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Sesame Street

When Oscar was orange: The original cast on the stoop at 123 Sesame Street with Jim Henson and his puppeteers at bottom. Click to enlarge. (Via Jason Kottke)

“Sesame Street” (1969- ) is a children’s television show based in New York that is now shown worldwide in 150 countries. On November 10th 2019 it turned 50 years old. It features Big Bird, Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Elmo and many others characters, both human and Muppet (Jim Henson’s puppets).

Brought to you by the letter A: Designed by child psychologists and kid-tested, it used television ads to teach numbers and letters instead of selling toys and Kool-Aid. Its songs taught ideas like “One of These Things is Not Like the Others”, “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and “Be Proud of Your Hair”.

A is for Anti-Racism: Part of the “hidden curriculum” designed by Black psychiatrist Chester Pierce was to show Blacks in a good light and to show Blacks and Whites living together in harmony. This was to counter the racist messages being pumped out by the rest of US television. Thus the multi-racial cast. Thus Gordon was a schoolteacher, to put Black men in a good light. Thus Nina Simone herself appeared on the stoop at 123 Sesame Street to sing “Young, Gifted, and Black” with four Black children.

Target demographic: “the four-year old inner-city black youngster” in the US. It was meant as pre-school education to help fight poverty. To the surprise of the creators, it appealed to children worldwide. Now there are even versions of “Sesame Street” made for Rohingya and Arab children in refugee camps. (One meant for both Jewish and Arab children in Israel and Palestine was short-lived).

Missionary zeal: Creator Joan Ganz Cooney, who was moved by the Civil Rights Movement, compares “Sesame Street” to missionary work, but instead of pushing a particular religion it was “spreading tolerance and love and mutual respect.”

Sesame Steet as a place was based mainly on Harlem in the 1960s, complete with brownstone stoops, metal trash cans and White shopkeepers. The producers did that to help “the inner city child” to see the characters as their neighbours. However, everyone spoke in Standard English, like they were on television, until –

In 1970 Roosevelt Franklin appeared, a purple Muppet who spoke in both Black English and Standard English. That was done to make him more believable. He even had his own record album, “The Year of Roosevelt Franklin” (1971). But upper-middle-class Blacks cringed and got him kicked off the show by 1975.

Big Bird is eight foot two (2.5m).

Bert and Ernie are not gay according to Sesame Workshop, the production company, because Muppets do not have sex (or known genitalia).

In 1980 Sesame Place, its answer to Disneyland, opened.

In 1996 Tickle-Me Elmo dolls were all the rage.

In 2004 Disney bought the Muppets.

In 2015 Sesame Street moved to HBO. The shows now first appear on HBO (premium cable television) and are rerun later on PBS (public television).

In 2019 Sesame Street, which had somehow got through New York’s heroin and crack epidemics untouched, was hit by the opioid crisis: Karli, a Muppet girl monster, informed us her mother was suffering from addiction.

– Abagond, 2019.

Sources: mainly UNDARK and Smithsonian magazine.

See also:

590

Gino Soccio: Dancer

Remarks:

Till the other day I had always assumed this song was a big hit in the US – but in 1979 it only made it to #48 on the pop chart and #60 on the R&B chart. How could I be so wrong?

The answer: New York Bubble. I mainly listened to WABC-AM back then. It was a Top 40 Radio station, meaning that it played the top 40 pop songs in the US. So far so good. But disco was so big in New York that it had to play disco or die. It had lost a quarter of its audience, nearly a million listeners, mainly to WKTU-FM, an upstart disco station.

This song never reached the national Top 40, but it was #1 on the disco chart for six weeks! WABC could not not play it.

But WABC’s troubles as a music radio station ran much deeper: it had risen on the back of the transistor AM radio and so it would fall.

See also:

Lyrics:

Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer

Dancer, let your body free now
Dancer, if you want to feel good
Dancer, got to get a move on
Dancer, try to take it higher

Dancer
Dancer, try to take it higher
Dancer
Dancer, try to take it higher

You never knew the power of your body
Ahaha, ha
But when you keep on dancing to the music
You reach up high into the sky!

Dancer, got to get a move on
Dancer, if you want to feel good
Dancer, keep your body shaking
Dancer, try to take it higher

Dancer
Dancer
Dancer
Dancer, try to take it higher

You never knew the power of your body
Ahaha, ha
But when you keep on dancing to the music
You reach up high into the sky!

