[Repost] 13th: From Slave to Criminal With One Amendment

Excerpts:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people…We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt their communities.” – former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman

“So many aspects of the old Jim Crow are suddenly legal again once you’ve been branded a felon. And so it seems that in America we haven’t so much ended racial caste, but simply redesigned it.” – Michelle Alexander

“People say all the time, ‘well, I don’t understand how people could have tolerated slavery?’ ‘How could they have made peace with that?’ ‘How could people have gone to a lynching and participated in that?’ ‘That’s so crazy, if I was living at that time I would never have tolerated anything like that.’ And the truth is we are living in this time, and we are tolerating it.” -Bryan Stevenson.

Error 404: White Allies Not Found

There’s always this nebulous cloud of unease whenever I get invited to a discussion of race and privilege with a white person. At best, they could listen to what’s being said and try to understand but at worst, it will devolve into a he said she said where everything is taken as a personal attack or a joke. This article puts that feeling into more definite terms.

To read more: https://perilousblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/04/error-404-white-allies-not-found/

Whitewashing: A Distortion (An Introduction)

Whitewash:

a: to gloss over or cover up (such as vices or crimes)

bto exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data

This is the definition provided by Merriam-Webster and is the most suitable definition for this article.

       White-washing is not a racially charged term despite its recent re-introduction with respect to African-American history. The Black Panthers were considered a radical group that was characterized by its militant structure. They were accused of anti-black racism and yes, there were undoubtedly many members who believed in racial segregation for the purpose of a Black state. There were several groups and factions that had much larger roles in the Civil Rights Movement than classical historians afford them in history, and this can lead to a loss of context when addressing precedents for future decisions. To be fair, one cannot be certain of the exact range of a variable especially in history, but to disregard a variable by deeming it negligible can be a grave misgiving when considering the big picture.

        As a student raised in the American educational system, I understand that an introduction is more likely to be superficial as it is to being broad. As we advance our state education, we receive more in-depth teachings on particular subjects. I cannot say the same for history. In elementary, we learned very briefly about the Age of Exploration and The American Revolution. Junior high/ middle school saw vapid discussions on the American Civil War and lesser engagement on the Civil Rights Movement, depending on the demographics of one’s state. High school, the age at which we are to be developing our critical thinking, we spoke only of America’s interaction with the rest of the world. I did the advanced route for the latter half of middle school and for all of high school so my own education in history is steeped in reading the actual documents (agreements, declarations of war, propaganda, etc.) and of course understanding the context in which the documents were written as opposed to receiving only a blurb that I’m expected to memorize. This method of investigative learning is something that the College Board (the national authority on US college entrance exams) wanted to further while I was still in high school. There, of course, was a push-back because the short-list of the Advanced Placement United States History course treated Presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt more favorably than Ronald Reagan. For Ronald Reagan to receive less than honorable mentions without any respect to his being a Republican icon, seems suspiciously like an attack against conservatism. So the ensuing arguments against the short-list was that not only was there political bias but conservatives feared that American children would be less patriotic as a result. 

++++++Such an assertion makes the debate politically charged when it really is not a political debate. The reason why previous classes were taught the US could not err and to have an unflagging sense of patriotism was because the sense of nationalism was very fragile. There was context to why older generations had to believe that America was the greatest. That is to say: I give my kin the benefit of the doubt and “discovering” that a leader used to be much more radical justifies the behavior of my kin and therefore invalidates this person as part of a movement (and that movement itself for carrying them as a symbol). Why whitewash ethnic leaders? Yes, the same is done to white leaders but their crimes or misgivings are simply seen as a byproduct of circumstances whereas their general message is romanticized as being ahead of its times or as brilliantly infallible as the ultimate truth.

