Saturday, August 23, 2014
A Notable Anniversary
I catch just enough television to know that this summer of 2014 marked several significant anniversaries. It was the 50th anniversary of The Beatles arriving in the US. It was the 45th anniversary of the first landing of mankind on the moon (hard to believe it’s been almost 42 years since the last manned landing on the moon, unfortunately). Unremarked by most, though, is perhaps the most significant anniversary of all.
I refer, of course, to the 40th anniversary of the death of white racism in the United States.
White racism in this country had been mortally wounded and lingering since August of 1963. That’s when Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed his dream of a time when the nation would live up to its creed that “all men are created equal,” and his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. In the summer of 1974 the final end arrived with the release of the funniest movie of all time: “Blazing Saddles.”
Now, you might try to argue with the claim that “Blazing Saddles” is the funniest movie ever, but I’ve never doubted it since the first time I saw it, and according to a recent interview with the director, Mel Brooks, he makes the same assertion. Brooks said that he’d put his movie up against any other funny movie of your choice and in a side by side comparison he guaranteed that his would still get more, longer laughs than any other film. I don’t doubt it. To this day some of my friends and I can still crack ourselves up just by quoting a line from the movie. Like a certain brand of potato chip, however, you can’t just do one. Inevitably we wind up doing several minutes of dialog before we’re done.
But I digress.
The point here is that by the time white audiences walked out of the theaters after falling out of their seats laughing any remaining trace of racism they might have harbored in the inner recesses of their souls had been obliterated. The relentless, unblinking use of a certain word and the portrayal of those who used that word as ignorant buffoons who must be rescued from their benighted state by the noble minorities (even the Irish) made the retention of any racist attitudes unpalatable to the viewer. Brooks had completely succeeded in portraying white racism as the province of flatulent and backwards rubes, and no self-respecting person could think of himself as being included in that class or would allow herself to be thought of by others as possibly being among that kind of people. People of good will and character had been stung by King’s not so subtle reminder that white society was hypocritical in its pride over the worthy ideals upon which the nation had been founded while tolerating in both others and themselves lingering traces of the racist attitudes which had still been common just a few years earlier. While the “I Have a Dream” speech may have made people uncomfortable enough to start rethinking their earlier attitudes, “Blazing Saddles” absolutely gutted racism as a viable attitude.
Like the occasional twitching and sounds coming from a recent corpse which give the illusion of lingering life there occasionally may be the appearance of something resembling life in white racism, but it is time for everyone to accept the fact that it is dead. Despite all the many attempts to sustain it by those who have something to gain by keeping it alive, there only remain scattered bits and pieces of cellular activity slowly fading into oblivion. Eventually the last anachronistic elements will be flickering out for the last time.
Unfortunately, like a doctor who can’t accept the death of a patient and so keeps looking for that one last miracle, so there are those who refuse to accept the death of white racism. Their well-being and future depend on having a visible enemy to fight so they must find some way to resurrect the dead. To do so they have cobbled together a Frankenstein’s Monster version of racism, made up mostly of stuff that isn’t racism at all but which, when suitably dressed up, can be paraded in front of the gullible crowds as a living example of the object of their fears. Take a little bit of prejudice here, add some bigotry there, jump start it with a suitably shocking press conference loaded with lots of heat and little light and pretty soon you have a dancing simulacrum* of racism with which to impress and frighten the marks in the ongoing shakedown scam. But it isn’t real white racism.
King and Brooks, a black preacher and a Jewish movie director, killed the real thing. After 40 years, maybe it’s time to stop beating the dead horse in a futile attempt to get one more lap out of it.
* simulacrum: 1. any image or representation of something; 2. a slight, unreal, or vague semblance of something; superficial likeness