Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
Good Morning, I hope I'm not over staying my welcome with another e-mail. Maybe I should just go straight to the "Letters" section in the future. However, I wanted to tell you that yesterday evening - after all the thought provoking reading and our e-mails - it all kept churning around in my head; and as I had to drive down into Appalachia for a work assignment - about a five hour round trip - I was left with a lot of time in the car to think about the Jim Crow Museum, stereotyping and negative caricatures in general. Anyway, it occur to me that maybe I had not asked myself the right questions, i.e. where is the line to be drawn; is there a ever a legitimate usage of and/or place for the derogatory, the negative caricatures and stereotyping outside of a teaching environment such as your museum.
And my original question about Faulkner seemed a little dumb as, yes, the "Arts" are a teaching vehicle and there should be legitimate usages, but making the call, and as to who can make it and in what context - that gets tricky. The current controversy over the use of the N word swirls around us everyday (last night black comedian Eddie Griffin was stopped in the middle of his routine). Is that conversation, an internal "Family" affair on which I should keep my opinions to myself? ... But I digress.
Ok - so when I arrived back home last night around midnight I was wired from the road and decided to drink a beer and watch TV and as serendipity would have it the first thing I clicked on was one of my all time favorite movies: the great old cult classic; a film I truly felt was full of coolness and clever humor, The Blues Brothers. I've seen it at least a couple of dozen times, and even if I saw it at a dozen times more, I still wouldn't get tired of it.
However, this time I immediately flashed back on the thoughts, which had commanded my attention all day. I saw the film in a new way and was not at all sure if I liked what I was feeling. There was James Brown as Reverend Cleophus; Cab Calloway as Curtis the janitor who was Jake and Elwood's mentor and lives in the basement of an orphanage; Ray Charles who runs a pawn shop called Ray's Music Exchange and Howlin' Wolf as street musician; the interaction between Aretha Franklin who runs a Sole Cafe and her "man" Matt 'Guitar' Murphy; band member Willie 'Too Big' Hall; the Neo-Nazis from the American Socialist White People's Party (LOL); the Good Ol' Boys and the red-necks at Bob's Country Bunker and the Jewish booking agent Steve Lawrence as Maury Sline - all stock stereotypical characters.
Where's the sliding scale on this? Is there one? Is it just a really cool repackaging (30 years ago) of the same old crap; did the caricatures Archie Bunker and George Jefferson really accomplish anything?
This morning when I woke up, I was not as sure as I was 24 hours that I could draw the distinction between the legitimate and the perverse - if such a thing exists, other than to hope that I'll know it when I see it; that I can recognize the underlying intent and judge it accordingly.
-- September 6, 2007