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This is about celebrating film, not petty historic grudges. [Oct. 15th, 2007|12:26 pm]
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I was reading the New York Times Magazine and I saw an a large 2 column ad for the 80th Anniversary, special restoration edition of The Jazz Singer.

It seems to be missing something. A bit of photoshopping. My copy is a bit smaller, but can you tell what it is?


To be fair, a three DVD set can only contain so much so not everyone can address every issue:
Among the voluminous extras - a commentary track, a documentary on the dawn of ''talking picture'' technology, a huge, nearly four-hour sampling of early sound short films - you'll find only passing, borderline-apologetic references to racial politics, and no one speaking from an African-American perspective.
In Warner Brother's defense, I'm sure all minority film scholars were busy that day.

Extra cringeworthy detail:
Giordano plays the apologist. Jolson was merely highlighting his facial features by "blacking up," he explains, so that he could be better seen in the rear of the theaters; unlike other white vaudeville performers of the day, who indulged in caricature, Jolson was doing his songs "straight," minus affectation or accent.

But that explanation proves disingenuous as we watch "A Plantation Act," an accompanying Vitaphone short which would be Jolson's audition piece for "The Jazz Singer." Jolson appears before a slave-shack set, blacked up and dressed down in straw hat and overalls. He sings three numbers, interspersed with patter spoken in an unmistakably slurry drawl.
Next up: all those Charlie Chan actors were merely squinting under bright studio lights!
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ccjohn
2007-10-15 07:07 pm (UTC)

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The Steve Daly article's a bit hand-wringy for me. Judging the past by the standards of the present is always going to be mistaken. I read a quote from, I think, Branford Marsalis. He said, "look let's face it, if I was working in the 20s, I'd have been doing blackface too." Bing Crosby did a lot of blackface. I'd describe blackface as a form of clown makeup that exaggerates faces and expressions for comic or grotesque effect. But it would be considered no more than that except for this constant injection of racialism into a past that didn't work like this present does.

Epstein and Hassan, a male-female couple of performers, I saw the female half do a drag act of Bert Williams in blackface and she is black. It kicked ass. Were we supposed to be offended? How many ways, does that not make sense? I think these ridiculously hackneyed outrages over stage makeup and other manifestly performance-related contrivances should die, now. They're about dead already. I cannot imagine "outrage" becoming any more worthless than it is now, it has fewer and fewer straws to clutch at and it keeps getting sadder to watch. Like the noose at Columbia. A stupid, mindless act by some stupid, mindless college kid. If they catch him, he goes on a one-term vacation or they can expel him if they want. But that many newspaper articles? T-shirts, dress codes, saggy pants, excessive jewelry, the march toward the trivial and away from real disaster continues.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-15 09:00 pm (UTC)

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If we do not hold our history accountable for its atrocities, please tell me how on earth we can as a culture move forward even a smidgen?

Additionally, I don't care if the Pope dressed in blackface in the 20s. If it was meant to be comical and grotesque, it achieved that via a specific, racist-motivated costume. Additionally, what is comical and grotesque about being black? Precisely -- the fact that blackness was meant to communicate those things is in itself speaking to the racist aspect of the 'clown makeup.'
[User Picture]From: ccjohn
2007-10-15 09:45 pm (UTC)

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If black people are inherently beautiful because they are created in the image and likeness of God, how is it possible to demean this beauty or really do anything but be in a position of awe relative to it. The specific practice of exaggerating physical features is a mainstay of all comedy and singling out this practice as evil when applied to black people sounds, if anything, racist. We can say standards change because we are in the minority but we are all in the minority about some things and in the end, are each a minority of one. So we are to proscribe the entertainment we don't like then? As though we were qualified to judge.

Blackface is an atrocity? I'm sorry but that's ridiculous. It's a stupid entertainment form. In the end it isn't much more or less stupid than all our entertainment forms because we are human. And if we wrote off all ethnic comedy or stereotyping we'd be writing off a lot of truth and that I will not do. Have you ever considered why ethnic jokes are funny? Maybe because somewhere in there is truth? If people laugh at something there is truth about it no one can gainsay.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-15 10:08 pm (UTC)

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Sometimes ethnic jokes are "funny" - or rather elicit laughter - because humor relieves the enormous cognitive dissonance in people's mind over (a) thinking they themselves are NOT racist and (b) yet this 'stereotype' -- they believe it. Humor/laughter relieves that tension. I think South Park does an excellent job at exposing the conflicts present in laughing at stereotypes.