Oho
You, you’re such a dancer, you’re
Heyeyeyeyey

Must we dance again
Oho!
Keep your body shaking
Ooohooo

Keep your body shaking

Keep your body shaking, yeaheah
Keep your body shaking, ohoho!
Keep your body shaking

Keep your body shaking
Keep your body shaking
Keep your body shaking
Keep your body shaking

Keep your body shaking
Keep your body shaking

Dancer, got to get a move on
Dancer, if you want to feel good
Dancer, keep your body shaking
Dancer, got to take it higher

Dancer, let your body free now
Dancer, if you want to feel good
Dancer, got to get a move on
Dancer, try to take it higher

Dancer (Get to the floor, see if you can lift me higher)
Dancer, try to take it higher
(Keep your head up high, give yourself some body hungry)
Dancer, try to take it higher

Dancer (Get it up!
Get it up!
Get it up!
Get it up!)

(Get it up!
Get it up!
Get it up!
Get it up!)

Source: Letras.mus.br

Time Warp Radio: 1979

The music I was listening to as of April 17th 1979, here listed roughly in order of frequency (links in italics go to YouTube, subject to link rot; links in bold have posts of their own):

  1. Knock On Wood – Amii Stewart (#1 on the US pop chart)
  2. What a Fool Believes – The Doobie Brothers (#5)
  3. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor (#2)
  4. Heart of Glass – Blondie (#3)
  5. Tragedy – The Bee Gees (#8)
  6. Lady – Little River Band (#17)
  7. Disco Nights (Rock-Freak) – GQ (#28)
  8. I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl) – Instant Funk (#23)
  9. I Just Fall In Love Again – Anne Murray (#19)
  10. Take Me Home – Cher (#14)
  11. In the Navy – The Village People (#12)
  12. Music Box Dancer – Frank Mills (#4)
  13. He’s the Greatest Dancer – Sister Sledge (#13)
  14. Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – Rod Stewart (#27)
  15. Reunited – Peaches & Herb (#6)
  16. Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits (#10)
  17. I Want Your Love – Chic (#9)
  18. Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now – McFadden & Whitehead
  19. Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) – The Jacksons (#16)
  20. Stumblin’ In – Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman (#7)
  21. Precious Love – Bob Welch (#21)
  22. There But For the Grace of God Go I – Machine
  23. Goodnight Tonight – Wings (#11)
  24. At Midnight – T-Connection
  25. Hot Stuff – Donna Summer
  26. Love Ballad – George Benson (#20)
  27. Superman – Herbie Mann (#26) *
  28. Big Shot – Billy Joel
  29. Blow Away – George Harrison (#22)
  30. Love You Inside Out – The Bee Gees (#37)
  31. Love Is the Answer – England Dan & John Ford Coley (#18)
  32. Love Takes Time – Orleans (#25)
  33. Just When I Needed You Most – Randy Vanwarmer (#38)
  34. Fire – The Pointer Sisters
  35. A Little More Love – Olivia Newton-John
  36. I Don’t Know If It’s Right – Evelyn “Champagne” King (#40)
  37. Keep On Dancin’ – Gary’s Gang
  38. Livin’ It Up (Friday Night) – Bell & James (#15)
  39. Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet – Gonzalez
  40. Don’t Cry Out Loud – Melissa Manchester
  41. Heaven Knows – Donna Summer with Brooklyn Dreams (#30)
  42. We Are Family – Sister Sledge
  43. Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance – Melba Moore
  44. Star Love – Cheryl Lynn *
  45. Touch Me Baby – Ultimate *
  46. One More Minute – Saint Tropez *
  47. Happiness – Pointer Sisters (#35) *
  48. My Baby’s Baby – Liquid Gold *
  49. Don’t Give It Up – Linda Clifford *
  50. Work That Body – Taana Gardner *
  51. Dancer – Gino Soccio
  52. Dancin’ – Grey & Hankes *
  53. (Everybody) Get Dancin’ – The Bombers *
  54. Let’s Fly Away – Voyage *
  55. Souvenirs – Voyage
  56. Fly Me on the Wings of Love – Celi Bee *
  57. Fire Night Dance – Peter Jacques Band *
  58. Love and Desire – Arpeggio
  59. Dance With You – Carrie Lucas
  60. Forbidden Love – Madleen Kane *
  61. I’m A Bad, Bad Boy – Theo Vaness *
  62. Bang A Gong – Witch Queen *

This is based on WABC-AM in New York, what I mainly listened to back then. They were a Top 40 Radio station, so I assumed stuff like “Souvenirs” by Voyage, or “Dancer” by Gino Soccio, were top-40 hits nationwide. They weren’t! Also, WABC did not play the whole Top 40. In this case eight songs are missing, six of them rock:

* = songs I don’t remember.

The Peaches & Herb song at this point was on its way out.

In short: I remember 90% of the Top 40 but thought disco was bigger than it was.

