The Fetishization of Technology in Marinetti and Metropolis

The influence of technology on society and culture skyrocketed in the second half of the 19th century. By the time of the modernist poets, technology had changed or created industries spanning every facet of modern life. Militarization, industrialization, and transportation had severely uprooted many of the traditional topics of poetry and art and, as a result, called into question the validity of the artistic styles of the time. Modern poetry and art often focuses on this shift in lifestyle, whether it be by praising it–as is the case with futurism–or by warning readers of the potential harm technology can cause.

The romantic aspect of technology was discovered early on, even if it was used as a way to fight against the entire notion of romanticism. In F.T. Marinetti’s 1908 poem “To My Pegasus,” Marinetti offers a depiction of driving as a freeing power fantasy. “I finally release your metallic bridle, and voluptuously you rush into infinite freedom,” Marinetti writes (425). The use of the term bridle draws comparison between the car and a horse. Up until this point, horses were essentially the only means of personal transportation that the driver could entirely control. Trains had been in use for nearly a century when the poem was written, but they are constrained by tracks. The car, along with the airplane, was the first time people were able to have a vehicle controlled independently by them that could travel at high speeds. The high speed is essential to the poem and to the culture of the car at large. Marinetti writes “the setting Sun pursues your speed, accelerating its bloody palpitation.” This signifies the car’s triumph over nature. The sun itself is made to look slow and outdated. Its “bloody palpitation” is like a heartbeat of somebody too tired to continue running. The sun, which throughout human history was commonly worshipped, is now irrelevant. This makes Marinetti’s triumph over nature also a triumph over God. Because of his ingenuity, man is able to conquer everything, including the sun.

Later in the poem, Marinetti makes more comparisons to nature. “Mountains, monstrous herds! Mammoths that trot heavily, bending your immense backs, you have been surpassed, drowned in a gray tangle of fog!” (426). Drowning the mountains in a tangle of fog is Marinetti being pleased that he covered them in pollution. The “fog” is his exhaust. He wants to leave a physical imprint on the nature he passes. He doesn’t just want to ignore the mountains himself, he wants to cover them up with his smog because they aren’t important enough to notice.

Again we see Marinetti making nature seem small compared to him and his car. And he isn’t making that much of a stretch in this comparison. Driving a car in nature is a completely different experience from walking and it changes the way you perceive it. There is no time to focus on minor details when driving. A mountain that would normally require days to climb can be passed in a matter of minutes or hours in a car. If Henry David Thoreau had taken a car to Walden Pond, he probably would have driven past without noticing it. There is a fundamental shift in perception when high-speed travel is added to human life, and the new poetry of the modernists tries to convey that.

The poem also has a sexual element. Marinetti writes “I am at your mercy . . . Take me! . . . Take me!” and “And from time to time I straighten my back and feel my vibrating neck embraced by the fresh velvet arms of the wind . . . they are your distant arms that cast spells and draw me in, and the wind is you breath like an abyss as you joyfully absorb me, o bottomless infinite!” The car is fetishized. While these depictions of driving initially appeared romantic to me, this is where that romanticism devolves. In his manifesto “The New Religion-Morality of Speed,” Marinetti makes a direct comparison between driving and sex. He writes:

This “horizontal lust” of “earth-women” is compared to driving. Not only does he objectify women by comparing them to driving, he refers to them as “earth women,” as if there’s any other kind. The disconnect between Marinetti’s view of relationships and his love of sex parallels his view of technology and his love of driving. He has no interest in any real human connection in the same way he has no interest  in achieving a deeper understanding of the actual science behind the technology he loves. He also doesn’t want a nuanced analysis of its place in the world. The patient reflection that is essential to romanticism has been replaced with brute, violent sexuality. It still revels in the beauty of, for instance, driving through mountains, but it revels in a base and almost hedonistic way.

Technology had other impacts on modernism besides being porn-fodder for Marinetti. Technology–like photography, film, and radio–changed the way people viewed art. Poetry had to change to reflect that. In response, poetic form made massive departures from ways that had been standard in previous centuries. The poem “Noise-Making Onomatopoeia Typewriter” by Giacomo Balla instructs twelve readers to each read one line simultaneously for one minute. The effect is to use poetry to create the sounds of a typewriter. It uses the antiquated medium of poetry to convey the sound of a modern machine. The poem “Bombardment” by F.T. Marinetti has a similar approach. It contains the words “TURKISH STOPPED BALLOON” in the shape of a balloon, with words like “vibbrrrrrrrate” and “RADIO” darting across it, symbolizing radio waves (431). Again, the medium of poetry is being used to show sounds and images. Futurists visual artists used similar methods to convey movement in their paintings. Giacomo Balla’s 1912 painting Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash blurs out the legs and leash of a dog walking with its master, which mimics the motion blur created by film.

The modernist movement didn’t just adapt older media to portray modern life. Several artists used new technology in their art. Oftentimes, their art even pushed the boundaries of the new technology. Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, one of the most influential and well-remembered films of the silent era, is a reaction to industrialization as well as futurist and fascist ideals. It contains science fiction elements that would appeal to the Italian futurists, including shots of moving gears, pulleys, and other mechanisms in its opening. It contains one of the first filmic representations of an android, and the Metropolis’s upper city if shown to be full of cars and planes. It’s plot, however, kills the dream of that utopia by showing what is required to create the paradise of the upper city. Early shots in the film show identically-clothed workers in the lower city marching in unison with their heads down back to their homes in the lower city. Then, the action moves to the upper city, where the protagonist, Freder, is exercising in a lavish garden. There he sees Maria, who has led a group of sick-looking lower city children into the upper city. Freder is shocked by the sight of these children and decides to venture into the lower city. There, he witnesses an explosion in a power plant and is shocked by the conditions for the workers, whom he call his “brothers.” Eventually, he sees Maria give a sermon about the Tower of Babel, in which she claims there needs to be a “mediator” between the head and the hand. The head is the leader of the society who designs and commissions the society, and the hand is the actual laborers who construct it. The mediator, then, is the “heart” between the head and the hand. Maria and Freder agree that he is the “mediator” sent to both save the workers and support the “head,” his father, who is the leader of the Metropolis.

Some of the scenes in Metropolis can be read as having multiple meanings. For instance, in one recently-restored scene that is only available in the 2010 edition of Metropolis, Freder saves Georgy 11811, a worker who is about to collapse while running his machine. Freder takes over the machine and instructs Georgy to wait for him at his home. On the way to Freder’s home, however, Georgy’s car is littered with pamphlets advertising Yoshiwara, the night-life portion of the city. Georgy decides to visit the nightclub instead and his captured by the spy Freder’s father sent to discover information about Maria and Freder’s plot. This scene could be read as suggesting that the poor workers are not to be trusted and that Freder is naive to think they are capable of becoming more than an unthinking proletariat. It could also be seen as saying that the lavish, sexualized, and materialistic upper city is capable of corrupting anybody who enters it regardless of their good intentions.

Similarly, there is a scene in which Freder rescues Josephat, his father’s secretary. After Josephat fails to tell Freder’s father about the explosion in the power plant, Freder’s father fires him and sends him to live in the lower city as a worker. Josephat decides to kill himself rather than live as a worker. Freder saves him, and instructs him to go to his home. Again, this scene could be making a statement about Freder’s naivety and inability to do what is necessary to create a society like the Metropolis. Another reading is that the society’s conditions for workers are so horrible that any educated man, like Josephat, realizes that death is preferable to living in such a society.

Whether or not these scenes make a statement about technology itself is another area of debate. Near the end of the film, the workers are incited to revolt by an android copy of Maria. This, however, is not because of any malevolence on the part of the robot herself. She is controlled by Rotwang, who is working for Freder’s father. Just like the machines the laborers work at and are often killed by, the robot Maria is only evil because of her association with the people controlling the Metropolis. The machines, while a part of their system, are only a symptom of their oppression, not the cause. The real Maria would argue that the Metropolis itself–played by the biblical Tower of Babel in her sermon–is a goal to strive for. She views the technology as great creations that are destroyed only because of the breakdown between the relationship between the workers and the rulers. She believes that by mediating this relationship by using Freder as the “heart,” the two classes can work together.

The film is a reaction to industrialization and new technology, but without more context it is impossible to say with certainty whether it is condemning or embracing the technology. Regardless of its views on technology, it is a prime of example of new technology being used by artists. Whether they are marveling at it or condemning it, modernist artists acknowledged that technology changed the world in ways they felt they needed to convey through their art.

 

Works Cited

Metropolis. Dir. Fritz Lang. Perf. Alfred Abel and Brigitte Helm. UFA, 1927. Netflix.

Rainey, Lawrence S., Christine Poggi, and Laura Wittman. Futurism: An Anthology. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009. Web.

 

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Sir Thomas More: Is Utopia really a “Utopia?”

Sir Thomas More’s Utopia contains passages that appear paradoxical or laughably absurd, both to More’s contemporaries and modern readers alike. Many of his ideas may have been called parody, or as an over-reaction meant to shed light on injustices he saw in England at the time. More’s Utopia has lent its name to an entire genre of modern fiction, one which is often accused of being preachy, since its main approach is to present worlds better than our own. More seems to feed our society’s seemingly endless desire to create fictional perfect worlds, but More’s Utopia is far from what we now consider to be a “Utopia.” More’s intentions, while still unclear and very much open for debate, appear to be critical of Utopia more often than they endorse it.

