Friday, January 29, 2010


The White Stripes - 'Conquest,' from 'Icky Thump'

So, what a week; we talked about some exciting things: pro-wrestling, conquistadors, violence, the conventional sexual and physical abuse of women by stereotypical 'manly' men, you know, the good stuff. So, enjoy a little White Stripes, and I'll break it down as follows.

I didn't believe it, 'Wrestling With Manhood' had to have just been spin; the director of the film was just bitter about the WWE. So I thought, well, WWE was in our fine city last weekend, I'll just watch a neutral episode of Raw and see for myself. Holy s**t. I saw for myself.

Although there weren't scenes quite as horrific as the simulated rape or physical abuse of man on woman, the female characters were still objectified, stripped of their clothes and femininity, and made a joke. There were at least (I couldn't watch the entire episode of You Tube fault and my own disgust) two 'Diva' matches featuring scantily clad female 'athletes' locked in fierce battle. And what toasted me the most was how loudly Columbus was cheering for this...I had to ask, isn't my city better then this?

I can't even begin to imagine the scores of fetish-like pleasures men derive from this act. However, I can imagine how destructive it is on the already impossible to achieve imagine of man. Power, Dominance, Overt-Sexuality, these factors of man's manhood not only show up during the circus of the profane in WWE, but also in....

Sex (Wedding Crashers)
Manhood, hoorah. Nothing says total "dude-ness" like a good round of alcohol and some commitment free sex. After all, commitment isn't for real men, just countless acts of sexuality with innumerable nameless women. At least Wedding Crashers is funny about it, learning lessons in subtlety that the WWE could borrow from...

Not unlike our conquistadors trading women for gold, Vaughn and Wilson spend the first half of this narrative following an almost religious in scale doctrine on the art of catching women at weddings. Luckily, their characters settle down and into steady, more WOman friendly relationships, so its a happy ending.

With that being said, sexuality is deeply rooted into the foundries of our country, after all, look at the conquistador tradition found in the South Americas. Surely it was the same with our American pilgrims. It appears to be the same in our native literature.

New Spain:
The first thing I wanted to do with this book was find something in it I could relate too. Problem: I'm no macho man, no gun slinging sword slinging kill first ask questions later kind of tough guy. Then I remembered a few things about the life and times of Tony DeGenaro:

I have been to Tucson, Arizona.

During my visit I can vividly remember a few things, and the most striking was a sense of history and pride that comes from our neighbors to the south. It was amazing how pieces of culture from Mexico had made its way into our popular culture around Tucson. It is as if the spirit of those conquested by Spain trying to in turn slip into the US, and its all real cool stuff, so I'm in no way nervous or complaining.

Another comparison I cannot help but make, particularly in the wake of reading about our Indian friends, were the reservations. Even though I was quite young, I can still remember a serious feeling of defense; protecting their tradition, cultures, etc...I know what was felt when New Spain marched up through Now-Mexico, and it's sort of saddening.

As I consider the text, the hyperbole, the mess of violent images, I can see a lot of todays pop culture bleeding the violence, manliness and sexuality of this text.

Here in this island the Captain began to command energetically, and Our Lord so favoured hm that whatever he touched succeeded, especially the pacification of the people and towns thereabouts (Diaz, 58)

I think this quote best exemplifies the nature of what Diaz saw and wrote about.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Woman's Indian Captivity; or Poor Mary, Poor Poor MaryT

Oh the guilt!

It was this guilt, not unlike Hawthorne's guilt from his Puritan ancestry, that shaded our class Tuesday morning. "We Shall Remain," a very well put together documentary chronicling the arrival of the Plymouth settlement by the Puritan, and the very first relations with the Native American, this film exposes the two-faced nature of the Pilgrim.

Although the very first settlers are receptive, albeit nervous as young xenophobia develops quickly in the new nation, there is a tense alliance made between the Wampanoag leader Massasoit and Massachusetts governor Edward Windslow. These two men, both pioneers in acceptance and their America, share a close and strong relationship of learning and sharing: a sort of give and take into each culture. However, we learn tragically this bond is not strong enough to last future generations.

After Windslow passes, the Pilgrim's presence in New England rapidly outnumbers the presence of the Indian Tribes, and soon begins the first Native American genocide done by the Europeans.

Massasoit's son, both Metacomet and Philips as perhaps an example of the faux-strength Massasoit saw in the Wampanoag/Pilgrim relations, eventually will be forced to wage war against the second and third generation of European.

