Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Art and Politics: Thoughts on Mark Twain and Bristol Palin . . .

NPR sends out a regular missive called "Scoop," which contains mostly shop talk about NPR programming. But occasionally the Scoops include some entertaining nugget that has absolutely nothing to do with NPR.

This week's entertaining nugget was culled from a short New Yorker article about Mark Twain by Macy Halford. In it, Halford relates how, in 1905, Mr. Twain asked the President to move Thanksgiving, because its date that year, November 30th, coincided with the famous author's 70th birthday.

Mark Twain's 70th Birthday Celebration
Twain, himself,  noted the incident in his modest, 2000-page autobiography (the excerpt below was lifted from The New Yorker. 
It [Twain's birthday] arrived on the 30th of November, but Colonel Harvey* was not able to celebrate it on that date because that date had been preempted by the President to be used as Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for—annually, not oftener—if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man's side, consequently on the Lord's side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments. The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist—the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with Heaven, with the thanks due. But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us, and every year the President of the United States and the Governors of all the several States and the territories set themselves the task, every November, to advertise for something to be thankful for, and then they put those thanks into a few crisp and reverent phrases, in the form of a Proclamation, and this is read from all the pulpits in the land, the national conscience is wiped clean with one swipe, and sin is resumed at the old stand.
Twain by this time (writes Macy Halford) had traveled a long way—from the banks of the Mississippi to a mansion on Fifth Avenue—and had become, as New Yorkers will, unrelenting in his agendas, and brilliantly so:
[Harvey] went to Washington to try to get the President to select another day for the national Thanksgiving, and I furnished him with arguments to use which I thought persuasive and convincing, arguments which ought to persude (sic) him even to put off Thanksgiving Day a whole year—on the ground that nothing had happened during the previous twelvemonth except several vicious and inexcusable wars, and King Leopold of Belgium's usual annual slaughters and robberies in the Congo State, together with the Insurance revelations in New York, which seemed to establish the fact that if there was an honest man left in the United States, there was only one, and we wanted to celebrate his seventieth birthday.
Hmmmm. Methinks Mark Twain did not approve of the direction in which his country was heading . . .

The President whom Mr. Harvey went to see was Theodore Roosevelt.  Mark Twain was famously not a fan of the President, disagreeing with him on many points of policy, such as whether or not invading the Philippines had been a good idea and the appropriateness of America shouldering the White Man's Burden.

Yet, amazingly, many people who voted for Theodore Roosevelt read Mark Twain.

What a concept! Imagine keeping one's personal politics from taking over one's entire life. But then think for a moment about what a loss it would have been to us all if Mr. Twain's anti-Imperialist politics had eroded his book sales to the point where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn never made the literary big-time..

Zoom with me to the present, please: Thanksgiving Eve Day 2010

The Washington Post has been running front page coverage of Bristol Palin's appearance on Dancing with the Stars. I haven't watched the show, but I have followed the Post's coverage. Consensus appears to be that a lot of the folks who voted for or against Bristol in the competition were more focused on her mother's politics than her own dancing.

These paragraphs were drawn from Lisa de Moraes' regular Post TV column.
"Are you planning on hosting a Team Bristol Monday Night Dancing Watch party?" conservative blogger Kevin DuJan asked on his blog before the Monday show. "You ... can actually vote together and send Bristol over the top ... while sending Leftist heads into meltdown."
On the other side of the political spectrum, the liberal Web site Network for Progress urged people to get out the vote for Jennifer.
"Fight back against the Tea Party ... because they may make our news and elections into a joke but we need to draw a line at our reality competitions!" the Web site said in an e-mail, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Join Network For Progress as we come together to raise awareness about one of the biggest threats America faces today ... Bristol Palin winning Dancing with the Stars...."
Bristol Palin placed third in Dancing with the Stars. We'll  never know whether it was her dancing or her mother that lost the competition.

Which, in my opinion, is a real shame. And kind of scary, as well.

Wonder how Mark Twain would have fared on Dancing with the Stars?
*Mark Twain's editor at the North American Review

No comments:

Post a Comment