++++++There was the demonization of freethinkers, McCarthyism, and public dissension about the wars. It’s not to say that I myself am a proud Reagan-ite, but more that history always has undertones: classical, revisionist, and neo-revisionist. Recent history is not impervious to scrutiny. We must learn from history. The tail-end of the Cold War figures must admit the actual efficiency of their policies, the achievements and the casualties. That is what the College Board is proposing. This I can appreciate but social movements, thorough research into regional histories, and foreign policy classes should not only be allowed to college students. How many meaningless arguments are had when things are plainly etched in ink by the same deceased people for whom we argue? College Board is not perfect but it’s a step towards acknowledging that the United States is not flawless but that we are trying and that we can all work towards bettering the nation. If being honest about history means that a child would become unpatriotic, it obviously means that things have to change. To do the same thing and expect different results is insanity.

++++++Diluting what happened and why it happened makes it encourages dissent from those who don’t truly understand but are not comfortable with acknowledging that people that they knew and loved actively participated in such hatred. If people are constantly absorbed in their own daily lives, they tend to pay little attention to things that do not overtly and directly concern them. It also means that we often look for generalizations and take many things out of context in order to appear wiser than we are, which makes all conclusions convoluted. The 2016 election re-introduced George Orwell’s “1984” to the mainstream public as a best-seller. The book was formerly one of those books that all the Advanced Placement students tried to forget because of how unpleasant the ending was. The protagonist is basically brainwashed brutally though torture and re-integrates into society. It’s bleak. It was crucial that readers were aware of what led to the establishment the institutions that would forcefully re-mold him into a contributing member of Airstrip One. People then began Googling phrases like newspeak, doublespeak, class warfare, and police state.

++++++Why then, do we gloss over the anger and frustration felt by Civil Rights leaders in their early days and only focus on their peaceful years? We need to know why people are mad. We need to know both sides and address the bias. We can cry over bias in the media or we can actually take our time to hear it out. We don’t have to agree but when we completely ignore what is there, people begin to think that the other side can’t be reasoned with. “You have to have been there (the state of mind or the actual location) to get the joke.” We need to get everything straight and appropriately tackle gerrymandering and red-lining districts beyond their being vocabulary terms. We need to look at gun control and emphasizing that the Constitution is considered one of the greatest documents because it allows for change because there was the expectation that we would need to add onto it over time and that it wasn’t perfect but it was the beginning of something. We need to re-capture this enthusiasm to actually expand the possibilities of what the US can do.   

This is a new year. Hopefully, we’ll try something new. 

Comments are welcome.

December 2018 Quote of the Month

Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.

To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.

To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.

To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.

To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.

To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)

4-Part Analysis of Invisible Man (Part 3)

[Synthesis with “Caged Bird” by Mary Angelou]

I thought this poem was very representative of the IM’s internal dissonance in what he’s doing and in what he’s feeling. This something that we see throughout the book but in these hundred pages, we also see him assume another identity; one of a public speaker for the Brotherhood. When he makes the speech for the old lady who was getting kicked out, he got his first taste of power. Before, when he makes speeches, he was ignored and talked over. This time, he had the power over the crowd and managed to make the authorities lose ground. After he joins the Brotherhood, he is indoctrinated into the ideals of the Brotherhood and he’s taught to use the science-oriented rhetoric they use. However, with his newfound ability, he also has restrictions on him that he’s never had before. This is can be seen in how although the IM is “allowed” to sing, his wings are still clipped and his feet are still tied. They tell him that he has to make speeches the way the Brotherhood makes speeches (through an appeal to logos, not to pathos like he’s used to) and he was specifically told that he shouldn’t “underestimate the discipline [of the Brotherhood]” meaning that although he’s been given an elevated position, he is still tied to the Brotherhood and has to listen to what the group decides. This will come up later during the trial, which we will not talk about just yet.

Like a caged bird who sings fearfully, the atmosphere of uncertainty that surrounds his position in the Brotherhood and as he became more involved in the Brotherhood, a feeling that something bad is going to happen grows. The first big cue for this was in the scene where the IM was taken to El Toro in the middle of the night. There are several things that gave off a bad vibe. First is the calendar that he notices. The date is April 1st, April Fool’s Day. So, whatever is coming up isn’t going to be good for the IM as he’s been playing the fool the entire book. We know enough of Brother Jack’s character now to know that he’s in the Brotherhood more for power than for change as he treats the IM as a means to an end and not as an individual. The other smaller detail is in the name of the place, El Toro, or the bull in Spanish. So, effectively, the IM is getting bull and being played for a fool.


