The morning after I returned to Chicago from the recent Margaret Mead Legacy conference at Barnard College, honoring the centenary of the anthropologist's birth, a newspaper columnist rang me at dawn with the demand that I explain "from a feminist perspective" why Tony Soprano is "this millennium's first
sex symbol." "Does this mean that we're all going backwards?" she asked with relish. Dumbfounded, I countered, rather crankily, with the request that she give me evidence that any women anywhere were claiming sexual attraction to a dumb, sexist and racist, unfaithful, badly out of shape, psychologically damaged organized crime capo. (Not that I don't love the show; who doesn't, even if I have to watch my own people get minstrelized to a fare-thee-well.) Nothing daunted, and with not a shred of shame that she in fact had no evidence, the columnist cleverly countered, "Well, if it were true, what would your feminist perspective be?" As Rayna Rapp of the New School had declared to the amused Barnard audience, I had that feminist anthropologist's "WWMMS moment": What Would Margaret Mead Say?
What would she say? We could easily remark about Mead what Walt Whitman, another New York-based celebrity, claimed of himself: She is large, she contains multitudes. Mead was professionally active for fully half of the last century and, by choice and her own never-ending efforts, very much a public voice for most of that time. She said a lot of different things in different decades, and she was received variously by her own professional colleagues and within a shifting American public sphere. The Barnard conferees, including the college President, Judith Shapiro, herself a feminist anthropologist, and Mead's daughter Mary Catherine Bateson, spoke on key aspects of Mead's work, on the ways in which she had inspired their own research, and on what her legacy might be in this millennium. They agreed that she and her cohort made a series of novel connections: envisioning the malleability of gender relations, seeing human corporeality, ritual and psychology as one, emphasizing the deeply enculturated nature of child-rearing and of adolescent coming of age. Elaine Charnov, director of the Margaret Mead Film Festival, and Faye Ginsburg of New York University both spoke as well of Mead's prescience in the use of ethnographic film and her general status as technological pioneer.
"But there is no Margaret Mead now," the panelists lamented with the partisan, largely female audience crowding the auditorium, and variously attributed that fact to her heroic uniqueness, to her intellectual coming of age being the "right time and the right place" for public sphere presence, to the rise of the New Right in the West and the triumph of global neoliberalism, to the renaissance of biological reductionism in the overwhelming American popular-cultural presence of sociobiology, to our collective retreat from public voice.
Mead became a popular icon over the course of the 1960s, and attained the status of Holy Woman in her last years, as the late Roy Rappaport commented (she died in 1978). And it is difficult to evaluate Holy Women, particularly in the long wake of a posthumous attack--by the Australian anthropologist Derek Freeman, in 1983--that quickly became a mass media firestorm. Margaret Mead and Samoa is a badly written and unconvincing claim that Mead, influenced in a "culturally determinist" direction by her nefarious adviser Franz Boas, falsely interpreted the Hobbesian world in which Samoan youth came of age as a gentle idyll. Freeman claimed that the true Samoa is characterized by a "primeval rank system" that dictates a "regime of physical punishment" of children and violent "rivalrous aggression" among men, "highly emotional and impulsive behavior that is animal-like in its ferocity" among chiefs, and a rape rate "among the highest to be found anywhere in the world." Scholars criticized Freeman's theoretical vacuity and empirical flaws, his ahistorical claim of an Eternal Samoa, his failure to realize that his key informants--older, high-status males--were no more a "true and accurate lens" of Samoan culture than were Mead's young female companions. Most especially, feminists noted the rank sexism of Freeman's focus on Mead's youth and size: The "liberated young American...only twenty-three years of age...[was] smaller in stature than some of the girls she was studying."
But public reception of, as opposed to in-house reaction to, Freeman's book was most importantly about the extraordinary fit between his line of attack and newly dominant New Rightist politics. Margaret Mead and Samoa provided a Heaven-sent opportunity for the press to rant against the "liberal feminist culture" and "lifestyle experiments" with which it newly identified Mead, conveniently forgetting its fervent eulogies of her of only half a decade earlier. As the late David Schneider noted at the time, Freeman's book was "a work that celebrate[d] a particular political climate by denigrating another." Freeman's vision, at one fell swoop, allowed commentators to deny female intellectual capacities across all societies; to naturalize male dominance, male sexual violence and aggression; and at the same time, to slur Samoans--and with them all so-called primitives, that is, all people of color--as violent, nasty savages. Logically self-contradictory and empirically bankrupt though it was, Freeman's narrative was wonderfully composed to fit American Reagan-era contentions of the foolishness of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s, as you "can't change human nature," and Western, upper-class, male, heterosexual, and white dominance are natural after all.
Freeman's frisson in popular culture is now long past, victim of the increasingly rapid biodegradation of American popular consciousness. I routinely ask gender studies and anthropology classes if they have heard of Freeman or his book, and very few respond affirmatively, even when they have a niggling sense that there is some sort of blot on Mead's reputation. Only American New Rightists remember and believe in Freeman's attack on Mead: A Lexis/Nexis search for all articles referring to the two since 1990 revealed only a handful of sneering articles in rightist outlets, whereas a general search using Mead's name alone garnered thousands of "hits."
But while specific media scandals always fade, popular-cultural troping of anthropology and anthropologists is unceasing, and distorts whatever information members of the discipline may have to offer considering power and culture in human societies. The issue is more crucial than is often realized, because popular apprehensions of anthropology and anthropologists are importantly interwoven with changing American constructions of Others--those deemed somehow apart from the norm by virtue of race, gender, nationality, class, religion, sexual identity. "Culture" and "biology" are the two key domains through which Americans historically have laundered politics from public sphere inspection. And anthropology, sententiously self-described as the most humanistic of the sciences, the most scientific of the humanities, has thus evolved into a cynosure of political approbation and attack, both refuge and refuse in contemporary contestations over power.
