The Septuagenarian Speaks – June 24, 2020
The other day was my 78th birthday. Holy moly! Only two years left of septuagenarian-hood (if I make it that long)! Out of curiosity, I looked back to see what I had written for the Siskiyou Daily News one year ago, and discovered that what I wrote then is profoundly more relevant today. With your indulgence (and that of SDN editor Skye Kinkade), I would like to reprise last year’s column verbatim, with an addendum.
Last year’s column:
“My wife’s birthday gift to me was a DVD of “Blazing Saddles,” a movie released, if you can believe it, forty-five years ago. She chose that gift out of a not-unreasonable fear that it might be banned in the future as the Political-Correctness Nazis are gradually undermining our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
I am afraid … very afraid. What is happening? People want to ban “Blazing Saddles?”
Even Mark Twain, more than one-hundred years after his death, is under fire. A few years ago, “new” editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were published in which the offensive racial epithets “injun” and “nigger” were replaced by “Indian” and slave.” The original language of Mark Twain’s books has been judged by some school districts to be unsuitable to teach to children. Sure, in today’s world, those words are inflammatory, but to desecrate literary masterpieces because of such words, common when written, is frightening. Even more so, when you consider that the stories, as well as the author himself, were profoundly anti-racist.
Today’s political-correctness hysteria doesn’t just apply to literature.
Take for example the recent removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a pillar in New Orleans’ Lee Circle. As one news pundit correctly observed, “If we have only perfect people on statues, we’ll be a nation of pedestals.”
Yanking down statues of historical figures while focusing on what they did wrong and ignoring what they did right is very scary. Reminiscent of Soviet Russia.
What’s next? I’ll let my imagination run amok.
The wonderful sculptures of Ralph Starritt have contributed monumentally (no pun intended) toward making Yreka the great town that it is.But they may be insensitive to someone, so probably should come down.First, there is that dragon at the north edge of town. That signifies the devil at his worst. Take it down!
And the cow and calf south of town, symbolizing cow flatulence and climate change. Take them down!
Then there are the many statues of miners scattered throughout town. They must go. Think about it. They celebrate people who have scourged our rivers and streams, leaving dredger tailings like the ones you see when driving between Etna and Callahan. Of course, if it weren’t for the miners our town wouldn’t exist. But maybe that would be for the best. Have you watched the TV series “Deadwood?” I’m guessing that Yreka in the 1850s was like the Deadwood pictured on TV.
There were whores. (Take a deep breath). I’ve been told there were still whorehouses in the location where Grandma’s House is/was located up until the sixties when Sheriff Al Cottar clamped down.
I’m getting on the band wagon. Our Yreka history is fraught with evil doings. Whores! Gold miners! Hangings! A Chinatown that burned down! In the interest of political correctness, we need to rip all that out of the history books as if it didn’t exist. Tear down all of Ralph Starritt’s statues!
After all, it worked pretty well for the Bolsheviks. It should work okay here too, don’t you think?”
Last week a respected conservative publication published a list of fifty-two instances of “cancellations” that have recently swept the U.S. and Europe, where people, monuments, and artistic works have been the targets. Space doesn’t allow a list of all fifty-two, but here are some examples. A Vermont school principal of 15 years was placed on administrative leave for posting on Facebook, “I firmly believe that Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with the coercive measures taken to get this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point.” In Portland, OR, a century-old statue of George Washington was toppled and vandalized. A professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine apologized to students for including the phrase “I can’t breathe” in a question on an exam. Here is the context for that one: The exam question reads, “A patient who missed dialysis suddenly becomes pale, diaphoretic, and screams, ‘I can’t breathe!’ You are unable to palpate a pulse and initiate immediate CPR. The most appropriate next step in therapy is …” That’s racist, right? Demonstrators toppled a statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of a Portland, OR high school. Graffiti reading “slave owner” and “George Floyd 8:46” was spray-painted on the statue’s pedestal. The National Park Service had to clean graffiti from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Vandals had spray-painted the words “committed genocide” on the memorial. A statue of Christopher Columbus in front of the Minnesota State Capitol was toppled by protesters from the American Indian Movement, a militant civil rights group. In Ohio, Columbus State Community College will remove its statue of Christopher Columbus. HBO Max announced it would temporarily remove Gone With the Wind from its platform. A sports announcer was fired from his job as a Sacramento radio host, and resigned from his job as play-by-play announcer for the Sacramento Kings, because he tweeted “All Lives Matter … Every Single One!”
These are only a few of the 52 published incidents, but … you get the drift. It is hard to say where this is headed. Think about Mount Rushmore and Georgia’s Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial. It is frightening that people can’t express a sentiment contrary to the current political hysteria without fear of retribution. Or that artistic, historical, and literary works and monuments are being destroyed because they don’t conform. The available evidence suggests that what happened to George Floyd was unconscionable, and that it points to the existence of a much larger problem, systemic police racial injustice. But to prohibit healthy debate about the subject or to vilify a person who dares to suggest that George Floyd may not have been a stellar citizen, or that he may have been under the influence of controlled substances at the time of his death, is frightening. After I wrote last year’s column, I re-read George Orwell’s novel 1984. I urge you to do so also, before it is banned. I just started re-reading Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I’m reading it as fast as I can.