Tag Archives: culture

When Courage Was No Stranger to Politics

Spirituality at sunsetWhen NFL commissioner Roger Goodell treated domestic violence lightly, he was straying far from the path of his father’s footsteps. The contrasting behavior of son and father provides a prism through which we can see more clearly the distemper of our times.

Charles Goodell, Roger’s father, had been appointed to replace Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, as Senator from New York.  The following year, Senator  Goodell spoke  out against the war in Vietnam, which was then the stepchild of   Richard Nixon’s White House.  Goodell and the president  were both Republicans, but  Nixon,  famous for his vindictiveness, opposed Goodell’s election campaign.  Vice President Agnew weighed in with some of his typically scurrilous attacks.   Charles Goodell lost his bid to return to the Senate, and the White House had one fewer critic.

If the contrast of  Senator Goodell’s principled  stand with his son’s attempted evasion is seen as  primarily a personal difference, we overlook a significant cultural shift.   Charles Goodell’s forthright and risky  stand was memorable, but not unique in his day.  Democratic senators criticized Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s policy in Vietnam, and incurred his wrath.  In an action  that would be unthinkable today, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a conservative  Democrat, held televised  hearings on the war, which included experts who strongly disagreed with President Johnson’s policy.  Such fidelity to the Constitutional role of Congress seems almost quaint in the 21st century.

In American history, though certainly not recently, it has been accepted that  some political leaders would dissent from their party on critical issues.  The political world attracted people, particularly those inspired by  John Kennedy’s leadership, who felt that public service was a calling.  The country’s interest was better  served, as partisanship gave way to principle at crucial times—as it did in Senator Goodell’s dissent.  Ironically, four years after Goodell felt the White House’s ire, Republican Congressmen played a key role in impeaching Nixon for his misdeeds, including an overzealous targeting of his political “enemies.”

Today, the contagion of opportunism extends far beyond the offices of the NFL. As Roger Goodell put the NFL’s bottom line above principle, so our current crop of politicians put party loyalty above their Constitutional role. There are no Senator Goodells in Washington now, and the country is far poorer for it.  Recent experience shows that our democracy cannot  function without a  contingent of men and women who will dissent from their party when they feel it necessary for the good of the country.  By making the Senator  Goodells of our political system an extinct species, the destructive partisanship of our times puts democracy itself at peril.

Before Katniss, There Was Julia

Diana, the forebear of Katniss (photo: public domain)

Diana, the forebear of Katniss
(photo: public domain)

Before Katniss Everdeen emerged as a strong, vital female character, there was Julia. The year was 1977, and feminism at its most fervent reached the screen. The movie, Julia, garnered 11 Oscar nominations, winning 3 awards. Vanessa Redgrave, in a luminous performance, plays the title character, a young leader of the antifascist underground in Nazi Germany. Jane Fonda portrays her lifelong friend, who with Julia’s encouragement leaves the comfort and safety of her writer’s beach house in America to smuggle money into Berlin for the Resistance.  Each time I watch this movie, I marvel at Jane Fonda’s artistry.

[Repost from April]

In a scene that defines Julia’s character and sets the tone for the way the film depicts women, Nazi hooligans invade her university’s campus in Vienna and begin gleefully tossing Jewish students and professors over a balcony. Brandishing a table leg, Julia leads her fellow medical students in a charge to defend the mob’s hapless victims. In the ensuing combat, she endures a savage beating and loses a leg as a result. Later, swathed in bandages and lying in her hospital bed, she is visited by her friend from America, Lillian, who insists on staying by her side. When Julia recovers, she returns to the Resistance.

In the mid 1970s, the feminist movement was newly ascendant. Julia and Lillian as screen characters epitomized sisterhood in the face of peril and reaction against progress. Their camaraderie glows from the screen. In art, they dramatized the reality of the ferment in society. They did more; in the film, Julia and Lillian presented a counter vision of how social change might proceed. The glow was the light of hope. Continue reading

Could You Have a Male Repeat That Suggestion?

forbearer of Katniss


10 Words for Each Girl to Learn [Article]

I was so impressed by the linked  article   by Soraya Chamaly, which  a friend shared on Facebook. Employing telling personal anecdotes supplemented by research, the author paints a vivid picture of  women’s voices being ignored  in a male world.   “A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.”

Reading the article, I saw a reflection of my law school experience, some 10 years ago.  Classes were 50% women, yet discussions unfailingly took on a male-oriented, competitive tone.  Women students’ contributions were diminished until they simply declined to play the game.

In addition to the obvious limiting of women’s horizons, excluding or belittling women’s voices impoverishes our culture and ossifies its thinking.  As social problems prove resistant to the traditional male solutions, this is a deficit that we can clearly no longer afford.

If you like this article, you might also be interested in my short (I promise!) essay on Katniss Everdeen’s social/political significance.
“Solicitous to those most in need of solace, yet entirely capable of the hunter/warrior’s resolve, Katniss’ character suggests a renewal for our ailing spirit in politics.”

MASH and the Spirit in Politics Today: Past as Prologue

Art in all varieties has at its best provided  a vision  offering us an alternative to the status quo and its bland conventional wisdom.   A  prophet is often without honor in her own country, so counter visions tend to briefly illuminate the possibilities and then fade away.  Or perhaps they enter a period of dormancy, to reveal themselves at a later time: the past is often prologue.  Not so long ago, there was a television show  like that.

In  February 1983, an unprecedented  television audience watched the last episode of the comedy-drama, MASH.  Over 105 million Americans tuned in to find out what would happen to the cast of characters who had become familiar over the previous decade, and who had in that time visited millions of American homes.  The exploits of the 4077th MASH unit, and the family-like  bonds its characters developed over the course of the series, had attracted a following that made the show among the most-watched of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Continue reading