2017-01-12

sovay: (Viktor & Mordecai)
I go back and forth on whether I think "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is more frightening in the original stage version of Cabaret or in Bob Fosse's 1972 film. Dramatically, I find it more upsetting when it reprises as the first-act finale at the engagement party of Frau Schneider and Herr Schultz, which until then has been so joyous and informal as to include a song with Yiddish lyrics; musically, the crashing, triumphal arrangement of the beer garden scene actually scares me, the exultant repetition, the way people surge to their feet with a fervor like anger in their faces, even if the lip-synching throws me out a little. Talking with [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel last night in the shower, I realized why the song is disturbing to me: not just because of its pastoral, romantic imagery that darkens so successfully into martial nationalism that Kander and Ebb were accused of transplanting a real-life Nazi anthem into a Broadway musical, or because we know where history is heading long before our protagonists do, or even because it's the Nazis, but because it derives its gut-punch effect in both versions from how suddenly and dangerously the tone of a group can change around a person. At the party, thinking you were safe among friends and discovering that you're not. At the beer garden, thinking you were safe among strangers and discovering that you're not. All around you, people are declaring themselves your enemy—whether they know you personally or not—and in less than three minutes it's done; you're not safe here; now you know. I likened it to watching the election results come in in November. I know now that Trump lost the popular vote by millions and squeaked through the electoral college on the technicalities of a nineteenth-century racist system, but at the time it was exactly that sudden draining disorientation: I am living in a country that is against me. Admittedly the experience had neither the clarity of hindsight nor a catchy melody, but maybe if I wait twenty years.

The internet tells me that one of Trump's reactions to the release of the dossier that is currently consuming the news as well as inspiring Chuck Tingle was to demand, "Are we living in Nazi Germany?" I actually spent a moment trying to figure out how he meant the question—which side of this historical projection did he see himself on? Was he actually claiming victimhood on the scale of the Holocaust? If his familiar complaint of "fake news" was intended to echo his supporters' cries of Lügenpresse, didn't he realize he was identifying himself with the NSDAP instead?—before I realized it was irrelevant: Trump has absorbed that a Nazi is the worst thing you can call your political enemies regardless of their actual behaviors or beliefs (and regardless of yours, too) and hurled it out into the crowd to see if he could make it stick. I feel no surprise at his continuing dearth of historical awareness, but I do hope it further disappoints his neo-Nazi supporters who were counting on him being the great white nationalist hope of their generation. They're already having a hard time organizing their hate march in Montana. Let it only get harder from here. [edit: Looks like it did.] They had enough of the past; they don't get tomorrow.
sovay: (Rotwang)
1. Courtesy of Dean: Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham, "Here Comes the Judge." It's an incredible recording. I had never heard of either Markham or his most famous routine, although [livejournal.com profile] derspatchel started quoting the song the minute I mentioned the title; if someone had played it for me cold and asked me when I thought it was recorded, barring the Vietnam references I'd have guessed the early '80's at least. It has the vocal rhythms of old-school hip-hop, the percussive swagger, and it is play-on-loop catchy. It was recorded in 1968, after Sammy Davis, Jr. revived the routine for a white audience on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (Markham was later invited onto the show himself). The B-side sketch it leads into has a punch line that dates back to vaudeville, but it's so well-delivered I don't care. He performed in blackface—a black man wearing burnt cork—until 1943. America gonif?

2. [livejournal.com profile] heliopausa asked if I knew of any Allied novels or movies from World War II that acknowledged the humanity of the Japanese in the same way that The Moon Is Down (1943) acknowledged the humanity of the Germans: I couldn't think of any. Postwar films with wartime settings, yes: Sessue Hayakawa playing the honorable enemy in Three Came Home (1950) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), James Shigeta as a sympathetic American-married diplomat in Bridge to the Sun (1961), I assume-to-hope there were more and more nuanced portrayals as the years went by and Hollywood became incrementally less racist. (As of last year there is finally a movie about Chiune Sugihara, although it is ineligible for purposes of this discussion because it is a Japanese production and has yet to play somewhere I can see it.) Between 1942 and 1946, however, pretty much everything that I know came out of Hollywood was either a racist cartoon of the kind it still upsets me that Dr. Seuss ever drew or a faceless wall of the enemy in their numbers, not exactly surprising from a country that couldn't see the disjoint of liberating concentration camps while fencing its own citizens behind barbed wire.* I know there was some sympathetic reportage, but I don't know if it made it into art. Behind the Rising Sun (1943) was definitely not it. I should like to believe there was at least one humanizing novel written by an Allied author at the time, but I don't know what it is or where to look for it. Outside of the U.S.? Anyone got pointers? Or was it all just as bad as Our Enemy—The Japanese (1943)?

* I am still sad that I couldn't get to the theatrical broadcast of Allegiance when it came around in December. Tangenting off on Hollywood depictions of Japanese-Americans did turn up something interesting: Robert Pirosh's Go for Broke! (1951), which appears to celebrate the heroism of Nisei soldiers—and admit the irony of their circumstances—considerably earlier than I thought this country had gotten around to and cast real-life veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in major roles. It's in the public domain thanks to failure to renew copyright, so I may try to check it out. Hell to Eternity (1960) sounds fascinating but also as though it may have whitewashed its protagonist, so I'm still thinking it over.

3. I was just obliged to fill out a demographic form and was reminded that the definition of "White" according to the U.S. Census Bureau parenthetically specifies "Not Hispanic or Latino" and then goes on to apply to "A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa." Huh? I thought. Outside of the contingent whiteness of Ashkenazi Jews, when has anyone with roots in the Middle East ever been viewed as white in this country? So I poked at the internet and discovered the answer was 1909, when Syrian immigrant George Shishim sued for the right to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, which at that time depended on ethnographically proving his whiteness because the United States couldn't be bothered to extend its rights and privileges to its non-white residents. So that was an even more fucked-up answer than I had expected.

These are the kinds of historical facts it makes me feel stupid to learn only now, but at least I am learning them. On the brighter side, [livejournal.com profile] teenybuffalo tagged a portrait for me and now I will happily learn more about both Romaine Brooks and Gluck, neither of whom I had previously heard of. Also there is now an Estonian ferry with Tom of Finland's art all over it and that can only be a good thing for the world. Apparently that was April Fool's Day last year. I maintain it would have been great business. The painters are still real, though.
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