Prickly Pear

There’s this great part in The Savages where the old man picks the movie to be played at the nursing home and it’s The Jazz Singer so of course there’s this awkward moment where the black patients and especially staff are murmuring through this. I don’t know how realistic it is for them to get that far into the movie without knowing that there’s going to be Al Jolson in blackface, but anyway it brought up the old discussion of can appreciate an art form despite the wrong but accepted context of it’s time. This is something that comes up when discussing the work of H.P. Lovecraft and also, as anyone who sat through Whoopie Goldberg’s address on one of the DVD sets, Loonie Tunes. It’s a prickly pear, but I don’t avoid listening to Al Jolson because of that aspect of his act. I generally keep my art and politics separate and hope it doesn’t get me in trouble.

10 Replies to “Prickly Pear”

  1. It’s a question that I’ve had a hard time answering for myself. Take HPL. I really enjoy some of his stories, and when I read them, I pretty much ignore the descriptions of various bad guys as half-breeds, mongrelmen, dusky, swarthy, and otherwise not white. I’m guessing that if I wasn’t white, it might be harder for me to ignore the fact that I was being cast as the evil guys all the time.

    By the same token, I ignore the fact that his white New Englanders are invariably inbred or otherwise the victims of their own degenerate ancestry, and don’t take this as a judgment on myself (I’m a New Englander) or white people in general.

    Although you gotta admit, some of us are mighty pasty and freaky-looking.

    So anyway, I dunno. I don’t enjoy blackface though. And Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s makes that movie unwatchable for me.

  2. Meanwhile, it’s weird that you’re running a D&D campaign right now where race and stereotypes are a main focus of the game. Are you working out some issues on us? 🙂

  3. Niggerman was a cat in the story “The Rats in the Walls” – I don’t think HPL actually owned any cats but I could be wrong.

    Me? Issues? Always. It’s a hobby.
    I don’t think I’ve actually watched a movie with blackface in it – I think I have Jazz Singer on tape but haven’t gotten around to it. The only real exposure to that sort of thing I’ve had is Looney Tunes, Tex Avery, and similar cartoons of that era. Certainly I’ve seen a lot of old movies with racist elements, in terms of what was going on the screen and how the actors of the day were treated, i.e. Hatty McDaniels winning an Oscar for “Gone With the Wind” but having to go in and out of the venue through the back entrance. Ah, but racism certainly isn’t restricted to the good old days….

  4. As usual it is more complicated than that stocktaking. Lovecraft did in fact have cats (he was very very fond of them) and it was indeed called ‘niggerman’ (let’s acknowledge the name as it was…and not assume simply spelling the word is some kind of tacit approval) it would seem odd that this apparently odious name would be placed on a cat that by all accounts was his obvious favourite and geuinely well loved. With much of Lovecraft’s ‘racism’ and ‘misogyny’ there must have been a whole whack of cognitive dissonance going on.

    HP had a crappy attitude about race, likely a product of his peculiar upbringing, life situation and personality but it also improved over time and once again by all accounts what he spouted to friends in letters and in his ‘club (the amateur writing circles) never made it into his behaviour with people as he was courteous and considerate to everyone he met ‘pure’ or otherwise.

    Ironic that he should then go and get married to a Jewish woman from out of state. Like many interesting people Lovecraft was full of contradictions.

  5. FWIW, I don’t think HPL’s attitudes about race were particularly unusual for New England at the time he was writing.

  6. All I meant was that clearly Toren doesn’t have a problem separating his appreciation of art from its racist content or the attitudes of the artist, considering he’s been in a Lovecraft-themed band for 15 years or so.

    And you might want to think a little harder before firing off a haughty “let’s” like that one, ziller…sticking in a * isn’t anything to do with approval or disapproval, but me being unsure about policies of where Toren’s blog is hosted and trying to be considerate about the kinds of hits his blog could get when crawlers find it. If I were posting my thoughts and promoting my art on a blog, I probably wouldn’t want it turning up in searches like that one, especially if I wasn’t the one doing the typing.

  7. Tone of haughtiness, check.

    Trying to clarify what looked like a simple dismissive ‘he was a racist cause he used a bad word’, not check.

    That’s all I’m sayin ST.

    If Toren runs for office or tries to get a job working for the Democrats I’m sure this is the kind of crap those kinds of people would dig up so I can appreciate the concern (a product of warped times though it may be).

  8. High-five then.

    Sorry, Toren, for assuming you would be concerned about such things, and I know any risk is infinitesimal…I just thought it wasn’t my decision to make. There aren’t too many places I participate on teh intarwubs where there are still awesome people and no YootTube-type morons, and a * is an easy techno-hedge, as distasteful as it is.

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