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The Mythic Past

The Mythic Past, according to Jason Stanley in “How Fascism Works” (2018), is a fascist technique of control. Combined with fascist propaganda and anti-intellectualism, it creates a state of unreality in which fake news and conspiracy theories drive out reasoned debate.

George Orwell in “1984”:

“‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Practitioners:

  • early 1900s: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, neo-Confederates (all those statues);
  • early 2000s: The Daily Stormer; the right wing in the US, France, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, India, Burma, etc.

Not mere sanitization: As reported on this blog, countries like Japan and the US love to sanitize their ugly past when it is taught at high school. The Mythic Past does that too, but it goes way beyond:

Red flags: Thanks to the logic of fascist power, the Mythic Past tends to have these features regardless of the actual facts of history:

  • it is glorious: the country was strong and ruled others, everyone practised traditional values and gender roles, and “we” were on top, whatever we (race, religion, and/or culture) the fascist leaders say they champion. It was all ended by globalism, cosmopolitan elites, and respect for “universal values” like equality. Or by out-group minorities gaining too much power. Either way it fatally weakened the nation.
  • strong, happy patriarchal families: when men were men and women were women! Men bravely fought in wars, women knew their place and were devoted mothers. Families were not falling apart like they are now as people abandon traditional gender roles. Fascist leaders need to glorify strong patriarchal families – where whatever the father says goes – to make their own hierarchy and authoritarianism seem right and good. What is the Dear Leader, after all, but the father of the nation?
  • civilization and conquest: in the Mythic Past the country ruled or conquered others, furthered or defended civilization. Because fascist leaders themselves are bent on doing the same sort of thing (imperialism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, etc). Therefore:
  • exceptionalism: Stanley: “If one can convince a population that they are rightfully exceptional, that they are destined by nature or religious fate to rule other populations, one has already convinced them of a monstruous lie.”
  • the ugly past downplayed, denied or censored: the country was ethnically pure and good. It has an amazingly unblemished record – despite its love of military solutions and unchecked power.
  • liberals say the Mythic Past is untrue. And therefore not a good grounding for government policy. But, as Stanley notes: “It is typical for fascist politicians to represent a country’s actual history in conspiratorial  terms as a narrative concocted by liberal elites and cosmopolitans to victimize the people of the true ‘nation’.”

The Mythic Past is untrue – thus the word “mythic” – because it has little regard for facts and every regard for supporting fascist policies. Fascists imagine their own designs for the future as a glorious age in the past. The point of history is not to learn from it but use it to concoct a version for poltical gain.

The Mythic Past is always about the present.

Abagond, 2022.

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582

Chinese Americans: the 1800s

Chinese Americans, Sierra County, California, circa 1894. Via A Chinese American Historian By Chance.

The Chinese have been in America since at least the 1600s, back when California was a way station for the Manila galleons crossing the Pacific. They began to arrive in numbers from 1848 to 1882, from the California Gold Rush to the Chinese Exclusion Act. They were part of a Chinese diaspora in which millions fled the dying decades of the old, corrupt Qing dynasty in China. They went to South East Asia, Australia, the Pacific, the Americas, and South Africa. This post is just about the US bit.

Snapshot:

  • Location: mostly the West Coast.
  • Population: over 100,000 by 1880, about 95% male in 1900. Most came from Toishan (aka Taishan, fka Sunning) County in Guangdong province in the south of China. Very few Chinese Americans were then ABCs – American Born Chinese.
  • Major cities: Chinatown in San Francisco, California.
  • Language: Cantonese (not Mandarin) Chinese. Most could not speak English!
  • Religion: Confucianism, ancestor worship, Buddhism, Taoism. Fewer than 20% were Christian – mostly those who had been converted in China by Protestant missionaries.
  • Government: Were not allowed to become citizens and vote before 1898 (and then only if US-born). They would even lose the right to testify in court or make bail. But they could still sometimes effect change through protest and court cases.
  • Economy: Chinese-owned businesses (restaurants, laundries, grocery stores, contractors), contract labour (coolies), prostitution, etc. Much of the money was sent back to China, where the dollar went farther and most of their families still lived – US immigration policy did not let most Chinese men bring over their wives.