My initial view upon reading Utopia is that Hythloday was intended to be More, and that the character only existed to distance More from the possible backlash against the political ideologies in Utopia, which, if attributed to him, could be considered treasonous. But throughout the work, this initial response breaks down. The more I read, the more I realized that my initial assumptions about Utopia were based on our modern society’s Utopian fiction, a genre that Utopia itself doesn’t really fit into. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, in its introduction to Thomas More, makes a point that Utopia “is not, or not directly, a call for revolutionary social reform. It is, rather, a meditation, if the form of a dialogue, on the question of whether intellectuals should involve themselves in politics” (570). This question is one that should be considered when viewing any type of utopian/dystopian fiction, regardless of its intent. Some utopian fiction has been created specifically for the purpose of social reform, and Thomas More’s Utopia itself has been used to that end, like in the case of New Harmony, Indiana. When the fiction is intended to promote social reform, then it becomes even more important to consider whether or not the intellectuals who created it should be involved, or could ever be successful, in politics. Nevertheless, the influence Utopian fiction has had is clear. Utopias and dystopias distill a society’s hopes and fears, and they reflect back directly on that society. From the early-mid 20th century’s dystopian fiction of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World, to mid 20th century’s hopeful visions, seen in such works as Star Trek, these works are each a microcosm of the society’s mentality at the time of their popularity, and the issues they deal with reveal insight into their surrounding culture. More’s Utopia, however, does not seem to follow this model. It is not a clear description of 1516s hopes and fears, and instead often borders on surreal. Thomas More is not Gene Roddenberry, who made it very clear that his intentions were to create a perfect society. To read him as such would be to ignore almost every aspect of More’s actual life.

Thomas More’s Utopia, to a modern reader, often straddles the line between Utopia and Dystopia, as most good utopias do, but its age makes it difficult to tell what aspects were intended as hopes and which were fears. More’s intentions have never been adequately clarified. George Sanderlin writes, “What is the meaning of Thomas More’s Utopia? Is it a ‘mirror for princes’ for Henry VIII, corresponding to the Intstitutio principic Christiani which Erasmus wrote for Charles V? Is it a subtle exhortation to the sixteenth-century proletariat to revolt–they have nothing to lose but their blue apprentice coats? Is it a defense of medieval collectivism against the new commercialism… Learned names stand behind each of these theories, and the list of hypotheses above is by no means complete” (74). At a loss for any single meaning of the work, Sanderlin also suggests that “A critic may make a purely personal interpretation, like H.G. Wells’s contemptuous of Utopian ‘Whiggism’” (74). Eva Braun once remarked that Utopia is a city without philosophy. (Engeman 136). Clearly, twisting Utopia to fit into one’s worldview is a common thing to do, and one I intend to avoid by examining More’s intentions.

When reading Utopia, I was constantly surprised at how modern many of the ideas seem. And then when reading about More’s life, I was equally surprised to see how those modern ideals I thought he favored were not reflected in his own life. J.H. Hexter writes in his “Thomas More: On the Margins of Modernity,” that “[More] did not in the end stand firm for free thought, or for toleration, or for emancipation from the bondage of medieval bigotry and superstition.” Also surprising to me was More’s thoughts toward socialism, since Utopia to me seemed to support what we would now consider Marxist principles, such as the common ownership of property, an idea he borrowed from Plato. “Although Karl Kautsky was sure that at the horizon Sir Thomas had seen the red light of the Marxist dawn, More did not even throw himself into the struggle for socialism. Instead he approved of the execution of men who were burnt at the stake because they rejected the spiritual control of the medieval church; and in the end he died a martyr for the unity which through the centuries that orthodox and persecuting Church had imposed on Europe.” More’s dedication to his religion took me some time to understand, and it has made me question his dedication the religion espoused in Utopia, one which would not call for execution or martyrdom over petty theological quibbles (not to make light of More’s conviction). The Utopian religion values personal happiness, “They think it is an evidence of true wisdom for a man to pursue his own advantage as far as the laws allow it,” and it also has lenient (compared to England) punishments. “all the while I was there one man was only punished on this occasion… Upon his having frequently preached in this manner he was seized, and after trial he was condemned to banishment, not for having disparaged their religion, but for his inflaming the people to sedition” (640). All of this is a stark contrast to More’s approval, or at least condonation, of burning heretics at the stake.

Thomas S. Engeman believes that the secret of More’s actual intentions when writing Utopia lies in the character of Hythloday, and of what More thinks of him. “If Hythloday is an intelligent and credible witness, we can assume that More is is sympathetic to his political teaching. If, as indeed seems the case, Hythloday is not a credible witness, Utopia must be seen in an altogether different light.” (132). Hythloday is the one who actually tells the story of the Utopians. He is describing them to More, who frequently interjects. But these interjections shouldn’t be read necessarily as More’s own voice. More based his Utopia on Plato’s Republic, and the writing is similar to a Platonic dialogue, which often has straw men butt into the conversation only to be cut down by Plato. In the dialogue, More appears to play the straw man. It would be strange to think that he would place himself in the dialogue only to have his ideas rebuked by a fictional character who he actually disagrees with. In the dialogue, the character of More is “practical, traditional, and loyal to his family and friends, his England” (Engeman 135). But seeing as the real More he died at the hand of “his England,” his dedication is worth questioning.

While Utopia might not be More’s perfect world, it definitely is Hythloday’s. Hythloday believes entirely in Utopia, to the point where Engeman describes him as Utopia “writ small” (134). He is hardly a character, since Utopia barely has a narrative. His characterization is seen through his descriptions of the island. He defends against the accusations of More and the Cardinal, and seems entirely convinced that Utopia is a model society. Engeman believes that this does not reflect well on Hythloday, and that he is a ruler masquerading as a teacher (144). “Like the priests,” who, in Utopia, cannot be convicted of crimes, “Hythloday rules indirectly, while professing that he does not seek to rule or that political rule is superfluous” (146). Hythloday reads as a zealot. His dedication to Utopia is cult-like and has no reason to be trusted. His descriptions, while they take on the role of a historical documentary, are not necessarily based in fact. As a result of this, it is reasonable to suggest that More, despite having himself concocted the idea of Utopia, is at the very least skeptical of it.

More’s intentions, then, have to be read as ironic. His political ties to England, while resulting in his death, make him impossible to envision as a philosopher. “He was politically ‘committed’ in a way impossible to imagine of Plato” (Engeman 148). More was first a politician and lawyer, not a philosopher. Pontificating about what-ifs simply doesn’t suit him, and therefore reading Utopia as a “what-if” about English society doesn’t make sense. While More may have shared principles with Hythloday, his real commitments were to England and the the church, not to his fictional Utopia.

 

Works Cited

Engeman, Thomas S. “Hythloday’s Utopia and More’s England: An Interpretation of Thomas More’s Utopia.” The Journal of Politics 44.1 (1982): 131-49. JSTOR. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.

Hexter, J. H. “Thomas More: On the Margins of Modernity.” Journal of British Studies 1.1 (1961): 20-37. JSTOR. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.

Kessler, Sanford. “Religious Freedom in Thomas More’s “Utopia”” The Review of Politics 64.2 (2002): 207-29. JSTOR. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.

Sanderlin, George. “The Meaning of Thomas More’s “Utopia”” College English 12.2 (1950): 74-77. JSTOR. Web. 16 Dec. 2014.

“Utopia” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Gen. ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2012. 570-646.

Print.

Harry Potter and the Film Adaptation Process

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“You ever talk about a movie with someone that read the book? They’re always so condescending. ‘Ah, the book was much better than the movie.’ Oh really? What I enjoyed about the movie: no reading.” -Jim Gaffigan

 

Every time a film adaptation of a novel is released, it is almost instinctively criticised as not being “as good as the book!” by fans of the original work. This is the laziest criticism to level at any movie, especially with so many modern films being adapted works. The complaint that “they ruined it!” typically follows the first argument. The important question to ask, which is rarely answered, is “who is ‘they?’” The filmmakers? Okay, which filmmakers? The director, the actors, the screenwriters? Or is it the author’s fault? Did he or she sell out, give the filmmakers too much freedom over the text, or was the publisher to blame? In reality, the process isn’t this simple. The art and business surrounding filmmaking is complex and–unlike a self-published novel–a single person almost never has total creative control. The Harry Potter movies were made by filmmakers who were dedicated to translating the novel faithfully into a movie and they were made with the input of the author. Even so, the change in medium makes certain decisions necessary. These changes can only be understood by explaining and dissecting exactly what does into a film adaptation.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the most important difference between book and film comes before the first shot of the movie. It’s the giant Warner Bros logo plastered across the opening. The Warner Bros studio, a divison of Time Warner, “is home to one of the most successful collections of brands in the world and stands at the forefront of every aspect of the entertainment industry” (Company Overview). Those aren’t exactly the words of an auteur, and the Warner Bros brand is so ubiquitous that its logo alone at the beginning of a movie screams “big money.” How, then, does a studio go about picking what novels to turn into their next big budget feature? In the case of Harry Potter, it turns out, it isn’t very scientific. According to a 2001 article in Entertainment Weekly, the novel was chosen by producer David Heyman while looking for a children’s book to adapt into a family film. “After failing to set up his first choice—The Ogre Downstairs, by Diana Wynne Jones—his staff at Heyday Films found him another: a critically lauded best-seller titled, in the U.K.,Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. His assistant read the book and pushed it. ”’It’s a cool idea,”’ Heyman recalls her saying. ”’It’s about a boy in wizarding school”’ (Entertainment Weekly). By the time Warner Bros finalized buying the film rights from Rowling in 1999, the first three novels in the series had been released and Rowling had grossed 37 million dollars (Bagwell). In a 1999 interview with WBUR Radio in Boston, Rowling expressed her nervousness about the film, saying “I can’t lie to you, I am nervous about it. I think every writer who feels as I feel about their characters is going to be nervous.” (WBUR). She also said of director Chris Columbus that he “is the person who’ll be taking my baby.” (Brehm).

