MLK, Jr.: Ambiguous and Contested Icon.
In his brief life, Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968 (MLK) won the hearts of Americans across the racial divide. He held deep convictions about the perfectibility of America and the redemptive power of the American Dream. King has become an American icon whose historical memory has metamorphosed into a national celebration. This celebration is itself distinguished for iconographic reenactments of his life and struggles. MLK is today being quoted and invoked by Americans of all political persuasions. In January, during observance of his birthday, his “I have a Dream” speech assumes the status of a national anthem. This national recognition and seeming canonization notwithstanding, a significant segment of Black America now challenges and contests the iconization of MLK. For this disaffected group, the gap between MLK’s faith in America, and the ideals and visions of America as enshrined in the Declaration that humans were created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them, “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” renders such iconization hypocritical and deceptive. The focus of this paper is on this growing dissatisfaction with the iconization of King and the search for icons in ethos that directly contradict the hopes and dreams of his life.
Contesting an American Icon:
Apropos of the Astronaut as “Homo Mechanicus”
in May Swenson’s Poetry
In The Rediscovery of North America (1990), Barry Lopez argues that at the turn of the 20th century, the American continent still remains to be discovered. He suggests that to truly know this place, a profoundly reciprocal relationship with the land must develop. Such a sense of place must include, Lopez writes, “knowledge of what is inviolate about the relationship between a people and the place they occupy, and, certainly, too, how the destruction of this relationship, or failure to attend to it, wounds people” (40). The American poet May Swenson (1913-1989) can be said to have anticipated Barry Lopez’s argument. In her poetry, the vision of a fundamental relationship between humans and the nonhuman world is always at work. My objective in the following presentation is to concretize this vision by examining the denotations and connotations of the poetic persona of the ‘human machine’ or “Homo mechanicus” in May Swenson’s poetry as compared to that of the ‘human animal.’ I will show that the “Homo mechanicus” – which, in various poems, is represented emblematically by the figure of the astronaut – is not a hero but a violent conqueror and destroyer, an impotent, helpless and, above all, mutated being, whose physical functions are replaced by mechanical and technological devices and whose ties with the earth are utterly disconnected. In contrast to the astronaut, the figure of the ‘human animal,’ or, in other words, personae that Swenson creates to hide behind the skins of animal creatures or to fuse the human with the animal, is not characterized by such a loss of contact; these personae affirm, as a close reading of relevant examples shall reveal, the subtle and ineffable intertwinings between humans and nature.
Rip Van Winkle on the Stage: Myth and Icon of American Origins
Even in the early twenty-first century, Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" continues to attract playwrights. The actor Joseph Jefferson III impersonated Rip throughout the United States for about forty years after the end of the Civil War and influenced later adaptations. "Rip Van Winkle" has also been adapted into burlesques and a minstrel show sketch, a Pennsylvania Dutch play, plays for children, operas and operettas. The plays and the libretti reflect the literary reception history of "Rip Van Winkle" as a mildly humorous and somewhat sentimental story. Moreover, playwrights and librettists created their own readings of the American myth and thus conveyed their understanding of American history and culture.
I will focus on two examples of Rip as an American icon. First, I will discuss how Jefferson's Rip was celebrated as an icon of American colonial and post-revolutionary times. Jefferson fostered his own iconicity by presenting himself on stage and in public as the embodiment of American values of rugged simplicity and fatherly benevolence, while the play simultaneously promoted the protagonist's ability to pursue his individual pleasures of drinking and escaping profitable labor under all political systems. Secondly, I will introduce Robert Planquette's French operetta commissioned by a London theater in the early 1880s, which was successful all over Europe and in the United States. The various versions of the libretto illustrate the adoption of an American fictional character, who was well-known in Europe through translations of Irving's tale and through Jefferson's play, in terms of an American stereotype that is then parodied through rewriting the plot according to fashionable operetta conventions. As
a result, both the political content and the mythical elements are treated differently than in the original or in Jefferson's drama. Ultimately, I will show how Jefferson turns "Rip Van Winkle" into a mostly de-politicized affirmation of American values and how the librettists of Planquette's operetta transform the same story into musical theater geared towards the expectations of various national audiences for whom colonial America represented an exotic location.
Monuments of Ageing Intellect: Actor-Director-Icons
Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen.
Tom Stoppard famously wrote that “Age is a very high price to pay for maturity”. This is particularly true in the movie business, which has good commercial reasons for valuing youth over maturity. As a result of the industry’s systemic “lookism”, performers past and present have been prepared to go to considerable lengths to arrest and camouflage the ageing process. But a few stars, a brave few, are prepared to accommodate their star personas (and therefore the kinds of role that they play and stories they tell) to the passing of the years. Two figures who have negotiated this transition with a fair degree of success are Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen, and part of the reason for this is that by the skilful management of their resources – Eastwood’s production company Malpaso and Allen’s screen-writing skills - they have the option of not having to go before the camera to prolong their careers. But unlike non-actor directors, they have indeed kept their personas before their audiences by employing actor surrogates. Notable examples of this would be Allen’s use of Mia Farrow, John Cusack and Kenneth Branagh in his films and Eastwood’s use of Kevin Costner in his. In this paper I should like to argue that in Eastwood’s case ageing itself has become the subject of many of his movies of the 1990s, from Unforgiven to Space Cowboys, whereas in Allen’s case they have been inflected more towards the getting (or failing to get) of wisdom that should come with age. In passing, I will also look at how destabilizing off-screen revelations about these publicity-avoiding stars have also been addressed or finessed on-screen during this period.
Baschkin, Laurance E.
"The Three Stooges" and public opinion towards government policy"
If this subject matter can be accepted, I would like to make a presentation to your participants. This would include viewing of 1-2 "short" films by the Stooges (also known as Moe, Larry and Curly)
As their shorts were approximately 22 minutes each, I hope to offer at least one for your audience. While the subject of the one I wish to show may be considered a subject in poor taste to Europeans, I would likely show a short entitled "I'll Never Heil Again". The subject is the newly "elected" dictator of the State of Moronica, who along with his Minister of Propaganda and Field Marshall "Herring", begin their plans to take over their neighboring countries. To borrow a quote from the story, "We must
offer a helping hand to our neighbors, then we must help ourselves to our neighbors"
It is obviously a "spoof" as we say on Hitler and the Third Reich. This Stooge short was released in the early stages of World War Two and it offers Hollywood's humorous contribution to American propaganda against Germany and Japan. While Hollywood indeed produced serious war films to help motivate the people, several well known Hollywood comedians lent their support for the war cause. As a result, subjects such as Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito were constantly ridiculed.