book reviews, politics, Trump

A review of The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, by Mary Trump

In August 2020, when the world was still in the desperate throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Donald Trump was still the POTUS, I read and reviewed his niece, Mary Trump’s, book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. I remember feeling vindicated as I read her words about her uncle, Donald Trump, whom I had correctly identified as a malignant narcissist or sociopath. Mary Trump wrote about what it was like to grow up in the Trump family, and how much she suffered, even though she was a member of a very wealthy, powerful, and celebrated clan. Unlike her uncle, Mary Trump is a basically normal person with an excellent intellect and a fully functioning id and superego. Mary’s first book was very interesting, but it was also terrifying. At the time I read it, I was genuinely frightened of what was going to happen if Trump won in 2020. Thankfully, that is not what came to pass, in spite of Trump’s relentless and nonsensical insistence that the presidential election was stolen from him.

I liked Mary Trump’s first book, so when she published her second book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal in August 2021, I was quick to download it. It’s taken me a year to finally read Mary Trump’s book, because it kept getting supplanted by other books. This morning, I finished it; it was a refreshingly short read, long on history and theories as to how the United States finds itself in the horribly polarized, angry, unhinged state it is in right now. Some of The Reckoning was uncomfortable to read, as Mary Trump unflinchingly writes of how Black people were treated before and during the Civil War era, as well as in the decades that followed it. She reminds her readers that slavery officially ended in 1865, but the persecution of Black people has continued since then, and only in very recent years have people of color had a chance to succeed in the country they helped build against their wills.

Mary Trump rightfully points out that American high schoolers are not taught enough about American history. What they are taught is the “white” perspective of American history, and now that people are insisting that more of the whole truth is taught, many white people are fighting to prevent it from happening. Trump explains that every white person is born with inherent privilege, simply for having white skin. However, she also mentions poor white people, who also suffer due to classism that also exists in our society, and the mistaken belief that sharing resources means having less for themselves. And she reminds readers that there are many people who, consciously or unconsciously, are doing all they can to maintain things the way they’ve always been. Her uncle, after all, won the highest election on his platform, “Make America Great Again”, having never before held public office. Lots of people in the United States are terrified of evolving into a nation that plays on more level ground for everyone. Below are a couple of key quotes from Mary Trump’s book that really summed up things nicely, in my view:

I remember when I was an English major at Longwood University (then Longwood College), my advisor gave me a hard time because I didn’t want to take a Shakespeare class. Instead, I was interested in the Women’s Literature and African American Literature courses that were being offered. I thought I would be more interested in the subject matter, having already been exposed to Shakespeare in high school and college. Good ol’ Dr. Stinson, who also used to tease me about all the music classes I insisted on taking for fun, sighed and signed me up for both classes. I took both courses during the same semester, and got a huge dose of studying lesser known books by women and people of color.

I didn’t do particularly well in either of the lit courses; because to be honest, I was kind of a lazy English major. I wanted to write things, not read and analyze literature. But I learned new things in spite of myself. Both courses exposed me to works written by Black authors, Black women’s writings, as well as slave narratives, which were bits of history that had been withheld from me in the years leading up to college. I now believe that high school students should read at least one slave narrative. The subject matter is tough, but it definitely inspires empathy and a broadened perspective from writers who should get a lot more recognition.

I mention my college experience and the attitude surrounding the importance of Shakespeare, because Mary Trump repeatedly explains that most Americans have a poor understanding of history. And today, in high schools across the country, there are legislators, school boards, and parents who are lambasting against “Critical Race Theory” being taught in schools, and trying desperately to suppress the truth about America’s past. I never thought I’d see the day when so many school systems were being pressured to ban certain books, and teachers, already overworked and underpaid, were being forced to catalog their libraries and submit them to scrutiny by third parties. I was heartened to see the outraged response to one Tennessee school district’s decision to ban Art Spiegelman’s excellent graphic novel, Maus. I had not read that book myself, before it made the news. But because Maus was in the news, I decided to read the book. It was life changing. I now know that simply by writing a few blog posts about Maus, I helped inspire other people to read the book.

Mary Trump’s comments were unpleasant to read at times. She states outright that it’s “impossible” to be a white person who grew up in the United States and not be racist. She’s probably right, although I hesitate to use words like “all, every, or impossible”, because experience has shown me that there are almost always exceptions to every rule. And given the family that raised her and what her family spawned, I was caught between disbelief that she was making such a statement, and relief that she could acknowledge racism in a way that was surprisingly humble.

I also found this book a little bit depressing and hopeless. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge problems. That’s the first step in correcting them. It’s important to atone for wrongs committed. That’s the best way to promote healing. BUT… she makes the problem seem so entrenched and deep seated that fixing it seems extremely difficult. It won’t happen in my lifetime, although the more optimistic side of me acknowledges that in my 50 years, there’s already been some substantial progress made. I was born in an era when things were a lot more “black and white”, so to speak. It wasn’t uncommon to hear people casually toss around the “n word”, for instance, especially on television. But that progress is hindered, because of Trump’s uprising and the many emboldened racists who are desperately trying to stop progress, and resorting to cheating and violence to get what they want.

Anyway… The Reckoning offers a lot of food for thought. It’s a short book, and easy to read. Mary Trump’s writing is engaging and informative. Maybe some readers will be uncomfortable, or even offended, by her comments. Some people might have trouble believing that someone with her background can have true empathy for the downtrodden; she is a Trump, after all. But in spite of that, I found Mary Trump’s commentary steeped in truth, and eye-opening. I think this is a good book. But don’t come to it looking for dirt on Donald Trump. She wrote about him in her first book, and The Reckoning is about a different topic entirely. The Reckoning isn’t about Trump; it’s about what led us to Trump. And it offers an important warning to us all to open our eyes and our minds and vote accordingly… or else.