I have recently identified a series of anthropological "Halloween costumes" into which, since the 1960s, American popular writing, film, television, cartoons and advertising have tended to squeeze all anthropological knowledge. Each costume--Technicians of the Sacred, Last Macho Raiders, Evil Imperialist Anthropologists, Barbarians at the Gates and Human Nature Experts--reflects minor strands in some past or present anthropological writing. More important, each enacts a retrogressive politics with reference to culture and power on the US and global stage. The costumes, in other words, act as Procrustean beds, amputating those pesky limbs of anthropological knowledge that flop outside their predetermined grids.
Technicians of the Sacred, for example, posits anthropologists as time travelers who bring back to us visions of Noble Savages living nonviolently and cooperatively, practicing sexual equality, respecting the environment and engaging in religious worship somehow more "spiritual" than ours. Such a seemingly benign vision, however, yanks contemporaneous populations out of our shared stream of world history and prevents us from understanding the ways in which they lack political power on local and global stages. Last Macho Raiders imagines anthropologists as a guild populated by cool Harrison Ford lookalikes, virile, positive imperialists. This particular Halloween costume has long had little appeal to most members of the guild but remains widely used in popular culture. The Evil Imperialist Anthropologist, on the other hand, who is simply a Last Macho Raider seen from the viewpoint of the Raided, has roots in some Third World and Native American writing of the 1960s, became a stock postmodern character in much academic writing in the 1980s and spilled over into popular culture. Barbarians at the Gates envisions anthropologists as foolish multiculturalists, misguided salespeople hawking inferior--non-Western--cultural materials to a gullible American public. In other words, it is a rightist, racist framing of the Technicians of the Sacred trope, and has been heavily purveyed in New Rightist writing through our recent culture wars. And Human Nature Experts paints anthropologists as pure scientists--gatherers of facts alone. Of course we need to stand for empirical reality, but this particular trope functions in the public sphere today almost solely as a rationale for sociobiological arguments, as if all fact and logic were the sacred possession of that contemporary version of biological reductionism alone, and the active armies of distinguished anti-sociobiology scientists were a mere rumor in the wind.
We might say, then, that Freeman, in an act of simultaneous attack and self-aggrandizement, dressed Mead as a Barbarian at the Gates and himself as a Human Nature Expert. Ironically, though, Mead herself, over the decades, had no small hand in the fashioning of the Human Nature Expert costume. At the same time, the Halloween costumes are most definitely not unisex, and Mead, like the rest of us, never escaped her gender. Looping back to the years of Mead's intellectual coming of age and first writing helps us to trace the changing lineaments of "culture" in American politics, particularly that shifting overlap of gender and race that is so crucial to the framing of rationales for and protests against contemporary lines of stratification.
In the 1920s, counter to the assertions and interpretations of more recent commentators, Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa was written, and was read, not as a paean to free love or women's rights or even the romantic lives of "noble savages," but rather as a scientific account of certain differing cultural features in a "more simple" society that "we," meaning middle-class white Americans, might wish to adopt in order to raise "our youth" in a less stressful manner. Mead defined herself early on, as I have written, as an objective scientist, a professional social engineer. Despite her sometimes somewhat overblown lyricism--"A group of youths may dance for the pleasure of some visiting maiden," "lovers slip home from trysts beneath the palm trees"--Mead ultimately is no Technician of the Sacred, no romantic antimodernist. Her 1920s Samoa is a "shallow society" where "no one plays for very high stakes," of use to "us" as an object of scientific study: it is a "human experiment" under "controlled conditions."
While Mead worked almost solely with girls and women, and certainly wrote, as a contemporary reviewer put it, with the "clean, clear frankness of the scientist" about their sexual experiences, she did not draw explicitly feminist lessons from her fieldwork. Like many young women of her postsuffrage era, to whom feminism seemed both passé and potentially professionally damaging, Mead took advantage of the doors opened by the women's rights activism of her mother's and grandmother's generation (and indeed, by her own mother and grandmother) but did not herself join that ongoing movement. Nancy Lutkehaus of USC pointed out at the conference that Mead became a public intellectual in the 1920s because of her fortuitously advantageous position in time and space: based in New York, writing about the South Seas at a point when that region had caught the American public imagination, and indeed at just the point that newspapers and magazines were proliferating across the American landscape. And, I would add, because she wrote then not as a radical but as a modernist, advocating changes for the white middle classes--coeducation, less authoritarian childrearing, greater frankness about the facts of birth, reproduction, and death--already in the works in the Roaring Twenties.
But scientist or not, Mead was at times portrayed in the press as many anthropologists, especially female anthropologists, have been since: with a certain condescending, inappropriately sexualizing humor, identified with her inevitably stigmatized subjects. Lutkehaus has unearthed 1920s newspaper stories claiming that Mead went to Samoa to study the "origins of the flapper." And in the 1930s, a popular magazine coyly described Mead as "a slender, comely girl who danced her way into the understanding of the Melanesian people and became an adopted daughter and a sort of princess of the Samoans. When they anointed her with palm oil and indicated that a dance was in order, she did a nice hula and they declared her in--indicating the adaptability of the modern young woman if she just has a chance to step out."
It was one of the first steps on the long road toward my Sopranos interlocutor--herself, as we shall see, merely part of a vast contemporary phenomenon.
Mead's early anthropological work reflected both developing British and American concerns: She did careful kinship and social organizational research in Samoa and New Guinea, and studied what she construed to be varying cultural temperaments--characteristic psychological states--and their connections to sex roles and life cycles. But by 1935, when she published the widely read Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, her analytic twig was permanently bent in the Americanist psychological, "culture and personality" direction. Sex and Temperament, rather than Coming of Age, is the work in which Mead makes her clearest arguments concerning the plasticity of human sex role arrangements: "Many, if not all, of the personality traits that we have called masculine or feminine are as lightly linked to sex as are the clothing, the manners, and the form of head-dress that a society at a given period assigns to either sex.... We are forced to conclude that human nature is almost unbelievably malleable."