I have a feeling you and I will not agree on this topic, so I will say thank you for commenting, but I don't think I can say anything else. I'm deeply offended by some things you say here and have learned better than to comment from that frame of mind.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-15 11:06 pm (UTC)

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I cannot make any better points than are made in this really poignant and informed blog. I would ask that you please read it.

http://bryanthomas.com/writing/bamboozled.html

Additionally, you have not subtly accused me of being a racist by turning my words for your pleasure. If black people are inherently beautiful because they are created in the image and likeness of God, how is it possible to demean this beauty or really do anything but be in a position of awe relative to it. The specific practice of exaggerating physical features is a mainstay of all comedy and singling out this practice as evil when applied to black people sounds, if anything, racist.

Spiritually, I certainly believe all people are equal. What you are talking about -- some kind of spiritual equality -- does not remotely reflect the lived experience of billions of people in this world, minority and/or otherwise. We live within a paradigm of oppression, the power of which continually lies primarily with Whites and Men. I understand that you're attempting to talk about humans as equal spiritual beings, but that is not remotely relevant to this post nor to anything I said. Or if it is, I am surprised you cannot empathize with the fact that blackface represents a systemically motivated practice that used racist funny bones to keep black people 'in their place' - namely, below the Whites and out of any limelight that took black talent seriously and saw it equitably.

It was not I who was talking about "the specific practice of exaggerating physical features [as a] mainstay of comedy." I was speaking specifically of blackface, which is and was a racist practice. While you attempt to totally obscure the reality of racism in practice, you've rather succeeded in confirming exactly what so disturbs me about rampant unawareness and in fact an eager WILLINGNESS to remain unaware. If you don't already believe blackface is an atrocity, perhaps you might want to ask why you don't believe that and/or ask someone else why millions of people believe that it is.
[User Picture]From: ccjohn
2007-10-16 12:13 am (UTC)

aquinas

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I do not believe in one single thing except the logos of St. John, which I believe informs the Declaration, the Constitution and anything you or I have ever done that is good. We propose nothing in the sight of God. Racism is a sin and ultimately indistinguishable from poltical correctness which is to impose a human-defined reality in-between the individual and God. I've had an experience and suffered from it. You I am certain have lived life exactly the same way. I am not going to toe any party line and I don't think yoiu should either. Human beings do things. They react, to the things in front of them that are done. Some of these are manifestly wrong, under all conditions, in all circumstances, we say these are unjust and we forbid them. Other of these vary by person. But if we criminalize offense no one could ever be safe.

I don't believe in groups. I believe in offense. It is personal. I don't believe in that part of offense that is taught. I think that's probably the essence of what sin is.

Before the universal human reality that underlies every second we are alive I doubt you and me are one iota different. You have rights, same as me. Someone gets in-between you and your rights, he will have me to deal with. This is what it means to be a human being. But don't talk to me about what offends you, or do, but don't ever pretend it has the force of the Truth you and I both know exists and that defines us as people. Offense is human. Art's from God as all other human expression is from God and the burden of hurt is always upon the so-declared injured to try and invoke as a law.
[User Picture]From: ccjohn
2007-10-16 12:15 am (UTC)

p.s.

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I'm happy to keep speaking with you, which I'm enjoying, but I ask you now to define the meaning of the term aware.
[User Picture]From: ccjohn
2007-10-16 12:26 am (UTC)

Re: p.s.

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I don't plan on doing blackface because it offends people plus it's the ultimate in hackneyed. But when this fellow, who wrote the blog, de-humanized the people in blackface as creatures who lacked even the potential to understand his human experience, he did wrong. He did what he claims they'd done to him.

No telling what human beings will do! Offense, yeah, sure. Observe it in yourself, process it as part of your experience, in the end no different from all the other uninterpretable, painful shit that happens to us every day. But use that as a lever, or (terrifying) a Hammer From God, to punish people, to say they are not human because they do not know, and can never know -- don't you see you've gone in a circle? You're being what you think hurt you to begin with. You're better than that.
[User Picture]From: springheel_jack
2007-10-16 02:43 am (UTC)

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boring.
[User Picture]From: fengi
2007-10-16 12:36 pm (UTC)

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Dude, show some respect - I'm totally oppressing the blackfaced white guys.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 03:15 pm (UTC)

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And I'll oppress their blackfaced white wives.

Just so we don't have weird gender power dynamics, you know.

:P
[User Picture]From: fengi
2007-10-16 12:35 pm (UTC)

Re: p.s.

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Awwww - ya caught me! I was behind the great Blackface Lynchings of 1932, when all those poor poor totally innocent white guys in Sambo makeup were hung from trees all over that damn liberal Vermont. Even today, I'll deny any decent upstanding white man who shows up smeared in decent honest shoe polish.

