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This is about celebrating film, not petty historic grudges. [Oct. 15th, 2007|12:26 pm]
Greetings Fellow Comstoks!
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!
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 05:31 pm (UTC)
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.


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

and this moron...

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).

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

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.
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[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 07:43 pm (UTC)
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.'
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[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 07:40 pm (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: birds_hum
2007-10-17 08:47 pm (UTC)
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?
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