[The IM treated as a means in The Brotherhood]

The Washington Post on how the fate of the Dreamers was used as leverage for the 2018 funding bill (link):

AFTER ALL of President Trump’s bluster about his “great love” for “dreamers,” brought to this country as children through no fault of their own, it turns out he’s content to use them as leverage in a high-stakes game of political horse-trading. Mr. Trump seems willing to strip them of jobs, security and homes unless Democrats buckle on a range of Republican immigration priorities, including an even longer-standing object of the president’s ardor: a beautiful border wall.

In September, it was Mr. Trump who terminated the Obama-era protection for dreamers that shielded them from deportation while granting them work permits if they had clean records and met certain other requirements. At the time, he gave Congress six months to fashion a legislative fix; failing that, the president suggested he would act unilaterally to ensure their protection.

It soon became apparent that Mr. Trump’s passion for his base, whose anti-immigrant fervor he stoked in the course of the 2016 campaign, exceeded his feelings for the dreamers. Prodded by White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a nativist hard-liner, Mr. Trump has made clear that his price for helping the dreamers is steep — not just the wall and additional funding for border security but also an overhaul of the immigration system to end family-based migration and the visa lottery, whose beneficiaries are mainly from developing nations.

That agenda is anathema to Democrats and would harm the country. It’s worth debating the merits of expanding visa quotas to allow more high-skilled and highly educated immigrants, but that’s not what the White House is pressing for. Rather, Mr. Trump is more interested in tearing down programs than building new ones. And, as he made clear, he now regards dreamers as a means to that end. Democrats, he said in a tweet last week, are on notice that dreamers are out of luck “without the desperately needed WALL” and “an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration.” But the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program cannot and should not be the mechanism by which the United States’ immigration system is refurbished.

The clock is ticking for Congress. The grace period extended by Mr. Trump to dreamers expires in early March but, as three former homeland security secretaries told Congress on Wednesday, the real deadline is mid-January. Unless a bill is passed and signed by then, there will be insufficient time to establish a system by which dreamers can apply and be vetted for whatever new status is available. Without such a system in place by March 5, dreamers will lose not only protection from deportation but also their work permits — a disaster for them and a blow to the businesses that employ them.

Many Americans may regard congressional dysfunction as a given. That doesn’t mean they will easily forgive a failure to protect dreamers, which would expose so many blameless young people to calamity with so little justification.

This article was written earlier this year when there was major concern over whether Congress would be able to pass a spending bill for the new year especially when the new bill would be cutting a lot of programs and be funnelling the money towards things like the potential wall at the Mexican border. In this case, the Dreamers were held as bargaining chips to get the Democrats to agree to the other “terms and conditions” that the Republicans put in the bill. Effectively, what happened was that a small nation of citizens was left as human collateral in a political game in which they had no say.

This, in a lot of ways, is what’s also happening in the Invisible Man. There are multiple characters who seek to capitalise off of the situation as it is with the black race and the white race. Even Brother Jack, the leader of the interracial Brotherhood, is in it only for the power. His view is very similar to what America’s Founding Fathers thought of democracy — they didn’t like it, stating that “The United States is not a democracy, never was, and never was intended to be.” Brother Jack thought the average man didn’t know what was best for him and that they needed some superior mind to guide them, much like how the Founding Fathers characterised democracy as “mob rule” and for a big chunk of American history, voting rights were only restricted to those who owned a significant amount of land and had to meet certain incomes (some would argue that this is also how politics are run nowadays but I digress).