To paraphrase American Dad: "Man, I hate it how white guys went from having all the power to only most of the power. Damn PC police."
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 12:32 am (UTC)

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"Awareness" in regards to this topic means an understanding of the machinations of racism and a recognition of its manifestations. I feel your comments indicated that you are not aware of the ways in which blackface reveals certain machinations of racism (both 100 years ago and more currently) and demonstrates the ways in which racism is manifested in many forms, in this case in the entertainment industry. By lumping blackface under umbrella "physical/facial humor" or "ethnic jokes," without seeming to understand the horrible reasons blackface succeeded when it did, I feel you lack an awareness about the ways in which racism played out via blackface and the fact that those actions should be CALLED OUT, not excused.

I don't relate to your previous philosophical/religious comments, but thank you for sharing them. Additionally, I do not say anything for the sake of being "politically correct." I speak from my heart, my mind, my experience, my education. I'm not waving anyone else's flag but my own.

[User Picture]From: stopword
2007-10-15 07:17 pm (UTC)

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Do you feel the same way about Monty Python's pepperpot ladies? Or all the exaggerated forms of drag?

In my opinion, the blackface is more of a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Just like drag and pepperpot ladies and all the black comedians in fatsuits to look like women is just a symptom of the problem of misogyny.
[User Picture]From: little_octagon
2007-10-15 07:21 pm (UTC)

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If I live to be 100, I'll never forget going to see the Neil Diamond remake of that movie with my father - who cried during the Kol Nidre scene. For reals! I know it's awful of me to laugh at him, but...oh, man, I looked over and he had his glasses pulled up so he could wipe his eyes.
[User Picture]From: dexfarkin
2007-10-15 07:49 pm (UTC)

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Enh. The Jazz Singer is significant because it was the first talking picture. It was capitalizing on Jolson's fairly extensive name at the time, and put him into the environment that first earned him fame; the ministral show. By the time of the movie, I doubt Jolson had done a ministral show in fifteen years. He'd already become such a name that he did mostly Broadway reviews starring himself.

I can't really get enraged about a production 80 years old, using a clown face style that is offensive now. 100 years ago, the social construct was different. We moved past and it's been regulated to the dustbin of history. If it was a new ministral show being put on in New York and breaking box office records, I can get behind the issue. This? Enh.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-15 08:54 pm (UTC)

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If the commentary included with the DVD set spoke clearly and specifically to the racism of the time period and in the movie, then it could be a pretty interesting DVD set...While toting 'talking pictures,' it can't be missed or passed over that talking pictures also led to a new level of nation-wide presentation of racism in media. "Now black and black-face performances, stereotypical speech and behavior patterns, and racist-infused southern accents galore can be HEARD IN AUDIO (and mocked) in Classic movies everywhere!"

See even the mild-mannered Shirley Temple movies "Little Colonel" or "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," in which a black servant (the immensely talented Bill Robinson) is just so happy to dance away with the little spoiled white girl (of course, who wouldn't want to dance with the little spoiled white girl):

*

So, hooray moving pictures for making talking pictures, hooray all around??? Is that why you think this movie is excusable? Maybe I'm misunderstanding you. (srsly, maybe I am, let me know)

I guess if we're defending Classics, how about this one --

In "Breakfast at Tiffany's" -- another "Classic" -- we get this lovely Mickey Rooney role:



I'm sorry, but I can't stomach that movie even a little bit, and that has a lot to do w/ how POPULAR this film was and is. And it wasn't popular 'in spite of' Mickey Rooney's role, but in part because of it. Disgusting.

The issue isn't just that the film WAS (in the past) made at a certain point in time. Part of the issue is that it is being commemorated (!) and furthermore without any insight commenting on/revealing the unjust aspects of the film's making AND its success (success not in spite of but BECAUSE OF the racist elements present).

Not to be overly pedantic, but have you seen Bamboozled? I don't think that's a movie that's just about our country's past...






*Here's a little snippet about Bill Robinson (because I really like him):

'Robinson was dogged by lifelong personal demons, enhanced by having to endure the indignities of racism that, despite his great success, still limited his opportunities. A favorite Robinson anecdote is that a he seated himself in a restaurant and a customer objected to his presence. When the manager suggested that it might be better if the entertainer left, Robinson smiled and asked, "Have you got a ten dollar bill?" Politely asking to borrow the note for a moment, Robinson added six $10 bills from his own wallet and mixed them up, then extended the seven bills together, adding, "Here, let's see you pick out the colored one." The restaurant manager served Robinson without further delay."'