This war, which ultimately fails earns the name "King Philip's War," rages for one year and results in the loss of 15% of New England's Native population. This war will leave fear in the hearts of the settlers, and perhaps prepare generations to come for warfare (maybe against England....only history will tell.)

However, this war will also effect the popular culture of New England; enter Mary Rowlandson's detailed literary account on the strength in times of captivity. Her tale, although completely detailed remains a harrowing portrait of the cruelty the Native American were forced to use during the war.

Mary Rowlandson: colonial woman, mother, wife, prisoner of eleven weeks under Indian captivity. Within the pages of "The Sovereignty and Goodness of God," Rowlandson in an almost passive and journalistic fashion retells the events leading up to and the context of her capture.

"It was a solemn sight to see so many Christians lying in their blood, some here and some there, like a company of sheep torn by wolves." Not only is this one of my favorite quotes from the narrative, but it also is a strong assertion from Rowlandson. Amazingly, she is able to recount the death of her youngest daughter, Sarah, the sacking of her village and home, and yet she is able to endure and STILL have her faith guiding her. She is not in hysterics, she is simply stating that even the best shepard will not prevent every wolf, and that by their faith, the rest of the flock, including herself, will be delivered into safety.

She possesses her time reading and closely studying the bible, soul searching for some rationality behind the status of her capture. She resolves, that after the brutal stay with the Indian, that "I have learned to look beyond present and smaller troubles and to be quieted under them, as Moses said stand still and see the salvation of the Lord."

Sort of a happy ending to both a disturbing and, sorry Mary, slightly boring narrative.

I wonder, dear readers, what if any value this publication had on two fronts:
(1) How greatly does this book inform readers in modern time of the cultures of the Indian and the Pilgrim?
(2) And how greatly does this book affect readers? I'm talking about generating racism, xenophobia felt towards the Indian? Can we rationalize her captivity for what happened to the
Wampanoag and other New England Indian tribes, or does Rowlandson's book simply paint them in a savage, terrorist like light?

I mean, we did pillage, murder and steal their land....

Friday, January 15, 2010

Young Goodman Brown

Guilt guilt guilt.

This is the recurring theme behind Hawthorne's tale of perhaps man's greatest evil: suspicion. This 1835 story comes right in time, to follow Cotton Mather's incendiary 'On Witchcraft." Hawthorne, who was born in Salem, and had to bear witness to the horrors of the Witch trials; later in his life, he would have to bear the generational guilt.

Hawthorne even says: "The spirit of my Puritan ancestors is mighty in me."

I can't help but compare this suffrage Hawthorne suffers for his father's generation, to the pain Art Speigleman wrestles with in his graphic memoir: "Maus," in which he grapples with his father's time in Auschwitz, and questions his worth in comparison to what his father, Vladek, went through.

I cannot help but imagine Nathaniel feeling pains for his writing's commercial success despite the dark nature of his work, particularly Goodman Brown. His mannerisms reflect this: he was known as reclusive, impenetrable, compassionate yet spiteful. His entire generation was one of alienation, greed and violence.

At any rate, the story, in short:

Goodman Brown mysteriously stalks out of his home, leaving behind his wife, Fate (like that's not an obvious symbol Nate...) and into the woods. At the time, unchecked wilderness, which was 90% of the American continent then, was nothing but a breeding place for great evil. So, bizarrely and out of character for good man like Goodman Brown, he travels into the depths of the wilderness and ends up meeting who we can assume is the devil; worse yet, he sees all the good townsfolk participating in some sort of Satanic ceremony, perhaps all becoming witches. Bad news bears. Brown goes home to Faith, but is disenchanted, untrustworthy, you know, all the stuffs that makes awful and frightening neighbors, the kind you had during the witch trials.

"Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch meeting?" Asks the narrative. "Brown turned pale, dreading les tthe roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemers and his hearers." Reacts Goodman, obviously wrought with distrust.

I draw another cultural connection, Meryil Streep in the film Doubt, in which she defies faith (HA) and her oath in order to preserve (in her opinion) the well being of her students. This is so like the pious committees of witch judges, not unlike a guilty Hawthorne's fathers.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cotton Mather: Pop Culture Critic

Can I make a point? If the Mather family was so well off, how come nobody taught little Cotton proper punctuation? Let's talk italics and cApItaLizaTiOn.

