Moonlight meets little Laura: We've written all week about Moonlight, a striking film which generated fascinating reviews.
Around us swirls a political war our team won't be able to win. Our rank and file isn't bright enough. Much more significantly, our leadership barely exists.
How pitiful is our liberal team at this difficult hour? On the front page of today's Washington Post, four reporters capture some members of our team explaining what democracy looks like:
SNELL ET AL. (2/11/17): Organizers searched through a sea of at least 200 people, many carrying Planned Parenthood signs, to find friendly faces to help fill the 80 or so seats at the “Ask Your Reps” event featuring [Rep. Diane] Black, the House Budget Committee chairman, and three other local officials. Activists booed and chanted as the group, flanked by armed campus security, handpicked people to help fill the room in hopes of keeping the conversation civil.Sad! As soon as we saw that the house had burned down, our self-impressed team knew it was time to pick up our fire hoses!
Inside the room, audience members rose to ask Black for specific proposals to replace ACA programs that have become a health lifeline for many residents in this mostly rural slice of central Tennessee. Black carefully insisted that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has a plan, but that wasn’t enough to soothe the crowd.
“Answer the question!” some in the audience shouted.
Black demurred on at least one question as the moderator pleaded for respect.
The tense, tightly controlled scene inside the small lecture room was a sharp contrast to the frustrated energy just outside the doors. Chants of “this is what Democracy looks like” and “let us in” erupted after security officers blocked the majority of hopeful attendees from entering the room, citing fire marshal rules.
We're now shouting and yelling at town hall meetings. It's the type of behavior we said we despised when Those People, the teabaggers, displayed it eight years ago.
We've picked up our fire hoses exactly twenty-five years too late, only after we managed to lose the White House to the world's craziest person. That said, this isn't the fault of the rank and file. It's the fault of our miserable leadership.
It's the fault of Kevin Drum. It's the fault of Jonathan Chait.
It's even the fault of Professor Krugman! It's the doing of Chris Matthews, the crackpot Maddow's very best and much beloved corporate friend.
(Maddow's work was appalling this week, a point we may explore next week. Truly, she has become Our Holy Highness, Reigning Queen of Thumbs, Butts and Elbows on Scales.)
Simply put, our team isn't up to the challenge of functioning in a democracy. In no small part, that's due to our adherence to the outlooks and behaviors which get derided as "political correctness."
We've never used that highly-charged term ourselves but, in fairness, the conduct in question deserves derision. How dumb can we be in thrall to its norms? Moonlight's reviews provided one set of examples. So did Maria Russo's lengthy "Reader's Notebook" piece in yesterday's New York Times.
Russo's 2000-word essay is an examination of Laura Ingalls Wilder's famous "Little House" books. Nothing will turn on Russo's piece. Her essay doesn't actually "matter."
That said, her piece does serve a purpose. It lets us marvel at the way we put our elbows and butts on the scale in service to the mode of thinking which frequently leaves us widely derided and also a whole lot dumber.
Russo reread the Little House books to mark the 150th anniversary of Wilder's birth. Her piece is silly right from the start. Go ahead! Just try to make sense of the topic sentence in either of her first two paragraphs.
After that, the real fever hits. Early in her 2000 words, Russo let us know how troubled she was by something she encountered in Wilder's books. This is her fourth paragraph:
RUSSO (2/10/17): I tore through the nine novels once again. They are every bit as charming and emotionally powerful as I remembered, though this time around I was shocked by the stereotypical treatment of Native Americans that must have seemed par for the course in my 1970s childhood. Ma freely voices her hatred of Indians; Laura conveys a slightly more ambiguous attitude. ''Won't it make the Indians mad to have to—'' she tries to ask at one point about the forced marches west, only to be hushed by her father. The books are, in a sense, one giant hushing of Native American history. As for black people, including the slaves only recently freed by the Civil War and also in search of safe homes, there are none besides the smiling Dr. Tan, who appears only to save all the white settlers along the Kansas creek from ''fever 'n' ague,'' though at one point the townspeople put on a horrid minstrel show.We'll discuss the passage about Native Americans, who are called Indians in Wilder's books. We do so because Russo's passage is so grossly selective and misleading.
Poor Russo! She was "shocked by the stereotypical treatment of Native Americans" as she reread Wilder's books. She was so shocked that she addressed this topic at the very start of her lengthy essay.
To record her shock, she picks-and-chooses from Wilder's books in a way which would seem baldly dishonest if we didn't allow for the way our tribal lore can blind us to all that's before us.
It blinded us to the suffering of a 9-year-old child in the striking film Moonlight. It blinds us to the portrait of Native Americans in the famous book Russo cites.
