Jim Crow, America, Mark Twain discussed on John Batchelor
The writing before the novel's before the world sake. But Arthur tales that part that become part of the fun of America discovering its frontiers. The gold rushes a moment enter this. I'm speaking to John Belk. His new book is American fun. Four centuries of joyous revolt. Mark Twain, formalizes what are just walkers. John. And I we have time for one spectacular wop or the the the sack of flour. I think Mark Twain talks about it. Everybody refers to it. What is it? And how did it form the fun of the frontier? Well, the the the sack of flour. This is one of the most noble hoaxes and pranks you'll you'll you'll find in the west because in in one of the the Virginia cities. Nevada in early. Eighteen sixties neighboring towns there was a mayoral race. And the with most things in in the west back, then there was a a. Deal in a prank between the the two competitors. For for mayor that the loser would have to walk across town with a this fifty pound black bag of flour and a win the loser. Did this dutifully he at the at the end of his walk of shame. He auctioned off the bag of flour for the for for two hundred and fifty dollars. Dollars right for the the sanitary commission. I think it was called which was this non partisan help organization serving both sides of the civil war. So regardless of where you stood in a civil war. You had to be behind the the sanitary commission. And so that in itself brought people together so he auctioned off this this bag of flour for two hundred fifty dollars and someone else outbid and and auction did again. And so they they kept auctioning this this bag of flour until they raised something like eight thousand dollars in the original auction. Thank you. Eight thousand dollars also gives you a sense of during these silver rush. Dave just how much money people had to squander for things like this. And we're just enjoyed the the the sort of frenzy of spending their money for this cause on this ridiculous sack of flour. So when the the sack of flour, then traveled to Virginia city, they were so burned by how much their neighboring town could raise for the sack of flour. They tried to outbid it. But they could only raise five thousand dollars, and they're they're public. Shame was was severely. Ding divide us and long story short this sack of flour procession of the sort of guilt wagon with Mark Twain, several other people on it made its way throughout the website where all these little mining towns, and it keping auctioned off again, and again, and again until it finally arrived in San Francisco, and then ultimately made its way across the country to the I guess the San Francisco the pardon me, the Saint Louis. Agricultural fair, and it raised something like two hundred fifty thousand dollars at the end of everybody enjoyed telling stories, and that was fun for them as they were on the frontier, they also did a lot of dancing. What John's book does is it recreates original more moment with Morton and Winthrop, and the the clash of how do you live in America, are you formal and buttoned-down or do you live for the day and take a day off now and again and clearly Mark Twain was in both both camps. We need to mention however, simultaneously with this wonderful tale of tricksters, and how much money we have and living wild we develop Jim crow. How is that American fun? Oh, well, are you talking about the rice? Character of Jim crow upon whom the the Jim crow laws were based because Jim crow was on black face minstrel character created by this this white person TD rice performer who represented sort of all of the bullion, but also irreverence the people feared in African Americans in antebellum period. And so it was safe to watch. Jim crow be irreverent and be erotic and playful on stage, but he also represented this threat that came to justify what we call. Jim crow laws because Jim crow laws were in place to keep Jim crow in place. It's character fund is a way of talking about how America goes through liberation transformation. We see it in the seventeenth century in Massachusetts, Plymouth rock. We see seen in the eighteenth century breaking away from the English masters. We see it now in the nineteenth century with the African Americans. Pre a preceding the before the civil war. There's a moment of transformation it's going to take a century of laws, but the joy is part of sedition John how to say this. It's rebellion sedition. It's defiance. It's all those things with a smile on its face. Yes. Certainly I I would say probably more defiance more revolt more rebellions than necessarily tradition. Though, many would see it as as such depending on what laws being broken and how near and dear that law is to the people who defended the after the Astra theatre ride. I wanna mention that. Because it was also mid-century and to make sure that American fund also involved criminality. When it was thrown in as a contest between European culture, some actor McCreadie performing hamlet onstage and American culture, which was Edwin Forrest performing hamlet onstage. Why did they riot? Well, they right because these are basically fan bases. These these are kind of football thugs as we know them today. And that's how these so-called Bowery boys, which was a pretty well intact. Subculture of kind of volunteer firemen and second