It’s easy to see why people would get squeamish at having to say or hear “the n-word” but when the word is summarily stripped out of one of the most enduring pieces of American literature, eye-rolling commences. That is, until one begins to contemplate the situation further, only at this point to you begin to despair that we have become far too stupid to be the guardians of great works.
Twain’s classic novel is written from the viewpoint of an uneducated white boy of the nineteenth century. As such, words appear in the book that may offend our modern sensibilities. What is lost on some is the notion that Twain may have been using nasty words to achieve a certain realism or to make a particular statement. This seems far more likely than Mark Twain having been nothing more than a foul-mouthed racist. Even so, these concepts can be elusive to some.
What Twain may have been up to is actually sort of secondary to this issue though. By insulating ourselves from any objectionable words we also insulate ourselves from much of the darkness that surrounds such words. While it’s understandable that people want to avoid what makes them uncomfortable, we will never get through some of the terrible aspects of our past by ignoring them. The legacy of slavery, and in particular “the n-word”, are at the top of the list of the things that make us sqeamish. I really believe that, as a nation, we have really done very little to deal with some of the ugliest bits of our past. This is not to say that people should go around spouting racism with impunity. What I am saying is that language like this needs to be considered in its context. As one of the people in the segment said: “You can’t really talk about race without talking about the ugly part.” For a nation that has produced some of the world’s most sophisticated pieces of culture, we can still be kind of idiots.
“Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire” is a study in opposing impulses. In a way it’s like the person who is all too aware that their glory days are not returning. There is the recognition that Watergate was a monumental achievement, but at the same time every one of these people know something like that is never going to happen again. As such, there is a mix of triumphalism and melancholy that becomes almost uncomfortable at times.
To diminish what Watergate actually accomplished is 100% not my point here. For two reporters to effectively destroy Richard Nixon’s administration is nothing short of astonishing. It’s no exaggeration to say that Nixon was seen as an unstoppable boogeyman. That a newspaper invested the time and effort to connect the dots from a third-rate burglary all the way to Nixon himself is also something that doesn’t seem to be possible any longer. Our news cycles have become so truncated that the story would have died long before it had a chance to get any traction. This is only part of the equation though.
The more cynical among us would point out that it’s just as likely that the powerful just redoubled their efforts at protecting themselves. The convenient explanations for media conglomeration are belied by the fact that investigations like the one into Watergate are just about impossible today. Whether this is by design or just a convenient byproduct doesn’t really seem to matter to the people being interviewed. None of them come out and say it but they all seem to tacitly admit that they know Watergate was a one-time deal. What was one of journalism’s great pinnacles ended up also being one of its last triumphs, proving power sometimes learns its lessons well.
~A critique by someone who has no business critiquing anyone~
Did your mother ever give you a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or some other such book for Christmas? Your mild bemusement turns to mild irritation when you realize your mother thinks you need a self-help book. Upon leafing through, your mind suspects it’s dealing with pure hokum. The advice seems way too simplistic for the wise person you just know yourself to be. You then begin to wonder why this seemed to your mother to be tailor-made for you. It’s a vicious circle, to be sure. Drew Zandonella-Stannard’s article feels a bit like said book. To make matters worse, while the beginning of the piece seems straightforward enough, (perhaps a bit broad) the later bits really veer into incoherence. It’s harder to draw an analogy here as you’ve never made it close to the end of your gift book, but you suspect these types of pieces are always tough to wrap up succinctly.
The obvious conclusion upon first reading of the Zandonella-Stannard piece was that it might just be me, as my judgment is rarely infallible. So, I gave it to a person who is never shy about giving her unvarnished opinion on anything, ever. I was careful to not give away any of my prejudices so as not to sway her, but the verdict more or less matched my own. I then appealed to my sister because she is frankly a tiny bit square. I wanted to make sure my smarmy, cynical brain wasn’t vetoing something of value. When she came back with roughly the same assessment as us more hip people, I suspected I was on to something.
I may be past the age she is speaking about here (the three of us are, just for disclosure) but her thoughts didn’t really stir any of the memories of younger me either. The whole piece didn’t ring true. For instance, I’d desperately hate to think my mind had hardened and become immutable in my 20s. There are too many things I have discovered since then that a rigid personality would have passed over for this to be a comforting possibility. What’s more, statements like “We are attracted to people who were loved in the ways we were loved as children. We are attracted to people who are lacking in ways we understand.” try to sum up the complexity of human attraction into what amounts to a soundbite. This may perfectly crystallize her thoughts but sweeping statements about “we” sort of irritate me. If humans are so predictable, why do we exhibit such a dizzying array of truly insane fetishes? We don’t seem to be able to even distinguish between what turns us on and what might make us happy in the long term. With sentiments like this the feeling of mistrust only increases. It is at this point that the mix of “get out into the real world”, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, “we’ve all been there” and “carpe diem” messages begins to merge and seem formless. Even though you’re still reading, in your mind you’ve given up as if it were the real “Chicken Soup” book.
Anyway, when your mother buys you something that seems to showcase a lack of any deep understanding of you as a person, you may become frustrated. Nobody truly gets you. You may also pause to consider that you could have just as easily been born in a part of the world where you’d be more worried about avoiding roaming bands of people wielding machetes than either “Taco Tuesdays” or why “Taco Tuesdays” might bum you out conceptually. Kvetching over first-world problems can make you feel silly.
Original article here!