RATIONAL ANIMAL TALES: How dumb can it get at the top of the pile?

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15, 2020

The Summer of '35:
How dumb can it get at the top of the cultural/journalistic pile—let's say, with Aaron Sorkin?

In our view, it can get quite dumb. As our society slides toward the sea in this, the evolving Age of Trump, this strikes us as a very major cultural/political problem.

How dumb can things get with Aaron Sorkin? We'll offer today's example below. First, though, let's consider something said in the Financial Times when Sorkin debuted his "adaptation" of Harper Lee's book thirteen months ago.

The famous book which Sorkin "adapted" is Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. In "adapting" the famous novel, Sorkin changed many things, building off such peculiar ideas as his apparent belief that the famous book ends with a "murder."

Sorkin changed Harper Lee's famous tale all around. As we noted yesterday, the FT's Max McGuinness offered these remarks when the play first appeared. Today, we include the final paragraph in his largely unfriendly review:
MCGUINNESS (12/13/18): [T]he Atticus on stage here is more Sorkin’s creature than Lee’s. In Jeff Daniels’ portrayal, the novel’s shrewd and saintly widower becomes a flawed and somewhat diffident figure with an exaggerated faith in the power of the law.

As in the novel, Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a black labourer accused of raping a white teenager, Mayella Ewell. But Sorkin makes some crucial changes: Atticus here replaces another unseen lawyer who had negotiated a plea bargain that would have saved Tom from the death penalty in exchange for a hefty sentence. He then persuades Tom to fight to clear his name. And whereas the novel’s Atticus knows that he cannot win the case and has at best “a reasonable chance” of overturning a guilty verdict on appeal, Sorkin’s Atticus seems naively and even recklessly convinced that justice will be done. Atticus—a model of restraint in the novel—also nearly comes to blows with Mayella’s father and actual rapist Bob.

This Atticus has perhaps some claim to be a more realistic version of small-town white lawyer in 1930s Alabama than Lee’s moral paragon. But Sorkin’s efforts at adding complexity feel so strenuous that he might have been better off writing an original play, or else adopting a radical style of adaptation that actively signalled his changes.
Briefly bowing to the dumbness of the mob, McGuinness said that Sorkin's reckless, stupider, deeply flawed Atticus Finch "has perhaps some claim to be a more realistic version of small-town white lawyer in 1930s."

He then suggested that Sorkin "might have been better off" dreaming up "an original play" if he felt the need to change Lee's original creation so thoroughly.

Would Sorkin "have been better off" writing an original play? Almost surely, no. In creating his "adaptation," Sorkin has drafted along behind Lee's massive fame and enormous good will, perhaps behaving a bit like Maycomb's Bob Ewell down at the welfare office.

In all likelihood, no one would give a flying fig about an original play about race dreamed up by Aaron Sorkin. By using the title of Lee's famous book and the names of her famous characters, he has his hand deep in Lee's purse and he's siphoning gas as he goes.

He also gets to present himself as more insightful than Lee ever was concerning matters of race. Are far as we know, there are no words which can describe dumbness so vast and so dumb.

That said, consider McGuinness' brief act of deference to the joys of modern dumbness. We refer to the place where he says that Sorkin's less admirable version of Atticus Finch "has perhaps some claim to be a more realistic version of small-town white lawyer in 1930s."

We're sorry he said that! Here's why:

When she wrote her famous book, Lee wasn't trying to author a sociological profile of white Alabama lawyers of the 1930s. She wasn't attempting to offer a "realistic" portrait of the average lawyer of that description, or of some particular actual lawyer.

Instead, she was authoring a novel. Through her narrator, she was telling a bit of a tale—a bit of a moral fable.

Lee's book wasn't "true crime," nor was it a biography or a history. Atticus Finch is a fictional person—and most of the things we see him saying are things he's saying as a father, to children who are still very young.