generation mostly Irish emigrants, but also various ethnic, and they kind of defended of their their actor Edmund forest against McCreadie. They considered to be weakish. So what what we have in the this putatively fun event is a kind of more an example of how how sucks, and you know, riders can kind of let let loose with their their more criminal inclinations in in. Given the right or wrong circumstance. In other words, there's always a threat of criminality. And when it crosses into that it ceases being fun, and and can become the opposite of what was originally intended. Definitely. And I think that that that threat is is is right there in the in the grain of whatever sort of event, or our culture, you're looking at here, you have a self regulating crowd that has enjoying everyone else's fun as much as their own, and they're kind of acting in a more communal sense as opposed to a self serving and violence. Professor, this is for centuries. We must go fast. Industrialization of the of Coney Island. We go to to out side groups in the nineteen twenties the roaring twenties because of the car it roared along one group, we've mentioned the dancing of the African Americans the invention of the Lindy, but the other group I wanna make sure we flag. This is the new woman the flap. How was that fun? How is it? Presented. Okay. Well, they're the kind of the the granddaughter. Daughters of the the new women of the eighteen nineties in nineteen hundred zero the Suffragettes who, you know, the the term was originally coined, but whereas the Suffragettes were more of a a reformist group, which which you know, kept it very kind of domestic morals and attitudes of flappers wanted to have every bit as much fun as men have been having over the centuries in America. And so they flaunted it they they drank and they've smoked invented the most wonderful slang, the proved to be much Whittier than their male opponents, and they also did single out men as being whether killjoys or thorough Tehran's kind of kind of their opponents. So they they went toe to toe with them and through fun. Whether it was drinking and Speakeasy or dancing Lindy hop themselves. They showed their real political force with them. What you write emasculating wit, it meant to stab into the culture and. The culture the culture recoiled. It was frightening it recoiled, but it also was tickled. I mean, everyone kind of loved the flapper unless a hated them Harry Crosby. I have to flag him because he seems an excess, but there's a moment in which he has poetry enemies Jay's related to J P Morgan. He said. As an aristocrat, and he's also self destructive uses cocaine aerobatics sex threats gunfire. Eventually commits suicide at the ram at the Ritz. Of course, he represented an extreme kind of fun was he admired was he venerated? Well, that's an excellent question. I'm not sure if I can answer that one accurately, certainly he was he was a very popular figure. You know? He knew anyone who's to be known among the Hemingway and FitzGerald Stein's, and whatever, you know, the the ex patriot and northeastern American art world, and he was he was a great player among poets. But he was also this extreme hedonist of the most individualists sort and kind of lived lived for his his own tastes in dalliances. So he keeps chances a nice counterpart to a lot of the more communitarian fund that there was also on the he certainly makes FitzGerald seem like a Scribbler come to the loop. Exactly. All right now a detail about this period. Chaplain creates modern times, it's a talkie in. There are the two characters the trap talking and the Gammon played by Paulette Goddard. What did she represent? Oh, polite. Goddard? Well, she was a girl who the kid, right? The girl from the war. She was she was the the the most abject figure of the depression, except a wonderful thing about this movie, which was kind of chaplains swansong as a silent film star because. Yes, it was a talking, but it just it just had a couple of lines of speech, and it and it was Chaplin's first speaking role. And when you say that ridiculous song. Waiter, but Paulette Goddard character the kid and the tramp himself were kind of the the refuse of American society who still in spite of of their their poverty and their objection. Their homelessness are always running from the law manage to have a great deal of fun possibly because of it. The fun in the movie is it's threatening. Is it meant to be a challenge you mentioned at one point. They had an original ending for the Hayes sensors in Hollywood polit garnered going to a convent. So did that the end of that movie frightened people? Well, I think the movie itself. Could have frightened people. You know, people are especially in Hollywood, quite thin skinned in the days of the the Hazak in particular kind of ran scared of that even may west herself. But I think it's reading to to have a kind of an anti-capitalist communist. I mean, right there that original titles amasses. Message to it. And he ultimately defied everyone's fears of the film, and you know, they go off smiling into the sunset, and you know, even as they're being pursued getting away from Winthrop and Bradford one more time American fund is the book four centuries of joyous revolt. John Backman is the author and when we come back they west. I'm John Batchelor. This is the John Batchelor show..