• Two Universally Hated Objects--To Be Continued

    • Posted on Dec 05, 1980
    [Note:  see "The Two Most Hated Items in the World" Dec. 9, 1980 for continuation of this piece.]  

    648 wds

    There must be something that everybody agrees is truly terrible.

    Or truly wonderful. Or even truly true. Whatever, just something that the entire human race could agree upon. 

    You'd think, for example, that equality for women would be universally agreeable, at least for people who have genuinely joined the 20th century. Now I recognize that many countries treat women like diseased animals, but they've done that for centuries; and the men in power—usually kings and shieks—aren't about to change it. 

    But we 20th century Americans supposedly have been champions of equality for all. Indeed, it's practically a national slogan. Yet, could we agree on a simple amendment which stated that out loud? So equality is out as a universally agreeable idea. Not that women are diseased animals, understand, it's just that they're not, well, equal, according to Iowa voters, anyway. 

    Or how about Hitler? You'd think we could all agree that he was a monomaniacal psychotic whose charismatic gift hypnotized millions into the most destructive episode in history. 

    That ought to be obvious, yet I recently received some neo-Nazi literature which claims that concentration camps weren't really so bad, and that Hitler actually had the right idea. Even here on the UNI campus, several students came to see "Triumph of the Will," a Nazi propaganda film, and seriously cheered when Hitler spoke.

    So we can't even all hiss Hitler, it seems. 

    What about the shape of the earth? Surely after 600 years of sailing around it, 75 years of flying above it, and almost 25 years of rocketing out from it, we could all agree that the earth is more or less round. Nope; members of the Flat Earth Society remain convinced that the earth is actually flat, and all our shops, planes and rockets don't tell them otherwise.

    Even old Mother E's roundedness remains controversial. 

    I COULD GO on: evolution seems to be an obviously sensible theory, yet creationists remain unconvinced. The Bible seems to me a great book, but not the one and only infallible Guide to Everything. Yet many people—especially these days of verbal born-againers--take the Bible as a direct connection with God. I guess they assume God spoke English for awhile. 

    And certainly nobody can agree on what makes a masterpiece in art, literature, or music. That changes with the times. You'd think we could get together on something and say that's true. That's beautiful. That's rotten. And everybody all over the world would say yea! 

    Nay, except there are in fact two universally agreed upon horrors. To my knowledge, the entire human race abhors two things. No, not 3-D pictures of Jesus, or paintings on 
    almost black velvet. And no, not plastic praying hands or Howard Cosell or white belts with matching patent leather shoes. And not snakes or Clint Eastwood sequels, though that's getting closer.

    And not even slivers or paper cuts, since some people enjoy such little shafts of pain. Masochists, you know. 

    Give up? Good. But keep thinking about it, and I'll tell you the two universally hated items on Tuesday. [See Dec. 9, 1980 for continuation]

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  • Mae West Gone, But Won't Be Forgotten

    • Posted on Nov 25, 1980

    Mae West, the sexiest octogenarian who ever lived, died last week at 82 or 87 or 88, depending upon who you listen to.

    How many films do you think she made before 1970? Fifty, Eighty? A hundred? Get set for a shock: She made only 10 films before 1970—all of them between 1932 and 1943.

    She then retired for filmmaking for 27 years, and came back to do "Myra Breckenridge" and "Sextette" in the 1970s.

    Talk about an original! Name another movie actress who changed the face of the movies with just 10 films—most of which she wrote herself. Name another star who rescued a whole studio, in her case Paramount, with her 1933 films "She Done Him Wrong" and "I'm No Angel." Name another actress who was both a sex symbol and a comedienne. 

    The censors howled and raged at her double entendres, her never-still torso, her outrageous body. Her audiences, however, just howled. 

    William Randolph Hearst is supposed to have said, "Isn't it time Congress did something about Mae West?" Meanwhile, RAF pilots did do something about her: they named their inflatable life jackets after her, thus giving her permanent status in English dictionaries.

    Like so many originals, she's remembered now as much for her effect on the culture than for any particular work. But what truly sets her apart is how conscious she was of what she was doing.

    This may have saved her; Marilyn, Elvis and so many others lapsed into suicidal depressions and early deaths because they didn't know who or what they were behind their aging public masks.

     Mae West knew. Though she's remembered best for a few lines from her movies—"Why don'cha come up and see me sometime?" and "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie!"--a glance through- her autobiography reveals a strikingly honest and thoughtful mind.

    About censorship, she says: "I've never believed in going haywire on stage or screen. Obviously no medium of mass entertainment can be allowed to throw all restraint out the window. Strict censorship, however, has a reverse effect. It creates resentment on the part of the public. They feel that their freedom of choice is being dictated. They don't want their morals legislated by other than criminal law."

    On Hollywood life, she writes: "It was all the parties, all the record-playing, all the strong drinks in what the film people called a montage; one of those artistic arrangements of objects: bottles, faces, train wheels, clouds, all pumped full of music to take the place of real action, to advance the plot without telling anything true and honest in detail. Life elsewhere was real and slippery and struggled in the arms like a big fish dying in air."

    On W.C. Fields, with whom she made only one film, My Little Chickadee: "I never like to work with actors who drink on the job. They aren't dependable as a rule, and you can't tell when, inspired by some daffy alcoholic whim, they can ruin your performance...I think that under the grotesque ruin of a clown Bill Fields was tragically aware of the wreck he had made of himself."

    On her own private life: "I never felt I needed to saturate my public with every detail of my private life, and I kept the facts of my personal affairs, my romantic relationships strictly top secret, even keeping my public happy in the belief that I belonged entirely to them, by persistently denying for years that I had ever married."

    Finally, on her great life-long avocation, sex, she writes (in a letter to Alfred Kinsey, no less): "We should know everything about ourselves, but it is wiser (for sex's sake) not to know everything about each other. We should not be so exposed to each other, so common to each other, that sex becomes a mere commodity to be handed around like a pack of cigarettes."

    Her autobiography, revised when she was in her late seventies, ends with the word "Intermission." For Mae West, a remarkable and largely still to be appreciated woman, the show will go on.

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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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