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bad TV, fashion, good tv, memories, nostalgia

The “facts of life” one learns while watching The Facts of Life…

A few weeks ago, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to buy a few box sets of favorite TV shows from the 70s and 80s. I bought The Bionic Woman, One Day at a Time, and The Facts of Life. I’ve actually only seen a few episodes of The Bionic Woman, since it aired when we lived in England, and I don’t remember it being aired in syndication much. I did used to watch One Day at a Time when I was a kid, but missed the earliest episodes because I was too young when the show started, and then it really jumped the shark. I was a BIG fan of The Facts of Life, which was a spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.

Most every kid my age loved Diff’rent Strokes, but I guess the powers that be decided that Charlotte Rae should have her own show. So they had her get a job at Eastland School, Kimberly Drummond’s boarding school in Peekskill, New York. Boom… suddenly, we had a successful sitcom revolving around the lives of girls who went to boarding school and wore frumpy uniforms all the time. The Facts of Life started off with a large cast of beautiful young girls with flowing hair… except for Molly Ringwald, of course, and Kim Fields, who played Tootie Ramsey, the token Black cast member. After the first season, the size of the cast was slimmed down, as the girls progressed through puberty and gained weight.

I loved the first few seasons of The Facts of Life. I liked it less when the girls were moved out of the school to work at Edna’s Edibles. Also, as is so common on shows about school, the students didn’t graduate on time. It seemed like they were Eastland students forever. And then Charlotte Rae left the show, and they brought in Mackenzie Astin, George Clooney, and Cloris Leachman. The last couple of seasons were practically unwatchable! I didn’t like it when the plot moved away from the school, though, because the school was so central to the show. Also, I think they made boarding school look like a lot more fun than it probably is in reality.

I kind of find the theme song annoying, catchy as it is. Alan Thicke and his ex wife, Gloria Loring, helped compose it, and Loring belts it out in an over-the-top, obnoxious way… not unlike the characters’ personalities.

But there were a few really good years on that show, I’m in the thick of them right now. The writers took on a number of ambitious topics that were very important in the 1980s. Imagine my surprise this week, as I waded through the third and fourth seasons, realizing that subject matter that was timely in 1981 and 1982, is still timely and important today. In seasons 3 and 4, The Facts of Life tackled:

  • suicide
  • abortion
  • book banning
  • underage drinking
  • rape and sexual assault
  • teen pregnancy
  • breast cancer
  • mental retardation (this is what it was called on the show, rather than one of the more politically correct terms of today)
  • physical handicaps (again, how it was described on the show)
  • racism
  • fanaticism
  • crash dieting
  • religion
  • sexism
  • cross cultural issues
  • bullying
  • adoption
  • marital affairs
  • teenage prostitution

The list goes on, as I have only just started season 4, and there were a total of 9 seasons before NBC finally pulled the plug. But as I was wasting the late afternoon hours yesterday, watching the episode about book banning, it occurred to me that, in some ways, we haven’t really gotten anywhere in the last 40 years. The plot was about how a bunch of parents got upset that their daughters were able to check out books like Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which they felt didn’t promote the right message or values. I was suddenly reminded of the recent controversy surrounding the book, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, which has had the effect of causing a bunch of people to buy and read the book in protest. I read Maus a few weeks ago, passed it to Bill, who finished it last weekend, and just today, he took it to work to lend to one of his co-workers.

If I recall correctly, I believe I decided to read Slaughterhouse Five when I was in high school, in part because it was mentioned on The Facts of Life as a banned book. I knew I liked Vonnegut’s writing, having read his short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, in the 9th grade. Sure enough, I enjoyed Slaughterhouse Five very much. Then later, I decided to read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, because it was a banned book. My love for reading continues today, although it’s not as easy as it used to be, as my eyes aren’t as young as they once were.

Ditto, the episode about abortion, which was about how the character Natalie, played by Mindy Cohn, made up a story about a girl at Eastland who had an abortion. The story had the whole school buzzing, and soon parents were calling, demanding to know who the girl was. Natalie was threatened with expulsion, until a girl told her that she’d had an abortion. Natalie could have told the headmaster the girl’s name and saved her job as editor of the school paper. But she came clean and admitted she’d made up the story, protecting the girl’s identity. As the credits were about to roll, the headmaster said that he was relieved to “know” that abortion wasn’t an issue at Eastland. Of course, the audience knows better. Forty years later, we’re still fighting over abortion.

I even learned something about capital punishment in France, watching The Facts of Life. The character Geri, played by Geri Jewell, is the cousin of snobby rich girl, Blair Warner. She has cerebral palsy, and works as a comedienne. In one episode, she develops a romance with the school’s French teacher. He asks out Geri, and she says something along the lines of, “I don’t want to get my head chopped off.” She was referencing France’s famous guillotine, which was used to execute people. The French teacher says that France did away with the guillotine in favor of hanging.

I was surprised to hear that the guillotine hadn’t been abolished many years ago, so I decided to look up the device’s history, as well as the general history of capital punishment in France. I was very surprised to learn that the last time France used the guillotine was in 1977! I was five years old! The man who was executed was 27 years old and was originally from Tunisia. He was also missing part of a leg, due to a tractor accident in 1971. He was put to death in Marseilles in September 1977 for torturing and murdering a young woman, and forcing a couple of other women into prostitution. Oddly enough, I actually visited Tunisia in 1977. We lived in England at the time, and went to Tunisia to celebrate New Year’s.

