ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Category Archives: News and politics

Skin Trouble, 1943

An excerpt read from Woody Guthrie’s book Bound for Glory; as relevant now as when he published it in 1943.

This is included in an event we planned to celebrate Guthrie’s music, life and writings.

— DA

P.S. Please see the following written text for the excerpt.

While we walked away, holding our faces to the slight breath of air that was moving across the yards, he asked , ‘Say your name was?’

I said, ‘Woody.’

‘Mine’s Brown. Glad ta meet you, Woody. You know I’e run onto this skin color before.’ He walked long the cinders.

‘Skin trouble. That’s a damn good name for it. ‘ I walked along beside him.

‘Hard to cure it after it gets started, too. I was born and raised in a country that’s got all kinds of diseases, and this skin trouble is the worst on of the lot,’ he told me.

‘Bad,’ I answered him.

‘I got sick and tired of that kind of stuff when I was just a kid growing up at home. You know. God, I had hell with some of my folks about things like that. But, seems like, little at a time, I’d sort of convince them, you know; lots of folks I never could convince. They’re kind of like the old bellyache fellow, they cause a lot of trouble to a hundred people. and then to a thousand people, all on account of just some silly, crazy notion. Like you can help what color you are. Goddamit all. Why do’t they spend that same amount of time and trouble doing something good…?

— Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory pg. 221

Not So Creative Commons

Many of us rely on the efforts of musicians, actors, painters and filmmakers these days to entertain us and fill the hours inside. Yet posts and articles abound lately about the challenges artists face finding forums for their work and getting paid. In a putative free-market economy, many of us take it for granted that musicians, artists, actors, writers and others of the creative class will continue to produce original work for the rest of us to be entertained and edified by, all the while struggling to pay their bills.

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Beyond this, there is the question of censorship. It is one thing if authorities in Hong Kong, or Moscow or even Washington D.C. take action to limit free speech. It is another if artists censor themselves, Creative expression depends on a willingness to confront uncomfortable, even politically-incorrect truths. The United States especially, like other liberal democracies, prides itself on a tradition of free speech without fear or reluctance to address difficult issues. Writers and artists produced work even under the emperors in ancient Rome. In the present polarized environment, this has become problematic.

Please see the following message from the director of a theater group canceling a sketch comedy performance on the eve of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Critical points are in bold. For the record, the performance parodied both candidates, as well as other political figures (including someone whose name starts with ‘P’ in Russia). The writer made the requested revisions. The reason given for canceling was not the quality of the script, but that the performers were not comfortable with the subject in the current political climate. We are all living with the results of the election. We’ll never know the consequence or worthiness of the performance.  — DA

11/9/16: 11-19 Opening Sketch Post-Election

Thank you for sending the updated script of the sketch and everything – I’ve read over it and like it a lot with the adjustments.

Unfortunately, I’m in a bit of a mess here. My actors are protesting performing the sketch. They are not comfortable doing anything Trump related currently, and are saying that they will not perform in the show if we perform said sketch.

As a producer, this is a really hard call for me. I love working with new and local artists and also the time that we have devoted to doing the sketch already, I would want to put it up on its feet to showcase your writing/work with all of the hard work and thought you put into it.

Due to the circumstance that I am in, combined with the issues with my actors/performers, we may have to put this sketch on hold and not perform it in November.

I apologize sincerely with this news – it feels as though it is the safest one to make currently. We would love to possibly have another sketch for another month in the future, though, that we could possibly do. I will be the one, if needed, to post on social media or any other source stating that we won’t have the sketch, but I doubt that it will be necessary.

Please let me know possibly if you have a sketch or anything you’d like to put up for December or January – that would be the best bet and I am sure after a month, things will have cooled down a bit since at least some time has passed.

My sincerest apologies and best,

On Wed, Nov 9, 2016 at 5:05 PM ___ wrote:

Please see attached first take allowing for the Donald’s election. Starts page 14. I’ll work up another ‘just a dream’ version. I’ll send tomorrow and we can decide.

You familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?   The BBC radio version from the late 70s/80s is is online and is outstanding .

Remember: Don’t panic, and always carry a towel.

What Goes Around —

— Seems to comes around again eventually. Before Nickle & Dimed, there was George Orwell’s Down & Out in Paris & London on the plight of the poor in the 1920s. While ‘sheltering’, coping with lockdown puritanism, and hoping you can pay your bills, you can listen to Down & Out, plus Orwell’s other work, courtesy of BBC Radio. – DA

The stars are a free show; it don’t cost anything to use your eyes.’

‘What a good idea! I should never have thought of it.’

‘Well, you got to take an interest in something. It don’t follow that because a man’s on the road he can’t think of anything but tea-and-two-slices.’

‘But isn’t it very hard to take an interest in things—things like stars—living this life?’

‘Screeving, you mean? Not necessarily. It don’t need turn you into a bloody rabbit—that is, not if you set your mind to it.’

‘It seems to have that effect on most people.’

… ‘But you don’t need to get like that. If you’ve got any education, it don’t matter to you if you’re on the road for the rest of your life.’

‘Well, I’ve found just the contrary,’ I said. ‘It seems to me that when you take a man’s money away he’s fit for nothing from that moment.’