Timeline:

  • 1834: Afong Moy becomes the first recorded Chinese woman to arrive in the US. Chinese sailors were already a common sight in New York. She became a museum exhibit and later a P.T. Barnum sideshow.
  • 1847: British banks cut off funding to warehouses along the Pearl River in Guangdong province. Trade within the province comes to almost a complete stop, throwing 100,000 out of work.
  • 1848: Gold Mountain – what the Chinese call California after gold was discovered there. Some struck it rich, but most drifted back to San Francisco where many opened restaurants and laundries. White men considered cooking and laundry women’s work – but neglected to bring their women. That left an opening for Chinese men to make a living. By 1920 nearly half of Chinese workers worked in a restaurant or laundry.
  • 1850-64: Taiping Rebellion in China leaves over 20 million dead.
  • 1863-69: The Transcontinental Railroad built. The part from California to Utah was built by a workforce that was over 90% Chinese. Their experience in China with explosives and building things into the sides of mountains was invaluable.
  • 1882: Chinese Exclusion Act – nearly all Chinese immigration is shut off.
  • 1885: Tape v Hurley – California Supreme Court rules that the state has to provide a public education for children of the Mongolian race, not just those of the white, Negro, and Indian races. But schools could still be racially segregated.
  • 1885: Rocky Springs massacre in Wyoming.
  • 1887: Snake River massacre in Hell’s Canyon, Oregon.
  • 1892: Geary Act: Chinese Americans have to carry ID or risk deportation. Cannot testify in court or make bail.
  • 1898US v Wong Kim Ark – US Supreme Court extends birthright citizenship of the 14th Amendment to Chinese Americans.

– Abagond, 2022.

Sources: mainly “The Chinese in America” (2003) by Iris Chang.

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552

 

Remarks:

This came out in 2018, hitting the top ten in China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and their native South Korea. It is currently the most watched K-pop song on YouTube with 1.8 billion views as of May 29th 2022. That means there are still people alive today who have never seen it. Some of them even have Internet service. Blackpink (블랙핑크) has six videos with over a billion views. Taylor Swift, to compare, has five, Beyonce has one, “Halo” (2009). Of course, this song pales before “Baby Shark” (2016), with 10 billion views at last count.

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe is the book that, more than any other, turned White opinion in the northern US against slavery, tearing the country apart in the American Civil War (1861-65). Stowe did this by packaging the facts about slavery into a tear-jerker Victorian novel aimed squarely at White women, mothers in particular. And this at a time when it was common for even White women to lose a child – not to the auction block, but to an early death.

Stereotypes: The book spawned two stereotypes about Black people:

  • Uncle Toms and
  • piccaninnies

and reinforced others.

But this seems to be more the work of the many theatrical adaptations that followed than of the book itself. Stowe was racist, about both “negroes” (always lower-case) and “Anglo-Saxons” (always upper), and parts of the book seem like a minstrel show, but to her great credit she humanized Black people for a large White audience better than anyone else at the time.

Uncle Tom: People who have read the book say that Uncle Tom was not an Uncle Tom, that he was the hero of the book! This is true. While he was a pious, obedient slave who never bad-mouthed his masters no matter how cruel they were, he gave his life rather than betray two runaway slaves. Black people in White media are often self-sacrificing for the greater good of White people – Sidney Poitier springs to mind – but this time it was for the good of fellow Black people! What a relief! As it turned out, all along Uncle Tom was serving not White people but Christ. The irony is that he took Ephesians 6:5 seriously, the very verse of the Bible that slaveholders most loved to quote:

“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

Stowe never lets you forget that he was a way better Christian than any of his masters.

Use of dialect: Uncle Tom seems to speak in minstrelese – except when quoting Scripture, singing a hymn or giving a stirring speech. Then he lapses into Standard English. Stowe did have Black servants, but Whites got their picture of Blacks mainly from minstrel shows, just like today they mainly get it from television. The incessant minstrelese made the early parts of the book hard for me to stomach. Even the Quaker English in the book seemed fake, especially when compared to “Moby Dick” (1851). Though, to be fair, at least one (White) linguist, Allison Burkette, says Stowe’s use of dialect was accurate.

Based on true events: Everything that takes place in the book is based on something that took place in real life. Which is why nearly all of it takes place in Kentucky (across the river from Cincinnati where Stowe lived from 1832 to 1850) and Lousiana (where her brother lived). Stowe did not want to be accused of exaggeration. Uncle Tom himself is believed to have been inspired by Josiah Henson, whose autobiography came out in 1849, just before she began writing.

