Issuu on Google+

Y D O B C I R T C E L E graduate journal in american studies 1850-present

volume I no. 1 centre for american studies university of western ontario

The Centre for American Studies presents

Volume I No. 1 2013 Caroline Diezyn - Founding Editor-in-Chief/Graphics/Layout Assistant Editors - Diana Szabo and Drew Carney Peer Reviewers: Diana Szabo Drew Carney Dylan O’Leary Robyn Schwarz Alexandra Wapia Copyeditors: Laura DeVouge Anna Zuschslag Diana Szabo Web Admin & Communications: Christine Wall Special Thanks to Don Abelson and Rob MacDougall. Centre for American Studies at Western University Room 1003, Social Science Centre London, Ontario, Canada N61 5C2 Email: Twitter: @BodyElectricCAS Online edition: Original photo on covers: “Transmission line towers and high tension lines that carry current generated at TVA’s Wilson Dam hydroelectric plant, near Sheffield, Ala. (LOC)” by Alfred T. Palmer (1942) used with Creative Commons license from the Library of Congress: Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for American Studies at Western University.


Body Electric

S T N E T N O C Foreword.........................................................................................5 Black Political Strength in the United States: A Case for Repealing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Mitchell Davidson.............................................................................7

In Jack We Trust: Unstable Patriotism in Fox’s 24 Guillaume Desbiens.........................................................................25 David Hammons’ How Ya Like Me Now?: More Than Skin Deep Amy Gaizauskas...............................................................................39

Subversive Folk: Alan Lomax and Popularizing American Music during the Cold War Courtney Mathison..........................................................................59 The Governmentality of the Date: Femininity and Sexual Responsibility in Postwar America Rachael Pack....................................................................................83 A Sandal Set on Stone: Millay’s “Ode to Silence” and the Literary Canon Joel Szaefer.....................................................................................103 Making it in NYC: The Supremes at the Copacabana, 1965 Nicole Winger................................................................................127



n 1867, Walt Whitman changed a poem in Leaves of Grass by adding the line “I sing the body electric.” Nearly a century later, Ray Bradbury published a science fiction anthology with that same line as its title. In 2012, American recording artist Lana Del Rey titled one of her songs “Body Electric.” When Whitman coined the phrase, “electric” had not yet entered common usage in American vernacular; 145 years later, his phrase is still part of the American cultural pysche. It’s this artistic and cultural heritage that our journal draws upon in its exploration of the most dynamic and volatile period in America’s history -- the period from the mid-19th century to the present day.  Body Electric, the new graduate journal from the Centre for American Studies at Western University, adopts this reoccurring line as a representation of American culture, art, history, science, and politics since Whitman’s amendment to his work. To our journal it signifies the beginning of a period of extreme advancement and innovation in America’s history. The title evokes vitality, change, and/or threat; it can be shocking, empowering, technical or metaphorical.  For this inaugural edition, we’ve selected papers written by graduate students at Western University on topics pertaining to America since 1850, with an emphasis on change and tradition, evolution, and nostalgia. The diversity of the topics is testament a to the diversity of American Studies at Western University. Essays on The Supremes at the Copacabana, Alan Lomax’s Cold War-era folk, and David Hammons’s portrait of the Reverend Jesse Jackson juxtaposed with Jack Bauer of 24, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry, the Voting Rights Act, and dating advice from the postwar era. Each of these papers exemplifies the intersectionality and multi-disciplinary nature of American Studies, making for an engaging look at America’s body electric. Please follow us online and on Twitter for the call for papers for our next edition and for all news pertaining to Body Electric. Caroline Diezyn Editor-in-Chief 2012-2013 @BodyElectricCAS


Body Electric

Volume I No. 1 2013


Black Political Strength in the United States:

A Case for Repealing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act By Mitchell Davidson


hen the Voting Rights Act became official legislation in 1965, in the

United States, it served a dual purpose. The first, and most obvious, objective of the legislation was removing barriers on Black electoral participation, such as literacy tests.1 The second, and more controversial portion, concerned the preclearance of electoral redistricting plans by the federal Department of Justice.2 This was somewhat controversial because redistricting, commonly referred to as gerrymandering, is an individual state’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Voting Rights Act only affected certain states, mainly those in the Deep South.3 The pre-clearance certified by the Voting Rights Act held that the dilution of racialized minority votes, specifically Blacks, was unacceptable.4 This meant that redistricting would have to support the influence of racialized minorities on the political landscape, generally through promoting Black candidates. However, the 1986 Supreme Court Case, Thornburg v. Gingles, ruled that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act forced states to draw majority-minority

1 Abigail M. Thernstrom, Voting Rights – and Wrongs: the Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2009), 192. 2 Adam B. Cox and Richard T. Holden, “Reconsidering Racial and Partisan Gerrymandering,” The University of Chicago Law Review 78, no. 2 (Spring 2011), 577. 3 Ibid. Please note that the Deep South in this context refers to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virgina. There are some exceptions to the rule of the ‘Deep South’, mainly Alaska and Virginia. There are also specific counties or townships in seven other states covered under the Voting Rights Act that are not listed above. 4 Ibid.


Body Electric

districts when possible. Majority-minority districts are when a racialized 5

minority, be it Latinos or Blacks, makes up the majority of the voting age population in a district. In accordance with Supreme Court rulings, the states covered by the Voting Rights Act complied with majority-minority district requirements. What did this mean for Black voters and representation? Does the current interpretation of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, in terms of majority-minority districts, achieve the original goal of Black equality in the political arena? On the surface the creation of majority-minority districts may seem beneficial but, through further analysis, the creation of these districts will reveal negative consequences for Black representation. The creation of majorityminority districts are detrimental, and contradictory, to the original purpose of the Voting Rights Act - achieving Black political equality. These unintended negative consequences have arisen through partisan gerrymandering, specifically the practice of ‘packing’, the improper counting of prison populations, the relative inability of the Democratic Party to recover control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Black voter turnout, and the further polarization of Congressional voting districts. Essentially, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has exhausted its utility for the political strength of the Black community in the United States and should be abolished in favour of other viable solutions, which will be addressed in the formal conclusion of this analysis.

Before significant analysis regarding the consequences of majority-

minority districts can occur, some fundamental aspects of racial gerrymandering must be understood. Gerrymandering is the drawing of federal electoral boundaries, which occurs every ten years after the decennial census. The problem is that gerrymandering, although a practice that is, by definition,

5 Mark F Bernstein, “Racial Gerrymandering,” Public Interest 122, (Winter 1996), 62.

Volume I No. 1 2013


partisan and self-interested, is upheld by the Supreme Court as a necessary practice.6 The rhetoric behind this decision lies with those who draw the federal electoral boundaries, state governments. The Supreme Court has recognized the partisan nature of state governments, thus allowing gerrymandering to occur as long as it upholds a principle of equal vote distribution.7 Racial gerrymandering, by association, is the same partisan process with a racial impetus, normally because of the requirement to draw majority-minority districts. The other unique aspect of racial gerrymandering concerns the physical characteristic of the district. Although racial concerns should be taken into account, the Supreme Court ruled, in Shaw v. Reno, that districts can not be racial only and must take into account some form of geographic consistency with other non-racial districts.8 Therefore, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires majorityminority districts be drawn with both racial and geographic considerations in mind. However, racial gerrymandering undoubtedly occurs and, in co-ordination with the thesis presented above, is detrimental to Black political strength.

Now that the process of gerrymandering is thoroughly understood,

analysis of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act can begin. However, before doing so, it is imperative to note that the literature, and thus this analysis, will primarily deal with the plight of the Black community, despite the Voting Rights Act only mentioning racial minorities. The Latino community, although growing in number, lends itself well to generalizations occurring from the conclusions on the effects of the Voting Rights Act on the Black population.9

6 Ibid., “Racial Gerrymandering,” 62. 7 Theodore S. Arrington, “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of

Redistricting: The Seats/Votes Relationship 1972-2008,” Politics and Policy 38, no. 2 (April 2010), 225-226. Commonly referred to as one person, one vote. 8 Christopher Kukla, “Race-Based Legislative Gerrymandering: Have We Really Gone Too Far,” Journal of Legislation 23, no. 1 (1997), 122. 9 Danny Hayes and Seth C. Mckee, “The Intersection of Redistricting, Race,


Body Electric

The first way that gerrymandering is hurting Black support comes

through the practice of packing. Packing is when the district lines are drawn so that a maximum number of Black voters are packed into as few districts as possible.10 Packing runs contrary to the prior gerrymandering method of cracking, in which minorities would be spread thinly over multiple districts in order to suppress the minority vote.11 However, the practice of cracking runs directly contradictory to the impetus of the Voting Rights Act, as it dilutes the minority Black vote.12 At first glance, the guarantee of a few minority representatives through packing seems more beneficial than no true minority representatives through cracking. However, when the partisan implications of packing are included, packing is detrimental to the strength of the Black political voice. This will be proven by tying Black representation directly to the Democratic Party and by referencing the 1994 reapportionment and election results.

It is no secret that Black Americans generally vote in favor of the

Democratic Party for various economic and social reasons.13 Author Theodore Arrington claims that Blacks are, “the most reliable Democratic supporters,”14 while others evidence this claim with supporting evidence that Blacks vote Democratic over Republican at a 9:1 ratio.15 Since Blacks are the most partisan and ardent supporters of the Democratic Party, it is no surprise that majorityminority districts elect Democrats. The implications however are twofold. The and Participation,” American Journal of Political Science 56, no. 1 (January 2012), 119-120. 10 Cox and Holden, “Reconsidering Racial and Partisan Gerrymandering,” 566. 11 Ibid. 12 Arrington, “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of Redistricting,” 230. 13 Richard Forgette and John W. Winkle, “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Voting Rights Act,” Social Science Quarterly 87, no. 1 (March 2006), 170. 14 Arrington, “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of Redistricting,” 228. 15 Forgette, “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Voting Rights Act,” 170.

Volume I No. 1 2013


first implication of the Black packing that occurs is the ‘bleaching’, or increase in white voters, in the surrounding districts.16 Since Blacks and Democrats are virtually synonyms, as evidenced by the 9:1 voting ratio, this means a significant Democratic base is removed from the surrounding districts. When this is crossed with the fact that the Voting Rights Act applies to states in the Southern, more Republican, states, it is apparent that the surrounding districts become Republican.17 Therefore, as a result of the majority-minority provision within section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there is a substantial trade-off between “safe black districts and the strength of the Democratic Party in the South.”18 In other words, the more majority-minority districts that are created, the less overall members the Democratic Party will have in the House of Representatives, despite the illusion of gaining a Black member they otherwise may not have.

The second practical implication of Black’s being hardened Democrats

is the ideological leaning of the majority-minority districts. A high concentration of some of the most ideologically extreme Democrats in one riding, with little to no Republican opposition, forces candidates to campaign on very socialist and ‘left’ leaning agendas.19 This means the winner of the district will almost certainly be further left than both moderate Republicans or even most Democrats. This is because there is no ideological rush to the center to capture the straggling, independent, voters as they are not needed for election.20 Since the winners of majority-minority districts do not align ideologically with most 16 Arrington, “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of Redistricting,” 228. 17 David Lublin, The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests in Congress, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997), 210. 18 Thernstrom, Voting Rights – and Wrongs, 18. 19 David Lublin and D. Stephen Voss, “The Partisan Impact of Voting Rights Law: A Reply to Pamela S. Karlan,” Stanford Law Review 50, no. 3 (1998), 769770. 20 Thernstrom, Voting Rights – and Wrong, 19.


Body Electric

members of the House of Representatives, interracial coalition building becomes increasingly problematic.21 David Lublin and Stephen Voss claim the conundrum is that Black, “representatives may be deeply committed to the black community, but they cannot change policy without allies,”22 which means that pro-Black policy is unlikely to find support with such differing ideological groups in the House of Representatives.

Critics may point to the lack of bi-partisanship in American politics

claiming that this anti-coalition mentality is nothing new. All that would be needed is control of the House of Representatives, in order to get legislation favouring racial minorities, drawn by Black members from majority-minority districts, passed. However, with reference to the 1994 House of Representatives election, the strength of the Black political community is weakened by its lack of access to power, and its sustained futility to take the power back.

The 1994 election cycle is chosen because it is the first

reapportionment, as they occur at the end of every decade, where the ruling in Thornburg v. Gingles applies. Although the 1992 House election did occur before hand, the rulings in the aforementioned Supreme Court case was appealed and caused mass panic in redistributing committees. As a result, a two year grace period was put forth to allow redistricting plans to conform to the new rules.23 These rules included, mainly, majority-minority districts.

Prior to the 1994 election the House of Representatives had been

controlled by the Democratic Party, without fail, since 1955.24 This nearly 40 year dominance of power by the Democratic Party was abruptly ended in 1994.

21 Cox and Holden, “Reconsidering Racial and Partisan Gerrymandering,” 596. 22 Lublin and Voss, “The Partisan Impact of Voting Rights Law,” 777. 23 Bernstein, “Racial Gerrymandering,” 225. 24 House History: Majority and Minority Leaders. gov/house_history/leaders.aspx.

Volume I No. 1 2013


This is especially shocking, and not indicative of other political trends, as the House did not fall to the Republicans under the rule of President Ronald Reagan, or other Republicans throughout that period, but, rather under the administration of Bill Clinton. Although this is not incontrovertible proof that the House transferred to Republican control solely because of majority-minority districts, it is with a very large influence that this transition occurred. Mark Bernstein and David Lublin both come to the conclusion that eleven districts were lost by the Democratic Party as a direct result of majority-minority districts.25 When the broader picture is analyzed, with all eleven districts lost going Republican, the twenty-two district swing from majority-minority districts accounts for nearly 85 percent of the total districts lost.26 Accompanied with the loss of the House of Representatives came the loss of influence. The Black caucus alone lost seventeen subcommittee chairs and another three full Congressional committee chairs when they lost control of the House.27 A quick glance at American political structure would force any observer to see the importance of committee work, especially for smaller groups like racialized minorities, leading Mark Bernstein to comment that, “blacks feel the loss of House control more severely than do whites.”28 This is simply because committee positions are a source of direct influence and power which, as a result of losing control of the House, the Black members of Congress no longer have control over.

It is now apparent that the tendency of Blacks to vote Democratic,

and the loss of Democratic control of the House of Representatives, are tied to the tangible influence of packing Black voters into majority-minority districts.

25 Bernstein, “Racial Gerrymandering,” 64 and Lublin, The Paradox of

Representation, 772. 26 This number is arrived at by simply dividing the 22 district swing by 26, the difference in total districts between parties, to arrive at an 84.6% conclusion. 27 Bernstein, “Racial Gerrymandering,” 68. 28 Ibid., “Racial Gerrymandering,” 68-69.


Body Electric

However, one may attempt to counter the influence of Black politicians on a strictly numerical basis, claiming that there are more Blacks in the House of Representatives now than ever before. This is evidenced by the fact that the 1991 redistricting cycle, after the grace period, doubled the amount of majorityminority districts prior to 1991 and these districts have not declined in number.29 In fact, at any given time in the recent decade, Blacks make up thirty-one to forty-five percent of Southern Democrats.30 Although the Black caucus within the Democratic Party may now be larger than ever, and exercise more influence over the parties mandate at that level, it does not translate into legislative success or results. Mark Bernstein, perhaps, put it most eloquently when writing that, “gaining a larger share of a shrinking pie is not a formula for success,” meaning that the Black’s within the Democratic Party may simply be receiving promotions while the ship is sinking. Through these metaphors, the essential derivative is that the lack of legislative influence makes the Black representation in the House of Representatives purely symbolic.31 However, before writing off the importance of Black representatives altogether it may be useful to make a distinction between legislative and constituent based representation. Christian Grose argues that the two are separate, and what Black members may lack in legislative production they, partially, make up for in provisions for constituents through services, earmarks, and other locally based funding.32 This may be a valid counter, however very few substantive issues affecting the Black race as a

29 Arrington, “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of Redistricting,” 233234. 30 Richard H. Pildes, “Political Competition and the VRA,” in The Future of the Voting Rights Act, rev. ed., ed. David Epstein (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006) 4. 31 Thernstrom, Voting Rights – and Wrong, 19. 32 Christian R. Grose, Congress in Black and White: Race and Representation in Washington and at Home, (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 8.

Volume I No. 1 2013


whole can be solved through earmarks and small individual funding programs.

Up until this point, racial gerrymandering, and specifically majority-

minority districts, have only been shown to be responsible for the 1994 House election results. In order to advocate the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, or at least of section 5, continued oppression of the Black vote must be proven. This can be done through the entrenchment of the incumbent advantage, which is directly related to the advent of majority-minority districts. Gerrymandering is a versatile political tool. It can be used to pack, crack, or protect incumbents. Incumbent protection is when electoral districts are drawn that either solidify support for an incumbent or remove opponents to the incumbent into different districts.33 This protection is usually achieved through packing districts with partisan supporters but can occur when a party removes the opposition’s frontrunner from a competitive district to a non-competitive district.34 The Republicans have pursued this strategy in Florida in 2000,35 and more notably with long time Pennsylvania House member Bob Borski.36 Borski was “a longtime member with the top minority spot on the Transportation Committee”37 showing, through his placement on a committee, that the profile of these incumbents does not make them immune to gerrymandering. But what does incumbent protection mean for Blacks?

Incumbent protection negatively affects Blacks through over-packing.

33 Arrington, “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of Redistricting,”

226. Although not explicitly defined here Arrington uses the terms in a way that implies said definitions. In fact, he goes on to discuss the implications of incumbent protection within gerrymandering. To Arrington, incumbent protection is common knowledge and does not required detailed explanation. 34 Anonymous, “Political Gerrymandering 2000-2008: A Self-Limiting Enterprise,” Harvard Law Review 122, no. 5 (2008-2009),1473. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid., “Political Gerrymandering 2000-2008,” 1477. 37 Ibid.


Body Electric

Essentially, the common practice was to pack a district with a majority of minority voters but, more recently, over-packing, over 60 percent of the population being a racialized minority, has doubled since the Thornburg v. Gingles case.38 This over-packing further bleaches surrounding districts with white voters. Also, when incumbents are re-elected it means, generally, that the overall composition of the House of Representatives remains the same. This means that the Republicans further cement their majority position in the House of Representatives, started in 1994, with every passing redistricting cycle.

The larger implication for incumbent removal, especially amongst

Blacks, regards overall voter turnout. Danny Hayes and Seth Mckee find that, on the whole, Black voter participation and turnout rates decrease in majorityminority districts, compared to white turnout figures in other districts.39 The authors attribute this finding to a lack of competition,40 which is bolstered by the fact that more than half of the country’s unopposed House election contests occur in the Southern states.41 However, the authors do find an exception to the rule. Their studies reveal that majority-minority districts actually socialize Blacks to lower turnout numbers as, when first grouped in a majority-minority setting, turnout numbers for Blacks rise considerably.42 So, at the inception of majority-minority districts the relation between the districts and Black voter turnout is positive but, after a few elections, turnout drops well below the national average. Part of the reason is undoubtedly a lack of true competition but, another reason, is incumbent removal.

38 Arrington, “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of Redistricting,” 234. 39 Hayes and Mckee, “The Intersection of Redistricting, Race, and Participation,” 116. 40 Ibid. 41 Arrington, “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of Redistricting,” 238. 42 Hayes and Mckee, “The Intersection of Redistricting, Race, and Participation,” 116.

Volume I No. 1 2013


The Republican controlled Southern states commonly draw

geographically obtuse districts, with some only as wide as highway lanes in certain places,43 in order to ‘kidnap’ incumbents and place them in other districts. When an incumbent is removed, voter turnout drops even more amongst Blacks and their ability to engage in the political system is lessened.44 Claudine Gay carries this point further, claiming that a lack of competition and incumbents promotes apathy and complacency, aside from a low turnout rate, amongst Black voters.45 Finally, The ‘kidnapping’ of incumbents also makes it difficult for Black representatives to gain necessary experience in the House of Representatives meaning, if substantive change needs to occur for the Black population – such as the removal of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act - that inexperienced politicians will have to lead this charge. This is illustrated, in an anonymous contribution to the Harvard Law Review, when the author writes, “ [w]hen the time comes for the parties to mount serious challenges to make up those losses, they will have to do so with unknown, inexperienced candidates rather than well-known and wellliked incumbents.”46 Simply, how can Blacks realistically expect to change the practice of racial gerrymandering if gerrymandering is constantly limiting their opportunities to do so?

The above instances demonstrate gerrymandering’s inability to be a

self-limiting exercise as some authors, and even judge Sandra Day O’Connor,

43 John N. Friedman and Richard T. Holden, “Optimal Gerrymandering:

Sometimes Pack, but Never Crack,” The American Economic Review 98, no. 1 (March 2008), 118. The 4th Congressional District in Illinois runs along an interstate highway in order to gather more Black constituents in an adjacent county. 44 Hayes and Mckee, “The Intersection of Redistricting, Race, and Participation,” 116. 45 Claudine Gay, “Legislating Without Constraints: The Effect of Minority Districting on Legislators’ Responsiveness to Constituency Preferences,” Journal of Politics 69, no. 2 (May 2007), 443. 46 Anonymous, “Political Gerrymandering 2000-2008,” 1487.


Body Electric

have proposed. The argument implies that increasing support in one district 47

means reducing support in another and, thus, gerrymandering has regulations on itself. However, if majority-minority districts benefit the Republican Party, as has been shown up unto this point, then losing Republican support in majorityminority districts is not a negative consequence. Ideally, Republicans may like to have a chance to win all districts, as Adam Cox and Richard Holden describe through ‘matching slices’ gerrymandering,48 but the reality Republicans are faced with in the Voting Rights Act constrains their abilities far less than the Democratic Party.

The final argument to be raised, regarding the detriment of majority-

minority districts for Blacks, is the practice of counting prison populations. In all but two states incarcerated felons cannot vote, and only fifteen states allow released felons the right to vote.49 In light of this, the prison population, despite the inability of incarcerated citizens to cast ballots, has been counted for redistricting purposes. The problem here is not that prisoners are counted as part of the redistricting formula, but rather, that they are counted as residing in the district where the prison is located, not their home district.50 This is highly problematic for two reasons.

The first reason concerns the racial make up of the prison population.

The federal prison population in the United States is 38.7 percent Black, and 47 Ibid., “Political Gerrymandering 2000-2008,” 1468. 48 Cox and Holden, “Reconsidering Racial and Partisan Gerrymandering,” 567. Matching slices is drawing districts that have a high concentration of hardcore partisans on both sides, with more of the party doing the redistricting. The next district would have the same proportion of partisan members just less partisan on each side. The process continues until all voters are accounted for. 49 John C. Drake, “Locked up and Counted Out: Bringing an End to PrisonBased Gerrymandering,” Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 37 (2011), 245. 50 Ibid., “Locked up and Counted Out,” 239. This practice came to a brief halt in the early half of the 20th century but was shortly thereafter reinstated.

Volume I No. 1 2013


another 31.4 percent Latino.51 The prison population is three times as Black as the general population.52 Since a majority of these Blacks reside in urban areas, which are targets for majority-minority districts, then the reapportionment numbers are flawed. For redistricting purposes, this means that majority-minority districts are missing a significant amount of Black residents. In addition, it also means that rural areas are able to claim inflated population figures, when the prisoners are not illegible to vote, giving white rural voters more power than the one person, one vote provision outlined by the Supreme Court.53 Meanwhile, the prisoners counted should be counted as residents of the urban areas in which most actually live. Since urban areas in the South commonly fall under majorityminority districts, the Black vote in this area is unfairly diluted and its strength reduced.54 This practice does not fall in line with section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which claims that the racialized minority vote should not be diluted by any body or practice.55

Therefore, by tying the Black vote and interests directly to the

Democratic Party, by exposing the gerrymandering practices of packing and kidnapping, by illuminating the ideological and seniority positions of Black members from majority-minority districts, and by highlighting the unfair prison population apportionment, it can be seen that racial gerrymandering and majority-minority districts dilute the political strength of the Black community. This development runs inherently contradictory to the initial purposes of the Voting Rights Act, specifically section 2 and its desires to avoid Black vote dilution.56 However, the problems with majority-minority districts rely solely 51 Ibid., “Locked up and Counted Out,” 246-247. 52 Ibid., “Locked up and Counted Out,” 246. 53 Ibid., “Locked up and Counted Out,” 251-252. 54 Ibid., “Locked up and Counted Out,” 261. 55 Kukla, “Race-Based Legislative Gerrymandering,” 119-121. 56 Ibid.


Body Electric

within the interpretation and development of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, not the whole act.57 Therefore, the above analysis lends support to the conclusion of Samuel Issacharoff’s essay on section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, that section 5 may have had utility but, currently, impedes political progress within Black communities.58

Although this conclusion may be supported it does nothing to provide

alternative options for the political strength of the Black community. Despite the unlikely reality of a repeal of the act, with the Voting Rights Act being extended for another twenty-five years in 2006,59 it is recommended that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act be repealed. It is important to note that the entire legislation should not be dismantled as section 2, which bans the dilution of the Black vote, can still be beneficial to the Black political community. However, the majority-minority practice developed out of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is detrimental to the political strength of the Black community. A more realistic option may be the pursuit of a reversal of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Thornburg v. Gingles. This is because Republicans, who control the House for now and the foreseeable future, as painstakingly noted, “...benefit politically from the VRA [Voting Rights Act]’s mandate to create safe minority election districts.”60 The Republican Party gains from the creation of majority-minority districts and thus has no reason to repeal section 5 of the act. In addition, the Democratic Party may not realize the truly detrimental effects or may be wary of public opinion in pushing for a repeal of one of the most influential pieces 57 This is once again seen through the court’s interpretation of Thornburg v. Gingles as demonstrated earlier in the paper. 58 Samuel Issacharaoff, “Does Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Still Work?” in The Future of the Voting Rights Act, rev. ed., ed. David Epstein, (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006), 122. 59 Thernstrom, Voting Rights – and Wrongs, 9. 60 Pildes,“Political Competition and the VRA,” 11.

Volume I No. 1 2013


of pro-Black political rights legislation. The irony would, potentially, make the Democratic Party an easy target to both Republican and racial scrutiny.

If the act were to be repealed, the end of majority-minority districts is

not a given. The preferred solution would be opportunity-to-elect districts. These districts would contain enough Blacks to allow for a unified, and substantial, political voice, ideally ranging just below a majority of the voting age population in a district.61 This solution would allow for Black legislators to run with a conceivable chance of victory, allow for a solid Black political voice, and, most importantly, not bleach surrounding districts.62 The elimination of over-packing alone would allow for more Black diversity in multiple districts. However, the balance between opportunity-to-elect districts and cracking the Black vote is precarious and dangerous. In addition, this alternative was attempted in the state of Georgia, supported adamantly by long standing Black House member John Lewis. Lewis testified in the Georgia Senate in 2002 that, “I happen to believe that it is in the best interest of African American have a continued Democratic-controlled legislature,”63 as, seen in the analysis above, Democratic interests and Black interests are one in the same, thus Lewis advocates for the strength of the Democratic Party. The opportunity-to-elect districts were found to be constitutionally viable by a state level court in Georgia in the infamous Ashcroft case, only to be reversed in 2006 by the Supreme Court in a now dubious reference coined ‘the Ashcroft fix’.64 The Supreme Court’s reasoning for denying the Ashcroft provisions was, poignantly so, because of the conflict opportunity-to-elect districts created with section 5 of the Voting Rights Act’s 61 Grose, Congress in Black and White, 173. 62 Ibid. 63 John Lewis, in Abigail M. Thernstrom, Voting Rights – and Wrongs: the Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections, (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2009), 18. 64 Grose, Congress in Black and White, 174.


Body Electric

appeal for majority-minority districts.

