A was from an older gentleman about a hypothetical Cuban Missile Crisis-style confrontation between Russia and the United States over Syria. Now, I'm not a foreign policy expert, I'm not a Kremlinologist, I appreciate the fact that relations with Russia are presently chilly, and I certainly appreciate the fact the Russians have close relations with the Assad regime in Syria. But it seems like there's a cadre of foreign policy wonks who are determined to "make the bear angry again," if only in their own minds. The tensest confrontation the U.S. has had with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union was the standoff at the Pristina airport in the aftermath of the Kosovo war -- it was bizarre bookend to NATO's first conflict, but hardly the stuff of nuclear nightmare.
I made this point on Twitter during the VP debate, when Paul Ryan started playing the Russian card to bash the Obama administration, and I'm going to make it again here: I don't think anybody under the age of thirty truly understands just how differently young people see Russia today than the older generation did at the height of the Cold War (I know, Ryan's only forty-two, but he would've been around thirteen or fourteen at the peak of the U.S.-Soviet tensions in the '80s -- in pop culture terms, think Red Dawn, Rambo II, and Rocky IV).
Russia today certainly isn't a bosom buddy of the United States, it remains the world's largest nuclear power, and it's proven repeatedly that it will act aggresively in what it perceives to be its "near abroad" of the former Soviet Union but it's no longer the "evil empire," the implacable ideological foe of the United States, and it's tough imagine a scenario where either the U.S. or Russia, to go back to Tim Naftali's major argument, deliberately crosses a critical red line in the way Khrushchev did in 1962.
Ever wanted to compare the British Empire at its height with Imperial Rome (without, of course, playing a video game pitting legionnaires against Redcoats)? Online database FindTheData has an interesting feature which allows you to compare the vital stats of major empires throughout history side by side (here's London and Rome by the numbers -- Britannia at its height controlled an area nearly six times larger than Rome -- which, remember, ruled most of the Europe and the Near East at its peak).
I had been looking for a light and frothy topic with which to kickstart (which is to say restart) this blog, and I found it in the story making the rounds online today about a person who started a game of Civilization II ten years ago -- and just kept playing.
Posting on Reddit, user Lycerius describes his version of the future:
Now, a couple of thoughts.
1) Yes, I know all the tech and politics writers are being light and frothy themselves over this, but it does need to be said that the headline "10-year-long game predicts grim future for humanity" is overstating the case somewhat. It's a video game, after all, and not a particularly new one at that (Civ fanatics may mock me for saying this, but I've always thought Civ4 was the best and most nuanced of the series, particularly when modded out).
2) It is amazing how closely this dystopian future resembles George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
3) The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal had the best take on why this story went viral, aside from the man-bites-dog nature of it:
When I was a kid, it felt like some expansive History of All Time, except that it was a turn-based computer strategy computer game. Which is why a 10-year game of Civilization II has struck a chord around the Internet today: if you could learn a history of western civ from the game, then its vision of the future feels oddly significant.
This is something I don't think most historians -- who do tend to be men and women of a certain age, as the saying goings -- fully understand: a large amount of the general historical knowledge their students -- and young people in general -- have comes not from movies and TV but from video games. And, especially among the educated, that knowledge comes from increasingly sophisticated strategy games like Civilization, which has in subsequent installments included religious and corporate aspects to the game; the Total War series, a unique blend of war, grand strategy, and economics which has covered ancient Rome, medieval Europe, shogunate Japan, eighteen-century colonial wars, and Napoleon; Crusader Kings, similar in respects to the Total War series but more focused on political intrigue; and the Victoria/Hearts of Iron series, the former an economic strategy game set in, you guessed it, the Victorian era and the latter a WWII grand strategy "simulator."
Many were the nights I spent in my dorm room playing these games with friends. To some, the games were their first introduction to history in any meaningful sense, and unlike their history classes in high school, this stuff actually engaged them and made them want to learn more. They actually wanted to talk about history from those of us who were history nerds. And among us nerds -- who included one or two (young) PhD students, the games gave us a dose of historical fantasy that was a welcome compliment -- not a respite, a compliment -- to the classroom. (The Civ II guy, incidentally, took his user name from St. Lycerius, an early French bishop. I'm guessing he -- or she -- went to college.)
Most video games, at least those for PCs, have a community of modders, who make alterations to the standard commercial copy and make them available online (you still need to buy the game for the mod to work, though). Most of the time, the mods are relatively minor, but there are occasionally "total conversions" that take the basic game mechanics and game engine in a completely new direction. Amazingly, a few mods have been conceived to correct historical inaccuracies in video games. The best example of this is the user-generated mod for Rome: Total War, Europa Barbarorum, which bills itself as "dedicated to providing an entertaining, historically accurate gaming experience."
First, a little background. The commercial release of Rome: Total War allows the player to take control of one of the great Roman "houses" in the late Roman Republic -- Julii, Brutii, and Scipiones -- which each have their own cities, armies, and faction attributes. The goal is to eventually become emperor of Rome by conquering neighboring tribes and civilizations like the Gauls, the Egyptians, and the Germans, then attacking the other Roman houses and marching on the city itself. Naturally, the depiction of the late Republican Mediterranean world deviates quite a bit from the actual history. The Egyptians, in particular, are portrayed not as the Hellenistic kingdom of the Ptolemais, but as still governed by the Bronze Age pharaohs (whose Bronze Age armies nevertheless prove to be remarkably effective against Rome's legions).
