Tag Archives: class warfare

My Mother Made Me a Commie

My mother and I watched lots of old movies in the 1950s on a tiny TV screen in our tiny winterized screened in breezeway.  My mother knew all the supporting players by name.  Her own sisters had been MGM contract players.  She was never political and always voted Republican except for George McGovern.  But without her knowing it, the movies we watched left a deep impression on me.  They reinforced the idea of “getting in other people’s shoes whether they were worn out with holes in the bottom or velvet ones studded with pearls. I could feel for the “down and out” while coveting the lacy ball gowns, crystal goblets, and fox furs. It nurtured my love of contradiction that persists to this day.

The economist, Milton Friedman, was right in one respect. He once said, “When a crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas lying around.” This statement became the basis for Naomi Klein’s frightening book “The Shock Doctrine.” In it, she chronicles the ways his followers jammed his free market ideas down the throats of citizens in various countries when a crisis, man made or natural, occurred. Some of the ideas lying around during the 1930s and 1940s that produced movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) were often anti-capitalist, labor friendly and surprisingly saturated with feminism.  I watched “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” (1947) this past Christmas. It’s about a hobo who occupies (YES, Occupies!) a rich man’s mansion every winter when the rich guy goes to his winter home in Virginia.   The hobo wears his clothes, smokes his cigars, and drinks his wine. Year after year nobody noticed anything awry.

One day on his daily stroll through Central Park. The hobo happens upon a homeless WWII vet (YES, veterans are always treated like crap even after [1]“the good war”.) Against his better judgment the hobo takes in the veteran. The daughter of the rich man runs away from her snooty college and decides to hide in her father’s mansion. She overhears the hobo confessing that he’s a hobo to the vet. She decides to pretend to be poor so she can stay there too and cuz the Vet is cute. Turns out that the vet has a bunch of ex GI buddies and their wives and kids who also need housing, so, somewhat reluctantly, the hobo takes in all of them. The vet and his buddies then hatch a plan to purchase an army barracks and turn it into communal housing. Well there are many more complications when the rich man (who started out poor) comes back to New York to look for his missing daughter. When they finally meet, the spunky girl confronts her father. She tells him that she doesn’t understand why they should have big empty houses when there are people who need them. Then she convinces him to disguise himself as a bum and join the merry band of people inhabiting his mansion. And soon her divorced socialite mother joins up disguised as a poor cook.

Other movies of that era also have spunky females like Barbara Stanwyck in “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) who writes a Martha Stewart-like column in a NY newspaper about her Connecticut stately farm. Truth is she’s a poorly paid journalist who lives in a one bedroom flat in NYC.  “Holiday Affair” (1949) is about a war widow raising her son and trying to find a good father while trying to maintain her dignity and independence. “My Man Godfrey” (1936) is my favorite film. Filmed at the height of the Depression, it opens with a bunch of rich people going on a scavenger hunt. One of the “items” they must find is a “forgotten man”. So they go to where all the homeless are shacked up tin order to find one. And audiences loved these stories of people struggling together in an often dog eat dog world. They still do if given the chance. “The Devil Wears Prada” is in this tradition, but not quite as subversive as the old movies.

Besides giving people work on sewer systems and dams in the 1930s, the WPA funded writers, artists and photographers. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have another WPA type deal in order to have writers and artists come up with other ideas.  Margaret Thatcher once famously said about financial capitalism  aka Milton Friedman’s“free market” that “there is no alternative,” referred to as TINA.  But there must be.  There were other ideas not so very long ago.  Time to dig them up and repot them.  We need to  “imagine” a better world that we can actually Occupy rather than watch on the TV.  I was lucky to watch old movies with my mother.  No, she didn’t make me a Commie, but she did help make me a Contrarian.

[1] “The Good War” was the name of the 1985 book by Studs Terkel. It is composed of first hand accounts of veterans of World War II.

News From the Saloon – Bang for Your Buck

The bar has been rather quiet lately.  There weren’t as many Christmas parties as in the past.  Not as many people bellied up to the bar.  It’s always a little quieter after the end of the main hunting season that ends at Thanksgiving.  Not as many strangers dressed in camouflage, their orange heads bobbing as they  exchange stories of bagging that elk.  For that I am always thankful at Thanksgiving.  I am thankful that my neighbors have meat in their freezer for the year, yes.  But I am also  thankful that it is the end of dead animals on hoods of trucks season.

And now we have settled in for winter with mostly locals and the occasional travelers on their way across the state on I-90.  They mostly have tales of snow and woe.  There is still talk of hunting but it has to do with what the hunter got for Christmas.  This year’s present seems to be an electronic animal distress call.  And a young man at the bar had just received one.  What in the world was that, I asked.