In this case, the IM was used as a tool to gain support with Harlem and with his talk with Brother Hambro, the IM realises that they never really cared about Harlem anyway. Once Harlem was perceived as not beneficial to their quest of power(“weak”), they abandoned it. The IM then realises that to the Brotherhood, his race wasn’t what made him invisible, it was his “functionality”. They saw him as a tool and when they didn’t have a use for him anymore, they just threw him away along with Harlem. The mysterious letter he received is evidence of that (one of Ellison’s foreshadowing devices), warning him that while his work is to support the black community, his real allegiance should be to the Brotherhood and that if he tries to “go too fast”, they will oust him. It is like Trump having Omarosa and Ben Carson by him, both of whom, mind, the black community do not think represents their race and using that to say that he’s not racist. It’s like a misogynist saying he likes at least one woman and using that to justify that he’s not misogynist. So, as an educated black man, the IM is being used as a connection to the people the Brotherhood is trying to gain power from. He’s just a superficial puppet that smiles and stands behind the leader that uses him to gain something from his people and the IM was an unsuspecting host. Of course, Omarosa and Ben Carson was never the spokesperson that the IM was but that’s besides the point.

If the Dreamers weren’t such an essential point to getting the Democrats to sign the new funding bill, then they would have been thrown aside in a heartbeat in a similar fashion.


[On the mysterious letter that the IM recieves]

“Brother, This is advice from a friend who has been watching you closely. Do not go too fast. Keep working for the people but remember that you are one of us and do not forget if you get too big they will cut you down. You are from the South and you know that this is a white man’s world. So take a friendly advice and go easy so that you can keep on helping the colored people. They do not want you to go too fast and will cut you down if you do.”

The first layer of meaning that I thought of when I first read this was, “Wow, what an obvious threat.” The words “cut you down” was written twice, that’s how serious it is. Yikes. This was the first clue that the Brotherhood wasn’t working towards the progression of the black race because, in this letter, the progression of the black race was merely a front; the real focus of its members should be in expanding the influence of the Brotherhood. The diction of this letter, the two appearances of the word friend, is kind of sinister. It reminds me of mafia interrogation where the inquisitor is implying castration or torture by fingernail removal all the while insisting that they’re here to help and that they can be trusted.

Besides the blatant paradox between the Brotherhood’s supposed goal and the obedience this letter is demanding, the phrase “you can keep on helping the colored people” as if they themselves weren’t colored leads me to believe that whoever wrote this was someone who would feel threatened if the IM got too popular and that they weren’t black. Of course, the obvious suspect would be Brother Jack; he has the most to lose if the IM does keep on going fast.

Another layer of meaning lies in what it’s saying about real life social movements. One side effect of social movements like the rise of black civil rights sentiments in the 50s and onto the 60s is that people see opportunities to gather an audience and through their audience, gain power and influence. Riding the wave, so to speak. This can be clearly seen when Ras accused the black Brotherhood members of being sellouts. They were seen as partnering with a group of white people who were simply using the black members to pull the wool over the populace’s eyes with a false ideology. Again, this is the question of whether people can actually affect change. People like Bledsoe only believes in power within the system. He would also be labelled a sellout. These are people who are, on the surface, protesting against the establishment while taking advantage of it as well which is why intersectionality is such a big deal when looking at issues like sexual harassment or racism because, in the end, different groups experience different forms of the same thing and have more or fewer options based on gender or race or income etc etc. For example, when women got the vote in the form of the 19th Amendment, those rights were reserved for white women. Black women still struggled under Jim Crow for decades to come. We see here advantaged people fighting against the thing they’re advantaged by while simultaneously also benefiting from their advantage. The most obvious current example of this would be in the increasingly popular beauty trends based off of black culture, in other words, cultural appropriation aka taking the culture’s characteristics while at the same time believing the culture is bad. On Kylie Jenner, big lips and cornrows are attractive and a ground-breaking fashion trend. On a black woman, it means she’s not as accepted because she doesn’t adhere to the beauty standard set by white women. Social movements are complex and contain many personalities, many of whom are actually sabotaging the group’s efforts. It is no different in today’s environment as it was in Ellison’s era.


