THE 1619 CONNECTION: The project came together fast!


Thus ever with revolutions: For ourselves, we've never quite understood how Vertigo came to be regarded as  "the greatest film in history."

The film has massive flaws. For starters, its basic storyline takes us so far beyond implausibility that you can't even see implausibility from there. 

Beyond that, two of its four major characters have simply disappeared by the end of the film. The ultimate fate of the murderous husband is never addressed. More unhappily, the Barbara Bel Geddes character has also ceased to exist. 

In a more humiliating version of the Grace Kelly character from Rear Window, the Bel Geddes character has begged Jimmy Stewart to marry her—possibly, just to concede that she exists—through the first two-thirds of the film.

At that point, she ceases to exists. As it turns out, it wasn't just Stewart. Hitchcock  didn't care about this character either!

That said, the film does have a certain dreamy quality, suggesting that it's secretly about all things known to humans. This is especially true when Carlotta Valdes possesses the Kim Novak character, producing dreamy memory episodes which take us back to, and perhaps beyond, the dawn of the human race.

(See Novak, counting the rings on the redwoods, dreamily in the Muir Woods.)

For whatever reason, we've found ourselves thinking of Valdes as we've pondered the New York Times' inevitably award-winning undertaking, The 1619 Project. 

At some point in 2019, the Times decided that it would go ahead and set all of American history straight. Nor was it reluctant to say so:

The 1619 Project 

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

Finally! Finally, someone was going to "tell our story truthfully!" For better or worse, it was going to be a bunch of journalists at a deeply flawed, Hamptons-based, super-bougie newspaper. 

Finally! After all these years, this bunch of journalists was going to get it right. They weren't just going to "tell our story" accurately

Finally, for the first time, someone was actually going to tell our story truthfully!

Thus spake the eternally childish Times. Mommy and Daddy had lied all along. At long last, finally, the children were going to be honest.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with trying to give a full account of the backwash—the continuing destructive effects—of our nation's brutal racial history. 

There is something a little bit odd about the idea that a bunch of journalists are going to be the ones to accomplish this task—with the idea that these Peter Pans would be the first to try to do so "truthfully."

A certain childishness might seem to lurk in those inspiring phrases. With that in mind, we were a bit surprised by the speed with which this slightly peculiar project took shape.

Last Thursday, Sarah Ellison detailed that part of the story in the Washington Post. The idea began with the Times' Nikole Hannah-Jones, an experienced, thoroughly competent 43-year-old journalist.  

At least in Ellison's telling, the project came together quickly:

ELLISON (10/15/20): In December 2018, Hannah-Jones was rushing to finish a book project before the end of a temporary leave from the Times—but another deadline kept nagging at her.

She had been thinking about August 1619 ever since discovering the date in high school, on page 29 of Lerone Bennett’s “Before the Mayflower.” That was when the White Lion merchant ship brought more than 20 enslaved Africans to the shores of Virginia—a rarely noted milestone that probably marked the beginning of chattel slavery in the mainland English colonies.

Now the 400th anniversary loomed. “And I was wondering, what I should do with that?” Hannah-Jones said in a recent interview.

Back at work, she told her colleagues she wanted to mark the occasion with a special issue dedicated to slavery’s impact on modern society. “It didn’t take very much convincing,” said Jake Silverstein, the magazine’s editor in chief. Hannah-Jones convened a multidisciplinary group of scholars—Pulitzer winners and Ivy League stars among them—to steer her thinking and brainstorm topics.

Seven months later, the 1619 Project had expanded to include a broadsheet section of the newspaper, a podcast series and a collaboration with the Pulitzer Center to develop a free school curriculum...

A school curriculum—even that! The project had expanded like topsy. We'll return to that particular expansion before the week is done.

(In fairness, and on the brighter side, some "Ivy League stars" were consulted. Sic semper that!)

Let's start with the obvious. There's zero reason why Hannah-Jones shouldn't have wanted to call attention to the 400th anniversary of that profoundly unfortunate event.

