[Each year for the last couple, I’ve followed up my Valentine’s series with a week AmericanStudying some things of which I’m not as big a fan. This crowd-sourced grudge match is drawn from the response of fellow AmericanStudies—add your thoughts and non-favorites in comments, please!]
Responding to Monday’s To Kill a Mockingbird post, Tim McCaffrey writes, “Excellent take. I like the novel quite a bit but agree that it tends to be overblown with regard to race. I always felt that it speaks more to integrity than race. When I first read it, I was reminded of John Adams' legal defense of the British soldiers.”
Responding to Wednesday’s Mad Men post, Nancy Caronia writes, “A-freaking-men, and why i could never watch more than a few episodes. It might do interesting things with that narrow view of America in the '60s and the acting might be okay, but I just felt such a patina of forced falseness, I could not engage. And I tried, numerous times with numerous seasons.”
On the same post, Harrison Chute comments, “I agree -- and for the record, the issue of race is decidedly not rectified in S6 and S7. I have no memory of the black secretary, Dawn, though her not having a dramatically satisfying closure is consistent with all supporting characters. Mad Men always seemed trapped between its literary ambition and the traditions of the television medium, as showrunner Matthew Weiner is very old guard, having contributed significantly to The Sopranos. And so the prevailing question for the show, even for me who loves it, is... why seven seasons? The middle seasons offer very little in development for Draper, measured directly against Peggy's advancement, so instead we get this granularity of character in 'character-driven' moments, which too have little bearing on the long game. At that point it becomes television entertainment only, and that works for some (like easily impressed TV critics), and doesn't for others.”
Whereas Emily responds, “While I agree with you about most of this, when you finish, I'd love to have a conversation about how the show offers and explores different models of successful (white) womanhood in this particular milieu. I also think that while offered too little screen time, the acting and writing for the black tertiary characters (all women) was really good. Dawn and Shirley do get more development, though they stay minor.”
Responding to Thursday’s Africa and pop music post, Summer Lopez writes, “Okay, a push-back: while ‘We are the World’ may have helped raise awareness, it also added to the overriding image of Africa as a desperate place in need of saving by the West. (Don't even get me started on ‘Do They Know it's Christmas?’ - even if Bono did participate.) Graceland, however, also raised awareness, but of African music and artists. It was the first time I ever really heard African music, and probably for a long time Ladysmith Black Mambazo was the only African musician or musical group I could have named. Paul Simon gave South African artists who were silenced by the apartheid regime a global platform and helped expose westerners to a side of Africa rarely depicted elsewhere - its culture, talent, and beauty. I think in the long run that's a far more valuable contribution.” She follows up, “Also just to add I think ‘WATW’ also contributed to the view of 'Africa' as a place that could be subject to a single description or stereotype. With Graceland at least you knew they were *South African* musicians.”
Responding to the same post, Andrea Grenadier also disagrees, writing, “I think your comments about Graceland were a bit too dismissive. Sure, one could cavil with Paul Simon's ‘appropriation,’ if you want to call it that. But there's a difference in working in idioms that honor a country's music, and shamelessly ripping it off. Paul Simon gave much-needed attention to the African music scene, to the point where he helped to make some careers flourish even more, including Ladysmith Black Mambazo. When Graceland came out in 1986, it also spurred other musicians to incorporate Affrican singers into their fold, including Youssou N'Dour on Peter Gabriel's So, also in 1986. Paul Simon is singular in other ways, and way ahead of the pack; way back in 1973, he headed down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record parts of There Goes Rhymin' Simon there, adding the Dixie Hummingbirds to the soundtrack. So I think of his work as more stretching idioms, and featuring the heart, soul, and idea of a place to make the music more present than it could have been otherwise.”
Responding to Friday’s historical figure list, Andrew DaSilva nominates “Some more to add to your list: Dr. Taliaferro Clark & Dr. Raymond A. Vonderlehr (for their part in the Tuskegee experiment); Ronald (union busting of the air traffic controllers) and Nancy Reagan (in particular her Just Say No campaign); and UN ambassador John Bolton.”
On the same post, Nancy Caronia writes, “You are not going to like this one [BEN: She’s right, but I appreciate it just the same!], and I don't either. Bruce Springsteen. You know I love him. You know I do. BUT when he wrote The River, it was a direct response to the encroaching neoliberal economic and political policies that were decimating (and, I might add, continue to decimate) public services for the poor, working, and middle classes. Now, one might think The River tour on which he and the E Street Band is embarked works in direct correlation to that timeframe with what is happening during this election cycle. BUT from where I'm sitting, he's playing music meant for a downtrodden people and the only ones who can afford a freaking ticket are those who have somehow gained economically through neoliberal economic policies (and now global service provider policies). He's playing to the audience that most needs to learn about this kind of poverty and destitution, but will be the ones least likely to listen too closely. I just want to smack him upside his head.”
Some other non-favs responses:
Amy Johnson writes, “I really did not enjoy A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when I was assigned to read it.”
Rob Velella highlights, “Henry James. I just don't get it. I remember being told that, even if I thought I didn't like Henry James, I'd still appreciate The Turn of the Screw. Finally read it, still didn't care for it/him. Also, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I find him pretentious, wordy, and opaque.” Andrea Grenadier agrees with Rob on both counts, but disagrees with Amy on James Joyce!
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Other non-favorites you’d share?
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