After having purchased the film rights, Warner Bros began adapting the text into a screenplay. Steve Kloves, who had previously adapted the 1995 Michael Chabon novel Wonder Boys, chose the book out of many possible projects Warner Bros had sent to him. In a Feb 2000 article with Salon, just over a year before the first film’s release, Kloves described why he chose the project: “the first thing I said to Warner Bros. was that I loved the characters—and that is the whole movie.  It was the only thing I was even remotely interested in. It stunned them. But I responded to it. I liked the feeling of the book—there is genuine edge and genuine darkness to it. One reason it’s so popular with children is that there’s no pandering whatsoever.” (Sragow). Kloves’s dedication to the novel stemmed from his own experience seeing his work adapted.  He had written the screenplay for the 1984 film Racing With the Moon, and when he watched it being produced, he said “Once you see a work brought to the screen, even when it is done with real passion and respect, you see things that you would like to see done differently. The painting looks different than what you had in your head, so you’d like to see if you could handle the brush.” (Sragow).

This interview humanizes Kloves. For a cynical fan of the novel, it’s easy to see the screenwriter as the first step of the Hollywood machine that is crushing the source text. One interview with Kloves mentions a Facebook page started by a Utah women titled “I blame Steve Kloves for everything wrong with the world.” (Boucher). However, screenwriters typically not only care about their writing, but they also have little input into how it is used in the actual movie. In a 2015 interview with RedLetterMedia, screenwriter Max Landis, son of Animal House and Blues Brothers director John Landis, describes his frustration with the studio system. When asked how much a script can change between when he hands it in and when the movie is completed, he says, “up to 70 percent, and without a rewrite. A script can change in a multitude of ways arbitrarily.” He describes the changes that editing can make. He gives the example of a movie that appears to have no character development, “and then you find out there were character development scenes but they cut them. Maybe they sucked, or maybe they were great but a test audience said they were slow. It becomes this blur.” (RedLetterMedia). Compare that use of test audiences to JK Rowling’s 1999 answer to the question of who she writes for: “I never really wrote with anyone in mind. I still don’t write with an imaginary focus group in mind… I don’t want to decide that there’s a formula.” (C-Span2).

Even while still at the screenplay level, the differences between a novel and a movie are striking. Kloves, unlike Rowling, had a deadline and a boss. Because of this, the differences between novel and movie are already adding up, before the visual element of the movie has even begun.

Once the visual aspects of the film start being produced, the collaborative nature of filmmaking really takes hold. To create a production like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, artists from diverse disciplines are required to create the sets, costumes, special effects, etc. needed for film production.

Costumes in particular are an aspect of filmmaking that can cause controversy for an adapted work because they directly affect how a character is viewed. Even if a character’s appearance isn’t described in detail, readers create their own visions of them. A character not matching with an audience’s perception of them from the book can cause an audience to feel like the character is being misrepresented. For instance, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Hagrid is introduced as “almost twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide.” He is described as having “long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face, he had hands the size of trash can lids, and his feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins.” (Rowling 11). His clothing is described as a “black overcoat” (Rowling 36). Compare this to the conception of Hagrid used at conventions promoting the novels prior to movie’s release, in which an actor plays a red-haired Hagrid wearing a pink tunic and carrying a purple sorting hat with gold stars and moons. If this depiction of the character had somehow made its way into the movie rather than Robbie Coltrane’s more accurate version with his dark brown hair and beard and brown overcoat, it is likely that audience reaction would have been overwhelmingly negative. Other costumes based on art made prior to the movies were also discarded. In an article for Time, costume designer Judianna Makovsky described how she initially based the Quidditch uniforms for the film on the Scholastic cover art from the original American release of the novel. “It looked a mess… it wasn’t very elegant,” she describes thinking before scrapping the idea and designing the Quidditch robes used in the film (Cagle).

Costuming goes hand in hand with casting, another area of contention in adapted works. The actor, combined with their direction, can fundamentally change an audience’s perception of a character. Rowling addresses this in a 2010 promotional discussion with Daniel Radcliffe. She says to Radcliffe that “to be honest, you and Rupert and Emma are all too good looking frankly… It was really lucky I spoke to Emma first on the phone before I met her. Because I fell absolutely in love with her… And then when I met her and she was this very beautiful girl, I just kind of had to go ‘Oh, okay.’ It’s film, you know, deal with it.” (Brehm) To an audience, the casting process is totally nebulous. There’s a vague understanding of the auditions involved but apart from that, the way actors are chosen isn’t well known.  In the case of Harry Potter, again, it wasn’t particularly scientific. In his discussion with J.K. Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe describes how he was cast: “David Heyman knew my dad because my dad had been a literary agent and my dad had worked with David’s mum. And so David sort of asked my dad if I would audition… the final straw was the fact that I went to the theater to see a production of Stones in His Pockets and David Heyman and Steve Kloves happened to be sitting in the row in front. and I was sat there for the whole time thinking ‘why is that man keep looking around at me.’” A few days later his dad agreed to allow him to be cast in the part (Brehm).

In the DVD interviews for The Prisoner of Azkaban, several other actors discuss how they were chosen.  Jamie and Oliver Phelps, who play Fred and George Weasley, along with Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom, were all chosen from an open audition in Leeds. (Vaughn). Devon Murray, who plays Seamus Finnigan, found the role through his agent, who originally had him read for Neville Longbottom. These interviews also discuss whether or not the actors were at all familiar with the source material. All of the child actors were, but neither Gary Oldman or David Thewlis, who played Sirius Black and Remus Lupin respectively, had any knowledge of the books before being cast.

Casting of the first Harry Potter film was done by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins, who went on to write a 2007 book titled A Star is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies. In the book, they discuss the casting process for the three main children: “We had to hire kids who looked pretty much the way their fans pictured them. If a character in the book was described as green-eyed, we couldn’t get away with hiring a brown-eyed child.” (Hirshenson 234).

Hirshenson and Jenkins also describe something that has been a key part of almost all of the interviews with those involved in the adaptation: that the movie be produced entirely in Britain. Hirshenson and Jenkins speak about how they refused to allow american children to even audition for roles because they knew Chris Columbus wouldn’t approve. They mention a British tabloid article that read “American usurper come to steal Harry for the yanks!” (Hirshenson 231). In the conversation between J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe, Radcliffe says “the original deal that we’d heard was going to be to do six films and it was gonna be done in America,” to which Rowling angrily responds “It was gonna be done in America!? Nobody told me that.” Radcliffe agrees, saying “Maybe that’s why it changed because you obviously put your foot down at some point or they just went ‘Jo wouldn’t agree to that’ which was good to be honest because that would… that would have not been good.” (Brehms). This dedication to keeping Harry Potter British carries over into another important aspect of adaptation: set design. In addition to shooting on-location at Kings Cross railway station and various locations around Oxford, British influence was a primary focus throughout the set design (Experience Oxfordshire).

In a 2001 Time article, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone production designer Stuart Craig describes how he went about designing the sets used in the film. The Great Hall was modeled after Christchurch College’s dining hall. Craig describes the idea behind the set as “The architecture is real, but pushed as much as we can, expanded as illogically huge as we can possibly make it.” (Cagle). Diagon Alley was originally intended to be built around an “existing old English street,” but a set was eventually built instead. The set was inspired directly by a line in the book that reads “Harry wished he had about eight more eyes.” (Cagle).

A discussion about a film would not be complete without discussing the director. Originally, Stephen Spielberg had been slated to direct the first movie, but he dropped out of the project and the role eventually went to Chris Columbus, best known for his family movies from the 80s and 90s, including Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. Columbus told Katie Couric in 2001 that he believes that producer David Heyman gave him the role as director because “they really wanted to know I would be faithful to the material. I was pretty passionate about it.” (Couric). He says his first meeting with Rowling ended with her saying “you get the books and I feel so good about that.”

It is rare for a film adaptation to be so dedicated to the source text. Every person who worked on the films every step of the way was working under the idea that the remain faithful to the novel and yet fans still found aspects to be outraged about and the “it’s not as good as the book” argument still goes on. The argument, then, isn’t really about either the book or the movie. And, with a few notable exceptions, it’s rarely an argument about whether books or movies are a better medium. It’s an argument about expectations vs. reality. No matter how hard the filmmakers try, it is impossible to recreate the experience of reading a novel on film and there is no real reason why they should try because films are not books. The medium has its own set of qualities and drawbacks which should be embraced instead of downplayed in an attempt to please everybody.

 

Works Cited

Bauman, Jay, and Mike Stoklasa. “A Conversation with Max Landis.” YouTube. RedLetterMedia, 24 Nov. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Boucher, Geoff. “‘Harry Potter’ Countdown: Steve Kloves speaks.” Hero Complex. LA Times, 10 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Boucher, Geoff. “‘Harry Potter’ Countdown: Steve Kloves speaks.” Hero Complex. LA Times, 10 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Brehm, Richard. “A Conversation between JK Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Cagle, Jess. “The First Look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Time. Time Inc., 01 Nov. 2001. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

“Company Overview.” – WarnerBros.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Dir. Chris Columbus. Warner Bros., 2001. DVD.

“Harry Potter: Behind the Magic.” Interview by Katie Couric. Dateline. NBC. New York, NY, 2001. Television.

“Harry Potter Comes Alive.” Entertainment Weekly, 14 Sept. 2001. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

“Harry Potter.” Experience Oxfordshire. Visit Britain, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Hirshenson, Janet, and Jane Jenkins. A Star Is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies. Orlando: Harcourt, 2006. Print.