It made perfect sense to think that the Times might want to call attention to that deeply unfortunate milestone. Beyond that, there's no reason why the Time might not want to chronicle "slavery’s impact on modern society."

Those ambitions make perfect sense. We'll admit that we're not completely impressed with the way things seem to have proceeded from there.

Based upon Ellison's chronology, it sounds like Hannah-Jones approached Silverstein, her editor, at some point in early 2019. "Seven months later," this germ of a perfectly sensible idea had expanded far and wide.

We're prepared to admit that Ellison's chronology makes us think of the old films—for example, Babes in Arms—in which Judy and Mickey get the rest of the kids together to put on a show. 

The shows would come together with remarkable speed. At least as Ellison tells it, so did this somewhat unusual project.

For today, we'll only mention one additional point. We're struck by Ellison's account of Hannah-Jones' intellectual journey.

"She had been thinking about August 1619 ever since discovering the date in high school," Ellison writes, "on page 29 of Lerone Bennett’s 'Before the Mayflower.' "  

It's completely appropriate that that auspicious date should have stuck in Hannah-Jones' mind. More accurately, it speaks well of Hannah-Jones that the date stuck in her mind.

Based on her own date of graduation from high school, she apparently came upon that date some time in the early 1990s.

It's completely appropriate that that date should have stuck in her mind. But Bennett's book was originally published in 1962.  The very phrase, "before the Mayflower," had become iconic decades before it impressed Hannah-Jones, as well it should have.

Our point is simple. The kids at the Times almost seem to think that they have discovered this history for the very first time. In fact, this history had been known to many people for a very long time before Hannah-Jones spoke with Silverstein, and many people other than they have tried to deal with it truthfully.

To our reckoning, the idea that they were "finally" going to "tell our story truthfully" suggests a certain possibility. It suggest the possibility that a so-called "revolution of the saints" was now underway at the Times.

The Times has often produced underwhelming work, and it may have done so again. On that point, opinions are likely to differ.

How good was the work which emerged from this somewhat unusual project? We'll start to evaluate that question tomorrow. For today, we'll only say this:

Revolutions of the saints often produce unhelpful work. Gullible members of our own tribe may not be aware of this problem. 

Over the weekend, Carlotta Valdes recalled the many errors of the near and more distant past, American and otherwise. She adopted a dreamy, mournful aspect.

It almost seemed to us that her insights were sharp.

Tomorrow: To our ear, almost a bit like Woodward


  1. If I worked as a journalist today, and discovered the road to Republican electoral success was paved with voter suppression and bigotry, I'd be screaming "Eureka!" in pressroom too.
    Outside the pressroom, not so much.

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  2. "Thus spake the eternally childish Times."

    Childish, dear Bob? We don't think we would call Joseph Goebbels childish, and your "paper of records" is utterly goebbelsian. You're a master of conspicuous euphemisms, dear Bob.

    So, again, you're ignoring your goebbelsian media suppressing evidence of your Rapist Mafioso candidate's international family racket on an industrial scale.

    The '1619' ethnic-grievances bullshit of is all that matters to you right now, innit?

    This is extremely disappointing, dear Bob. Extremely disappointing.

    1. ะ•ัˆัŒ ะณะพะฒะฝะพ, ั‚ั€ะพะปะปัŒ.

  3. “this history had been known to many people for a very long time before Hannah-Jones spoke with Silverstein, and many people other than they have tried to deal with it truthfully.”

    Bennett’s book is titled “Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619–1962.”

    The 1619 project takes 1619 as a starting point, but it isn’t simply regurgitating Bennett’s book. His book was “A History of Black America”, whereas the 1619 project asserts that the history of black America is the history of Anerica. It’s a totally different emphasis.

    Yes, one supposes that America’s brutal racial history is well-known. After all, those soaring NAEP math and reading scores must mean that all schoolchildren come out of the education system knowing a lot of truths about American history...right?

  4. As Somerby copies and pastes from google searches, he is pissed that HE ALREADY KNEW ABOUT "before the Mayflower" yet others deemed to inform the dirty masses as if it was HIS special toy. How dare they!

