Thursday, June 19, 2014

It Doesn't Matter What You Wear Just As Long As You Are There

Problem with listening to even the high end of pop music is that it does tend to give you ear worms.   Mine was another of Martha And The Vandella's hits which I heard a lot of in my younger days,  Dancing in the Street.   The racist, right wing media said it carried a coded message that incited the riots that were happening around then.  Really, dancing in the street was supposed to be the same thing as having a really serious, people getting killed - most of them unnoticed by the racist, right wing media, black - and building burnt down riot.  But this isn't another well deserved criticism of the media.  It's a well deserved criticism of snobs and entitlement.

Another manifestation of pop culture that came not all that long after that was the TV show, All in the family.   Archie Bunker was intended by the liberal writers, producers and actors on that show to represent the white underclass in all its ignorant, unattractive bigoted aspect.  Don't get me wrong, the program wasn't that unnuanced,  Edith was big-hearted and broad minded as she was depicted as endearingly ignorant and there were some other characters who were clearly blue collar but who were not depicted as ignorant, the son-in-law Mike, especially.   But, somehow, it was the awful Archie Bunker who took and who, contrary to the intent of all involved, became something of a heroic figure to some of the racist, white underclass.

I never got it, then,  but it shouldn't have been that big a surprise.   I didn't think of it at the time but the 1968 presidential race was won by Richard Nixon making overt outreaches to racists and bigots on the basis of painting liberals as elite snobs from the North East, his biggest rival in that, George Wallace who successfully turned himself into a national figure by pioneering the approach that Nixon copied and succeeded with.   Somehow, it didn't occur to the producers of All In The Family that they could be reinforcing some of the presumptions of snobbery that helped fuel the resentment that was a political success.

Now,  I think that Archie Bunker became a hero to a large number of blue collar white people exactly because he was ridiculed and disdained by those presented as his liberal, intellectual superiors.   He was  judged by what was considered his substandard grammar and malapropisms,  his working-class clothes and preferences.   As it would be put by Robbie Robertson a few years after, they judged him by his shoes as much as anything.   My guess is that lots of  blue collar people noticed he was the one who, as he was being held up to ridicule and disdain, was the one who was helping to support his liberal son-in-law while his son-in-law was in college.   The writers had, while creating what they saw as a clownish, white, bigot, presented those people with the proof that they were right about how Northeastern liberals saw them.

It was inevitable that there were regional resentments over the end of Jim Crow and similar, legalized forms of racial oppression and subjugation because the legal racism was regional, not all of them in the South, by the way, and the strategy to attack it had depended on participation by people from other regions.  But some of it was a reaction to the actual AND EXPRESSED attitude of some of the liberal people from the North, especially the North East.   The producers had unwittingly reinforced exactly the beliefs that Wallace and Nixon had successfully used to take the presidency and begin dismantling what legal progress had been won with the blood of, mostly, black people in the South and Latinos in places like California.

The call out around the world to dance in the streets, "it doesn't matter what you wear just as long as you are there," was, in its way, an innocent expression of inclusiveness that addressed a non-elite audience, that didn't make an appeal to elite attitudes.   It was, in its way, a call for a temporary Beloved Community, not, in itself, a plan of political action to secure the change that had been made but it wasn't based in exclusion by an elite.  It's too bad that some of it didn't take with the left.

I don't know the chronology of the songs but I'm pretty sure the Mamas and the Papas, who covered the song that Martha and the Vandellas made a hit, also had a hit with another song that, unfortunately, could have served as the theme song of the same self-defeating, pseudo-left that I've been writing about,  "I'm in With The In Crowd".    Though I never could stand The Mamas and the Papas, it wasn't because of that song that stood out as why.  I barely noticed the "message" of the song and didn't even think of what they were saying until, after several years of frequenting leftish blog comment threads, I began to seriously think about the political ramifications of what people said on them, about how so many of the people on them seemed to relish the same disdain for the underclass that Wallace and Nixon, Reagan, Gingrich, etc. had, apparently unnoticed by them, successfully used to halt progress.

And the same people who proudly boasted of their superior intellect didn't understand the meaning of the political success of the right in even those most obvious of terms.   It was the stupidity of The People, not the stupidity of their own attitude that they insisted was the problem.   And they expected, after all these years of evidence that was a sure failure, that it would have different results.   It won't, it never will.   Snobs alienate more people than they attract to their in-crowd because snobbery is all about excluding them. The new atheism, what seems to be the feature of the leftish blogs that has really taken on them in the past decade, is just another manifestation of that exclusive snobbery.

I don't know if the left will ever be ready for it, but we need a far different beat than that one.   The left hasn't got any chance of succeeding until it has one that everyone is invited to enjoy.