[User Picture]From: dexfarkin
2007-10-16 03:42 am (UTC)

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So, hooray moving pictures for making talking pictures, hooray all around??? Is that why you think this movie is excusable? Maybe I'm misunderstanding you. (srsly, maybe I am, let me know)

Actually, my point was 'who cares?'. This film is being commemorated because it is the first talking picture. That, in and of itself, is significant to the history of film. The fact that it has Jolson in blackface isn't. We all know blackface was a racist protrayal. That's why ministral shows died out in the 20s. So getting up in arms about that fact seems like misplaced effort.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 03:57 am (UTC)

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Slavetrade/owning was also significant to the history of industrializing/organizing farming in America. We don't go off and celebrate tobacco and cotton's initial booming success without SOME nod to the racist realities of that day.

Yes an extreme comparison, but I don't think the fact that this was the first talking picture means a commemmoration DVD set shouldn't include SOME meaningful mention of the troubling racial dynamics at play in the film/time period.

I'm not saying the commemmoration shouldn't happen. I'm just saying, it should happen with a bit more informed openness about the racial tensions/-isms that brought about the success of the film.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 04:00 am (UTC)

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Slavetrade/owning was also significant to the history of industrializing/organizing farming in America. We don't go off and celebrate tobacco and cotton's initial booming success without SOME nod to the racist realities of that day</i< I should clarify: I would really really hope people wouldn't go off celebrating the roots of organized plantation owning/farming and that whole undustry without some acknowledgment of the atrocities inherent in it, in our country's history.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 04:02 am (UTC)

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(sorry, bad html)
[User Picture]From: dexfarkin
2007-10-16 05:11 am (UTC)

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I'm just saying, it should happen with a bit more informed openness about the racial tensions/-isms that brought about the success of the film.

See, that's where I disagree. If it was a film about a minstral show, sure. The Jazz Singer is a semi-autobiographical film about a Jewish boy who was able to win big, but instead decided to cleave to family tradition and follow his father as a cantor. The use of blackface was in reference to where Jolson had initially made his name, fifteen years prior to the movie. They used the iconic nature of Jolson's origin, rather than any wider commentary on the minstral shows themselves. The minstral show was no longer relevent in 1927, having been basically pushed out by vaudville decades prior.

I think people are smart enough to understand instinctively that racial values were very different eighty years ago without shoehorning a lesson on historical charicatures of the American Black population into the front. It's like prefacing The Merchant of Venice with a note saying 'Did you know many people in the 17th century were casually anti-semetic?'
[User Picture]From: fengi
2007-10-16 06:39 am (UTC)

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Actually Jolson included a minstrel performance in all of his subsequent films. You are misinformed about the history of the minstrel show and when such content died out. It was still active in the 20s and Amos and Andy popularlized it well into the 40s. Blackface numbers were part of college musical reviews into the 50s. Recent events have shown the issue hasn't gone away.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 02:13 pm (UTC)

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Amos N Andy aired in 1951. It was adapted from a radio show that was on air in the 1920s.

Here's some good Amos N Andy background info:

http://www.tvparty.com/myskingf.html
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 02:38 pm (UTC)

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I think people are smart enough to understand instinctively that racial values were very different eighty years ago without shoehorning a lesson on historical charicatures of the American Black population into the front.

What people are smart enough? People like this?

Notice the date on that article. I simply disagree with you that the racial context in which the film was made is totally irrelevant now. For many reasons.

Not paying attention to/discussing the racial implications of the film and the film's success (see Fengi's really succinct and good history lesson re: Harlem Rennaissance/Jazz and the Jewish/Black tensions in hHe Jazz Singer as well) is like re-writing history or covering it up. To me, what you're saying amounts to something like this: "Well, something really great happened - we got talking pictures, so it doesn't matter the context of oppression in which that took place and garnered success. We all know racism ran rampant, so let's just not bother acknolwedging it outright." It feels like a cover-up. Like a "don't look too closely at the things people did in the past that were bad/harmful. Just look at the good." (i.e. putting blackfaced Jolson in silhouette!)

When I was in high school - an all-girls' boarding school - I learned for the first time when I was 16 years old how influential women's roles were during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars in America, and how remarkable the fight for Women's Suffrage truly was, as well as women's important role in many major civil rights movements forward in the U.S. I learned about Mary Wollstoncraft in the U.K. - the foremother of Femininsm and an important Englightenment writer in her own right. Up until that time, history to me was completely made and run by important male figures. Because that is what my schooling had taught me up until that point. Traditional history lessons to this day are to me cover-ups. That's why it is exceedingly important for people who recognize cover-ups to call them out and to encourage a discussion. My entire sex, just like the entire race of blacks (or Chinese or Native American or Japanese or Mexicans or ETC.) is remarkably and consistently obscured in the history lessons taught to most people in this country.