This is the modal Mead, the ur-popular culture anthropologist who was rediscovered by Second Wave feminists, assigned all over the academy and read aloud in consciousness-raising groups in the 1970s. It is important to remember, though, that every generation reads selectively. Mead's "gender malleability" statements are, in fact, lodged inside a larger argument against women's equal rights as represented by the contemporary Soviet Union. Mead saw in the opening of all occupations to women there a "sacrifice in complexity" of culture: "The removal of all legal and economic barriers against women's participating in the world on an equal footing with men may be in itself a standardizing move towards the wholesale stamping-out of the diversity of attitudes that is such a dearly bought product of civilization."
Ironically, the very popular troping of anthropology for political purposes has contributed to the discipline's unpolitical reputation. Explicitly political statements in anthropological texts vanish in the course of reading, the discipline's pioneering anti-racism and near-implosion over Vietnam have succumbed to the culture of forgetting, and the long-vital left tradition in anthropology worldwide is popularly and often even professionally invisible. When I gave an early talk on Mead for a group of women's studies professors, a senior political scientist exclaimed afterward that she was surprised to learn that Mead "had any politics." All God's anthropologists got politics, most especially the very public Margaret Mead.
Those politics varied considerably over the long decades of Depression, war, decolonization and cold war, and the 1960s and 1970s conjuncture of Vietnam, civil rights, the Second Wave of feminism and associated gay rights organizing. The one common thread across the decades, though, was Mead's adherence to Progressive social engineering, and thus her profound commitment to the notion of disinterested science and the rule of experts. In terms of gender, from the 1930s until the early 1970s, when she did take on a liberal feminist stance, Mead embraced the conservative Freudian notion of the universal "constructive receptivity of the female and the vigorous outgoing constructive activity of the male." While Mead continued to argue against isolated, narrow nuclear families, and for careers for better-off women as long as they were "womanly" both at home and at work, it is no wonder that Betty Friedan in 1961 spent almost an entire chapter of her celebrated book attacking Mead's pernicious "super saleswomanship" of the Feminine Mystique. It is equally unsurprising that Second Wave feminists, in rediscovering both Friedan and Mead for their own purposes, read Friedan as selectively as they (we) did Mead.
Similarly, Mead's war work for the American government extended into both her very successful postwar advocacy of federal funding for anthropological research and her cold warrior stance against, among other actions, antinuclear and anti-Vietnam War protests. (The latter issue led to a huge fight at the 1971 American Anthropological Association meetings, during which Mead was hissed by an antiwar audience of 700.) These political actions were overwhelmed, in popular culture, by Mead's highly public approbation of "questing youth" from the mid-1960s forward, and the liberal feminist alliances of her last years. She even had her own character in the first stage version of Hair, who celebrated male "long hair and other flamboyant affectations," and whose song ended in the recitative, "Kids, be whatever you are, do whatever you do, just so long as you don't hurt anybody."
Hair's sendup of Mead followed her thinly disguised appearance as a famous older female anthropologist in Irving Wallace's sleazy 1963 potboiler, The Three Sirens: "She thought of the place: the temperate trade winds, the tall, sinewy, bronze people, the oral legends, the orgiastic rites." The sexual imputations in both texts return us to consideration of my morning journalist and Tony Soprano. Like all occupational groups, anthropologists have traditions of internal self-reference, but ours have intersected in particularly damaging ways with the changing Zeitgeist. From Clyde Kluckhohn's 1940s boast that we were all "eccentrics" "interested in bizarre things," to Clifford Geertz's 1984 reference to anthropologists as "merchants of astonishment," many of us have enjoyed exoticizing ourselves, playing, as I have written, the court jesters of academe. While some of this self-exoticization has always arisen from identification with oppressed populations, the overall effect of the court jester construction is dire. Anthropologists have become the American public's "exotics at home," identified with our demonized, trivialized subjects, or rather, those who are presumed to be our sole subjects--non-Westerners around the globe, the poor, the nonwhite, and sexual minorities in every country. And, of course, in double irony, the numbers of nonwhite, non-Western and/or gay anthropologists, never insignificant, grow larger every year. By a process of infinite recursion, the stigmatized figurings of subjects and researchers repeatedly rub off on one another, denying dignity, history and human rights to domestic and foreign "exotics," and stripping anthropologists of the intellectual authority with which to contribute to progressive politics.
Ironically, the "exotics at home" complex also reifies the discipline's long historical game of peekaboo with Americanist research. Mead's own master's thesis concerned the link between exposure to English and IQ test results among Italian-American schoolchildren in New Jersey (Tony and Carmela's grandparents!), and significant numbers of anthropologists have done United States fieldwork in every decade since. All of the Barnard conference senior panelists, for example, are engaged in Americanist research. But in the grand adaptive radiation of disciplinary institutionalization as American universities grew over the twentieth century, anthropology was defined in contradistinction to sociology as the study of non-Westerners (and based on ethnographic rather than quantitative methodology), perpetrating falsehoods about actual work being done in both fields. Since at least the 1940s, anthropologists and middlebrow media have repeatedly "discovered" that anthropology is "just now coming home." In 1974 Time declared that
the gimmick is that anthropologists, after decades of following Margaret Mead to Samoa and Bronislaw Malinowski to the Trobriand Islands, have staked out new territory.... U.S. anthropology, it seems, must recognize that the primary tribe to study is the Americans.
But then, fifteen years later, the New York Times Book Review declared:
Pity the poor anthropologist. She has trekked the highlands, machetied the jungles, sifted the sands for new tribes to study. But the Ik have been exposed, the Tasaday tallied. What's left? Increasingly, today's would-be Meads and Benedicts are turning in their bush jackets for tweeds, for some easy poking around in their own backyards--where, lo and behold, they unearth practices as alien to Western norms as any found in the heart of New Guinea.