So it goes when he makes the comments shown below, soon after an innocent man is convicted of rape, a capital crime in that time and place. He's speaking here to his angry son, who by now is 13:
LEE (pages 252-253): "If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man," said Atticus. "So far nothing in your life has interfered wit your reasoning process...There's something in our world that makes men lose their heads—they couldn't be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins. They're ugly, but those are the facts of life."

"Doesn't make it right," said Jem stolidly. He beat his fist softly on his knee. "You just can't convict a man on evidence like that—you can't."

“You couldn't, but they could and did. The older you grow, the more of it you'll see...As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life. but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”
So says Harper Lee's fictional lawyer to his angry son.

So said her fictional character! When Lee's book appeared in 1960, this stimulated a substantial amount of thinking.

Sixty years later, for reasons which strike us as tragically dumb, Sorkin seems to think that he's seen through this folderol. For that reason, he has reinvented many events which occur in Lee's (fictional) book. He has also reinvented Finch's racial attitudes.

How dumb can Sorkin's thinking be? Consider today's example:

In Sorkin's "adaptation" of Lee's famous book, Atticus Finch is dumbed way down. So are his racial attitudes.

In fairness, Sorkin seems to be playing no favorites! Finch turns out to be an ass who causes Tom Robinson's death, but Lee's black characters don't escape Sorkin's enlightened perspectives.

At one point in his peculiar recent interview with The Atlantic's David Sims, Sorkin helps us see what was wrong with Maycomb's black folk, at least as Lee chose to present them.

Sorkin starts with a famous scene in Lee's actual fictional book and in the subsequent movie. It had always been Sorkin's favorite scene, he says as he begins:
SORKIN (12/17/19): There’s a scene in the book and in the movie. For a lot of people, it’s their favorite scene; it had always been mine. My father passed away a few years ago; it was his favorite too. At the end of the trial, Atticus has lost, he’s putting stuff back in his briefcase, and the whole courtroom has cleared out, except for what they call the “colored section” up in the balcony. Atticus turns around to see that they’re all standing silently out of respect for him, and someone says [to Scout], “Stand up, Miss Jean Louise; your daddy’s passing.” It’s a good movie scene.

SIMS: Of course, it gives you a chill.
Playing Glaucon to Sorkin's Socrates, Sims agrees that the scene was quite good.

In Lee's book, the "someone" who tells Scout to stand is a respected minister in Maycomb's black community. He says that because, in the actual fictional book, Atticus seems to be widely respected within that black community.

This used to be Sorkin's favorite scene—but now, it seems he knows better. Believe it or not, this is what he told Sims next. The bracketed material was inserted by Sims:
SORKIN (continuing directly): But the people in the balcony should be burning the courthouse down. They should be out in the street chanting, “No justice, no peace!” Instead, they are [written as] docile; they are quietly respecting the guy who I most identify with in the story, the guy who seems like my father, the white liberal guy. We all want to be identified as one of the good ones, and that’s what they’re saying to Atticus. And I do think Atticus is one of the good ones—it’s just a little harder than that, and it’s where Calpurnia’s dynamic with him comes from in the play.
Can a person get dumber than that and live? No really—how stupid is that?

As some will recall, Lee's book takes place in a small Alabama town in the 1930s. More precisely, Tom Robinson's trial occurs in The Summer of '35.

The challenges facing Maycomb's black community are well described in Lee's novel. But no matter! In this passage, Sorkin seems to be complaining that Lee has fashioned her black characters as "docile."

In Sorkin's reckoning, Lee's black characters "should be burning the courthouse down" in the wake of the guilty verdict.

Instead of doing the things Lee has them do, they should be out in the street chanting, “No justice, no peace!” That's what they should have been doing!

With that, we return to the question we've posted above. Can a person get dumber and live?

Who knows? Maybe Sorkin didn't mean for those remarks to seem as strange as they seem. Surely, though, anyone with an ounce of sense or historical awareness knows that these heartfelt, inspiring remarks don't make a lick of sense.

Sorkin's heart may be in the right place, but good God, this man seems dumb! It only gets worse as he pretends that Lee's version of Atticus Finch [HEART] Bob Ewell, the lunacy we'll consider tomorrow.

