Tag Archives: Rogers & Hammerstein

Triggers and Charlottesville: From the Whys to the Whats?

14 Aug

Triggers and Charlottesville:

From the Whys to the Whats?

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When my son was diagnosed with childhood leukemia, I learned of a theory being studied to answer the question “Why?”

The thought behind the theory was the potential for cancer resides in many of us. Like a bullet, it rests harmlessly among the billions of cells from which we are comprised. At some point, an event occurs that “cocks the trigger.” Perhaps exposure to something in our food, or in the air.

In our case, we wondered if one of those inane plastic toy figures – like the soldiers in a box – that had fallen onto the baseboard heating unit in my son’s bedroom, was the trigger. We awoke in the dead of night to our fire alarms screaming, and dense oily smoke layering the upper half of his bedroom. The figurine had caught on fire. By the time we were awakened and I burst into his room, he had certainly breathed in the caustic smoke.

Or, perhaps it was the location of an electric power station, not half a block away. Studies were being done at the time on the effect of electromagnetism at a cellular level.

We wanted – needed – an explanation.

Why?

That question was never answered. Our attention, however, turned from the why to what we could do about his condition. At least that question had some answers.

Segue to Charlottesville and the conflagration that occurred over the weekend. Not so dissimilar from discovering you have cancer. And more readily predictable – especially the trigger theory part.

I wonder if Robert E. Lee were able to comment on the events of Saturday, what he would say. Lest he be cast as the trigger of this event, here are some of his recorded thoughts that contradict the fascist positions of the Alt-Right and the KKK:

  • In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.*
  • We should live, act, and say nothing to the injury of anyone. It is not only best as a matter of principle, but it is the path to peace and honor.*
  • What a cruel thing war is… to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.*
  • I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.*

*www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/robertele753002.html

This is not, in my opinion, a conflict of anything but fear, hate, and a reckless loathing of anyone who differs from those who believe in White Supremacy. It smacks of a position that runs inexplicably across economic and educational stratification. And, it is not random.†

It is taught. It is the we/they mentality that boggles common sense. And it has been an underlying tear in this country’s fabric since the beginning. It cannot be legislated away. It metastasizes wherever separate but superior exists. It incubates for decades – for generations – until it erupts in events like Jim Crow, Selma, Watts, Charlottesville.

In the musical South Pacific, Lieutenant Cable addresses racism (Oscar Hammerstein, II) through the lyrics of You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The song, according to an article by Andrea Most that appeared in Theatre Journal in October 2000, was the “trigger” for lawmakers in the state of Georgia to introduce legislation outlawing any entertainment that contained “‘an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.’[2] One legislator said that ‘a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life.’[2] Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work strongly. James Michener, upon whose stories South Pacific was based, recalled, ‘The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.’”**

**Andrea Most, “‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’: The Politics of Race in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific” Theatre Journal 52, no. 3 (October 2000), 306.

In the cancer analogy, the triggers appear to be anything that threatens fearful people. And what is triggered seems to be anger and resentment at losing something that was once thought to be innate – the “superiority” of one race, one religion, one political spectrum.

From the beginning of time our ancestors have unknowingly set the stage for what occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend. Carefully taught to hate all the people your relatives hate. It is not in the DNA.

What are you and I going to do about it?

 

†In holding on to that anger and resentment, nothing can be accomplished in the way of progress – certainly not resolution. A mentor once used the illustration of how monkeys used to be caught. A clear glass cider jar was “seeded” with peanuts, and a rope tied to its finger ring near the opening, which was tied to a stake. Seeing the peanuts, the monkey would easily slip its paw through the opening to grab a peanut, balling its fist to hold the treat. When the monkey tried to pull his hand out, his fist was too large to come out of the opening. Because the monkey would not let go of his prized peanut, he was easily captured. The simple moral is we are captured by our own stubbornness to hold onto things we ought to let go.