In 1981, then French president Francois Mitterrand declared capital punishment illegal in France. It was formally abolished on February 19, 2007. But, up until 1981, the French constitution actually dictated that anyone who was executed in France would be killed by decapitation, or barring that, firing squad. Never having studied French myself, I don’t know much about its history, other than what I’ve seen personally, heard about in the news, or heard from friends. I have had the opportunity and great fortune to visit France many times, which is something I never thought would have happened in 1982. It seems like France was especially popular in America in the 80s! Back in those days, people didn’t travel as much as they do now… or did before COVID-19, anyway.

Even Russia and Ukraine were subjects of The Facts of Life back in the 80s. During the third season, Natalie’s Russian Jewish grandmother, Mona, came to visit her at school. Mona said she was from Ukraine, even though the name of the episode was “From Russia with Love”. In 1982, Ukraine was still part of the former Soviet Union, which, in those days, seemed like it would exist forever. Natalie found Mona overbearing and annoying, but once she and the other girls got to know her, they found out that she was a fascinating woman with many stories to tell. Watching that episode, especially given what is happening in Ukraine right now, and after having read Maus, was surprisingly poignant. Mona references being confronted by a rapey soldier in a corn field in Ukraine, as the Bolsheviks invaded during the Soviet-Ukranian War from 1917-1921.

Seventy years later, Ukraine decided to leave the Soviet Union, and there’s been trouble ever since. I have never been to Ukraine myself, but I have a friend whose wife is from there, and still has a lot of family there. I know that he and his wife and children are terrified for them. It seems that history is repeating itself. At the same time, I have known some fabulous Russian people, thanks to my time in Armenia, which is also a former Soviet Republic. In fact, that’s where I met my friend, who was working there after having served in the Peace Corps in Russia, back when Russia was briefly less menacing.

I remember that The Facts of Life was controversial to some people, especially during its most popular years. My former best friend’s mother would not let her watch the show. I seem to remember her mom was against the show because she happened to see the episode during the first season that referenced marijuana use. The show certainly didn’t promote the use of marijuana, but my ex friend’s mom was very conservative. She didn’t want her kid exposed to anything she was personally against. I seem to remember my ex friend was often doing things behind her mother’s back, and she was a lot more “experienced” in things than I was. My parents, by contrast, pretty much let me raise myself. We used to talk about how different our parents’ styles were, and we agreed that it would have been nice if there could have been a happy medium. My parents didn’t pay enough attention to me. Her parents, especially her mother, were too strict and intrusive. On the other hand, I don’t think her parents used corporal punishment as much as my dad did.

One thing I have noticed about The Facts of Life is that the characters could be very annoying, as well as very funny. My favorite character was probably Natalie, who was quick witted. I used to not like Jo (Nancy McKeon) much, because she alternated between being angry and snide, and being “vulnerable”. Now that I’m older, I appreciate that character more. I used to like Blair (Lisa Whelchel) more, although I still like Whelchel did a good job with her caricature of a spoiled princess. Tootie (Kim Fields) was pretty much always annoying to me, although she was pretty cute in the first season. During the show’s third and fourth seasons, Tootie did a lot of shrieking and whining. Some of the clothes were pretty hideous, too. Especially the knickers and gauchos… they brought back sad memories of childhood fashions.

But mostly, I’ve just noticed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I really have been surprised by how forty years after The Facts of Life was a hit show, we’re still talking about, and arguing about, the same things. But nowadays, we have many more than than three networks on TV, and audiences are more sophisticated. A show like The Facts of Life probably wouldn’t last today, even though the writers tackled some courageous plots back in the day. Maybe it would be a good thing for today’s youngsters to watch that show. Maybe they’ll learn its lessons better than we did. But really, the best seasons were the earliest ones… as is the case for most long running shows.

Well, I guess it’s time to wrap up this post and get on with my Friday. Last night, Bill made a “stuffed meatloaf”, which is a dish I cooked for him when we were dating. It was one of the many tricks I had up my sleeve that helped me win his heart. It came out of a great cookbook called Virginia Hospitality, which was a gift given to me when I graduated college in 1994. It was put out by the Junior League of Hampton Roads, and since I was born in Hampton, it really is a relic from my hometown.

My husband’s younger daughter is pregnant, and when Bill told her he was making a stuffed meatloaf, she said that sounded so delicious. She had questions about it. So I sent her a copy of the cookbook, which also has a great recipe for cheese souffles. Below is a link for those who are curious about it. It’s definitely my favorite way to make meatloaf. I’m glad Bill learned how to make it, too. I hope she enjoys the book. It’s a gift that is uniquely from her long, lost stepmother. She really doesn’t know me at all, but maybe a cookbook from my origins will be a place to start getting acquainted.

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complaints, controversies, Duggars, religion

Christians sure are offending a lot of people these days…

This morning, I woke up to the news of the dismissal of the Duggar sisters’ “invasion of privacy” lawsuit against Springdale and Washington County officials, including Maj. Rick Hoyt of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Ernest Cate, Springdale city attorney and former Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley. The suit was filed in May 2017, two years after the Duggar family’s scandalous secret regarding eldest son/brother, Josh Duggar, and his penchant for molesting girls, was first revealed in the tabloid, InTouch.

An attorney for InTouch had made a Freedom of Information Act request for documents regarding an investigation done after the local Department of Human Services office had done after it received two tips about the molestation, which occurred between 2002 and 2003, when Josh was 14 and 15 years old, and his victims (four sisters and a babysitter) were between five and eleven years old. The police officials provided the documents, which of course, were made public. InTouch’s expose pretty much started the process that ruined the Duggars’ squeaky clean Christian image.