We assume that Sorkin is sincere, but good lord he seems dumb! He's also been a major cultural force for many years. The question we'll ask all year is this:

Can a modern society expect to survive pervasive upper-end Dumb?

Tomorrow: Atticus said to [HEART] Ewell!

29 comments:

  1. "How dumb can Sorkin's thinking be?"

    Well, dear Bob. Everyone of your liberal zombie cult's dembots is as dumb, ethnocentric, race-mongering, and feminazi as necessary for the enhancement of their dembot careers.

    And that's the only 'thinking' that you'll find there, dear Bob.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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  2. "First, though, let's consider something said in the Financial Times when Sorkin debuted his "adaptation" of Harper Lee's book thirteen months ago."

    It might be nice if Somerby were to mention that Sorkin has turned the book into a stage play. Otherwise it is unclear what he means by adaptation, especially when he has put it into quotes. This is actually an adaptation of a book into play form, so why are such quotes necessary (other than as a sign of disrespect)?

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  3. "Would Sorkin "have been better off" writing an original play? Almost surely, no. In creating his "adaptation," Sorkin has drafted along behind Lee's massive fame and enormous good will, perhaps behaving a bit like Maycomb's Bob Ewell down at the welfare office."

    I think it is questionable who is more famous these days, Harper Lee or Aaron Sorkin. The only residue of fame for "To Kill a Mockingbird" is that it has been required reading in schools for generations. But Sorkin has a body of work that exceeds Lee's in both quantity and arguably quality. Harper Lee is just a Jeopardy question these days.

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  4. One of the troubling aspects of Lee's book as a commentary on civil rights is that it depicts a strong white man as a champion of passive African Americans who are wronged in the strongest possible ways. Sorkins wishes to update the tale to examine whether a white savior is the path to change, especially when white people are conflicted by their participation in a power structure that favors them, so that even the best intentions are undermined. Sorkin wants to portray racial relations as more complex, as they surely are. Somerby complains that his hero is being changed, taken off his pedestal, and calls that "dumb." He will not engage the argument about whether it is a good thing to make Atticus more realistic. He just calls it "strange" to engage in that discussion, dumb to change the book for the sake of a play nearly 70 years later, ignoring that we have surely learned something in those intervening years. At least Sorkin has, and he wants to tell his play's audience, wants them to think about it. Somerby refuses, of course.

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  5. What seems odd is that a white lawyer should be applauded and shown exaggerated respect for doing his job, just because the defendant is a black man instead of a white one.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Instead of doing the things Lee has them do, they should be out in the street chanting, “No justice, no peace!” That's what they should have been doing!"

    This is what they did after the Rodney King verdict. They burned parts of LA down. Is Sorkin's expectation really that strange in the context of actual events (all of which occurred after Lee's book)?

    But where is Somerby coming from with this? Does he think that the civil rights activism was a liberal invention? Does he believe that a strict adaptation of Lee's book would have been well received by black or young audiences? Does he think that culture is only for white people and that the reactions of minority audience members doesn't matter (because Lee wrote it that way and it must remain frozen in time)? And he blames Sorkin. It seems possible that the play's producers might have requested an adaptation that would play well beyond a limited older white audience (whose main appeal is nostalgia). This may be a matter of financial success, not simply wokeness. And how woke is it -- the changes described seem not particularly radical, not as great a transformation as they might have been in someone else's hands.

    And Somerby expresses concern that people won't know how much Lee's book was changed in the adaptation. They will if they are inspired to go back and read it. But if they do not encounter the implausibly noble Atticus Finch, is that a bad thing? Lee won't care -- she's gone. Stereotypes of white Southerners as paternalistic champions who were somehow immune to the racism of their time should be replaced with more complex and realistic human beings, like those who actually populated the South. That way young people can understand why it took so long for things to change.

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  7. “So says Harper Lee's fictional lawyer to his angry son. “

    For the love of God, why won’t Somerby read Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman”, published in 2015, to see a fuller portrait of Atticus Finch, one that has more in common with Sorkin’s version than Somerby realizes.