Screenshot from Europa Barbaroum simulating a battle over the Cappadocian city of Mazaka
Europa Barbarorum strips out the cartoonish aspects of the game and practically gives it the veneer of a PhD dissertation. Instead of Anglicized or Church Latin names of units, leaders, and provinces, the vernacular languages are used and many monolithic factions are divided (instead of Carthaginians, Karthadastim; the Gauls are split into the Arveni and the Aedui). Scripted events simulate the Marian and Augustian reforms of the Roman legions. The central role of religion in Roman and Carthaginian civic life is reflected by assigning certain cities and even certain characters specific gods that they follow -- from Jupiter to Ba'al. The mod's forum has an 11-page long thread on its bibliography.
Historians are frequently used as consultants on movies and TV Shows (ignored though they may be) -- how many have thought about expanding to video games? The video game industry was valued at $65 billion last year...
The OAH/NCPH meeting may have free WiFi this year, but there has been one significant hurdle for digital historians, bloggers, and Twitterstorians here in Milwaukee to overcome: the extremely user-unfriendly electrical design of the Frontier Airlines Center. Tenured Radical may be right about the bland generic-ness of conference centers and hotels across the country (though at least Frontier makes use of ample natural light), but for users of wireless devices, function must take precedence over function. Unfortunately, almost all of the session rooms this year lack the basic function of standard electrical outlets; instead, they use a twist-lock design, which is incompatible with laptop and phone chargers. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for users of wireless devices to charge them during sessions. There are converters located at the podium, but these are generally for the use of panelists.
A twist-lock electrical outlet.
These outlets, say Frontier Center staff, were part of a deliberate design decision when the building was constructed in 1998 to prevent unauthorized access to the building's power grid within meeting rooms. This was at the very cusp of the wireless age when the paramount concern presumably was preventing hosted conventions and media outlets from free access, before the proliferation of laptops, Smartphones, and other power-hungry wireless devices.
There are standard outlets in the hallways, though for digital historians attending back-to-back sessions, beware! Your computer may run out of juice halfway through.
So, kudos to the OAH/NCPH for the free WiFi, but to architects and developers of conference spaces, I say, "Shape up!" Even relatively new convention halls can quickly become obsolete in the digital age.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, HNN is on its way to Milwaukee for the 2012 OAH/NCPH Annual Meeting!
While the Empire Builder slowly winds its way through central Wisconsin, a reminder that the official Twitter hashtags for the convention are #oah2012 and #ncph2012. I'll be tweeting intermittently (read: as often as I can), so follow @myHNN for updates!
And now, Wisconsin Dells in April! Seems like an eminently appropriate pit stop, since the Dells, a popular Midwestern tourist destination (the area, believe it or not, has one of the largest concentrations of water parks in the United States -- well, Wisconsin does get hot during the summer), does not appear to have changed much since 1970.
It's official: the Peter Campbell deathwatch has begun.
After four seasons of watching him go from a spoiled, entitled, philandering brat to an at least somewhat sympathetic husband and employee, it's been rather shocking to see him revert back to his old habits with a vengeance. In the first episode alone, he viciously outmaneuvered Roger at the client game (going out of his way to humiliate the older man in front of colleagues) and strong-armed his way into a new office. In "Signal 30," his behavior is so outrageous that he gets a lesson in marital fidelity from Don freakin' Draper and his ass kicked in an office brawl by the mild-mannered English accountant Lane Pryce.
At least he's finally learning to drive -- the show title, "Signal 30", is taken from a rather graphic highway safety film from the '60s (I took driver's ed. in the new millennium, but my instructor still screened "Signal 30" for us, since, in his words, some things can't be improved upon. "Signal 30" the instructional film certainly has a sort of gory perfection.)
Pete and his wife Trudy host a dinner party for Don, fellow accounts man Ken Cosgrove (who had his own wonderful moments this episode -- but more on that later), and their wives at the new Campbell "country" estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, which establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Trudy Campbell is a loving wife and mother. The very next day, he joins Don and Roger for a client meeting with a vice president at Jaguar Cars, which turns into a drunken visit to a brothel. Amazingly, Don stays celibate for the evening, despite the ample attention of the employees ("Jesus, Don," Roger tells him, "even in this place you're doing better than us") but Pete ends up bedding a look-alike for his teenage driver's ed. classmate in one of the most transactional sexual encounters on a show no stranger to the cathouse. His sense of entitlement is so overwhelming that he only gets turned on after being throatily assured, "You're my king." He lashes out at Don afterward for his disapproving glances: "You of all people ... I can't believe I have to explain I was doing my job to a man who just pulled his pants up on the world."
It gets worse. The next morning, Lane -- who set up the meeting with Jaguar after failing to close the deal on his own -- furiously informs the other partners that Jaguar got caught with his pants down -- "He was caught with chewing gum on his pubics!", which draws guffaws from all except old-fashioned Burt Cooper (who appears to have become the token political signpost on the show -- before the angry Englishman bursts in, he's rubbing Roger's back and assuring him "Nixon's lying in wait"). After enduring more taunts from Pete, Lane goes ballistic and challenges him to fisticuffs ("You're a grimy little pimp," he says, perhaps the victim of selective memory regarding his own infidelities -- remember, this is a show where almost every character is a terrible person). In a scene that many fans have been waiting five years for, Lane proceeds to kick the crap out of him ("I know cooler heads should prevail," says Roger, "but am I the only who wants to see this?" -- a double irony, since John Slattery directed the episode). He goes home in a sulk, his face badly bruised.
All of this, along with a receding hairline and a bit extra paunch, paints the portrait of a deeply, deeply unhappy man sliding into middle age.
I remain a skeptic that the season will end in Pete's suicide -- that seemed to be the path Don was going down last season when he descended into full-blown alcoholism, but instead he ended up married to his secretary -- though it wouldn't come out of left field. Just as the Richard Speck murders provided the necessary moribundity for last week's episode, Charles Whitman's tower rampage at the University of Texas sets the tone for this one. Unlike the sexually depraved Speck, Whitman seemed to be an ordinary man who just snapped after domestic problems -- first he murdered his wife and mother, then he went to the university armed to the teeth and killed another thirteen people before the police took him down. Who knows? Maybe Pete is being set up for a rampage of some sort.