– Abagond, 2022.

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553

 

Palestine in 1 AD

Palestine in 1 AD was shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ, who was born there no later than 4 BC.

  • Location: 32° N, 35° E, on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, south of Syria, north-east of Egypt.
  • Population: 0.6 million (maybe as high as 2.5 million).
  • Major cities: Jerusalem (Mount Zion = 31.77617° N 35.23583° E).
  • Languages: 
  • Religion: mainly Judaism, divided into three sects: Saducees, Pharisees, Essenes. And the off-brand Judaism of the Samaritans. For the fashionable or foreign: Greek paganism (idol worship). The Canaanite god Beelzebub seems to have still been in business.
    • Pharisees, unlike the Saducees, believed in angels, immortal souls, Judgement Day and a Messiah. The Pharisees will soon give birth to two other sects: the militaristic Zealots in 6 AD and the pacifistic Christians in about 30 AD. Modern Judaism comes from the Pharisees.
  • Government: now a restive part of the Roman Empire. Roman rule is still indirect: the Jewish parts were ruled by means of the Tetrarchy: four vassal princes (three sons and one sister of Herod the Great):
    • Herod Archelaus: got the lion’s share (see the map above). Despite his cruelty (or because of it) he was never able to bring true peace to his part of Palestine. This will lead to direct Roman rule, bringing a census in 7 AD, Pontius Pilate in 26 AD, and the Roman-Jewish War from 66 to 73 AD (in which  the Temple of Jerusalem is destroyed).
    • Herod Antipas: ruled to the north, including western Galilee where Jesus is from. This is the Herod who will hand over Jesus to Pontius Pilate. He is not the Herod who ruled at the time of Jesus’s birth: that was Herod the Great, his father.
    • Herod Philip: parts north and east of the Sea of Galilee. He was also known as Philip the Tetrarch because he had a brother also named Herod Philip. He was married to his niece Salome, the one who wanted John the Baptist’s head. She is not to be confused with her great aunt:
    • Salome I: Herod the Great’s scheming sister. He left her parts of the coast and a bit along the Jordan River.
    • under direct Roman rule: the Greek and Gentile parts, mainly in the north, like Decapolis.
  • Currency: a mix of Greek and Roman coins. The Roman denarius (called a penny in the King James Bible) was a day’s pay. It had 3.9 grams of silver and the image of Caesar.
  • Economy: wine, figs, the Temple of Jerusalem. No major ports, like nearby Tyre or Alexandria. But it was on the main trade route from Mesopotamia and the Silk Road beyond, bringing silks and spices.

History: In the year 63 BC Rome overthrew the Maccabees, the Jewish kings who had ruled an independent kingdom since 142 BC. The Romans put in place a puppet, Antipater the Idumaean, who had no royal or even Jewish blood (though he was Jewish by religion). He was the father of Herod the Great, who ruled at the time of Jesus’s birth, and the grandfather of Herod Antipater, who ruled at his death.

Palestine’s corner of the Roman Empire in 1 AD. Because Rome’s rule was indirect it is not yet in pink but light green. See full map.

– Abagond, 2022.

Source: mainly Danzig HD Mapper on Youtube and “The Land of Canann” (1971) by Isaac Asimov.

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568

 

Aakash Gandhi: Heavenly

Remarks:

This sounds like it is over a hundred years old, but it only seems to go back to 2018. I have heard it on YouTube videos as background music, presumably because it is not copyrighted. I find it wonderful, marvellous and deeply reassuring that a song so beautiful and seemingly simple – on an instrument with only 88 keys – was yet to be played just four years ago.

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“Irreversible Damage” (2020) by Abigail Shrier is subtitled “The  Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters”. The cover shows a little girl with a huge hole where her womb would be. The fearmongering never lets up: the introduction is called “The Contagion” – which strangely echoes Nazi propaganda about homosexuals (which then included trans people). It is published by Regnery Press, which puts out gems like Michelle Malkin’s “In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror” (2004).

The Economist named “Irrreversible Damage” a “book of the year” in 2020. Despite the book’s heavy use of transphobic language, it detected “not a drop of animosity in the book”. Even worse, it dangerously repeats its misinformation.

ContraPoints calls it “a transphobic screed of a book”.