I just found out that one of my professors in graduate school (who has her Doctorate for the love of God) didn't know about 1940s Japanese internment camps in the U.S. until she was in her 30s. Her THIRTIES. That is not simply HER failing -- it is also the failing of a society that turns its head the other way.

Ok, I gotta get off this soap box.

But seriously.




[User Picture]From: dexfarkin
2007-10-17 02:06 am (UTC)

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Notice the date on that article. I simply disagree with you that the racial context in which the film was made is totally irrelevant now. For many reasons.

And I think this is manufactured outrage. Once again, the film's only relevence is that it was the first of its type; the talking blockbuster. The racial elements are grotesquely obvious to anyone that isn't a complete idiot. The studio choosing to focus their reasons for the rerelease (first modern production model/first full length talking film). Rewriting history? Covering it up? Anyone with eyesight I think can understand the fact that the minstral shows they were presenting are not acceptable today.

To me, what you're saying amounts to something like this: "Well, something really great happened - we got talking pictures, so it doesn't matter the context of oppression in which that took place and garnered success. We all know racism ran rampant, so let's just not bother acknolwedging it outright." It feels like a cover-up.

Well, no. My point is the content of the film has nothing to do with its significance. None. Birth of a Nation was not only the first film but it was also a propaganda effort for the KKK. As was Leni Reifenstahl because her framing of the content and presentation reinforced the message contained. With different content, neither film would be significant. The Jazz Singer is not the same kind of beast. You could substitute any content at that time with that technology and it would be no more or less significant that the current version.

It represents the first of two major technology and production changes in what is argubly the most significant cultural mediums of the last century. The Jazz Singer wasn't successful because it was a racist film; it was successful because of those two changes it introduced.

Traditional history lessons to this day are to me cover-ups. That's why it is exceedingly important for people who recognize cover-ups to call them out and to encourage a discussion.

First off, 'traditional history' doesn't exist. Secondly, a coverup is hiding something that happened. Personal ignorance on a subject that is openly and easily accessible is not the same as a coverup.

But here is something that we can agree on; your public school history curriculum in the US is largely self-serving, self-aggrandizing claptrap which is borderline propaganda and does not adaquetely address a giant range of important concerns that it should. The fact that you didn't know about Wellstoncraft until you were 16 is frankly horrifying. That's worth getting angry about.

And that's why I can't really feel outrage at this. The decision to sidestep the racial elements and focus solely on the technology and production is cowardly. It's a calculated decision to try and offend as few people as possible in marketing the film. That doesn't make it a wrong decision or a unjustifible decision. It just makes it a weak one.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 05:31 pm (UTC)

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I am trying to get where you're coming from on the film, but I just think we disagree, and we're both making the same arguments over and over. I think I will agree to disagree at this point, though I do appreciate the dialogue, truly.

I do not "manufacture" outrage for my own masochistic pleasure. Racist callbacks to historical racist-movativated practices happen all the time and that was why I linked to the recent "noose" story. I was disputing that 'people' (read: everyone) are 'smart enough' to know or understand something YOU may know or understand. Do you doubt that there will be plenty of people who watch The Jazz Singer and take PLEASURE in the racist elements of the film? Because I don't doubt it even for a second.

I disagree that people are 'smart enough.' That, to me, is a cop out. "Don't bother addressing it, because everyone already knows about it and understands it." That is simply not true, and there is ample current evidence that lots and lots and lots of people are igorant morons who enjoy racist-motivated practice/language/re-writing of history.

"Traditional" history just means (in my comment) the most widely accepted 'version.'

Just factotem-ly: I never went to public school.

Lots and lots and lots of people have never heard of nor ever will hear of Mary Wallstonecraft. It's horrifying, I agree. People who know about Mary Shelley (b/c of Frankenstein) don't know who her mother was.

Personal ignorance on a subject that is openly and easily accessible is not the same as a coverup.

Who has access? Everyone? I feel as though you are repeatedly speaking as though everyone is 'smart enough,' everyone has "access" to the same information or that information is at everyone's fingertips. 'Everyone' knows racism is and was shitty. I am beginning to think you think 'everyone' has the exact same opportunity, education, and freedoms, politically, religiously, sexually, financially, racially, etc. -- and I completely disagree.

It's a calculated decision to try and offend as few people as possible in marketing the film.