University of Texas Main Building, where most of Whitman's rampage occurred.
But again, I'm not convinced. Decline has been a dramatic necessity on this show throughout its entire run. "I'm living like there's no tomorrow," Don said back in the very first episode, "because there isn't one." The glimmers of New York we see outside the rarified world of big business have gotten steadily less glamorous, too, as the seasons have gone on -- the greasy spoons have gotten greasier (the best episode of Season 4, "The Suitcase," saw Don and Peggy fleeing a Greek restaurant because a roach found its way into a painting of the Parthenon), the streets have gotten dirtier (watch any street shot this season -- the odds are, the garbage cans will be overflowing). If we're going to use pop culture as a roadmap (and Mad Men is nothing if unaware that it exists in the realm of popular memory), then the romantic, if bittersweet, New York of The Apartment is rapidly fading in the distance -- and the grittier New York of Midnight Cowboy is arriving. "Time feels like it's speeding up," Pete's would-be belle amour from his driver's ed. class sighs.
The continuing sense of decline isn't helped by Lane's seemingly insurmountable Englishness, despite his best attempts to kick it. The whole reason SDCP had a shot at Jaguar in the first place is because Lane was at an English pub with him watching the '66 World Cup final -- (West) Germany vs. England (England won -- it's the British equivalent of "the shot heard 'round the world,") Watching that scene made me think back to all of the other Anglocentric moments on Mad Men, and how those types of English people simply do not exist anymore. Yes, there are still well-heeled, posh members of the aristocracy in Britain (David Cameron springs to mind), but there are no longer Englishmen (and women) who were born to empire and expected to rule the world, even during the decade of diminished imperial expectations that were the 1960s (by '66, a handful of British protectorates are all that remain of the once mighty British Empire, and they'll be independent within a decade). In my mind, there's never really been a good reason to justify the presence of so much Englishness (the narrative reason why Lane Pryce is there at all is because Sterling Cooper was purchased by a British firm in 1962) except to draw declinist parallels between imperial Britain, the world of privileged white New Yorkers in the '60s, and, yes, America today -- three worlds that have all been challenged by the deep currents of history.
Interestingly, Geoff Hurst's winning goal in the '66 World Cup probably didn't actually make it into the net:
I'll end with this -- could Ken Cosgrove, now revealed as a prodigious sci-fi writer, published in the Hugo Award-winning Galaxy, end up writing an episode of Star Trek? The sci-fi cult classic premiered in September 1966, and some of its best episodes were written by the leading sci-fi writers of the decade.
A friend of mine sent me this graphic:
I just finished reading this fascinating Room for Debate in the New York Times on whether to preserve or demolish Brutalist architecture. It raises some excellent questions about historical preservation. (Update: And here's the original article on the Orange County Government Building in Goshen, NY -- HT
Now, a disclaimer -- I hate Brutalism. I hate it almost as much as this guy, and he calls Brutalist architects fascists (I personally wouldn't go that far, but there is an undeniable similarity between the Buffalo City Court Building and, say, Vienna's WWII flak towers). I've hated Brutalist buildings since I was a kid, well before I realized that it was a major architectural school that some people actually took seriously. Most Brutalist buildings lack anything approaching warmth or humanity -- they almost uniformly dank, dismal, bunker-like objects that contemptuously destroy the existing aesthetic of neighborhoods and cities.
Worse, they're found everywhere. In my junior year of college, I escaped the confines of the University of Minnesota's arts and humanities campus, home to buildings like the one below, to Trinity College Dublin for a semester abroad, which is one of the most picturesque campuses in the world.
Rarig Center, University of Minnesota
Trinity College Dublin
But I discovered, to my horror, that TCD's primary undergraduate research library is this building:
Berkeley Library, Trinity College Dublin
This is the interior -- it's usually much more dimly-lit (rather problematic for a library):
So yes, I HATE Brutalist architecture, which is why I can't be trusted to think rationally about the question of whether some examples should be preserved. If it were up to me, I'd raze every Brutalist building to the ground, salt the earth where they once stood and condemn them damnatio memoriae. (Did I mention I hate Brutalism?) But, as a number of contributors in the NYT noted, people -- or at least architects -- hated Art Deco after a time, just as they had Victorian, neo-classical, and Beaux-Arts. After all, as many commenters in the Times pointed out, the destruction of New York's Penn Station in 1964 is now rightly considered a crime. The difference between the razing of Penn Station and the proposed destruction of Brutalist buildings is that Penn Station was widely beloved at the time and its destruction was heavily protested. The biggest debate over Brutalist buildings is whether or not Prince Charles is overstepping his bounds in his zeal to demolish them, not whether they ought to be demolished. The only real aesthetic purpose of the archly inhuman designs is to provide the appropriate backdrop for the violent, alienating cinema of the 1970s.
But rather than continue to expound on the myriad reasons why Brutalist architecture, for want of a better word, sucks (I am, however, rather found of many modernist designs, which have the benefit of looking sleek and space-age as opposed to bunker-like), I'll throw it open for discussion. Should we preserve Brutalist buildings, and, if so, which ones?
Good Lord, Mad Men is getting dark. A reader sent me an email last week saying that she gave the first three episodes a try but couldn't get into the show because the characters were all unsympathetic, nasty people. She's not wrong.