“J.K. Rowling Interview Transcript.” Interview. The Connection WBUR Radio. Sugarhill.net Transcription Project. AccioQuote.Org. 12 Oct. 1999. Radio. Transcript.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1998. Print.

Rowling, J.K. “J. K. Rowling on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the Writing Process.” New York Is Book Country Fair. New York. CSpan2. Web.

Sragow, Michael. “A Wizard of Hollywood.” Salon, 24 Feb. 2000. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Vaughn, Johnny. Interview with Jamie and Oliver Phelps, Matthew Lewis, and Devon Murray. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Warner Bros. DVD.

“WiGBPd About Harry.” Interview by Sheryle Bagwell. Australian Financial Review 19 July 2000: n. pag. Accio-Quote.org. Web.

Anomalisa: A Stop Motion Film That Doesn’t Feel Stop Motion

anomalisa_poster
The Fargo Theater on Broadway is well known for offering smaller films that don’t have a wide release. This month, one of their offerings is
Anomalisa, an R-rated animated film directed and produced by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

 

Even though I’m typically a fan of Kaufman, this movie would have flown way under my radar if it hadn’t been recommended to be by a friend. After reading about it briefly online, I was still hesitant. I’m generally not a fan of stop motion. Something about the way clay characters squirm across the screen in their weird doll clothes with giant buttons always feels… creepy to me. The animation in Anomalisa, however, did not have that effect. All the body movements and facial expressions–which were accomplished using 3d printed parts–feel absolutely natural, so much so that it’s easy to forget that you’re watching an animated movie.

 

The movie follows a self-help book writer, Michael Stone, through two days in Cincinnati, where he is slated to give a speech about customer service. The visibly depressed Stone is in a loveless marriage, carries around an angry letter from a woman he hurt, and paces his hotel room floor practicing a speech he clearly has no interest in giving. His disenfranchisement with life is apparent early in the movie as he slogs through interactions with an eager-to-please bellhop and a taxi driver who loves Cincinnati a little too much. It quickly becomes apparent that every person in the movie’s world, both male and female, have the same face and are voiced by the same actor, Tom Noonan (Manhunter, Last Action Hero).

 

The movie, though slow-moving and taking place in only a handful of sets, never feels boring

Housekeeping: Housekeeping

Housekeeping in Marilynne robinson’s novel Housekeeping finds its way into every aspect of the book. Not only is it logistically important to the narrative because it is the reason behind the town’s  dissatisfaction with Silvie’s situation with Ruth, but it also provides a basis for comparison for every character, since they all approach the subject from different places. Up until Sylvie is introduced, housekeeping is a given. While Sylvie’s complete disregard for housekeeping provides the main conflict in the novel, that wouldn’t be possible if not for how the older characters set the stage. The way the house is presented prior to Sylvie’s introduction creates the world that Sylvie comes in and knocks down literally and figuratively.
Ruth’s grandparents’ house provides the setting for most of the novel. Housekeeping, as it relates to this novel, isn’t simply the actual acts of housework (though those are important too), but the way the house is maintained throughout the years at large and how it comes to represent different things when it is lived in by different people. For Edmund, Ruth’s grandfather, the house represented a rise both financially and physically. He spent his early life living in a sod house, a “subterranean house,” as Ruth describes it. He decides to leave his town and tells the ticket agent that he “wanted to go to the mountains” (4). Tall mountains, of course, would be the exact opposite of his previous underground living situation. Since the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho, isn’t quite in the mountains, his two-story house is about as close to a mountain as he got. Adding to that, he wound up back underground, dead and never found in a train at the bottom of the lake. This is an early example of the book’s characters’ inability to find true change. Edmund, being the only male character who spends any significant amount of time at the house, does not partake in literal housekeeping which, at the time of the novel, was traditionally viewed as a role for women. He did, however, build the house and in doing so added his own touches that make his presence felt throughout Ruth’s narration (1). For instance, Ruth’s Grandmother’s room is “three steps lower than the kitchen,” which is at ground level (72). If we assume that Edmund and Sylvia slept in the same room, then the bedroom maintains some of Edmund’s subterranean characteristics. Or, at least, it is consistent with other strange aspects of the house, like the upstairs furniture that he modified the legs of to sit level despite the slant of the floor (89). The few times Ruth mentions him are typically when it relates to something he did to the house.

After Edmund’s death, the house belongs to Ruth’s grandmother, Sylvia. Sylvia’s housekeeping by the time of the novel has become routine, almost robotic. Ruth says of her grandmother “She whited shoes and…turned back bedclothes, and then suddenly feared and remember that the children had somehow disappeared, every one. And she whited shoes… and turned back bedclothes” (25). The housekeeping acts of whiting shoes, turning back beds, etc. are repeated to show how automatic they are for her, only interrupted by a brief moment of lucidity when she thinks of what has happened to her children. Sylvia has no feelings either way about the housekeeping, she just does it. This symbolizes how she acts overall. She doesn’t have a strong or outward personality, at least not that Ruth was ever old enough to see when she was around. She’s almost ephemeral, drifting around until “one winter morning [she] eschewed awakening” (29).

Sylvia’s sisters-in-law Lily and Nona, the only non-blood-related members who “keep” the house, “were fetched from Spokane and took up housekeeping in Fingerbone, just as my grandmother had wished” (29). Notice that the line doesn’t say that their grandmother wished that they took care of the children, but that they “housekeep.” This shows where her priorities lie, or at least how Ruth interprets them. The house and the children’s safety are the same thing to her, explained by how she says “sell the orchards, but keep the house. So long as you look after your health, and own the roof above your head, you’re as safe as anyone can be” (27). Lily and Nona approach housekeeping from an outsider perspective. It’s never really their house and they are alien from it. They consistently want to move back to the apartment at the hotel they had previously lived in, which, fittingly, was “below ground” (33). They do, however, keep up the house as Sylvia wanted.

It isn’t until Sylvie takes over care of the children that housekeeping is seen as something that can simply be ignored. The view of housekeeping as something almost sacred that must be done is the only constant in Ruth and Lucille lives before Sylvie. It is the one thread linking them to a sense of “normalcy,” as the outside world would view it. When Sylvie cuts that thread, Ruth and Lucille are thrust into the real world–one that is as transient and fickle as Sylvie–and they have to decide how they want to cope with that world.

Works Cited

Robinson, Marilynne. Housekeeping. New York: Picador, 1980. Print.

Following Chaucer’s Lead: Changing Attitudes Towards Nonstandard Dialects

The idea that a person’s dialect dictates their class, education, and even intelligence is deeply ingrained within modern English-speaking societies. This manifests itself in many forms. Older generations will often complain about the speech of younger generations, suggesting that they are misusing the language. Minor linguistic variations are seen as almost heretical, or literally heretical in the case of translating religious texts. Candidates for public offices will change their speech to appeal to people they consider to be higher or lower class. English teachers in elementary and middle schools will dictate style rules to their students about how to make their writing “proper” without explaining what exactly “proper” means contextually. This use of language has become so universal in English that it is easy to take for granted without realizing the damage it can do and also how deeply flawed and hypocritical it is at its core. Understanding the history of this concept is the best way to grasp how absurd it is. Using dialects to denote lower class and education has a long history dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries, but it is important to note that dialects haven’t always been directly associated with notions of class. Acknowledging that there is a legitimate alternative is a good first step in understanding the problem of using language as a quality judgement or as a means of social stratification.

In Chapter Eight of The Stories of English, David Crystal discusses the use of dialect in Chaucer’s “Reeve’s Tale.” This is an early use of a nonstandard dialect in a written work and the way the dialect is treated provides an interesting comparison to how nonstandard dialects are viewed today. Crystal writes “The significance of Chaucer’s use of these dialect features, however, extends well beyond the range and frequency of their use. What is really interesting is what they suggest about his attitude towards the dialect. In modern English, we are used to seeing regional dialects criticized and condemned” (168). In the Reeve’s Tale, two university students from Cambridge use northern dialectal features in their speech that are reflected in their dialogue (Allman 385). However, it is important to note that while dialectical features in the Reeve’s Tale are not used to make the characters seem “rustic or provincial,” class notions are still present linguistically. In his article “Sociolinguistics, Literature, and the Reeve’s Tale,” W.W. Allman writes that Symkin, the Miller in the text, employs “linguistic means to condescend to his social betters” (391). The students’ northernisms, however, do not play into this mockery. Their dialect and their class remain largely unconnected.

Chaucer’s use of nonstandard English didn’t only include Northern dialects. He is also considered one of the first writers of English to drop the pronunciation of [h] in words such as “hole” and “horn,” a feature used notably in the Cockney dialect, a dialect associated closely with the working class. While it is a topic of debate, Ruth J. Bradley suggests that Chaucer used the Cockney dialect extensively in his writing, four centuries before previous philologists had estimated the use of the dropped [h] in writing to have begun (Bradley 76). Disdain for the Cockney dialect is pronounced in the work of 19th Century prescriptivists. Crystal writes about the dropping of the [h] in chapter 16 of The Stories of English. He describes John Walker, whose 1791 pronouncing dictionary offers instruction on how to avoid the sort of “vulgarities” that are common in Cockney. Walker considered dropping the [h] to be the “worst fault” of the “bad habits” of London speech. Crystal points out that even though [h] dropping became synonymous with Cockney speech, it was “not specifically a London feature” and that “most people in England and Wales drop their h’s some of the time” and, as shown in Chaucer’s writing, it hadn’t been considered a sign that a persons was low class until the 18th Century prescriptivists decided it was. To a modern reader, these pundits ideas are laughable. The way they decide what aspects of language to vilify seems to be almost at random and based on their own prejudices towards the lower classes without any sort of logical reasoning to back up their claims What readers might not realize is that the exact same type of vilification is present in our own society. One feature of Cockney English that prescriptivists like Walker did not target–either because they didn’t notice it or because it was not yet a feature of the language–is the glottal stop. This feature became a useful indicator of class in the 2010 United Kingdom general election. A column from that year in The Spectator complains about the  The writer says “Younger people do not realise how annoying glottal stops can be to those a generation older–such as me.” The writer discusses how the candidates, including David Cameron, use the glottal stop to appeal to voters. “If other politicians, such as David Miliband, think glottal stops make them more acceptable to younger voters, note that Nick Clegg uses them like the avuncular Mr Cable. How big is the ‘stop the stop’ vote?” (Wordsworth).