And so it goes. While such consistent failure to engage with empirical reality, and the condescending notion that US fieldwork must of necessity be merely "easy poking around," are extremely annoying to those of us who have done arduous research in American settings, I want to make a different point. That is, the culture of forgetting involved here enacts what I have labeled the anthropological gambit, or the pseudo-profound claim that "we" are like "primitives." The attribution of "our" characteristics to "them," and vice versa, is always good for a laugh in popular culture. "We" are only the Ik, the Tasaday, the Trobrianders. An X is only a Y.
As if to prove the point, the day before I left for the Barnard conference, the New York Times happily declared that "some distant day, anthropologists may discover what was surely the tribal art of 20th century American suburbia: paint-by-number paintings."
There is nothing innately wrong with cuteness--it is after all a matter of taste. The point, though, is that the gambit, which is ubiquitous in the public sphere, is inherently political, engages in hidden rhetorical work. It certainly represents Edward Sapir's "destructive analysis of the familiar," one element of a liberatory cultural critique in use in the West at least since Michel de Montaigne's ironized cannibals. But it does so in a profoundly ahistorical, noncontextual way, and so places Others at temporal distance to ourselves and effaces the questions of history and power on both poles of the contrast.
Finally, anthropologists like Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict pioneered an open-minded consideration of the varieties of cross-cultural human sexuality. Esther Newton, who recently published a memoir magnificently titled Margaret Mead Made Me Gay, spoke compellingly at the conference on the impact of her adolescent reading of Mead's "defense of cultural and temperamental difference." But that reputation for sexual frankness, combined with femaleness, the anthropological gambit and exoticism at home, has also long made women anthropologists, as I have noted for Margaret Mead, vulnerable to sexually insinuating popular-cultural costuming. In the rollicking postwar musical and film On the Town, recently revived on Broadway, a sex-crazed debutante "anthropology student" character throws herself at one of the sailors on leave because he "exactly resembles Pithecanthropus erectus, a man extinct since six million BC." The television series 90210 had a sluttish "feminist anthropologist" character, and Sarah Jessica Parker, in Sex and the City, calls herself a "sexual anthropologist." The way things seem to be going, we might want to specify another media Halloween costume for the feminist anthropologist: bustier and fishnets.
Feminist anthropologists tend to be a pretty tough bunch and certainly can take care of ourselves. (One of the conference participants pointed out to me with great glee that she was wearing fishnet hose.) The real issue is the one with which I began: the deadly intersection of the distorting Halloween costumes, the anthropological gambit and garden-variety sexism in the public sphere preventing the popular dissemination of actual knowledge on gender, culture and power. Consider my own experience. I write about gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class formation in the American past and present, particularly in American cities, and I have done popular writing on racial injustice (and its connections to gender) in the present. But when does the Fourth Estate contact me? Let's just review instances from the past few years.
A 20/20 reporter called, wanting a professor to explain on-camera why "some men are sexually attracted to very obese women." (He kept trying to assure me that the show "would not be sleazy." Right.) A public radio show host invited me to do a Valentine's Day show with her on love and courtship ritual. A local television newswoman wanted my "anthropological" analysis of why women were buying Wonderbras. A Newsweek reporter asked for my thoughts on why, despite so many decades of feminism, American women still enlisted the aids of hair dye, makeup, plastic surgery and diets. Didn't that prove that we were genetically encoded to try to attract men to impregnate us and protect our offspring? A young stringer for Glamour called, looking for "expert" analysis of why women are attracted to certain types of men. An Essence reporter wanted my thoughts on why Afro-American women, according to her, repeatedly and irrationally fell for "thugs." And last fall, a Good Morning America producer begged me to appear on a show with the theme "Is Infidelity Genetic?"
So I wasn't entirely surprised by the Tony Soprano call, with its silly implications of a homogeneous feminism obsessed with mass media portrayals of sex roles. And I don't think even the Whitmanesque Margaret Mead, today, would have an easier time of it. In her memorable last years, Mead could and did play the progressive Sibyl, the wise elder using her vast cross-cultural knowledge to comment favorably, to a largely adulatory press, on the increasing social liberalization that we saw around us. But that was before Jimmy Carter, with whom Mead was closely politically allied, lost disastrously to Ronald Reagan in 1980. It was before the New Right, before the race and gender backlashes of "the underclass" and "feminazis" and the internal problematics of identity politics, before the second, more successful rise of sociobiology, before the global rightward tilt and recent neoliberal triumph, before the corporate consolidation and increasing tabloidization of the media. And, of course, it was before the "turn to language" complexified the ways in which we all envision science, culture and knowledge.
We no longer unproblematically invoke "science," but consider it a culturally contingent, powerful process. Emily Martin of Princeton and Rayna Rapp spoke at the conference about their ongoing and highly regarded research on gender in the production and consumption of scientific knowledge. But both scholars also work actively and even teach with bench scientists. Similarly, many of us work to reposition our analyses, no matter what their regional focus, both to reduce the United States and to enlarge it, always with the goal of accurately apprehending gender, culture, history and power. That is, we no longer simply observe the world from the perspective of the West, but instead consider the long regional and global histories of contact, trade, power politics, racial and ethnic formation and shifting political boundaries of which the United States and other Northern and Southern nations are part. At the same time, we no longer attempt to see the United States just as one among many nations--as in "an X is only a Y"--as it is still and has been the locus of global imperial power since the end of the Second World War.
These less Olympian, more nuanced understandings are a harder sell in the public sphere, but along with other progressives, we continue our Sisyphean engagement. And Mead's image, although not entirely according to her intentions, continues to inspire radical visions of American and global potentials: of international understanding, of gender, race, class and sexual equalities, of a different, more egalitarian world. Marcyliena Morgan of UCLA, for example, reported that the hip-hop-involved adolescent Afro-American girls with whom she works see Mead as "a liberating force." As Rayna Rapp ringingly concluded, "Collectively, we are surely on the case."
Sometime in the coming days, George W. Bush will hand down a list of nominees to fill ninety-nine vacancies in the federal courts. The federal judiciary as a whole is at stake in the fight that will follow. Bush sees the 50-50 Senate balance, with Vice President Cheney the tiebreaker, as a small window of opportunity for loading the benches with judges in the mold of his favorite Supreme Court Justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The outcome will determine whether Republicans will transform the courts into a rubber stamp for their minority right-wing agenda.