It's been especially interesting watching Mad Men this season and seeing how the writers weave the happenings of '66 into the show. In past seasons, especially the last one, references to current events often were clumsy, ham-handed -- like Peggy blurting out to a co-worker "Did you know Malcolm X was shot last week?" To be fair, this may have been the point -- the show's main theme for the past five years has been how privileged and isolated its main characters are from the tempest engulfing the rest of society. Nevertheless, it's done far more effectively in "Mystery Date," when Peggy's (openly lesbian!) friend Joyce, a photojournalist for Life Magazine, gleefully saunters into the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with "crime scene snaps from Chicago's student nurse massacre ... not suitable for publication." That the staff salivated over the graphic photos brought the earlier emal.
That a sense of morbidity and macabre hung over the episode was probably inevitable, given that it was set against the backdrop of the Richard Speck murders. Speck, for those unfamiliar with the case, broke into a dorm for student nurses on the South Side of Chicago on the night of July 13-14, 1966, systematically killing eight of the nine nurses living there and raping one of them. He was on the loose for only two days, but that was enough time to spark for the national panic shown on Mad Men. It certainly caused hell in South Deering -- my dad grew up a couple blocks away from the murder house, and, while he was at camp in Wisconsin when the actual murders took place (Bobby Draper, also absent at camp, was presumably somewhere up north in the woods and mountains of upstate New York; Chicago kids went up north to Wisconsin), everyone else in my family vividly remembers the palpable terror in the atmosphere and the swarm of media coverage.
It's to the great credit of the writers that they've managed to avoid rolling out the well-trod stock images of the 1960s (though hippies, acid, the Black Panthers, MLK, RFK, Nixon, the moon landing, and the worsening situation in Vietnam all lie in the future) and focus instead on the more mundane events that provide a real sense of texture -- plane crashes, airline strikes, and now murder scandals. It's lampshaded by Joyce: "I think this is going to make the cover, not the riots [she's almost certainly referring to the then ongoing Hough Riots in Cleveland]. ... We did the riots this week -- Watts a year later -- plus there've been five riots this summer. I say it's better than even money Mr. Luce finds a tasteful way to do this." She was right:
Life Magazine, July 29, 1966
Four days after this magazine hit the newsstands, Charles Whitman holed himself up in the clock tower of the administrative building at the University of Texas and proceeded to kill thirteen people before he was taken down by the police. Though the show will inevitably continue with an undercurrent of menace and violence (I've already read a couple of fan analyses about which member of the cast will jump off of the Time-Life Building in the finale -- the smart money's on Pete, evidently), I doubt Whitman will be featured as prominently as Speck, though, because Whitman's massacre, as awful as it was, didn't have quite the same charged sexual tone. *SPOILER* I wasn't surprised that Don's assignation with an old mistress turned out to be a feverish dream (Take note, would-be writers: if you're going to make a violent scene a dream, a fever is always a classic trope), but I was surprised that he ended up strangling her to death in his delusion. Was the sequence a symbol of his desire to overcome his pathological sex addiction and remain faithful to his wife? Possibly, though he did end up in the sack with his hallucination before killing her. Did it cement, once and for all, Don's deep self-loathing and misogyny? Absolutely. He's been known to get his jollies from getting slapped in the face by a hooker, but he only pounced after he heard "You're a sick, sick..." (Well, he was abused pretty badly as a child -- and so was Speck. He probably did it "because he hates his mother," Grandma Pauline snarked to Sally.)
There were lots of other great moments in this episode -- the ongoing saga of the hyper-competent nebbish Michael Ginsberg (no, that's not an oxymoron), Peggy's aggressive bargaining with Roger over wages and her subsequent self-doubt ("Do you think I act like a man?" she drunkenly asks Don's new black secretary Dawn, who's clearly weirded out), Sally's horrid day and sleeping-pill popping night with her magnificently grotesque step-grandmother (who, spooked by the Speck murders, proudly waves about her "burglar alarm," a six-inch butcher knife). The best moment of the entire show, though -- and the most triumphant, a bright spot in a largely bleak episode -- belonged to Joan, who finally casts aside her worthless husband Greg, who earned himself the fan nickname "Dr. Rape" from his actions in season 2. Having just finished a tour in Vietnam, the good doctor, who has been consistently shown to be borderline incompetent and willfully oblivious to his wife's humanity, volunteered to go back for another year. "I'm glad the Army makes you feel like a [good] man, because I'm sick of trying to do it.... You're not a good man, and you never were. Even before we were married and you know what I'm talking about."
I wasn't the only one waiting three seasons for that anvil to drop -- the moment the line was read, I heard cheering in the apartment next door.
Due to popular demand, I'm going to continue to blog this season of Mad Men. And now, Episode 3! For my post on the two-parter season premier, go here.
When you get right down to it, it's the lucky among us who get old. At the risk of being morbid, I've always believed it's better to die at a hundred, with a lifetime of memories and experiences, than it is to die at twenty-five. That doesn't mean aging is easy, though, and for the first time since the show began, last night's Mad Men episode made the characters seem so ... old. From Betty Francis's cancer scare, to Roger Sterling finally realizing he's obsolete, to Don's awkward attempts to psychoanalyze the youth market backstage at a Rolling Stones concert, aging and its discontents are now front and center on the series.
Even Mohawk, the newly-signed airline that sparked so much excitement at SCDP (and highlighted the rivalry between Roger and Pete Campbell) is living on borrowed time. By 1972 Mohawk Airlines would be defunct, acquired by the company that eventually became US Airways. Almost none of the early regional airlines in America operate independently today (but, hey, even Pan Am eventually went out of business, ironically enough at almost the exact same moment as the final collapse of the Soviet Union -- December 1991).