I remember being shocked about the revelations about Josh Duggar, but I had no idea what would happen a few years later, when Josh was busted for downloading some of the worst child sexual abuse images and videos that federal investigators had ever seen. Josh now sits in a jail cell, awaiting sentencing for his crimes. Meanwhile, four of his sisters, whose sexual abuse at the hands of their brother, have suffered another indignity.

I’m sure this lawsuit filed by Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo, and Joy Forsyth, was very stressful for them, especially since it’s been very public and has dragged on for years. It would not surprise me if the lawsuit was Jim Bob Duggar’s brainchild, to help recoup the loss of income that occurs when a reality show falls into disrepute and gets canceled. Of course, I don’t know if that’s actually the case. I just feel sad for Josh’s victims… all of them. It’s an outrage that this family became rich and famous off of their supposedly Christian image, when it’s very clear that they were lying to the public and hiding egregious sins. Hypocrisy abounds!

The Duggar sisters’ lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, so they can’t file it again. God only knows how much money was spent on this legal action, and how much stress it’s caused the officials in Arkansas, as well as the sisters. But it’s over now. All that’s left are probably massive legal bills. I didn’t realize that lawsuits were a particularly Christian thing. Instead, Christians are supposed to work it out among each other. I guess that Biblical principle goes out the window when money is involved.

After I read about the Duggar sisters’ lawsuit being canceled, I read two more articles about Christians. Both articles were about Christian proselytizing in public schools in two states. Sure enough, one of the states was Tennessee, which I have been writing a lot about lately. The other state was, not surprisingly, West Virginia.

In the first article I read, there was a story about a Jewish girl from Chattanooga, Tennessee who was taking a Bible class in her public high school. The class, which was supposed to be non-sectarian, was to focus on the Bible as literature, and in a historical context. However, it appears that the teacher of the course did not get the memo that she wasn’t supposed to proselytize or insult other religious beliefs.

Mom Juniper Russo wrote in a now unavailable Facebook post:

“[The teacher] wrote an English transliteration of the Hebrew name of G-d on the whiteboard. This name is traditionally not spoken out loud, and is traditionally only written in the Torah. She then told her students, ‘If you want to know how to torture a Jew, make them say this out loud,’” Russo wrote, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which first reported the story. “My daughter felt extremely uncomfortable hearing a teacher instruct her peers on ‘how to torture a Jew’ and told me when she came home from school that she didn’t feel safe in the class.”

According to the article I read, Jews typically do not pronounce the name of God as it is written in parts of the Bible, instead pronouncing it as “adonai,” which means “my lord.” I always wondered why my Jewish friends write G-d instead of God. Now, I know.

I remember our school had a Bible class offered in the late 80s that was supposed to look at the Bible as a literary and historical work. I recall that other religious books were also supposed to be explored. I was not at all interested in taking the class, since I hated going to church and wasn’t interested in religion at all. I have changed my views about religion over the years, although I still have no desire to attend church. I now find religion very interesting, mainly because I see how so many followers don’t seem to recognize how religion makes them behave badly, as they use religion as an excuse to act that way and be “forgiven”.

Interesting that the teacher would use the word “torture” in her explanation, especially as Tennessee is in the news because McMinn County’s school board removed the book, Maus, from its 8th grade curriculum. The incident involving the Bible class happened in Hamilton County. Russo and her family are members of Chattanooga’s Reform Mizpah Congregation. She has reported the incident to the Anti-Defamation League, which collects and investigates allegations of antisemitism.

It must be very uncomfortable for non-Christians to live in the southern United States, were many people are white, conservative Christians of the Protestant persuasion. Religion has become very polarizing in the United States since I was in school. In my day, most everyone I knew went to church, and the vast majority of the people I knew were Christians, and Protestants, in particular. I didn’t know any Jewish people until I went to college. That was also where I met my first Mormons, although I later discovered that a guy I knew in high school was LDS. I didn’t know it when we were in school, though. I did know a few Muslim kids in school, but they kept to themselves. I didn’t even know they were Muslim at the time; I just noticed that they dressed differently and were allowed to wear little beret type hats.

After I read about the incident with the Jewish girl in Chattanooga, I saw yet another article about proselytization in a school, this time in West Virginia. Sixteen year old Cameron Mays and his classmates were told that they had to attend an evangelical Christian assembly at their high school in Huntington, West Virginia. The assembly was a revival, and was taking place during COMPASS, which is a “non-instructional” break period during which students are usually allowed to read, study, or listen to speakers. Attending the revival, which was organized by the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was supposedly optional. But Mays was told that he had to attend, and once he and his schoolmates got there, they were told to close their eyes and raise their hands in prayer. The assembly was being led by 25 year old evangelical preacher, Nik Walker of Nik Walker Ministries. Students were allegedly told that they must give their lives to Jesus Christ, and that those who don’t follow the Bible will go to Hell.

I was shocked to read about this incident, since it’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state, and should never have been allowed in a publicly funded school. But then I remembered my own high school years, and recall that a group called Teen Challenge came to my school. I think they were kids who had been in trouble with the law, but then found Jesus. They put on a show for us. It never occurred to me to be upset about it. I also remember the Gideons handing out pocket sized New Testaments to us in elementary school. But again, although I wasn’t interested in the Bible at all in those days, it didn’t occur to me to be offended. After all, I was raised a Protestant Christian– specifically Presbyterian. I can’t begin to imagine how awkward it must have been for the parents of children who weren’t Christian to have to deal with those situations.