Update:  It would seem that those who hold the paranoid belief that such well known advocates of street violence as Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye* wrote Dancing in the Streets as a call for violence includes the aspirant to be the world's oldest teenager, hipster in his own mind, Steve Simels.   Sims says in a comment I will publish if I must, "I should add that you seem to have been the only sentient mammal in America who didn't think the lyrics of "Dancing in the Street" were in fact meant in part as a piece of social commentary on the racial strife in this country in 1964."  

Well, apparently there's at least one other sentient mammal who didn't see it that way,  Ms. Martha Reeves who pointed out that it was meant as a party song, which is, perhaps, why the album it was released on was called DANCE PARTY**. And, notice that the cover art doesn't feature anyone BUT WHITE PEOPLE DANCING.  Not to mention that the riots that the paranoid, white, conservatives associated it with would seem to have, just about all, to have not made much "Music, sweet music, there'll be music everywhere"  There wasn't much "swinging, swaying and records playing" happening during those. I doubt that the riots of 1964 had started before the production of the song, certainly not before it was written.  It wasn't even released until the end of July, that year, if the online references are correct.

I remember thinking at the time that the accusation was pretty much on the same level as radio reverends playing records backward to find subliminal Satanic messages and the initials under FDR's image on the dime standing for Joseph Stalin.    Now I think it's white people who can't see black people as people who are quite able to have clean, wholesome fun and live lives that aren't in line with their racial anxiety.

Hunter recalled that most of the song was written in the attic of the home of Stevenson and Kim Weston. “I was writing this melancholy song, and Marvin Gaye was listening and said, ‘That’s no melancholy song, that’s dancing in the street.’ ”
.... Stevenson said he had never intended it for Reeves. But she was extremely professional and reliable. Late one night, according to Stevenson, they wanted to make the demo tape for Weston, and Reeves was still there. Stevenson said that he and Gaye and Hunter were in the studio working on a demo tape on top of the finished music track. After hearing the track with Paul Riser’s arrangement, Gaye and Hunter were concerned that Weston’s usual heavier approach was not well-suited for the light feel of the song.

** Reeves, in her autobiography, said that she initially did not like the song. Later in an interview, she backed off slightly from that, saying that it was just a momentary feeling. “I was not impressed. I don’t want to dance in the street. I want to dance on a big stage or a big elegant ballroom.”

Yeah, sounds like a conspiracy to incite rioting to me.   What other people did with it doesn't change anything about what was intended by the people who produced it and I don't remember anyone claiming it had anything to do with riots before the racist paranoids made that claim.   But, perhaps Simels can produce the evidence that would prove that conspiracy theory.   I will publish it if he can produce it.

Update 2:   Simels also says, "You remember a hit the Mamas and Papas never had, so you're delusional as well as an idiot. :-)".    The smiley face is his, by the way.  He provides his own laugh track.

Apparently Simels is resting his hopes on a definition of what comprises "a hit", something about I'm In With The In Crowd coming out on an album or something. I don't know, I didn't buy their records but it got lots and lots of radio play around here.  That made it a hit as far as I'm concerned.  It must have because the damned lyrics burned their way into my memory and I HATED THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS.   But it does force the question, were TM&TPs also trying to incite race riots when they covered Dancing In The Streets, so much less well than Martha and the Vandellas?   I'm trying to recall the other, similar incitements to riot in the other M&Ps songs that, unwelcomed, made their way into my memory and am coming up blank.  Perhaps "Dream a Little Dream of Me" was originally advocating opium use.  And then there's "No Salt On Her Tail".

I have to say that contemplating Mr. Kewl pushing the same lines that John Birchers pushed in the 1960s  in 2014 is so hilariously ironic that I might have to go do some serious weeding to stop thinking about it.   Yes, Sims, "weeding."  See what you can make of that.

Update 3:   Piling it higher and deeper, Simels now says:   the biggest Motown and soul music fans I knew in the 60s were the biggest unrepentant out and out unambiguous racists. And anybody not a moron who was alive then will tell you the same thing.

Well, I can't account for the racists who SIMELS KNEW but I'm kind of under the impression that lots of Motown fans were, you know, black people.   It kind of makes it hard to understand how Dancing In The Street could have had the profound effect he claims "everyone knows" it did, inspiring race riots in 1964 if Motown had, mainly, a white, racist fan base.   I think most of the black people I knew in the 1960s-70s, etc. would have kind of noticed if a musical genre had mostly white, racist fans.

