“Take Your Broken Heart….”

In a world that has felt crazy and out of control for a while now, it is a true delight to know that there are women in the world like the radiant Viola Davis and the incomparable Meryl Streep. Their words from this year’s Golden Globe Awards are both touching and eloquent. Faced with the reality into which we are all about to be plunged, Meryl Streep’s words resonate profoundly. They bear listening to and repeating again and again.

To be used in a piece with the same title on Expats Post on Wednesday 11th January 2017

David Bowie. 1947-2016

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I grew up on the genius of David Bowie. Indeed, I played my cassette of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars so often it wound up spliced and respliced until it finally wore through. In music, film, fashion, life, he was as if from another realm entirely. His chiseled androgyny served as both lure and challenge, as he capered across the cultural landscape, forever reinventing himself, pushing boundaries with an eerie prescience.

Many words far better than mine will be written about Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane/The Thin White Duke/Regular Dude, et al., and his profound influence on the creative world of the past 50 years. So I won’t ramble. For now, let David Bowie’s work speak.

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Fly high and thank you. What gifts you gave us all.

Remember, Remember….

The 5th of November.

Tis Guy Fawkes Day, once more. A day whose meaning has been muddled by popular culture through the years, notably Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel, V for Vendetta and the 2005 anti-fascist film it inspired. G8yHZyP

The hack-anarchists over at Anonymous picked up the banner (and mask) and a modern anti-tyranny, liberal-leaning legend was born.

But how do these representations stack up against the historical Mr. Fawkes?

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My first introduction to Guy Fawkes was when I was 8 years old and we were living in Devon for a year. I knew little of the history then, but certainly enjoyed the fireworks and bonfires – what kid would not? It was only later, as my fascination with history grew, that I looked beyond the sparkling festivities to the story beneath.

Guy Fawkes – aka Guido Fawkes, aka John Johnson – was a Catholic at a time when being Catholic in England was not easy. The Church of England was less than a century old and anti-Papist feeling was still running high. Catholics were still being imprisoned, having their lands confiscated, and worse. It was the 17th century, after all.

After fighting with Spain against his king, James I, and country, Fawkes fell in with a group of provincial Catholics who were convinced the only thing to do was to bring down the government and restore Catholic supremacy across the land. King, ministers, Parliament, the whole shebang, had to go. Thus was launched the ill-fated Gunpowder Plot. Because of his years in the military, the cabal put Guy in charge of the powder.The_Gunpowder_Plot_Conspirators,_1605_from_NPG

So it was that on the 5th of November, 16o5, Fawkes was caught guarding kegs of explosives beneath the Houses of Parliament. Following a seriously enhanced interrogation, he gave up his fellow conspirators, and, in the gruesome fashion of the day, all were executed for High Treason.

So, the question remains, was he a hero or a religious zealot? Were he and his fellow plotters striking a blow against a royal tyrant or looking to unleash anarchy on their homeland? While James I wasn’t a perfect monarch, there had certainly been greater despots before and since. And, aside from their religious convictions, one would be hard pressed to find a cohesive political motivation for the plotters’ actions. They simply wanted to replace the authority of a lawful monarch with that of the Pope, without regard for the loss of life or social upheaval. Religious wars are like that no matter what the age or faiths. Hmmm. In the end,  it can be said that the attempted assasination of the King gave James a period of good will he might otherwise not have had. Certainly, in full, the poem we know of the day is pro-James/anit-Guy.

THE FIFTH of NOVEMBER

    Remember, remember!
    The fifth of November,
    The Gunpowder treason and plot;
    I know of no reason
    Why the Gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot!
    Guy Fawkes and his companions
    Did the scheme contrive,
    To blow the King and Parliament
    All up alive.
    Threescore barrels, laid below,
    To prove old England’s overthrow.
    But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
    With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
    A stick and a stake
    For King James’s sake!
    If you won’t give me one,
    I’ll take two,
    The better for me,
    And the worse for you.
    A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
    A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
    A pint of beer to wash it down,
    And a jolly good fire to burn him.
    Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
    Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!