Simply, repealing section 5 of the Voting Rights Act should pave the

way for opportunity-to-elect districts. These districts would be a much more sensible option for Black political communities than the current majorityminority districts in place. These majority-minority districts alienate and dilute the Black vote through packing, kidnapping, and bleaching surrounding districts. These activities, as well as the unfair counting of the prison population, lead to a reinforcement of the current structure of the House of Representatives and a high incumbency advantage. The racial gerrymandering that occurs keeps both Blacks and the Democratic Party in remission politically. In so doing, the voice of the Black community gives way to the majority Republican party. Without a repeal or significant change to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, be it through the legislature or the judiciary, the status quo will prevail. The status quo does not favour Black political strength. And, with a twenty-five year extension of the Voting Rights Act, it seems as though, for the foreseeable future, the status quo never will. Bibliography: Anonymous. “Political Gerrymandering 2000-2008: A Self-Limiting Enterprise.” Harvard Law Review 122, no. 5 (2008-2009): 1467-1488. Arrington, Theodore S. “Affirmative Districting and Four Decades of Redistricting: The Seats/Votes Relationship 1972-2008.” Politics and Policy 38, no. 2 (April 2010): 223- 253. Bernstein, Mark F. “Racial Gerrymandering.” Public Interest 122, (Winter 1996): 59-69. Cox, Adam B. and Richard T. Holden. “Reconsidering Racial and Partisan Gerrymandering.” The University of Chicago Law Review 78, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 553-604. Drake, John C. “Locked up and Counted Out: Bringing an End to Prison-Based Gerrymandering.” Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 37 (2011):

Volume I No. 1 2013


237-266. Forgette, Richard and John W. Winkle. “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Voting Rights Act.” Social Science Quarterly 87, no. 1 (March 2006): 155-173. Friedman, John N. and Richard T. Holden. “Optimal Gerrymandering: Sometimes Pack, but Never Crack.” The American Economic Review 98, no. 1 (March 2008): 113-144. Gay, Claudine. “Legislating Without Constraints: The Effect of Minority Districting on Legislators’ Responsiveness to Constituency Preferences.” Journal of Politics 69, no. 2 (May 2007): 442-456. Grose, Christian R. Congress in Black and White: Race and Representation in Washington and at Home. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011 Hayes, Danny and Seth C. Mckee. “The Intersection of Redistricting, Race, and Participation.” American Journal of Political Science 56, no. 1 (January 2012): 115-130. House History: Majority and Minority Leaders. house_history/leaders.aspx. Issacharaoff, Samuel. “Does Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Still Work?” In The Future of the Voting Rights Act, rev. ed., ed. David Epstein, 107-124. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006. Kukla, Christopher. “Race-Based Legislative Gerrymandering: Have We Really Gone Too Far.” Journal of Legislation 23, no. 1 (1997): 119-148. Lublin, David and D. Stephen Voss. “The Partisan Impact of Voting Rights Law: A Reply to Pamela S. Karlan.” Stanford Law Review 50, no. 3 (1998): 765-777. Lublin, David. The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests in Congress. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997. Lewis, John. In Abigail M. Thernstrom. Voting Rights – and Wrongs: the Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2009. Pildes, Richard H. “Political Competition and the VRA.” in The Future of the Voting Rights Act, rev. ed., ed. David Epstein, 1-19. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006.


Body Electric

Thernstrom, Abigail M. Voting Rights – and Wrongs: the Elusive Quest for Racially Fair Elections. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2009.

Mitchell Davidson is currently completing his Master’s of Arts in political science from Western University. Mitchell has a strong interest in the study of political institutions and is currently working on a major research paper regarding question period reform in the Canadian House of Commons.

Volume I No. 1 2013


In Jack We Trust:

Unstable Patriotism in Fox’s 24


By Guillaume Desbiens

n Fox’s highly popular television series 24, patriotism is often evoked to

justify one’s actions during a state of emergency. Jack Bauer is a Federal agent for the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU), a government branch of law enforcement created shortly after 9/11 to gather intelligence on known terrorists and prevent future domestic terrorist attacks. We are first introduced to him as he is being blackmailed by terrorists to assassinate a United States Presidential candidate. His wife and daughter having been kidnapped, Bauer goes behind CTU’s back to try to save his family. The entire ordeal ends up with Bauer losing his wife, which begins the series’ motif of loss associated with Bauer’s patriotic dedication. Increasingly having nothing to lose as the seasons progress, Bauer’s sense of morality is always being re-evaluated as he constantly shifts from a position of lawfulness to one of lawlessness; and vice versa. The ambiguity of Bauer’s moral ground is explicitly addressed during the series’ numerous torture sequences, the legitimacy of which becomes the series’ main interrogative path. While the viewer is being presented with various forms of patriotism illustrated through individual actions purportedly undertaken for the good of the nation, he/she is ultimately made to sympathize with and relate to the shifting patriotic dimensions of the show’s main protagonist, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). Considering that Bauer regularly adopts methods as brutal, if not more than those practiced by antagonistic characters the viewer is meant to see as traitors, why is his perspective seen as more patriotically valid than the ones he opposes? What form of patriotism is being advocated in his name? How does it conform and/or diverge from previously established forms of American patriotism? In 24,


Body Electric

a character’s allegiance to Bauer is a strong determining factor in establishing whether or not one sympathizes with him/her. As this allegiance shifts, so does our understanding of who is right and wrong. Essentially, whoever sides with Bauer is right and the rest is not only wrong, but foolish in going against Bauer’s tried-tested-and-true sense of patriotic judgement. I would argue that the patriotism exemplified by Bauer contextually shifts depending on which course of action stands on the side of the truth. Essentially rejecting rhetoric for reality, Bauer’s patriotism can be seen as malleable and contingent on honesty, in both technique and results. For Bauer, love of one’s country means prioritizing the nation’s integrity over its dominance, brutal truth over false comfort. This, according to 24, is seen as the only way to prove once again, both at home and abroad, that the United States can be made a proud example of. I will use examples from a selection of episodes from seasons 2 to 8 in order to show how Bauer’s actions, and those of whoever assists him, demonstrate a flexible approach to patriotic duty that is centered on an allegiance to truth. After having established what form of patriotic action is criticized by the show as being erroneous, I will attempt to demonstrate how 24, in the person of Jack Bauer, has created a new prototypical patriot, and by extension, a new imperfect archetype in America’s master narrative that, rather than reinforce the illusion of the nation’s purportedly clean hands, forces the viewer to stare his/her country in the eye and to love it, or not, on its true terms. Before we start observing how Bauer differs from established forms of patriotism, it is necessary to determine what these forms are. Unrelated to flag-waving everyday patriotism, the love for one’s country advocated in 24 is constantly positioned within a state of emergency. The fact that we are only privy to political action in the context of military crisis limits the viewer to perspectives in line with models of exception. In presenting Bauer’s exceptional

Volume I No. 1 2013


kind of patriotism against a background where “the exception becomes the norm...the show reveals both the genuine need for the exception and the space opened up for distorting and abusing the exception” (Caldwell & Chambers 103). Bauer’s behavior is an indictment of those in power who distort and abuse the exception to advance their own hateful agenda, usually using patriotism as means of justification. “From presidents to pundits, patriotism speaks its truth to the enemies it creates and permits itself wide latitude rhetorically, politically, and militarily when it comes to the country’s defense. Not only does hate reveal identity; its performance constitutes identity” (Johnston 4). Through Bauer, 24 seems to suggest a patriotism that veers away from generalized hate and bases its actions on an objective rationalization that creates its enemies on empirical terms, whether they be at home or abroad. In this sense, Bauer’s actions position him between two poles of political patriotism: allegiance to man and allegiance to law. In her monograph American Patriotism in a Global Society, after having established that patriotism practically only gets mentioned in times of military engagement or perceived national threat, Betty Jean Craige describes two kinds of patriotism: one that is associated with political dualism, the other with political holism. The former, also called an allegiance to man, is recognized as representing a patriotism associated with the sentiment of American exclusivity in which ‘hard-core altruism’ is expressed through a martyrdom that “indicates a total commitment to the group’s defence [and] stands as an ideal in a world in which the well-being of a group is thought to depend upon its successful military competition, its ability to annihilate its enemies” (2). The latter, also termed an allegiance to law, stresses cooperation over competition, the focus of which leads to a ‘soft-core altruism’ that positions patriotism as “a personal commitment to make one’s country honest and just in all its acts and to motivate the whole


Body Electric

country to be as good a neighbour in the community of nations as the conscience of individuals motivates them to be in the communities where they live” (15). By establishing these two forms of patriotism, Craige argues that within an increasingly global society, political holism is more beneficial than political dualism as it allows for better “negotiation among a group’s unlike components” (15). In 24, Jack Bauer illustrates a less clear-cut representation of patriotism, alternating from one spectrum to the other, ultimately creating a hybrid form of Craige’s two patriotic poles. I will show how, while possessing characteristics from both types of patriotic models, Bauer’s contextual shifts in allegiance from man to law is demonstrative of the unstable and unpredictable conditions inherent of an increasingly global society, necessitating a flexible approach to conflict resolution. Seeing as “the dramatic tension in 24 is fueled by the anxiety created by a new world disorder in which the modernist confines of the Cold War have been replaced by a threat that has gone postmodern”, Bauer could be seen as postmodern patriot that is driven by the “plurality, indeterminacy, and contingency” of truth (Kelly 142-143). The acceptance of this truth, for good or ill, is what Bauer forces us to come to terms with. In the first seasons of the show, Bauer’s patriotic stance could arguably be seen as relatively stable. In fact, Bauer’s seemingly unconditional loyalty to Senator/President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) may easily lead one to see him as following the patriotic model of allegiance to man, in which the presidency, and by extension the group or nation, is seen as incontestable. It soon becomes clear, however, that this loyalty results not from the mere fact that Palmer is president but because he, like Bauer, is on the side of the truth; no matter how it makes his country look. The contradictory, truth-based nature of Bauer’s (and by extension Palmer’s) allegiance is clearly illustrated near the end of season 2. The season having begun with a nuclear bomb exploding in

Volume I No. 1 2013


Los Angeles, it is eventually learned that an unspecified Middle Eastern country is supposedly responsible for its detonation. However, Bauer gets intelligence informing him that the evidence on which this country’s guilt is based on is fabricated, aimed at starting a war between both nations. When the President learns of the possible fallacy of this crucial evidence, he withholds a planned retaliatory strike. Outraged at his decision and under the pretext that delaying retaliation shows weakness, his Cabinet, lead by Vice President James Prescott (Alan Dale), invokes the 25th amendment in an attempt to remove him from power and go ahead with the strike. While Palmer is on trial for his actions during the day’s crisis, Bauer is determined to find proof of the evidence’s tampering before patriotic pompousness creates a world war under false pretenses (S02/E21-22). This situation perfectly highlights the conflicting and paradoxical relationship that exists between an allegiance to man and one to law. In wanting to wait for the evidence’s authenticity before proceeding with military action, President Palmer could be argued to follow the course of the law, which would be set against attacking an innocent country. However, the cabinet’s impeachment of the President (25th amendment) is also a recourse of the law. The difference in this case is that the cabinet’s manipulation of the law is done in the name of an allegiance to man: the nation’s perceived superiority. On the other hand, Bauer’s allegiance to man (the presidency) is exercised in the name of his allegiance to law (justified retaliation), which, paradoxically, is achieved through actions that, as long as the 25th amendment is invoked, are deemed against the law, even treacherous. This illustrates the “apparent paradox [of] how disobedience of a national law may in effect represent the ethos of allegiance to law” (Craige 32). The unstable nature of both man and law is demonstrated through Bauer and Palmer’s quest for the truth, which is shown to be the only allegiance worth standing by.


Body Electric

The fallibility of both types of patriotism is taken to extremes lengths in season 5. In this season, the big mastermind behind all of the day’s disastrous events, which includes the assassination of former President Palmer, is sitting President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzen). Before the audience is privy to this information, which confirms his antagonistic position within the rest of the series, Logan is reproached due to another failing unbefitting of a President: failing to tell the truth. When Logan learns that his Chief of Staff Walt Cummings (John Allen Nelson) is responsible for letting terrorists in possession of nerve gas take an airport hostage (a deception explicitly justified by patriotism), the latter commits suicide instead of being arrested for treason (S05/E07). When Logan subsequently tries to cover it up, he is chastised by his wife, first lady Martha Logan (Jean Smart), for attempting to lie to the American people (S05/E08). “A President is supposed to tell the truth”, she says to him. Whether it affects one’s allegiance to either man or law, telling the truth about the nation’s failures as well as its strengths is shown to be the only way for it to keep its integrity. Mrs. Logan eventually becomes instrumental in exposing her husband’s misdeeds, risking her life to assist Jack Bauer’s quest for brutal honesty. The importance of prioritizing damaging truth over beneficial cover-ups is clearly emphasized later in the season, when Bauer reaches out to his old boss, Secretary of Defense James Heller (William Devane), to help him deal with the recording that inculpates President Logan. After Bauer explains to Heller that he is the only one he trusts with this damning evidence, the latter proceeds by having his security detail detain Jack, taking hold of the recording and explaining to Bauer that such destructive evidence could destroy the presidency (and by extension the country’s confidence) and therefore should be kept under wraps (S05/E19). This attitude is demonstrative of the form of patriotism

Volume I No. 1 2013


associated with an allegiance to man, the purpose of which is to maintain the nation’s clean, inspiring image. At this point in the episode, a character that the audience was previously sympathetic to is transformed into an antagonistic presence due only to his inability to see the truth as the ultimate redemptive element. This oversight is quickly rectified when Heller’s attempt to blackmail President Logan backfires, the latter’s henchman Christopher Anderson (Peter Weller) having stolen the recording back from the agents holding Bauer and therefore nullifying any leverage Heller possessed. The Secretary eventually sees the importance of the truth getting out and even drives himself over a cliff when a threat to his life is the only obstacle stopping Bauer from getting the recording back. This self-sacrificial gesture signifies that Heller once again falls in line with Bauer’s truth-driven patriotism and incidentally falls back into the audience’s good graces. In fact, Bauer explicitly calls Heller and Palmer ‘real patriots’ as he lashes out against Henderson soon after the Secretary of Defense takes a plunge (S05/E20). Both of these ‘real patriots’ have lost their lives because of their conviction for truth (Palmer’s assassination was carried out due to his knowledge of President Logan’s involvement in the ensuing crisis). Heller’s allegiance conversion is representative of the contextual and unstable flexibility inherent in the new form of patriotism advocated by the show. At the beginning of the next season (6th), which takes place 20 months later, the impression is given that Bauer is once again practicing an allegiance to the group (or man). We find out that he has been held captive and brutally interrogated by the Chinese during all this time. In addition to seeing the obvious torture marks all over his body, we are soon told that he has not uttered one word in all his time in detention. This falls directly within Craige’s concept of ‘hard-core’ altruism related to political dualism. Jack’s self-sacrificial tendencies are demonstrated further when we learn that the only reason his government


Body Electric

negotiated his release is to hand him over to Abu Fayed (Adoni Maropis) who in turn will give them the location of Hamri Al-Assad (Alexander Siddig), the man believed to be responsible for the string of terrorist bombings that has plagued the nation for the past eleven weeks. Bauer, of course, agrees to the trade-off, satisfied that is death will at least mean something and help his country’s safety. However, the truth comes once again to complicate things. Once in the hands of Fayed, Bauer learns that the true mastermind of the attacks is Fayed himself and that the suspected Hassad is actually trying to stop him. When his sacrifice is learned to be based on lies, Bauer regains the will to live and make the real perpetrators pay for endangering his country (S06/E01). Season six is significant for Bauer’s patriotic development because it includes events that conflate two ‘traditional’ American values that have been tainted by their abusive treatment done in the name of patriotism: family and capitalism. It is in the sixth season that we learn that both Bauer’s brother, Graem (Paul McCrane), and his father, Phillip (James Cromwell), are part of a large group of rich capitalist conspirators that was responsible for both this season’s and the previous one’s events (including Palmer’s assassination). When Graem attempts to appeal to Jack’s sensibilities by invoking their family ties, the latter doesn’t fall for it and proceeds to torture his own brother for information about the attacks (S06/E03). In repudiating the ideal of family loyalty in favor of the nation’s safety (and integrity), 24 demonstrates how ‘bad’ patriots use the nation’s nostalgic longing for the sanctity of these ‘traditional’ values to justify and camouflage their self-beneficial behavior. This is taken to extreme lengths when Phillip Bauer kills his own son because he is now seen as a liability to his plans (which are set to make him a tidy profit) (S06/04). The character of Phillip Bauer can be seen as an example of patriotism gone bad, one that has “strayed from the ideals of American nationhood in ways that include

Volume I No. 1 2013


corruption, indolence and misunderstanding of ‘American’ values” (Gair 202). Bauer’s stance against his own profit-seeking family (his constant aversion to monetary gain being one of the most emphasized sign of his patriotic integrity) warns against unconditional reliance on the purity of these values that people unquestioningly base their lives on. 24 demands that its viewers be critical of assumed formative values and take a more rational, informed position when advocating national pride. The notion that the country’s integrity rests in the acknowledgement of its values’ vulnerabilities is confirmed in the last episode of the seventh season when President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) sends her own daughter to jail for hiring an assassin to kill Jonas Hodges (Jon Voigt), the man responsible for that day’s crisis (S07/E24). Taylor’s refusal to cover up her daughter’s actions just because she is family indicates that the Presidency has presently chosen the patriotic form associated with an allegiance to law, overriding the loyalty to family usually valued by politicians. This position, however, is complicated in the following season. The eighth and final season illustrates better than any other Bauer’s fluctuating patriotic stance and solidifies the implication that his only remaining loyalty is to the truth. The person that occupies the oval office is a major factor in determining which patriotic position Bauer is currently taking. When Palmer is in office, it could be said that Bauer mostly holds an allegiance to man, the presidency upholding similar values to that of Bauer’s dedication to the truth. When President Logan holds the reigns, Bauer’s behavior could be seen as falling in line with an allegiance to law, his goal being to make the nation’s principal ‘patriot’ pay for the choices that have damaged the nation’s honour. In the final season of the series, however, Bauer’s relationship with President Taylor is not as static and clear-cut as the ones with previous chief executives. As


Body Electric

mentioned above, at the end of season 7 President Taylor seems to value the necessity for brutal honesty when she refuses to cover up her daughter’s criminal machinations. However, when her own image (and by extension the country’s) is put into jeopardy and the main focus of her presidential policies is put at risk, President Taylor begins to shift loyalties, the result of which affect’s Bauer’s own sense of patriotic duty. Season 8 involves a global peace agreement between the United States, Russia and the Islamic Republic of Kamistan. The leader of the Republic, President Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor), is eventually killed (after Bauer arrives too late to save him) by terrorists (covertly hired by the Russians) trying to stop the agreement. Urged by President Taylor, his wife, Dalia Hassan (Necar Zadegan), takes his place as the nation’s figurehead in order for the agreement to move forward. When Bauer learns that the brains behind Hassan’s assassination is the Russian Prime Minister, he informs the President, who in turn decides to cover up the evidence, lying to Mrs. Hassad and the American people so that her coveted and long fought-for peace agreement can finally go through. This situation places Taylor in the middle of the two types of patriotism polarized by the show. The closing conflict of the entire season demonstrates how the series offers its own patriotic model, one which rather than being based on one’s affiliation to man or law is reliant on having the will and strength to face the truth. President Taylor chooses the side of deception when she locks Bauer down and follows the advice of former President Logan to lie to Mrs. Hassan. Bauer, as well as the audience, is shocked when Taylor, well aware of Bauer’s sacrifices for his country, labels him a criminal and forces him once again to go against the established law and attempt to expose the tainting truth on his own (S08/E18). Taylor now becomes another character that fails to trust Bauer’s judgment, trusting instead his patriotic antithesis (Logan), not knowing, as Bauer does, the possible catastrophes associated with its allegiance.

Volume I No. 1 2013


The confrontation and indictment of the patriotism of deception represented by Logan is physically enacted when Bauer, in one of the entire show’s most satisfying moments, single-handedly attacks President Logan’s motorcade and takes him away for an ‘informal’ interrogation inside an abandoned warehouse (S08/E22). While it is no surprise that Bauer breaks Logan rather quickly, the punishment of the deceptive influence is not seen as enough to re-instill pride for the nation. Only when President Taylor finally realizes that a peace based on foundations that advocate the opposite is as damaging to the country’s integrity as having no peace at all does Bauer’s influence overcomes Logan’s, allowing the proper patriotic sentiment to return to the White House. President Taylor was able to see what Logan could not: that a President must tell the truth, no matter what; echoing Mrs. Logan’s words of wisdom her husband chose to ignore back in season 5. The final scene shows President Taylor apologizing to Jack through a satellite video conference and offering him a short window of opportunity to disappear, seeing as his fugitive status is still active (he did kidnap and torture a former President after all). The unofficial reconciliation between Bauer and those in governmental power is significant in that it hints to a possible incompatibility between a patriotism focused on honesty and the nature of the country itself. While Taylor has realized the importance of truth, the fact that Bauer remains a fugitive is indicative that ultimately real patriotism cannot be fully appreciated in a country that believes in a falsified image of its own identity. 24’s conclusion implies that Bauer’s heroics, done to maintain the country’s safety and integrity, while acknowledged and deeply appreciated by few, would probably be seen by many as a criminal in a society unable to escape “patriotism’s self-obsessive grip” (Johnston 13). This suggestion is explicitly stated throughout the seventh season, which starts with Bauer on trial before congress for his ‘unorthodox’ methods.


Body Electric

Seeing as political parties are never specified in 24, the government is seen as one entity that remains vulnerable to corruption and deceptive influence no matter what ideology it decides to follow. In this sense, the show, through its various portrayals of different Presidents, explores the elasticity of political liberalism. Here the term liberalism does not refer to a particular political party but is seen as an ideology being adhered to by both conservatives and liberals alike. It is defined by “its commitment to the rule of law and to the fair debate between differing conceptions of the good” (Claycomb & Mulberry 68). The patriotism embodied by Bauer seems to imply that adherence to liberalism has failed in ‘differing the conceptions of good’. As we have seen, going against the rule of law is sometimes the only way to bring back confidence in the rule of man, and vice versa. Therefore, Bauer can be seen as both anti-authoritarian and anti-liberal, suggesting a patriotic hybridism that offers a flexible approach to national responsibility. Through Bauer, “24 suggests that our era is one of fundamental crisis that requires the abandonment of both liberal jurisprudence and liberal humanism’s naive optimism about human nature”, and perhaps even America itself (Claycomb & Mulberry 74).Bauer can be seen as the embodiment of that abandonment, exercising a contextually-shifting patriotism that ultimately puts into question the ways in which one’s love of country should be exercised. Refusing to endorse false notions about America’s perceived superiority, Bauer takes a realist patriotic position based on knowledge and necessity. Whether such an approach requires him to go against either man or law is irrelevant if it is what needs to be done to get truthful information. What Bauer condemns is the denial of such practices when they hide behind the veil of traditional values such as capitalism and family loyalty. Rather than imagining “an America re-invented and redeemed from within through the deployment of traditional values”, 24 ultimately suggests that blind adherence to traditional values

Volume I No. 1 2013


obscures the potential for redemption that Bauer represents, which entails an acknowledgement of the initial lack of innocence that country purports to once have had (Gair 208). Works Cited Caldwell, Anne &Chambers, Samuel A. “24 After 9/11: The American State of Exception”. Reading 24: TV Against the Clock. Steven Peacock ed. NY: I.B. Tauris, 2007. p.97-708. Claycomb, Brandon & Mulberry, Greig. “Jack Bauer as Anti-Eichmann and Scourge of Political Liberalism”. 24 and Philosophy: The World According to Jack. J. Hart Weed, R. Davis & R. Weed, eds. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008. p. 67-75. Craige, Betty Jean. American Patriotism in a Global Society. Albany, NY: SUNY. 1996. Gair, Christopher. “24 and Post-National American Identities”. Reading 24: TV Against the Clock. Steven Peacock ed. NY: I.B. Tauris, 2007. p. 201-208. Johnston, Steven. The Truth About Patriotism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. Kelly, Terrence. “The Cruel Cunning of Reason: The Modern/Postmodern Conflict in 24”. 24 and Philosophy: The World According to Jack. J. Hart Weed, R. Davis & R. Weed, eds. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008. p. 142-154.

Guillaume Desbiens obtained a BFA in Film Studies from Concordia University (Mtl) and an MA in American Studies from Western University (London). G. Desbiens is involved in the translation department of the Fantasia Film Festival as he works on his own creative writing for film and graphic novels.


Body Electric

Volume I No. 1 2013


David Hammons’ How Ya Like Me Now? More Than Skin Deep


By Amy Gaizauskas

t the height of Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign to lead the Democratic Party,

David Hammons was working on a billboard-sized painting on tin of the presidential hopeful—but with a twist: Hammons depicted Jackson with white skin and blond hair and, eventually, with the words “How Ya Like Me Now?” scrawled in a bold, black font across his chest (Fig. 1). Commissioned by the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA), the piece was slated for installation in front of a downtown parking lot and by a busy bus stop in Washington, DC. Most importantly, the portrait was also strategically positioned to be in the direct sightlines of anyone looking out the windows towards Seventh Street from inside the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).1 Among other things, this brazen work, which came to be known as How Ya Like Me Now?, referred to the lack of AfricanAmerican representation at the NPG and implied that if Jesse Jackson were white, the gallery’s collection likely would include a portrait of him.

How Ya Like Me Now? was scheduled for installation on September

14, 1989 in a show of outdoor art called “The Blues Aesthetic: Black Culture and Modernism.” However, the WPA was made to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops, which caused months of delay. While the six other pieces in the exhibition had been up since the opening, Hammons’s piece only got the go-ahead in late November. On the twenty-ninth of the month a crew of WPA art handlers finally set out to finally erect the 14-by-16-foot portrait (fig. 1). As they secured the piece a crowd began to gather, questioning the intention of the work. As the crowd grew, the questions escalated and before the WPA could finish, an 1 Brian Wallis, “Jesse Jackson Portrait Attacked,” Art in America 78 (February 1990): 35.


Body Electric

uproar broke out, culminating in ten black men knocking down the work with a sledge-hammer.2 Although Hammons seemed to have intended this piece as a critique of the lack of representation of black Americans, these men, and they weren’t alone, saw it as racist. At a minimum, by switching black skin for white in How Ya Like Me Now?, Hammons used seemingly simple—yet nuanced and sometimes problematic—strategies of provocation, negation and resistance to expose how deep the social value of a skin colour goes and, thus, instigated a reaction from the surrounding community. Reception and the Gaze David Hammons works in the street often. Throughout his career, he has remained sensitive to his chosen environments—their community dynamics, specific history, and politics of place—often installing work in empty lots in his Harlem neighbourhood. In many ways his work’s meaning relates directly to its location.3 In 1985, he set up a version of his twenty-to-thirty-foot tall, ornate, basketball nets, Higher Goals, on the same street corner in Harlem where Malcolm X used to orate.4 More recently, he has responded to invitations from international art events with equal contextual appropriateness. In 2004 he held a sheep raffle at the Dak’Art Biennial in Dakar and for Paris’s 2008 Nuit Blanche, as a subversive reaction to the sensationalized art event, he predicted that a double rainbow would appear over the city during the night.5 (The organizers removed his name from the exhibition program three days before the opening.)6 2 Barbara Gamarekian, “Portrait of Jackson as White Is Attacked,” New York Times, December 1, http://query.nytimes.comgstfullpage. htmlres=950DE6D81738F932A35751C1A96F948260. 3 Ibid. 4 Kellie Jones, “The Structure of Myth and the Potency of Magic,” in David Hammons: Rousing the Rubble (New York: Institute for Contemporary Art; Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1991), 29. 5 Stern, “A Fraction.” 6 David Hammons, “500 Words,” Artforum, November 24, 2008.