The Supreme Court--whose recent actions include an attack on the Americans with Disabilities Act and its undermining of the Violence Against Women Act--remains the ultimate arena. Although its right-wing bloc has put its man in the White House, it should not be allowed thereby to insure its own succession. Because Bush lacks a mandate, there should be a moratorium on all High Court appointments until after the 2004 election. For the moment, however, immediate retirements appear unlikely, so the important campaign is in the lower courts.
Thanks to GOP obstruction of Bill Clinton's nominees, Republican-appointed judges are predominant in eight of the thirteen federal appellate circuits. Several of these circuits--the Fourth Circuit, located in Virginia, the Eleventh in the Deep South and others--are tipped in the direction of "strict constructionism," which means the most activist judiciary in memory. These circuits are already well outside the mainstream of American legal opinion. The Fourth Circuit's rulings, for instance, have so radically stripped the rights of criminal defendants that they have been repeatedly overturned in recent months even by the law-and-order Rehnquist Supreme Court.
The Administration has junked the American Bar Association's vetting of judicial candidates and turned this task over to conservative legal ideologues. Senate Republicans are trying to outflank Democratic opposition by jettisoning the practice of consulting with senators of the opposition party on political nominees from their states. Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch plans to abandon the tradition of requiring that nominees win the approval of both senators from their home state--a maneuver that will bring to the floor Bush nominees from the fourteen states with only one Democratic senator.
With the Rehnquist Supremes taking ever fewer cases--only eighty this past term--the federal appeals courts are now increasingly the courts of last resort, and it is essential that Senate Democrats hold the line against further shifting the balance in those courts. There is nothing immoderate or partisan in Democrats--as well as independent-minded Republicans--using their advise and consent power to the fullest to reject any nominees for those circuits who cannot demonstrate substantive commitment to progress in civil rights, to women and to environmental and business regulation. Conservatives will accuse them of "Borking," but that distorts the meaning of the fight against Robert Bork's confirmation, which involved no more than an intensive scrutiny of the nominee's record and philosophy. The goal should be to block the Administration's avowed attempt to pack the federal bench with ideologues who would undercut environmental protection laws, roll back basic rights for all Americans and give the religious right's "morality" the force of law.
When fifty of us dashed into Massachusetts Hall on April 18, we had no idea what would follow. The students, faculty members and alumni who began the sit-in at the office of Harvard's president to demand a living wage for all Harvard employees thought we could be dragged off by police or ignored by the community. Instead, we've been amazed by the outpouring of support for our standoff with the oldest university in the country--and the oldest corporation in the Western Hemisphere.
This sit-in embodies the conflict between Harvard as community and Harvard as corporation. On the one hand, Harvard wants to foster "genuinely free and responsible discussion" (as the president wrote in one recent statement criticizing our action). On the other, Harvard pays more than 1,000 workers poverty wages while sitting atop an endowment of almost $20 billion. Janitors, security guards and dining hall workers earn as little as $6.75 an hour and work up to ninety hours a week. Our Living Wage Campaign demands that Harvard implement a minimum $10.25 per hour wage with benefits, the same standard enacted by the Cambridge City Council. Hundreds of Harvard employees work two and even three jobs and still struggle to support their families. As a custodian said, "Look, this is not a matter of working hard--people are already working hard. I've been wearing a custodial uniform now going on twenty years. I always say the only thing we don't have is a number across our backs. They figure they own me like a piece of equipment--like a barrel or a buffing machine."
Five of the six members of the Harvard Corporation, the University's highest governing board, are out-of-state millionaires who jet in for meetings. Robert Stone, chairman of the search committee that selected Lawrence Summers as Harvard's next president, is longtime commodore of the New York Yacht Club. Herbert Winokur is a director of Enron, a destructive global energy giant and George W. Bush's biggest corporate backer. D. Ronald Daniel is the director of McKinsey & Co. (and quite a golf fan, if the portraits of rich sportsmen in his plush office here are any guide). These people have final say over everything at Harvard, from the janitors to the endowment to tenure.
For three years the administration refused any meaningful dialogue or action about a living wage. In fact, since we began the campaign, Harvard has outsourced and cut wages and benefits for hundreds more workers. Because things were getting worse and the administration refused even to talk, a sit-in became necessary. And the community's enthusiasm has been enormous. Our rallies now attract 2,000 people. Almost 400 faculty members endorsed the sit-in in a full-page ad in the Boston Globe. Five US senators and four representatives have pledged their support. Ted Kennedy, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and AFL-CIO president John Sweeney have all come to the steps of Massachusetts Hall to embrace our cause--that is, the cause of the thousands of workers, faculty, students, clergy and others who insist that Harvard change its attitude. More than a hundred camp outside the occupied building in tents each night in solidarity. To walk away from this building would be to walk away from all these supporters and from all the workers I know who receive poverty wages.
And so, as I write, we have occupied the offices of the president, provost and treasurer of Harvard for about 300 hours. We've been sleeping on their Persian rugs, sitting in their antique chairs and redecorating their walls with our posters (using university-approved poster tacks, of course). We still don't know how this will end, but we already know some of the things that have come of it. Here is what one professor wrote me: "In my ten years at Harvard, I've never seen the university like this--students, workers, faculty so united. Whatever else happens, you guys have accomplished what to me always seemed the impossible, which is to unite this campus across class and racial lines. It's amazing to me, and I'm so proud of you all."
A grassroots movement for immigrant legalization is gathering strength.
Prevention and treatment require a focus on overall health and development.
A federal district court recently blocked publication of Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone, a parody of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, ruling that the parody constituted plagiarism.
Section One--Reading Comprehension
Read the following literary excerpts. Pick the one that is not parody. Write an essay about why its publication should be enjoined.
a. "Ah's sceered of cows, Miss Scarlett. Ah ain' nebber had nuthin' ter do wid cows. Ah ain' no yard nigger. Ah's a house nigger."
