Thursday, November 8, 2007

More Baseball, and other stuff

Peter came over on Tuesday night with the second disc of Ken Burns' Baseball and we enjoyed it alongside some beers and Middle Eastern food. The further hijinx of tremendous asshole John McGraw—on the one hand carrying a piece from a noose used in a lynching for good luck, on the other (?) hand trying to sneak a black player onto his team by calling him "Chief John Tokohama," supposedly an Indian—were of course entertaining, but the highlight for me were the clips from a DeWolf Hopper recitation of "Casey at the Bat," a poem whose charms have always eluded me.

The pictures in the Wikipedia entry show him as a young man, and it says he was only thirty when he first performed the poem. But given that that was well before the turn of the century, I suppose it isn't surprising that by the time the film used in the documentary was recorded, he was pretty creepily ancient. I wish I could find a YouTube of it, but his lipstick alone is spine-tingling, and that's before he even begins his Cryptkeeperly melodramatic delivery. Ugh. I can't tell if the repulsiveness of the performance indicates the wide gulf between what was then and what is now considered entertaining, or if rather it suggests an element of the freak show in vaudeville that modern audiences only look for in reality television.

Hm, Wikipedia also says Hopper had (at least, I suppose) six wives. Interesting that as I watched the clip, some of my thoughts were along the lines as "so sad that this is what gays once had to resort to to make a living."

On the topic of oldish film clips (and gays, and tremendous assholes), a blog discussion of a debate on 9/11 conspiracy theories led me to discover clips from one of a series of debates between William Buckley and Gore Vidal during the 1968 presidential election. So many awesome things about these.

First, I love the rhetoric. Buckley's intimations of treason are of course not so different from what we hear from the bloodthirsty right today, with standard issue red-baiting standing in for contemporary accusations of Saddam-loving and terrorist-loving. But Vidal's side, damn. I realize that this one debate, taking place as it did during the unrest of the Chicago Democratic Convention, is unique even for the time, but the idea that the whole issue of the debate is framed from the beginning as essentially "yes or no: we are now living in an authoritarian police state" speaks volumes. Coming from a world in which Russ Feingold's is a champion of the left for quietly opining that perhaps millionaires should not be able to buy their way into political office, it's refreshing (and depressing) to see that national television once made room for a genuinely left-wing point of view. Vidal is still around, but he's so old

Second, there is the part where the two "nearly come to blows," as it seems to always be described. It is basically just Gore Vidal calling William Buckley a "crypto-Nazi" and then Buckley calling Vidal a "queah" and threatening to punch him, but it is awesome. Again, you have to love the willingness to casually accuse someone of harboring fascist tendencies. Try to get a public intellectual (do such beasts still roam the world?) to apply the f-word today to even such a worthy target as, say, Rudy Giuliani. Here's the episode from YouTube:

Finally, it's fascinating to hear conservative cant from a source other than a faux cowboy jes' talkin' common sense. This predates the conservative movement's rebranding as an ideology of the working man. It's the same apologetics for the rich and powerful, but actually voiced by someone who is unabashedly rich and powerful. Which should be the most straightforward thing in the world, but because of how successful the right wing has been in burying the realities of the movement, it comes across almost as a put-on. Clearly this upper-class twit cannot really be a Nixon supporter.

Also while looking for those videos, I found a two-part debate from 1969, between Buckley and Noam Chomsky. The subject was US imperialism and interventionism, and how the two might be distinguished, if indeed they can be. Again, you have to love Buckley's shameless effete upper-classness. Chomsky comes across, appropriately enough, as a real professor type just trying to get down to the hard facts of the matter, in stark contrast with Buckley's high-flown rhetoric. It's in two parts:

The old-fashioned days, guys. So awesome.


DU said...

Today's vaudeville = reality TV shows! I wish I'd thought of that!

Travis said...

I think I stole that from Andrew. Although he might have said today's vaudeville = iPods or something.

DU said...


In re: the rest of the post. Relative to the 60s, is the conservatism of current opinion related to conservatism of *expressing* the opinions?

I guess it's a sliding window. In yesteryear, calling someone a fascist was inbounds on the left but calling for torture of your political opponents was verboten on the right. Now it's reversed.

Or is that really the case? Has only the left been forced to "be reasonable"?