Volume I No. 1 2013


Hammons’s keen awareness of time and place make the controversy surrounding How Ya Like Me Now? seem, in some ways, an orchestrated—or at least a considered—provocation.

Richard Powell, the then-director of the WPA and curator of “The Blues

Aesthetic” (and internationally lauded scholar of African-American art history), cites the installation day of How Ya Like Me Now? as a “defining moment” in how he understands the relationship between art and its reception.7 Powell recalls: All day the people who had been gathering there had been asking us about what we were doing. But at some point late in the day, we encountered some hotheads, who saw that the other people working with me were white. They were totally uninformed about the context of the piece, and they apparently thought it was ‘signifying’ about Jesse Jackson, so they got agitated. They decided we were imposing ourselves, our values, and our images on the public domain, and they didn’t want to see it. So a riot broke out, and these roughhouse types knocked the piece off the platform it was mounted on.8 Powell and his crew eventually took the large piece back to the WPA gallery and put it in storage.9 They did subsequently hang the piece, but only after Jesse Jackson himself had seen it, proclaimed it “inoffensive,” and said, “‘Sometimes art provokes, sometimes it angers...that is a measure of its success.”10 And even with this seal of approval, the WPA hung it indoors, and only for the last four days of the show.11

To unpack the hostility that necessitated these precautions, a good place

7 Tom Patterson, “Art and the Black Aesthetic: Richard Powell,” Duke University Alumni Magazine, July-August 1998, http://www.dukemagazine. 8 Ibid. 9 Gamarekian, “Portrait of Jackson.” 10 Wallis, “Jesse Jackson Portrait,” 35. 11 Gamarekian, “Portrait of Jackson.”


Body Electric

to start might be the early psychoanalytical developments of the post-colonial black subject and his relationship to the gaze as laid out in Frantz Fanon’s 1952 study Black Skin, White Mask. After leaving Martinique, then a French colony, and studying in France, Fanon believed that he was more-or-less accepted in French society, despite being black. Yet his sense of acceptance and his sense of self collapse in the face of the white gaze and its othering effect. The founding moment is a child pointedly crying out, “Look, a Negro!...Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened!”. In Response, Fanon recalls, “[M]y body was given back to me sprawled out, distorted, recolored, clad in mourning in that white winter day.”12 This experience causes a split between his body and mind; he is not, and can never be, a complete Cartesian subject. The self-shattering negates the possibility of a unified wholeness.

Important for my argument, Fanon describes the experience as

connected to social value much like Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage, in which a child realizes he is merely an object that can be viewed and thus comes into being as a node within the symbolic order’s network of meaning. For Fanon, the black man’s identity as “the other” experiences a similar “second” moment where “his inferiority comes into being.”13 After this moment, and despite his intellectual understanding of difference, but because of the abominable history of slavery and colonization, as a black man in the white world of 1950s France, Fanon must live in pieces. He has internalized racism. It is so profound that, until this experience, he does not see that he reproduces white European values at the expense of his habits and culture. He writes, “As I begin to recognize that the Negro is a symbol of sin, I catch myself hating the Negro. But than I 12 Frantz Fanon, “The Fact of Blackness,” in Black Skins, White Masks (1952) (trans. Charles Lam Markmann) (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1968), 323-324. 13 Ibid, 323.

Volume I No. 1 2013


recognize that I am a Negro.”14 Like Fanon, Jesse Jackson is a black man living in a white world. Despite his white mask his black skin remains his uniform. To the black crowd gathering around the massive white-faced Jackson, what Fanon recounts in Black Skin, White Mask must have been all-too-inevitable, arising not only from their possible recognition of Jackson as the media icon of this experience, but also from that experience in their daily lives. With How Ya Like Me Now? Hammons seemed not only tuned in to the psychological experience of “the roughhouse types” that “knocked the piece off the platform,” but also to its position in the sight-lines of the predominately white patrons of the NPG. Commenting on the incident the day after it happened, Frank Watkins, the communications director for Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, puts the community’s reaction to How Ya Like Me Now? in simple terms: “What appears to have happened is that this particular artist gave artistic expression to... what African American people have to live with...Apparently, the pain of that kind exploded among some people, and that’s why the destruction took place.”15

In an interview two years before creating How Ya Like Me Now?,

Hammons said about black art and identity: “There’s nothing negative about our images, it all depends on who’s seeing it, and we’ve been depending on someone else’s sight...we need to look again and decide.”16 With How Ya Like Me Now? Hammons gave his audience an artwork to contemplate that pointed directly at the lived experience of their present reality. Perhaps this theme resonated because it acknowledged whose turf life is lived on, and by whose rules. The old adage that “the truth hurts” can be applied here. The gathering crowd’s unmitigated anger led it to strike out against the democratic 14 Ibid, 325. 15 Kastor, Elizabeth. Artist Expected Portrait To Draw Angry Reaction: Jackson Work ‘Tough Topic for Both Races’ Jackson PaintingThe Washington Post (1974-Current file) [Washington, D.C] 01 Dec 1989: B1. 16 Hammons, interview with Kellie Jones, 34.


Body Electric

mandate of incorporating peaceful protest into the notion of freedom. That when Hammons reinstalled the work in P.S. 1 Museum in 1990 he not only included sledgehammers, but also an American flag (fig. 2) and that Jackson is painted wearing a suit, tie and button up shirt in red, white and blue rather than the clothes of his civil protesting days both speak to this aim. Knowing Hammons’s intentions may be hard, but throughout his career he has shown that his work thrives on the specificity of place and culture, and calls into question the most pressing aspects of what is at stake in any situation. Thus, the mob that surrounded and grounded How Ya Like Me Now? “...didn’t smash it,” Hammons told an interviewer for Time Magazine. “They anointed it.”17 Politics of Identity Readings of How Ya Like Me Now? change depending on where you stand. Created in the late 1980s, during the height of identity politics’ breakthrough into the mainstream of postmodern culture, these multiple meanings come from a place referred to as the subject position. In Other Conundrums, Monika Kin Gagnon discusses the problem of constructing identity, as it was debated in art circles, and the alternative cultural communities of the late eighties and early nineties. She explains “identity politics” as a term “that emerged from the post-World War II civil rights movements and can be simply defined as the selfnaming and self-identification of individuals and communities around a common identity category in order to make a political intervention.”18 Hammons’s portrait of Jesse Jackson entered the public sphere at a time when identifications through representation held considerable political weight.

How Ya Like Me Now? was seemingly aimed at a gallery-going

17 Jack E. White, and Breena Clarke, “The Beauty of Black Art,” Time Magazine 144, 15 (1994): 66. 18 Monika Kin Gagnon, Other Conundrums: Race, Culture, and Canadian Art (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2000), 22.

Volume I No. 1 2013


audience’s blind acceptance of the systemic exclusion of African-Americans from the NPG, yet, as noted, it also held a profound resonance out on the street with members of the black community who found the wit of the “joke” eclipsed by its truth. Like the way association and meaning shift around in How Ya Like Me Now?, Hammons’s ideas about cultural identity also seem to oscillate amoung notions of essentialism, difference and, even, indifference. Early in his career Hammons created a series of body prints, where he would imprint his greased body onto board and than fix the image with pigment (fig. 3). Often these works from the late 1960s and early 1970s included images of the American Flag, “as a symbol of America’s unkempt promises to, and violence against, African Americans,”19 he has said.

Later, in 1990, he created African-American Flag. With this piece

he substituted the white in the American flag for black and the blue for green signaling notions of a unifying “mother Africa” for the black American diaspora. Ideas of pan-Africanism like this, can be traced back through the Harlem Renaissance to activists such as Marcus Garvey who “...felt that African peoples should proudly proclaim Africa as their ‘motherland,’ because people bereft of cultural and political heritage would always be regarded condescendingly by others.”20 Garvey’s sentiments preempted the struggles and gains of the civil rights movements. Much later in 2001, after the civil rights movement proper, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt trace the historic development of nationhood in Empire. They expound the concept of subaltern nationalism in which nationalist imaginings are used in the hands of the marginalized and oppressed for unifying ends.21 This essentialist strategy seems to be at the heart of

19 Jones, “The Structure of Myth,” 16-7. 20 Sharon F. Patton, African-American Art. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 113. 21 Antonio Negri & Michael Hardt, Empire (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001), 13-6.


Body Electric

Hammons’s body prints and African-American Flag, yet at other moments in his career he has expressed a move away from the necessity to proclaim his black identity. As quoted by Stern in an interview from 1991, Hammons explains: “Everyone knows that I am black, so my work doesn’t have to shout it out any more—I am black. The work will automatically be thought of as a part of my African-American culture.”22

Hammons’s fluctuating identity can be thought of as a picking up

(or living out) of the shattered pieces that Fanon wrote about. Where Fanon mourned the loss of wholeness, Hammons seems to explore the pieces, selecting and picking up the ones that fit depending on the situation. This is very much in line with Stewart Hall’s notion of constructing strategic identity. In his essay “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” Hall posits a notion of cultural identity that is a complex, fragmented and malleable production of the self. He explains that while it is important to think about identity in terms of a shared cultural past (that is tied to place and often imaginary), especially during times of struggle and oppression, it is also important to acknowledge the deep differences among a people.23 In Hall’s view, representation and identity are inherently political. If Hammons’s erratic positioning of the self seemed somewhat shaky before, I think this instability becomes vindicated when viewed in light of Hall’s idea of creating strategic identities.

David Hammons’s work concerning black identity often seeks to

uncover the hidden, yet ever-present racism connected to time and place. He once proposed a piece which would incorporate a blown-up photograph of the most recent graduating class from Jackson Pollock’s high school in Los Angeles. 22 Stern, “A Fraction.” 23 Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, edited by J. Rutherford (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), 392-403.

Volume I No. 1 2013


During Pollock’s time there it had a predominately white student body, whereas in the nineties (the time of this proposition) the school was almost completely black.24 By representing this shift in demographics in relation to Pollock’s legacy, Hammons layers a dimension of urban reality and the artist’s youth onto his work which signifies “white flight.” This proposition reveals some of the inner workings at play when Hammons constructs his art. With this in mind, it is difficult for me to imagine him creating a site-specific piece in the capital of the United States—which bears the name of (George) Washington, first president, of direct colonial heritage and who was raised on an estate complete with a tobacco plantation and slaves25—without responding to the deeper implications of its history.

Seventh Street, the initial location of How Ya Like Me Now? is a

predominately black area. The very juncture of the pieces’ site, was the same corner that riots raged for three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.26 Washington has a long history of having a predominately black population, which reached its height in 1970, with the census report citing it at seventy percent—a number which has been steadily declining ever since.27 Situating Jackson in this milieu, in the same city as the White House where he would have been based, had he won, must have not been far from Hammons’s mind.

Among the many notable things about Jackson’s run for presidency,

he was also credited with persuading many black voters to participate in the

24 Finkelpearl, “On the Ideology,” 81. 25 Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 8. 26 Paul Schwartzman and Robert E. Pierre, “From Ruins To Rebirth,” The Washington Post, April 6, 2008. 27 Ibid.


Body Electric

electoral process, with two million new voters registering in 1988.28 Darryl Lorenzo Wellington paints a picture of Jackson’s campaign for the journal Dissent: Jackson’s campaign style was heavily indebted to the oracular traditions of the black church and black vernacular; he rhymed, rapped, and delivered speeches that resembled sermons. His ‘Rainbow Coalition’ was ideologically driven in the way that protest movements are; his secondary objective was to wrangle the Democratic Party into adopting elements of his platform. In 1988, Jackson won primaries in eleven states, succeeded in having the Democratic platform incorporate a position proposing sanctions against South Africa because of apartheid, and delivered a rousing speech at the 1988 convention.29 For the many people who lived around Seventh Street in Washington on the installation day of How Ya Like Me Now?, Jackson possibly represented their first go at democracy—maybe their first faith and than loss within the political system.

This gives Hammons’s image of Jackson an added weight. A

photograph of Jackson taken in 1983 (fig. 4) shows him mid-explanation. There is a kind, intelligent look in his eyes. If you compare this look to one that he is painted with in How Ya Like Me Now? (fig. 2) a wholly different expression seems to penetrate out from behind his heavy-lidded eyes. He is serious and pursed, maybe even let-down, seemingly complacent, but when you really look—in the slight furrow of his brow, in his direct unwavering stare, he is, 28 Lori Cavanaugh, “Jesse Jackson” Our States: U.S. Government & Civic Leaders. January, 2011. 29 Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, “Barack Obama in the Public Imagination” Dissent 55, no. 4 (Fall 2008) 29.

Volume I No. 1 2013


above all else, pissed-off. How Ya Like Me Now? The words: How ya like me now?, are erratically sprayed across the portrait of Jesse Jackson. Maybe in a fit of rage, maybe as an afterthought, or maybe just to play it cool or keep it real. Whatever their explanation, they are a direct lift from the Kool Moe Dee song of the same name. Like Hammons, Kool Moe Dee lived in Harlem; he was born and raised there.30 While Hammons was creating his portrait of Jackson in 1988, “How Ya Like Me Now,” the song, peaked on the billboard charts and later, the album also called How Ya Like Me Now went platinum.31 In a review of the record on, a user from Washington, D.C. remembers the late 1980s: “I can’t think of a single club that didn’t have...‘How Ya Like Me Now’ in heavy rotation.” In 1989 Kool Moe Dee became the first rapper to perform at the Grammy Awards.32 In many ways he signified rap’s crossover from underground grassroots culture to mainstream commodity.

As Yvonne Bynoe points out in Stand and Deliver, her 2004 study of

hip-hop culture’s relation to politics, seventy percent of rap music is consumed by white suburban kids.33 She explains how record companies will encourage young, often uneducated, black men to tell their stories from the ghetto (real or imagined) in vulgar and misogynistic ways for their mostly white audience.34 She writes: “What the music industry has done through rap music is to frame the ‘authentic’ Black American not as a complex, educated, or even creative 30 “Kool Moe Dee,” Billboard, accessed April 11, 2011, 31 “Kool Moe Dee,” Billboard. 32 Ibid. 33 Yvonne Bynoe, Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture (Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2004), 148. 34 Ibid, 149.


Body Electric

individual, but as a ‘real nigga’ who has ducked bullet, worked a triple beam, and done at least one bid in prison.”35 In her book We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, also published in 2004, bell hooks identifies in hip-hop culture what she calls a crisis of black masculinity. She links the violence and sexism in rap lyrics to the black man’s desire to express “manhood.” Although many of these MCs do not live up to the violence that they rap about, it has become a surefire, albeit simplistic, way to signify a mass media and consumer endorsed version of black masculinity.36

Kool Moe Dee’s song, and the entire album (from its cover art to its

lyrics), is meant to be confrontational. As an “old-school” rap artist, he attacks LL Cool J, a younger rapper, for stealing his style. On the cover a jeep crushes LL Cool J’s trademark red Kangol hat while Moe Dee stands in the foreground with his fists up, ready to spar (fig. 5).37 In the song, he rhymes: “Rap is an art / And I’m a Picasso / But of course / Why else would you try so / Hard to paint a picture, and try to get ya / Self in my shoes, but they won’t fit ya / I’m bigger and better, forget about deffer...How ya like me now?”38 39 Despite rap’s pervading tradition of sampling, and despite its call-and-response style that lends itself to “answering” in the form of appropriation, Kool Moe Dee resorts to a verbal attack on LL Cool J for his supposed theft. This has everything to do with the antagonistic macho bent of rap music where each artist attempts to “out man” the next. 35 Bynoe, Stand and Deliver, 149. 36 bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (New York: Routledge, 2004), 56-57. 37 “Kool Moe Dee,” Billboard. 38 “Kool Moe Dee - How Ya Like Me Now: Lyrics and Meaning,” Rap Genius, accessed April 11, 2011, 39 Bigger and Deffer was LL Cool J’s, then most recent release. Kool Moe Dee is explicitly referring to it in this passage.

Volume I No. 1 2013


The identity constructed by Kool Moe Dee, which Hammons’s portrait

evokes, is related to a discussion in the essay “The New Cultural Politics of Difference” by Cornel West. He writes that “the modern Black diaspora problematic of invisibility and namelessness can be understood as the condition of relative lack of Black power to represent themselves to themselves and others as complex human beings, and thereby to contest the bombardment of negative, degrading stereotypes put forward by White supremacist ideologies.”40 West is saying that black cultural producers should deconstruct earlier methods of identity formation and insists on the production of complexities that demystify stereotypes.41

Kool Moe Dee’s attack on LL Cool J can also be read as a tried and true

publicity stunt. Drama sells. Despite the invisibility and namelessness that West warns against, the reproduction of stereotypes sell. Bell hooks relates this rap industry tendency (to capitalize on racist imaginations about black identity and culture) to the demands of the consumer. She says: “Black male hip-hop artists who receive the most acclaim are busy pimping violence; peddling the racist/ sexist stereotypes of the black male as primitive predator...the hip-hop artist who wants to make ‘a killing’ cannot afford to fully radicalize his consciousness.”42 After all, a radicalize consciousness is not what the white suburban kids are willing to pay for.

The reason why I am delving so deeply into Kool Moe Dee and his

song, if it is not already obvious, is that Hammons points directly to it in How Ya Like Me Now? It is one of the many voices—and perhaps the most explicit one, with its bold-faced font—that is speaking through the image. Rap is an art and I’m a Picasso, Moe Dee sings. Sure, rap is an art, but a visual art? A 40 West, “The New Cultural Politics,” 27. 41 Ibid, 29. 42 hooks, We Real Cool, 60.


Body Electric

Picasso? This lyric rings a little truer when analyzed with the help of Michele Wallace’s “Modernism, Postmodernism and the Problem of the Visual in AfroAmerican Culture.” In this essay she calls out the “bourgeois humanism” which denies that colour is encoded, which claims that it is neutral and does not signify. Denying the significants of colour leads to an invisibility which has prevented the recognition of an African-American visual arts tradition. Music, on the other hand, does not depend on sight and therefore has been digested into the white mainstream. Because of this, music has often stood in for the entirety of black culture—visual arts and all.43 In this sense, when Hammons uses the visual to refer back to music he initiates a tautological representation of black identity. On a downtown public corner, highly visible from a well trafficked museum, he chooses to reify the already prevalent black machismo of hip-hop culture. Read this way, when Kool Moe Dee asks—why else would you try so hard to paint a picture?, he might as well be asking it of David Hammons. Despite the portrait’s macho-bent, or perhaps because of it, How Ya Like Me Now? is still absolutely worth examining as it is steeped in the inner psychology of an event. The ensuing reaction from the crowd on the street shows how value is constructed in society in its most intimate form. As Fanon writes in Black Skin, White Mask, “The white world, the only honorable one, barred me from all participation. A man was expected to behave like a man. I was expected to behave like a black man—or at least like a nigger.”44Eventually, Fanon turns to violence as a way out of this racism and oppression. However, for the purpose of this paper, my question is: are there other solutions besides violence? Is there an option that goes deeper, to the root of difference in social value, and is that 43 Michele Wallace, “Modernism, Postmodernism and the Problem of the Visual in Afro-American Culture,” in Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, ed. by Russell Ferguson et al. (Cambridge: The MIT Press: 1990), 40. 44 Fanon, “The Fact of Blackness,” 324.

Volume I No. 1 2013


what Hammons was aiming for with the failed reception of How Ya Like me Now? Value and the Institution In its most obvious and popular reading, in the reading that Richard Powell seemed dumbfounded by the community around Seventh Street’s misunderstanding of, “How Ya Like Me Now?” is directed at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and is meant as a critique.45 Hammons’s resistance to the mainstream art gallery and its audience has been consistently elemental to his art. He famously spent the winter of 1983 selling snowballs alongside street vendors in the Lower East Side’s burgeoning gallery district (fig. 6). By selling something as ephemeral as snow and calling it art, this performance piece, called Bliz-aard Ball Sale, questions not only the monetary value ascribed to art, but also how value is signified and represented throughout society. From exchange constructions like paper (or digital) money to how skin colour signs a range of social worth, use-value in capitalist North-American society has long been antiquated. While at the same time there is an assumption of the hegemonic position to be neutral (white skin to be neutral, a white gallery to be neutral etc.).

Michele Wallace points out, through her analysis of a study where

black children chose light crayons for skin colour and white dolls as “prettier or cleaner or nicer,”46 that “...even the smallest child seems to instinctively understand, institutionalized education has always been, first and foremost, a means of transmitting social values, not knowledge or power.”47 She examines the denial of black art in the mainstream and concludes that judgements in the art world carry with them the weight of “extraordinary economic contingencies”48 45 Patterson, “Art and the Black Aesthetic”. 46 Wallace, “Modernism, Postmodernism and,” 39. 47 Ibid, 41. 48 Ibid.


Body Electric

and therefore, in nepotistic fashion, work to shut-out black culture.

If from a small age you are made to be aware of the prejudice of value,

if that has made you sensitive to the injustices of the world, then working inside the system that is structured to keep you down does not seem like a very appealing option. Stokely Carmicheal seems to share this logic of sentiment during an address at Berkley in 1966 (as quoted in bell hooks’s We Real Cool) : “‘I do not want to be part of the American Pie. The American pie means raping South Africa, beating Viet Nam, beating South America, raping the Philippines, raping every country you’ve ever been in. I don’t want any of your blood money. I don’t want it.”49 David Hammons’s resistance to the gallery setting and contempt for the art world (as he once said: “the art audience is the worst audience in the world”50) perhaps comes from a similar frame of mind.

In this refusal of the institution there is a paradox. In his essay “The

New Cultural Politics of Difference,” Cornel West illuminates the process by which those with a cultural voice seeking to overhaul the institution, such as Hammons, also depend on its system for support. He writes, “for these critics of culture, theirs is a gesture that is simultaneously progressive and coopted.”51 Ultimately this is a systemic problem that cannot be resolved with varying degrees of non-participation. Despite this operative impasse, Hammons continues to work hard to subvert the mainstream commodification of art and to resist established value prescriptions. This is where I think the most radical aspect of How Ya Like Me Now? comes into play.

In his substitution of white skin for black skin he has boldly confused

the signifying order. Hammons is working with a type of irony that has a 49 bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (New York: Routledge, 2004), 53. 50 David Hammons, interview with Kellie Jones, 28. 51 West, “The New Cultural Politics,” 20.

Volume I No. 1 2013


built-in component that suggests “I know that this is inadequate...” Since it is impossible to function completely outside of the oppressive capitalist system of value in North America, outside of racialized binary constructions, Hammons resorts to a take on aesthetics where signs become unlinked from their assumed significations in order to represent the unrepresentable.52 The built-in mechanism of disrupted signs unleashes the inner psychology behind How Ya Like Me Now? and awakens the ensuing social outbreak on the street.

Although the specific trajectory of events surrounding the installation

of How Ya Like Me Now? were not likely a part of Hammons’s design, this incident, with the portrait’s relocation, out of view, and then when reinstalled, installed away from the street, in the confines of the despised and institutionalized museum, provides a lesson in art’s relationship to its public— whether they are a specialized art audience or not. And, the importance of the many interpretations of a work of public art—not just the official one. Most importantly, and underlying this entire paper, is my aim to reconsider the immediate reception of How Ya Like Me Now? and the ten men who knocked it down with a sledge hammer. Perhaps they did get the meaning of the work, more so than any of the curators, museum-goers or anyone else involved who dismissed them. Appendix of Images Fig. 1 The 1989 Installation of David Hammons’ How Ya Like Me Now? Photo Phillip Brookman. Fig. 2 How Ya Like Me Now?, 1988 Tin, plywood, sledgehammers, American flag. Wall installation view, “Rousing the Rubble,” P.S. 1 Museum, exhibition catalogue, 76-77. Fig. 3 Boy With Flag, 1968, body print. Photo credited to Tilton Gallery, taken from http://www. Fig. 4 Jesse Jackson, July 1, 1983. Photo Warren K. Leffler

52 G. W. F. Hegel, selections from Hegel’s Lectures on Fine Art (trans. T. M. Knox), 1820-29.


Body Electric,_halflength_portrait_of_Jackson_seated_at_a_table,_ July_1,_1983_edit.jpg Fig. 5 How Ya Like Me Now Cover Art, Kool Moe Dee, 1987. Image from Fig. 6 Bliz-aard Ball Sale, 1983, Cooper Square, New York City Image from Bibliography After Modernism: The Dilemma of Influence. DVD. Produced by Michael Blackwood Productions. 1992; New York. Buck-Morss, Susan. “Seeing the World: History in Communist Mode.” Lecture, OCAD University, Toronto, 3 February 2011. Bynoe, Yvonne. Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2004. Cavanaugh, Lori. “Jesse Jackson” Our States: U.S. Government & Civic Leaders. January, 2011. Crazy Horse, Kandia. Rip it up: The Black Experience in Rock’n’Roll. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004. David Hammons: Rousing the Rubble. exh. cat., essays S. Cannon, K. Jones and T. Finkelpearl, New York: Institute for Contemporary Art; Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1991. Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Fanon, Frantz. “The Fact of Blackness.” In Black Skins, White Masks. (1952) (trans. Charles Lam Markmann) 323-326. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1968. Fanon, Frantz. Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963. Gagnon, Monika Kin. Other Conundrums: Race, Culture, and Canadian Art. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2000. Gamarekian, Barbara. “Portrait of Jackson as White Is Attacked.” New York Times, December 1, 1989. Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” In Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Edited by J. Rutherford, 392-403. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990. Hammons, David. “500 Words.” Artforum, November 24, 2008. Hegel, G. W. F. Selections from Hegel’s Lectures on Fine Art (trans. T. M. Knox) 1820-29. hooks, bell. “Feminism as a Persistent Critique of History.” In The Fact of Blackness: Frantz Fanon and Visual Representation. Edited by A. Read, 80-85. Seattle: Bay Press, 1996. hooks, bell. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Volume I No. 1 2013


Kastor, Elizabeth. Artist Expected Portrait To Draw Angry Reaction: Jackson Work ‘Tough Topic for Both Races’ Jackson PaintingThe Washington Post (1974-Current file) [Washington, D.C] 01 Dec 1989: B1. Nagourney, Adam. “New Face of G.O.P. Brings a Brash Style.” New York Times, February 3, 2009. Negri, Antonio & Michael Hardt. Empire. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2001. Patterson, Tom. “Art and the Black Aesthetic: Richard Powell.” Duke University AlumniMagazine, July-August 1998. Patton, Sharon F. African-American Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Rap Genius. “Kool Moe Dee - How Ya Like Me Now: Lyrics and Meaning.” Schjeldahl, Peter. “A Walk With David Hammons.” In Let’s See: Writing on Art from The New Yorker. 27-29. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008. Schwartzman, Paul and Robert E. Pierre. “From Ruins To Rebirth,” The Washington Post, April 6, 2008. Shipman, Tim. “First Black Republican Leader Michael Steele Says He Will Go After Barack Obama.” The Telegraph, January 31, 2009. Stern, Steven. “A Fraction of the Whole.” Frieze Magazine Online. Tancons, Claire. “An Elective Affinity.” In Third Text 19, no. 2 (March 2005): 169-175. Wallace, Michele. “Modernism, Postmodernism and the Problem of the Visual in Afro-American Culture.” In Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, edited by Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, 39-50. Cambridge: The MIT Press: 1990. Wallis, Brian. “Jesse Jackson Portrait Attacked.” Art in America 78 (February 1990): 35. Wellington, Darryl Lorenzo. “Barack Obama in the Public Imagination.” Dissent 55, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 27-33. West, Cornel. “The New Cultural Politics of Difference.” In Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, edited by Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, 19-36. Cambridge: The MIT Press: 1990. White, Jack E., and Breena Clarke. “The Beauty of Black Art.” Time Magazine 144, 15 (1994): 66.