    How strange is Somerby? He identifies with the murderous husband in Hitchcock's classic Vertigo. Also with the sadly ignored platonic friend.

    1. I feel your thoughts here today are a little bit slapdash. Let's add expediency and utility next time and leave the mutable mutterings to others with less fixity of purpose than you and I. Lest the nuns run off with all the pigeon milk and our inscrutable natures become further soiled.

    2. A crackerjack salad of non sequiturs, but they belie a child hiding behind it's mommy.

  5. Somerby complains about the plot of Vertigo, specifically that Midge and Elster disappear from the film. Wikipedia says:

    "A coda to the film was shot that showed Midge at her apartment, listening to a radio report (voiced by San Francisco TV reporter Dave McElhatton) describing the pursuit of Gavin Elster across Europe. Midge switches the radio off when Scottie enters the room. They then share a drink and look out of the window in silence. Contrary to reports that this scene was filmed to meet foreign censorship needs,[52] this tag ending had originally been demanded by Geoffrey Shurlock of the U.S. Production Code Administration, who had noted: "It will, of course, be most important that the indication that Elster will be brought back for trial is sufficiently emphasized."

    Hitchcock finally succeeded in fending off most of Shurlock's demands (which included toning down erotic allusions) and had the alternative ending dropped.[14] The footage was discovered in Los Angeles in May 1993, and was added as an alternative ending on the LaserDisc release, and later on DVD and Blu-ray releases.[53]"

    Midge appears to have been added to the screenplay by the author in order to advance the plot and set up the idea that Scottie can only be cured of his acrophobia by another traumatic experience.

    The plot of this film is ridiculous, as are the mistaken ideas about how phobias are cured. This is a man's film, as are most Hitchcock films. He had a notoriously troubled relationship with women and especially his leading ladies, so it isn't surprising that Somerby, like a long list of male filmmakers and critics, finds the film enthralling. That this is considered among the top ten films of all time shows why greater diversity in the film industry is urgently needed. Also not surprising that Somerby would like noir, but his pretense to be obsessed with a film about obsession is annoying. He also has Carlotta wrong -- in the film she was a real person, the ancestor of the Madeleine character.

    Both spirit possession and Freud's concept of repetition compulsion don't hold up very well in modern thinking. The recursive layering is the onion-peeling of psychoanalysis. Maybe the admiration for this film is a reflection of the emptiness and dissatisfaction with current car-chase and superhero films that offer nothing in terms of character development and are driven by simplistic plots and special effects.

    I think Hitchcock is ultimately an unpleasant man with nothing to say in his films, but some interesting contributions to technique.

    Vertigo has nothing to do with the 1619 Project and it is unclear why Somerby is trying to merge the two in this series of essays.

    1. I'm tormented by the ambiguity of the merge as well. Don't you feel it's been more or less extrapolated?

    2. From the indigenousness. The different sacraments and stuff.

  6. In 1968, we read Winthrop Jordan's White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812, as assigned reading in our history class at UCLA. Somerby doesn't mention that highly influential book which appeared at the height of the black power movement.

    Of course there were earlier books. The 1619 Project appeared to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in the USA. It is telling new truths to those who don't know about our racial history -- which is presumably a whole lot of people.

    Somerby himself admits that there is nothing wrong with the attempt to do that. So, why then is his entire tone here negative? Why is he going out of his way to denigrate the effort -- without much justification, since his main complaint seems to be that there have been previous books on this topic?

    Carlotta Valdes was a dead woman whose spirit is revived to fabricate an excuse for a murder disguised as a suicide. That has nothing to do with the 1619 Project. And when Somerby pretends to channel Valdes, his remarks are offensive. He is using Valdes for his own inappropriate purposes -- in this case to gaslight those who consider a review of racial history important, worthwhile, and necessary during a time of increased unrest. BLM means that black history matters too. Somerby pretends he agrees that there is nothing wrong with that -- but then he tells us that Carlotta's ghost is walking, presumably in outrage at the lies being told by the NY Times. He promises he will detail those lies at some future point, but as usual, he will probably never get around to it. His goal is not to correct any historical inaccuracies, but to smear the press for having the gall to remind white people of an unpleasant past that perpetuates current wrongs.