A similar phenomenon is happening as of this writing in the 2016 United States presidential election. A study from 2015 from the Journal of Political Marketing analyzed how a presidential candidate’s “language intensity” affected college students’ ratings of their credibility. The study found that  “language levels alter political realities when nouns, verbs, and adjectives are tweaked to different degrees of moderation or extremity. Dimensions of credibility, for example, are affected by the candidate’s rhetoric, and vice versa” (Clementson 1). Students were more likely to find a candidate credible if their language were less intense. A “gentler tone” made students more likely to accept the speaker’s’ statements as fact and rated them higher on “character.” However, despite the higher credibility, this type of discourse is less likely to call listeners to action than more grandiose statements, such as the famous quotes “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”; “Ask not what your country can do for you …”; “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (Clementson 3). The article goes on to give its readers instruction on how to mix the low and high-intensity language in their own speech to best appeal to voters.

Periodicals like the one from 2010 appear consistently during American presidential elections. In October 2015, the Boston Globe reviewed the language used by nineteen presidential candidates using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, a test that is full of linguistic biases in its own right. Their (possibly specious) finding that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at what they deemed to be a “4th-grade level” was then commented on by multiple news outlets including Esquire, Salon, Newsweek, Politico, and Wired as well as being fodder for late-night talk show hosts. The finding was widely used to suggest that the candidate was actively trying to appeal to uneducated voters, with one article even beginning the the words “Donald Trump isn’t a simpleton, he just talks like one” and that his language is “grating… on the ears of the educated class” (Schafer). By directly relating education and class, the writer exemplifies the way pundits latch on to language as a way of drawing socioeconomic lines regardless of whether their intentions are to demonize either what they consider to be elitism or lack of education. However, these sources at least make plain their intentions of using language as a rubric to disparage their political targets. Others, however, are completely unaware of the damage they can cause.

A relevant modern example is the attitudes towards Black vernacular English in the United States, a well-researched topic that has an important place in the history of American sociolinguistics (Myhill 27). In her article “Teacher Attitude Toward Black English and its Impact on Reading Achievement,” Evelyn Roshonn Lawson found that while teachers themselves had “positive perceptions toward students who use Black English in the classroom” and that these teachers’ attitudes did not have a statistically significant impact on reading achievement, there was still a widely held belief by the teachers that “students who speak Black English would face future problems in job and educational accomplishment as well as social issues because of their limited communication skills” (Lawson v). Some of the problems the teachers listed were facing career ceilings and difficulty writing college entrance exams, which shows the bias towards standard English commonly held in standardized tests. The teachers also listed social problems they felt students would face. The teachers reported that students are labeled “ignorant, illiterate, and uneducated” because of their dialect (58). The article goes on to describe teaching strategies to help “bridge the gap” between the black vernacular English and the school’s “accepted language.” While teaching this way is pragmatic and will help the students succeed in a society that dismisses their native dialect, it does nothing to improve the larger racial issues that necessitate this prescriptivism. In the introduction to his book Beyond Ebonics, John Baugh writes that “it would be myopic and wrongheaded to pursue educational reforms for African American students in a social vacuum” and that a broader approach must be taken to “increase linguistic tolerance among all Americans” (Baugh 3). While the students themselves will benefit personally by being taught standard English, doing so in order to appear more formal, professional, or correct is only perpetuating the idea that nonstandard American dialects, particularly those associated with racial minorities, are somehow inferior to standard American English. By teaching standard English as correct, it is natural that students across the United States would look down on nonstandard dialects regardless of their own speech. Without proper instruction regarding the history of English, it is inevitable that students will naturalize standard English without understanding the social and racial ramifications of doing so while simultaneously not even being aware that an alternative exists, as is the case with Chaucer.
The ubiquity of using the English language as a way of denigrating people due to their race, socioeconomic status, or even aesthetic preferences has led to the practice becoming completely naturalized. Whether it be by teaching students to lose their native dialects as a way of appearing professional, or by considering voters uneducated based on the way they react to the level of difficulty in which their preferred presidential candidate speaks, or even by referring to a nonstandard English speaker’s accent as being “broken English,” using language to divide people is so common and accepted that even if the damage it can do is acknowledged, people are unlikely to realize that it isn’t an inherently natural thing to do and that steps can in fact be taken to reduce its effect. This is something that needs to be taken into account in education. By understanding the history of nonstandard forms of English and studying them in a way that does not make quality judgements about them, students can learn that linguistic variation does not in fact relate to ignorance, lack of education, or illiteracy as it is often assumed to be.

 

Works Cited

Allman, W.W. “Sociolinguistics, Literature, and the Reeve’s Tale.” English Studies 85.5 (2004): 385-404. Web. 4 May 2016.

Baugh, John. Beyond Ebonics: Linguistic Pride and Racial Prejudice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Google Scholar. Web. 4 May 2016.

Bradley, Ruth J. “The Use of Cockney Dialect by Chaucer.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 29.1 (1943): 74-76. EBSCO. Web.

Clementson, David E., Paola Pascual-Ferrá, and Michael J. Beatty. “How Language Can Influence Political Marketing Strategy and a Candidate’s Image: Effect of Presidential Candidates’ Language Intensity and Experience on College Students’ Ratings of Source Credibility.” Journal of Political Marketing (2014): 1-28. Taylor Francis Online. Web. 4 May 2016.

Crystal, David. The Stories of English. Woodstock: Overlook, 2004. Print.

“For Presidential Hopefuls, Simpler Language Resonates.” BostonGlobe.com. Boston Globe, 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

Lawson, Evelyn Roshonn. Teacher Attitude toward Black English and Its Impact on Reading Achievement. Diss. Texas  A&M U-Commerce, 2010. N.p.: n.p., n.d. ProQuest. Web. 4 May 2016.

Myhill, John. “Why Has Black English Not Been Standardized? A Cross-cultural Dialogue on Prescriptivism.” Language Sciences 26.1 (2004): 27-56. Science Direct. Web. 4 May 2016.

Schafer, Jack. “Donald Trump Talks Like a Third-Grader.” POLITICO Magazine. N.p., 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 04 May 2016.

Wordsworth, Dot. “Mind Your Language.” The Spectator. N.p., 30 Apr. 2010. Web. 04 May 2016.

 

The Dilemma of Native American Appropriation in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!

In 2012, Debbie Reese, who manages the blog “American Indians in Children’s’ Literature,” wrote a three-day blog post detailing disapproval with Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia!. At the top of each page, she has an editor’s note reading: “I finished Russell’s book, and do not recommend it. It is redface. It is playing Indian.” Her chapter summaries detail why she believes the novel is simply appropriation without any redeeming qualities. However, by equating Ava’s voice to Russell’s and without acknowledging the influence of the Southern Gothic genre on the novel, Reese’s posts ignore the satirical aspects of the text. Ava’s defense of her own appropriation is fitting for her character: a naive and misled thirteen-year-old girl. Her first-person narration should not be taken as a defense of redface on the part of either Russell or the novel itself. While Ava and the rest of the Bigtrees are inarguably “playing Indian,” the novel does not condone their actions but rather uses their appropriation to show Chief Bigtrees ignorance and the ways children can be misled and tricked by adults.

The Bigtrees in Swamplandia! are essentially frauds. In Chapter 2, Ava describes the history of their park. Her grandfather, a white man from Ohio, founded it after losing his job at a mill. He changed his name to Sawtooth Bigtree to “outwit his old boss” who he owed money to. The name was picked almost at random, simply because he “liked its root-strong sound” (Russell 31). Ava is aware of the deception. She says that “although there was not a drop of Seminole or Miccosukee blood in us, the Chief always costumed us in tribal apparel for the photographs he took. He said we were ‘our own Indians’” (6). She goes on to describe their “museum,” a collection of objects from their lives that were placed there to make tourists think their family had a long legacy of alligator wrestling on the island. Ava notes that “often the deck of our past got reshuffled overnight. [The Chief] took down Grandpa’s old army medallions, which did not fit with his image of our free and ancient swamp tribe” (32). Even though Ava knows intellectually that everything about her “Bigtree” family are lies fabricated for tourists, she still forms her entire identity around it. For instance, she refers to Swamplandia’s alligators as “seths” not just when talking to tourists, but in her internal monologue. When a red alligator is born, Ava believes that it will save their park, which is going out of business after her mother’s death . She hides the  alligator from everybody, fearing that it will die if she shows it to her family. The fact that she builds up this fantasy about the park being saved by her “seth” even though her mouth “turned to sand” when she considered telling them about it proves that she herself believes at some level in her Bigtree identity (60).