    “By using the title of Lee's famous book and the names of her famous characters, he has his hand deep in Lee's purse and he's siphoning gas as he goes.”

    Lee specifically gave Sorkin her permission to adapt her book for the stage.

    And the notion that media critic Somerby bases his outrage on a review in the media of a play he has never seen is...dumb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For that matter, why won't Somerby read his comments. If he did, he wouldn't keep making the same mistakes day after day, until he mercifully switches to another theme.

      Delete
  8. Somerby grew up in Boston and then attended high school in Palo Alto (CA) before returning to Harvard. Where did he absorb Southern values about civil rights?

    The changes made by Sorkin seem pretty moderate from a liberal perspective. He could have gone much farther if he were remaking Lee's play instead of updating it. But the fact that Somerby finds these changes distressing suggests that Somerby is not much of a liberal. Today's essay seems like a defense of Southern intransigence, a plea for Tara to stay as a memento of the noble old South, a call to keep those confederate statues on their horses, so that the traditions of the South remain undisturbed so that bigots can maintain their self-esteem and continue to make life difficult for racial and ethnic minorities. Thus Somerby continues his anti-woke crusade on behalf of The Other, who will award him "Good Old Boy of the Year" next time he visits their rural diners.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. “ Today's essay seems like a defense of Southern intransigence, a plea for Tara to stay as a memento of the noble old South, a call to keep those confederate statues on their horses, so that the traditions of the South remain undisturbed so that bigots can maintain their self-esteem and continue to make life difficult for racial and ethnic minorities. Thus Somerby continues his anti-woke !crusade on behalf of The Other, who will award him "Good Old Boy of the Year" next time he visits their rural diners.”

      Are you kidding? We Others would clamor for Kill Mo Mockingbird: Boo Radley Loose In The Hood almost as much as you are doing.

      Delete
  9. “In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins. They're ugly, but those are the facts of life."

    This is not a heroic statement. It is a statement of fact for that time and place.

    Atticus Finch chooses to work within this system in a futile attempt at defending Tom Robinson. He does not try to change that system. That is what an astute reader comes away with.

    Indeed, in Harper Lee’s sequel, Finch pals around with racists, attends racist White Citizens’ Council meetings, thinks that blacks shouldn’t have full civil rights (not yet!), and he opposes the Brown v Board decision.

    In this, Finch resembles the squishy, feckless liberals that MLK railed against in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail. These types claimed they supported the cause, but scurried away when it mattered, telling Dr King “we support you, but please don’t make a public fuss and upset the racist big wigs in charge.”

    If that sounds familiar, it is because that is the kind of advice Somerby constantly gives to liberals.

    MLK knew that the real fight for desegregation, integration, and justice was just beginning after the passage of the Civil Rights laws. He knew there would be resistance.

    Particularly from some of those fair weather liberals doing lip service to civil rights, like Bob Somerby.

    ReplyDelete
  10. 'Can a person get dumber and live? '

    Well, you are a dumber Trumptard and are apparently still alive.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I’m not sure why this particular issue has set TDH off, but I think dumb isn’t quite the right word. I would call it egochronocentrism, an inability or refusal to judge anything except from one’s own point of view and one’s own time. But I’ll use the shorthand.

    Shall we explore this through the “dumb” in the commentariat?

    @11:07A: One of the troubling aspects of Lee's book as a commentary on civil rights is that it depicts a strong white man as a champion of passive African Americans who are wronged in the strongest possible ways.

    First of all, the book is not “a commentary on civil rights.” As TDH points out, it’s a fable about how to live your life amongst pervasive evil that everyone but you accepts without question. Secondly, the white man is a champion, but he’s powerless against his society: he cannot gain an acquittal for his client even though all the evidence falls on the side of innocence; he faces a lynch mob, but it falls to his daughter to stop them; he cannot even prevent the death of his client, who is shot during his supposed attempt to escape after his unjust conviction.