– Abagond, 2019.

Sources: WABC MusicRadio 77 Survey/17 April 1979; Billboard Hot 100 for April 21st 1979 (the one that most closely matches the above).

See also:

668

The Handmaid’s Tale

A still photo from the 2017 television series.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985) is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood set in the near future when much of the US sinks into a Christian theocracy called Gilead. Atwood began writing the book in 1984 and it reads very much like a White feminist “1984” modelled on a slave narrative. There is even an Underground Femaleroad to Canada.

Note: This post is based on the book, not the television show, which I have not seen.

Our story: A terrorist attack in the US kills the president and much of Congress. Sons of Jacob (Christian revolutionaries) set up the Republic of Gilead, a right-wing military dictatorship on the model of Iran. Parts of the former US are at war with Gilead, other parts, called the Colonies, are toxic wastelands (nuclear warfare?) that Gilead controls.

Ethno-state: Native Americans are wiped out, Black Americans are sent to National Homelands in the Midwest as the Children of Ham. One character is “beige” but everyone else seems to be White.

Preventing “White genocide”: Gilead’s main concern, other than war, is the long-term drop in the Caucasian birth rate. No one knows the cause but feminism is blamed. So one fine morning every woman in Gilead finds that her bank card no longer works – and that she has been laid off at work. Women overnight become dependent on their fathers or husbands – or the government. They can no longer get passports to leave the country.

In time even reading becomes a crime for women.

Dress code: Women wear colour-coded clothing dividing them into Wives, Widows, Daughters, Econowives (working-class housewives), Marthas (servants), Aunts (trainers), and Handmaids (surrogate mothers). Women incapable of dutifully fulfilling one of these roles become Unwomen sent to the Colonies to clean up toxic waste (or become Jezebels at secret sex clubs).

Handmaids wear red (pictured at top). They are assigned to the top men whose Wives are unable to have children. If after six years and three masters a Handmaid has produced no offspring, she becomes a Jezebel or an Unwomen. Handmaids have no names of their own but are named for their current master: Offred (Of Fred), Ofglen (Of Glen), etc. They are trained by Aunts to dress and act the same way.

Love life: Handmaids are allowed to have sex with their master once a month (reverse rhythm method). The wife must be present. Anything else, like a secret love affair, even one with the master himself, could get the Handmaid sent to the Colonies or the Salvaging (public hanging). Love and sex become subversive, part of what makes Gilead into a police state, searchlights and all.

Religion: Even though Gilead says it models itself on the Bible, it seems much more interested in the harsh patriarchy of the Old Testament than in the love and mercy of the New. “Faith is only a word, embroidered.” Gilead pushes its own extreme form of Christianity, one of outward behaviour, not of the heart. Quakers, Catholics and Baptists are named as enemies. Jews flee. Machines in Gilead print out prayers – but does God listen?

– Abagond, 2019.

See also:

558

Richard Spencer

Richard Spencer (1978- ) is one of the foremost neo-Nazis in the US in the 2010s. He invented the term “alt-right”, was famously hit down by Antifa (pictured above) and was one of the leaders of the Charlottesville riot in 2017. He is president of the National Policy Institute (NPI), a White supremacist think tank, and of Washington Summit Publishers.

Core beliefs: He holds to the three main neo-Nazi beliefs, here quoted in his own words:

  • Race realism – “Race is real, race matters, and race is the foundation of identity. You can’t understand who you are without race.”
  • White genocide – aka ethnic replacement: “Immigration is a kind a proxy war – and maybe a last stand – for White Americans, who are undergoing a painful recognition that, unless dramatic action is taken, their grandchildren will live in a country that is alien and hostile.”
  • White nationalism – “Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.”

Spencer supports the Fourteen Words, a short summary of neo-Nazi aims:

“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,”

He is European first, American second or third:

BBC: Just as you’re no longer Europeans, they’re no longer Africans. You’re Americans.

Spencer: But I think who I am really ultimately does derive from Europe.

He sees race as an extended family. He thinks he has more in common with people in foreign White countries, like Russia or Greece, than with Jews or Blacks in his own country. He does not see Jews as White.

Marketing: Spencer is trying to sell neo-Nazi beliefs to young, White middle-class men by talking and dressing like them. Thus no swastikas or jackboots. Mother Jones, a left-wing magazine, even found him to be “dapper”. But that whole vibe was killed at Charlottesville when his followers chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and deadly violence followed the next day.

The Charlottesville riot was not Spencer’s first visit to that town. He went to the University of Virginia as an undergrad.