Precisely. A 'marketing decision' winning out over a VERY EASY TO DO inclusion of historically relevant information pertaining to the film is just another tired and frustrating example of the people with the money and power silhouetting certain pertinent truths for monetary gain.


[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 05:37 pm (UTC)

and this moron...

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Oh, to be clear -- I also think I and people who may resemble me in education, upbringing, racial/economic privilege -- are just as susceptible to being ignorant morons as anyone else (in case I intimated above that I think I'm not in that category for some reason). In fact, I was telling the story of the release of The Jazz Singer to some colleagues yesterday and a couple of them had never heard of blackface, period. It was an educational moment among people I deeply respect, and I took the opportunity to share with them what I knew of its history... That education, broadening of perspective, understanding culturally relevant information/practices -- I believe that is what brings people forward towards awareness and towards not being ignorant morons all the time (like that couple who dressed up in "jungle savage" blackface, unaware how it might be offensive to anyone).

[User Picture]From: dexfarkin
2007-10-17 07:05 pm (UTC)

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I was disputing that 'people' (read: everyone) are 'smart enough' to know or understand something YOU may know or understand.

I'm afraid I'm actually openly contemptuous of anyone that claims the 'stupidity of the common man' as any kind of basis for an argument. To reverse it, what do you see that indicates to you that people would not find blackface to be an offfensive characture without a narrative on the DVD to indicate it? Not send me a bunch of links of racist behavior. Not sure how racism is today. Show me evidence that blackface and the characature has not filtered broadly into the American consciousness as an offensive representation?

That is simply not true, and there is ample current evidence that lots and lots and lots of people are igorant morons who enjoy racist-motivated practice/language/re-writing of history.

You're assuming that these people are morons. I assume that extremely intelligent and articulate people can also be racists too. We either choose to confront our racial impressions or we don't. What I don't see is a valid argument that states the general population of the United States does not have the adaquete social education to understand that the minstral depiction of black is racist. Because if that was the case, I can see validity in the argument that the studio should have included information about the practice and the societal context. However, I believe with equal ample current evidence that the opposite is the case, that the general populace does understand this is a racially offensive depiction and further information, while it would be laudable to include, is not strictly necessary.

Oh, and the exclusion of a subject is not 'rewriting' it.

Who has access? Everyone?

There are 117,378 libraries in the United States. Sorry, but the idea that these issues are somehow difficult to access is a little silly. We are not exactly talking esotaric information here.

Besides, history is always a loaded subject, since a cirriculum has to be built that will only include a tiny fraction of all the significant events that it should. It is garaunteed to exclude 99.9% of the available content. Individual districts, schools and teachers should be held accountable for justifying those decisions. Once again, this is an issue to be passionate about, and is worth anger and advocacy.

I am beginning to think you think 'everyone' has the exact same opportunity, education, and freedoms, politically, religiously, sexually, financially, racially, etc. -- and I completely disagree.

I'm glad to see you're disagreeing with a strawman you've created.

If you'd like to know, I believe that the public in general is both moderately educated and moderately intelligent. I believe they have the capacity to make choices in what they do or do not wish to study, to believe and to follow. I don't believe that people in general are racist because of an utter lack of knowledge, but out of the choice to believe in such a view. We build our own filters in which to view the world, out of what choices we make for ourselves. Environment, upbringing, education, intelligence all influence our views, but there has to be the point where you either believe people have the capacity to take responsibility for them, or that people are by nature sheep.

I believe when we openly act in contempt of people's ability to make judgements, consider them uneducated at best or stupid at worst, we immediately remove any ability to make change by treating them as inferiors and not worthy of making their own minds up.
[User Picture]From: dexfarkin
2007-10-17 07:05 pm (UTC)

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Precisely. A 'marketing decision' winning out over a VERY EASY TO DO inclusion of historically relevant information pertaining to the film is just another tired and frustrating example of the people with the money and power silhouetting certain pertinent truths for monetary gain.

Frankly, conspiracy theories of this ilk bore me. There are two possible scenarios here; big shadowly men in backrooms with a secret agenda to keep racist ideas alive trying to hide truth by avoiding the issues of blackface all together, or a marketing decision saying let's focus solely on the aspects of the movie that are relevent to the worth of a rerelease, because we're going to offend people with Jolson dressed as an 'ol' darky' on the cover.

As I said before, cowardly sure. Ducking an issue, especially a racially charged one always is. A sinister agenda? Pure tinfoil hat territory.

That is why you're very right that we're going to have to continue to disagree. Frankly, racially offensive stereotypes being perpetuated on today's mass media is a hell of a lot more worrisome to me than an 80 year old rerelease which doesn't devote a bunch of content explaining how it's obviously racially offensive.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 07:43 pm (UTC)

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I didn't imply conspiracy and don't think that's what happened here.