"You're a fool nigger, and the worst day's work Pa ever did was to buy you," said Scarlett slowly, too tired for anger. "And if I ever get the use of my arm again I'll wear this whip out on you."
There, she thought, I've said nigger, and Mother wouldn't like that.
--Gone With the Wind
b. "Help me out of these wet things, Pansy," Scarlett ordered her maid. "Hurry." Her face was ghostly pale, it made her green eyes look darker, brighter, more frightening. The young black girl was clumsy with nervousness. "Hurry, I said. If you make me miss my train, I'll take a strap to you."
She couldn't do it. Pansy knew she couldn't do it. The slavery days were over, Miss Scarlett didn't own her, she could quit any time she wanted to.
--Scarlett: The Sequel, by Alexandra Ripley
c. [H]e took them over to where the house we called Twelve Slaves Strong as Trees once stood. I have forgotten their name for it. What I remember is this: there were twelve columns across the front of that slave-built house. They stood for the original twelve dark men who cleared the land. And the lines, the flutes, on those columns stood for the stripes on those slaves' backs.
--The Wind Done Gone
Section Two--American History
Read the following passages and decide which best summarizes the facts of the Civil War.
a. "De Yankees is comin'!" bawled Prissy, shrinking close to her. "Oh, Miss Scarlett, dey'll kill us all! Dey'll run dey baynits in our stummicks! Dey'll--"
--Gone With the Wind
b. It was the Confederate Memorial, symbol of the proud, heedless courage that had plunged the South with bright banners flying into destruction. It stood for so many lives lost, the friends of her childhood, the gallants who had begged for waltzes and kisses in the days when she had no problems greater than which wide-skirted ballgown to wear.
--Scarlett: The Sequel
c. If it was mine to be able to paint pictures, if I possessed the gift of painting, I would paint a cotton gown balled up and thrown into a corner waiting to be washed, and I would call it "Georgia."
--The Wind Done Gone
Section Three--Critical Reasoning
Which of the following descriptions best completes the following analogy: mother is to child as elephant is to _______.
a. Mammy emerged from the hall, a huge old woman with the small, shrewd eyes of an elephant. She was shining black, pure African, devoted to her last drop of blood to the O'Haras.
--Gone With the Wind
b. Scarlett stared down at the skull-like face of the dying old woman. "I love you, Mammy," she whispered. "What's going to become of me when I don't have you to love me?"
--Scarlett: The Sequel
c. They called her Mammy. Always.... I heard tell down the years they compared her to an elephant. They shouted down to their ancestors: She was big as an elephant with tiny dark round eyes. But she wasn't big enough to own a name.
--The Wind Done Gone
Section Four--True or False
Mark the following true or false. Use a hard black pencil to fill in the entire area of the little white circle of your choice.
a. To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some Americans may have done to their ancestors...years ago is to burden them with a crippling sense of victimhood.
--Journalist David Horowitz, in an advertisement in Brown University's student newspaper
b. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.
--Attorney General John Ashcroft, quoted in Southern Partisan
c. I could see in Other's face the first moment it came to her the possibility that Mammy did for her not because she wanted to, but because she had to. Maybe Mammy loved her and maybe Mammy didn't. Slavery made it impossible for Other to know. "She who ain't free not to love, ain't free to love."
--The Wind Done Gone
Section Five--Logical Thinking
Cross out the one that is not free speech.
a. a hit list of abortion doctors published on the Internet
--Ninth Circuit opinion, March 2001
b. a regulation promulgated by New York City public schools chancellor Harold Levy prohibiting the opinionated teaching of race and politics
---Peter Noel, The Village Voice, November 22-28, 2000
c. It's a pissed bed on a cold night to read words on paper saying your name and a price, to read the letters that say you are owned, or to read words that say this one or that one will pay so much money for you to be recaptured. It be better never to read than to read that page with your name on it.
---The Wind Done Gone
George Orwell would have appreciated the irony of President Bush and other hemispheric leaders declaring in Quebec their intention to spread democracy, as chain-link fences, tear gas, water cannons and mass arrests prevented citizens from getting anywhere near the April 20-22 Summit of the Americas. George W. Bush and the leaders of thirty-three other nations who agreed to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the year 2005 claimed that their action would improve the lives of citizens from Alaska to Argentina, but their proclamations rang a bit hollow to those arrested for advocating democracy and the alleviation of poverty.
Meanwhile, inside the fortress, even some of the summiteers admitted to doubts about the magic of free trade; at one point when the leaders apparently thought public transmission of their comments had ended, Canadian International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew remarked, "It is not the market or trade per se that can eliminate inequality."
Why are so many people so dubious about the FTAA? The experience of NAFTA, which was recently condemned by Human Rights Watch for creating structures that are consistently biased against the protection of working people, has made skeptics of citizens who can see that a corporate-defined free-trade regimen only enriches corporations. In Mexico, even by the government's conservative estimates, manufacturing wages dropped to $1.90 from $2.10 per hour between 1994 and 1999, after NAFTA came into effect. In the United States, more than 300,000 workers have qualified for training programs set up for those laid off because of NAFTA. It is realities like those that led to the protests in Quebec and to rallies in cities from Buffalo to San Diego. In Chicago, Service Employees Local 1 president Tom Balanoff asked workers: "We know what NAFTA did--why would we want to make the same mistake" with the FTAA? In St. Paul, Senator Paul Wellstone told a crowd that included truckers and teaching assistants, "We speak for a global economy that doesn't just work for greedy multinational corporations."
The broad-based coalition that was so effective in Seattle and that reasserted itself in Quebec will play an important role in the "fast track" fight that will soon stir in Congress. Bush will not have an easy time putting together the majority he needs to win fast track negotiating authority, which would allow the Administration to craft an agreement that could then be only voted up or down by Congress. But he doesn't lack leverage: Obliquely acknowledging the legitimacy of the protesters' demands, he has copied business's newfound rhetoric of sensitivity to labor and environmental concerns in an effort to win the votes of "centrist" Democrats, and there is talk that the Administration might be willing to cut deals with some labor and environmental groups in order to buy off opposition. On the GOP side, Bush faces possible defections among those concerned about home-state industries like steel and those from farm states, as well as a core group of traditional anti-free traders.