Body Electric

Amy Gaizauskas is completing her MA in Art History at Western University. She is interested in a wide range of historical and contemporary art practices, with particular focus on art’s public reception. She is currently working on a thesis that looks at uncanny aspects of some key contemporary community-based and relational art. art’s public reception. She is currently working on a thesis that looks at uncanny aspects of some key contemporary communitybased and relational art. 

Volume I No. 1 2013


Subversive Folk:

Alan Lomax and Popularizing American Music during the Cold War


By Courtney Mathison

n the summer of 1963, folksinger Pete Seeger arrived in Los Angeles to

perform for a crowd of youthful concertgoers. Prominent civic organization, Fire and Police Research Association of Los Angeles Inc., vehemently opposed Seeger’s performance for L.A.’s young population because they were aware of Seeger’s long association with radical social causes. The local organization quickly passed a resolution that called for a congressional investigation of American folk music. Its members rapidly began to circulate a pamphlet describing the American folk song as an unknown and mysterious tool of “Communist psychological or cybernetic warfare” designed to “ensnare and capture youthful minds.”1 A month later, the group received their response from Congress in a speech entitled “Mine Enemy—The Folk Singer” delivered by New York’s Republican Senator, Kenneth Keating. Shrewdly and cautiously, Keating prefaced his speech by acknowledging that the American public was right to maintain their negative outlook toward Communism and that the United States’ government would never letup in its intensity and earnestness to prevent the Soviet Union from its goal of world domination. Nevertheless, Keating decisively went on to say that he was shocked that the American people considered folk music as part of the Communist arsenal of weapons. He admitted:

I had always had the impression that if anything was thoroughly

1 When Is Folk Music NOT Folk Music? Pamphlet published by the Fire

and Research Association of Los Angeles, 1963, as quoted in Richard A. Reuss, American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927-1957 (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2000), 1.


Body Electric

American in spirit, it was American folk music…. That the folk music tradition is grounded in movements of political, economic and social unrest…. To be sure, I was perfectly aware of certain un-American influences in it…. But in my naïveté I have never considered these unAmerican influences to be of a sinister nature, and simply passed them off as part and parcel of the melting-pot tradition, which has contributed so much in the way of variety and interest to the American cultural heritage.[2]

Senator Keating ended his address by warning against vigilante charges by civic organizations because they only served to breed an atmosphere of suspicion and confusion. This climate undermined America’s free institutions and diverted the federal government’s energies away from protecting Americans’ liberty and security. The government needed its attention to be on tackling the real threats posed by international communism.2 I opened with this narrative for several important reasons. The Los Angeles’ community organization’s genuine alarm over folk songs as purveying destructive left-wing propaganda is characteristic of the hum of fear and irrationality that existed within the country at this time. Additionally, Keating’s responsive declamation to maintain trust in American ideals and to emit a sense of proportion and discernment in meeting the challenges of the Cold War, demonstrate the complex relationship between left-wing social movements and folk music in mid-twentieth-century America. The federal government’s levelheaded response to the anticommunist civic society in the form of Keating’s 1963 congressional address was not indicative of the political order-of-theday during folk music’s initial adoption by American left-wing movements during the Great Depression, World War II, or the immediate postwar period. Segments of the American grassroots population and anticommunist government blacklisters (the “Radical Right”) who emerged during the McCarthy era and carried over into the folk revivalist period of the 1960s, conceived of a 2 Ibid.

Volume I No. 1 2013


“communist takeover” of American folk music. This was precisely because of folk traditions’ initial flowering in leftist circles and the emergence of the urban radical folk singers during the Popular Front milieu of the late-1930s and WWII. This essay is concerned with why the anticommunist hysteria that enveloped postwar American society attacked folk music and targeted its popularizers as “subversive.” These anticommunist militants did not conceptualize folk music in its intended nativist and patriotic aesthetic form. Rather than understanding the American folk idiom in its prewar milieu of antifascist promotion, collective unity, national spirit, and a symbol of democracy, the emergent Radical Right singularly theorized American traditional music through the international worldview of Communism and the hyper-competitive cultural Cold War.

Alan Lomax (1915-2002) was at the vortex of the middling decades

of the twentieth-century where the popularization of folk music was largely made possible through the upsurge in left-wing social and political movements in the United States. Lomax made his mark prior to and during the Cold War as an author, record producer, radio broadcaster, archivist, public advocate, and above all, as an unprecedented field researcher and American folk music collector. American Cold War specialists, folk historians and musicologists have heralded Lomax as one of the most stimulating and influential cultural workers of the twentieth-century.3 As Lomax was arguably the single greatest force in bringing folk songs to American awareness, he is a supreme example of how his mission as a folk popularizer intersected with the American Left, and how this interconnectedness led to the loss of both his and folk music’s legitimacy and subsequent onslaught of subversive governmental accusations.

As a prominent American folklorist, Lomax held reputable government

3 Ronald Cohen, ed., Alan Lomax, Assistant in Charge: The Library of

Congress Letters, 1935-1945 (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2011), xiv.


Body Electric

jobs at the Library of Congress and the Office of War Information prior to the outbreak of the Cold War. In the early years of the McCarthy period, Lomax was covertly trailed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and then summoned to various regional Bureau headquarters for interviews concerning his alleged Communist affiliations.4 In the fall of 1950, Lomax abruptly sailed for England and remained in self-imposed exile for nearly a decade. Initially, I believed that there was an incredible incongruence between Lomax’s personal conceptions of folk music as the epitome of the American democratic and egalitarian tradition and the patriotic positions he held; and the unwarranted ambush of Communist accusations he experienced. This “incongruence” represented what changed in the domestic American political climate between Lomax’s role at the center of the dissemination of American folk music through inclusive and progressive left-leaning social movements in the prewar and WWII periods, to Lomax as a victim of the McCarthy “witch hunts” and his hasty flee to Europe. I argue that folk music and Lomax as its chief champion during the outbreak of the Cold War were manipulated and interpreted in impossibly doctrinaire and sectarian ways because of the dramatic shift in Americans’ conception of the Left between the Popular Front era and the post-WWII fierce opposition to the Soviet Union and Stalin’s new breed of militant and aggressive communism.

Why is zooming in on folklorist Alan Lomax a fruitful focus of

research in the field of American Studies, Cold War Studies, and American musicology in 2012? What is at stake in continuing to excavate the narratives of so-called “subversives” during the lead-up to the dark age of McCarthyism? As I will demonstrate, Lomax was indeed a fascinating provocateur and cultural broker; however, his life-long commitment of fusing American folk music and 4 John Szwed, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World (New

York: Viking Penguin, 2010), 189.

Volume I No. 1 2013


political/citizen activism has yet to be fully understood and valued by scholars of these disciplines.5 The majority of academics who have touched on Lomax as he intersected with their research projects make a point to indicate that, although they will not be delving into Lomax’s activist politics because he did not write about his beliefs or actions, his activism as omnipresent is repeatedly acknowledged.6 In her 2005 acclaimed book, Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland During the Depression and War, Elizabeth Crist explained why this information is not easily ascertained and why a new framework for understanding subversive behavior by musicians and their associates during the lead-up to the Cold War is necessary.7 Until the twenty-first-century, it has been difficult to even ask how a musician’s or music promoter’s song-style or composition related to its social context, and then, in turn, revealed a political alignment during the Cold War.8 It is likely that Lomax’s specific political leanings have never been thoroughly documented because of what Crist labels as a “guarded commentary” theme that runs through much of the Cold War musical and political historiography. Artists, cultural workers, and even scholars who discussed radical political aesthetics prior to and during the Cold War adopted an extraordinarily cautious interview style in later decades “warranted by the enduring institutional and cultural power of McCarthyism in America.”9 As this power has ebbed, it is important to resurrect and reconsider the political 5 Ronald Cohen, “Alan Lomax: Citizen Activist,” Canadian Folk Music

36 (2002): 1. 6 Ed Kahn, “1934-1950: The Early Collecting Years,” in Alan Lomax: Selected Writings, ed. Ronald Cohen (New York: Routledge, 2003), 7. 7 Elizabeth Crist, Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland During the Depression and War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 8-9. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid.


Body Electric

dimensions in which Lomax operated throughout the 1930s through to the 1950s. Not only are these decades significant because they bookend the principle timeframe when intellectual theories linked folklore to the “people’s” culture, but also because political activism in relation to music during the Depression era and WWII must cease to be studied with Communism as the exclusive indicator of radical sentiment.10 Part of this paper must parallel itself off of Crist’s framework of reinterpreting Lomax as a folk music-making facilitator and promoter within the leftist political context of the Popular Front—a milieu of flexibility, progressivism, inclusivity, and centrality on the traditional political spectrum. This foundation safeguards against Lomax and the critical shift in the domestic political climate—between his nationalistic employment positions and early patriotic declarations regarding the function of American folk music and him as a dissident FBI target—being merely reduced to a focus on doctrinaire Communism.11

At the outset, it is necessary to flesh out how Lomax personally

interpreted folk music, its significance, his relationship to America’s traditional lore, and thus, in turn, his conviction of folk music’s power and value. Lomax developed his approach and mindset as a folklorist at eighteen while accompanying his father on song collecting trip throughout the Deep South in 1933. Lomax recalled listening to and recording a Black sharecropper sing a solemn tune about poverty and the hardships of his ancestors’ way of life. Nearly fifty years later Lomax commented on this turning point he experienced in a rundown country church with a dirt floor: “I realized right then that the folklorist’s job was to link the people who were voiceless and who had no way to tell their story, with the big mainstream of world culture. I realized then 10 Reuss, 5, see also Crist, 12. 11 Crist, 22.

Volume I No. 1 2013


what my career was going to be…”12 After this collecting trip, Lomax co-wrote American Ballads and Folk Songs (1934) with his father. In the introduction of the book, the Lomaxes explain the folk song’s connection to traditional American culture and adhere to folk music’s fundamental theme of celebrating American regionalism. They expound that their compilation is the “songs of the people,” collected in “field and forest, mountain and plain, by the roadside and in the cabin, on big cane or cotton plantations and in prison camp.” These collected words and tunes were an art which the isolated population of America could immediately enjoy “and thus an art that reflected and made interesting their own customs, dramas, and dreams.”13 These early experiences of Lomax reveal the makings of his conception of himself as the “spokesperson for the Other America”14—a progressive and compassionate folklorist compelled to make accessible the American folk customs of the forgotten and excluded.

By 1960, Lomax had crystallized what he believed to be folk music’s

chief function. In the preface of his book The Folk Songs of North America in the English Language, Lomax explained that folk music produced a feeling of security for its listeners. The stimulation of both promise and protection was derived from the folksinger “voicing the particular quality of the land and the life of its people.”15 Lomax further identified what these specific qualities were for American citizens. In an article written for the New York Times Magazine in January of 1947 entitled “America Sings the Saga of America,” Lomax 12 Interview conducted by Ralph Rinzler in 1981, recorded by the

Smithsonian Office of Folklife Programs. Ed Kahn included this excerpt from the interview in his section of Alan Lomax: Selected Writings, ed. Cohen, 93-94. 13 John and Alan Lomax, American Ballads and Folk Songs (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1934), xxvii-xxviii. 14 Szwed, 3. 15 Alan Lomax, The Folk Songs of North America in the English Language (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1960), xv.


Body Electric

innately connected folk music to American democratic beliefs and the country’s unique egalitarian culture. He admitted that in the turbulent time of 1947, there may have been an element of escapism and/or nostalgia in folk music’s rise in popularity during the Second World War. However, Lomax went on to confirm that folk music was ultimately derived from Americans’ longing for artistic forms that reflected their democratic and equalitarian political beliefs and in their’ “hankering after art that mirror[ed] the unique life of this western continent—the life of the frontier, the great West, the big city.”16 Folklore was inherently democratic because it adhered to the tenets of the American democratic system—such markers as equality, justice, liberal government, and representation. Lomax explained folk traditions’ democratic procedure: Folklore change must wait upon the final approval of a human community. One might say that every folklore item has been voted on by a broad electorate, an audience free to choose, reject or alter according to its lights. The teller of tales or the singer of songs… is always conscious, as few cultivated artists can be, of the needs and preferences of his audience. He is of his audience.17 This quotation underscores Lomax’s confidence that folk music, more than any other genre, allowed for the creativity and rights of Americans to radiate and that folk was gratifyingly sensitive and accountable to community sentiment. According to Lomax, democracy and egalitarianism were the foremost qualities that laid deepest in American national life and herein positioned folklore as a “staying power” unrivaled by even the most accomplished cultivated art.18

Part of Lomax’s rationale in evidencing folklore’s democratic

capabilities and origins was to corroborate what American folklore and 16

Alan Lomax, “America Sings the Saga of America,” New York Times Magazine, 26 January 1947, 16. 17 Ibid, 42. 18 Ibid.

Volume I No. 1 2013


traditional music was not: authoritarian and fascist. Again, in the year 1947 when the New York Times published Lomax’s decisive article, antifascist rhetoric was a staple in earlier Popular Front discourse, which only was consolidated further throughout the duration of war on the American home front. Although Lomax explained that the relationship between folklore and American society had been mutually “healthily democratic,” he warned of authoritarian regimes’ potential to distort and falsify the traditional lore of other countries for dangerous political purposes.19 In Germany, Italy, and Japan, fascist leaders utilized a twisted folklore to whip up enthusiasm for an aggressive war. This turned the sacred literature of these peoples into a warped weapon against the “people.”20 Lomax explained that since the interest in American folklore had progressed beyond the casual curiosity that it once held and had transformed into a more significant cultural movement, Americans should demonstrate how their folk traditions ran counter to any authoritarian or fascist tendencies.21 Additionally, American folklorists must continue to prove how the true folk ethos is not politically assimilable. Lomax insisted that authentic folklore had no connection with political boundaries or racist abstractions.22

Lomax’s understanding of American folk music was seamlessly in line

with the political reasoning of the Popular Front era in which he “came of age” as a folklorist nearing the end of the Great Depression. His passion for traditional music and activist politics sprang from the connection Lomax and other urban radical folksingers made between “people’s culture” and “people’s music” with a strong populist and progressive sensibility.23 Lomax understood folk music’s 19 Ibid, 41. 20 Ibid. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid, 42. 23 Cohen, Alan Lomax, Assistant in Charge, xii-xiii.


Body Electric

significance and his relationship to the lore in a mixture of leftist viewpoints. He believed in racial justice, anti-lynching, laborist social democracy, civic solidarity, and antifascism. The language that Lomax used to describe the power and merit of American folk music—democratic, egalitarian, the “people”—was rooted in the Popular Front setting of progressive and unifying left-wing politics. Lomax promoted American traditional music as an emblem for progressive politics and as a pan-Americanism that emerged out of the programs of the New Deal and Second World War of which he was accustomed to and an ardent supporter.24 Lomax was entrenched in the late-1930s and WWII environment of left-wing artists and intellectuals who drew on the resources of traditional American culture to inform and promote their radicalized liberal worldview.

Before focusing on Lomax’s various strategic connections to the left-

wing folk music scene prior to his retreat abroad in 1950, it is important to discuss the historical and political context of the Popular Front era in greater detail. In his 2000 landmark study, Richard Reuss, thoroughly revealed American folk music’s relationship with the overarching left-wing social and political movements of the mid-twentieth-century. Reuss states that the Popular Front was first and foremost reactive to the spread of fascism and the increase in Nazi political and military strength.25 The Front’s communist doctrine evolved from its strict hardline proletarian and anti-capitalist rhetoric to a more inclusive stream of socialism in order to ameliorate its interaction with mainstream bourgeois American culture. The purpose of retreating from the traditional revolutionary communist dogma and new willingness to form coalitions with other liberal and progressive organizations was to put forth a solid united front to bring down fascist regimes. The Popular Front championed President Roosevelt 24 Crist, 42. 25 Reuss, 116.

Volume I No. 1 2013


and his New Deal programs and endorsed his approach to collective security against Nazi and fascist aggressors.26

A communist “folk” culture developed through the Popular Front’s

link to American folk traditions (particularly folk music) as an ideal form of radical aesthetic expression. Although the rural folk idiom did not remain as the sustained weapon in the communist arsenal for revolutionizing the “people’s” culture,27 it nevertheless enjoyed increasing popularity in left-wing circles between the end of Depression through to the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The flowering of the American communist movement’s interest in the folk ethos happened gradually, as workers’ art forms began to exhibit a shift in emphasis from the customary proletariat “fine art” to native Americans traditional materials and regionalism.28 Prior to developing attentiveness to folk music and its use of guitar, banjo, and fiddle as primary instruments and solo or small group style singing, left-wing movements in the United States had adhered to the old European music tradition of workers’ choruses with piano or orchestral accompaniment. The late-1930s witnessed this shift as workers themselves and then some intellectuals and party politicos began to criticize the obscure and cryptic nature of most fine-art-verse in the chorus convention.29 The Left’s evolution in its interest from fine art to folk art is decisively revealed in a series of four writers’ congresses sponsored by the League of American Writers in New York held in alternate years beginning in 1935. At the first congress, 26 Ibid. 27 Although the “folk ethos” did indeed gain popularity in the Amer-

ican communist movement, American folk traditions and their popularizers (example: Lomax and his urban folksingers) were never wholly accepted as the perfect aesthetic form to represent the Communist Party proper in the United States for several key reasons discussed further on in the essay. 28 Reuss, 116. 29 Ibid, 131-132.


Body Electric

there was no direct discussion of folklore whatsoever. The attendees’ talk of workers and revolution was not all couched in the American folk idiom.30 By the third congress in 1939, the folk ethos had become an established part of the Popular Front cultural milieu and the potential value of folklore to the cause of the workers was not such a contested ideological issue.31 The final congress in 1941 has been described as a breakdown into a total folksong revival atmosphere and hootenanny. Some of the writers and poets felt that their presence was diminished by the force of the folksingers and their idealized aesthetic.32 The decreasing intellectualization of radical art forms of the left-wing movements and the rise of the folk ethos suggests folk music’s simplicity and direct appeal to the American masses.33

It is critical to understand that both folk music and its

interconnectedness to the Popular Front were not strictly associated with the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) or, more broadly, the rigid international communist canon. Through the musical and political affiliations of American composer Aaron Copland, Elizabeth Crist reinterprets the political dimensions of the Depression and WWII eras in a revisionist and sympathetic method so as not to follow the sterile Cold War historiographic trend of simply reducing musicians’ radical works, actions, and motives to official Communist doctrinaire.34 As mentioned previously, Crist’s work on the historical context of the Popular Front era is beneficial to parallel part of my essay off of in an attempt to understand Lomax’s political activism during this time period.

Crist’s definition of the Popular Front is informed by Michael

30 Ibid, 133. 31 Ibid. 32 Interview conducted by Reuss with folksinger Lee Hays on 16

August 1965, as quoted in Reuss, 134. 33 Ibid, 133. 34 Crist, 8 and 22.

Volume I No. 1 2013


Denning’s The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (1997). Denning’s reinterpretation of the American Left during the 1930s and 1940s shifts the focus away from “Communism” and proposes that a distinction be made between the Communist Party proper as an official political alignment and the Popular Front as a much larger and inclusive cultural phenomenon.35 Denning argues that the Front was not the tool of the Communist ideology, but rather, an autonomous American social movement that united liberals, progressives, and Communists alike.36 The core of the Front contained many non-Communist socialists and independent leftists who worked with the CPUSA and with New Liberals to etch out a hybrid progressive, antifascist, and nationalist American culture. This undercurrent of progressivism that ran through the Depression and war was a general political perspective that desired a decrease in competitive individualism in the hopes of balancing “private desires with public obligations.”37 Themes of reform, equality, and justice came to the fore of left-wing progressive and liberal organizations. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, the CPUSA itself shifted away from its hardline militant archetype of class struggle and revolutionary ideals and moved towards a more accommodating stance. This evolved inclusiveness within the Popular Front milieu was reflected in the party’s 1936 slogan: “Communism is twentieth-century Americanism.”38 Lomax operated in the precise historical and political context of the Front. Although he was never an official Communist Party member, Lomax was intimately connected to a variety of leftist causes, organizations, and campaigns 35 Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American

Culture in the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1997), 5. 36 Denning, 5 and Crist, 19. 37 Crist, 15. 38 “‘Free, Prosperous, Happy…’ The Text of the Communist Election Platform,” New Masses, 14 July 1936,19, as quoted in Crist, 19.


Body Electric

that assisted him in collecting and popularizing American folk music. Lomax’s ceaseless energy and all-around networking for left-wing folk groups—such as the Almanac Singers, the People’s Songs Inc., or the “Alan Lomax school” of musicians as identified by Richard Reuss—gave rise to new organizational forms of music in the service of activism during the Depression and WWII eras.39 It would be Lomax as a folk music facilitator and the organizations and causes to which he belonged during the late-1930s and 1940s that the federal government and FBI would hone in on and inflame during the early Cold War. Overlooked would be Lomax the folklorist and his urban radical folksingers born out of the innocuous left-leaning progressive ideals of the Popular Front.

For the Almanacs during WWII and for People’s Songs Inc. post-

1945, Lomax provided much of the folk groups’ core traditional musical canon, inspired these singers to come together and meet and have jam sessions, helped them sharpen their style, organized performance venues, linked them to record companies, and gave them media exposure through his work as a radio broadcaster and writer.40 Nearly a dozen folksingers joined and left the Almanac singers during their brief active period throughout the early war years. The most long-lasting radical folksingers in the group were artists such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, John Peter Hawes, and Lomax’s sister, Bess Lomax.41 The Almanacs’ songs were intended to serve as an overall topical commentary of the political and social values for the general left-wing movement during the Front era. The singers identified with the “people” and used the medium of the folk song as their chief form of agitprop 39 William Roy, Reds, Whites, and Blues: Social Movements, Folk Music,

and Race in the United States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 126. 40 Ibid, 116. 41 Reuss, 150.

Volume I No. 1 2013


communication.42 WWII blurred the rigid lines between capitalist and workers’ culture in the common cause of defeating fascism and the Almanacs’ antifascist folk song theme, in turn, allowed them to break into more mainstream media and bourgeois commercialization. Lomax introduced the Almanacs’ war songs to the Roosevelts who indicated their approval of the group’s patriotic and moraleboosting agenda.43 Furthermore, Lomax featured folksingers from the Almanacs on his “to win the war” radio shows while he worked for Office of War Information (OWI). Over one hundred hours of the OWI’s radio programming featured antifascist folk singing due to Lomax’s push for the inclusion of the American traditional idiom across Allied airwaves.44 Above all else, Lomax regarded the Almanacs as friends and fellow activists. In a series of two letters sent to Southern blues musician Son House in December 1941 and January 1942, Lomax urged House to come to New York City and jam with the Almanacs who he assured were his friends, very nice, extremely dependable and now had a good chance for disseminating their message over radio time and recording.45 Lomax was instrumental in bringing the singers together, in encouraging them to mix traditional folk songs with union and antifascist material, and in facilitating much of their publicity.

Following the war Lomax worked as a freelance folklorist and

devoted much of his time to organizing folk music concerts and entertainment 42 Ibid. 43 In a letter dated 21 January 1942 to Woody Guthrie, Lomax stat-

ed that he played several of the Almanacs’ war songs for Eleanor Roosevelt: “She thought they were swell, and asked for copies of the records.” [letter in possession of Marjorie Guthrie estate], as quoted in Reuss, 169. 44 Reuss, 183. 45 Letters sent by Lomax to House on 24 December 1941 and 28 January 1942, in Cohen, ed., Alan Lomax, Assistant in Charge, 270 and 276.


Body Electric

for communist “cause” parties in conjunction with the national left-wing organization People’s Songs—founded by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays. People’s Songs conceived of itself as a service organization “to create, promote, and distribute songs of labor and the America people.”46 At the organization’s inception, Lomax was elected to People’s Songs’ national board of directors and wrote the official letter to acquaint potential sponsors with the purpose of the activist society and its construction of and connection to American folk music. It read:

We have based our program largely in the rich and democratic traditions of American folk music. We feel that the whole American folk tradition is a progressive people’s tradition. For that reason our comments, our new songs, our activities are, in great measure, rooted in the fertile soil of American folk music.47

Lomax conceived of People’s Songs as an important organization that represented “a new kind of human being,” coalesced in an innovative folk community composed of progressives, union members, and anti-fascists. People’s Songs was a weapon against war and reaction and their publications a folio of the freedom of American folklore.48 In addition to sitting on the board of directors and writing and lecturing on behalf of the organization, one of Lomax’s principle jobs was to organize the “Midnight Special” concert series beginning in the late fall of 1946. These biweekly concerts were held at the New York Town Hall and featured well-known folksingers as well as blues and jazz musicians. Lomax’s concerts drew rave reviews from left-wing periodicals that praised People’s Songs’ initiative to promote folk singing in unions and peace 46 Printed on the masthead of Vol. I, number 1 of People’s Songs (Feb-

ruary 1946), 1, as quoted in Reuss, 186. 47 Lomax, unsigned mimeographed draft (n.d.) circulated among People’s Songs executive board members, as quoted in Reuss, 187. 48 Lomax, Foreword to The People’s Song Book (1948), as quoted in Cohen, “Citizen Activist,” 2.

Volume I No. 1 2013



The year 1948 saw Lomax most heavily and formally involved in

American politics through his membership in People’s Songs. He volunteered as the music director for Henry Wallace’s presidential campaign who was the candidate for the Progressive Party.50 Wallace was the former New Deal secretary of agriculture and vice president during President Roosevelt’s third term. Many independent leftists saw in Wallace a viable third party ticket and a man who could restore the zeal of the progressive and liberal line of the Popular Front era. When it indeed became clear that Wallace would run for president, People’s Songsters and other Wallace enthusiasts began to compose songs for the upcoming campaign.51 The details have never been entirely clear; however, in an interview conducted by Reuss with Lomax in 1968, Lomax maintained that Wallace’s principal young speechwriter and leftist radical named Lew Frank approached him about volunteering for the Progressive Party’s campaign. Frank apparently asked Lomax to assume responsibility for the music arrangements of the campaign that had already taken hold at an informal and grassroots level.52 Lomax agreed and fulfilled all of the extensive booking needs for the campaign. Lomax desired to show Wallace’s political strategists the value of turning the Progressive Party’s campaign into a nationwide folk singing movement.53 By hiring People’s Songs’ services, the Wallace presidential campaign saw folk music take on an importance and propagandistic ability theretofore 49 Cohen, “Alan Lomax: Citizen Activist,” 2, see also Reuss, 188. 50 E. David Gregory, “Alan Lomax: A Life in Folk Music,” Canadian Folk

Music 36 (2002), 8. 51 Reuss, 199. 52 Interview conducted by Reuss with Lomax on 28 May 1968, as quoted in Reuss, 198-199. Most of the other People’s Songs leaders interviewed by Reuss were under the impression that Lomax approached the Wallace Party officials on his initiative. 53 Reuss, 199.


Body Electric

unprecedented in the overall organizational scheme of political campaigning in comparison to any other major election effort in American history.54

Lomax’s involvement with Popular Front and WWII era left-wing

folk singing groups such as the Almanac Singers and People’s Songs inspired scholar, Richard Reuss, to develop the catchphrase: the “Lomax Singers.” Reuss’ reasoning is that Lomax, more than any other individual working throughout the mid-twentieth-century, remained at the vortex of American folk music and its interconnectedness to leftist political and social trends.55 Lomax was the product of his time. His personality and actions microcosmically represented the key forces and movements of his era.56 He shaped the popular outlook of the folk song not only through his extensive field collecting, recording, and song dissemination; but also, through his influence on the urban radical folk music scene that emerged during the Front. The Lomax Singers came from every vocation, social background, and musical orientation. When Lomax identified incredible folk talent throughout his backwoods collecting trips, he encouraged and helped these rural authentic singers relocate to the urban northeast to gain exposure. Oppositely, he impressed singers of “citybilly” origin such as Pete Seeger to learn the banjo and study the traditional lore of the country. On top of overseeing their musical careers—through securing bookings, record contracts, radio time, and general written publicity—Lomax functioned as their mentor and friend. He served as his singers’ intellectual guide and shared with them his sociopolitical rationale through a worldview of American folk ethos.57

It is important to recognize that the new urban folk singing school under

Lomax drew its strength, direction, and vitality through a thoroughly nativist 54 Ibid, 200. 55 Ibid, 121-122. 56 Ibid. 57 Ibid, 124.