It was certainly startling to be reintroduced to Betty. After two years of marriage to New York mayor John Lindsay's advisor Henry Francis (He got the best line of the night -- "Tell Jim His Honor isn't going to Michigan. [Pause.] Because Romney's a clown, and I don't want him standing next to us."), she's put on a bit of weight, which would in and of itself be unremarkable, but this is the woman who went on at length for years about how important it is to be pretty and thin. Her doctor finds a lump on her thyroid during a check-up for diet pills, and she spends the rest of the episode under the potential cloud of cancer (*SPOILER ALERT*: she doesn't have it). It's worth reflecting on cancer's once-immense social taboo -- people once suffered and died in silence. Remember, the episode is set eight years before Betty Ford went public with her battle with breast cancer. Interestingly, only Don can bring himself to speak the actual word (well, his "other" ex-wife did died of bone marrow cancer) -- every one else, even Betty's cancer-stricken friend Joyce, with whom Betty has lunch after a doctor's appointment, refers to it as a sickness or illness. Joyce's description of the experience of cancer is heart-wrenching, especially her seemingly shrugged-off line in response to Betty's horror: "No one's ever asked."
On to somewhat lighter fare. Part of the original fun of Mad Men was guessing how its very flawed characters would react to the changes of the '60s. Well, we now have a pretty good idea. Roger Sterling remains utterly, almost willfully clueless -- last week, he was completely oblivious to the fact that black people read newspapers and might want office jobs, too; this week, he told Peggy to hire the Woody Allen-esque Michael Ginsberg because having a Jew "makes the agency more modern." He thought the same thing in the first season, six years earlier. (He also assumed it would be a problem for the client to have a Jewish copywriter and was astonished that they didn't care.) Don and the now-hip (and incredibly irritating) Harry Crane, meanwhile, strike up a conversation (and a joint) with a pair of underage groupies at the Stones concert while waiting to recruit the band for a TV commercial for Heinz Baked Beans. In the past, Don would have played the seducer in this situation, but here he seemed genuinely befuddled and concerned. "What do you feel when hear [the Rolling Stones]?" he asks one of them. The girl shrugs. "Brian Jones ... he's a troubadour." (Too bad he'll be dead in three years.) She'll do "whatever he wants," though it's pretty clear she has no idea what that might be. When Don presses her, she dismisses him. "None of you want any of us to have a good time just because you never did," she tells Don (I can't think of a less true statement). "No," he responds, "we're worried about you."
And therein lies the generation gap in a nutshell. It's a lesson that's appreciate much more today than it was in 1966: even square people can do drugs and have sex.
Harry, meanwhile, mistakes the one-hit wonder the Trade Winds for the Stones. "They sounded just like them," he said, despite the Trade Winds sounding a lot more like the Beach Boys. But, of course, all pop acts sound the same, right? (Truthfully, I can't tell the difference between Ke$ha and Lady GaGa, either, but at least the Stones have staying power.)
The Stones, incidentally, actually did a Rice Krispies commercial in the UK in 1964, but it fell to the Who to actually record a Heinz Baked Beans.
In 1967, most pop bands were desperately trying to keep up with the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys nearly had a nervous breakdown after hearing the album. The Rolling Stones recorded the very mixed Their Satanic Majesties Request (one critic of the Internet Age called it "the worst of the major bands' takes on Sgt. Pepper ... full of self-conscious attempts to be weird"); The Who cut The Who Sell Out, which, judging by its packaging alone, could very well become Don Draper's favorite album of 1967.
The whole album is structured like a pirate radio broadcast, complete with ad spots recorded specifically for the album (supposedly the band actually tried to sell ad space on the album but couldn't get any companies interested, so they just a few gra is). Among the products to get plugged: Odorono (a popular English deodorant, the first marketed specifically to women), Charles Atlas's bodybuilding course, and, yes, Heinz Baked Beans.
And, as evidence that not everyone in the advertising world was brain-dead on race (and the fact that there were profits to be made from -- *gasp* -- actually selling things to African Americans!), I submit for your consideration this jingle for Coca-Cola, my personal favorite from a huge number of spots from the '60s featuring well-known acts, sung by Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.
Apparently Duke philosopher Alex Rosenberg thinks so, because it can't predict the future:
History is helpless to teach us anything much about the present. The real lesson the history of arms races [something Rosenberg discusses] teaches is that there are no lessons in history. When it comes to understanding the future, history is bunk.
Now, I ought to make it clear that I have not read Rosenberg's new book, The Atheist's Guide to Reality, where this quote originates. I came to it through Michael Ruse, the director of the history of science program at Florida State, who has a pretty convincing takedown of Rosenberg's argument on his blog at the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
[It's] dangerous, culpable nonsense, and a good philosopher should know better. ... The tragedy is that this kind of stuff just plays into the hands of the philistines in our society who want to eliminate the humanities and go solely for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). [Amen to that.]
Go back to [modern British anti-Catholicism]. Of course, there were contributing factors like the tense relationship with Ireland, but the main reason for the anti-Catholicism lies in the past. Most immediately, as Linda Colley shows in her brilliant Britons, it lies in the 18th century, when Britain was faced with threats from the most powerful of continental forces, the very Catholic French. The Act of Union between Scotland and England and Wales, making for a country with the resources to withstand the threats, needed an ideology. Protestantism was it, even though it was more a shared hostility to Catholicism than an identity of belief – Presbyterians and Anglicans are still far apart on that. (Interesting, even 20 years ago, Colley noted that with the decline of outside threat, the Union may be in trouble, as indeed it is.)
This exchange, plus the comments on Ruse's post, highlights one of the biggest gaps between how historians understand history and how others do. Very few historians think that their discipline is predictive. If history does have direct contemporary value, it lies outside of the realm of prediction -- witness the expert testimony of historians Nancy Cott and George Chauncey during the Prop. 8 trial in California. Hell, look at half the articles on HNN on any given week. Leo Ribuffo's article on brokered conventions explicitly says no one can predict whether or not the GOP nomination will be settled on the convention floor in Tampa, but he does suggest that there is an historical pattern around political conventions. Patterns imply that certain outcomes may be more likely, but they are not intrinsically predictive.