In the case of the students in West Virginia, one Jewish mother said that her son had felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave the assembly. He was told by his teacher that he wasn’t allowed to leave, since the classroom was locked and there was no one to supervise him. The mother, whose name is Bethany Felinton said,

It’s a completely unfair and unacceptable situation to put a teenager in. I’m not knocking their faith, but there’s a time and place for everything — and in public schools, during the school day, is not the time and place.”

Cameron Mays’ father, Herman Mays, agreed, and added,

“They can’t just play this game of, you know, ‘We’re going to choose this time as wiggle room, this gray area where we believe we can insert a church service,'”

But, even though some of the parents were not happy about the revival at the school, others were happy to see it. They see the evangelical ministry as positive, and good for their kids, many of whom are struggling with anxiety, addictions, and depression. Personally, I don’t think a public school is a place for a revival, even if it is an optional activity. It really is very creepy how so many Americans completely ignore some of the standards the United States was founded on, as they cite the wishes of the Founding Fathers and yell about their freedoms. It seems they only want freedoms for certain types of people.

There’s a reason why religion is not supposed to be part of government entities, although if you think about it, religion IS a big part of our government. But it seems to me that many conservative Christians would like to see public schools completely destroyed, so their kids can be indoctrinated at school, as well as at home. They would truly like to see the United States turn into a theocracy. That, to me, is a very sad idea. One of the things I like best about American culture is that it is diverse. What happened to our “melting pot”? It seems to me that some folks would like to see the spicy melting pot disappear in favor of a more depressing, bland, white concoction.

Here’s hoping the people whose children have been affronted by overweening Christian influences in government funded entities will get some justice. As for the Duggar sisters, I think it’s time they moved on and enjoyed their lives in private. Jim Bob Duggar is a very poor example of a true Christian. It’s time he stopped having an influence on American culture.

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book reviews, condescending twatbags, controversies, religion

Tennessee is the “sophomore” state…

The featured photo is a screenshot from Greg Locke’s book burning video on YouTube.

Last night, I finished reading Maus, the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman that the McMinn County School Board of Tennessee decided to remove from its curriculum for eighth grade students last month. As I have mentioned in several recent posts about Maus, I had not heard of this brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning work until it made the news. It was originally published in its entirety in 1991, having taken Spiegelman thirteen years of work to complete. Portions of the book were published sooner than 1991, with comic strips having been published in the defunct magazine, Raw. I mentioned yesterday that the first volume of Maus was published in 1986. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until Maus was banned by a school board that I finally decided to read it. I’m so glad I did that. I have the good people of McMinn County, Tennessee’s board of education to thank for that, as their decision to ban Maus only made it more attractive to me.

More people should read this… even 8th graders.

Yesterday, my friend Mary Beth commented that she, too, has ordered a copy of Maus to read. She read one of my blog posts about it and discussed book banning with her fifteen year old son. It turns out Mary Beth’s boy is a World War II buff, and Maus is about The Holocaust. When Mary Beth told her son that Maus is a graphic novel, meaning that there are many comic styled pictures, he asked her if he could read it. Mary Beth agreed, and she says they will read the book together.

I passed my copy of the book to Bill, and now he’s just started reading Maus. By my count, that’s already four people who have decided to read a book that school board members in Tennessee have opted to ban. Remember when I wrote about the Streisand effect? Looks like it’s happening. Maus is selling like gangbusters, and lots of people are reading it and passing it on to others. We have Tennessee to thank for that. In a way, those school board members are inadvertently educating people well beyond the borders of McMinn County. In their attempts to quash a remarkable work of literature, the school board has only made it much more popular. Mary Beth says that Maus is still backordered. I see on Amazon.de, it’s no longer backordered, but there aren’t many available copies. It may not be long before Maus is out of stock again.

How did I like the book? I loved it. But it wasn’t just because of the story about The Holocaust. I’ve read a lot of books about The Holocaust, most of which were non-fiction accounts of people who experienced prison camps. What set Maus apart from those books, besides the fact that it’s done in comic strips, was the way Spiegelman managed to capture his father, Vladek, and how his experiences during World War II changed him. First, there was the syntax of Vladek’s speech. Spiegelman managed to capture the broken English that often comes from non-native speakers. One thing I’ve noticed, living in Germany, is that a lot of Germans are quite fluent in English. But sometimes, in spite of knowing English well, their syntax is like it would be if they were speaking German. They use certain expressions and constructions that English speakers don’t typically use. For instance, I notice that a lot of Germans say or write “therefore” and “already” more than Americans do. Or they say things like, “I don’t dare to” instead of “I don’t dare”, or they write “who”, instead of “whoever or whomever”. I remember hearing a German tour guide say, “Who wants to go to the WC can do so now.” A native English speaker would phrase it differently.

Likewise, Art Spiegelman manages to capture the voice of someone who isn’t a native English speaker. He had a lot of experience listening to his father, so he knew just how his dad would put things. He doesn’t write the dialogue the way an American would speak, even though his father spoke English from even before the war. He writes it the way a Polish person would speak English. That technique made Vladek come alive for me. I could practically hear his voice in my head as I read. Not only did I hear his voice, but I could imagine the mood, as if I had him in my head, speaking aloud.