Volume I No. 1 2013


perception of folk music. It was American folk songs that were at the center of their ideology; not the international left-wing scene.58 While the individual attitudes and outlooks varied within the Lomax tradition, the musicians were principally concerned with creative productivity and popularizing the folk idiom. Unlike other leftist musicians during this period, the Lomax Singers were essentially unconcerned with conventional theoretical issues such as formulating meticulously structured political programs and theories.59 For them, American folklore symbolized democracy, equality and social justice. Folk music, then, sublimely served to alleviate the spread of fascism, class struggle, poor race relations, and acute individualism. Perhaps the single best statement characterizing the Lomax school of musicians was penned by political activist, Irwin Silber, in 1961: “We believed the world was worth saving and that we could do it with songs.”60 The impact and contribution of the Lomax Singers cannot be underestimated. They molded the musical tastes of the Popular Front era and laid the groundwork for the popularization of American traditional music that would spur the folk song revival in the late-1950s and 1960s.

Although the Lomax Singers operated at the nexus of “folk music

ideology” and the upsurge in leftist political and social movements in midtwentieth-century America, their personalities, performance styles, and political philosophies were not uniformly committed to the intellectual communist movement. Their affiliations with American communism ranged from official party members to fellow travelers, New Deal liberals and progressives, independent leftists, and chiefly cultural workers of the Popular Front. Even more significant is that the official communist movement in the United 58 Ibid, 128. 59 Ibid, 271. 60 Irwin Silber, Introduction, Reprints from the People’s Songs Bulletin,

1946-1949 (New York, 1961), 4, as quoted in Reuss, 128.


Body Electric

States never wholly accepted folklore as the foremost and sustained tool in the communist arsenal to revolutionize the “people’s” culture. Although the American folk ethos saw a rise in popularity and dissemination through the Left’s increase interest in traditional rural Americana and pride and patriotism in American regional lore, the CPUSA was firstly rooted in its intellectualism and fine-art radical aesthetic expression.61 The Communist Party hierarchy was concerned with upholding orthodoxy and discipline in its cultural ranks and had difficulty in seeing what relevance American bucolic folk traditions had for urban industrial life and the workers’ struggle.62 The Communist Party did not take any direct organizational interest in American folk traditions or in the new urban radical folksingers themselves.63 The Lomax Singers commanded at best the moral support of high-ranking CPUSA members, and at worst incomprehension and neglect.64 An outsider would have seen the visible relationship between the communist movement and Lomax’s folksingers as one of chiefly entertainment, present at the majority of “cause” parties held throughout the Front era and the earlier part of the Second World War.65

The complex yet relatively limited association between Lomax, his

urban radical folksingers, and the official American Communist Party would prove to be Lomax’s and his progressive folk singing scene’s undoing following the war. As WWII came to an end, Americans’ understanding of and relationship to prewar left-leaning movements was severely hampered by the increasing cracks in the Grand Alliance (the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet 61 Reuss, 137. 62 Ibid, 139-140. 63 Ibid, 206. 64 William Z. Foster, “Elements of a People’s Cultural Policy,” New

Masses, 23 April 1946, 6-9, as quoted in Reuss, 210. 65 Reuss, 135.

Volume I No. 1 2013


Union).66 Under Stalin’s leadership, the international communist movement took on a rigid militant and aggressive position regarding such central issues as foreign policy and class struggles.67 American citizens began to view the Soviet Union with increasing suspicion and distrust as hostility between the East and the West mounted. This emerging mistrust and cynicism towards the Soviet Union was reflected in American congressional activity and domestic left-wing movements and their sympathizers came under attack. In his book, The Fervent Years: The Story of Group Theatre and the Thirties (1945), Harold Clurman described this shift as “the forces of reaction.”68 The rise in the conservative Right following WWII made out “Left” artists and cultural workers to be uncompromisingly “foreign,” “un-American,” and other false and malevolent labels that served to “confound” the American population.69 Terms such as “progressivism” became synonymous with “un-Americanism” as the leftist politics of the Depression and war came to symbolize a “loss of faith in America”70 according to virulent anticommunists in the McCarthy era. The left-wing sociopolitical milieu of the Depression and war years was no longer regarded as “socially responsive” and progressive.71 Leftist cultural workers and their projects were reinterpreted in the postwar climate as subversive. Politically engaged folk music born out of the historical period of the Popular Front quickly came to be conceptualized in inflexibly doubtful and fearful terms. In this demoralized American political climate, Lomax and his efforts to popularize the 66 Ibid, 186. 67 Ibid, 194. 68 Harold Clurman, The Fervent Years: The Story of Group Theatre

and the Thirties (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 290, as quoted in Crist, 12. 69 Ibid. 70 Crist, 8. 71 Ibid.


Body Electric

American folk idiom were spuriously labeled as red degeneracy.

My initial interest in Alan Lomax began with the mysterious

surroundings of his “escape” to Europe in September of 1950. I was intrigued by the fact that someone as invested in and proud of American traditions and folk culture as this man would feel such panic and fear so as to exile himself abroad for nearly a decade. The main reason was that “the handclapping, the guitar strumming, the banjo-picking, the shouting and the howling” of American folk music came to be solely understood as a deceptive and powerful force parroting the Communist line.72 As such, the overarching argument of this essay was the very context that witnessed Lomax at the center of the drastic shift in the American political climate towards American folk ethos during the Depression and war eras to the outbreak of the Cold War. Lomax’s relationship to popularizing American folk music was born out of the Popular Front milieu which heralded folklore as antifascist, multiethnic, class sensitive, progressive, collectively unifying, and ultimately, as an ideal symbol of American democracy. This essay traced Lomax’s intricate involvement with the most influential folk music groups that operated within the greater left-wing social and political movements of mid-twentieth-century America. It was critical to stress the nationalistic and progressive foundations of these folksingers and their complicated, yet largely narrow, relationship to the CPUSA. By really delving into the progressive politics of the Popular Front era and the flowering of folk music on the Left, Lomax and his folksingers have been studied through a framework that does not merely reduce their beliefs and actions to Communist doctrinaire. Ultimately, the postwar anticommunist hysteria created a political climate that overlooked Lomax’s relationship to American folk music as 72 Jere Real, “Folk Music and Red Tubthumpers,” American Opinion 7

(1964), 19-20, as quoted in Reuss, 3.

Volume I No. 1 2013


genuinely patriotic and harmlessly “Left.” Bibliography Clurman, Harold. The Fervent Years: The Story of Group Theatre in the Thirties. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945. Cohen, Ronald D. “Alan Lomax, Citizen Activist.” Canadian Folk Music 36 (2002). Cohen, Ronald D, ed. Alan Lomax, Assistant in Charge: The Library of Congress Letters, 1935-1945. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2011. Crist, Elizabeth B. Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland During the Depression and War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. London: Verso, 1997. Foster, William Z. “Elements of a People’s Cultural Policy.” New Masses (April 1946). Gregory, E. David. “Alan Lomax: A Life in Folk Music.” Canadian Folk Music 36 (2002). Gregory, E. David. “Lomax in London: Alan Lomax, the BBC and the FolkSong Revival in England, 1950-1958.” Folk Music Journal 8 (2002). Lomax, John and Alan. American Ballads and Folk Songs. New York: The MacmillanCompany, 1934. Lomax, Alan. “America Sings the Saga of America.” New York Times Magazine (January 1947). Lomax, Alan. The Folk Songs of North American in the English Language. New York:Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1960. Lomax, Alan. Alan Lomax: Selected Writings, 1934-1997. Ronald D. Cohen (ed). New York: Routledge, 2003. Real, Jere. “Folk Music and Red Tubthumpers.” American Opinion 7 (1964). Reuss, Richard A. American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927-1957. Lanham:Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2000.


Body Electric

Roy, William G. Reds, Whites, and Blues: Social Movements, Folk Music, and Race in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. Schrecker, Ellen. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Princeton: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1998. Szwed, John. Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World. New York: Viking Penguin, 2010.

Courtney Mathison is a Master’s graduate from Western University’s American Studies program. Her interest in American folk music flourished out of her formal studies in 20th-century American history and politics, and the formation of her pop-folk girl band, The Miss Bennets, in 2007. She currently resides in Elliot Lake, Ontario.

Volume I No. 1 2013


The Governmentality of the Date:

Femininty and Sexual Responsibility in Postwar America By Rachael Pack


istorians have described postwar1 America as an age of anxiety, and an

era of conformity. In many ways, the latter stems from the former. The years preceding the second World War were fraught with changes and challenges to the structure of the nuclear family and the sexual division of labour. In particular, the Great Depression and the desperation of families brought an increased number of women into the market economy in search of paid labour (Hapke, 1995). The second World War intensified these challenges to traditional gender roles by bringing thousands of women into the labour force to occupy traditionally male jobs left vacant by soldiers. After the war, anxiety still loomed with the ever present threat of nuclear warfare and communism. In attempts to ease these anxieties and create a sense of security, historians have argued that Americans turned towards the nuclear family. Elaine Tyler May (1998) argues in Homeward Bound that Americans, particularly white members of the middle class, were oriented towards an idealized vision of the nuclear family in search of this security. The idea of the home was increasingly signifiant after the war, and had very powerful connotations that ranged from comfort and stability to peace.

Despite its importance, the family was also seen to be a vulnerable

and fragile institution that could easily be corrupted. In order to ensure social security and stability, the family needed protection against outside social forces that deviated from traditional conservative values (Tyler May, 1998). Central to the stability and success of the family were clearly divided sexual labour and 1 For the purposes of this paper 1945- 1965 will be encompassed within the postwar period.


Body Electric

gender roles. In this way, the domestication and subordination of women was seen as necessary for the success and stability of the nation.

The destabilization of both gender roles and the division of sexual

labour resulted in an immense amount of anxiety that was brought to bear upon women, and sought to re-form their femininity. This project of re-formation was deployed in a variety of ways. Studies of postwar culture have found that government propaganda, Hollywood films, and popular women’s magazines functioned to reinforce conservative conceptions of femininity, instructing women to subordinate their own interests to those of the returning veterans in the interest of the nation (Meyerowitz, 1994). This conception of femininity was predicated on domesticity, in which happiness and normality were derived from marriage, motherhood, and family (Friedan,1963). This conception of normality and femininity was also extended to youth. In order to guarantee the future happiness, stability and normality of the population, intervention into the period of adolescence to ensure the cultivation of appropriate gender roles was deemed necessary. The task of cultivating adolescents into normal adult citizens was taken up by psychologists, sociologists, statisticians, journalists and advice columnists. The scholars, social scientists and journalists who concerned themselves with the management of courtship conduct produced enormous quantities of literature. One sociologist noted, in the introduction to his 1957 text on American courtship and marriage patterns, that between 1945 and 1954, 1031 scholarly articles and studies of courtship alone were published (LeMasters, 1957). Beyond scholarly studies, experts also wrote textbooks for marriage courses to be used at the high school and college levels, taught courses in universities, authored advice books for popular consumption and wrote advice columns for women’s magazines (Bailey, 1998). In publishing their findings in both popular and academic sources, expert courtship advisors attempted to make

Volume I No. 1 2013


courtship into a uniform study, so that the advice given in magazines would be virtually identical to that taught in college courses or offered in advice books (Bailey, 1998).

Mary Louise Adams (1997) in The Trouble With Normal, examines

various sites for the production of sexual discourse in the postwar period, such as school based sexuality education programs, psychological literature, instructional films and conduct literature. Adams argues that postwar discourses of sexuality were centrally focused on youth, and worked through a multiplicity of sites to produce heterosexuality as natural and normal. While heterosexuality was constituted as natural and normal, heterosexual desire could only be recognized as such if desires were expressed in particular ways or under certain conditions. In other words, it was not enough for youth to have opposite sex attraction, the attraction had to be expressed in particular ways in order to be read as normal.

Dating advice literature directed towards adolescents in postwar

America, and the discourses of family structure, gender and sexuality in which it was situated provides an interesting opportunity to think about how the gender and sexual identities of adolescents were regulated, and how youth might have regulated themselves. In this paper, I will explore the discursively constructed sexual and gendered roles that were necessary for young women, between 1945 and 1965, to perform in order to constitute themselves as heterosexual subjects. My focus will be limited to the subjectivity of women, as conduct literature during this time and the projects of self mastery it promoted were primarily directed towards women. In particular, I will focus on the ideal of femininity, and the sexual roles that were presented within conduct literature as the precondition for normality. Using a Foucauldian framework, I will examine postwar dating advice literature directed towards youth to determine how normal


Body Electric

sexual identities were discursively constructed, and how these identities were shaped by national anxieties.

Postwar conduct literature lends itself particularly well to this type

of analysis, as it sought to guide the development of youth, and the cultivation of sexual and gendered subjectivities. These publications contributed to the production of various discursively constructed ideals of normality to which postwar teenagers should aspire. Discourses and practices work together to produce subjects that are “normal,” and simultaneously, make it hard to imagine alternative subjectivities or ways of being. Popular dating advice literature directed to young people offered postwar teenagers strategies and direction to shape their construction as sexual and gendered subjects. In delineating particular forms of sexual and gendered conduct as legitimate, dating advice literature rendered alternative ways of being as outside of the limits of normality. To illustrate the social dangers of occupying the space beyond the limits of normality, the literature offered cautionary tales of youth who had failed to regulate their gendered and sexual subjectivities correctly, and who suffered social exclusion, pregnancy, or ruined reputations as a result. The fear of social marginalization and exclusion are powerful motivators, and the social imperative to be normal certainly limited the possibilities for subjectivity, and sexual or gendered expression in the everyday lives of youth. In these texts, like larger postwar society, the promise of normality and all the social privileges with which it was associated, were offered up in exchange for social conformity. Theoretical Framework

This paper’s analytic concern with postwar dating advice literature,

and the gendered and sexual subjectivities discursively constructed within such literature, is informed by a Foucauldian biopolitical approach. Colin Gordon (1991) defines biopolitics as “a politics concerned with subjects as members

Volume I No. 1 2013


of a population in which issues of individual sexual and reproductive conduct interconnect with issues of national policy and power� (p. 5). Sex and sexuality are particularly significant sites for biopower as sexuality is concerned with the discipline of both individual bodies and the regulation of populations as a whole (Foucault, 1978). For Foucault, sexuality is one of the most instrumental elements in power relations as it is “useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies� (1978, p. 130).

The deployment of discourses of sexuality allows for power to gain

access to the body of the population, and of individuals. Power permeates the body and is expressed through gestures, postures and conduct. A Foucauldian understanding of power and its relationship to sexuality positions power as something that works on and through the individual. Understanding power in this way makes it possible to see how sexuality came to be understood as central to the identity of individuals.

Advice literature can be seen as a strategy of biopolitical governance.

In order to constitute particular truths concerning sexuality, advice literature relies upon expert knowledges and external authorities. These external authorities, through the production of truth discourses about the ways that one comes to be a proper man or woman, incite readers to take steps towards correcting and regulating the self. Conduct literature, in guiding readers to gain mastery over themselves and their conduct, relies upon the principle of individuality. In positioning readers as autonomous individuals who have the ability to transform themselves, advice literature renders individuals as entirely responsible for the outcomes of their own lives. In this way, failures in terms of gender performance, or failure to achieve the outcomes that proper gender


Body Electric

constitution brings, such as happiness and marriage, are failures of individual governance. Through employing the notions of responsibility and individuality, advice literature “provides an example of how operations of power in everyday life incite governance of the self thanks to expert pronouncements about both success and morality” (Rimke, 2000, p. 63).

Within postwar dating advice literature the rewards promised to youth

who were able to demonstrate their ability to self-regulate and self-govern were normality, happiness, marriage, stability and security. These rewards, according to experts, were only attainable through the proper constitution of gender and the effective regulation of the self. We can see conduct literature as an example of productive power as these discourses incite the reader to take action and strive for conformity within a set of public virtues. In this way, particular “normal” subjects are produced by this literature. Normalization and Moralization

In order to encourage youth to engage in self-regulation, experts

utilized a variety of tactics and technologies of power within conduct literature, such as normalization, moral discourses, and dividing practices. Normalization, as a concept, refers to the practices and discourses that produce subjects that are “normal.” These discourses and practices are insidious, and pervasive, making it difficult to imagine ways of being outside of the category of “normal.” The categories of “abnormality” and “normality” are the effects of productive forms of power that produce identities through which individuals come to understand themselves and others (McWhorther, 2004). A variety of institutional and discursive practices are deployed to exhort individuals to self-regulate to meet the normative standards. Social and personal rewards are held up as the product of normality to encourage individuals to desire to achieve normative standards and become self-regulating. Normalization operates on the level of

Volume I No. 1 2013


the individual as a form of social regulation that conditions our desires, and thus makes individuals strive to meet social norms (Henriques,1984).

Expert knowledges and discourses often take on the form of moral

regulation discourses. Alan Hunt (1999) defines moral discourses as linking “a moralized subject with some moralized object or practice in such a way as to impute some wider socially harmful consequence unless both subject and practice are subjected to appropriate regulation� (p. 280). Moral regulation as a practice of governance encourages self-regulation by focusing attention on particular social actions or conduct that is deemed to be outside of responsible citizenship. In this way, moral regulation as a process, encourages the proliferation and enhancement of particular identities, and the suppression of others. As I will go on to demonstrate, within the context of postwar dating advice literature, premarital promiscuity, and insufficient femininity were pointed to as a threat to social security. These ways of being were problematized as being outside the realm of responsible citizenship. Moral discourses produced through conduct literature sought to intervene and shape the conduct of young women towards proper femininity and chastity in the interest of the nation. Postwar Dating Practices

Before we can begin to explore the content of the literature, it is

necessary to understand the structure and meaning of dating in postwar America. The postwar period gave rise to a new system of dating; going steady. Whereas in the prewar and interwar periods popularity for youth was secured through social circulation and the attainment of a great many dates, by the 1950s adolescents gained popularity and demonstrated normality by entering committed and monogamous relationships. Bailey (1998) describes the dominant system of dating in the postwar period as one of serial monogamy and “play


Body Electric

marriages” (p. 49). Going steady, which had once signaled deepening intentions and love in the 1920s and 1930s, became a representation of the desire for security and conformity among youth. Love was not required to go steady, nor were intentions of marriage. Going steady was something that thirteen year olds could participate in, and something that most fifteen year olds did participate in (Bailey, 1998). How to be Normal

Conformity was seen as central to the strength and cohesion of the

postwar nation. Citizenship, in this context, was predicated on a willingness to adopted shared morals, values and behavioral standards (Adams, 1997). Deviance from these shared standards was perceived as a threat to the homogeneity of the nation, and resulted in social exclusion, which was often pronounced in terms of personal abnormality. Dating was one way that youth could demonstrate their normality, and failure to obtain a steady or to participate in dating sufficiently inevitably raised questions. A prominent sociologist warned dateless young women that if they continued to remain dateless they would be considered “odd” and “squares” (Burgess, 1954, p. 81). Moreover, their single status would also lead to distortions in the girl’s personality, preventing their ability to live a normal life in the future. Another prominent sociologist argued that college students who rarely dated, or did not start dating until their later high school years, or had not had more than one steady relationship, were both socially underdeveloped and emotionally maladjusted individuals (Merrill, 1958). Single life for young women also had social repercussions as: a boy feels no responsibility or sense of duty towards this group [the dateless]. He does not feel an obligation to treat a girl as if she were an individual with feelings unless he is dating her. Even at group affairs she is therefore ignored completely unless she has a specific date (Burgess, 1954,

Volume I No. 1 2013


p.81). Single females were unrecognizable as “normal” social beings. Social success by the 1950s was tied to the attainment of a steady and the security of having a dependable escort for social events. Securing a steady date was a matter of prestige and an indicator of popularity. One advice book cautioned that “a woman who goes about without an escort loses face with men, with other women, with herself, and, what is more painful, with her own family” (Farewell, 1956, p. 44).

Moreover, many aspects of social life for youth were structured

around coupled units, and thus, having a steady was imperative to even begin participating in social life. One female high school student interviewed for a sociological study reported: in my high school you either went steady or you didn’t go. After a few weeks of maneuvering in the fall, everybody paired off for the year. Sometimes there was a reshuffling at the end of the term, especially if someone got kicked out of school or joined the service. If you went out with a fellow more than twice in one week, everybody thought that you were his steady and nobody else would ask you for a date. Most of the couples broke up for the summer, but come fall we all chose up sides again (LeMasters, 1957, p. 123). The social importance of dating as a means to popularity and normality were significant, and in order to enjoy social inclusion teenagers had to participate. The importance also extended to youth in their early adolescence. Parents were encouraged by experts to introduce their children to the dating scene early so that they could develop the necessary social skills and personality traits to be successful in dating (Duvall, 1965). In this postwar context, some experts considered thirteen year old youths who did not participate in group or individual dates to be “late bloomers” (Bailey, 1998). Experts warned that being a “late bloomer” could have negative impacts on the marriage outcomes,


Body Electric

and subsequently the happiness of youth later in life. One expert argued that the “handicap” of late daters was that they were likely to choose the wrong marriage partner, as the isolation and desperation caused by limited dating experience will make “any man, any girl look good to them” (Strain, 1966, p. 128). The social skills and personality development that youth gained from early and frequent dating, for experts, translated into increased chances of success in later marriage. Re-Forming Femininity

The project of the governance of adolescent sexuality in the postwar

period sought to produce new truths about normal and natural masculinity and femininity that would counteract the blurring of gender roles brought on by the social upheaval of the second World War. This anxiety was brought to bear on gender and its perceived fragility. The necessity for women to work outside of the home during the war had produced intense anxiety around the respective proper roles of women and men. Where there had once been clearly defined and separate roles for women and men, the participation of large numbers of women in the public sphere produced fears that the differences between men and women were no longer clear. The blurring of roles and behaviours available to men and women was seen as undermining masculinity and femininity. Critics argued that women had forgotten how to act like women, and men were confused about how to be men (LeMasters, 1957). The clearly defined roles of men and women in regards to sexual, reproductive, and market place production were thought to be essential to the structure and success of the family (Duvall & Hill, 1947). Without the differentials in roles, the stability of the family could not be ensured. In a culture that placed a high value on marriage and family, the re-defining of discrete roles for men and women was essential.

Responding to these anxieties, authors of postwar dating advice

literature explained the rules of conduct in a language of gender, and presented

Volume I No. 1 2013


adherence to the rules as necessary for the proper constitution of femininity and masculinity. A common tactic throughout dating advice literature was to re-define the differences between masculinity and femininity, and to present the roles of men and women as both natural and imperative for successful dating. Youth were reminded that in the competitive realm of dating “it is not enough to be male, one must be masculine. It is not enough to be female, one must also be feminine” (Strain, 1966, p. 74). Masculinity and femininity were defined in opposition to one another both in terms of physical and personality traits. The contrast between the physical, and personal characteristics of men and women were pointed to as the source of attraction. Girls were advised that the “contrast and conflict” between their traits and those of boys would increase attraction and excitement (Farewell, 1956). Thus to increase their attractiveness they should be “skittish, coquettish, reluctant, hesitant, and demure,” or in other words, “be all of the things that a man is not” (Farewell, 1956, p.113). Masculinity and femininity in this context, were not presented as natural or inevitable, but were framed as externals that could be read from the body through appearance and mannerisms. External indicators of masculinity and femininity were of particular importance to dating. Girls were urged to dress in a feminine manner and to favour dresses that highlighted their curves (Strain, 1966). Slacks were to be avoided at all costs, as were any clothing that hid the female figure. One advisor lamented that: can’t tell which is the male and which is the female. Both wear black skin-tight trousers, black turtle neck sweaters, and black, shortcut hair. Gosh - where’s the fun! The male thinks he with another male. And you tend to act male too, when you dress completely male (Loeb, 1956, p. 99). External indicators of femininity translated into attractiveness for many experts.


Body Electric

Lack of femininity was pointed out as a significant factor that impeded women’s ability to obtain dates. According to one sociologists, the male code decreed an unfeminine date was worse than not having a date at all (LeMasters, 1957). Dating advice literature offered youth advice to assist them to foster, cultivate and simulate the externals of gender. The Masculine Girl

Throughout the literature, femininity was positioned in opposition to

masculinity, and functioned to support and uphold masculine dominance, in that to be feminine, girls must engage in willful submission. One expert reminded readers that “we all know that deeply ingrained in the fundamental nature of man is the need to conquer, to overcome - just as it is in the nature of woman to wish to submit and be conquered” (Farewell, 1956, p. 113). Women who refused to be conquered, or challenged the masculinity of their partners were positioned as abnormal and unnatural.

The social dangers of the assertive female were illustrated through

conduct literature, and demonstrated primarily through cautionary tales. Cautionary tales are a rhetorical technique used to reinforce the responsibility of the reader to self-govern and manage their conduct in particular ways by demonstrating the social or personal consequences that result from the failure to govern. Cautionary tales employ presumably ordinary or everyday people in order to personalize the content, and engage the reader by presenting plausible everyday problems (Roy, 2008). Cautionary tales in illustrating the often disastrous consequences of particular conduct, incite the reader to problematize their own conduct and regulate themselves accordingly.

For example, in responding to a reader-submitted question as to why

“boys drop girls” one expert argued that the failure of girls to be properly feminine and submissive would drive away their dates (Brandow, 1954). She

Volume I No. 1 2013


further argued that “desirable boys resent this buddy-buddy relationship and go in search of a feminine girl they can master, protect, and teach. They want a girl who makes them feel like a MAN!” (p. 66). Failure to support the masculinity of their date through willful feminine submission was cautioned to result in datelessness.

Brandow (1954) offered another cautionary tale to further demonstrate

the social perils of female masculinity. The author sets the stage with the young man arriving to pick up his date for a Saturday night movie. Upon arriving at the car of the young man, the girl opens the car door for herself and gets in. The boy is both shocked and offended at her aggressive display of masculinity, but proceeds with the date out of obligation. Upon arrival at their destination, the boy sits still in the car, the girl asks if he is ready to enter the theater, and he proceeds to humiliate her by suggesting that she should be helping him out of the car and take the responsibility of wooing him that evening. The male youth in the story learns his lesson, and on his next date chooses a properly feminine girl. This cautionary tale conveys the importance placed on clearly differentiated gender roles, as the girl’s display of aggression and her challenge to the masculinity of her date is an offense grievous enough to warrant humiliation, and exclusion from further dates.

Challenges to masculinity extended beyond the politics of the car door

and permeated every aspect of the date. Convention prohibited girls from asking boys for dates, or even telephoning them (Duvall, 1965). Experts reminded girls that they could only “sit and wait to be asked” (Loeb, 1956, p. 35). If a girl was interested in dating a boy she could hint at her attraction, but must take steps to not appear aggressive. It was imperative that “she must make it look that he, rather than she, is the pursuer” (Duvall, 1965, p. 12). Experts warned that girls who are too forward, flirt, or are aggressive will gain reputations, and both


Body Electric

“nice” boys and girls would avoid her (Duvall, 1965). Sexual Responsibility

The structure of going steady and the spaces in which dating frequently

occurred afforded youth new opportunities for privacy, intimacy and sexual exploration. The inevitability of privacy between dating couples required an internal system of sexual control between the members of the dating couple. Convention established women as the gatekeepers of sexual activity, and women were seen to be responsible for the sexual control of both themselves and their partners. In order for this system of sexual control to function, men were described as having to acknowledge and yield to a woman’s “no.” Experts argued that this system functioned efficiently as men valued the virtue of women, and thus if women set limits to protect their virtue, men would respect them.