Psychology Today, in a column by Jack Turban MD MHS, who unlike Shrier is an actual medical journalist, said it was “full of irresponsible journalistic practices and outright falsehoods.” Maybe worst of all, the book:

“tells parents to reject their children’s gender identity, which is one of the greatest predictors of suicide attempts among transgender kids.”

The book is highly misleading. Shrier seems to come with the facts – interviews, statistics, scientific studies and all that. But it is all one-sided, supported by anecdotes and twisted facts. The science is either cherry-picked or misrepresented. The medical and scientific consensus is dismissed as “gender ideology”.

Even the cover is misleading: the actual cases of irreversible damage reported in the book were done on adults, not on girls, and certainly not on little girls.

Transphobic bubble: Shrier has plenty of interviews quoted in the book and she herself has done plenty of media interviews since – but almost the whole time she is talking to transphobes!!! People like Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, Jordan Peterson, but most especially, at the heart of her book, parents who oppose the gender transition of their trans sons. She thinks their sons are deluded – and calls them by their deadnames and she/her pronouns – but comes to this conclusion without ever talking to them! It is all based on parent report. As is the Lisa Littman study the book is largely based on.

Note that “transphobe” is itself a loaded term, like “gender ideology”, but the fact remains that Shrier is getting only half the picture. If that.

It is like writing a book about Black people based on Stormfront or Fox News. If she wrote a book about runaway slaves in 1855, she would have mainly interviewed slave owners and blamed the increase in runaway slaves on “abolitionist ideology” or drapetomania.

The argument of the book: Troubled teenage girls are getting swept up into a transgender craze being pushed by Tumblr and YouTube on the Internet and spread by “peer contagion”. It is the new anorexia. Meanwhile doctors, teachers, and scientists are being cowed by trans activists into supporting “gender ideology”. Gender transition is practically being forced on these hapless girls, leading to high rates of regret – because anecdotes!

Maybe parents would like to believe this instead of taking the trans identity of their children seriously, but it does not seem to be true in the vast majority of cases.

– Abagond, 2022.

Update (June 2nd 2022): As bad as Regnery Press is, it was never owned by a neo-Nazi, as an earlier version of this post stated. I had mixed up Henry Regnery with his nephew William Regnery II, who used Richard Spencer as a mouthpiece. Sorry for the mistake. Henry was on the American First Committee, which opposed war against Nazi Germany, but as far as I know he was never anything more than hard-right. In any case, the Regnery family sold the Press in 1993. Thanks to Lemmy for catching this mistake! 

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523

Jane Eyre

“Jane Eyre” (1847) is a romance novel by non-Asian writer Charlotte Bronte. Have you ever wanted to be a governess in a creepy old mansion with someone screaming in the attic in the middle of the night? Or fall in love with a rich man with a mysterious past? Then this is the book for you! It was a bestseller not only in its own time 175 years ago, but it is still in print and widely  regarded as one of the 100 best novels in both the US and its native UK.

I first read it years ago when I was young and naive. The plot seemed cliched and the characters cold. I was later informed that the cliches were the genre conventions of Gothic romance novels and that the coldness was “Britsh reserve”. Oh.

I read it a second time in 2022, this year, finishing it on Valentine’s Day. It has been much improved. The cliches and coldness I took as a given: love among the reserved and secretive British. And I have since lived much more of life, some of it strangely Eyrean, and have read the Bible. Had I been familiar with the the Book of Common Prayer too, maybe it would have made even more sense. It and the Bible were part of the cultural literacy of the not-yet-post-Christian Anglosphere back then. Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (1863) plays off of both.

Bronte’s view of religion and the clergy, despite being a pastor’s daughter, seems clear-eyed.

I like it way better than “Pride and Prejudice” (1813) by Jane Austen. It makes Jane Austen look like warmed-over soap opera that is more about money than love. Austen lacks the poetry and darkness of Bronte. From chapter 21 onwards, “Jane Eyre” leaves Jane Austen in the dust.

But “Jane Eyre” itself is out-Bronted by another Bronte, Charlotte’s sister Emily, in “Wuthering Heights” (1847). I read that first – it easily makes my top ten – and so my expectations for “Jane Eyre” were way too high. But I seem to like “Wuthering Heights” better than most.

“Jane Eyre” most reminds me of “Rebecca” (1938) by Daphne du Maurier, which seems to be the 1900’s answer to “Jane Eyre”.