Art Spiegelman also captures many of the quirks that would come from someone who had experienced the trauma of losing everything and being force to live on whatever he could find. As I mentioned earlier, I have read a lot of Holocaust stories. One common thread is that many people who survived the Holocaust could not bear to see things wasted. I read one Holocaust account by a man who used to get furious at his children when they turned their noses up at food that was offered to them. Likewise, Vladek Spiegelman drove his son crazy because he could not throw things away… except things that really were priceless. Vladek throws away Art’s mother’s precious diaries when he has a bad day. But he collects odds and ends– piece of wire, scraps of paper, used nails. He is extremely miserly and doesn’t want to hire anyone to help him with odd jobs around the house, even though he’s not capable of doing the work that needs to be done. Instead, he asks Art to help him, even though Art is busy with his own life and isn’t particularly as handy as Vladek was forced to become. Even as Art expresses annoyance at frustration with his father and his father’s constant demands and idiosyncrasies, his love and concern for Vladek comes through in a moving way.

I think the very truthful interactions between father and son, depicted as mice and rendered in illustrations, are what really touched my heart. There are also elements in humor in Maus that make it less grim than it could have been, even though there are many sad and tragic events in the story. There was so much loss and grief that came from The Holocaust, and yet sometimes there were happy and even humorous moments that kept the human spirit alive. The people who managed to survive the camps and lived to tell their tales were endowed with resilience and luck. Or maybe they weren’t actually the luckiest ones. Art’s mother, Vladek’s first wife, Anja, couldn’t cope. She committed suicide in 1968, and Vladek remarried another Holocaust survivor, Nala, who constantly complained about Vladek’s quirks.

I’m happy that I read Maus. I’m glad others will read it. I’m heartened to know that I influenced at least three people to read the book through my blog, even as I was influenced to read it because some people in Tennessee decided it should be banned. It just goes to show that actions have consequences, but sometimes the consequences turn out to be good things. As I sit here marveling at what I’ve just read, again, courtesy of a school board in right wing Tennessee, I also shake my head at the news that came out of Mount Juliet, Tennessee yesterday. “Pastor” Greg Locke, head of Global Vision Bible Church, is in the news again. This time, it’s because he hosted a massive book burning last week.

I’ve written about Greg Locke a couple of times. A few years ago, when I was still running my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife, I wrote about how Greg Locke cried on camera after he got disgraced in the wake of divorcing his wife after cheating on her with her best friend. Locke called adult film star Stormy Daniels a “hooker”, as he reminded everyone that Trump was still president. I reposted that entry from 2018 last summer, when Locke was in the news again. In July 2021, Locke was in the news again for demanding that his followers attend services unmasked. Locke vowed to kick out anyone in his congregation who showed up wearing a face mask. Then, halfway through one of his videos, Locke launches into an absolutely bat shit crazy anti-liberal rant.

Well, Greg Locke is in the news again because last Wednesday, he invited followers to burn their copies of Twilight and Harry Potter books. Locke claims that the books, as well as any young adult fantasy books, tarot cards, crystals, and voodoo dolls, are of the occult. Locke said,

“Bring all your Harry Potter stuff. Laugh all you want haters. I don’t care. IT’S WITCHCRAFT 100 PERCENT,” Locke said in an Instagram post Monday. “All you [sic] ‘Twilight’ books and movies. That mess is full of spells, demonism, shape-shifting and occultism.”

Shameful.

Why anyone with sense listens to this hateful moron, I will never know. But again, it’s Tennessee, land of Trump love. I mentioned in previous posts that these are the people who clutch their pearls at the word “God damn” in Maus, but will enthusiastically endorse a man who obviously disdains the poor and brags about sexually abusing women. They claim to love Jesus Christ, and yet they behave in ways that are not Christ-like. And they denounce books about supernatural fantasies and creatures, as they believe in the Bible, which is full of stories about violence and supernatural occurrences, and has led to many people being killed in gruesome ways. See Maus for a lesson on that, as Jewish people died for their beliefs.

I was glad to read that there were counterprotestors who showed up at Locke’s book burning. At least one person threw a Bible into the fire. It’s not that I support burning books of any kind, nor am I an atheist. I just think book burning and banning is stupid, and simply leads to the dumbing down of populations. And as I learn more about what’s going on in Tennessee, I realize that in a way, it’s kind of a sophomoric place. You know that word, sophomore, right? It stems from Greek. The word is a blend of sophos, which means “clever or wise”, and moros, which means “moron or fool”. The news out of Tennessee has made me smarter and enriched my life by prompting me to read Maus. And it’s also making me shake my head as I consider the stupidity of a supposed “man of God” live streaming his event that highlights burning books.

Locke blustered,

“We have a constitutional right and a Biblical right to do what we’re going to do tonight,” Locke said in the livestreamed video. “We have a burn permit, but even without one a church has a religious right to burn occultic materials that they deem are a threat to their religious rights and freedoms and belief systems.”

What a shame.

Indeed… and how interesting that this comes up now, as Tennessee has made news over Maus, a wonderful book about a man’s experiences in The Holocaust. Many people who heard about Greg Locke’s book burning were reminded of Nazi Germany, where books were routinely burned. It’s no secret that Greg Locke is a huge supporter of Donald Trump and his ilk. And it’s not lost on me that Trump works a room much like Hitler did, back in the day.

I know people get offended by the comparison of Trump to Hitler. They think it cheapens the horrors that people like Vladek Spiegelman endured in the 1940s. But dammit, Hitler didn’t start his madness by murdering people. He started by whipping up “us vs. them” sentiments and hatred, promoting other-ism and ignorance, and making people think they had the right to be destructive and divisive. Hitler got his start by throwing a figurative lit match into a seething inferno of disenfranchised people who feared losing power and were pushed to the point of murdering those people they considered “undesirable” in the most vicious, horrifying, and brutal of ways.