The Chief tells her that she needs to call the park’s alligators seths because that is what they’re called on the billboard they lease on the mainland. “Tradition is important, kids… as promotional materials are expensive,” says Chief Bigtree. Here he is basically saying that the only reason their traditions are important is because it would be too expensive to change them. However, Ava doesn’t feel this way. All she knows is Swamplandia. Even though she is aware that their identities are fake, they are all she has. She feels no connection with people on the mainland, using the term “Loomis,” the name of the county they live near, as almost an insult. Loomis people didn’t understand her way of life. She also believes that her mother’s trophies are real. These trophies are displayed in the museum, next to all the artifacts that Ava admits are frauds. One trophy reads “NATIONAL CHAMPION, 1971. AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF ALLIGATOR WRESTLERS,” an obviously fabricated organization. Even so, Ava attempts to write to the association to let her compete in their tournament. In this scene, the Chief is hesitant to tell Ava the truth about the trophy being fake. He says “Just don’t send these guys any of your own money, Ava. Don’t get scammed” (54). Telling Ava not to “get scammed” shows how hypocritical he is. He has been scamming tourists his whole life. He acknowledges that Ava believes in her identity and isn’t sure how to break it to her that it’s all a hoax. This hoax has led Ava to be immature and naive as well as uneducated because of the lapses in their homeschooling. The damage that the Chief’s lies do to the children shows that the novel isn’t attempting to naturalize their lifestyle but rather condemn it.

This strange middleground Ava inhabits between accepting that her identity is fake while simultaneously embracing it lies at the heart of the novel’s themes. The novel is constantly wavering between truths and fictions. For example, for the entirety of the novel it is unclear whether the ghosts Ossie claims to see are real or fake. The underworld that the Birdman promises to take Ava to is also only revealed to be fake at the very end of the book. Choosing the grey area between fact and fiction is a common theme in the Southern Gothic genre. In his dissertation Disturbing signs: Southern gothic fiction from Poe to McCullers, Joseph Grant Bain writes that “Rather than resign themselves to a particular accepted way of looking at the world, Southern Gothic writers muster the courage required first to face deconstructed meaning and then to accept the responsibility of reconstructing it.”  This is what we see Russell doing with the Bigtrees appropriation of Native American imagery. It inhabits an ethically ambiguous area in the book, with characters never taking a stance for or against it or even considering for a moment that they should. In the southern gothic genre, however, it is not the duty of the author to explain the ethicality of their characters or to leave the reader with the impression that what they are doing is either right or wrong. In fact, to do so would be actively going against the point of the genre. Bain writes “These writers struggle to free themselves from certain imposed social signs, and therefore brim with the less rigidly structured potential of a precocious child. Hostile or pejorative critical reaction then becomes a defensive dismissal of liberated social meaning” (192).

This is not to say, however, that the novel is nihilistic. While it does not denounce appropriation outright, it shows the harmful effects it can have. In Chapter 15, Ava shows her surprisingly detailed knowledge of the “Seminole Wars.” She describes how the seminoles were “slaughtered or ‘removed’ to the western territories.” And yet she goes on to say that these are the same Seminoles that the Chief “envied in a filial and loving way” (238). To juxtapose the Bigtrees’ envy of these native people with descriptions of their genocide shows how ludicrous their appropriation is. Again, Ava knows something intellectually that she cannot fully understand.

Chief Bigtree’s appropriation is satirized heavily in the chapters where he is working at the casino in Loomis Country. The casino, “Pa-Hay-Okee Gaming” is a Seminole casino. Jessica Cattelino’s Book High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty details the history of Seminole casinos. In 1979, Hollywood Seminole Bingo opened, becoming the first “tribally-operated high-stakes gaming venture in North America” (1). The book describes the complex history of tribally-operated gambling and both the benefits and drawbacks it brings to communities. In Chapter 18, Kiwi is horrified to see his father hosting a beauty pageant at the Seminole Casino. He is taken aback because he has never seen the “Chief,” who he associates with their fraudulent Indian identities, acting like a mainland person, stripped of his fake Indian headdress and buckskin vest. This Casino is legitimately run by the tribal government. It is the actuality of the Native American people that the Bigtrees are imitating. The irony is that Chief Bigtree’s job as an announcer at the casino is a far more realistic depiction of the modern Seminole community than the “Indian” personas that he and his family put on for tourists. This satire adds to the books Southern Gothic tone, one that puts it at odds with traditional southern literature that imagined itself as “a last line of defense against a soulless, rootless, corrupt urban industrial (hence, ‘norther’) modernity” (McWhirter 1). The book flips this dynamic on its head by having the northern Bigtrees from Ohio finding themselves rebelling against the modernity of the genuine Seminoles on the mainland.

All of these elements combine to make the Bigtrees look ridiculous. Although Ava is initially proud of her family’s history, the novel shows time and again that she isn’t capable of understanding the larger issues at play in her life. This makes her an unreliable narrator and–since the book is told from the first-person perspective–it makes everything she says suspect. Throughout the novel she is tricked by adults, specifically Chief Bigtree and the Bird Man. This shows that while she participates in and supports her family “playing Indian,” she is not in a position to defend it and is unable to understand its toxic effects. Rather than read this as the novel trying to normalize and condone redface and appropriation, it should be read as showing way adults can mislead impressionable children into participating in things they have no way of comprehending.

 

Works Cited

Bain, Joseph Grant. Disturbing Signs: Southern Gothic Fiction from Poe to McCullers. Diss. U of Arkansas, 2010.: ProQuest Dissertations, 2010. ProQuest. Web. 5 May 2016.

Cattelino, Jessica R. High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. Google Books. 14 July 2008. Web.

Mcwhirter, David. “Introduction: Rethinking Southern Literary Studies.” South Central Review 22.1, “Southern Literature”/Southern Cultures: Rethinking Southern Literary Studies (2005): 1-3. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2016.

Reese, Debbie. “American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL): Day One with Russell’s SWAMPLANDIA!” 2 Jan. 2012. Web. 05 May 2016.

Russell, Karen. Swamplandia! New York: Vintage, 2011. Print.

Wounded Knee 73: How Media Naturalizes a Historical Event

AIM militants at their checkpoint on road leading into Wounded Knee 1973.The 1973 Wounded Knee incident, in which Oglala Sioux militants occupied the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee for 71 days, is often remembered as a protest as part of the larger civil rights movement happening in the United States at the time. However, the event does not fit cleanly into that description. It is often described as a protest, a revolution, or an act of war depending on what context it is being used in. An article by Elizabeth Rich discusses how “Wounded Knee” has come to be synonymous with Native American issues and how it served to “balance the representations” of American Indian events in American history to combat a “lopsided” version of Native American history. I would like to add onto Rich’s research by incorporating mainstream media reactions from the time in order to understand how this lopsided view came about. By researching diaries and interviews of the people involved both written at the time and described in later interviews, and then comparing them to media coverage of the event, the two can be contrasted in order to understand the occupation’s anomalous position in North American history and the way that different groups attempt to naturalize it.

I’ve broken down my research on Wounded Knee into two major parts: documents produced at the time of the incident by AIM and mainstream media coverage of the event NBC. I’ve also used scholarly research written in the decades after the event and diaries written by people involved to further inform the primary research. Documents produced by AIM in the 60s and 70s are available through organization American Indian Cultural Support. They include flyers, columns written by AIM members, and summaries of the legal proceedings that happened after Wounded Knee. I’ve compared these documents to news coverage from the time presented by NBC as well as footage from the 1973 Sacheen Littlefeather Oscar’s speech and its later discussion on television at the time and in the 2009 documentary Reel Injun.

A common thread running through AIM documents is a theme of militarism and war. The document “Wounded Knee: The Longest War. 1890-1973” begins by making it clear that the United states’ war against the Native Americans “has never ceased.” It goes on to say “In 1973 the government again mustered its forces against the Indian people of the Pine Ridge Reservation who had gathered at Wounded Knee to protest the continuing injustices to their people and the government’s violation of their treaty rights under the 1868 treaty.” This document lays out the intentions of the people involved in Wounded Knee clearly. It says that the government mustered their forces “again,” emphasizing the connection between Wounded Knee 1973 and the massacre that occurred in 1890, drawing further parallels to war (“Wounded Knee: The Longest War”). And it gives two specific reasons for the occupation: protesting injustices to the people and the government’s violation of the 1868 treaty. The treaty itself is available through AICS. Main points taken from the treaty are available in a second document that was used in legal defense after the 1973 occupation. It begins by stating that the treaty will be the “basis” of their defense (“The Treaty of 1868” 1).

In another document, “Statement by Lakota Woman who participated in Liberation of Wounded Knee,” the author starts with the same sentiment as “The Longest War” document, saying “The longest war that the United States government has ever waged has been against the American Indians. The war has never ceased” (Statement by Lakota Woman). The document speaks of Indians running their own hospital, school, and enforcing their own borders at Wounded Knee, showing that unlike other civil rights protests at the time, the purpose of the occupation was not an attempt at recognition by the United States government but rather an attempt to distance reservations from U.S. control by asserting their sovereignty. To suggest that this is a civil rights movement would be to suggest that the movement is seeking action on the part of the United States citizens and government when in reality–according to this quote–the movement wants to completely denounce the government’s authority to make any decision regarding reservations regardless of the intent. The photo at the bottom of the document is of a fist holding a tomahawk raising out of a crowd. This image of the raised fist with a tomahawk is used in other AIM documents, such as the “Indigenous Voice of Resistance” newsletter, which features the raised fist with the tomahawk shackled to a chain, continuing the war imagery (“Indigenous Voice of Resistance”).