My ranking (with the Goodreads rating in parentheses):

  1. Wuthering Heights (3.88)
  2. Jane Eyre (4.14)
  3. Pride and Prejudice (4.28)
  4. Rebecca (4.24)

All four make the list of the top 100 novels in both the US and UK. All of them are good.

Film and television adaptations: The BBC adaptation of 2011 is the best one according to my sister, a huge Austen-and-Bronte fan. It pretty much turns the book into soap opera: the plot is preserved, mostly, but not the poetry. And it is way too sunny! It is like they either did not read the book or did not go to film school. But so much of the book takes place in Jane Eyre’s head (and heart) that it is a harder book to put on film than Jane Austen’s behavioristic, dialogue-driven books.

Favourite line:  “A true Janian reply!”

– Abagond, 2022.

Sources: Etsy, which had a picture of the same Signet paperback edition that I first read.

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561

The Rising Star flag with 50 stripes: US flag in the style of the Japanese imperial flag. As seen on reddit.

Welcome to Asian American History Month 2022! On this blog it will run from May 18th to June 18th. Hopefully I will be able to write some posts on Asian Americans and the Asia/Pacific. They make up most of the world, but it is a part of the world that I do not write much about. Third time’s a charm!

Some ideas I have:

  • Awkwafina
  • Blackpink
  • al-Khwarizmi
  • Korematsu v USA
  • Hong Kong
  • Taiwan
  • Korea
  • Japanese Americans
  • Hmong Americans
  • Chinese Americans
  • Chinese Americans in the 1800s
  • Chinese Americans in the 1900s
  • Yellow Peril
  • Africans in China
  • China in Africa
  • Anna May Wong
  • Charlie Chan
  • Austronesian Expansion
  • Belt & Road Initiative
  • Black women, Asian men
  • “Chinese food”
  • Chinese technology circa 2020
  • Dalits
  • Narendra Modi
  • BJP
  • Davon Neverdon
  • Dinesh D’Souza
  • Fareed Zakaria
  • 50 Cent Party
  • Gangnido
  • Great Leap Forward
  • LA Riot of 1992
  • New Guinea
  • Nikki Haley
  • permanent war
  • Plantation Hawaii
  • Rock Springs Massacre
  • Rohingyas
  • Sinicization
  • Xi Jinping
  • Xi Jinping thought
  • Zhao Rugua
  • Zionism

Here are the posts I have done so far (to be updated throughout the month):

  • (none so far)

In the comments below, tell me what you would like to see posts on. If you like any of the above ideas or have ideas of your own, please let me know. Thanks!

– Abagond, 2022.

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Payton Gendron

a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic rifle, the sort used by Gendron.

Ruth Whitfield (left), Pearly Young and Aaron Salter Jr.

Payton Gendron (2003- ), a White American gunman, killed 10 and injured 3 last Saturday afternoon, May 14th 2022, in upstate New York at a Tops supermarket in a Black neighbourhood of Buffalo. All but two of the victims were Black. It was shown live on the Internet for a few minutes before the feed was cut.

The dead:

  1. Celestine Chaney, 65
  2. Roberta A. Drury, 32
  3. Andre Mackneil, 53
  4. Katherine Massey, 72
  5. Margus D. Morrison, 52
  6. Heyward Patterson, 67
  7. Aaron Salter, 55
  8. Geraldine Talley, 62
  9. Ruth Whitfield, 86
  10. Pearl Young, 77

Gendron drove for three and a half hours in his parents’s car to get to the place with “the highest black population percentage and isn’t that far away,” according to a 180-page online manifesto that is almost cetainly his. Buffalo is 37% Black. His home town of Conklin, also in upstate New York, is 1% Black.

The police confronted him in front of Tops, with bodies lying on the ground. He pointed his gun to his neck but police still managed to take him alive – a courtesy not always extended to Black men, even when unarmed or back turned.

The gun: a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic rifle (pictured above) with the N-word  and “14” written on it. The 14 is short for the 14 Words, a neo-Nazi slogan:

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

Even though he threatened to shoot up his high school last year, he was still allowed to buy a high-powered rifle after police were sure that he was not sick in the head.

The motive: as the manifesto put it:

“To show to the replacers [= non-White people] that as long as the White man lives, our land will never be theirs and they will never be safe from us.

“To directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the replacers themselves.

“To intimidate the replacers already living on our lands to emigrate back to their home countries.

“To agitate the political enemies of my people into action, to cause them to overextend their own hand and experience the eventual and inevitable backlash as a result.