  7. Halloween is coming up. Somerby is arguing that we should let the dead stay dead and the past stay buried. He seems to think there is little to be gained by placing today's events in the context of our racial history.

    I think that attitude varies depending on whether you are white or black, whether you are descended from slaveowners or slaves. He doesn't want to accept that current residents of the US owe a debt to all of those who built the nation, and that debt requires us to ensure that the rights and freedoms of our constitution, the pursuit of happiness via equal opportunity, be realized for all people.

    Somerby perhaps thinks it will annoy white people to be reminded of the past, since it reflects on them poorly in some respects, so he wants it all to stay hushed up. This is closely similar to his desire to placate all those Trump supporters, because otherwise they will not like liberals and may obstruct our supreme court nominees -- oh, wait, they already did that.

    If white people cannot listen to an account of history that includes black lives, how can they discuss reparations? How can they vote for black candidates? How can they consider integrating neighborhoods (a NY Times article today describes Baltimore as one of the nation's most segregated cities)? As Somerby illustrates, avoidance of black history tends to go hand-in-hand with perpetuating other racial wrongs. And Somerby is part of the problem, not the solution.

  8. "Over the weekend, Carlotta Valdes recalled the many errors of the near and more distant past, American and otherwise. She adopted a dreamy, mournful aspect."

    It isn't Somerby saying anything against this report. It is that damned Carlotta!

    A poor dead fictional woman who cannot defend herself against misuse by men such as Somerby is being made to express opinions she most likely would not sympathize with. Unfair, Somerby. Speak for yourself instead of hiding behind women's skirts. If Carlotta is walking, it is because she thinks you are the world's biggest coward.

  9. Somerby’s ultimate critique of the 1619 project is the same critique he has made for years about liberals and the press:

    When liberals (or liberal journalists) attack racism, they are really attacking conservatives, specifically the white working class.

    This is the standard reaction from conservatives and other defenders of the status quo.

    It seems not to occur to them that liberals are attacking racism wherever it comes from, left, right, wherever, and that it isn’t merely a political tactic to attack Republicans or white people or, etc.

    People like Tom Cotton or Bret Stephens, who have specifically criticized the 1619 project, are fairly explicit that they view the project as an attack on “traditional” American values and the feelings of white people.

    Somerby, while seemingly affirming that Hannah-Jones is largely justified in her concerns, nonetheless mocks the project and implicitly supports the arguments of the conservative critics of the project. (He has in previous posts questioned the very notion that racism even exists).

    He leaves very little room at all for any liberal discourse about racism whatsoever, since any such discourse will automatically be reviled by conservatives as an attack on them.

    1. Send Cotton and Stephens "Trump: Fuck Your Feelings" T-shirts, so they know how the anti-fascists feel about their concerns.

  10. This is one of the reasons I woke up with a sick feeling that Trump has this in the bag again.

    The Hunter Biden fiasco is the other.

    1. You have stopped making sense, but your concern is appreciated. Be sure to vote for Biden/Harris and then you will have done all you can.


  12. The only good thing in this post is this cynical bit:

    “Finally! Finally, someone was going to "tell our story truthfully!" For better or worse, it was going to be a bunch of journalists at a deeply flawed, Hamptons-based, super-bougie newspaper.”

    Of course, the Hamptons-based part of our elite has no intention of ending the plight of poor black people, any more than the other, more openly racist, part of our elite does. Our elite is united in protecting its plutocratic dominance--and pushing useless distractions into the public discourse, which they own, is one of the best tools for maintaining that dominance.

    1. So you admit racism is a problem...then, of course, you see the flaw in your anti-identity politics nonsense.

      Republicans have been using identity politics for decades, now the tables are turned and they seem upset about it.

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