In terms of modern politics and those who have latched onto Guy Fawkes as a symbol, in the United States the fundamentalist “religious liberty” types seem to have more in common with him than any liberal faction. After all, they believe their religous faith trumps anyone else’s rights, regardless what the law and Constitution say. They would likely be shocked by this link. But then again, over here ignorance often leads people to get their history wrong. Just look at the Tea Party. Never let something like history or facts get in the way of a little good old fashion demagoguery. God knows the current flock of GOP presidential candidates don’t.

For myself, I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot in my heart for the traitor Fawkes. And, being anti-totalitarian to my core, I am especially fond of his Fawkes-as-V incarnation. Is it historical, no. But it is good storytelling. And that – along with fireworks and rousing overtures – will always appeal to the rebelious 8-year-old lingering inside me.

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Bread and Roses…

Labor Day –

Summer winds down. The nights grow a little longer and brisker, the air fills with the sweet scent of golden rod and apple. Labor Day is upon us. Over potato salad and various grilled goodies, we take a day to commemorate the long history of labor and unions in this country. In theory.

The reality is, the powers-that-be don’t really want us to think about labor on Labor Day. They especially don’t want us to think about the great impact unions have had on the people of this nation.

Couple that with the fact that people like Scott Walker and his Koch brother overlords are trying to roll all Union progress back to the Stone Age and Labor Day is one massive disconnect in the American psyche.

Today, there are generations of young people buying into the Unions-as-boogey-men-of-the-middle-class BS spewed by the GOP. (Especially the NEA – republican “family values” don’t extend to making sure children are well educated by properly trained and paid teachers.) It’s Fox and talk radio and the big lie told again and again, louder and louder, until it sticks.

Where is the truth to combat the falsehood? Sometimes it lies in art.

I am a fan of films, old and new; the good ones can be great teachers. I particularly enjoy the Turner Classic Movie Channel. TCM has a penchant for holiday theme marathons – weekends of war films for Memorial Day and Veterans Day are annual fare – so I was eager to see what they had planned for today in honor of Labor Day.

There was nothing. No Norma Rae

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or Matewan;

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no On the Waterfront

ON THE WATERFRONT, Marlon Brando, 1954

 or The Molly Maguires.

North Country,

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Silkwood, 9 to 5, With These Hands, Brassed Off, Kinki Boots, Bread & Roses, Roger and Me, El Norte,

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American Dream, The Efficiency Expert (to name but a few). Not even Grapes of Wrath or How Green Was My Valley. Nada. I even checked Netflix and other streaming stations. Aside from a few Criterion Collection gems, labor films are rarer than hen’s teeth lost under a blue moon.

You would think there never was a labor movement in this country. And that is just the way the right wing wants it.

This morning my inbox was flooded with e-mails from Walmart – yes, I’m sorry to say limited resources and options do drive me to Walmart on occasion – announcing a big sale (of course) “in honor of your hard work.”

How about providing a living wage – $15/hour is a start – and proper benefits “in honor of your hard work?” How about supporting unions and collective bargaining “in honor of your hard work?”

No, they wouldn’t do that. Instead they want you to sweeten their bottom line with your hard-earned wages. Because, hey, the Walton family labor, too, and they deserve the fruits of those labors.

The George Baileys of the world are struggling to survive, but that’s just the way it is in an increasingly Mr. Potter world. The rich can never be rich enough. And that’s ok, because one day the 1% will deign to trickle down on the rest of us and we’ll be so very grateful they saved us from those nasty unions.

When it comes to workers and the Labor movement in this country, the cognitive dissonance clangs so hard it shakes your teeth loose. And it’s killing us: the working poor, the middle class, and soon even the 1%.

Bernie Sanders reminded us today,

“Against overwhelming odds, the men and women of the labor movement changed society for the better. If you’ve ever enjoyed a paid vacation, a sick day, or a pension, they are the people to thank.”

And how better thank them than in song. So, raise a beer or lemonade and lift up your voice before it is too late.

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