“To incite violence, retaliation and further divide between the European people and the replacers currently occupying European soil…

“To add momentum to the pendulum swings of history, further destabilizing and polarizing Western society in order to eventually destroy the current nihilistic, hedonistic, individualistic insanity that has taken control of Western thought.”

Great Replacement Theory, aka White genocide, is what all this is based on. As the manifesto explains:

“Millions of people pouring across our borders, legally. Invited by the state and corporate entities to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce, failed to create the cheap labor, failed to create new consumers and tax base that the corporations and states need to have to thrive.”

No longer a fringe belief: Although Gendron was mainly inspired by Brenton Tarrant, the New Zealand mosque shooter, Republican blowhards like Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens push versions of this theory. According to an AP poll that came out last week, 42% of Republicans now believe in replacement theory.

– Abagond, 2022.

Sources: mainly Google Images, Heavy, AP.

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Remarks:

This is my favourite emo rock song. It came out in 2006, when MySpace was still a thing, going to #1 in the UK, #9 in their native US. They are from New Jersey. MTV was so impressed with the music video that in 2017 they named it the “Greatest Music Video of the Century”. How could the remaining 83 years of the century possibly top it? Only time will tell.

Colleen Atwood was the costume designer for the music video. As you might imagine, she has worked with Tim Burton and Disney. In fact, she is working on Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid”, due out next year in 2023. Her work has appeared here twice before: she worked on Disney’s live-action “Dumbo” (2019) and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (2010).

Samuel Bayer was the director. He sticks to rock videos, so he has only appeared here once before: “Stupid Girl” (1996) by Garbage. But will probably appear again when I inevitably post “Zombie” (1994) by the Cranberries.

As a father, I love the opening words of the song.

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Lyrics:

When I was a young boy, my father
Took me into the city to see a marching band
He said, “Son, when you grow up would you be
The savior of the broken, the beaten and the damned?”
He said, “Will you defeat them? Your demons
And all the non-believers, the plans that they have made?
Because one day, I’ll leave you a phantom
To lead you in the summer to join the black parade…”

When I was a young boy, my father
Took me into the city to see a marching band
He said, “Son, when you grow up would you be
The savior of the broken, the beaten and the damned?”

Sometimes I get the feeling she’s watching over me
And other times I feel like I should go
And through it all, the rise and fall, the bodies in the streets
And when you’re gone, we want you all to know

We’ll carry on, we’ll carry on, and though you’re
Dead and gone, believe me, your memory
Will carry on, we’ll carry on, and in my
Heart, I can’t contain it, the anthem won’t explain it

A world that sends you reeling from decimated dreams
Your misery and hate will kill us all
So paint it black and take it back, let’s shout it loud and clear
Defiant to the end we hear the call

To carry on, we’ll carry on, and though you’re
Dead and gone, believe me, your memory
Will carry on, we’ll carry on, and though you’re
Broken and defeated, your weary widow marches

On and on, we carry through the fears (Oh, oh, oh)
Disappointed faces of your peers (Oh, oh, oh)
Take a look at me, ’cause I could not care at all

Do or die, you’ll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart
Go and try, you’ll never break me
We want it all, we wanna play this part
I won’t explain or say I’m sorry
I’m unashamed, I’m gonna show my scars
Give a cheer for all the broken
Listen here, because it’s who we are
I’m just a man, I’m not a hero
Just a boy, who had to sing this song
I’m just a man, I’m not a hero
I don’t care!

We’ll carry on, we’ll carry on, and though you’re
Dead and gone, believe me, your memory
Will carry on, we’ll carry on, and though you’re
Broken and defeated, your weary widow marches

Do or die, you’ll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart
Go and try, you’ll never break me
We want it all, we wanna play this part (We’ll carry on!)
Do or die, you’ll never make me (We’ll carry on!)
Because the world will never take my heart (We’ll carry on!)
Go and try, you’ll never break me (We’ll carry-)
We want it all, we wanna play this part (We’ll carry on…)

Source: AZ Lyrics.

Moby-Dick

“Moby-Dick” (1851) by Herman Melville tells the tale of Captain Ahab’s hunt of Moby Dick, the Great White Whale.

Disclaimer: This post is written by me, a reader of books, not a literary critic.

