Saturday, April 20, 2013

Of Oscar Wilde, Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Alan Jones and Christopher Pearson ...

(Above: not a green carnation in sight).

On the evidence already out there in relation to the Boston matter, one of the more trivial matters arising is that it seems Alan Jones mis-spoke.

But then Alan Jones always mis-speaks, so there's no learning experience here.

As usual, Mike Carlton seized the moment this morning to berate Jones for blaming blow-in "left-wing students":

Surely the FBI could have saved itself a lot of time and trouble if it had rung our very own Alan Jones, the visionary broadcaster, to find out who was behind the Boston bombing ...
Unkind people might think that Alan is a bit low on marbles these days, or even that he's lost them altogether, but I cannot agree. He and his wonderful radio station, 2GB, are all that stand between us and the abyss.  (here)

Yes, the pond got hooked on a live feed from Boston television - a bit like that O. J. Simpson cross-town parade - and watched the drama unfold long into the night - or should that be long into the dawn - but before the pond does an Alan Jones, shoots off the mouth and mis-speaks, let's move on to others, professionals, who making their living by mis-speaking.

Let's cut right to the heart of the matter, which usually involves prejudice, of a blind and ignorant kind, and a wanton posing, involving supercilious notions of superiority, generously mixed with bile, and where better to look than the pond's Saturday favourite, Christopher Pearson?

Cop this for starters, as he rabbits on in Bright sparks left to burn out about education, (behind the paywall because unless you can pay for your education, you should just stay dumb), about how the bright are made to suffer in the school system:

There are other endemic problems, many of them attributable to political correctness. For example, the boys who get most encouragement and approval in secondary schools these days tend to be the ones who behave like honorary girls. Clever girls who display a modicum of reserve in their dealings with classmates and teachers - a matter of elementary prudence - are far too readily censured as anti-social or "uncaring".

You could spend a month unpicking those bizarre notions - all the implications and resonances of "honorary girls" and "clever girls" like Prudence displaying a modicum of reserve.

Possibly the trauma started when Pearson first heard the Beatles:

Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play 
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day 
The sun is up, the sky is blue 
It's beautiful and so are you 
Dear Prudence won't you come out to play 
Dear Prudence open up your eyes 
Dear Prudence see the sunny skies 
The wind is low the birds will sing 
That you are part of everything 
Dear Prudence won't you open up your eyes?

Oh go away wretched Beatles, I'm merely being Prue-dential, and cultivating my anti-social and uncaring manner and any other stereotypical cliched behaviour Mr. Pearson might inculcate into me.

But wait, it gets worse, because Pearson recognises he might be on dodgy ground, so he tries to feint and recover:

It probably understates the case to say I have no truck with PC and that there's not an equal-opportunity bone in my body. So it came as something of a surprise to me, but a pleasant one, to discover in my 40s that avuncular relations with adolescent girls were possible and that two of the four people in the past two decades I've had the pleasure of teaching were of the female persuasion. One of them has become a concert pianist, the other a teacher. Both of them won first-class honours and I'm immoderately proud of them.

Indeed, they survived Pearson and moved on, a man who amazingly can write about adolescent girls being of "the female persuasion".

Has Pearson finally adopted the notion of gender as something which can be stretched, with the boundaries between gender/identity roles and sexuality blurred in these modern times? Is gender just a matter of persuasion? Is Pearson merely a man of the male persuasion because he was persuaded that way in his youth?

But wait, there's more and here the aesthetic rubber really hits the road, and leaves some rim-marks on the road kill left behind:

When it comes to the Left-liberal pieties enshrined in texts such as The Grapes of Wrath or To Kill a Mockingbird, uncritical endorsement is the only acceptable response in most schools. 

Such profound stupidity, so ostentatiously paraded.

It would, of course, behove a sensible commentator to provide evidence of said "uncritical endorsement" as the "only acceptable response" before publicly airing such a silly remark, but it's Pearson, remember, the literary equivalent of Alan Jones. But do go on:

I'm old enough to remember when they first appeared on the secondary syllabus in the early 1960s and thinking what awful slop they were at the time although, even then, saying so was one of those sins for which there could be no forgiveness. 

Which is strange, because the pond can remember any number of people who didn't use bucket words like "awful slop" but nonetheless could produce a balanced assessment of the works which didn't involve simpering uncritical endorsement.

But the judgement does bring Pearson into line with fellow American critics in the matter of The Grapes of Wrath, many of whom reside in trailers in Mississippi:

... The Grapes of Wrath has been banned by school boards: in August 1939, Kern County Board of Supervisors banned the book from the county's publicly funded schools and libraries. It was burned in Salinas on two different occasions. In 2003, a school board in Mississippi banned it on the grounds of profanity. According to the American Library Association Steinbeck was one of the ten most frequently banned authors from 1990 to 2004, with Of Mice and Men ranking sixth out of 100 such books in the United States. (wiki here for the footnotes and more on Steinbeck).

And strange to say, much the same can be said about To Kill a Mockingbird:

To Kill a Mockingbird has been a source of significant controversy since its being the subject of classroom study as early as 1963. The book's racial slurs, profanity, and frank discussion of rape have led people to challenge its appropriateness in libraries and classrooms across the United States. The American Library Association reported that To Kill a Mockingbird was number 21 of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 2000–2009. (wiki the book and more details here).