    @11:12A: What seems odd is that a white lawyer should be applauded and shown exaggerated respect for doing his job, just because the defendant is a black man instead of a white one.

    @11:07A: He just calls it "strange" … dumb to change the book for the sake of a play nearly 70 years later, ignoring that we have surely learned something in those intervening years.

    These things seem odd only to those who have forgotten or who were never aware that the story is set during the time and place of an American apartheid still mired in the Golden Age of American Lynching (ca1872 - ca1942). About 300 black men and women were lynched in Alabama during this golden age, a dozen in the 1930s alone, and two in the summer of 1935.

    70 years later? (Well, 60 years after the book’s publication. 85 years after its setting, but who’s counting?) Is it that hard to remember that what we’ve learned since then, few had learned at the time?

    Were black people in Alabama in 1935 “passive”? I suppose it depends on whether you count as passive someone bound hand and foot into immobility. The standing ovation of the Colored Section was actually an act of subtle defiance, unpunished because white people didn’t bother to look at black people and because, whatever the reason, a white man was honored.

    @11:47A The changes made by Sorkin seem pretty moderate from a liberal perspective.

    Please, @11:47A, stop speaking for liberals. Your ignorance is an embarrassment. How about these changes that Sorkin might have made:

    During voir dire, Atticus objects to an all-white jury. The judge won’t agree to any black faces, but he does seat three Asian-Americans and two people who are transgendered nonbinaries. At some point in the trial, Atticus get a cell-phone call from Scout, who tells her father that she’s found the GoPro video that shows that Tom is telling the truth. Atticus moves to admit the video, but the judge demands that each side brief the issue via a rap battle.

    “Wait a minute,” I can already hear the objections. “Did they have cell phones in 1935?” And yet my absurd suggestions aren’t any more jarring than Sorkin’s changes. No, there were no cell phones in 1935 in Alabama (or anywhere else), but neither were there plea bargains for black men accused of raping white women in 1935 in Alabama.

    (con't)->

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    Replies
    1. “Secondly, the white man is a champion, but he’s powerless against his society:”

      Bullshit. Finch does *nothing* to even try to correct society. He chooses to work within its corrupt framework. Maybe you should read Lee’s sequel Go Set A Watchman to see a fuller portrait of Finch from the author herself.

      Anyone who sees evil and shrugs his shoulders and says “that’s just the way it is” is complicit in the evil.

      The powerlessness you identify is Atticus Finch’s, and that of many other feckless individuals choosing to do nothing. The powerlessness is thus brought about by their own inaction, their own assumption of powerlessness.

      MLK says thanks, we’d love your help, but we’re taking action one way or another.

      It’s a good thing MLK didn’t talk some bullshit about being “powerless against his society.”, or he would’ve just stayed home.

      Delete
  12. <-(con't)

    @11:24A: This [burning down the place] is what they did after the Rodney King verdict.

    Sure, in 1991 in Los Angeles, 56 years after the setting of the fictional trial. From the trial’s point of view, It will be 8 years before there are urban race riots in which black people lash out. 10 years before the army is desegregated and the Democrats defy the Dixiecrats. After 20 more years, Emmett Till’s murder will still go unpunished. 27 years before a watered-down civil rights bill is enacted; over 30 years before meaningful civil rights and voting rights laws are passed.

    To disappear this history is shamefully “dumb.”

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    1. It’s shocking, SHOCKING, that a creative person would take source material and dare to change it, rather than treat it as some untouchable holy text.

      Shakespeare took all kinds of liberties with his sources and with the historical record all the time.

      This faux outrage about a fricking stage play is what is dumb.

      Delete
    2. Very nice comment, deadrat. It seems to me that egochronocentrism is far too prevalent today.

      Delete
    3. He is wrong about plea bargains.

      Delete
    4. I’m not shocked by “dumb,” and I don’t understand why TDH is. Perhaps if TDH read his comment section, he would become inured to the “dumb.” It’s worked for me.