However, this system had a loophole; if women lost their respectability

by engaging in premarital sexual activity with another youth, her future dates would not have to yield to her “no,” as she had no virtue to respect. In order to validate this system, unsanctioned sexual activity had to be seen as a result of the failure of women to effectively set limits and make those limits clear to her date. This view was taken up by courtship advisors who encouraged girls whose dates got “fresh” with them to analyze their own behaviour to determine what they had done to make the boy think that such behaviour was acceptable, and then to take efforts to tighten up their standards (Landis & Landis, 1953). Women were warned that “the average man will only go as far as you let him go. A man is only as bad as the woman he is with” (Harvey, 1983, p. 1). “Good” and “Bad” Girls: Cautionary Tales and Dividing Practices

Dividing practices set apart unnatural and dangerous forms of

sexuality from the natural and normal. Premarital sexuality can be seen as a

Volume I No. 1 2013


dividing practice, in that engagement in the activity functioned to divide the subject from both other subjects and herself. Dividing practices have both a social and personal impact on the subject, and function to create and reinforce dichotomies. In placing the responsibility for male sexual behavior onto women, two categories of women were produced: “bad women” and “good women.” “Bad women” failed to set sufficient sexual limits and permitted premarital intercourse. In engaging in premarital sexual activity, “bad” girls become the dichotomous other to “good” girls and forfeited all social and personal rewards that such goodness and morality offered.

The threat of being labelled a “bad girl” and the ruined reputation

that came with premarital sexuality were employed within conduct literature to persuade girls to maintain strict sexual limits, and to regulate their conduct effectively. Girls were warned that boys would not date girls that they could not respect, and that allowing sexual liberties would inevitably cause their dates to lose respect for them (Duvall, 1965). One expert published an excerpt of a letter written by a young man in military service to his fiancee during the Korean war as a cautionary tale: Three of us fellows here are engaged, and two are just dating heavily. The other night we got into a discussion of premarital intercourse that was very enlightening. You see, one of the engaged fellows had intercourse with an ex-girlfriend to whom he was once engaged. We found that he was rather sorry for the experience. He believed that intercourse was the direct cause of his breakup with the girl... I sincerely think that your policy of no heavy petting and no lengthy french kissing will help us prevent any experience for which we might be sorry (Duvall, 1965, p. 206). Cautionary tales such as this, in which young women failed to effectively limit sexual control, functioned to remind women that their value and worth was located in their virtue, and once their virtue was lost, they were no longer desirable partners. Moreover, in demonstrating the conduct of a “good” girl and


Body Electric

her tactics of self-regulation, the cautionary tales provide a model for mastery of the self, which readers were incited to emulate.

A 1957 pamphlet prepared by the American Medical Association and

National Education Association featured a dramatic cautionary tale of “real-life” youth Libby and Sue. Libby and Sue are members of the same social group, and are invited to the same party where unmarried couples were expected to engage in premarital sex. Libby had strong values and standards, and thus rejected the invitation. Sue, however, did not have such strong values, and accepted the invitation. The authors inform the reader that Libby has subsequently married, and still lives in the same town where she has many friends that respect her. Sue, on the other hand, gained a reputation, lost the respect of her friends, and had to move away to a new city where she is unmarried and friendless (Lerrigo & Southard, 1957). This example is clear: the social rewards of marriage, security, acceptability and respect were only attainable through self-governance.

Cautionary tales of premarital sex emphasized that once girls gave into

men’s sexual advances they had lost all of their value, and would be dropped by the man. One author printed an excerpt of a letter from a sixteen-year-old who had ‘gone all the way’ with her boyfriend. She writes: “when people are supposed to be loving and everything is so romantic and the next morning everyone is so happy...its not like that at all. It hurts; it hurts terribly. Moreover, you feel awful the next day when your boyfriend won’t even look at you.” (Duvall, 1965, p. 65). Such cautionary tales located the desirability of women for dating and marriage partners in their ability to self-govern.

Pregnancy was a common consequence utilized in cautionary tales to

demonstrate the dangers of premarital sex. A seventeen year old pregnant girl interviewed by one of the experts reflects that: No one could feel as degraded and short changed as I. He promised all

Volume I No. 1 2013


sorts of things; he came through with nothing. I would have never gone an inch of the way with him if I even suspected that the minute I got pregnant he would run out. Now I hold the bag; he goes merrily on his way probably doing the same thing all over again with others (Duvall, 1965, 66). Pregnancy itself was not seen as the worst consequence of premarital sex; in an era of limited and illegal abortion provision, and strong moral ties to chastity, pregnancy could destroy the future of unmarried women. As women were the gatekeepers of sexual activity, all responsibility for sexual indiscretions were theirs alone. Not only would their marriageability be destroyed, but also their reputation, and relationship to their family.

The dividing practice of premarital sex was employed within

conduct literature to separate the responsible and governable citizens from the irresponsible and ungovernable citizens. The deployment of cautionary tales of presumably average young women navigating their sexuality and choosing the wrong path functioned to demonstrate the social and personal consequences of improper conduct and self-regulation. Moreover, the cautionary tales linked sexual responsibility and governance to happiness, marriage, and secure futures, and incited readers to become self-regulating citizens. Conclusion

Heterosexuality is not simply the attraction to members of the opposite

sex, but encompasses ideals of proper gender constitution, and the sexual roles of men and women. The meanings of heterosexuality in postwar America and its hegemonic position in society came to be read as a marker of social stability and national security. Postwar anxieties around gender, particularly around the (masculine) independence of women, and the threat that such independence posed to masculinity, fueled fears around the vulnerability of the family. In order to preserve the structure of the family, it was necessary to re-define masculinity and femininity as natural opposites; as such, femininity was always


Body Electric

the submissive counterpart to masculinity.

In this context, postwar youth, as the future of American society, were

critical for the success or failure of peace and prosperity. Dating advice experts took up the task of cultivating the nation’s youth into properly masculine and feminine citizens, and encouraging proper sexual control in order to ensure their future organization into nuclear family units. In order to to curb the sexual and gender freedoms that women were able to gain access to during the war, conduct experts positioned femininity and chastity as the necessary conditions for normality, marriage, and happiness.

The construction of teenagers as ‘works in progress’ made them

particularly suitable targets for normalizing and moralizing intervention strategies, as their malleability allowed for them to be shaped into sexually responsible citizens. In order to incite youth to engage in self-regulation and aspire towards particular sexual and gendered ideals, conduct experts employed various rhetorical strategies such as dividing practices and cautionary tales. The strategies presented unhappy life outcomes such as singleness, unpopularity, pregnancy and social exclusion, as the result of individual choices, and the inability of women to effectively self regulate.

The achievement of normality through the adoption of patriarchal

gender roles and the exercise of sexual control was crucial for the social inclusion of young women. Young women’s failure to effectively self govern and be marked as sexually deviant or masculine resulted in the questioning of their ability to become responsible citizens. Postwar discourses on the importance of normality were pervasive, and made alternative ways of being difficult and socially risky to imagine. The insidious process of normalization functions in this way to erase possibilities for difference and to encourage conformity through the promise of social reward. The ‘naturalness’ of normality makes

Volume I No. 1 2013


it effective as a means of moral regulation and as a standard against which the conduct of individuals was judged. For what appears as ‘natural’ cannot be challenged, and as such challenges to patriarchy and the subordination of women appeared unfounded. Works Cited Adams, M. L. (1997). The Trouble With Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Bailey, B. (1998). From the Front Porch to Backseat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press. Brandow, B. (1954). Date Data. Dallas: Banks Upshaw & Company. Burgess, E.,W. (1954). Courtship and Engagement. New York: J.B. Lippicott Company. Duvall, E., M. (1965). The Art of Dating. New York: Association Press. Duvall, E., M. & Hill, R. (1947). When You Marry. New York: Association Press. Duvall, E., M. (1965). Why Wait Till Marriage? New York: Association Press. Ehrmann, W. (1959). Premarital Dating Behavior. New York: Henry Holt. Farewell, N. (1956). The Unfair Sex: An Expose of the Human Male for Young Women of Most Ages. London: Frederick Muller. Foucault, M. (1978). The History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books. Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton. Gordon, C. (1991). Governmental Rationality: An Introduction. In G. Burchell, C. Gordon & P. Miller., The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (1 -52). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hapke, L. (1995). Daughters of the Great Depression: Women, Work & Fiction in the American 1930s. Athens: University of Georgia Press Harvey, B. (1983). The Fifties: A Woman’s Oral History New York: Harper Collins. Henriques, J. (1984). Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation and Subjectivity. London: Methuen. Hunt, A.(1999). Governing Morals: A Social History of Moral Regulation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Landis, J. & Landis, M. (1953). Building A Successful Marriage. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Lerrigo, M. & Southard, H. (1967). Approaching Adulthood Washington, National Education Association. LeMasters, E.E. (1957). Modern Courtship and Marriage. New York: The Macmillan Company. Loeb, R. (1959). She - Manners. New York: Association Press.


Body Electric

May, E., T. (1998). Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. New York: Basic Books. McWhorther, L. (2004). Sex, Race, and Biopower: A Foucauldian Genealogy. Hypatia, 19 (3), 38 - 57. Meyerowitz, J. (1994). Not June Cleaver: Women & Gender in Postwar America 1945 - 60. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Merrill, F., E. (1958). Courtship & Marriage. New York: Holt Press. Owram, D. (1996). Born at the Right Time: A History of the Baby Boom Generation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Rimke, H., M.(2000). Governing Citizens Through Self-Help Literature. Cultural Studies 14, (1), 61 - 78 Roy, S. (2008). Taking Charge of Your Health: Discourses of Responsibility in English Canadian Women’s Magazines. Sociology of Health and Illness 30, (3), 463 - 477. Strain, F., B. (1966). Teen Days: A Book for Boys and Girls. New York: Appleton Century Croft.

Rachael Pack is a doctoral candidate at Western University in the department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research. Her research is concerned with the ways in which technologies of governance shape subjectivity in both the past and the present. In particular, her work focuses on the relationship between sexuality, morality and risk in relation to the regulation of women’s bodies. 

Volume I No. 1 2013


A Sandal Set on Stone:

Milly’s “Ode to Silence” and the Literary Canon

By Joel Szaefer

Oh, oh you will be sorry for that word! Give back my book and take my kiss instead. Was it my enemy or my friend I heard, “What a big book for such a little head!” Come, I will show you now my newest hat, And you shall watch me purse my mouth and prink! Oh, I shall love you still, and all of that. I never again shall tell you what I think. I shall be sweet and crafty; soft and sly; You will not catch me reading any more: I shall be called a wife to pattern by; And some day when you knock and push the door, Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy, I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me. —Edna St. Vincent Millay


ntil the last few decades, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry had all

but disappeared from the attention of critics. This was in large part due to a concerted effort by critics during Millay’s own time and shortly thereafter to portray her poetry as the outmoded, unintellectual formal repetitions of a woman who had an overly bookish childhood. One of the main criticisms often levelled at Millay was that she was a woman attempting to write poetry, and thus suffered from “all the needs and notions of [her] kind” (2) as Millay would sarcastically note in her sonnet “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed.” Yet being a woman was not the only factor that led to her critics’ disapproval, and, in truth, there were other woman writers at the time that enjoyed a good deal of esteem amongst the intelligentsia, such as H.D. Another fatal flaw in Millay’s poetry was that she preferred verse forms that seemed anachronistic


Body Electric

in the early twentieth century—the sonnet being her most frequent, and most famous, choice—and her formalist tendencies led critics to attack her poetry as mere schoolgirl exercises, demonstrative of a penchant for metre over meaning. The problem with her poems’ rigidity was that they supposedly precluded an ambiguity of meaning and the ability to examine the greatest problems afflicting the poetic minds of the period. Her style was distinctly different from poets of the modernist monolith—Pound, Yeats, Eliot, and Joyce, for example—and her highly personal and formal style combined with the fact that she was a mere “unintellectual” woman meant that her poetry was constantly under attack by critics who championed the style of poetry popular during the period. It is important to note that this essay is not an effort to establish a simple good versus evil dichotomy with Millay fighting against the unjust dominance of modernism (though there are, perhaps, a few critics whose attacks on her poetry seem more malicious than critical), rather, it is an attempt to understand the complex relationship between Millay and the modernist style of poetry and its critics—a relationship that seems to play out in a lot of her poetry, particularly in “Ode to Silence.” If the sonnet was an archaic form during Millay’s time, then the ode was a form almost completely invisible under the dusty layers of neglect that covered it. Even more recent critics attempting to recuperate Millay view her ode as an embarrassment, seeing little value in her cumbersome catalogue of Greek figures and lengthy passages of pastoral imagery. Debra Fried, in her “Andromeda Unbound: Gender and Genre in Millay’s Sonnets,” accuses earlier critics of their “failure to ask the right questions about how traditional poetic forms […] serve the needs of women poets” (1), and though she speaks specifically of the sonnet form, it seems that many critics have been even less inclined to interrogate Millay’s decision to write an ode. The ode represents a massive, male-dominated tradition into which few women figure (and even

Volume I No. 1 2013


when they do it is usually as nonspeaking muses), and though several feminist critics have targeted Millay for not being subversive enough, there is evidence in her poem to suggest that she consciously invokes the tradition of the ode, and perhaps in particular the tradition of musical odes dedicated to Saint Cecilia, in order to subvert it. Her collection Second April, in which “Ode to Silence” was originally published, marks the beginning of Millay’s poetic maturation, and one of the poems that seems central to this development is “Ode to Silence,” in which she begins to demonstrate a poetic ideology that informs many of her later, and more famous, sonnets. Her ode then, is a poem where her choice of verse form is particularly meaningful, and it combines with the content of the poem to form a young woman’s poetic response to the tenets and critics of modernism as well as the literary canon that precedes them.

Criticisms of Millay across the first half of the twentieth century have

been as polymorphous as they have been hypocritical. It is to be expected, when reading critical evaluations of a poet, that no two critics will deal with a poet in exactly the same manner; with Millay, however, responses to her poetry seem to transcend mere critical differences, in that most critics agreed that she was not a “good” poet, but the reason on which one critic would give was often the complete opposite of another critic’s. It seemed that no two critics could quite agree on precisely why Millay’s poetry was inadequate, they were just certain it was. Any successful poems, any moments of inspiration or creativity, seemed to appear to Millay almost against her will—or, more specifically, they were not attributed to any effort on her own part—as Edd Winfield Parks evidences in his 1930 criticism of Millay, which argues that the creative imagination “over a space of fifteen years communicated itself to Edna Millay only three times” (45). It is almost to be expected that Parks did not count “Ode to Silence” among these three instances of true creativity, as many critics dealt with the poem


Body Electric

quite severely (if at all). One common thread that did run through the varied criticisms of Millay (albeit to point out vastly different faults in the poet) was her inescapable femininity. Millay was a woman poet; no critical evaluation of her seemed able to navigate around this fact. Modernist critics rejected her “as sentimental in her concerns and unreconstructedly nineteenth-century in her methods” (Falck xv). John Crowe Ransom dealt with her quite harshly, building an argument upon many gender stereotypes in his essay “The Woman as Poet.” One reason Ransom’s essay may seem a bit more vitriolic to a modern reader than critical evaluations of poetry should is because his essay was, in part, a counterweight to Elizabeth Atkins’ glowing critical biography Edna St. Vincent Millay and Her Times, which sought to defend Millay’s poetry. Though he does deal with the woman as critic in addition to the woman as poet, and though he does seek to counter Atkins’ effusive praise, his essay still resonates with a stereotypical view of the role of women, a view that circumscribed the woman poet to matters of “personal moods” and “natural objects which call up love and pity” (104). For Ransom, Millay was the quintessential “woman as poet” who could not escape the confines of her femininity as they guided her verse towards matters of “womanly” importance, as opposed to the higher matters of poets such as Pound, or even Donne (both of whom Ransom champions throughout his essay). One element that particularly offended Ransom was Millay’s frequent use of erotic imagery in her poems, which Ransom found “rude in substance” (86) seemingly unaware of his hypocrisy in praising two male poets who themselves were no strangers to erotic imagery. The woman poet was thus a poet “indifferent to intellectuality” (77), a poet not of the mind, but of the body (but, for decency’s sake, not too much of the body!), a fact for which Millay compensated, in Ransom’s mind, by exhibiting a close proximity to “the world of simple senses” (78). For Ransom, it seems, Millay could never escape

Volume I No. 1 2013


the inherent limitations of being a woman, and even when trying her hand at intellectual poetry, she was still very much the “woman as poet.” Of course, when Millay did, in fact, display her learnedness in her poetry, writing of intellectual matters, as she does in “Ode to Silence,” Parks was quick to criticize these poems as seeming too learned, remarking that this style of poetry is “written not in water, but on a college black-board. Able pieces of work for a college girl, even remarkable, but quite replaceable” (43). Millay thus faced a critical readership often at odds with itself, at one point accusing her of being too sentimental and histrionic, and at another accusing her of excessive learnedness and form. Parks specifically argues that her poems such as “Ode to Silence,” in which Millay “attempts the philosophical are her poorest work. They drag, repeat, wander: common faults when a poet has nothing to say” (44). His remark seems to be a criticism of the form, rather than of Millay’s particular iteration of it, as the ode itself is often a form of considerable length that frequently repeats certain emotions or poetic actions (in fact, repetition itself is built into the strophe, antistrophe, epode model of the Pindaric tradition of the ode itself). Regarding the classical allusions, one may ask, for example, if it is really necessary in “Ode to Silence” for Millay to invoke not one, but five separate muses individually at the outset of her ode; these separate invocations, far from being excessive of meaningless, serve to distance Millay’s ode from the conventions inherent in the tradition. She does not invoke the muses of music, dancing, epic, history, and comedy in order to praise them, but rather the figures enter the poem only to be negated with the phrase “not you,” which the speaker utters after addressing each sister. This negation is, in fact, how Millay establishes the contrast between the world of noise from which she longs to escape and the desirable world of the figure of Silence, whom she pursues. The barrage of muses invoked only to be negated mirrors the barrage of cacaphonic


Body Electric

sounds and sights that assault the speaker’s senses, excessive sensory assaults that she also wishes to negate. In locating Millay away from intellectual matters, relegating her to the boudoir of simple senses, Ransom neglects to deal at all with her political poetry despite the fact that he published his essay almost a decade after Millay published one of her most famous political poems, “Justice Denied in Massachusetts,” which dealt with the trials of Sacco and Vanzetti. John Newcomb argues in “The Woman as Political Poet” that the early twentieth century represented a major canonical shift towards impersonal poetry of great complexity. Devastated by this canonical shift “were the critical reputations of two groups of well-known writers: on the one hand, explicitly populist poets […] and on the other, female lyricists […] Millay is one of the few poets in both of these categories” (261), as she was both a writer of political issues regarding the common person, as well as a left wing women’s rights writer (though often with a fine subtlety). Millay did not fit into the construct of modernist poetry as she was often decried for being a writer of social commentary or of vers de société rather than as a writer of complexity, originality, and impersonality as exemplified by Pound, Yeats, or Eliot. If Ransom completely ignored her political poetry, Allen Tate vilified it. Tate, in his 1938 essay “Tension in Poetry” actually conflates a politically-minded poet with a distinctly feminine sensibility, and establishes Millay’s “Justice Denied” as an example of the “fallacy of communication” in poetry. This particular fallacy, for Tate, resulted not in genuine literary expression, but in “patriotic poetry” which he says one may find “equally in ladylike lyrics and in much of the political poetry of our time” (58). A contemporary reader must be careful when criticizing a writer such as Tate for his remarks about a “feminine sensibility” that his or her criticism is not the result of reading through an anachronistic lens—of holding a critic of a different

Volume I No. 1 2013


epoch to the standards of our own. Despite the frisson of gender stereotypes present in Tate’s comment, his conflation of poetry of a political mind with that of a feminine one elucidates one of the issues that Millay faced: her poetry did not have the luxury of being apolitical. By attempting to broach into what was ostensibly a male-dominated field, speaking personally in her poetry from a woman’s standpoint and using forms and poetic devices that stood in defiance of the popular movement of poetry at the time, every poem for Millay was a political statement, regardless of the poem’s content. In his obituary treatment of Millay, John Ciardi, who operated within a frame of reference aligned with New Critical values, opened his essay with what Newcomb refers to as a “New-Critical Who’s Who” (270). The first six writers Ciardi mentions are Pound, Yeats, Eliot, Joyce, Baudelaire, and Hopkins. When he finally works his way around to discussing Millay, his treatment of her is perhaps even more damning than Ransom’s, as he states “It was not as a craftsman nor as an influence, but as the creator of her own legend that [Millay] was most alive for us” (77). Far from being a part of the canon of early twentieth century poetry, then, Millay merely existed as a public figure, her lifestyle emblematic of a new type of woman that embodied, for many, the spirit of the Roaring Twenties. Though many critics recognized Millay as a woman of an excessive and progressive lifestyle, they failed to note the reciprocal relationship between Millay the poet and Millay the public persona. She often worked her personal experiences into her own poetry, and was always ready “to immerse herself in the detailed sufferings and tribulations of human beings (not least of women) within modern social circumstances and to locate these within her overall perspective” (Falck xvii). As the dichotomous criticisms of Ransom and Parks demonstrate, critics often portrayed Millay as excessive in one direction or another (too experiential, too political, too feminine, too intellectual) without


Body Electric

failing to see the relationship between these various elements. She was not a writer of simply one dimension or another, but rather she wove her poetry out of both body and mind, creating a style that transcended tawdry lyrical imitation or schoolroom exercise, whilst still remaining close to the very real experiences of her life, acutely aware of the role of women in both society and the poetical canon, and was always smiling wryly in the faces of those who suggested her inferiority or her need to change. It would be imprecise to argue that Millay was always effective in reworking the forms and ornaments of the past, or that her poetry was always beyond reproach, and one of the most damning faults of a sympathetic critique of Millay would be attempting to portray the poet as infallible in her style. Distinctly archaic apostrophes and exclamations, frivolous singsong metrics, and well-worn personifications of death, love, and beauty all plague Millay’s poetry at one point or another, but to avoid Millay’s poetry entirely based on a few faults precludes an analysis of a poetical viewpoint different from the modernist ones that dominated the first half of the twentieth century. Though there are aspects to Millay’s poems that one may legitimately criticize, it is important to note that many of the attacks on Millay’s work, even when couched in aesthetic terms, were not the just evaluations of a particular poet, but rather “ideologically inflected sorties in a campaign to seize control of and homogenize the definitions and canons of ‘modern poetry’ in two interdependent ways: by calling into question the ability of the female consciousness to deal with weighty, transpersonal subject matter; and by dismissing the propriety of seeing poetry as a form of political action” (Newcomb 267). Millay is often faulted for not seeking out Pound during the brief time they were both in Paris, as surely his guidance could steer her away from her egregious formal repetitions and archaic sentimentalism, or “femininity” as Millay’s critics would deem it. Joseph

Volume I No. 1 2013


Aimone cleverly remarks, “Millay was by far the more widely published and often-read poet—but it seems she didn’t know her proper place at the feet of the Master” (2) and his comment highlights the critical dichotomy of twentieth century literary criticism that led to Millay’s poor treatment and neglect: you were either a modernist poet in every sense, or you were not a poet; you either operated under Pound’s influence, or you were doomed to obscurity. Thus any critic attempting to create this homogenized monolith of modernist literature could find some way to fault Millay, even if it seemed hypocritical regarding what other contemporaneous critics had said; the important thing to them was that, whatever she was, she was not a modernist poet. It is not until very recently that critics have attempted a reclamation of Millay’s poetry, problematizing the dangerous binary in literary criticism that formed during, and continued to operate in the wake of, literary modernism. What was perhaps the most scandalous aspect about Millay was that she was unashamed and unrepentant as both a public figure and a poet. Though not free from her own private doubts, she maintained a strong persona unwilling to conform to another’s conception of what she should be, despite having often felt the chafing confines of the label of “femininity,” a socially constructed role that many tried to impose upon her person and poetry. What many of these critics fail to take into account are “Millay’s artistic practices—in other words, her versatility, her determination to revise poetic moulds that enjoyed little esteem among her contemporaries, [and] her emphasis on female creativity” (Michailidou 55), or, perhaps more specifically, they see these “revisions” as schoolgirl repetitions and her “versatility” as limited by a feminine mind and formal stricture. In an attempt to find poets outside of the well-known canon to reclaim, even many feminist critics tend to overlook Millay in favour of woman writers who were more explicitly subversive,


Body Electric

some of them seemingly unaware that Millay’s poetry often exhibits an ironic tone and a subtle form of subversion. But the treatments of Millay were not always harsh, as Atkins’ critical biography demonstrates. Though Atkins’ book on Millay often borders on cloying in its saccharine praise of the poet, it still serves as an interesting treatment of Millay against which a reader can balance the harsher treatments the poet received throughout her life by critics. Looking beyond Atkins’ ardent devotion for Millay, one may see the important matters at stake for a young poet trying to define herself in the early twentieth century—a definition that stood conspicuously outside of the typical mode of poetry at the time. Atkins argues T.S. Eliot was leading a flock of followers straight on into the desert of nihilism among the cacti and Joshua trees of symbolism, marquetry, obscurantism, and caricature, whereas Millay was walking the Maine seacoast of her childhood, finding in her unshaken love of earth and ocean and the noble aspirations of past ages an impregnable defense against the disintegrating forces of her time; and she was meeting all the devastating logic of nihilism with a proud cry, rather like that of Descartes, “I care, therefore I am!” (93) If one looks beyond the bombastic language Atkins uses to draw her comparison between Eliot and Millay, she identifies several key aspects that contribute to the formation of Millay’s poetry. In describing Millay “walking the Maine seacoast of her childhood,” Atkins pinpoints the poet’s ability to always retain the experiences of her life. Millay channelled many of her doubts and longings into her poetry, and often conveyed personal experiences through a sharp wit and keen attention to form. The “impregnable” defense against nihilism and the Descartes-like cry that ends the passage is Millay’s unwillingness to compromise herself in her own poetry. Though she may have created a persona for her

Volume I No. 1 2013


poetry, it maintained a propinquity to her own experiential existence, and her repeatedly adopting the personal pronoun in her writing often gives the reader the direct impression that he or she is listening to Millay speak on issues she poet felt were of personal importance (whether politically or otherwise). It seems that Millay, throughout her life, repeatedly visited similar experiences with a different outlook, as some of the ideas present in “Ode to Silence” appear later in many of her sonnets, and new poetry would arise as the fruits of these temporal meanderings.