But I remember that Simels is also the world's greatest fan and defender of Woody "most lily white casting of his time" Allen, so maybe his statement should be seen to hinge on exactly WHO SIMELS KNEW and not the actual fan base of Motown.
I seem to recall one of its greatest fans was the great Dusty Springfield who was so impressed with the greatness of the black artists of the time that she was reported to have felt reluctant to record here.  I say anyone who didn't hear that what they were doing was better than the white covers doesn't have much of an ear.  Or anyone who has said what Simels said in his comments - which I've collected and still may publish - doesn't have much of a brain.

Uh, Sims, where's your evidence that the ever militant Marvin Gaye and Ivy Jo Hunter were trying to incite street violence with a song about dancing?   I'd have thought a pop music critic of your long years .... long, long years, and breath of professional ..... well, what passes as professional experience in your field, would have that proof at your fingertips.

Update 4:  Simels has issued about nine comments, none of which support his contention, I may post them at the blog I use to make fun of stuff so I won't have to take up more room here with it.   Apparently his fan gals and guys at Eschaton have taken umbrage with what I've said, though none of them have produced the evidence to support his position either.

You might call it DANCING WHILE BLACK. Which is what I always figured was an idea that really scared the white racists back in the 60s.

Update 5:  Re my comment about having been exposed to We're In With The In Crowd by the Mamas etc.  " Baloney. There was no album radio at that point anywhere in the country. (1964-65). That wouldn't happen for another two or three years, and no local Top 40 station was going to play an obscure album cut unless it was getting significant airplay somewhere else

Oh, dear, Simmie, you should do that little thing called "research" because, looking it up right now,  I see that the album that was released on was released in 1966 and, I know it might tax his imagination but ONCE IT WAS RELEASED SOMEONE MIGHT HAVE PLAYED IT ANY YEAR AFTER THAT ON ANY FORMAT RADIO THERE WAS.   I would imagine I might have heard it on WRKO in Boston which was an FM station THAT DIDN'T HAVE A TOP 40 FORMAT DURING THE PERIOD I LISTENED TO IT.   I had to have heard it on the radio because I never owned one of their records and I didn't live with anyone who liked them any better than I didn't.   AND I INVOLUNTARILY KNOW EVERY DAMNED WORD TO THE SONG.  Which is entirely irrelevant to the point I made about it being a fitting anthem for exactly the kind of pseudo-left that people like him substituted for the real thing which was not about belonging to any in-crowd.


  1. I agree; but I won't hold my breath.

    At Salon today there's a post about a woman who got slammed in comments, on Twitter, etc. (all on-line) about an article she wrote about the dating scene in Seattle, from her POV.

    And she's getting slammed at Salon, too.

    Seems comments exist for people to shriek and fling poo. At Religion Dispatches, where the crowd should know better, the comments are basically as ignorant as any Cosmos v. religion thread at Salon. Everybody takes everything personally and pulls out the scalpels and the long knives to carve up a carcass represented by the next post, or to carve up the "enemy" if the topic is political instead of personal.


    All, ironically, in the name of tribalism; of declaring who is "in" and who is "out," and making sure everybody knows the commenter knows the difference and will brook no disagreement with the snap judgments everyone is expected to make. There is no conversation, just diatribe. Religion is coequal with stupidity; atheists know more about the Bible than Christians, because polls prove it to be so. Richard Dawkins never said a harsh word or asserted an unfounded claim, that's all lies and harassment!

    On and on and on.....

    And I don't go anywhere near the right-wing web sites.

    When the Church taught that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," it at least had the purpose of putting us all on an equal footing. When I learned about the empire of heaven in seminary, it was a place equally accessible to all, where the first is last and the last first, which means constantly that all are first and last, equally (because the first become last and the last first, and the first last and the last first, and so on.)

    There was a man quoted on PBS the other night, a documentary about the Freedom Riders. He described being a Southerner and busloads of people came in to tell you you were a redneck and everything you knew was wrong and you were evil; and all you knew, he said, was that you were trying to live a decent life and be a good person and take care of your family, and these accusations from "outsiders" made you so angry you wanted to hit someone.

    From one perspective, of course, I agree with the Freedom Riders. But he had a point. And the purpose of King's non-violent confrontation was to recognize that point, and to persuade that man who resented being told he was bad, to see that bad things were being done despite his good intentions, and he should join the effort to change that.

    This is what most people miss about King's leadership: how deeply and profoundly Christian, and so religious (now the bug-boo word of the intertoobs) it was. And how effective.

    And why such efforts to change culture and society haven't been nearly as effective since.

  2. That's pretty much what I've concluded, there were reasons that progress stopped and why liberals have been steadily less effective, politically, since about the year 1964-65 when the last major pieces of Civil Rights legislation were passed, by Congress, and signed into law. I think a lot of it was the self-satisfied snobs who got so much gratification by looking down on other people.