Another important issue that led to Wounded Knee was the election and failed impeachment of tribal president Richard Wilson. In the AIM document “Chronology,” the writer argues against B.I.A. control of reservation by saying that they do not recognize sovereign control of reservations and that their election process is “equally anti-Indian.” Wilson is accused of rigging the election by bringing in non-residents to vote for him. Those who opposed him “lost their jobs and suffered periodic harassment” (“Chronology” 1). In his impeachment proceedings on February 12th 1973, Wilson opened the hearing with a film that argued that the civil rights movement was part of a communist plot. Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior argue in their book Like a Hurricane that Wilson believed that AIM was also part of this conspiracy (Smith 192). This is before the occupation has even begun and flimsy parallels to the civil rights movement are already being drawn.

The reports given by the mainstream media at the time, however, skirt the issues of the 1868 treaty and the tribal election in favor of addressing the occupation under the broader title of “Indian Problems.” NBC Evening News aired a report about the incident on  March 1st, 1973, five days after the incident began on February 27th. The layout of the piece is an on-location report given by NBC reporter Fred Briggs. Briggs introduces the group as the American Indian Movement, and also refers to them as “militants.” The first interview in the segment isn’t from a member of the organization, but from Agnes Gildersleeve, the white owner of the “trading post,” or grocery store, who the Native American protesters had taken hostage after burglaring her store. In her brief interview, Briggs asks about the financial implications of the incident, to which Gildersleeve responds “it breaks us.” Gildersleeve later claimed that she had never been taken hostage to avoid kidnapping charges being levelled against AIM, and there were attempts to reimburse her for the damages at the store, which runs contrary to NBC’s narrative of her capture (Lyman 158). Briggs describes the robbery by saying “what hasn’t been destroyed has been pilfered.” Briggs also says that “the takeover… is an attention-getting device,” which is a patronizing way of describing any protest, violent or otherwise. (Briggs).

Briggs then has another brief interview, this time with a member of the movement, Russell Means. “We’re the original land-owners. We are the sovereign native people of this western hemisphere… we are throwing our lives on the line to get [the white man] to look and listen” says Means (Briggs). This statement again puts the incident at odds with other civil rights protests. The fact that the reservations are intended to be sovereign nations makes any appeal to the US government not a request for a change in policy, but rather to honor the treaties that are already in place. Briggs finishes his segment with the members of the movement trying to meet with government officials. He says, “What the Indians wanted now was some sort of an official sign from… some government personage that he is interested in this and he is interested in talking with them about the indian problems.” Describing the conflict as “indian problems” is a vague way to end the segment and it suggest that the news media weren’t quite sure how to classify the incident.
The book Wounded Knee 1973: A Personal Account by Stanley David Lyman who served as BIA superintendent during the occupation (Smith 192) provides a similar view to Russell Means’. The first paragraph of foreword by Alvin M Josephy, jr. contains a good contrast to the NBC news report. It reads “The episode, deeply rooted in the tortuous history of federal Indian relations, was the explosive climax of a series of attempts by American Indians, led frequently by the militant leadership of AIM, to attract the attention of the general American population, an indifferent United States government, and the whole world to the continued frustrations and injustices of their daily lives” (Lyman vii). The passage about attracting the attention of the general American population describes the event much more seriously than the way NBC did by referring to it as an “attention-grabbing device.” The foreword also describes the incident as a “revolution,” which is even further removed as a description from the NBC portrayal (ix). But to call Wounded Knee 1973 part of a revolution has its own problems. As stated in a document produced by AIM in November 1973, part of their mission was to enforce treaties the American government made with Native Americans granting them their sovereignty (AIM Statement on Wounded Knee). It can’t be a revolution if the government they are revolting against already officially recognizes them as their own nation. So, it’s difficult to say they’re waging a war with the US if their intent is to enforce the United States’ own treaties. Because of that, if it is categorized as an act of war, AIM can’t be viewed as the aggressor since it is only retaliating against a century’s worth of aggression and breaking of the original treaty. The FBI, however, gave a different reasoning. FBI agent Norman Zigrossi said that “ “The [Lakota] are a conquered nation, and when you are conquered, the people you are conquered by dictate your future,” completely ignoring any precedence that the treaties would have had and giving a completely different perspective on the occupation (Gump 427).

NBC aired another segment on March 1st about the Wounded Knee incident. This segment is hosted by reporter Dick Kay. He interviews Roger Harper, director of the local “Indian Center” in Chicago. Harper gives his opinion on the incident, saying, “Our contributions fall tremendously, each time something of this nature, vandalism, destruction, the taking of hostages, and shots being fired, our income takes a tremendous dip down… brothers and sisters, I agree with your aims and your goals. But i think that the methods you’re using in an attempt to achieve these ends and goals is damaging to not only the american indian center of chicago but to all urban indian organizations across the country” (Briggs). Here, Harper is claiming to share the goals of AIM. However, if AIM’s message is truly about a military revolution, as Lyman suggest, then it would be impossible to separate that ideology from the type of goals Harper endorses. Harper’s Chicago-based organization helps with Native American residents of the city. It is not involved in any struggle for sovereignty. What, then, are the “goals” that Harper agrees with? Is he talking about the 1868 treaty? The impeachment of Wilson? Like the NBC reporter, he remains vague about what exactly he believes the motivations for the incident are. Despite the imprecise and ambiguous way the media described the event,  it was instrumental in viewing the occupation as a success, with some commentators going so far as to suggest that AIM was using the media to purposefully deceive people into supporting their cause. One writer argued that the occupation was a “media coup” and“an example of a new and expanding strategy of political manipulation that neatly circumvents the ordinary process of government [and] makes a direct and powerful appeal to the public through the mass media” (D’arcus 416).
Elizabeth Rich describes Wounded Knee as having become metonymy for Native American issues. This means that it is used as a symbol to represent wider issues far removed from the Pine Ridge Reservation and the treaty rights and impeachment hearings that created it. The event that most exemplifies this usage is Sacheen Littlefeather’s speech at the 1973 Oscars and the discussions it spawned. The 2009 documentary Reel Injun covers the portrayal of Natives Americans on film and the impact of those depictions on Native American communities and the cultural issues surrounding them. The presenter, Adam Beach, begins the segment about Wounded Knee by saying “This is Wounded Knee. For me and many natives, this is sacred ground. What happened here in 1973 would change the image of natives in Hollywood forever.” His voiceover is overlaid with color footage of the event. American Indian Movement member John Trudell goes on to describe the incident. “The American government fought a war against us. From the tanks that they used at Wounded Knee to the way they used the FBI as paramilitary and National Guards, we were fighting for our lives. Our death casualty went quite high.” While this interview accurately represents the violence of the occupation, there is no mention of treaties, Dick Wilson, or any of the major events that led to the incident. This is not to say, however, that this makes the segment unsuccessful or in any way misleading, but it is a perfect example of using the occupation as a jumping off point or metonymy to discuss issues that never initially related to it.

The segments then switches to an interview with Sacheen Littlefeather, who famously rejected the award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando at the 45th Academy awards on March 27th 1973, because of the depiction of Native Americans by the media as well as because of the ongoing Wounded Knee incident. At this time, the Academy Awards were being broadcast on NBC who, as well as airing the previous Briggs segment, were currently airing several programs with stereotypical depictions of  Native Americans, such as Bonanza. This segment includes footage of the modern interview with Littlefeather as well as original footage of the ceremony. Intercut with this footage is Russell Means describing how he and the other AIM members at Wounded Knee reacted to the live Academy Awards speech.

Sacheen Littlefeather was unable to deliver the whole speech due to threats from the producers of the Academy Awards, but the text was later released by the New York Times. A passage read “I felt that perhaps I could be of better use if I went to Wounded Knee to help forestall in whatever way I can the establishment of a peace which would be dishonorable as long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow” (Brando). This speech, had it been read in its entirety, would have had a significantly different impact. It directly endorses “forestalling peace,” suggesting that any peace that could be reached in the incident would only perpetuate the current treatment of Native Americans by the United States.

Brando doubles down on his own interpretation of the occupation in a June 12 1973 hour-long interview on the Dick Cavett Show, explaining that the reasoning behind his speech was that “since the American Indian hasn’t been able to hear his voice heard or have his voice heard anywhere in the history of the United States… I felt that it was a marvelous opportunity for an indian to be able to voice his opinion to 85 million people.” Throughout the interview, Brando uses Wounded Knee exactly as Rich describes it being used in her article. She says “the words Wounded Knee come to stand for the many underhanded, crippling, and unjust actions and policies, practiced by the United States government for over two hundred years” (Rich 71). In fact, Brando doesn’t mention Wounded Knee until after the halfway point in the interview when Dick Cavett asks him why he didn’t honor his earlier decision to visit Wounded Knee during the occupation. Brando again focuses on the violent aspect without mentioning the motivations, saying that Wounded Knee was surrounded by “federal officers, marshals… anybody who wanted to hold a gun and make himself feel good.” He explains that he feared that if he visited Wounded Knee, he would be arrested by deputized Native Americans working with the police forces and that headlines would then read “Indians reproach Brando at Wounded Knee” (Cavett).
These examples show how different groups attempt to explain the occupation in different ways depending on their own biases and agendas, even if they are well-meaning. While using Wounded Knee as metonymy as Rich describes it has been shown to be a successful tool for persuasion as shown in Reel Injun and the case of the 1973 Oscars, it runs the risk of allowing the multiple meanings and usages of the event to metastasize, resulting in the actual history of the occupation being misunderstood or forgotten. When an event like Wounded Knee becomes so lionized that its details cease to be important to the discussion, then it becomes reduced to a symbol. This symbol can be an effective way of bringing discussion around an issue, but it allows for such broad interpretation that the true historical facts can become easily overlooked. This is dangerous because it makes it possible for meaning to be attributed to areas where it doesn’t really exist and also for true meaning to be replaced with revisionism. Wounded Knee 1973’s unique place in North American history as a complicated and difficult to penetrate event make it prime for being used this way and because of this it is essential that the true history be accounted for when it is used as part of a larger persuasive message.