Atkins is particularly useful in establishing a contrast between the

Eliotic style of poetry dominant at the time and Millay’s preferred style, remarking of the latter’s poetry, “this poetry was pre-symbolist, pre-vorticist, pre-Dada, pre-jazz, pre-imagist, pre-vers-librist. One stammered, ‘But poetry can’t be like this any more!’ And then one stammered again, ‘But it is!’ For Second April was no bouquet of strawflowers, dusty with disintegrated metaphors and sentiments” (112). Though Millay was reliant upon older forms in her poetry, they certainly do not stagnate under her meticulous eye, as she imbues her poetry with a distinctly modern air. In fact, the world of Second April on the whole is similar to the world of Eliot and other modernist writers in that it was a world of disillusionment, of weariness, of a reconceptualization of the poet’s relationship with time, and of the decay of sentimental poetic responses. One of the main differences between Millay and the other modernist poets was that she did not allow this to compromise her identity—the sense of selfhood that coursed through her lyrics. Instead, she strengthened herself in light of this new world, viewing it with a sidelong irony and drawing from this the inspiration to craft “metaphors and phrases as like and yet as unlike those of earlier poetry as a new-springing tree is like and unlike an older one” (113). The contrasting figures of Eliot and Millay serve as a microcosm for those who exemplify the canon


Body Electric

and those who stand outside it, and in “Ode to Silence” these contrasting parties seem to grate against one another. The world of “Ode to Silence” is one dedicated to praising the muses, but the unnamed figures of the poem who celebrate the muses, often metonymically represented by either an instrument, such as cymbals or lyres, or by laughter, do not offer sweet or pleasing prayers, rather they are “obstreperous” (25) in their praises (and the word “obstreperous” seems almost onomatopoetic in its description of the cacophony). It is important to note that this world of jarring noise is the world of men and of man’s creativity, inspired by the muses of music, dancing, and poetry. The speaker seeks to leave this world in an effort to find Silence, “She that is Beauty veiled from men and Music in a swound” (63), whom she refers to as the “most beloved” (17). Colin Falck refers to the world Millay creates in “Od to Silence” as a world that wages an almost invisible war, a “war between a woman’s spiritual independence and the roles that society, and especially men, have insisted on casting her in” (xxiii). Many of Millay’s poems explore this theme with a piercing intelligence, often portraying a woman forced to deal with unpleasant circumstances into which she has been forced by the world around her. Falck notes that what may superficially appear like a celebration of, or indulgence in, flightiness (another criticism of both Millay’s poetry and person that had been levelled against her for the better part of the twentieth century) is “invariably some form of repudiation of the conventionally institutionalized subjection of women” (xxiii). Atkins ultimately concedes that “Poetry made no ‘progress’” (113) in Second April, as Millay’s penchant for relying on outmoded forms seemed to retard any movement forward in terms of the advancement of poetic style in general, but with the complex relationship Millay establishes between the contrasting worlds of sound and silence, her ode, though it stood at odds with popular literary movements of

Volume I No. 1 2013


the time, still moved poetry forward in a different direction. Her poem is one that contemplates the role of a female poet in a world of men’s music, a point that even Atkins’ praise seems to miss when she comments that Millay’s “standing still is the greatest of achievements” (113). It appears that in Second April Millay was not standing still at all, but rather standing strong against forces that would attempt to align her poetry with contemporaneous canonical values. If Millay, in seeking Silence in her ode, was attempting to distance herself from the patriarchal tradition of poetry represented by the noisy devotees and priests who “garble” (“Ode to Silence, 31) their words, her choice of form merits further examination, as it seems an inherently paradoxical one given the ode’s lengthy, male-dominated historical tradition. Many previous critics have operated under the assumption that they know “just how and why a poet like Millay must use circumscribed, traditional poetic forms: to rein in her strong, unruly feelings” (Fried 2), yet in all of the vitriolic and sympathetic criticisms of Millay’s formalism, the only form to ever receive thorough examination is the sonnet. Though it is her most popular form, even critics who defend Millay tend to treat a lot of her work outside of the sonnet form as superfluous; nevertheless, the same feminist consciousness that penned some of the finest sonnets of the twentieth century also exists in “Ode to Silence,” and a critical reading of Millay’s ode suggests it may be a sustained argument against the monolithic and homogenized canon. One issue that arises when reshaping the history of modernism to include often-overlooked innovative poets is that it “has been convenient to dismiss Millay’s work as copybook bohemianism” (Fried 1), particularly when poems such as her ode have received so little critical attention. In order to understand why Millay’s choice to write an ode was so relevant to the content of her poem, one must be aware of what the tradition of the ode signifies. In her book Apollo and the Nine: A History of the Ode, Carol


Body Electric

Maddison notes that the ode, from the time that it took form as a genre, “has always had something of the priest-prophet about it. When a poet has chosen to write an ode he has always been to some extent conscious that he is addressing the group, that he is saying something of group importance, and that he has insight into the meaning of individual events that form part of a universal continuum” (4). The figure Maddison describes, of a poet locating individual events within the universal continuum, of a figure addressing the masses, seems to coincide perfectly with Millay’s style of poetry, as her individual experiences often contributed to the broader consciousness of her poetry and she made no efforts to obfuscate her writing, leaving it accessible to larger groups (at times even reciting it aloud to crowded venues). The ode is thus an inherently social poetic form that lends itself well to a veiled address directed at those who tried to deny Millay’s poetic talent. The ode also has a long and important history, and Maddison notes At different periods [the ode] has satisfied the Renaissance taste for the antique, the baroque for the flamboyant, the Augustan for the classical, and the romantic and Victorian for the sublime […] By the middle of the seventeenth century, Longinus’ sublime Pindar was almost its sole patron. Thus the ode offered the eighteenth century a classical escape from its mechanical universe and the metronome tick of the heroic couplet, from stoicism and rationalism, to the imagined emotional abandon and freedom of expression of a more primitive age […] the ode, through its belief in its own originality, had found new themes for lyric poetry, nature, and psychology. (1) Though the history of the ode is far too weighty and cumbersome to deal with in its entirety in an essay—indeed Maddison writes an entire book on the subject—it is important to note that type of ode Millay writes, one in the pseudo-

Volume I No. 1 2013


Pindaric tradition, is one that always bears the stamp of its protean history. In regards to Millay as a subversive author, it is important to remember that the ode was not only an outmoded tradition in the twentieth century, but it was also a decidedly male tradition, making the form doubly unsuited to a young woman poet in the early twentieth century, and thus doubly useful for Millay. Inherent in the ode’s tradition is not only a demonstrated flexibility, fitting the changing needs of various epochs, but also an element of escapism, as evidenced by the eighteenth century’s use of the ode. This element of escapism underpins the “Ode to Silence,” as the figure wishes to escape the ubiquity of noise—a world saturated with the songs and poems of men. Since the history of the ode is one of the longest ones among literary genres, to invoke its tradition cannot be considered a frivolous gesture, nor can it be considered cheap imitation, as, particularly because Millay’s exceptional knowledge of and mastery over forms precludes the argument that her choice of form is arbitrary. Instead, it seems that Millay employs her wit to not only invoke the entire tradition of the ode, but to also criticize this tradition in a satirical fashion in “Ode to Silence,” reducing millennia of carefully crafted formal poems into a caterwauling din. Unfortunately, many critics failed to grasp this subversion, writing the poem off as imitation with no real critical value. Though perhaps not the priest-prophet Maddison describes, in “Ode to Silence” Millay adopts the role of a Sibyl figure, casting a vision into the wind that was unintelligible to many of the critics of her time, even sympathetic ones.

In analyzing Millay’s use of form, Fried argues that her sonnets

particularly “reclaim that genre as her plot of ground, not chiefly by planting it with ‘woman’s’ themes, or using it as a mouthpiece for the woman’s voice (though she does both these things), but by rethinking the form’s historical capacity for silencing her voice” (2-3). Though Fried focuses specifically on the


Body Electric

sonnet form, one can see the same force she describes at work in Millay’s ode (if not more strongly). The ode certainly has a longer history and a greater tradition than the sonnet, and it is typically a form where women do not speak, figuring only as inspiration, if at all. The ode thus becomes the site of struggle for a woman poet surrounded by literary phallocentrism, a poetic, yet subtle, battle of the sexes. Fried notices this battle at work in Millay’s sonnet “I Will Put Chaos into Fourteen Lines,” and does a remarkable job harvesting the plenitude of both form and subject in the sonnet, yet she fails to connect what she discovers to Millay’s use of forms in general. In her sonnet, Millay writes

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines And keep him there; and let him thence escape If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape Flood, fire, and demon—his adroit designs Will strain to nothing in the strict confines Of this sweet Order, where, in pious rape, I hold his essence and amorphous shape, Till he with Order mingles and combines. Past are the hours, the years, of our duress, His arrogance, our awful servitude: I have him. He is nothing more nor less Than something simple not yet understood; I shall not even force him to confess; Or answer. I will only make him good.

Fried views Millay’s sonnets as a means of establishing herself as a poet, and particularly notes that “I Will Put Chaos” explicitly equates “sexual and poetic dominance” as it insists on the control and compression that a woman poet requires when she seizes upon traditional forms in an effort to free herself

Volume I No. 1 2013


“from the voices that would deny her the power to order poetic forms” (11)— forces that include traditional male poetic voices. Though one could hardly call Millay’s ode an exercise in “compression,” there are distinct similarities between “I Will Put Chaos” and “Ode to Silence” that show a similar mind at work in both poems—a mind seeking to simultaneously understand and establish its relationship with poetry. In the sonnet, what Fried calls “the tug of line against syntax” (12) evidences the poet’s constant struggle with Chaos, a distinctly male force. Though perhaps not a sexual struggle, Millay’s ode still portrays the forces of chaotic noise at odds with a female speaker who longs for the order of Silence, the “cool-tongued” and “tranquil-hearted” (10). Moreover, the syntax and form of the ode work in conjunction with the content as they do in the sonnet. The lengthy passages and barrages of sounds, allusions, and pastoral images of the ode highlight the noisy chaos of the world of the poem and the labyrinthine search for Silence. Fried notes that Millay’s sonnet ends with “the challenge still ahead” (12), the poet asserting that she will make him good, but that he is not so yet. Similarly, the challenge is still ahead for the speaker of “Ode to Silence,” who, at the end, has not yet found Silence, vowing to seek her “whither she has gone” (198). The main difference, of course, is that the more mature Millay sees in “I Will Put Chaos” a battle for control, she details a relationship between order and chaos that resembles a forced mating of the two, whereas “Ode to Silence” deals with a complete separation of these disparate forces—the distinctly male chaos that forms the subject of the poem and the female ordered formalism of Millay’s own poetic voice—where pensive Silence quits the world of harsh noise in favour of Oblivion.

In crafting a response to an almost overwhelmingly patriarchal literary

tradition, one may ask why Millay chose to write in verse, rather than directly offering an argument in prose. Verse genres are typically more male-dominated


Body Electric

than others because, at least in part, “verse genres are traditionally more subject to hierarchical ranking than fictional ones” (Fried 6), making Millay’s choice especially subversive. By writing her poetry, Millay was not simply arguing that women belong in the poetical canon, she was writing herself into it. Yet Millay’s attempt to enter herself into a tradition that was inherently hierarchical and patriarchal was a difficult one, not only due to the fact that she was stonewalled by critics, but also because of the scarcity of woman poets as precedents (especially when considering the ode). In their book The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar argue that the problem with a woman writer trying to fit into the canon is precisely that she “does not ‘fit in.’ At first glance, indeed, she seems to be anomalous, indefinable, alienated, a freakish outsider” (2026). Any canonical precursor for Millay would be male, and thus significantly different from her, offering little insight into how she may establish herself as a poet. Gilbert and Gubar develop their argument as a response to Harold Bloom’s well-known concept of the anxiety of influence, wherein each poet is in constant struggle with his literary forefathers, whom he must either embrace or repudiate with his own work. For woman writers during Millay’s time, however, there existed no “forefathers,” nor any canon of “foremothers” to serve as precursors, leading not to an anxiety of influence, but what Gilbert and Gubar call a woman writer’s anxiety of authorship, a “radical fear that she cannot create, that because she can never become a ‘precursor’ the act of writing will isolate or destroy her” (2026). Isolation permeates Millay’s ode, as the speaker must embark on a solitary journey, away from the noise, in order to seek out Silence. Interestingly, Silence does not seem to be a figure of actual silence in the sense that Millay wishes for an end to poetry. Rather, Silence figures as the tenth muse in the poem, suggesting that she will inspire a new strain of poetry, pensive, cool-tongued, tranquil-hearted, and a response to the clamorous music

Volume I No. 1 2013


of the male poets inspired by the other nine muses. Atkins refers to Millay’s ode as a “revulsion from the same noise-racked and dizzy world that called forth Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ and its mood is, if possible, more depressed than Eliot’s, for it is a cry after utter annihilation, a longing for a final and dreamless death” (114). Atkins’ typical heavy-handedness may oversimplify some of the nuances of Millay’s ode—for example the distinct sense that the poet does not, in fact, seem to wish for death, but for some form of solitude with a muse all her own—but she does point out the element of sadness that resonates throughout the ode, a sadness that stems, perhaps, from the fact that there is no room in Millay’s world for a poet of her style. For Gilbert and Gubar, a woman can only begin the struggle to write by “actively seeking a female precursor who […] proves by example that a revolt against patriarchal literary authority is possible” (2027). Though Millay’s ode lacks an historic precursor, she does seem to find a mythical one in the figure of Silence, suggesting that her own struggle with the patriarchal canon may be a never-ending one (a fact exemplified by decades of harsh, unintellectual treatments of her poetry). Millay’s decision to write an ode is thus a feminist form of “Re-Vision” as Adrienne Rich calls it, an “act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction” which she says is “an act of survival” for woman authors (90). Though Millay’s struggle with her critics evidences that the road to establishing oneself as an author apart from the canon, yet still worthy of canonization, is not an easy one, Atkins sheds light on one of the ways in which being outside of the anxiety of influence may be beneficial. She remarks that “Obsessive dislike for a tradition may be as crippling to a poet as obsessive liking for it. For instance, Millay alone was saved from the crippling effects of sentimental Tennysonianism because, in a day when Tennyson’s name was above all other names anathema, she alone felt no compulsion to be as unlike him as possible”


Body Electric

(116). Though she may not have had any literary precursors to follow, Millay also did not seem to have any male precursors to weigh her down, allowing her to adopt and subvert forms as she pleased.

In turning the tradition of the ode against itself, Millay may have

actually had a particular branch of the tradition in mind, that of the ode to music, the Cecilia tradition. The word ode itself stems from a Greek word that means “to sing” (Maddison 2), and the tradition of odes dedicated to Cecilia often revolves around music and singing, exactly the type of commotion that Millay negatively depicts in her “Ode to Silence.” Writers of odes in the Cecilia tradition are often very conscious of their own musicality, using cadenced rhythm and onomatopoeia, along with other forms of phonetic intensification. Even Millay’s greatest detractors conceded she had a knack for the auditory in poetry. Parks called her “A singer with a beautiful but narrow range, a violinist limited to hushed music. Such tones pleased a world lately blaring with drums and cymbals” (45) and Harold Cook credited the ode as being “superbly musical” (23). In fact, Millay’s opening line reads as a potential response to odes such as Alexander Pope’s “Ode for Musick on St. Cecilia’s Day.” Whereas Pope begins with the exclamation “Descend ye nine! Descend and sing;” (1) Millay’s poem quietly questions “Aye, but she?” (1) wondering Silence’s place in all of this music. In fact, the rebounding of the “shrill echoes” that Pope praises are the very noises that Millay wishes to escape. Moreover, Millay’s “heavily-sweet blue hyacinth, / That blossoms underground” (42-43) and the “white narcissus numb with sleep” (47) seem the poet’s pensive response to Pope’s pastoral “yellow meads of Asphodel” and “Amaranthine bow’rs” (8). The Cecilia tradition may be particularly relevant to Millay as it is a particularly patriarchal poetic structure where the female figure, Cecilia, only serves as inspiration for poetry, never as the singer. Though Cecilia was named a saint

Volume I No. 1 2013


because, even when facing execution, she sang to God, it is important to note that all accounts of Cecilia note that she sang “in her heart” (Butler 66). Though the Cecilia tradition is predicated on a woman supposedly singing to God, it is a song nobody heard, a song uttered in silence. Subsequent depictions of Cecilia in both art and poetry usually portray her playing the organ, which is considered her instrument, and the instrument stands in for, and removes the focus from, the female voice; the silent woman looms over a very auditory form of poem. According to Butler, Cecilia’s persecutors tried to smother her with steam, and, when that failed to kill her, they sent a soldier to use a sword to separate her head from her body, which also failed, despite the soldier attempting the act three times (66). Millay’s critics seem to repeat this tragic history as farce in their dealing with the poet, as they attempted to smother her poetic legacy (which was largely successful until recent decades) and to sever this “woman as poet” into two categories: one wholly of the body and one too much of the mind.

Whether or not one accepts that Millay’s “Ode to Silence” is a

particular response to the Cecilia tradition of odes does not alter the fact that the ode itself functions as Millay’s response to the literary canon of her time. What too few critics point out is that Millay should not be denigrated for what she did not do, “but should be given credit for what she achieved: opening up the thematic and expressive field of women’s writing;; exploring the relationship between poetry and the public role of the female artist; drawing attention to the artificial construction of femininity” (Michailidou 55). The sonnet that forms the epigraph of this essay seems to express the same argument present in “Ode to Silence” in a more concise and sardonic manner. Millay seeks to prove her critics wrong, to make them “sorry” for doubting her poetic talents by breaking out of the socially constructed confines of “femininity.” Millay writes in “Ode to Silence” that, after trying to address a loud and laughing crowd, “no one


Body Electric

knew at all / How long I stood, or when at last I sighed and went away” (107108). These words leap hauntingly off the page as one considers the years of neglect Millay’s poetry has faced because she did not conform to a style of poetry popular amongst the intelligentsia of her time. It seems, in light of the renewed interest in Millay’s work, that the literary canon has finally “whistled” for her, and will hopefully give her poetry the attention it warrants, especially the forms that are often neglected in favour of her sonnets. In one of her most famous poems, “Euclid Alone has Looked on Beauty Bare,” in reference to beauty Millay writes “Fortunate are they / Who, though once only and then but far away, / Have heard her massive sandal set on stone” (12-14). Now more than ever it seems that Millay’s poetry existed as the sandal of beauty set against the immovable stone of her contemporaries. Now that we, as literary critics, have started to re-examine her poems without attacking it wholesale due to its form, now that we are “far away” enough from the narrow-minded critics that sought to confine Millay to the boudoir of the “woman poet,” we can finally be among the fortunate few, examining, like Euclid, the mathematical precision of her forms—who look on Millay’s poetry as beauty bare.

Volume I No. 1 2013


Works Cited Aimone, Joseph. “Millay’s Big Book, or the Feminist Formalist as Modern.” Unmanning Modernism: Gendered Re-Readings. Eds. Elizabeth Jane Harrison and Shirley Peterson. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997. 1-13. Print. Atkins, Elizabeth. Edna St. Vincent Millay and Her Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937. Print. Butler, Rev. Alban. One Hundred Saints. New York: Bullfinch Press, 1993. Print. Ciardi, John. “Edna St. Vincent Millay: A Figure of Passionate Living.” Saturday Review of Literature. 33 (November 1950): 77. Print. Cook, Harold Lewis. “Edna St. Vincent Millay—An Essay.” A Bibliography of the Works of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Ed. Karl Yost. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1937. Print. Falck, Colin. “Introduction to Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems.” Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems. Ed. Colin Falck. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992. Xv-xxx. Print. Fried, Debra. “Andromeda Unbound: Gender and Genre in Millay’s Sonnets.” Twentieth Century Literature. 32.1 (Spring 1986). 1-22. Print. Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. “The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001.2023-2035. Print. Maddison, Carol. Apollo and the Nine: A History of the Ode. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1960. Print. Michailidou, Artemis. “Love Poetry, Women’s Bonding and Feminist Consciousness: The Complex Interaction between Edna St. Vincent Millay and Adrienne Rich.” European Journal of Women’s Studies. 13.39 (2006). 39-57. Print. Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare.” The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Ed. Nancy Milford. New York: Random House, 2001. 155. Print. ---.“I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed.” Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems. Ed. Colin Falck. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992. 155. Print. ---. “I Will Put Chaos into Fourteen Lines.” Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems. Ed. Colin Falck. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992. 153. Print.


Body Electric

---. “Ode to Silence.” The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Ed. Nancy Milford. New York: Random House, 2001. 119-124. Print. ---. “Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!” The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Ed. Nancy Milford. New York: Random House, 2001. 151. Print. Newcomb, John. “The Woman as Political Poet: Edna St. Vincent Millay and the Mid-Century Canon.” Criticism 37.2 (Spring 1995). 261-272. Print Parks, Edd Winfield. “Edna St. Vincent Millay.” The Sewanee Review. 38.1 (1930). 42-49. Print Pope, Alexander. Ode for Musick on St. Cecilia’s Day, the Third Edition. London: Bernard Lintot, 1719. Print. Ransom, John Crowe. “The Woman as Poet.” The World’s Body. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1938. 76-110. Print Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as a Re-Vision.” Adrienne Rich’s Poetry. Eds. Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi. New York: Norton, 1975. 89-96 Tate, Allen. “Tension in Poetry.” Essays of Four Decades. New York: Morrow, 1968. Print.

Joel Szaefer has recently completed his MA in English Literature at Western University and is now working toward a Juris Doctorate at Western Law. Previously a Teaching Assistant, Joel is now an Associate Caseworker at a legal clinic for low-income Londoners, though he still makes time to sit down with a good book.

Volume I No. 1 2013


Making it in NYC:

The Supremes at the Copacabana, 1965


By Nicole Winger

uring the tumultuous times of the Civil Rights Movement, Berry Gordy

vowed to span racial boundaries by producing music that would become the “sound of young America”. Motown Records crossover success in the 1960s was crucial to paving the way for acceptance of African Americans in the mainstream entertainment industry. In particular, the Supremes led the way, capturing the hearts of American society and media through their glamorous attire, elegant dance moves, and accessible pop songs during an era marked by racial conflict. However, this paper argues that much of this widespread crossover success was attributed to the Supremes 1965 Copacabana performance, which was a landmark moment in their careers, and in American popular music. In particular, this paper will focus on why Motown Records founder, Berry Gordy, was so determined to have the Supremes perform at the Copa. It argues Gordy wanted the Supremes to perform at the Copa for three main reasons: performing there would expand, and cement the crossover success to a new demographic – the sophisticated, elite white adult, it would mark the acceptance of the Supremes into highbrow society, and also into the upper echelons of the American entertainment industry. This paper is broken down into four main sections. It begins with a historical overview of the Civil Rights Movement, along with founding and rise of Motown Records, and the Supremes. Then, it discusses the evolution of New York City nightlife from the late nineteenth century to the emergence, and success of nightclubs in the mid-twentieth century. Following, it discusses the history of the Copacabana, and analyzes who performed there, and who went there. Last, it concludes with an analysis of why Berry Gordy was so determined for the Supremes to make it


Body Electric

to the Copacabana. The Civil Rights Movement, Motown, and the Supremes

Before discussing the rise of Motown Records, and the Supremes, the

Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century must be addressed in order to fully understand the context in which Motown emerged and flourished in. At the turn of the twentieth century, African Americans in the South still faced tumultuous living conditions.1 Although the Thirteenth Amendment – which officially ended slavery – had passed almost one hundred years earlier, Southern African Americans still faced disenfranchisement, segregation, and severe racial discrimination and violence.2 However, the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, brought the long-awaited Civil Rights Movement to fruition.3 Brown v. Board of Education ruled against the “separate but equal” doctrine, which was earlier embraced by the Supreme Court as justification for segregating blacks, and whites in many aspects of society, such as theatres, busses, legislatures, and bathrooms.4 Going against this, the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools to be unconstitutional, and immediately ordered state and local governments to enforce widespread desegregation of public schools.5 Following this began the start of seventeen-year struggle – from 19541971 – for civil equality and rights for African Americans.6 Civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Andrew Goodman used nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, such as marches, peaceful 1 Michael Klarman, “Brown, Racial Change, and the Civil Rights Movement,” Virginia Law Review 80 (1994): 8. 2 Klarman, “Brown, Racial Change,” 9. 3 Gerard Early, One Nation Under A Groove (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2004): 5. 4 Early, One Nation, 6-7. 5 Klarman, “Brown, Racial Change,” 12-13. 6 Klarman, “Brown, Racial Change,” 15-18.

Volume I No. 1 2013


demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, and voter registration drives to bring the longstanding inequalities to the forefront of the national agenda.7 In the end, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enshrined the right to vote for African Americans, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which ended segregation and discrimination of people of different colour and race in public facilities, came to validate the efforts of the Civil Rights activists.8

Berry Gordy founded Motown Records in 1959, at the peak of the Civil

Rights Movement.9 Motown was founded in Detroit, Michigan, a city heavily populated with blacks due to mass migration from the South after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in the late 1800s.10 During the mid-twentieth century, the city was still increasingly segregated, although Ford Motor Company was the first company to hire blacks to work along side whites in 1914.11 However, in 1943, white workers at a Packard automotive plant went on strike when three blacks were hired to work alongside them; this led to the three days of race riots, and thirty-four people, mostly blacks, being killed.12 However, in the mid 1950s blacks still faced discrimination in the workforce, as they were exempt from holding civil service jobs purely due to race.13 Overall, although living conditions for blacks were far better in Detroit than in the South, the city of Detroit was still increasingly segregated, and blacks faced overt discrimination throughout society. This in particular, would have a profound impact on Gordy’s vision of Motown, and what he wanted to accomplish. 7 Klarman, “Brown, Racial Change,” 25. 8 Klarman, “Brown, Racial Change,” 30-31. 9 Gordy Berry, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown (London,

England: Headline Book Publishing, 1994), 6. 10 Berry, To Be Loved, 8. 11 Gerald Posner, Motown-Music, Money, Sex, and Power (New York City, NY: Random House, 2002), 10. 12 Posner, Motown, 11-12. 13 Berry, To Be Loved, 12-13.


Body Electric

When Gordy founded Motown in 1959, he made it known that it would

be “the sound of young America”.14 In his two-story home called Hitsville, Gordy began his quest for musical success.15 With the help of his family and close friend, and budding artist, Smokey Robinson, Gordy launched Motown, which would become the only major black recording company in the white dominated music industry at the time.16 At this time, the recording industry was racially segregated, and was dominated by only a few major recording companies, such as RCA and Decca.17 These companies had race records, which were specifically devoted to releasing songs only by black musicians.18 The music industry also established separate charts for white and black musicians; the R&B chart was indubitably code for black music.19 Additionally, radio stations were divided between white musicians and listeners, and black musicians and listeners.20 All of these segregating factors perpetuated by the music industry would be what Berry would seek to finally dismantle with Motown.

The major goal that Gordy hoped to achieve with Motown was crossover

success.21 Evident in Motown’s slogan, “the sound of young America”, Gordy hoped his music would span the boundaries of race, and be simply valued for its sound, not colour.22 Throughout Motown’s evolution, it received criticism that its sound was not “black enough”.23 However, what Gordy wanted to achieve with Motown was not racially defined music as heard in earlier times with blues, 14 Posner, Motown, 30. 15 Suzanne Smith, Dancing in the Street-Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 23. 16 Berry, To Be Loved, 27-29. 17 Posner, Motown, 33. 18 Smith, Dancing in the Street, 32. 19 Smith, Dancing in the Street, 33-35. 20 Posner, Motown, 36. 21 Early, One Nation, 12. 22 Berry, To Be Loved, 34-35. 23 Berry, To Be Loved, 38.

Volume I No. 1 2013


gospel, and jazz; rather, he abandoned sounds traditionally associated “black music”, and instead created music that was universally popular and appealed to people regardless of their race.24 Overall, Motown became one of the most successful recording companies of the twentieth century.25 It is the only recording company to produce over one hundred Top 10 hits, from beloved national artists such as the Supremes, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Marry Wells, the Four Tops, Martha, and the Vandellas, and Stevie Wonder.26 By achieving widespread success with white listeners, Motown revolutionized the music industry, and transformed popular music in the United States. During the tumultuous Civil Rights era, Motown was fundamental in breaking down longstanding racial barriers in the music industry.