Forget it, I can't be fickle, obviously Mather and specifically "On Witchcraft" has something going for it, albeit an old school spin on a really scary story. The book, one of over three hundred other published works from Cotton Mather, is an account of devils, demons and Satan himself in New England. Almost an "Idiots Guide to Outing Witches."

"On Witchcraft," the product of Mather's response to the witch hysteria in and around Boston and Salem, was published in 1692. His career as a theologian and pastor at the Old North Church makes this response all the more valuable and credible to the fearful and pious Christians of the Early American Colonies. Included in the (difficult to read) text includes methods to prevent temptation and the devil's vile ways, detect who is a witch, methods to avoid temptation and how to remain a faithful Christian during the tring times of the Witch outbreak, and ultimately, the Salem Trials.

I want to take a moment to sort of move away from the text of "On Witchcraft," and pose a question: did this hysteria ever cease?

"A particularly harrowing scene from Paranormal Activity in which the Demon visits Mica and Katie"

Of the top grossing films of this year, it was the horror genre that led the charts. Films like "Drag Me To Hell," "The Haunting in Connecticut," "Underworld," "The Unborn," and "Paranormal Activity," we see a new means of entertainment media focusing on those unfortunate occupants of hell, devils, witches, and demons. Although a little different then the cautionary text of "On Witchcraft," you can still easilly see a parallel between perhaps a voyeristic desire to read up on the Salem witches in 1692, to today's wide movie going audience looking for a scare.

Now, follow me here, becuase I know groups of New Englanders aren't quite looking to burn each other at the stake anymore, but what cause for films like these is there other then a curiosity for some netherworldly force?

It's not much more then a head scratcher, but for a second I'll suspend my disbelief of the undead and assume the Salem Witch Trials actually did punish the devil incarnate in Puritan men and women. Fast forward to 2009's "Paranormal Activity," which for the record is completely fiction. Still. The movie's villian, a demon who seems to jump from female to female buring down homes and killing idiot boyfriends before leaving the host woman to ruin a few other lives, is supposedly out there. Yikes!

"a Popish Curate having ineffectually try'd many Charms to Eject the Devil out of a Damsel there possessed, he passionately bid the Devil come out of her into himself," (17) writes Mather of a particularly harmful encounter with the demon; does anybody remember this EXACT SCENE from "The Exceroist"?

This is scary stuff friends: demons posessing people, maliciously entering the willing bodies of the clergey, the townsfolk of Salem, Boston, all over New England have found themselves engaged in an epic battle between the forces of good and God against the very filth of hell. Sounds like one hell of a movie. The catch is, Mather believes what he's writing, the people believe what they are reading, this stuff, in the world of seventeenth century America, is freakin real. Again, YIKES!

How to conclude? The point I'm trying to get across is I think a simple one, "On Witchcraft," although difficult to read and true, embodies one of the first archetypal "lore" of Amerciana pop culture. Put Mather in a movie theater today and something like this text would be the result of his screening of "Paranormal Activity" perhaps. Furthermore, the book makes a benchmark for the beginnings of both American pulp writing (remember, Mather had over three hundred works published) AND literature in general, not to mention evangelical preaching.

I liked "On Witchcraft," it was so hard to read, almost old English seeming at times; the narrative is horrific in the same ways that any scare flick would be these days, difference being, there aren't clever special effects behind what Salem witnessed. Just faith, and that itself is pretty cool.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Beginnings of...Something

One of the topics of study for our American Literature class is Emily Dickinson, and in my brief research, I found an excellent selection form a first lines index for one of her collections, thus attracting my eye was:

adventure most unto itself

and for some reason was instantly fascinated. I mean, the journey that literature took: also riding on the boats with the Pioneers, traveling in physical and oral tradition with the Native Americans and being birthed alongside a nation of it's own; in conclusion, American Literature, specifically early work, endured a journey like no other literary tradition, and fell into many delicate hands of writers, poets and artists.

Wrestling with these ideas and the meaning of my close study of this literature, I present the whole of Dickinson's poem, with the intended spirit that our own journey down the road of academic pursuit, is very similar to that of our subject itself:

Part Five: The Single Hound


ADVENTURE most unto itself
The Soul condemned to be;
Attended by a Single Hound—
Its own Identity.

And on the lighter side, I present the seemingly collective guilty pleasure,
Party in the USA...