That's where the perception gap between historians and their audiences lies: many people -- maybe even most people -- who are not otherwise interested in history assume history is predictive. Whenever I'm asked about what I do for living by strangers, I always go into an explanation of how HNN's mission is at the intersection of history and current affairs, and, after being assured that, "Oh yes, I didn't like history in school, but I can see why it's important," I invariably hear a variation on the old Santayana quote, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." It implies the reverse is true: if you understand history, you can avoid its mistakes. That's reason #1 for why history is important to the otherwise disinterested.
People who are actually interested in history, though, usually talk about heritage or how they think it's important to understand where we've been and where we're going. That sounds like history-as-prediction, but it's not. It's more about history being of a broader, often intensely personal, narrative -- "It's amazing to think that the original [European] settlers like my great-grandparents came [to the West] in covered wagons and now there's airports and skyways," or "My great-great-grandmother was brought to America in chains from Africa, and now we have a black president."
So what is to be done? I think that the context argument can, should, and is being made to the general public. Public historians are, naturally enough, particularly good at doing this, and in my experience the proverbial history buff is more receptive to the idea of history-as-context-and-narrative than history-as-prediction. Scientists and philosophers who take a purely utilitarian approach to knowledge, on the other hand (I don't know if Rosenberg is one of them, because I'm not familiar with his work), are not going to be convinced by the context argument, but here's where historians might actually be able to use new breakthroughs in biology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience to make that argument more convincing. If human beings are predisposed to seek out and process stories, if our brains are predisposed toward narratives as a way of understanding ourselves and the work... well, human history is the ultimate narrative. To borrow a phrase from Chris Hedges, history is the force that gives us meaning.
On the home page this week is a wonderful article that was sent over to me by Mark Selden at JapanFocus: New York, Nuke York: Nuclear Holocaust in the American Imagination from Hiroshima to 9/11 by Mike Broderick and Robert Jacobs. It's exactly what it says on the tin. I personally love this subject -- I remember writing a paper I was particularly proud of about the 1945 Life Magazine spread that Broderick and Jacobs briefly talk about.
It is however, essentially an academic article, and HNN does not, as a rule, publish or reprint academic articles. There are a variety of reasons for this: we don't do peer review; we value brevity and clarity; our research shows that the majority of readers click out of an article after around 2,000 words (except for interviews, which tend to be less dense); and academic articles often go into extreme and, for our purposes, unnecessary detail and can often fall into the habit of repeating a single point endlessly, on and on and on, completely oblivious to the fact that the readers got the point the first time, and they don't need to have an idea pounded into their heads over and over and over...
So why did we publish in full Nuke York, New York, an article with 49 footnotes and 7,000 words (the equivalent of nearly 35 pages of 12-pont, double-spaced font), not the most subtle of analysis, and certainly guilty of the sin of repetitiveness?
Two reasons: 1) it's on a modern pop culture topic, which tends to attract more readers than, say, an socio-historical analysis of the proverbial underwater basket weaving; and more importantly 2) It has great pictures. If you don't want to slog your way through 7,000 words, just look at the pictures in sequence -- they provide, in sum, a wonderful photographic history of the atomic age. That alone makes it exactly the kind of academic paper that has the potential for broad appeal.
Courtesy of Wikipedia
After an eighteen-month long hiatus, AMC's Mad Men, a favorite subject for historians and academics to get quoted in the media, finally returned to the airwaves last night. Culture writers can be forgiven for going a bit overboard with coverage -- there is a huge spread on Slate today, several at Salon, one at The Atlantic, and the show made the covers of posh men's magazines GQ and Esquire, not to mention the one-time competitor to Time as the premier middle-class weekly newsmagazine, Newsweek.
Obviously, the show has its fans. I even seem to remember The New Republic running weekly recaps of Mad Men episodes the last time the show was on the air. (Speaking of which, when did the recap, which is essentially glorified watercooler talk become the sine qua non of TV criticism?)
I'm a fan of the show, in all of its period-piece soap-opera-y goodness, but I'll leave the incredibly detailed character analysis to the Kremlinologists. (Was Don Draper two or three spots away from Brezhnev at the May Day Parade? Gasp!) Instead, I wanted to reflect a little bit on how the show, which has now spanned the time period from 1960 to 1966 (one prediction, which I happen to agree with, is that Matthew Weiner plans to end the series with Nixon's '68 victory, neatly bookending the opening season's Kennedy-Nixon storyline), reflects change over time, the quintessential ingredient of history.
Last night's episode was a perfect example of this, especially if you watched it, as I did, after doing a quick recap of the earlier seasons on DVD. Just the change in the set design and costumes shows the nearly breath-taking pace of change in the mid-60s. Gone are the dimly-lit, wood-paneled Sterling Cooper offices of season 1-3 ('60-'63, in the show's timeline) and Don Draper's suburban New York colonial abode -- hello, modernist, exposed-concrete office space (it's amazing to think that architects actually thought brutalism was a good idea -- and I'm glad to see, after Pete Campbell smacked his face into a bare concrete load-bearing in last night's episode, that I'm not the only one who's nearly broken his nose on one of those damn things), shag carpeting, and colorful mod furniture. Thin ties and gray flannel suits are still the in for businessmen in '66, but TV executive Harry Crane, he of button-downs and bow ties in the early seasons, was wrapped in a boa at a swanky apartment party. Characters who voted for Nixon in 1960 now wouldn't look out of place as extras in an Austin Powers movie. Some of the women even wore miniskirts, a practical heresy six years earlier.