    I think that King and the others in the Southern churches were the reason that the Civil Rights movement made some of the most profound changes in our country for the better. The Civil War didn't do it, the Depression, the New Deal, didn't do it. It was the belief in salvation, that people could all be saved that made it possible to make progress, not the dearly held belief that they were inevitably and always superior to their opponents.

  3. I think that King and the others in the Southern churches were the reason that the Civil Rights movement made some of the most profound changes in our country for the better.

    That has been vigorously scrubbed from memory: the whole church connection, to the point I got a comment at my blog "Whose Christianity should we credit for the civil rights movement?"

    Because, like Islam (1.8 billion adherents) and the Roman church, all of Christianity is one gigantic monolith, and none of it could have contributed to the Civil Rights movement since it was used to justify slavery and there are white supremacists who claim they are Christians.

    Or something.

    And, of course, devoted atheists (dare I say, "devout"?), who represent the dirt on the flea on the end of the dog's tail in terms of their percentage of humanity, are the only rational people on the planet, all adherents to religions being, by definition, irrational.

    Nice work if you can get it. I'm not sure how the worship of Richard Dawkins (and I've seen that in comments, too; nothing the man has ever said has ever been wrong or offensive; his critics just don't appreciate his humanity and genius) has improved the lot of anyone. But so long as we purge the "stupidity" of religion from humankind, the internet will have served its purpose.


    If this is the fruit of reason, I want no part of it.

  4. I have been thinking about the role that redemption, not only as a possibility that (the deserving?) have available to them but as a universal goal that Christians are charged with working for has in liberalism. Snobs don't want to see people redeemed, they want to have people be less than them, evil, the enemy because their self-regard depends on that and their self-regard is what it's all about for them. I haven't worked it out very far but that seems to me to guarantee a static view of existence, in which there is an inevitable and even desirable division of humanity into an elite (elect, even) and masses to be led or dominated by them. And, lacking that desideratum, disdained and despised by the elect. It's not a huge surprise that Dawkins' evo-psy pretty much takes that kind of thing as a given, as does any attempt to impose natural selection on human beings and societies. And it's no accident that he became one of the unadmitted Popes of the new atheists, his biological ideology made him a natural hit with the new atheists.

    Political liberalism (in the American and not the European sense of the word) is progressive, it makes absolutely no sense without the concept of equality and the conviction that all people can been redeemed, it is progressive while materialism is static and any static view of the universe will end up harming or opposing a movement of social progress. Even if, under a dereligionized social regime, the urge to reform and improve lasts for a generation or two, a vestigial remnant of the push for Biblical justice, it will eventually stop and start moving back to an unequal and unjust society. I think that's what we've seen in the past fifty years in the United States. And, as I recently found James Cone pointed out, the few, relatively easy issues to resolve will generally be those which come at little to no cost to those who have to agree to them. It is the hard ones, the ones that have to be paid for, which will be lost first.

    I look on arguing this stuff as being a religious obligation for which I can't hope to see a conclusion. I certainly have no right to talk about being on a mountain top to see the future, but I can see the past and what will happen if it's not tried.

  5. James Cone is absolutely right, which also explains why there is so much blather in comments (hello!) about matters so insignificant as to be foolish. I've seen more than one commenter at Salon justify yet another post about 'Cosmos v. religion' with the argument that "we" must keep an eye on 'them' (fundies, creationists, what have you), because....

    Well, apparently, if Alternet and Salon keep publishing posts about Creationists and how wrong they are, it will keep Creationism in check as an ideological force; or something. The idea is beyond ludicrous; it's what anthropologists would call "sympathetic magic" (If I'm using the term correctly); the notion that our will affects the world around us. Which is, of course, a scientific observation (anthropology is a science, though you'd think the only sciences in existence are the "hard" ones), and a telling one about the tribalism (another anthropological term, and I'm probably abusing it, too) of modern society.

    Christianity breeds tribalism, too, even as the central teachings of Christianity work to break down tribalism (many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip). It's not that I think Christianity has a magical power that no other human effort or ideology has; but more and more I am convinced it is closer to "Truth" with a capital "T" than any non-religious philosophy/ideology.

    It is certainly closer to wisdom, which we definitely don't have enough of these days.

  6. Christians are humans and humans are fallible and worse than fallible, even with god intentions. The history of Christians who do evil are Christians who aren't doing what they were instructed to do, and doing what they were instructed to not do. I've asked people to point out to me what part of what Jesus said to do would produce a worse world. Either they have no idea what he said or they can't answer the question. His economics, alone, would produce the greatest radical redistribution of wealth and well being which anyone seems to have yet imagined. To talk about the really hard things to do.

  7. Interestingly, science has no morality at all (as you have pointed out more than once), and yet science can do no evil!

    People who argue like that just make me tired....