Oh yes, you can just imagine school boards in the United States giving a fey sigh and talking of books with left-liberal pieties and demanding that they be burnt or banned for the awful, completely PC yet somehow threatening slop they are ... anything to shut down intelligent discussion ... But do go on ...

Put it down to a sense of belated fellow-feeling but about 20 years ago I came to the conclusion that it would be a terrible betrayal if I didn't give talented kids, when I came across them, the most attentive conversation and the best books I could manage.

The only best book Pearson mentions?

Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest ... (The Tempest is for next year).

Now the pond loves Oscar Wilde, ever since being introduced to him, alongside John Steinbeck, in what in the old days passed for a balanced informative education whereby all sorts of people and works could be contemplated for what they offer and have to say.

But with it came the irresistible vision of young Christopher sitting down and racing through the complete works of Gilbert and Sullivan, perhaps while wearing a smoking jacket with a dyed buttonhole and green carnation.

Pearson sends his young charge down to Google Dame Edith Evans playing Lady Bracknell, but he might just as easily have proposed that his young charge look up Henry Fonda in John Ford's version of The Grapes of Wrath (or even better, John Wayne in John Ford's masterpiece, The Searchers).

It was only quite recently that Ken Burns did an impressive documentary series on The Dust Bowl, which taken with Steinbeck and his Joad family could easily increase anyone's understanding of the United States, and a significant physical event that had immense consequences for the people who lived through it.

Is there something wrong with enhancing understanding in this way? Perhaps there is, if you prefer idle chatter about left-liberal pieties and vain boasts of being un-PC. Incomprehension and stereotypes are so much easier ...

Yet each man kills the thing he loves 
By each let this be heard, 
Some do it with a bitter look, 
Some with a flattering word, 
The coward does it with a kiss,  
The brave man with a sword! 

Some kill their love when they are young, 
And some when they are old; 
Some strangle with the hands of Lust, 
Some with the hands of Gold: 
The kindest use a knife, because 
The dead so soon grow cold. 

Some love too little, some too long, 
Some sell, and others buy; 
Some do the deed with many tears, 
And some without a sigh: 
For each man kills the thing he loves, 
Yet each man does not die. (the rest here)

In the end, the penny dropped:

And then there are the boys: two brothers from a family in the local Latin mass community ...

The local Latin mass community! Say no more. As Coleridge might say, that such a thing should be ...

Oh wait, say a little more:

It may seem like a small thing, but inducting young men into the niceties of knives, kitchenware and spices strikes me as one of the more important elements in transmitting the culture. 
It is very useful, for example, to know that prosciutto goes wonderfully well with figs or melon and that if you don't have the time or the inclination to make something more complicated you can fix something sustaining in a matter of minutes. 

Say bloody what?

You mean introduce them to nice bourgeois liberal pieties? You mean teach them to behave like honorary girlies?

Teach them kitchen political correctness?

Oh no, say it ain't so. But do go on:

Then there are the pleasures of showing them how to shop for food. Excursions to the central market to introduce them to the best grocers and butchers in the city make it likelier that, wherever they end up living, they'll know what to look out for. Studying and eating aren't mutually exclusive activities. 
Let one example suffice: interrupting a morning's work with Watkin Tench - reading about survival on starvation rations in the earliest days of colonial Sydney - to buy some veal and produce a decent osso bucco.

Yep, it's so, and what's the bet Pearson's students never get the first clue about what survival on starvation rations is like - it goes without saying that the pond got up at 4 am to leave cardboard box in middle of road to work in mill - and even less of a clue about Oscar Wilde serving out his time in Reading Gaol for a crime which should never have been a crime ...

Yes he was done down by the establishment with its vicious moral judgements and its talk of political and sexual correctness.

If only Pearson's students had a chance, they might find there's more in common between Wilde and the Joads and Mockingbird than they dared dream of in their Latin-saturated universe ...

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange! 
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy
Or your talk of left liberal pieties and political correctness... 

Thank the long absent lord the young are resilient and in the end find their own way ...

As Pasolini once said, it's the business of students to eat their teachers, and having digested the meal ... perhaps with a tasty osso bucco on the side ... to move on, and perhaps even to catch up on all the interesting reading they missed out on because of the blind and wilful prejudices of their teachers ...

(Below: Beardsley does Wilde, and what the heck a few more Beardsley drawings for the fun of it).


  1. Oh, lord, how I hate Oscar Wilde! My hate is a pure and burning thing, based on the simpering effeteness of such obsolete queens as Pearson, fuelled by their embrace of wit instead of justice, culture instead of power, cookery instead of sexuality! Wilde has been poisoned forever by these men...I think I need coffee and Prozac.

  2. Or nasty gay sex at least. Oscar would have approved, but not Chrissy P.

  3. By golly GlenH, maybe you need a sniff of amyl nitrate! But don't give up on Wilde, just give up on Pearson. It's so easy you won't even notice, and then you can have wit and justice, cookery, coffee and so many other things, including a nasty nasty nasty ... and what's more without the need to rush off to confession and speak in Latin begging for forgiveness ...

  4. Alan Jones must have been born with faulty crystal balls. Right winger have been responsible for more acts of terrorism in the USA than left wingers.

  5. He really didn't want to like those girls...such amazement it turned out to be a rewarding experience...

  6. Aha: the literary equivalent of Alan Jones NICE!!!

    And this discovered just a couple days after Mr Pearson finally managed to do something that will make the world a better place: dying


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