In the passage we've posted, Russo is referring to the second book in Wilder's nine-volume series, the book which bears the title Little House on the Prairie. In that book, the Wilder family moves to "Indian territory" in Kansas, but eventually has to leave when the federal government decrees that they must move on.
The book is full of encounters with Native Americans, referred to an Indians. In the main, this seems to involve members of the Osage nation.
The Wilder family expresses many views about these neighbors, with whom they're rarely able to speak due to language gaps. Russo has masterfully picked and chosen the attitude and examples she cites.
That said, it's true about Ma—or is it?
In the course of this fascinating book, Ma often cites her fear of the Indians. Given some of the incidents the book describes, and given the history of the time, it's surprising that she doesn't use stronger language.
That said, as best we can tell from electronic review, Ma never says that she "hates" the Indians. It's Jack, the brindle bulldog, who is said, on several occasions, to "hate" the Indians, at whom he persistently growls.
On page 227, Ma gets a snootful and says she doesn't blame Jack for his outlook. This may have caused Russo to put the book down in shock and surprise, then move to her fainting couch.
Ma is afraid of the Indians. Conscientiously, Russo keeps us from knowing that Pa, rather strangely, is not. Pa defends the Osage against fearful assessments by other settlers. He frequently expresses admiration for some Osage leaders, especially for the man named Soldat du Chene.
Late in the book, in the chapter called "Indians Ride Away," little Laura admires the pony of "the Osage chief" as he rides past the Wilders' home. She describes his "proud, still face. No matter what happened, it would always be like that," she thinks as he rides away.
Laura is enthralled by the scene before her. Her father goes her one better:
WILDER (page 305): "Du Chene himself," Pa said, under his breath, and he lifted his hand in salute.Helpfully keeping us dumb as rocks, Russo disappears such material from her pleasing upsetting account.
Can we talk? In the famous book in question, it's the family bulldog who hates the Osage. Quite plainly, Laura and her father do not.
In fascinating passages from the book, Laura is enthralled by the freedom she sees her young counterparts within the Osage nation enjoying. She's envious of the way they dress, of the way they're allowed to ride their ponies.
Pa repeatedly expresses his respect for Osage leaders and his faith in their good intentions. On page 284, he expresses his overall view:
"He figured that Indians would be as peaceable as anyone else if they were left alone. On the other hand, they had been moved west so man times that naturally they hated white folks."
Pa was almost in Russo's camp, overt correctness-wise! If so, why did he "hush Laura up" in the passage Russo cites?
Easy! Because Laura was in bed for the night, and she had already asked the "one more question" she'd begged for the chance to ask. Laura's comment about the Indians being forced to move west is left hanging right there, at the end of a chapter. It presages Pa's later remark.
As for poor Dr. Tan, he gets a warm reception at the Wilder home, which is dealing with a dangerous bout of an illness they later learn was malaria. Even the brindle bulldog Jack extends the warm hand of friendship:
WILDER (page 192): Dr. Tan was a doctor with the Indians. He was on his way north to Independence when he came to Pa's house. It was a strange thing that Jack, who hated strangers and never let one come near the house until Ma and Pa told him to, had gone to meet Dr. Tan and begged him to come.Jack hates everyone, not just the Osage, but he loves Dr. Tan! No doubt, Russo was on her couch at this point, shocked by the patriarchal locution, "Pa's house."
Are there undesirable aspects of Wilder's portrait of Native Americans? Everything is possible! What's amazingly clear is the bald-faced, ridiculous picking-and-choosing in which Russo has engaged.
Work like hers is baldly dishonest, except among those who've been swept away by some form of true belief. Again and again, then again and again, our weak-minded, losing liberal tribe finds its good sense swept away by the fever of the tribal conduct which persistently gets derided in the way we've already described.
We'd love to pose one more question about the striking film Moonlight. If we, unlike Laura, could ask one more question, we'd ask you to ponder this:
Could such a film have been made if the 9-year-old boy in question turned out to be straight, not gay? Could our pitiful liberal tribe have responded to such a tableau?
Plainly and simply, the answer is no. Critical reaction to Chiron was confined to the fact that he's gay. The fact that his life has been stolen from him in every other way is of no interest to us.
As is clear in the strange reviews, it's hard to picture our unpleasant tribe responding to a straight kid who gets abandoned and abused in the way Chiron does. Over here in our pitiful, self-impressed tribe, we walked away from poor black kids as a general class a very long time ago.
We're dumb and unpleasant and nobody likes us. Now, we're howling about the craziest person on earth, twenty-fives years too late.
This is a failure of leadership, of which our pitiful tribe has none. How very badly our pitiful tribe could use even one du Chene!