Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Parvum Opus 254 ~ And Then There Were None


Number 254

November 28, 2007



Local high school students who have rehearsed all semester for a performance of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None have been forced to cancel the play. If you’re a Christie fan, you have 10 seconds to guess why. For the rest of you, the original novel was published in England in 1939 under the title Ten Little N-----s (the title was based on an old nursery rhyme). A year later it was published in the U.S. under the title Ten Little I-----s, I mean Ten Little Indians. The story is one of the great murder mysteries and has nothing to do with people of any particular racial cast. But because the original British title had an unacceptable word, 67 years later a local “diversity” flack has pressured the school to shut down the performance. Here’s the letter I sent to the newspaper today:

Lakota East students were told there was reason to be concerned about their safety if “Ten Little Indians” wasn’t canceled. Clearly Gary Hines, his GPH company, and apparently the NAACP are in the shakedown business. School administrators succumbed to guilt (over an offending word removed in 1940), threats of violence, and financial extortion (buy the GPH “diversity training”). Distorting language is a classic ploy: how do you get “genocide” from this play? True censorship comes from the government. These are profiteering bullies. Is Hines shaking down all those dealers who sell rap music using the N word?

The genocide reference came up in the news story; someone said the play is about genocide, which it’s not. But if it were, would that mean you can’t talk about genocide?

I wonder what these diversity shakedown artists would say if every past use of or allusion to the N word were expunged from every book and film. Would they say it’s a denial of history?

So why do I use the feeble circumlocution “N word”? I heard that word constantly when I was growing up, from my dad, but simultaneously learned it was not acceptable. I’ve never used it except in quotation. And now I don’t want any spam filters to kick out this PO (which happens sometimes, however innocuous I try to keep the language).

By the way, Lakota East High School is going to substitute Harvey as this year’s school play. I should think that old chestnut is offensive for making light of drunkenness and/or mental illness.

See City Journal Autumn 2007, “Ideology Trumps Truth on Campus” by Bruce S. Thornton on a similar scholastic free speech issue.

Also, Dennis Miller spoke of “a good abject lesson” in the imminent closing of Antioch College (good article by Charlotte Allen linked here). I guess Miller meant “object lesson” but abject is even better. Antioch is where students aggressively “call out” other students for being politically incorrect, such as when one student said Eskimo instead of Intuit. (I don’t know why Eskimo is a bad word, even if inaccurate.)

While searching for Allen’s article on Antioch, I ran across the Heretical Librarian blog by librarian David Durant, who had an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian”. Young Durant writes, “I pride myself on my ability to coexist with all kinds of people, and I try hard not to let my politics get in the way of my job or personal relationships.” Hah. a story I’ve been wanting to publish for a long time.

Sometime in the ‘90s I interviewed for an editor’s job at the now defunct Sojourner newspaper in Boston, a feminist paper started in the ‘70s (named after Sojourner Truth, and not to be confused with Sojourners magazine). Two decades after its inception, it appeared to have narrowed into a paper chiefly aimed at lesbians, though its masthead said it was for all women in the nation or something like that. I applied anyway, despite my hetero history. I was invited for a group interview. You know how when you go into one of those gangbangs, you can feel the room? It was cold, and I couldn’t warm them up. So I decided there was no reason to mind what I said.

One of the things I said was, while Bay Windows, the other gay paper in Boston (though they insisted Sojourner was for all women), was readily available in newspaper boxes, for free, all over town, Sojourner wasn’t very visible and it wasn’t free, and furthermore appeared to be written for an elite group of lesbians in New England rather than for every woman in the nation. Bay Windows had wider reader appeal. The Valentine issue of Sojourner had stories of romance that were all about women and, uh, personal appliances, no men. The average woman on the street wasn’t going to get much out of that. The cover photo of that issue was a young black artist with very short hair dyed sort of greenish yellow, which I said made her look a lot like a tennis ball, cute, but still a tennis ball. They were not amused.

One of the questions put to me was how did I get along with people who were “different” from me. Really and truly, for a minute I didn’t know what they meant. Then I said, well, maybe corporate executives are pretty different from me but I don’t really know any personally. Fundamentalist Christians are different from me but for some reason I’d had a few good friends who were fundamentalists. Only later did I realize that they thought I was different from them ~ not (at least not all) straight, and not all of them white.

Not only did I not get the job, I got a kiss-off letter addressed to “Dear Applicant”.


Anne DaBee sent this:

In a TV news report about another senseless killing of a young man on the streets of Baltimore, the camera panned the site of the shooting and showed many of the flowers, pictures, and messages with which folks around here decorate such places. There was a hand lettered sign reading "Rest in Peas", which really hit me on several levels. First reaction, unfortunately, was that it was funny ~ peas might be more comfortable than corn, but surely mashed potatoes would be the ultimate resting place... The second reaction, following almost immediately, was annoyance with myself for almost automatically putting that spin on the scene, and the final reaction was sorrow that those senseless deaths happen so often, at least around here, and that the obvious educational level of the victim's peers was such that "peas" was the best (s)he could do with "peace".

My reactions would have been the same as Anne’s, except I’d go for marshmallows rather than mashed potatoes (and I might operate more in anger than in sorrow). But here’s an abject lesson on the importance of spelling. “Peas” doesn’t even sound like “peace” and the sign-makers could probably distinguish between the pronunciation of the two words. Sigh/grrr.


Dea R. said his dad used to say “Keep your thumb on it” but I’m not quite sure what he meant by it. Don’t let it go, don’t lose control?


Is it possible that my favorite old Scottish toast was influenced by the language of the Bible? Compare:

Here's tae us. Wha's like us. Damn few, and they're a' deid!

(Here’s to us. Who’s like us? Damn few, and they’re all dead!)

Psalms 71

For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens,

You who have done great things;

O God, who is like You?

“O God, who is like You?” or similar phrases occur elsewhere in the Bible also.

This is not to suggest either that we (or Scots) are like God or that God is dead.


I read the word “grandpets” recently. It’s sort of cute, but although I don’t have grandchildren yet, I do not consider the children’s pets to be my grandpets, nor do I call myself my cat’s mommy.


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