I really hope an event like The Holocaust doesn’t happen again, but when I read stories like the ones that have been coming out of the United States lately, it really makes me fear for the future. I worry so much about where our country is going, as obviously terrible people like Donald Trump are put in power. Otherwise decent people ignore how terrible he is, just because they get a few extra bucks in their paychecks and, maybe, a lower gas bill at the pump. They ignore his history of fucking people over and being hateful to anyone who doesn’t do his bidding. But what makes me even more frightened is that even if Trump isn’t re-elected, there is no doubt someone younger, more handsome, and much more intelligent waiting in the wings for the right time to emerge. And people like Greg Locke’s followers will be all too ready to embrace that person.

Don’t believe me? Consider that Adolf Hitler got his ideas about The Holocaust after seeing how the world ignored the Armenian Genocide. Armenia, as you know, also has a place in my heart due to the two years I spent there. I had never heard of the Genocide before I lived in Armenia. I now live in Germany, where Hitler carried out his monstrous plans for world domination. If we don’t learn from the atrocities in history, we are doomed to repeat them. See below:

Keep your eyes open, people. This could happen again. What side of history are you going to be on when it does?

I hope that people will remain vigilant and keep reading good books… and not necessarily the Bible. Resist movements that discourage thought, compassion for others, and personal growth. Book burning is not an activity that kind, intelligent, compassionate people engage in doing. It’s certainly not “Christ-like” behavior. As NBC News points out:

Locke’s book burning event comes amid a growing effort to ban certain books from schools. Books about racism and sexuality are being pulled from Texas school shelves in record numbers — a majority of books targeted feature LGBTQ characters or explicit descriptions of sex. Some of the books that aren’t explicit include picture books about Black historical figures and transgender children.

Why is this happening now? Why are schools being targeted? It’s the movement of so-called Christians who want to take over the country. These people– so-called Christians– are really only Christians in name. They aren’t behaving in merciful, compassionate, and kind ways. They are promoting hatred, ignorance, and violence in order to push their moronic agenda.

I mentioned that I think Tennessee is the “sophomore state”. I think there are wise people in Tennessee who can stand up to this craziness. Unfortunately, Tennessee also seems to be a hotbed of people like Greg Locke, who encourage book burning among those who seriously need to read a lot more. Locke and his ilk just want people to be stupid, so they’re easier to manage. So I would certainly advise everyone to keep reading. And yes, I think you should read Harry Potter and Twilight, if that’s what you like to read… and read Maus, too, while you’re at it. I have provided a handy link below. You’ll learn more from reading almost ANYTHING than you ever could from listening to Greg Locke.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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art, controversies, funny stories, nostalgia

Creating “trash” to pay for creating a treasure…

I learned something new this morning as I caught up on what happened during the hours in which I slept. It’s my habit to go to the front page of my Google app and read suggested stories. They’re typically offered based on subjects Google has noticed I’ve read. I’ve been reading Maus, thanks to the enhanced publicity of Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel being banned for 8th graders in McMinn County, Tennessee. Maus is a brilliant work of art based on Art Spiegelman’s father’s experiences in The Holocaust. Because I’ve also been reading up on Art Spiegelman, this morning, Google recommended an article from Cracked.com about another one of Spiegelman’s very popular artistic projects from the 80s. It turns out that Art Spiegelman’s work was controversial, and even banned, when I was a 13 year old kid, too.

McMinn County’s school board “explains” why Maus was banned from the curriculum for 8th graders. Art Spiegelman’s work was banned when I was in the 8th grade, too, back in 1985-86. It’s a shame the school board is so short-sighted. Maus is a book that can reach a lot of young people in a positive way.

I’m ashamed to admit that prior to a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t even heard of Maus, although it won a Pulitzer Prize, and the first six chapters were released in 1986, when I was fourteen years old. Although I loved Mad Magazine when I was growing up, and Spiegelman was reportedly influenced by Mad, I didn’t read comic books as a rule. Wikipedia tells me that Spiegelman began working on Maus in 1978, and the comics originally appeared in a comic anthology magazine called Raw, which featured alternative comics for adults. Spiegelman was co-editor of Raw, where work by avant-garde artists who were previously unknown was showcased.

In 1985, when I was thirteen and in the 8th grade, Spiegelman heard that Steven Spielberg was making a movie about Jewish mice who escaped persecution in Eastern Europe. Believing that Spielberg’s film An American Tail, was inspired by Maus, which had been appearing in segments in issues of Raw, Spiegelman searched for a publisher who would make the first chapters of Maus available so that his work would not be unfairly compared to Spielberg’s. The first six chapters of Spiegelman’s masterpiece were published in 1986, comprising the first volume of Maus. The unfinished work earned rave reviews from The New York Times, and Spiegelman spent the next five years finishing the book. Incidentally, I have yet to see An American Tail, although I am a fan of the song, “Somewhere Out There”, which was sung by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, and appeared on the film’s soundtrack. It’s one of my favorite duets to sing on SingSnap. 😉

Maybe it’s time I saw this movie.

Maus took a total of thirteen years to finish and, having spent the last few days reading it, I concur with so many others that it really is wonderful work. But Spiegelman did also have bills to pay as he was designing his masterpiece. So what did he do in those days to make ends meet as he worked on creating Maus? Well, besides teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Spiegelman created a relic from my youth that I remember all too well. Inspired, in part, by the very homely dolls, the Cabbage Patch Kids, which were incredibly popular in the 1980s, Spiegelman and a couple of other guys named Mark Newgarden and John Pound, created trading cards called Garbage Pail Kids.