It doesn't need to be 'sinister agenda' for the ommission of pertinent information to be representative of insidious racism. In fact, it may disturb me more that it likely wasn't 'sinister agenda' but rather an ommission 'by accident.'
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 07:40 pm (UTC)

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But then you go to the other extreme, and that's why I'm going to the extreme I'm going to.

In my experience and in conversations and many things I've read or watched actually happening, many people act or speak from a place of fear (or more specifically "anxiety") before ever asking a question to become more educated about that of which they might be fearful. I also make it clear in my adjacent comment that I consider myself and anyone "like me" in significant ways to be equally capable of being ignorant of a great many things. Not because there's no information, but because for MYRIAD reasons, people don't look for it or don't think to look for it.

Look, I'M of the category of people (which is labeled "people") who doesn't know jack, at the end of the day. I'm not playing the elitist here. I'm grateful for Fengi's post because it brought to my attention some things I didn't know - about history (the Jewish piece in the film and Jolson's life) - and about the present. Could Fengi have rather assumed that I (or his other readers) could go find that information about the commemorative release myself because I have "access" to it and because I'm an intelligent person? Sure, he could have. And I could have found it if one day I thought to myself, "I wonder if they ever decided to commemorate The Jazz Singer."

While I feel I have had to take up a 'people need to be more educated stance,' in this conversation as an opposition to what I perceive to be your 'anyone can learn anything they want' stance, I do not operate under the assumption that everyone's INCAPABLE of learning. Or of making up their own minds. My entire argument has focused on one thing and one thing only: just provide the information, the historical context. I believe it matters.

That being said, we live in a society in which people mistreat other people on an individual and a systemic level constantly, and this is after years and years of 'education' being available to 'everyone' about how wrong racism (and other systems of oppression) is and why. (Similarly, I know that smoking causes cancer/emphysema/etc. and yet I continue to smoke. Why? Because I want to and I'm addicted.)

I believe humans are born with a survival and pleasure instinct. I don't believe - on a psychological level - that we are born thinking we're all equals and knowing how to treat each other decently and with respect and compassion. We are concerned first and foremost with ourselves. We are born with 'drives' that push us to get what we want. And development or growth is a constant process of understanding our anxiety, how to manage it, and then the release of anxiety in various forms.

The idea that humans are somehow 'naturally' capable of insight, compassion, understanding, awareness (on a psychological level) has been proven to be developmentally and SYSTEMICALLY untrue.

And I'm not saying anyone's 'inferior' because of that. I'm saying the more education, the more insight, the more breadth of information, the more historical perspective, the more contextual understanding that is conveyed - the more possible it is for people (you, me, etc) to learn and grow beyond the 'fear' instinct (death/life instincts, as Freud called them) (a) and (b) beyond what we already assume we know.

I feel this has gotten heated and I don't think we're having an actual discussion anymore. I do appreciate all your points, and I have been thinking about them and will probably continue to.

-birds.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 08:47 pm (UTC)

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If you'd like to know, I believe that the public in general is both moderately educated and moderately intelligent. I believe they have the capacity to make choices in what they do or do not wish to study, to believe and to follow. I don't believe that people in general are racist because of an utter lack of knowledge, but out of the choice to believe in such a view. We build our own filters in which to view the world, out of what choices we make for ourselves. Environment, upbringing, education, intelligence all influence our views, but there has to be the point where you either believe people have the capacity to take responsibility for them, or that people are by nature sheep.

I actually mostly agree with you here. A main problem for me is the decision in the producers' minds (who made the three DVD set) to exclude important information about the film that is historically relevant and currently salient. Sorry for a link, but in case you missed this one. Seriously, this stuff does still happen...

I don't want people to be sheep, and I understand your point about personal choice. Is it too rigid of me (srsly, I'm asking) to want as many people as possible to recognize the -isms that are unfair and demeaning, both in the system at large and in/to individuals? Like, I am always striving to face ways in which I may act or speak or think in -ist ways, because I value being able to see and understand another person based on his/her merit, not based on -ist factors (race, gender, class, ability, age, whathaveyou). I believe in that self-education and I strive to tell others about it and open dialogues about other people's experiences...I continue to meet people of all ages and races and sexual orientations and etc. who are always learning/being pushed beyond their assumptions. Even my grandmother, who is a complete and utter racist -- she and I have had numerous conversations in which I think both hers and my mind have been broadened... I hope to always be learning and be pushed beyond my assumptions or what I thought I knew. And I think it's apathetic to not reach out to others in an empathic, desire-to-connect way (rather than as an Elite Educator On High, of course). Not so that I resemble other people in my views or other people resemble me, but so that I can continue to act and speak in ways that represent - to the best of my abilities - awareness. Like, I think having this discussion with you is bringing more awareness in me, too. You know?
[User Picture]From: fengi
2007-10-16 06:25 am (UTC)

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The fact that it has Jolson in blackface isn't.