Key to the crossover success of Motown, as described above, was the

highly successful girl group, the Supremes. The Supremes, which first began as a four-person girl group called the Primettes, were signed onto Motown Records in January 1961.27 The original Supremes, which this paper will only focus on, included Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson.28 Widespread success for the Supremes did not come early; for the first two and a half years, the Supremes had a high number of mediocre singles.29 At this time, the group was still associated with having a “black sound”, and their success with their singles had been only on the R&B chart, and the occasional appearance on the Billboard

24 Posner, Motown, 40. 25 Early, One Nation, 98. 26 Posner, Motown, 5. 27 Mary Wilson, Dreamgirl and Supreme Faith-My Life as a Supreme (New York City,

NY: Cooper Square Press, 1999), 12. 28 Wilson, Dreamgirl, 13. 29 Diana Ross, Secrets of a Sparrow-Memoirs (New York City, NY Villard Books, 1993), 18.


Body Electric

Top 100 Chart, although barely making it on.

It was not until late 1963,that the


Supremes had success with their first pop hit “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”, which reached number twenty-three on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and also was the first of their singles to make it onto the pop-based Top 40 Chart.31 With the help of Motown’s in-house songwriting team of HollandDozier-Holland, by 1965 the Supremes had produced five successive number one hits – “Back in my Arms Again”, “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, and “Stop! In the Name of Love” – and made popular music history. Overall, the Supremes achieved twelve Number One hits by 1969, and also achieved acclaimed international success, the first Motown group to accomplish both.32

Furthermore, the Supremes were the first black musicians to perform on

the Ed Sullivan Show in December 1964.33 This was a groundbreaking moment in history, and also landmark accomplishment for Motown.34 The Supremes continued to be regular guests on the Ed Sullivan show, and made a total of sixteen performances on the show.35 Additionally, the widespread success on the Show led the Supremes to have their own variety shows.36 Overall, the Ed Sullivan show played an instrumental role in the widespread, crossover success of the Supremes, and in changing the racial perceptions of blacks in the music industry.

During this time the Supremes were revolutionizing the music industry

conceptions, and portrayals of blacks, and black music. Prior to Motown, blacks in the music industry – with the exception of jazz – had been portrayed 30 Ross, Secrets, 20-21. 31 Posner, Motown, 52. 32 Wilson, Dreamgirl, 33. 33 Gerald Nachman, Right Here On Our Stage Tonight! The Ed Sullivan Show (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2009), 154. 34 Nachman, Right Here, 155. 35 Nachman, Right Here, 156-7. 36 Nachman, Right Here, 163.

Volume I No. 1 2013


as unpolished in their appearance, and unsophisticated due to their race and socioeconomic status in society.37 In order to combat this perpetuating racial stereotype, Gordy carefully crafted the appearance of the Supremes to defy the traditional black stereotype.38 To do so, he established an ‘Artist Development’ program in Motown, headed by Maxine Powell; Powell was influential in teaching the Supremes how to properly walk, sit, eat, dress, and conduct themselves when in public.39 Additionally, Gordy hired renowned dancer, and choreographer Cholly Atkins to refine the performance, and dance skills of the Supremes.40 Along with the stunning gowns, and impeccably coiffed hairstyles, the Supremes were the epitome of sophistication and glamour in the music industry and in American popular culture throughout the 1960s, and onward.41 The Evolution of New York Nightlife, and the Rise of the Nightclub

In order to fully understand, and analyze why Berry Gordy was so

adamant on the Supremes performing at the Copacabana, it is necessary to discuss the history, and evolution of New York nightlife, and what nightclubs came to represent. Historically, New York has been known as the social, and entertainment capital of the United States.42 It is not surprising that nightlife, and in particular, nightclubs have been a defining feature associated with New York City.43 The emergence of clubs like the Copacabana can be traced back to the elitist supper clubs in the mid nineteenth century.44 In particular, a supper club 37 Jaap Koojiman, “From Elegance to Extravaganza: The Supremes on the Ed Sullivan

Show as a Presentation of Beauty,” The Velvet Light Trap 49, no. 1 (2002), 5. 38 Jacqueline Warwick, Girl Groups, Girl Culture-Popular Music, and Identity in the 1960s (New York City, NY: Routledge, 2007), 153-154. 39 Koojiman, “From Elegance,” 7. 40 Warwick, Girl Groups, 156. 41 Koojiman, “From Elegance,” 11. 42 Lewis Erneberg, Steppin’ Out-New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture 1890-1930 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981), 7. 43 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 9.

44 Erneberg, Steppin’Out, 11.


Body Electric

called Delmonico’s rose to prominence during this time period as one of the most prestigious and esteemed examples of New York City high life.45 Delmonico’s originally began as a wine, and pastry shop; however, by 1848, under the guidance of Lorenzo Delmonico, the restaurant was expanded, and overhauled from everything to the food, and service, to the location of the restaurant itself.46 As a result, Delmonico’s became regarded, as quoted by the New York Weekly Herald, as an “… expensive, and aristocratic restaurant, of which Delmonico’s is the only complete specimen in the United States”. 47

Part of the aristocratic appeal of Delmonico’s was its exclusivity, a

common trend among the upper elechons of New York City nightlife. From the onset, Delmonico’s was associated with families of old wealth in the City.48 In particular, Delmonico’s served as a place exclusively for such families, and their way of life, perpetuating the longstanding association between nightlife, and the highbrows in society.49 Additionally, Delmonico’s served as the chosen place for national, and local business, and was often occupied by government officials, merchants, and businessmen.50 The reputation of Delmonico’s as essential to the social, political, and economic matters of the City, and country itself also added an air of exclusivity to the restaurant.51 On a more basic level, Delmonico’s was an exclusively white restaurant, another longstanding trend associated with New York City nightlife.52 Additionally, for the first thirty years Delmonico’s served as a restaurant exclusively for males; it was 45 Michael Batterberry and Ariane Batterberry, On the Town in New York: The Landmark History of Eating, Drinking, and Enterainment from the American Reovolution to the Food Reolvution (New York City, NY: Routledge, 1999), 14. 46 Baterberry, and Batterberry, On the Town, 17-18. 47 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 11. 48 Baterberry, and Batterberry, On the Town, 20-21. 49 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 11. 50 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 12.

51 Baterberry, and Batterberry, On the Town, 28. 52 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 13-14.

Volume I No. 1 2013


not until the 1860s that Delmonico’s allowed women, and that was permitting they had an escort.53 However, by the 1890s these rules were loosened, and women were allowed in on their own until dinner; afterwards, they had to be escorted.54 Overall, Delmonico’s perpetuated its appeal as the most esteemed, and sophisticated place to dine not only through its exquisite food, service, and location, but also through its exclusiveness, and catering to the highbrows of New York society.

As the turn of the century approached, the glamour, sophistication,

and exclusivity associated with Delmonico’s continued to be a defining feature of New York City nightlife. With the creation of the luxury hotels, such as the Waldorf-Astoria, and Sherry’s in 1897, New York City nightlife became even more glamourous, and over-the-top than at Delmonico’s.55 Appealing to patrons of new money now too, these grand hotels continued to be dominated by the “first families” of New York City, and also by other wealthy families from various major cities.56 Celebrities also became a staple feature of such hotels, again emphasizing the elitist, and exclusive nature of these places.57

Additionally, from the late 1890s till 1910, New York City nightlife also

witnessed the creation of lobster palaces, such as Bustanoby’s, and Churchill’s.58 These places, which were modeled after European architect, and design sought to cater to the late night crowds following Broadway shows.59 Even more elaborate than the preceding grandiose hotels from everything from dining to the venue itself, these places sought to bring a livelier, and less formalized atmosphere to 53 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 14. 54 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 15. 55 Lawrence Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 16. 56 Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow, 23. 57 Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow, 24-25. 58 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 23-24. 59 Baterberry, and Batterberry, On the Town, 38-39.


Body Electric

New York City nightlife. Moreover, with a rising standard of living, exclusivity 60

was not as dominant a criteria as it was in earlier times; rather, admission to such places was based on those of new money from the growing industrial class, which was a rapidly expanding demographic.61 Nonetheless, lobster palaces of the early twentieth century were still exclusive to those of the upper class, who were predominantly white.

Furthermore, following the nightlife trajectory to the rise of the

nightclub, cabarets played a pivotal role in merging live entertainment with dining. Modeled after French nightlife, cabarets rose to prominence in New York City in 1911.62 Initially, cabarets were associated with the outskirts of New York society; however, following the success of the first cabaret in the City – the Follies – cabarets became a respectable form of nightlife, making its way up to highbrow society.63 Combining entertainment – usually from Chorus girls, comedians like Sophie Tucker, or bands such as the Dixieland Jazz Band – along with a meal, and alcoholic drinks for seated patrons proved to be a winning ticket for cabarets till the onset of the 1920s.64 Overall, all the aforementioned factors would play a key role in the formation of nightclubs as the decade progressed. Following the demise of cabarets was the installment of Prohibition laws in January 1920, and the occurrence of the Great War.65 This put a hold on New York City nightlife, as the prohibition of liquor sales forced many nightspots out of business, and speakeasies, which sold alcohol illegally, rose to prominence.66 60 Lawrence Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in

America (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 16. 61 Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow,” 17-18. 62 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 42. 63 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 44-45. 64 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 46. 65 James Gavin, Intimate Nights-The Golden Age of New York Cabaret (New York City, NY: Proscenium Publishers Inc.), 10. 66 Gavin, Intimate Nights, 12.

Volume I No. 1 2013


However, following 1924, nightclubs began emerging throughout New York City, due to lack of strict city enforcement of prohibition laws.67 Although nightclubs at first were not regarded as reputable amongst the elite of the City, they focused on getting big headliners from vaudeville, and on Broadway in hope to bring in a wealthier crowd.68

It was not until the late 1920s that the nightclub business began booming,

including up to seventy new clubs.69 Nightclubs became associated as urban fantasies – full of romance, glamour, and excitement – and became regarded as the epitome of New York nightlife.70 In particular, they became popular amongst the wealthy, and prosperous in society.71 At this time, the young adult demographic was booming, and this age group, who originated from wealthy families, or from achieving financial success on their own, comprised a large majority of nightclub attendees.72 Additionally, celebrities continued to be a landmark feature of nightclubs; they were regular guests, and their appearances elevated the club’s status in society.73 A further defining feature of nightclubs was their role in equating performers, and the rich to celebrity status.74 This too further enhanced the glamour and air of exclusivity surrounding nightclubs. Furthermore, radios also began streaming nightclub music to homes across the City, and gossip columnists for newspapers began appearing at nightclubs and 67 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 239. 68 Lewis Erneberg, “From New York to Middleton: Repeal and the Legitimization of

Nightlife in the Great Depression,” American Quarterly 38 (1986), 762. 69 Erneberg, From New York,” 763. 70 Erneberg, From New York,” 767-769. 71 Susan Waggoner, Nightclub Nights: Art, Legend, and Style, 1920-1960 (New York City, NY: Rizzoli, 2001), 8. 72 Waggoner, Nightclub Nights, 9-10. 73 Stanley Walker, The Nightclub Era (New York City, NY: John Hopkins University Press, 1999), 13. 74 Helen Bullitt Lowry, “New York’s After-Midnight Clubs,” The New York Times, February 5, 1922.


Body Electric

writing reviews about them the next day. All of this contributed to a longing, 75

and desire to take part in the exclusively elite, and epitomized life of New York nightclubs.76 Overall, New York nightclubs came to be a defining feature of American popular culture during this time period.

However, during this period blacks were not legally permitted in these

clubs as guests, or entertainers.77 Only in clubs in areas such as Harlem, which were populated almost entirely with African Americans, blacks were allowed in as performers to an all-white audience, or to serve them.78 These Harlem nightclubs were modeled after Southern plantation life, and exaggerated the stereotypes of primitiveness, and exoticism associated with African Americans to appeal to wealthy white patrons from the City.79 However, it was not until the late 1920s to the early 1930s when jazz music rose to prominence – and was regarded as highbrow music – that blacks performers began to be viewed on a more equal level.80 Overall, the segregation of nightclubs contributed to the longstanding association of nightclubs, and exclusivity; not only were nightclubs exclusive to those of wealth, and star status, but also to those who were white.

As the prohibition era drew to a close in 1933 and the decade progressed

into the 1940s, nightclubs doubled in number, and continued to be staple feature of New York City high life.81 At this time, the nightclub business transformed to became an industry based on social and entertainment power.82 Clubs such as the Stork Club, 21, Harlem’ Cotton Club, and El Morocco provided patrons with 75 Lowry, “New York’s.” 76 Waggoner, Nightclub Nights, 17. 77 Gavin, Intimate Nights, 23. 78 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 257. 79 Erneberg, Steppin’ Out, 258-259. 80 Paul Gardner, “Dark Laughter in Snow White Land,” The New York Times, April 2, 2967. 81Gardner, “Dark Laughter.” 82 Gavin, Intimate Nights, 53.

Volume I No. 1 2013


only the finest, and most sophisticated experience New York City nightlife had to offer.83 At this point, entertainers became even more important in attracting people to clubs; nightclubs now permanently hired performers for a set number of weeks.84 Equally, nightclubs served as a launching pad for establishing the careers of many performers in the entertainment industry, such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, and Dean Martin.85 A detailed analysis of the Copacabana, one of the most esteemed nightclubs of all time, will provide further insight into the role nightclubs played in society, and in the entertainment industry during the mid-twentieth century. The Copacabana – “The Hottest Club North of Havana”

The Copacabana opened up on Wednesday, October 30th, 1940 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.86 The Copa was founded by publicist Monte Proser – known as the “King of the Publicity World” – who played a pivotal role in publicizing nightclubs all over the City.87 However, the Copa became associated with part owner Jules Podell, who became the face of the club in 1950.88 This Latin inspired supper club, which became one of the biggest nightclubs in the City, was named after the elegant, and glamorous Copacabana nightclub at the Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.89 After President Roosevelt announced the “good neighbour policy” with Latin America in 1933, there was widespread interest in Latin American culture amongst Americans, particularly in the areas of dance, and entertainment.90 Furthermore, part of the Copa’s appeal was its extravagant 83 Ralph Blumenthal, Stork-Club-America’s Most Famous Nightspot, and the Lost World of Café Society (Miami, FL: Little, Brown, and Company, 2000), 33-35. 84 Waggoner, Nightclub Nights, 45. 85 Walker, The Nightclub Era, 62-63. 86 Kristin Baggelaar, Images of America-The Copacabana, (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006), 11. 87 Baggelar, Images, 12. 88 Baggelar, Images, 12-13. 89 Waggoner, Nightclub Nights, 52. 90 Baggelar, Images, 15.


Body Electric

approach it provided to patrons. From top-of-the-line entertainment to a full91

course dinner from world-renowned chefs, accompanied with exquisite drinks, stellar music, and a night of dancing, the Copa began to rise to prominence as a place of glamour, and sophistication in New York high life in the early 1940s.92

In particular, the Copa set itself apart from other nightclubs with its

commitment to first-rate entertainment. Since the onset, Copa shows were more similar to grand Broadway ensembles – with full on staging, chorography, and costume design departments – than typical nightclub shows.93 Featuring up to five acts, the Copa provided its audience with diverse entertainment, expanding the scope of earlier nightclub acts.94 In its early years from 1940-1943, the Copa featured ballerinas, such as Patricia Bowman, operatic singing from Rosita Rios, and Enya Gonzalez alongside full Latin styled orchestras, and nightly classic samba dancing.95 Such a diverse group of acts gained widespread acclaim with the public, and press, and the Copa continued to rise in popularity as one of the hottest spots in New York City.

However, after October 31st, 1941, and onward the Copa instituted a “big-

name policy” to avert competition from other rising nightclubs.96 Taking a more traditional approach, the Copa continually advertised a “name-band” policy of the star singer, and band for the night.97 Frequent signature acts from comedians Sophie Tucker, Joe E. Lewis, and Jerry Lester proved to be increasingly successful, along with the sweet singing of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and 91 Mickey Podell-Raber, The Copa-Jules Podell and the Hottest Club North of Havana

(New York City, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007), 16. 92 Podell-Raber, The Copa, 18. 93 Podell-Raber, The Copa, 22. 94 Baggelar, Images, 25. 95 Baggelar, Images, 27-28. 96 Louis Calta, “Sophie Tucker opens at the Copacabana,” The New York Times, January 10, 1943. 97 Calta, “Sophie Tucker.”

Volume I No. 1 2013


Bobby Darrin.98 These acclaimed stars brought prestige, and distinction to the Copa, and helped continually elevate the status of the Copa as the most popular nightspot not only in New York City, but also in the United States.99 Nonetheless, the Copa did play a fundamental role in launching the careers of many unknown performers. Performers, such as Perry Como, Janis Page, Eddie Fisher, Sid Caesar, Johnnie Ray, and even the epitomized Copa girls, all had major career breaks following their Copa performances.100 Overall, whether a veteran star, or an aspiring performer was performing, indubitably, the Copacabana had a tremendous influence on the careers of its performers.

Part of the widely acclaimed prestige, and glamour associated with

the Copacabana was attributed to those who were frequent audience guests. As mentioned above, celebrities were a defining feature of nightclubs, and contributed to the exclusivity associated with these clubs. At the Copa, audience members were continually famed movie stars, performers, and even acclaimed sports stars heightening the elitist nature of the club.101 There was even a radio program broadcasted from the Copa, “Meet Me At the Copa”, by Jack Eigen on WHN that interviewed celebrities in the Copa lounge, bringing the starstudded life of the Copa to middle-class American homes.102 Furthermore, as also mentioned earlier, the wealthy highbrows of New York society were another staple feature of nightclubs, and were equated to celebrity status in the early 1920s. In particular, the first families of New York City, such as the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, and the DuPonts were regular attendees at the Copa, and were 98 Baggelar, Images, 26-32. Louis Calta, “A New Show Opens at the Copacabana This Week – Other Café, and Hotel News,” The New York Times, 1943. 99 Baggelar, Images, 45. 100 Podell-Raber, The Copa, 18, 34, 48-54. 101 Waggoner, Nightclub Nights, 68-69. 102 Baggelar, Images, 77-78.

142 treated as celebrities in their own right.


Body Electric

Additionally, members of the popular press, and music industry were

also frequent guests, further heightening the exclusive nature of the Copa.104 Nightclub columnists, such as Ed Sullivan from the New York Daily Times, Earl Wilson from the New York Post, and Jack Thompson from the New York JournalAmerican played a pivotal role in publicizing Copa performers, and impacting the course of their careers.105 Additionally, from the music industry, reporters from magazines such as Variety, and also executives from record companies, such as Colombia Records had correspondents present at every show.106 They too played a key role in publicizing the club as one of the most desirable places to attend, and perform, and also in influencing the careers of the Copa performers.

The exclusive nature of the Copa was further perpetuated by its

“no blacks” policy in place till the mid 1950s.107 Until this time, blacks were prohibited from performing, and entering. It was well known that performers, such as Harry Belafonte, and Sammy Davis Jr. were denied entry as guests at the Copa.108 However, Sinatra, who was good friends with Davis, was appalled when he found out his friend had been denied entry to see one of his Copa performances, and was adamantly against the racist nature of the Copa. As a result, Sinatra was pivotal in groundbreaking the “no blacks” policy in 1955, when Jules Podell agreed to let Sammy Davis Jr. return the next night to watch Frank Sinatra’s performance.109 Following this, the first black performer at the Copa was Harry 103 Baggelar, Images, 80-82. 104 Nachman, Right Here, 56-58. 105 N.d.. “The Supremes Just Concluded the Copcabana,” Variety Magazine, September 1, 1965. 106 N.d., “The Supremes.” 107 Nachman, Right Here, 59. 108 Podell-Raber, The Copa, 24. 109 Podell-Raber, The Copa, 25-26.

Volume I No. 1 2013


Belafonte later that year, who also had been turned down from entering ten years earlier.110 Overall, the longstanding tradition of the Copa being an all-white club contributed to the air of exclusivity surrounding this New York hotspot. Putting it Together – What it Meant to Make it to The Copa

After analyzing the history of the Copacabana, and the evolution of

New York nightclubs, several assumptions can be ascertained as to why Berry Gordy was so determined for the Supremes to perform at the Copacabana. As mentioned earlier, Gordy founded Motown with the hope to achieve crossover success with the black, and white youth of America. Gordy saw performing at the Copa, a historically all-white nightclub, as an avenue to appeal to a greater white audience – not only to teenagers, as the Supremes had acclaimed success with their first Top 40 singles, but also to the sophisticated, and elite white adult listener. Along with performing their current hits, the Supremes also performed beloved Broadway classics, such as “Somewhere” from West Side Story, “Do Re Mi” from Rogers and Hammerstein, and also songs from the acclaimed musical “Bye Bye Birdie”.111 Gordy hoped this would further enhance the appeal of the Supremes to the star-studded, and predominantly white, well versed audience of the Copacabana. Overall, successfully performing at the Copa would further cement the Supremes as a famed musical act amongst both blacks, and whites, and expand their demographic appeal. Additionally, another reason why Gordy was so adamant on the Supremes making it to the Copa was due to its association as the epitome of highbrow society in the United States. As described throughout this paper, historically New York nightlife has always been associated exclusively with the wealthy, and elite in society. New York nightclubs came to symbolize the embodiment of 110 Gardner, “Dark Laughter.” 111 Baggelar, Images, 85.


Body Electric

glamour, sophistication, and exclusivity of highbrow society as the turn of the twentieth century approached. Thus, aside from a racial motive, Gordy wanted the Supremes to perform at the Copa to become associated with the glamour, and glitz of highbrow society. Historically, pop music – which is what the Supremes were known for – has been associated with lowbrow culture.112 Therefore, by performing at the Copacabana, the Supremes would not only elevate the status of pop music, but also become names associated with the exclusive elites of American society. On a larger scale, Gordy knew, as stated in his 1994 autobiography To Be Loved, that the Copa was the gateway to making it big in the entertainment industry.113 Situated in heart of the Upper East Side, in Manhattan, New York, the Copacabana was the heart of the entertainment capitol of the world.114 As described throughout this essay, New York nightclubs played a fundamental role in catapulting, and cementing the careers of its performers. With its audience filled with prominent newspaper columnists, and executives from the music, and entertainment industries, successfully performing at the Copa would lead the Supremes to achieve widespread fame in the upper echelons of the American entrainment industry. Thus, Gordy hoped that the Copa performance would lead to further performances of such caliber at other nightclubs, on television, and at other revered places such as Lincoln Center. It was Gordy’s intention to have the Supremes regarded on the same level as other classic performers such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Barbara Streisand, and Ella Fitzgerald, and he knew performing at the Copacabana was the gateway to such success.115

112 Keir Keightley, “Music for Middlebrows: Defining the Easy Listening Era, 19461966,” American Music 26, no. 3 (2008), 39. 113 Gordy, To Be Loved, 217. 114 Baggelar, Images, 5.

115 Gordy, To Be Loved, 261.

Volume I No. 1 2013



Overall, this paper focused on why Berry Gordy, founder of Motown

Records, wanted the Supremes to perform at the Copacabana in New York City. Specifically, it argued that making it to the Copa was pivotal to the Supremes’ crossover success, acceptance into high society, and also into the upper elations of the American entertainment industry. It began by discussing the Civil Rights Movement highlighting the increasingly segregated context of mid-twentieth century. Following, it discussed the founding, and evolution of Motown Records, particularly highlighting the crossover success of the Supremes during a time marked by such stark racial divide. It then analyzed the trajectory of New York nightlife up to the emergence, and rise of nightclubs in the early to mid twentieth century. This discussion highlighted the exclusive nature associated with nightclubs, and their influential role not only in society, but also in the entertainment world. Following an analysis of the Copacabana, this paper argued that making it to the Copa, and successfully performing there, would lead to further crossover success for the Supremes. By reaching a new segment of the white population – the sophisticated, elite adult listener, the Supremes could further cement their crossover success. Additionally, this paper argued that on a larger scale, performing at the Copa symbolized the acceptance of the Supremes into the highbrow life of New York City. In particular, being a pop musical group, which is traditionally associated with lowbrow culture, the Copa performance marked the transition of the Supremes into the world of sophistication, and glamour in New York society. Lastly, this paper argued that successfully performing at the Copa would lead the Supremes to further acclaimed endeavors in the upper echelons of the entertainment industry. With an audience filled with notable newspaper columnists, and influential individuals from the music, and entertainment business,


Body Electric

the Copa served as the gateway to future renowned success. Overall, making it to the Copacabana proved to be a landmark moment not only for the Supremes, and Berry Gordy but also in American popular music, and culture. Bibliography Baggelaar, Kristin. Images of America-The Copacabana. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006. Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. “On the Town in New York: The Landmark History of Eating, Drinking, and Entertainment from the American Revolution to the Food Revolution.” New York City, NY: Routledge, 1999. Blumenthal, Ralph. Stork Club-America’s Most Famous Nightspot, and the Lost World of Café Society. Miami, FL: Little, Brown, and Company, 2000. Calta, Louis. “A New Show Opens at the Copacabana This Week – Other Café, and Hotel Notes.” The New York Times, January 10, 1943. Calta, Louis. “Sophie Tucker Opens at the Copacabana.” The New York Times, December 24, 1942. Early, Gerald. One Nation Under a Groove. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2004. Erneberg, Lewis. “From New York to Middleton: Repeal and the Legitimization of Nightlife in the Great Depression.” American Quarterly 38, no. 5 (1986): 761-778. Erneberg, Lewis. Steppin’ Out-New York Nightlife and the Transformation of Americn Culture 1890-1930. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981. Gardner, Paul. “Dark Laughter in Snow White Land.” The New York Times, April 2, 1967. Gavin, James. Intimate Nights-The Golden Age of New York Cabaret. New York City, NY: Proscenium Publishers Inc., 1991. Gordy, Berry. To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown. London, England: Headline Book Publishing, 1994. Keightley, Keir. “Music for Middlebrows: Defining the Easy Listening Era, 1946-1966.” American Music 26, no. 3 (2008): 309-335. http: www.jstor. org/stable/40071710. Klarman, Michael J. “Brown, Racial Change, and the Civil Rights Movement.” Virginia Law Review 80, no. 1 (1994): 7-150. stable/1073592. Kooijman, Jaap. “From Elegance to Extravaganza: The Supremes on the Ed Sullivan Show as a Presentation of Beauty.” The Velvet Light Trap 49

Volume I No. 1 2013


(Spring 2002): 4-17. from-elegance-extravaganza-supremes-ed-sullivan-show-as presentation-beauty. Levine, Lawrence. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988. Lowry, Helen Bullitt. “New York’s After-Midnight Clubs.” The New York Times, February 5, 1922. Nachman, Gerald. Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! The Ed Sullivan Show. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2009. Podell-Raber, Mickey with Charles Pignone. The Copa-Jules Podell and the Hottest Club North of Havana. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007. Posner, Gerald. Motown-Music, Money, Sex, and Power. New York City, NY: Random House, 2002. Ross, Diana. Secrets of a Sparrow-Memoirs. New York, NY: Villard Books, 1993. Smith, Suzanne E. Dancing in the Street-Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. The Supremes Just Concluded the Copacabana, New York. Newspaper advertisement. Variety Magazine, September 1, 1965. From Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive-Online Database. https://www.lib.uwo. ca/cgi-bin/ezpauthn.cgi/docview/1014831012?accountid=15115 (accessed November 12, 2012). Waggoner, Susan. Nightclub Nights: Art, Legend, and Style, 1920-1960. New York, NY: Rizzoli, 2001. Walker, Stanley. The Nightclub Era. New York City, NY: John Hopkins University Press, 1999. Warwick, Jacqueline. Girl Groups, Girl Culture-Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Wilson, Mary. Dreamgirl and Supreme Faith-My Life As a Supreme. New York, NY: Cooper Square Press, 1999.

Nicole is currently completing her MA in American Studies at Western University, and plans on completing her PhD in American music, and culture. Her research interests are focused on twentieth century American popular music, with a particular emphasis on race, gender, and class.  


Body Electric

Volume I No. 1 2013



Body Electric

Body Electric: American Studies from 1850-Present Volume I