His wife, from 2010 to 2018, was Nina Kouprianova, who goes by the pen name of Nina Byzantina. They have two children. She called herself a “Kremlin troll leader” and has ties to Alexander Dugin, a fascist adviser to President Putin of Russia.

Influences: Sam Francis, Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, and Kevin MacDonald of the Occidental Observer.

Follow the money: Spencer is the mouthpiece of an aging right-wing publisher, William H. Regnery II (pictured), who in turn is the grandson of Henry Regnery, a founder of the pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic America First Committee which was against war between the US and Nazi Germany. Some of the money for NPI comes from the Pioneer Fund, which has its roots in the eugenics movement. Small world.

Spencer himself is a millionaire, part owner of cotton fields in Louisiana.

– Abagond, 2019.

See also:

531

Remarks:

This came out in 1979, going to #17 on the US R&B chart and #36 on the pop chart. It was the height of her fame in her native US – but in Britain this song went to #5, the first of five top-20 hits for her in Britain. Six of her albums made the top ten there.

This song stuck in my mind because of its grim lyrics, which ran counter to the disco of the age, songs like “Good Times”, which came out earlier that same year. But “Good Times”, when you think about it, was not  hopeful about the future either.

The street in question, by the way, is Hollywood Boulevard, the one in Hollywood with the pink stars.

See also:

Lyrics:

I play the street life
Because there’s no place I can go
Street life
It’s the only life I know
Street life
And there’s a thousand cards to play
Street life
Until you play your life away

You let the people see
Just who you wanna be
And every night you shine
Just like a superstar
The type of life that’s played
A temptin’ masquerade
You dress you walk you talk
You’re who you think you are

Street life
You can run away from time
Street life
For a nickel or a dime
Street life
But you better not get old
Street life
Or you’re gonna feel the cold

There’s always love for sale
A grown up fairy tale
Prince charming always smiles
Behind a silver spoon
And if you keep it young
Your song is always sung
Your love will pay your way
Beneath the silver moon

Street life
Street life
Street life
Oh street life

I play the street life
Because there’s no place I can go
Street life
It’s the only life I know
Street life
And there’s a thousand cards to play
Street life
Until you play your life away – oh

Street life
Street life
Street life
Oh street life

Source: AZ Lyrics.

Trump is more like Hitler than he was three years ago on the eve of his election.

This is an easy thing for me to measure because I wrote a post on October 19th 2016 in which I compared Trump to the rise of Hitler. Three years later Trump is clearly worse – or better if you are a neo-Nazi.

My comparison from October 2016:

  • Like Trump, Hitler:
    • played on people’s fears and racism;
    • promised to make his country great again;
    • had little regard for civil rights;
    • presented himself as a strongman;
    • was dismissed as a clown who could be controlled.
  • Unlike Trump, Hitler:
    • had a strong, united party behind him with broad national support;
    • faced no strong opposition party;
    • had already tried to overthrow the government (in Bavaria in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch);
    • had a master of propaganda (Joseph Goebbels).

The first five are still true. In fact, people like me are still calling him a clown and think he can be brought under control, despite the lack of actual progress on that front. Congress is at long last moving towards impeachment, but at present there are enough loyal Republicans in the Senate to keep Trump from being removed from office.

Of the last four, two are clearly no longer true:

  • The Republican Party is solidly behind him and is still a strong, national party.
  • Fox News and Trump himself are, by any measure, masters of propaganda. Like the Nazis they use repetition, fearmongering, scapegoating and repetition.

A third is not true:

  • Had already tried to overthrow the government.

And a fourth is arguably true

  • Faced no strong opposition party.

Democrats only control one house of Congress and, until the past few weeks, they let Trump walk all over them. Only with Ukrainegate have they shown any detectable backbone. So he gets a half point.

What else is there?

On the dark side:

  • Concentration camps: Trump has opened what most experts agree are concentration camps. In true Hitlerian fashion he has scapegoated and fearmongered about an ethnic other and used that to lock them up in camps. They are not death camps, yet, but neither were Hitler’s concentration camps at first.
  • Neo-Nazi adjacent: Trump also had a hard time condemning actual neo-Nazis who marched with torches and chanted stuff like “Jews will not replace us!” He called them “very fine people”!

On the bright side:

  • No Reichstag Fire: So far there has been no act of terrorism, false-flag or otherwise, that Trump has used as an excuse to declare a state of emergency to suspend freedom of speech and assembly and throw anyone he wants in jail. So there is that.
  • The press so far has stood up to him, the only check of the checks and balances that seems to still be fully functioning.

But far more frightening than Trump are his followers. They have shown themselves to be White nationalist fascists in sheep’s clothing. And they are not going anywhere.

– Abagond, 2019.

See also:

546

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