Neither I or other critics are saying blackface should be the only discussion, but that the lack of discussion pf an obvious topic is worth noting.

3 DVDs are devoted to the historical and cultural meaning of the film and it minimizes blackface. The packaging omits the blackface from the poster image and Jolson's image in the ad has been airbrushed extra white.

It's The JAZZ Singer - part of it's success is it was the first film to capitalize on a popular music, with an form created by African-Americans. It was released in 1927 at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. The film is about a Jewish protagonist struggling with his own marginalized "race" (as he puts it) while putting on blackface to sing to a white Christian audience. The NAACP had been pressuring Hollywood on racial issues since Birth of a Nation.

That some whites now think race is a meaningless context for discussing the film only highlights why it this issue should be explored.

Blackface has been the subject of extenstive scholarship and it would have been easy to find both black and white scholars to comment. African American film critic Donald Bogle argues the success of the talkie helped usher out white blackface.

Plus the decision to minimize the issue of blackface is in itself a racial issue, reflecting the absence of black voices in the project.

A side note: minstrel imagery persisted in American culture until the 1950s. Consider Amos and Andy or the Sambos restaurant chanin. Then there's England where that racist bullshit was a non-ironic popular TV show until 1978.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 02:19 pm (UTC)

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The packaging omits the blackface from the poster image and Jolson's image in the ad has been airbrushed extra white.

Yes. There is SHAME in this decision - and rightfully so. And yet, without a dialogue/speaking to the racial tensions present in the time period/film in the 3-DVD collection, I think the obscuring of the images comes across as a COVER-UP. Which I think is why Fengi (rightfully) is pausing on the topic - because that cover-up should not go unnoticed/undiscussed.

That some whites now think race is a meaningless context for discussing the film only highlights why it this issue should be explored.

Precisely. Thank you.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-15 09:04 pm (UTC)

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greg, thanks for this post. i'm dealing with some similar issues with colleagues at school, and i think i will bring this "new release" up in class tomorrow.
[User Picture]From: springheel_jack
2007-10-16 02:51 am (UTC)

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>Jolson was merely

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA

I mean, c'mon. Why? "It's a mistake to judge the past by the standards of the present, but anyway they weren't racists, they feel good about black people just like we do now, and you know Jolson was just trying to be visible from the back rows." Pick one. You can't have both of those.

Part of being objective about the past is realizing you don't have to apologize for it. That film was fucking racist, end of sentence. People may not have thought of it in those terms, but it's true nevertheless. Doesn't erase its importance in the history of film.

Or, what, are we to say D.W. Griffith was really making "Caspar the Friendly Ghost Learns Fire Safety"?
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-16 03:58 am (UTC)

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LOL.
[User Picture]From: fengi
2007-10-16 06:28 am (UTC)

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"People may not have thought of it in those terms, but it's true nevertheless. Doesn't erase its importance in the history of film."

Nor does discussing the historical importance require or permit ignoring the racial issues - if anything it provides more context in which to understand it. Plus, y'know, the film *was about one minority struggling with his identity while dressing up like another minoirity*. Seems like race is at the center, not the margins.
[User Picture]From: fengi
2007-10-16 06:30 am (UTC)

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Dear sir - the only imporant thing was Griffith's technical accomplishments. Content? Who cares. Same with Leni Reifenstahl, to discuss more than composition of shots in Triumph of the Will is to prattle on about insignificant side issues.
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-19 03:40 am (UTC)

EEERRRYYY

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Greg! This I cut and paste from another LJ friend!!! Posted today.

(I actually have enjoyed Sarah Silverman- especially Jesus is Magic, but I couldn't resist the UNCANNINESS of this)

I find SS [Sarah Silverman] to be really insultingly facile comedy - shock for the sake of shock, a string of racial slurs supposedly made OK since it's "comedy" and hey, she's a minority too. Plus, she's pretty! If you didn't see last night's episode, don't bother, please. I think we can all agree that there is rarely an appropriate time to have a white person in blackface, right? And I can feel pretty confident in saying that there's nothing more offensive than seeing something so volatile not used for any greater purpose than to serve Sarah Silverman.