Readability: It has a famous opening – “Call me Ishmael” – and a shattering end. In between are philosophical musings, bits of fine writing, and clear-as-mud stuff like, oh, this sentence from chapter 60 about the rope attached to a harpoon:

“From the chocks it hangs in a slight festoon over the bows, and is then passed inside the boat again; and some ten or twenty fathoms (called box-line) being coiled upon the box in the bows, it continues its way to the gunwale still a little further aft, and is then attached to the short-warp – the rope which is immediately connected with the harpoon; but previous to that connexion, the short-warp goes through sundry mystifications too tedious to detail.”

He also likes to explain one thing in terms of something even less well known.

Cultural literacy: Part of what makes it hard to read is that Melville assumes a knowledge of sailing ships and the Bible that are not common this side of 1945. Sometimes a Bible dictionary is more helpful than an ordinary dictionary. I watched a video on YouTube about the parts of a pirate ship. It was invaluable. So was seeing clips from the Gregory Peck film. But an illustrated and annotated edition would be better still.

Like the Bible it is a slog, but worth it in the end. You just have to stick with it. Do not expect to understand everything on a first reading. Especially since surface events often have a deeper meaning. Both the Bible and Melville are like that.

I can see why my English teachers gushed over it: it is full of alliterations and allusions, which they were suckers for. And it is written in that wordy, we-got-all-day way of the Victorians. It ain’t Hemingway – who, by the way, imparted knowledge about bull fights way more painlessly than Melville does about whale hunts.

Captain Ahab comes across as half mad – a “monomaniac” is Ishmael’s term for it. Ahab is bent on revenge against Moby Dick, who bit off his leg, and he puts himself on the level with the gods (always plural and lower-case from his mouth). Hardly a sympathetic character, at least from a Christian point of view. And yet somehow your heart (well, at least mine) breaks for him by the end. That is brilliant.

Race: Ahab’s three harpooners aboard the Pequod, his “knights”, are all “savages” or “heathens” – an African, a Polynesian and a Native American. Ishmael and Ahab admire them for their courage and skill. But Melville likens them to devils in hell. From chapter 96:

“the Tartarean shapes of the pagan harpooneers … With huge pronged poles they pitched hissing masses of blubber into the scalding pots, or stirred up the fires beneath … the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse [of a whale], and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.”

– Abagond, 2022.

See also:

529

Remarks:

This was one of the few cases where I thought a White cover was clearly better than the Black original. That was, until I wrote this post and carefully listened to different versions. Uh-oh!

The song was written by Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin. They appeared in this space before for “Up on the Roof” (1962).

In the Anglosphere, there are three main versions of “The Loco-Motion”:

Grank Funk Railroad blows away the others because the guitar solo in the middle of the song is that good.

Little Eva was Carole King’s maid. If you compare her version with Carole King’s version from 1980, their singing voice sounds amazingly alike. Too alike. It is not just me: Waterman, who worked on the Minogue version, believes it was Carole King herself who in fact sang on the record. So all three versions are White! And check out the video above – also lily-White.

See also:

Lyrics: 

Everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
I know you’ll get to like it if you give it a chance now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
My little baby sister can do it with ease
It’s easier than learnin’ your ABCs
So, come on, come on, and do the Loco-Motion with me

You’ve got to swing your hips now
Come on
Jump up
Jump back
Oh well, I think you’ve got the knack

Woah, woah
Now that you can do it, well let’s make a chain now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
A chuga-chuga motion like a railroad train, now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
Do it nice and easy now, and don’t lose control
A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul
So, come on, come on, and do the Loco-Motion with me

Woah, woah
Move around the floor in a loco-motion
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
Do it holdin’ hands if’n you get the notion
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
There’s never been a dance that’s so easy to do
It even makes you happy when you’re feelin’ blue
So, come on, come on, and do the Loco-Motion with me
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
So, come on, come on, and do the Loco-Motion with me
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
So, come on, come on, and do the Loco-Motion with me
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)
(Come on baby, do the Loco-Motion)

Source: AZ Lyrics.

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina” (1954).

iconic Audrey from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961).

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) was a Hollywood actress who was at the height of her powers in the 1950s and 1960s. A month older than Anne Frank, she too lived in the Netherlands under Nazi rule. But she was not Jewish and lived, going on to become a beauty and fashion icon of the 1900s. According to this blog, she is the ninth most beautiful White woman.

