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Life as Performance Art

   Perhaps you remember the 1948 film, A Song is Born, starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. The plot is simple:  A group of elderly scholars had been commissioned to write the definitive history of music. For nine years they had toiled away, cutting themselves off from the rest of the world. Then one evening Danny “Professor Frisbee” Kaye went to a nightclub. The next morning, he told his colleagues that they had completely ignored an important genre of music – jazz.
    It is a screwball comedy, but it has am important message for our age. You and I get to make choices, often based on our interest or preferences, but we need to take into consideration what we are leaving out and missing.  For example: I prefer salmon over steak, Paris over London, and Impressionism over contemporary art.  I have read considerable history of Minnesota, but nothing about North Dakota. In the greater scheme of things, my selections and preferences really don’t matter to anyone else, much less the rest of the world.
    Where things go off the rails is when someone or a group attempts to impose their will on others, or the rest of the world. That happens. For example, some ancient Egyptian pharaohs desecrated the tombs of their predecessors to permanently cancel them from history. They were to be forgotten Felix Mendelssohn was a magnificent composer, but his music was banned by Nazi Germany. It was against the law to play the music or collect the art or read the books of anyone of Jewish descent.  Mao did his best to destroy China’s past tradition and culture, as has the Taliban when it blew up ancient temples in Afghanistan.
     There is an ancient reason for this.  In a very perverted way, it even makes sense:  We must get rid of everything from the past, so that people will  believe that history and culture began with me and my group.  Then, just as now, it is an attempt to control the narrative and conversation of who is acceptable or non-acceptable.  Political or not, this sort of tight control is the handiwork of dictators and tyrants.
      There have always been these attempts by totalitarians to control the narrative.  One popular method is to ban or burn books.
      Right now in our country, there is an important squabble over liberal arts, particularly over history and literature. Neither conservative or liberals have a monopoly on bad behavior.  All sides are making their voices heard and demanding to control the conversations and narrative.  Mix in a few dashes of philosophy, politics, and religion, and the voices get loud and more strident:  My group is right; you are wrong.  You must change and become one of us or we will silence you and your supporters, and we will see to it you will not work again.
     If you think that is an over-statement, think again, because that is precisely what JK Rawlings and a host of academics were told when they disagreed with a hardcore group of ultra-woke warriors.  Anyone who said anything construed as a defense of Ms Rawlings was cancelled, as well.  It is a sad saga that is constantly repeated.
     In the United States, there seems to be several people who want to take absolute control over American history.  The wrangling began immediately after the New York Times published the 1619 Project which proposed the idea that America’s prosperity was due primarily to the enslavement of Africans.  Whatever you may think of the New York Times, their style of writing is the gold standard.  This publication was not an exception. It was a carefully researched and well-written piece on how the contributions of African Americans have been intentionally forgotten, dismissed, or cancelled.
   The article raised a furor,  with the end result that  many attempts have been made to prevent it,  along with anything connected with Critical Race Theory, from being taught or discussed in our schools.  Opponents are demanding absolute control.  Off the table. No discussion.  The books and conversation are banned.  An arbitrary decision was made to intentionally exclude it; all that remains is to implement it.
     That sends a bad message.  There is almost no careful consideration or dialogue over the accuracy of their research, just instant rejection because of the title.   Maybe the 1619 Project has merit, or  perhaps it is just  an interesting theory, but censors are rarely interested in that. They wanted it gone.
     For a moment, pretend that two old white geezers, we’ll call them Julius and August, who haven’t seen each other for a few years, run into each on the street. They shake hands, start talking, and then Julius wants to bring his friend up to date on what has been happening in his life.  Suddenly, August snaps, “I’m not interested in your stories. They aren’t important. What I am doing in my life is more important,” and walks away.  We know how that relationship will end, and I doubt the two former friends will be sending Christmas cards and making nice again.  The worst part is that people like August are clueless as to how much hurt they can inflict.
     Julius and August are two individuals. Imagine how much damage one person or a small group can do when they decide to cancel millions of Americans, based almost entirely on the color of their skin. That is the ugly and immoral part:  racism.
      Past generations had it easier when it came to censorship and keeping a tight hold on the narrative. For the Egyptians, it was a matter of applying hammer and chisel to limestone temples and obelisks.  A perfect example was when Thutmose III became pharaoh.  He so hated his mommy Hapshepsut that as soon as she became a mummy, he tried excising her from history.   Not that it worked, of course, but he tried.  The Catholic Church published a lengthy list of books which could not be read under fear of eternal punishment.  Galileo’s works were banned because he dared suggest the earth rotated around the sun.  His books stayed banned for centuries, but people still read them.
    Lenin and Stalin thought they had the problem solved by banning books and giving anyone who disagreed with their policies a one-way ticket to Siberia.  That, or a bullet in the back of the head in the basement of the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.   That’s what Fearless Leader in North Korea still does.  About the same time the infamous Bavarian corporal and his minions held public book burning parties.  Didn’t work, either.
      Book banning, book burning, and censorship has absolutely no chance of working today.  Recently, when discussing banning books, Steven King,  who has had many of his books banned,  suggested that students and adults go down to their library or book store and see what else the censors tried cancelling.   Then borrow or start shopping.  Margaret Atwood, she of the Handmaid’s Tale, said the book banners and burners should quit.  They’ll never succeed because anything can be found on the internet. I think she is on to something.
     I like King’s idea to go and borrow or buy some of these books and think for yourself.  That’s one very good way to fight for our First Amendment Rights.

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