 

 


Works Cited

“- American Indian Movement – AIM -.” N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.

<http://www.aimovement.org/&gt;.

 

Brando, Marlon. “That Unfinished Oscar Speech.” Best Pictures. New York Times, 2002. Web.

Briggs, Fred, and Dick Kay. “American Indian Movement / Wounded Knee.” Evening News. NBC. New York, New York, 1 Mar. 1973. Vanderbilt University Television News Archive. Web.

“Chronology” AIM and Wounded Knee Documents.

American Indian Cultural Support. Web.

D’Arcus, B. “Contested Boundaries: Native Sovereignty and State Power at Wounded Knee,

1973.” Political Geography 22.4 (2003): 415-37. EBSCO. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Gump, James O. “Civil Wars in South Dakota and South Africa: The Role of the “Third Force””

The Western Historical Quarterly 34.4 (2003): 427-44. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

 

“Indigenous Voice of Resistance.” 1973. AIM and Wounded Knee Documents.

American Indian Cultural Support. Web.

Lyman, Stanley David, Floyd A. O’Neil, June K. Lyman, and Susan McKay. Wounded Knee

1973: A Personal Account. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 1991. EBSCO. Web.

“Marlon Brando Interview 1973.” Interview by Dick Cavett. Youtube.com. ABC Late Night.

New York, New York, 12 June 1973. Television.

Reel Injun. Dir. Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge, and Jeremiah Hayes. Perf. Angela Aleiss, Adam Beach. Rezolution Pictures, National Film Board of Canada, n.d. Netflix. Web.

Rich, Elizabeth. “”Remember Wounded Knee”: AIM’s Use of Metonymy in 21st Century Protest.” College Literature 31.3 (2004): 70-91. Project Muse. Web.

Smith, Paul Chaat., and Robert Allen. Warrior. Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from

Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. New York: New, 1996. Print.

Statement by Lakota Woman Who Participated in the Liberation of Wounded Knee. 1973. AIM

and Wounded Knee Documents. American Indian Cultural Support. Web.
“The Treaty of 1968.” AIM and Wounded Knee Documents.

American Indian Cultural Support. Web.
“Wounded Knee: The Longest War.” 1973. AIM and Wounded Knee Documents.

American Indian Cultural Support. Web.

“Eloquence About Aeroplanes and the Blue Italian Sky”: Aeropittura and Yeats

futurism_aeropittura_crali_before_the_parachute_opens

Aeropittura was an art style based around airplanes and aerial combat that came about in the first half of the 20th century as part of the Italian Futurism Movement. Aeropittura paintings such as Tullio Crali’s Before the Parachute Opens prize machinery, youth, and heroism. Their defining characteristics are a sense of speed and a propagandic view of war. Their focus on aerial combat emphasizes the machine and the pilot while using the action on the ground only as a backdrop, often dehumanizing it. The style, like most of the art and poetry in futurism, appealed to the senses of young men eager for the adventure that they believed war would breed. These paintings were mainly produced between 1927 and 1939, though aviation imagery was used widely in futurist paintings as early as 1909 (Paluch-Mishur iii). W.B. Yeats 1919 poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death provides a contrast to the Italian futurists’ depictions of flight. Rather than paint the airman as a hero, it describes him as a man without purpose who chose to go to war on a whim. The poem never once mentions the airman’s plane, disregarding any idealization of technology. It focuses on the individual man, like futurism, but is informed by the state of Ireland after WWI and Nietzschean philosophy rather than by the heroism and propaganda of the futurists.


Yeats was fundamentally opposed to the Italian futurists’ ideas about the beauty of airplanes. He told his wife “ ‘I have firmly resisted all suggested eloquence about aero planes and the ‘blue Italian sky’” (Foster 135). This quote explains why Yeats does not talk about the airplane that the airman flew, proving that it was a purposeful decision to avoid having any connection to the Italian artists. By removing any description of the plane, he focuses the poem on the airman himself, making the poem entirely about the man narrating it and not about either the plane or even the conflict. It also shifts the aesthetic away from the technological, which fits with Yeats’ style which typically romanticizes pastoral settings rather than urban or modern environments. Stylistically, the poem is the opposite of futurism. It slows the action down, focusing on a single moment in the airman’s thoughts. It is a simple, straightforward read compared to the jarring sense of movement and speed that the futurists strived for in both their paintings and poems.
“An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” like much of Yeats’s work, is distinctly Irish. It represents Yeats attitudes about war that were directly opposed to the viewpoints of the modernists in Italy. Yeats views–particularly about WWI–became common in Ireland after it gained its independence in 1922. In the poem, the narrator says, “My Country is Kiltartan’s Cross, my countrymen Kiltartan’s poor” (5). Kiltartan is a civil parish in the county of Galway in Ireland. It would later become part of the Republic of Ireland in 1922 but was part of the United Kingdom throughout WWI. The narrator’s statement that “no likely end could bring them loss, Or leave them happier than before” describes the narrator’s view towards the war. He sees it as a conflict that does not concern him or his country. After WWI, the general stance in Ireland was that Ireland’s’ participation in the war be forgotten because it was a war that belonged to the rest of Europe and Ireland’s involvement was only a result of it being part of the UK at the time. In his article “Yeats at War: Poetic Strategies and Political Reconstruction from the Easter Rising to the Free State: The Prothero Lecture,” R. F. Foster states that “the political correctness of the new state established in 1922 demanded that the participation of hundreds of thousands of Irish people in the war… be forgotten or at best politely ignored” (126). This idea that the war was unimportant to Ireland is reflected by the narrator’s refusal to attach any importance to his actions. He says that

“Nor Law, nor duty bade me fight,

Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,

A lonely impulse of delight

Drove to this tumult in the clouds.”

This provides a stark contrast to the Italian futurists. The airman does not consider himself a hero and in fact doesn’t imagine himself or his countrymen to have any stake in the war. He became an airman solely on a whim and does not care about either side. He has what Foster describes as a “Nietzschean tragic joy,” meaning that it is the fight itself that gives him delight; he does not care about consequences and does not seek to apply any meaning to his actions or the actions of his enemies. This is the opposite of the the soldiers depicted in Aeropittura who are always completely sure of their cause and whose delight in war is purposefully veiled by their sense of patriotism.

It should be noted, however, that the idea that the goals of Britain in WWI were unimportant to Ireland was not a common viewpoint of until after 1922. Austin Riede writes in an article for the Irish Studies Review that “ both unionists and nationalists had clear, if different, reasons to support the war… Across Ireland, [Fran Brearton] writes, ‘the desire to support fellow Catholics in Belgium and fight for “the freedom of small nations” had an obvious, and largely uncomplicated appeal for some, as did the desire to protect the British Empire against a military aggressor for others’” (126). This is reflected in Ireland’s own propaganda at the time, such as a WWI Irish recruitment poster which calls Irishmen to help Belgium, which had been invaded by Germany in 1914. This propaganda poster in actuality provides a more realistic comparison to Aeropittura than Yeats and one that was more representative of the majority of Irish opinion at the time. The poster appeals to the people’s sense of duty and responsibility rather than the heroic ideals of Aeropittura. Despite differing from the Italian propaganda in how it rallies people into fighting, it still demonstrates the favorable view of WWI that was common at the time, a view that Yeats’s poem does not accurately represent. In fact, his Irish Airman narrator was modeled Major Robert Gregory, the son of Yeats’ personal friend Augustus Gregory. Gregory’s son is the subject of another poem by Yeats titled “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory.” In the poem, which was published the same year as “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” Yeats describes people he had known earlier in life who had all died, presumably in war. This poem strives to make the people’s death seem to have been in vain, never discussing the exact context of their deaths or what they were fighting for. However, neither poem represents Gregory’s own personal views towards the war as he was actually in favor of it. Foster states that the airman’s narration was the “exact opposite” of Gregory’s true feelings (Foster 135). As is the case with much of Yeats’ poetry, the message is more important than accurately representing life. Although the facts of the poem are suspect, they also serve to distance it from futurism. His airman character is a distillation of everything Yeats felt was wrong about WWI and about the blind sense of patriotism espoused by people like the Italian futurists.

 

 

Works Cited

Byrne, Elaine. “The Forgotten Irish Soldiers Who Fought for Britain in the First World War.”

The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Apr. 2014. Web. 13 May 2016.

Foster, R. F. “Yeats at War: Poetic Strategies and Political Reconstruction from the Easter Rising to the Free State: The Prothero Lecture.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 11 (2001): 125-45. JSTOR. Web. 13 May 2016.

Paluch-Mishur, Michelle. “The Mutable Perspectives of Flight”: Futurist Aeropittura and the “Golden Age” of Aviation. Diss. U of Wisconsin, 2004. N.p.: ProQuest Dissertations, 2004. ProQuest. Web. 13 May 2016.

Riede, Austin. “W.B. Yeats’s Economies of Sacrifice: War, Rebellion, and ‘wasteful Virtue’.” Irish Studies Review 19.4 (2011): 401-11. EBSCO Megafile. Web. 13 May 2016.

Yeats, William Butler. “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Yeats, W. B. 1919. Poetry

Foundation. Web. 13 May 2016.

Yeats, William Butler. “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory” Yeats, W. B. 1919. Bartleby.com.

Web. 13 May 2016.