      The text isn’t holy and wholly untouchable. It seems Harper Lee did some fiddling with her character in her later writing. But if you’re ignorant of history, you’re going to do ignorant things with the works you meddle with. All that really means is that you’re sitting with people like @11:24A thinking, “Hey, black citizens rioted after the Rodney King verdict. Why don’t we have Harper Lee’s Negroes riot over Tom’s unjust trial?” After all, culture isn’t just for white people any more.

      Can it get dumber than that?

      Of course. It can and I don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict it will shortly in this commentariat. But I promise you this, I won’t be shocked when it happens.

      Delete
    5. You completely misread 11:24 who was saying that maybe the book needed to be updated for the play since audiences have now lived through Rodney King and would no longer consider Finch's attitude "woke". Your argument creates a strawman by attributing things that 11:24 did not say. And then you call other commenters here dumb. Very ugly, deadrat.

      Delete
    6. I'm sorry, @11:07A, but I quoted @11:24A to the same effect as your paraphrase. If you think that it's appropriate to make Finch "woke" by today's standard, then in TDH's word, that's "dumb."

      If @11:24 feels ill used by my comment, @11:24 is free to explain where I'm wrong. Commenters here are often "dumb," deplorably so, and yes, I'm not shy about pointing that out. That doesn't make me immune from "dumb" misunderstandings of my own, and when I'm wrong, I 'fess up. I don't think I'm wrong here, and your comment does little to convince me otherwise. If I am wrong, then I'm mistaken about what someone has said. Although I'm not much to look at, I don't see how that makes me ugly.

      Delete
  13. @deadrat
    Check your facts.

    “neither were there plea bargains for black men accused of raping white women in 1935 in Alabama.”

    “The Supreme Court decision in Norris v. Alabama, a 1935 retrial of the Scottsboro boys that declared the exclusion of African Americans from juries un-constitutional, reinforced prosecutors’ efforts to avoid criminal trials by securing pretrial pleas.”

    The Scottsboro boys, who were black, were on trial...for raping a white woman...in 1935. Plea bargains were subsequently, um, used to circumvent the requirement of having African American jurors.

    You can read more here:
    “Less Crime, More Punishment: Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice in Early Twentieth-Century America” by Jeffrey S. Adler

    Link:
    https://academic.oup.com/jah/article/102/1/34/686429

    Maybe check your facts before making assertions?

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    Replies
    1. I stand corrected. Thank you. Norris would have been too late to have helped Tom, and "securing pretrial pleas" not only does not necessarily imply there were bargains to be had, but in light of southern jurisprudence of the time, has a decidedly sinister ring. But I'll confess to not having a source for my claim. And, it's always sobering to find that our Village Idiot approves of my comment.

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    POWERFUL LOVE SPELLS AND LOST LOVE SPELLS TO BRING BACK LOST LOVER +2348102316854 . I've gotten back with my ex boyfriend with the help of Dr.Larry the best spell caster online and i highly recommends Dr.Larry to anyone in need of help!.. I want to testify of how i got back my boyfriend after he breakup with me, we have been together for 3 years, recently i found out my boyfriend was having an affair with another Girl, when i confronted him, it led to quarrels and he finally broke up with me, i tried all i could to get him back but all to no avail until i saw a post in a relationship forum about a spell caster who helps people get back their lost love through Love spell, at first i doubted it but decided to give it a try, when i contacted this spell caster via his email, and he told me what to do and i did it, Then he did a Love spell for me. 48 hours later, my boyfriend really called me and told me that he miss me so much, So Amazing!! So that was how he came back that same day, with lots of love and joy, and he apologized for his mistake. Then from that day, our relationship was  now stronger than how it were before, Dr.Larry is a powerful spell caster who i will always pray to live long to help  his children in the time of trouble, contact this powerful spell caster now. Here’s his contact: Email him at: assurancesolutionhome@gmail.com you can also call him or WhatsApp: +2348102316854 Website: http://assurancesolutionhome.wordpress.com  http://assurancesolutionhome.website2.me/

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