‘No, not necessarily. If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can still keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, “I’m a free man in here”‘—he tapped his forehead—’and you’re all right…’

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933

Leadership Trivia

One of our associates used the following inspiring speech in teaching his English class. Do you know the name of the person who originally presented the speech? Extra points for the year and occasion. Hint: It’s not by one of our current world leaders.

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an Emperor — that’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible — Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another; human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful.

But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me I say, “Do not despair.” The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass and dictators die; and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers: Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel; who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate; only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers: Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written, “the kingdom of God is within man” — not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite!! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfill their promise; they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people!! Now, let us fight to fulfill that promise!! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers: In the name of democracy, let us all unite!!!

 

Please click the link to hear the original audio of this speech in a new page at American Rhetoric.

– DA

The Machine Stops

Readings from E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops (1909). Created for the ALCStudies project on Technology in Literature & Popular Culture.

Open to the Good

An update from one of our associates in Latin America. – DA

The C-virus put the hammer down like Thor in the Vikings series for the time-being on plans to go RV-camping in the U.S.. So we are are focusing on plans closer to home. Very close. Not only are flights out restricted, I’m told we are restricted from even going outside our apartment, pending a three-hundred dollar fine and arrest. So we do exercises and yoga, drink wine, fix good food, read and watch Netflix. Sex gets a pretty good thumbs-up, too.

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Chana Masala, in Case You Were Wondering (And we have to replace those place-mats.)

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Sincere experts and virtue-signaling harpies on the web give us advice to focus on the positive – exhorting us to breathe, eat and improve ourselves to make a gift of our enforced isolation. At the same time social media has given rise to a cottage industry emphasizing the current mayhem of the world and pushing our fear buttons. This is nothing new, as evidenced by Old Testament fixations on blood and revenge, prognostications revealed to the Greeks in the intestines of animals, murder and alarm in the penny press of Dickens’ day and the Hearst papers’ yellow journalism. Human beings love a good disaster, real or presumed. It makes us feel virtuous if we survive.

I refuse to be guilted or shamed for acknowledging what is in front of my face based on fifty-plus years of experience. And honestly, the hype and continuous doom-saying vying with those preaching unthinking optimism in these latter days grows a trifle boring. A therapist I visited a few years back when I was in the midst of darkness gave me advice I cherish every day: try to remain open to the good. So here goes.

After a few false starts I found a gig teaching conversational English for non-native speakers. Teaching draws on my background in education, theater and writing. More than that, I enjoy it. It allows me to get paid for bullshitting part of the time.1 One of my students is a young man about my son’s age. I’ll call him Juan. Juan runs his own IT consulting business and is good at what he does. His customers include banks, businesses and government agencies. Juan often texts me saying he’s running a few minutes behind, which is pretty de rigueur  for business owners. We’ve developed a good rapport that includes being flexible on time.

I bring in exercises Juan and I work on covering diction, pronunciation and fluency. English is a weird amalgam of Latin and German with a few other languages thrown in. Juan, who has a Ph.D. from a business school in Italy, often has specific questions on expressions and idioms. We have fun tracking down word origins and meanings. His questions often prompt me to draw on outside resources on the web and elsewhere. Apparently there was a reason for my reading Partridges Etymological Dictionary twenty years ago. I also get to practice diagramming sentences, something I actually enjoyed in school.

English may be lingua franca for business (for now), but English is not simply English. Juan conducts conference calls with customers in the U.S., Canada, the UK and India, as well as Brazil and Argentina. His English reading and writing skills for emails and business documents are excellent. But sorting out what is being said and expressing ideas verbally over the phone, with different accents and often without the benefit of facial expressions and body language, can be a challenge. So we focus on his enunciation as well as listening skills.

Juan surprised me early on by telling me he was interested in children’s stories rather than simply business English and technical jargon. He wants to help his two young daughters as well as help his business. So we’ve added Dr. Suess and Beatrix Potter into the mix. My mother read books by these authors and others to my brothers and sister and me when I was a kid. I, in turn, read them to my two children. Reading aloud confers a special bond. Wordplay and rhyme allow the gift of quality time and interaction between parents and kids.2 I’ve talked to my mother about this and thanked her. I’m honored to pass the gift on.

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1Thanks to Andrew Hearle at Stagemilk for encouragement and ideas.

2See Walter Ong’s, Orality & Literacy, as well as Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading.

2nd Installment: Tuberculosis in the 50s

Please see (hear) the second installment from a new fiction work-in-progress we are sponsoring. Thanks. – DA

Audio File: Tuberculosis in the 50s (New Fiction)

Coronavirus today; AIDS in the 80s. Through the 1950s people were afraid of the white death, AKA tuberculosis. Please listen to the initial installment from a novel in progress submitted to us about a young woman diagnosed with the disease.

This is read by one of our staff. We are considering it for possible audio serialization. For more information on TB, please see Susan Sontag’s Illness As Metaphor.

Thanks for visiting. — DA

 

On Volunteering at Quillette

Please see a new essay published by our Director of Outreach, Chuck Lanigan, at Quillette, titled Something for Nothing — the Importance of Mindful Volunteering . — DA

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