Sunday, September 21, 2008

Arthur Krystal delivers a lesson in exclusion


Maddening or enlightening, Harper's monthly magazine is always worth a read. And you never know what you will learn about the world around you. Take the current issue (October 2008), where Arthur Krystal offers "The Long Goodbye: Notes on a never-ending decade" which purports to look at the sixties (while addressing Gerad J. DeGroot's The Sixties Unplugged) and may in fact do so . . . if you think the the earth was then populated by one woman for every 100 men.

Starting with his first paragraph, Krystal makes like James Brown singing, "This is a man's world." Over and over. DeGroot is the only male that has to be mentioned. But Krystal finds time for many, many more. In his essay, he name checks males repeatedly.

1) Barack Obama

2) Jeremiah Wright

3) Wright

4) Wright

5) Wright

6) Wright

7) George Wallace

8) Lyndon Johnson

9) Toad Gitlin

10) H. Rap Brown

11) Lyndon Johnson

12) Martin Luther King Jr.

13) Robert Kennedy

14) Morris Dickstein

15) Nixon

16) Gitlin

17) Che, Lennon, Kennedy, King, Lumumba*

18) Malcolm X, Leary, Hoffman, Hendrix, Dylan, Dutschke, Muhammad Ali*

19) Christopher Ricks

20) Bob Dylan

21) Christopher Ricks

22) Leary

23) Hendrix

24) Ali

25) Jimi

26) John [Kennedy]

27) Robert Kennedy

28) Nixon

29) Frantz Fanon

30) Fonzie [TV character]

31) Blake

32) Che

33) William McGill

34) Tom Hayden

35) Allan Bloom

36) Spiro Agnew

37) Agnew

38) William Safire

39) Dick Armey

40) Norman Mailer

41) Jane Austen

42) Bach

43) Keats

44) John F. Kennedy

45) Salinger

46) Camus

47) Sartre

48) Ginsberg

49) Brando

50) James Dean

51) Kennedy

52) Tom Hayden

53) Johnson

54) Hayden

55) Terry Anderson

56) Robert Kennedy

57) Gitlin

58) Dominick Cavallo

59) Jerry Ruben

60) Mao

61) Che

62) Lenin

63) Henry Kissinger

64) Dr. Benjamin Spock

65) Kissinger

66) Taylor Branch

67) Zorba the Greek

68) Henry Kissinger

69) Herbert Marcuse

70) Norman O. Brown

71) Charles Reich

72) R.D. Laing

73) Yossarian [book character, Catch 22]

74) Chief [book character, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest]

75) Philip de Broca

76) Peter Weiss

77) Betty Friedan

78) [Clark] Gable

79) [Gary] Cooper

80) [Robert] Mitchum

81) [Humphrey] Bogart

82) Woody Allen

83) Richard Dreyfuss

84) Jack Nicholson

85) Robert Jordan

86) Alex Portnoy [book character, Portnoy's Complaint]

87) Philip Marlowe [book character]

88) Robert Altman

89) Elliott Gould

90) Nixon

91) Tony Manero [movie character]

92) Bee Gees

93) Robert Kennedy

94) Eugene McCarthy

95) Hubert Humphrey

96) George McGovern

97) Lyndon Johnson

98) Obama

99) George F. Will

(17) and (18) are starred and the reason is that Arthur's actually quoting DeGroot but Krystal made the decision which sections of the book to quote and which not to. The essay names checks at least 99 times. How many women were mentioned? Two.

The sixties is the 'youth decade' and, hate to break it to Krystal, neither Betty Friedan nor Jane Austen were part of the 'youth movement.'

Nor was Bach. But what you have above is very revealing. Fonzie? The Bee Gees? John Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever?

Where are the women?

Even when he turns to fictional representatives, it's all men.

How did he not notice that? Did he intend all along to render women invisible?

He certainly sets out to be 'fair' to the right by including George Will and William Safire. But 'fairness' doesn't enter the equation when it comes to women.

Or did he think tossing Jane Austen and Betty Friedan into the mix was a huge favor?

Reading the essay, the impression anyone new to the 'sixties' would be left with is that women didn't do a damn thing -- in real life, on the page, on the screen.

Arthur Krystal isn't interested in writing about the 'sixties,' he's interested in writing about himself. While all writing is, to a degree, self-writing, it's equally true that when your work results in the record Krystal's essay has, you can't be surprised when people rightly argue "sexism." Krystal makes sure to at least give lip service to African-American (males) and that's hardly surprising since racism is rightly seen as a wrong while sexism . . . just happens.

Krystal appears to accept the 'sixties' as being defined from the assassination of JFK to the resignation of Tricky Dick Nixon. Strange because we can think of a number of women active during that period, making strides: Gloria Steinem, Janis Joplin, Marta Cotera, Grace Slick, Robin Morgan, Michelle Phillips, Dolores Huerta, Cass Elliot, Aretha Franklin, Billie Jean King, Shirley Chisholm, Tecihtzin, Bella Abzug, Hannah Arendt, Lily Tomlin, Mary Crow Dog, Kathie Sarachild, Sharon Maeda, Shana Alexander, Kate Millett, Nancy Chodorow, Alix Kates Shulman, Vilma Martinez, Clara Eraser, Anais Nin, Anne Sexton, Anna Mae Aquash, Tillie Olson, Maxine Hong Kingston, Shirley MacLaine, Judy Chicago, Paty Mink, Jo Freeman, Evelyn Yoshimura, Maxine Kumin, Simone de Beauvoir, Frances M. Beal, Susan Stern, Rita Mae Brown, Holly Near, Ellen Willis, Gloria Anzaldua, Miya Iwataki, Shulamith Firestone, Gerda Lerner, Mary Daly, Naomi Weisstein and Eleanor Holmes Norton. There were many, many more.

Some of the names listed may be familiar to you, some may not ring a bell. You can thank writers like Arthur Krystal for the confusion. Name dropping his way through history, he omits women and that's one of the many ways women are rendered invisible. And it's always been that way. He made the decision who to include and who to exclude. Those decisions build a 'canon' and, time and again, just by 'chance,' women are rendered invisible.
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