Garbage Pail Kids first appeared in 1985– again, when I was at the age that the Tennessee eighth graders are at now– and, you guessed it, they caused quite a ruckus. In fact, they were banned in some places. Why were they banned? Well, mainly it was because they were gross, and adults in the 80s were a lot stuffier than they are today. I mean, kids of my era were allowed to do a lot more. We could run amok and be gone for hours every day with no fears that someone would call CPS. We could ride gloriously free of helmets on bikes, and without seatbelts in cars. And there was no such thing as the World Wide Web, so we never had to worry about some of the less savory things that kids today can be exposed to online. BUT– many parents and educators had a HUGE problem with the tasteless Garbage Pail Kids. God forbid kids of the 80s see vulgar comic depictions of a kids doing gross things! We might all turn into hoodlums!

Dan Rather does a report on Art Spiegelman’s controversial art circa 1986…

The trading cards each featured a Garbage Pail kid that had something grotesque and funny “wrong” with it. The characters bore a striking resemblance to the Cabbage Patch Kids, which led to a successful lawsuit. Still, the cards were so popular that they led to a 1987 feature film called The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. There was also a TV series developed based on the characters, but it never aired, due to the extreme controversy surrounding the cards. The article I read on Cracked mentions that the cards made a comeback in the 2000s, but by the time they were back on the market, most people had forgotten about them. And people of the 2000s were much less shocked by comic depictions of kids who looked gross or were doing nasty or vulgar things.

I do remember Garbage Pail Kids, but I never collected them. By the time the movie came out, I was fifteen years old, and totally into my horse. I recall that teachers didn’t like them because they were “distracting”. In fact, I seem to remember that they were so controversial that in 1989, The Cosby Show did an episode loosely based on them, calling them “The Gross Out Gang”. The episode was about youngest child, Rudy, being caught watching a gory horror movie about gross kids that her parents didn’t approve of. Rudy tells her parents that they need to revisit the rules she is forced to abide by, which spawns a fun episode that shows what happens when little girls don’t abide by their parents’ wise counsel.

A clip from The Cosby Show that references “The Gross Out Gang”.

Bill Cosby was practically a god in the 80s, and his show was considered “family friendly” entertainment and “must see TV” on Thursday nights. In those days, there were a lot fewer channels to watch, so a lot of people watched Cosby, not realizing that he was a lot grosser than Garbage Pail Kids or “The Gross Out Gang” could ever be. Ah, but we were so innocent back then. It was much easier for people like Cosby to hide their sins. News didn’t travel as fast, and not everyone had a camera.

It kind of blows my mind that a genius like Art Spiegelman was behind Garbage Pail Kids. But then, I guess in their own way, Garbage Pail Kids were yet another element of Spiegelman’s genius. They were hugely popular, and they no doubt made it possible for Spiegelman to make his mark on the world in a profound way by creating Maus. Isn’t it interesting that Bill Cosby, who is also a genius, but has done some really terrible things to women, was considered “family friendly” to parents of my childhood, but Art Spiegelman, who as far as I know, has never actually harmed anyone, keeps putting out stuff that gets banned? I mean, Cosby has most recently been “canceled” by a lot of people, but he was allowed to influence young people for decades! I remember seeing him on Fat Albert, and The Electric Company, and when he did “Picture Pages”, which I think were featured on Captain Kangaroo and later on Nickelodeon’s Pinwheel.

This man was regarded as the epitome of “family friendly” back in the day. But he was only recently released from prison for drugging and raping Andrea Constand, who was just one of so many women who accused him of sexual assault.

The older I get, the more I think a lot of people have their priorities messed up. I see that the people of McMinn County were heavily in favor of re-electing Donald Trump for president, who has said some things that are definitely not appropriate for kids to hear or read. Why is it that the good people of McMinn don’t have a problem with an admitted pussy grabber in the White House, but they can’t bear the idea of thirteen year old kids seeing a cartoon depiction of suicide or nudity, or reading the word “shit” and “God damn” a few times. I just read the part of Maus in which the word “God damn” was used. It was definitely not used inappropriately, given the context of the situation in the book. Art was furious at his father for destroying his mother’s priceless diaries after he’d had a “bad day”. Since his mother committed suicide in 1968, it made perfect sense that Art would have been outraged enough to curse at his father. And believe me, 13 year olds have heard that particular profanity,— and much worse— a lot. I think the issue is, McMinn County simply doesn’t want its children to be exposed to the truths of the terrible sins perpetrated by supposed white Christians in the not too distant past.

I read in the minutes of the school board meeting in which Maus was removed, one of the points made for removing the book was that students today could be disciplined for using the curse words in the book. However, I would really hope that the adults in these kids’ lives teach them that there are times and places for “objectionable language”. I don’t think thirteen year olds are so innocent that they can’t be taught that the word “God damn”, uttered by a very angry person regarding the Holocaust, during which people were systematically MURDERED, is necessarily inappropriate. Curse words, like it or not, have their uses. I would rather someone curse than commit an act of violence, for instance. I rarely ever heard Bill Cosby curse in his comedy routines and television shows, but he surely did do violent things to women. And Donald Trump–the beloved and heavily supported former POTUS in McMinn County– has both said objectionable words and committed violent acts against women– including his first wife, Ivana, whom he presumably had some regard for at the time, I would hope.

Anyway, I am heartened that people have been outraged that Maus was banned in Tennessee. I’m glad to see that it’s back on the bestseller list, and people like me are buying copies of it and reading it. As I mentioned before, McMinn County is actually inadvertently educating people with its ridiculous condemnation of Art Spiegelman’s great book. Banned books are usually the best ones to read. I’ll bet those old Garbage Pail Kids collections are also going to sell like hotcakes, too. Americans are funny that way.

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