In 1997 and 1998 a labor, environmental and human rights coalition defeated Clinton in the House on fast track at a time when the opposition was not nearly as broad-based or well organized, and it can prevail again this year. To win, however, in a way that is viewed as a step forward for citizens everywhere, that effort should focus not only on what's wrong with the FTAA but also on the fact that its critics have developed responsible alternative visions to "globalization at any price" that include such things as right-to-know legislation that would require US multinationals to collect and disclose vital data on environmental damage and workplace conditions in their overseas production.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien dismissed the thousands who came to Quebec City with the words On va protester et blablabla (they're coming to protest and blah blah blah). But as Naomi Klein wrote, "Quite the opposite. They're coming to Quebec to protest because they've had it with the blah blah blah." The demonstrators bore witness for those who weren't in Quebec--the people on the wrong end of globalization.
The protesters have done their job well, making it clear to the world that the spirit of Seattle is not only alive but growing stronger. Now it's up to US activists to make sure Congress gets the message.
"Phanzi, Pfizer, Phanzi!" "Get out, Pfizer, go!" At rallies they sing the old liberation songs, replacing the names of apartheid leaders with those of multinational pharmaceutical companies. On the streets they chant demands, no longer for the vote or a living wage or freedom, but for fluconazole and cotrimoxazole and nevirapine. Their leaders and organizers might well be human rights lawyers and healthcare professionals, but most of the foot soldiers of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)--which has spearheaded the campaign for affordable medicine for HIV-related illnesses in South Africa--are ordinary South African men and women, HIV-positive but too poor to afford the drugs needed to keep them alive.
For most of us, globalization remains an abstract and troubling concept, but for the TAC's activists the pharmaceutical industry's cynical abuse of international trade agreements to keep its profit margins high has meant that globalization is literally killing them. What makes their activism so compelling is that their battle for access to treatment has brought them up against the consequences of the global economy--and that they appear to be triumphant.
In mid-April, after a three-year fight, thirty-nine multinational pharmaceutical companies agreed to settle a suit against the South African government to prevent it from purchasing brand-name drugs from third parties at the cheapest rates possible. This, Big Pharma had claimed, was in violation of international trade and property agreements the South African government had signed. The withdrawal was brokered directly by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who had been asked by the five biggest companies to help them find a way out of what had become a public relations nightmare. Annan called South African President Thabo Mbeki, whose officials drafted a last-minute settlement that committed the country to negotiate with the multinationals before implementing its policy. The victory, however, was the TAC's: Not only had it proved that the suit was unwinnable, it had brilliantly mobilized a broad spectrum of support at home and abroad against the drug companies, which were shamed into the settlement--in effect, an honorable withdrawal.
The icon of this victory, broadcast all over the world, was the image of a large African man in the courtroom popping a bottle of champagne in a circle of jubilant celebrants. This man was Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of Cosatu, South Africa's largest labor federation and the backbone of the "Revolutionary Alliance" that brought the African National Congress to power--and that keeps it there. Surrounding him was a fascinating mix of working-class activists, high-powered lobbyists from international organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières and Oxfam, and ecstatic government officials reliving, for one brief moment, the euphoria of activism.
The TAC has managed to put together the first seriously effective social movement since South Africa's transition to democracy in 1994. The keynote speaker at its first national conference, in March, was Cosatu president Willie Madisha. "There is no urgency from government," he told an audience of 500 delegates from more than 169 organizations, including major religious and healthcare groups. "Sometimes it drags its feet, at other times its HIV/AIDS work is incoherent. Broader social mobilization is essential to engage government constructively."
In 1994 most antiapartheid activists either went into government and became enmeshed in the workings of the new state or set off for the private sector to exercise their newfound freedom and follow their own interests. The result was that the broad-based social movements that brought apartheid to its knees in the 1980s ossified into bureaucracy or withered into nonexistence. The TAC offers a cogent example of the consequences: In the early 1990s, AIDS activists played a major role in the drafting of an exceptional National AIDS Plan, which was adopted by the African National Congress. But instead of mobilizing mass support to achieve the demands of the plan, AIDS activists found themselves inside the system and thus bound by the inevitable constraints of government, relying too heavily on what the TAC calls "the politics of access." Outsiders became insiders, and without the oxygen of a mass movement to keep it alive, the plan was suffocated by red tape.
But just a week before the victory against Big Pharma, TAC's chairman and chief strategist (himself a product of the antiapartheid movement), Zackie Achmat, publicly accused two senior government officials--both medical doctors and former healthcare activists themselves--of having the blood of children on their hands because they were retarding the implementation of antiretroviral programs for pregnant mothers with HIV. "We face a greater tragedy than the acts of omission of the drug companies," he said, "and that is the failure of government officials to act with courage, humility and urgency."
The accusation may have been unduly harsh--Achmat himself could be accused of understanding neither the constraints of bureaucracy nor the choices that the ill-resourced government must make--but he has a significant mass-based constituency behind him when he makes it. The TAC's brilliance was in recognizing that it had an issue that would appeal to the broad left wing of South African society not only because of the government's manifest ineptitude in the face of a horrifying pandemic (4.7 million infected out of a population of 40 million) but because the battle for treatment was a perfect vehicle for taking on the heartlessness of global capital and the perceived wrongheadedness of the ANC government's neoliberal macroeconomic policy. South Africa has been the good boy of the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, Achmat says, and we're sicker and poorer than we've ever been.
The reason Cosatu and the left like the treatment access issue so much is that it allows them to say this; it puts flesh on their critique of the government's quest for a balanced budget in line with the World Bank's specifications, a quest that means less funding for programs like the provision of lifesaving medication. Globalization, finally, has a face. TAC activists appeared at court wearing ghostly, leering masks of Big Pharma's mandarins. Globalization is itself on trial: The masked activists were in handcuffs.