“Well, it mimics an animal in distress like a rabbit so the coyote or wolf will  come to it and you can get your shot,” the young man replied.

The young woman with him remarked, “He can make all the sounds himself, so he doesn’t really need one.  His sounds are better than the recordings and, yes, quite distressful.”

“I learned those calls when I was a little guy watching the hunting shows on TV, ” he added.  “My mom would just shake her head as I did my best one, the dying rabbit.”

Now I was under the impression that most youngsters were forced to watch Sesame Street with Miss Piggy or cartoons about rascally rabbits.  Instead  I find out that there are little boys out there mastering the fine art of imitating dying bunnies and ‘lil Miss Piggy squeals.  Indeed, life is strange.  But having just see the magnificent “Life of Pi” by director Ang Lee, I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way of explaining the food chain to a kid. Sesame Street or Outdoor Living?  Whose to say?

So this is where the tale gets even stranger for me.  The young man said that he couldn’t really use his present much in Montana as they have rules about such things.  You can’t use electronic devices to lure or bait your prey.

Okay, I don’t hunt.  My sister does.  My uncles did.  My husband used to but hasn’t in 20 years.  He is a rancher and only uses his gun to shoot coyotes that come near his cows and calves.  So I don’t know much about it and usually only half listen to these hunting conversations which I find as tedious as they might find my conversations about life expectancies in the industrialized nations.

So I asked, “I don’t understand. What’s the difference between you making a distressed “lil piggy” and a gizmo doing it?”

“I guess it’s not fair,” he shrugged.  And this, by and large, was the answer I got from about a half dozen people I asked over the course of the next two days.

“Not fair?  Not fair?” I declared each time.  “You are going off to kill something.  I don’t get it.  What difference does it make how you do it? Why are there all these rules?  I get that there is a quota.  I get that hunters are used to thin the herds since there is very little feed around and it is better than having them starve.  Okay.  I get not shooting near a house.  I get asking permission of a rancher to come on his place.  But what is this “not fair” stuff?  It’s not like the deer and the hunter meet at the center of the field and agree on a set of rules and shake paws or hooves or hands and go back to their respective corners waiting for the gong to sound.  The deer and coyotes are not part of this deal.  They did not even designate representatives in the capital to speak on their behalf in making these rules.   I don’t get why it’s a sport at all, I guess.   Is this how an idea like “The Hunger Games” begins? Somebody decides who is predator and who is prey and what’s “fair”?”

The young couple were polite as I finished my rant.  They had no answers for me.

The next day I was having my nails done and I asked the question at the salon.

“Angie, come over here,” Melissa said.  “You hunt.  Why are there these rules about electronic animal sounds?”

“Well, you can’t bait them.  You can’t use a bucket of guts and you can’t use electronic calls.  It’s not fair, I guess, ” she replied.

“But what is all this “fair” stuff?” I repeated.

“Well, if you break the rules you have to pay a fine.  Maybe it’s a way of collecting money,” she pondered.

Okay, that’s an idea I can wrap my head around.  That might be a rationale for those rules.  Maybe it’s the only way a state can figure out revenue.  But there is something more.  Something deeper. The underlying idea is that hunting has come to be viewed as a sport and not something of a necessity.  And “sport” is an idea that has been around for thousands of years.  “Sport” is what keeps the plebes occupied while the elites steal everything in sight.  The elites have always resorted to “bread and circuses” to keep the rabble from cutting off their heads.  Until one day it stops working.  And that’s when the prey becomes the predator.  It is forever thus.


The Walking Dead

Why is “The Walking Dead so successful?  My take is that it captures what has happened to all of us in the U.S.  in an entertaining way.   Some Americans do try to escape the “deathless  and faceless machines” called corporations because we know that they are not persons.  They “have no soul or human emotions.”  They are relentless and everywhere. (It is no accident that the original series was the concept of Frank Darabont who was the screenwriter/director of the great “Shawshank Redemption”, another escape movie.) Continue reading

Boat Riders and Book Writers – Updated With Better Video

One of Gary Larson’s cartoons that has lingered with me over the years is the one where a small wooden shed sits in the middle of a construction site with a big mound of dirt.  Above the shed is the sign “Fred’s Fill Dirt and Croissants”.   I love it because it appeals to my love of contrasts and supposed contradictions.  It is also the story of my life.  Granddaughter of rich people from Philadelphia who made their fortune in bobby pins and hair nets and the granddaughter of a failed farmer who ended up on the Ford assembly line.  Trained to teach lofty subjects to college kids, but happier doing pratfalls in French farces in Off Off Broadway theaters.   Now living on a cattle ranch going to boat floats and book readings in one week.