Of course, Mad Men's greatest selling point has been its focus on the proverbial (and literal) One Percent of postwar America. (Incidentally, The Atlantic also had a good piece the other day on changes in American health care since 1965, pretty shamelessly connected to the show's premiere.) Ever since the show premiered, we've known that Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell, et al. are part of the class that, if it won't be destroyed (and it won't be), it's going to get its upper-crust WASP-y world rocked. Indeed, it already has. Don Draper himself is a deconstruction of the all-American self-made man -- he went from a impoverished illegitimate Midwestern farmboy to a rich, high-powered Manhattan businessman, but only by being a consummate liar. There's also Peggy Olson, a Catholic and a woman, no less, who went from Brooklyn to Madison Avenue.
One of the favorite guessing games of the show's fans is how specific characters will react to the inevitable social upheavals -- will Pete Campbell continue down the road to a full-fledged Great Society liberal? (Maybe, though judging by last night's episode, he may have reached his limits.) How will the characters react to Vietnam? It's probably the Cold War history nerd in me, but the my personal highlight of last night's episode was the cocktail-party debate between Peggy's radical journalist boyfriend Abe and Ayn Rand acolyte Bert Cooper about the domino theory ("[It's] not a joke!" he intones) and whether or not the increasingly uncomfortably looking sailor who's listening in on the conversation is coming home in a bag for nothing ("I thought there were gonna be girls here"). This was forcefully on display in the scenes which bookended the show: a group of young executives from rival firm Young and Rubicam dropped water balloons from their office building on black civil rights protestors below, a scene that sure does bring to mind the image of Wall Street executives drinking champagne on balconies while watching Occupy Wall Street below a mere six months ago. The show's resident cad Roger Sterling took out an ad in the New York Times in response proclaiming his firm an "equal opportunity employer" to tweak Y & R, a joke that was lost on the two-dozen plus black applicants who showed up with resumes at the end of the episode. Slate had an excellent quip: "Roger Sterling failed to see the consequences of his prank because it probably never even occurred to him that black people read the Business section of the New York Times."
There are dozens of other threads to pull on from the premiere (from Joan's panic attack at the prospect of being replaced due to her newborn baby, in spite of her extreme competence, to Harry Crane's casual and lewd sexism, to the existential angst of aging) but I do think that the new Ms. Draper's semi-striptease, which has been getting a lot of attention in the recaps, did throw a recurrent theme of the show into sharp relief. "Every generation thinks they invented sex," said Robert Heinlen, no stranger to human sexuality himself, and suffice to say Mad Men makes it explicit that the Baby Boomers, they of the free-love generation, were far from the first sexual innovators. What that scene, and the character of Megan generally, shows is that the sexual revolution (in carnal terms) was not so much the reinvention of sex as it was about putting female sexuality, and female desire, out in public. It's no coincidence that both the character Megan and the actress who plays here are French (well, French-Canadian). As Marlene Dietrich said, "In America, sex is an obsession. In other parts of the world, it's a fact." Even Don Draper, who for the past four seasons has been a serial adulterer and all-around sex maniac, looked like a prude by comparison.
I'm sure I'll have more thoughts as the season progress. For those of you who watch the show -- especially those who were actually alive during the '60s (I wasn't even around for Reagan!) -- please comment!
I'm going to make a bold statement: pretty much everyone is familiar with Saint Patrick. Probably not in any real historical or religious detail, but you don't lend your name to the biggest drinking day in the United States -- and quite possibly the Western world -- without people at least remembering your name.
But, to paraphrase something an Irish professor once said to me when I spent a term at Trinity College, Dublin,* pretty much every thing you know about Saint Patrick is wrong. For one thing, he didn't introduce Christianity to Ireland -- the Catholic Church recognizes Palladius, a missionary and ascetic from Gaul, as the first bishop of the believing Irish, and even that implies that he was sent to Ireland to tend to existing Christian communities. Indeed, there's some ambiguity as to whether Palladius and Patrick where the same person (at least one scholar believes they were), and even if they weren't, it's possible that many of the (non-legendary) acts attributed to Patrick were in fact Palladius's. Regardless, Patrick's own testament makes his life sound interesting enough: he was the son of a deacon in fifth-century Roman Britain who was captured by pirates when he was sixteen, sold into slavery in Ireland, escaped back to Britain after six years, but then returned to Ireland as a missionary and representative of the Christian Church.
Irish 5-shilling stamp depicting St. Patrick, 1937
To complicate things even further, Saint Patrick is only one of three patron saints of Ireland. Saint Brigid of Kildare was active at the same time as Patrick in the latter half of the fifth century, and Saint Columba of Donegal preached to the Picts of Scotland in the 500s. Brigid's hagiography, incidentally, makes for some pretty interesting reading, particularly her miracles (from Cogitosus's Life of St. Brigid):
[The] venerable Brigid was asked by some lepers for beer, but had none. She noticed water that had been prepared for baths. She blessed it, in the goodness of her abiding faith, and transformed into the best beer, which she drew copiously for the thirsty. It was indeed He Who turned water into win in Cana of Galilee Who turned water into beer here....
That's right -- the Galileans have their wine, but the Irish have their beer (suddenly, the modern Saint Patrick's Day celebration doesn't quite seem so off-key).
But my personal favorite, possibly the most astounding miracle I've ever read of in any saint's life (though admittedly I have only a cursory knowledge of Irish and Russian hagiographies -- emphasis on cursory) is this stunner:
With a strength of faith most powerful and ineffable, she (Brigid) blessed a woman who, after a vow of virginity, had lapsed through weakness into youthful concupisence, as a result of which her womb began to swell with pregnancy. In consequence, what had been conceived in the womb disappeared, and she restored her to health and to penitence without childbirth or pain.
There's a reason why Choice Ireland (where abortion is illegal) proclaims Brigid of Kildare as Ireland's first abortionist.
