Thursday, July 28, 2011

Better Read that Red

The tyranny of the ignoramuses is insurmountable
And assured for all time.
--Albert Einstein

I'm so excited! I just got my first negative gmail response to Commune of Women! It was so succinct and brilliantly worded! It read, in full: "commie."

Now, I've been called many things in my life, including late to supper, but never a communist. So let me say this once and for all: I am not a communist. Of course, that states the obvious. Denying that I‘m a communist is roughly equivalent to denying that I’m a pterodactyl. 

The sender, whose name I shall graciously decline to mention, apparently assumes that anyone who uses the word commune in a title is automatically a communist. By this fascinating logic, books or films with titles like The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage, or “Pretty in Pink” become highly suspect, not to mention a band like Pink Floyd or a character like Scarlett O’Hara or a song like “Red Sails in the Sunset,” which one now must concede might be advertising a Russian cruise line. And let’s not even think about what folks like Red Skelton or Groucho Marx were up to!

By all appearances, even the communists aren’t really communists, anymore. The Russians have come out strongly in favor of capitalist, every-man-for-himself down-and-dirty money-making; the Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path, the Maoist Communist organization in Peru, has shifted its activities to smuggling Colombian cocaine; and my Chinese friend reports that Chinese young people are totally indifferent to their government’s propaganda and just want to have the same freedoms and lifestyle we enjoy in the West. I’m sure there are still some diehard commies left somewhere, but--let me say it, again--I am not one of them. Not that it’s anyone else’s business, if I were.

I must say I find being called a commie rather revitalizing. Not, of course, because it has anything whatsoever to do with my actual personal politics, but because it puts me so squarely in opposition to that ancient body of evil, the McCarthyites. I can make light of being this man’s target, but we must never forget that in the 1950s such an unfounded accusation could ruin a career or sterling reputation, and even send someone to prison or drive them to suicide. Blacklisting depended far less on fact than on innuendo, gossip and outright malice.

During the McCarthy era, writing professionals were denied employment because of their real or suspected political beliefs or associations. Artists were barred from working, on the basis of their alleged membership in or sympathy toward the American Communist Party, their involvement in liberal or humanitarian political causes, or their refusal to assist investigations by betraying friendships, by giving up names of others for investigation. Betrayal of one’s principles and one’s friends, and ideological censorship, became the price of a livelihood. Writers, actors, directors, singers, artists and other professionals suffered, not to mention the quality of art and life in America.

I highly recommend the film “Trumbo,” about the life and times of Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted and denied work during and beyond the McCarthy era. The voices of Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Danny Glover, Peter Hanson, Nathan Lane and Donald Sutherland read Trumbo’s own writings on the subject, which are sometimes hilarious and sometimes move one to tears.

My gmail detractor has done me a huge favor. First, he’s given me a good laugh. My friends and I will be formulating jokes and good-natured jibes based on this incident, for weeks to come. More importantly, he has reminded me that blind prejudice, ugly bigotry, unfounded accusations and unbidden malice never sleep. Such a person is not only pitiably ignorant of both basic civility and the importance of metaphor, and woefully in need of a real life, one in which impugning innocent strangers does not constitute an indoor sport, but much more dangerously, he is a foot soldier for the tyranny of ignoramuses. As such, he and his jab are not funny, at all. And if we’re looking for what truly undermines the nobility of the American vision, we need look no further.

1 comment: said...

My applause, Suzan. My applause.