“BOAT FLOOOAT! BOAT FLOOOOAT!”, the guys on shore yelled out to a river raft filled with pirate hatted young men. Continue reading


Newt Gingrich suggested that perhaps a good idea for poor highschoolers would be to work as the janitors in their high school in their off hours which would “be a way to instill a work ethic while also saving money”. A lot of liberals jumped on him for this screaming, “That’s an awful idea.  That is child labor and it’s racist to boot.”

Well, it sounds racist.  But most of all it sounds stupid and way out of touch with the lives of regular Americans.  So it’s not only racist, but it’s elitist.

What, pray tell,  are the janitors going to do when there job is taken over by teenagers?  Does Newt propose having the janitors teach? Maybe they will take on administrative duties? (Actually not bad ideas).  Did Newt think for a moment that real people are janitors. And janitors earn their wages. They are good at their jobs and probably proud of their work.  “Custodial engineers” are responsible for “making minor repairs to the steam plant, heating equipment, electrical equipment, plumbing…” according to PolitiFact.com.   (Do you want to have students working on boilers?)

Hey, people, janitors fix things not blather on about nonsensical ideas about what could be done to improve the lives of poor children.

Also, there is nothing wrong with kids doing chores.  In the one room school my husband went to they had a hot lunch and then they all did the dishes.  I used to clean the teachers’ coffee cups after their coffee break.  I was soooo relieved to be out of class for a half an hour.  It was fun.

My father ran a school for the handicapped.  He was an early pioneer in special education.  Everybody had chores including the physically handicapped.  Deaf dormitory students Richard and Cheryl helped my grandmother cook the evening meal and then do the dishes, just like a family would do.  David who had little use of his arms or legs could fold the napkins with his chin.  Older children helped the younger ones to bed.

On the ranch or farm, children fed the chickens, the pigs, and the bum lambs.  They helped with haying.  These are all called “chores”.  The difference between chores and child labor is how long the chores last.  If you send a kid down a mine shaft and they labor for 10 hours, that’s abuse.  If a kid has to do an hour of mowing or washing the car, that’s chores.

And taking a job away from a capable hard working adult is just stupid and not the way to help poor children have a better education and a better life.

Note to politicians: I got this insight from a manicurist who was appalled that this politician would suggest taking a good paying job away from an adult and give it to a 14 year old because all it was was cleaning toilets.  “No clue,” she said.

What Do They Want?

Is it about wants? Or something else.  I read a statement years ago that the 20th Century was the century of Freud. And with any luck, the 21st Century would be the century of Jung. Not sure who said it but it really resonated with me. My take on Jung was that he emphasized the idea that we are all a part of a whole, with each of us having individual gifts contributing to that whole. When we look at another, we see ourselves. In the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self”, Adam Curtis explores the use of Freud’s theories to direct people away from a communal way of thinking and into rampant mirror-gazing.

The premise of the film is that the birth of propaganda/public relations/marketing began with Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays when he was hired by the Wilson administration to sell the idea of “making the world safe for democracy”. Unfortunately, that meant becoming involved in the hideous carnage called World War I and forcing your neighbors to buy War Bonds or be put in jail. After the war, he was asked by the tobacco industry to use his PR skills to figure out how to sell cigarettes to women. He branded cigarettes “torches of freedom” that would challenge male power simply by lighting up. From then on, advertising would no longer speak to people’s needs, but to their inner desires and yearnings. And freedom would now be defined as freedom of choice.

And so the transformation of the American citizen into the American consumer began in earnest. Americans were sold that they needed clothes that showed their individuality and made them sexy. Men were sold that the kind of car they drove showed who they were; powerful and, yes, sexy. The kind of soap you bought made you happier and more admired.

What we are witnessing in Zuccotti/Liberty Park with the #Occupy Wall Street could be the great turning away from the century of “me” to the century of “we”.
At least it has opened up the discussion of what we really need rather than what we want. The greatest need right now seems to have our voices heard and a need to take back the meaning of words like “public” and “cooperative” and “social”. It is a pushback against all the punditry that insist on a label, logo, banner, slogan, brand, buzzword, sound bite, pitch or demand.

No, we will no longer be defined as consumers. We will no longer be cogs in your machine. We are free men and women. We do not define freedom as the right to choose between 100 brands of cereal. Our definition of freedom is freedom from domination by corporations and their agendas. Our definition of freedom is not to be subservient to the 1%. We are taking back our humanity. We are taking back our public spaces and our commons. We are a community; a community of concerns. We care about each other and the planet we inhabit. There is no expiration date on what is happening around the world and at last in the United States.

So it’s not what we want, it’s what we really need.