Some of her films:

  • 1953: Roman Holiday – with Gregory Peck. Made her name. Won an Oscar for Best Actress.
  • 1954: Sabrina – with Humphrey Bogart.
  • 1957: Funny Face – with Fred Astaire.
  • 1961: Breakfast at Tiffany’s – her most iconic film, based on a Truman Capote book. Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe for the lead. Monroe turned it down as too immoral. For Hepburn they sanitized it. The Library of Congress says the film is “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” – yellowface and all!
  • 1963: Charade – with Cary Grant. Accidentally not copyrighted!
  • 1964: My Fair Lady – with Rex Harrison (and Marni Nixon singing her parts). Beat out Julie Andrews for the lead. No matter: Andrews went on to win Best Actress anyway, for “Mary Poppins” (1964).
  • 1967: Two for the Road

After that she pretty much retired from acting to bring up her sons. In 1988 she became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, now known as the United Nations Children’s Fund.

She played pretty much the same person in her most famous films: beautiful, charming, elegant, yet modest. Unworldly yet somehow worldly.

children in a Nazi cattle car, 1940.

She was the daughter of a Dutch baroness and an Irish father. The Nazis took two uncles away and shot them. Her mother was afraid they would take her too – her boarding-school English (and terrible Dutch) made her seem foreign. Seeing the cattle trains of full of Jews was burnt into her brain. The last winter of the war they did not have enough to eat. After the war, what would become UNICEF helped to feed her. But, as she would later learn, her health was already ruined, dooming her girlhood dream of becoming a ballerina.

She did not think she was beautiful. Because all she saw were her imperfections: her big nose, big feet, small breasts, and thin figure. In the 1950s the hourglass figure was the beauty standard: Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, etc. Part of why she looks beautiful now is because she helped shape the beauty standard.

in “Charade” (1963), dressed in Givenchy.

Givenchy: She met Givenchy, the fashion designer, in Paris in 1953 when they were young, in their middle 20s. She became his muse. His clothes looked so great on her that it helped to make them both way more famous than they already were.

Female gaze: If Marilyn Monroe was made for men to look at, then Audrey Hepburn was made for women to look at. Hers was a beauty more women could or would want to achieve. They did not need large breasts, show much skin, or wear much jewellery. And while middle-class women could not afford Givenchy, his fashions were minimalistic enough that they could afford reasonable approximations. Elements of her fashion are still in fashion two generations later, like the little black dress (LBD) and ballet flats – from her lost ballerina dream.

– Abagond, 2022.

See also:

608

The Killers: Mr Brighside

Remarks:

This has been in the top 100 in the UK for 312 non-consecutive weeks (equal to almost exactly 6 years), a record. It is currently at #65. It came out in 2003, peaking in 2004 at #10 in both the UK and their native US. They are from Las Vegas. By some measures it is one of the best rock songs this side of 2000.

The video was directed by Sophie Muller. She has appeared in this space twice before, directing Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” (1992) and “Babyfather” (2010). They are friends from art school.

Julia Robert’s brother Eric appears in the video as lead singer Brandon Flowers’s rival in love and checkers. Flowers says the song is emotionally real because it is based on true events. He is Mr Brightside.

See also:

Lyrics:

Coming out of my cage
And I’ve been doing just fine
Gotta gotta be down
Because I want it all
It started out with a kiss
How did it end up like this?
It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss
Now I’m falling asleep
And she’s calling a cab
While he’s having a smoke
And she’s taking a drag
Now they’re going to bed
And my stomach is sick
And it’s all in my head
But she’s touching his chest now
He takes off her dress now
Let me go
And I just can’t look, it’s killing me
And taking control

Jealousy, turning saints into the sea
Swimming through sick lullabies
Choking on your alibis
But it’s just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
‘Cause I’m Mr. Brightside

I’m coming out of my cage
And I’ve been doing just fine
Gotta gotta be down
Because I want it all
It started out with a kiss
How did it end up like this?
It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss
Now I’m falling asleep
And she’s calling a cab
While he’s having a smoke
And she’s taking a drag
Now they’re going to bed
And my stomach is sick
And it’s all in my head
But she’s touching his chest now
He takes off her dress now
Let me go
‘Cause I just can’t look, it’s killing me
And taking control

Jealousy, turning saints into the sea
Swimming through sick lullabies
Choking on your alibi
But it’s just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
‘Cause I’m Mr. Brightside
I never
I never
I never
I never

Source: Songfacts.

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