Just last year, Mbeki accused the TAC of actually being in the employ of Big Pharma because of its strident criticism of the government's AIDS policy. Now, despite the brief and effective courtroom alliance between activists and government, the same battle lines are drawn again, sharper than ever. Minister of Health Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang held a press conference after the courtroom celebration at which she made it clear that providing AIDS drugs was not a government priority; the TAC shot back that it would do whatever was needed--including confronting government head on--to bring "real drugs to real people."
It remains to be seen whether the victory against Big Pharma is anything more than symbolic, whether it will have any effect at all in bringing affordable drugs to the ailing masses of South Africa. Its significance, rather, is in its creation of a mass-based, independent, critically minded social movement that takes the best of South Africa's tradition of struggle and engages it, in a sophisticated and tangible way, in a battle against the negative consequences of the global economy and the manipulation of institutions like the WTO by multinational corporations. The TAC's battle could provide the same brand of moral leadership in the global struggle that the antiapartheid movement did in decades past.
Picture a grown-up discussion in Iceland, Portugal, Italy or Poland. The question is--what to do with a confessed mass murderer? The argument veers between different kinds of therapy and incarceration, and then somebody says: Let's kill him by playing doctors, and invite some people over to watch it on TV! All eyes roll toward the ceiling.
A few years ago, I took the tour that the federal government offers visitors to its facility in Terre Haute, Indiana (see "Minority Report," May 8, 1995). This rather depressed little burg, once celebrated as the birthplace of the mighty and humane Eugene Victor Debs, had become the lucky recipient of a state subsidy for a new death row. Local boosters talked vaguely of how this might bring much-needed jobs to the area. Now I notice that there has been a recent and well-publicized shot in the arm for the town's T-shirt and souvenir concessionaires. At the time, I remember wondering what I was being reminded of. It came back to me this week. In The Adventures of Augie March, old man Einhorn warns Bellow's young protagonist that the state buys beans in bulk, and well in advance, knowing that there are some people who can be counted upon to get themselves behind bars and come and eat them.
In something like the same way, if the federal government decides to join the death-penalty racket, it will sooner or later find someone to execute. And it can also count on a number of liberals, all troubled and conscientious, to bite their lips and say that perhaps just this once wouldn't matter. "Poster boy for capital punishment" is the lazy phrase that has been employed by several columnists and commentators to describe Timothy McVeigh, as they agonize about whether the state should have the power of life and death, not to mention the right to reinforce this power by means of compassionately conservative closed-circuit TV.
If McVeigh is the poster boy for anything, he is the poster boy for the feral American right. He is opposed to "big government," yet--in his most callous and disgusting phrase--he regards dead children as "collateral damage." (Where on earth did he pick up that obscene phrase, I wonder?) He is also the poster boy for a cult of death and revenge, which takes its tune from the state murder of civilians at Waco, Texas. His last request, or the closing point in his demented program, is a demand that society put him to death without further reflection. Now we can see the same Justice Department bureaucracy that brought us Waco, as it scurries to attend to every detail of the mass murderer's wish.
The McVeigh case makes absolutely no difference at all to the arguments against the death penalty. It is not news that we have depraved people among us; nor is it news that they like to taunt society with their combination of relish and indifference. The number of victims, the heinousness of the offense--these considerations do not and should not weigh in the balance. Ted Bundy could have been snuffed for any one of his crimes, or for none of them. Many people sentenced to death have doubtless been executed for crimes they might have committed but for which they were not convicted. Many living prisoners have committed appalling and evil crimes for which any sentient person would want them to die. And many murderers have been reprieved because they were condemned for the wrong murder, quite probably just as many as have been executed for the only murder they did not in fact commit. People sternly say that at least there is no doubt about McVeigh. Does that then nullify all their previous doubts on the death penalty?
The case can be put quite simply and intelligibly. It is not possible to be in favor of the death penalty à la carte. The state either claims the right to impose this doom or it does not. Nobody will ever be in possession of enough information to determine which convict is deserving of death and which one is not. (This is what people mean when they say rather falteringly that nobody can be "god" in such matters.) Subjective considerations about atrocity and wickedness are what the judicial system exists to prevent, or at the very least to contain. The argument about "closure" and satisfaction for relatives and friends is a sinister and bogus appeal to the irrational; the same argument would support a closed-circuit torture session for the condemned man, and it would not startle me in the least if McVeigh demanded this, too, as his right and his preferred means of checking out. Would we then defer to his expressed wishes and enact a scene of cathartic cruelty?
All but the most extreme pacifists will admit of a case where it might be immoral or amoral not to use force, if not to defend oneself then to defend others. All but the most fanatical opponents of abortion will allow for certain customary "exceptions," too well known to be rehearsed by me. The most committed vegetarian may still employ a leather belt if the consequence of not doing so is that his pants fall around his knees. But capital punishment is an either/or proposition, as every law-bound society except the United States has come to realize. The state, even in time of war, may not lawfully kill its prisoners. (And the populace has no business demanding that it should.) There are even some good utilitarian arguments for this. We don't know enough about serial killers and mass murderers, and, humanely treated, these very perpetrators might live to yield useful information. The possibility of rehabilitation cannot be excluded; it occurred even with some of the Nuremberg defendants and can also be accompanied by some worthwhile disclosures.
The utilitarian argument ought not to be the deciding one, though it's interesting to notice that even the basest version of it will vanquish the emotional nonsense put forward by Attorney General Ashcroft and his closed-circuit constituency. Ashcroft found the idea of further interviews and statements from the Terre Haute death cell too repulsive to contemplate. But as I write, and in full view of a mass audience, McVeigh is orchestrating the last chords of a fascistic anthem and hypnotically persuading the whole dignified force of law and order to join in.
The former FCC chairman talks about his battles to open up the airwaves.