But for those who are neither interested in the arcane details of Irish saints or drinking themselves into a stupor, there is an alternative holiday that celebrates Irish literature, Irish language, and Irish culture. My advice to to the cultural set is to avoid the pubs tomorrow and instead start making plans for Bloomsday on June 16 -- the date on which James Joyce's epic novel Ulysses is set in 1904 (I admit to having had a rather disappointing gorgonzola cheese sandwich and glass of burgundy at Davy Byrne's Pub -- a word to the wise: don't order wine at Irish pubs, whether in Ireland or not). In the U.S., Bloomsday typically means book readings (and probably some drinking); in Dublin, it means a brigade of men and women in Edwardian garb retracing the steps of Joyce's protagonist, Leopold Bloom.
Bloomsday revelers outside Davy Byrne's Pub, 2003
*That can be a surprisingly sore point whenever I mention it to Irish people I encounter the U.S., as it's considered to be a posh and rather snobby college by its detractors, but then again, it was the resident university of the Protestant Ascendancy for decades, and it maintained a largely Protestant character well into Irish independence; though the university lifted a ban on Catholic students in 1793, the Irish Catholic Church only lifted its reciprocal ban in 1972.
The University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center's FlackCheck.org has just made my month.
They've applied the art of the modern political attack ad to Abraham Lincoln's 1864 presidential campaign:
What's truly great about the video is that it illustrates just how partisan the media really was before the consolidation of the media establishment in the twentieth century, and how we've essentially come full circle in our political rhetoric. The Illinois State Register calling Abraham Lincoln "a second Benedict Arnold" for his refusal to support the Mexican-American War seems to me to in roughly the same ballpark (albeit worse) than Rick Santorum saying JFK makes him want to "throw up."
Check out the whole series of attack ads (ten so far!) at FlackCheck.org.
You'd think that John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech in Houston to a group of Protestant ministers which effectively defused Kennedy's Catholicism as a campaign issue would be referenced favorably by this year's GOP crop. Of the four remaining candidates, two are Catholics, one is Mormon, and there's only a single Protestant left in the race (Ron Paul is a Baptist).
But Rick Santorum -- himself a Catholic -- said in a speech early on in the current campaign cycle that Kennedy's speech "made me want to throw up." When George Stephanopoulos asked him about his remarks yesterday, Santorum offered this defense:
The first substantive line in the speech was "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. This is the First Amendment. The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion. That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square. Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, no, ‘faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate.’ Go on and read the speech ‘I will have nothing to do with faith. I won’t consult with people of faith.’ It was an absolutist doctrine that was foreign at the time of 1960....
To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?
That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square.
Joan Walsh has a pretty effective takedown of Santorum's remarks over at Salon. If you'll bear with me, I'll quote Walsh (no relation, I assure you) quoting Kennedy (the full speech by JFK, incidentally, can be read here):
Of course, there’s no place in Kennedy’s speech where he said “people of faith are not allowed in the public square,” or anything close to that, and Santorum’s saying it three times doesn’t make it true. Here’s one key passage:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
It is absolutely clear that Kennedy accepts “people of faith in the public square” – his goal is to make a place for people of every faith in our public life. Kennedy doesn’t even go as far as Christian right hero Reagan, who actually said the separation of church and state protects the right of non-believers, too.
Now, Walsh concludes by calling Santorum a liar for mischaracterizing Kennedy's remarks. I wouldn't go that far. Santorum clearly believes his analysis of Kennedy's speech, though, as Joan (I'm switching over to her first name, otherwise I feel like I'm writing about myself in the third person) demonstrates, Kennedy was not saying religion does not belong in the public square.
Santorum's big problem is with context. I echo his call to actually read dthe full text of Kennedy's speech because it does provide rich context. Kennedy starts out by jabbing at the Eisenhower administration for losing Cuba and falling behind in the space race. He speaks admiringly of other countries with Catholic presidents but officially pluralist or secular states: De Valera's Ireland (to be fair, Kennedy could have used a history lesson himself one this one), De Gaulle's France, and Adenaur's Germany -- incidentally, when was the last time in this election cycle that a candidate spoke admiringly of a foreign leader?
Perhaps most importantly, Santorum seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that Kennedy gave his speech explicitly to rebut criticism that he would use his office to give preferential treatment to his church and that in 1960 Protestantism had a particularly important political role in the public square (the SPLC, anyone?). He's not thinking critically about history.
I've been spending much of today updating the Hot Topics page on Hollywood and the movies. There's a LOT of wonderful pieces in our archives about Hollywood history, how Hollywood influences our views of history, love letters to old movies, top ten lists of the most historically inaccurate movies ever (the UK list is topped by U-571--it struck me as innocuous fluff when I saw it years ago, but then again I suppose I'd be irritated too if there was a British movie that took all the credit for cracking the Japanese PURPLE machine). It's been great reading for a Thursday afternoon.
I've also been coming across a haul of movie reviews written by historians, and there have been quite a few negative ones. Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't like The Last Samurai either; in addition to its innumerable historical problems, it was basically just a Dances with Wolves rehash set in Japan. Hidalgo also got trashed; again, fair enough. But I worry that if historians write about recently released history films only to savage their historical inaccuracies, they risk being dismissed out of hand as cranks.
That's one of the reasons I've been so pleased with this week's Oscar special--articles about history movies that actually have some affection for them! But, let's be honest: it's the upcoming Academy Awards and the nine history movie nominees for Best Picture (yes, I'm counting Moneyball) that sparked it, not the release of the movies themselves.
Why hasn't an historian reviewed The Artist or Midnight in Paris? Is it because a lack of controversy and gross historical distortions just hasn't sparked a whole lot of interest?
So, in an effort to rectify this, I'm extending an open invitation to all historians, especially film historians: if there's a history movie out there that you actually liked, review it! We'd be happy to run it on HNN.
And, for the record, my money is on The Artist.