Discussion Questions

  1. How have the words of the IM’s grandfather changed in meaning in this section of the book?
    1. At the beginning of the book, the grandfather’s words could be seen as a dying confession of the guilt he’s harboring over betraying the dignity and identity of his people. The IM didn’t understand why his grandfather said that and he didn’t until this section of the book when he sees really how the system, though professing its support for the black people, is really corrupt in its own greed. In Bledsoe, he was disillusioned about his mentor’s character. In Brockway, the old man clearly had a few screws loose. However, in the Brotherhood, there were no excuses that the IM could find to justify what happened. He’s followed the system even now, listening to a white man and accepting a name given to him by a white man. There is something strange about a white man appointing a black man to be a spokesperson for the black people. Isn’t the whole point to having the black people’s voices be heard so shouldn’t the black community decide who their spokesperson is? Before, the grandfather’s words had a message of rebellion, warning the IM from the system and the IM feels uneasy about it since he’s been taught to follow “the straight road”. Now, it is one of bittersweetness, of not realising soon enough or not having the strength to buck the system. It says something about the tone of the rest of the book where marginalised groups had to learn, either through their parents or through experience (the hard way) that there really is no place for them, inside or outside the system. That people are born in a skin or an identity that can be perceived as inherently wrong and inferior and not being able to get out of it. The IM had to grow into the realisation and it’s painful and ultimately, he breaks down and gets out of the system, believing a non-existence is better than conformity and degradation.

 

  1. What is the meaning of the Sambo doll?
    1. The Sambo doll in the scene was another one of the shock factors in Ellison’s book. It is a grotesque caricature of a black man. The IM notices that the doll is controlled by an almost invisible string. This symbolises the hold that society has on them in various forms of oppression and microaggressions that they often cannot grasp or articulate. The words that are used to sell this doll also suggests a degree of dehumanisation, a circus act, if you will. A toy. What I think Ellison is trying to get at here is Brother Clifton’s breaking point and it kind of predicts what will happen in the 60s. It reminds me of McMurphy’s plight in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Basically, both characters are pushed past their breaking point but they’re forced to live on in this institution called society. In McMurphy’s case, his death liberated the rest of the patients in the ward. With Clifton, there was no savior moment. All that signified his death was the pool of blood after he was shot. This was a man that became too self-aware and so he was punished. There are no saviors in this world. Really, the Sambo doll and what it represented and what happened to Clifton was the despair event horizon for the IM. I think that this was a bigger turning point in the book than anything else before it because it physically showed what the IM was experiencing over the last dozen and a half chapters and he was forced to come to terms with it and with that, came the same realisation that Clifton had (although the IM did take his sweet time about it even after witnessing Clifton’s death).

 

  1. Was Ras’s approach better or the Brotherhood’s?
    1. For this question, I want to talk about the historical context. The setting is the Civil War era. Lincoln was forced to make the Civil War about slavery (the details of which I won’t go into but Lincoln was definitely not the progressive guy everyone thinks he is). Since the slavery issue was forced, Lincoln had to decide what to do with the black people he emancipated. Some wanted them to be moved to Liberia. A minority thought that they should carry through and integrate black people into white society. Many others had opinions in between and a lot of them thought that the emancipation was a bad idea. So, those that wanted the freedmen to be moved Liberia would be Ras’s ideology and those who wanted integration would be the Brotherhood (if the Brotherhood wasn’t corrupt). Historically, integration won out and that’s what started to happen albeit at a painfully slow pace. The project to make Liberia a haven for freedmen ultimately failed so although I can’t say either approach was better because, to be honest, neither have the right attitudes, I would say that integration historically has worked out better.

July 2018 Quote of the Month

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

    – Thomas Jefferson

[Poem] Bound

An extension of the June Quote of the Month.

Xiao Mei lives to see the dawn of the day.
The hues of brisk yellow match her skin like Chardonnay.
“Be a doctor or lawyer,” both of her parents say.
“It’s not like artists make money anyway.”
Michael is Michael because Mwenye was too hard to pronounce.
But “DeShawn” and “Tyrone” were his names thrown around.
“I bet your dad left you!” his classmates tease and flounce.
But they were the ones who left him feeling broken down.
Fahima always wore her hijab proud.
“It’s not that fashionable. You’re like, wrapped in a shroud.
But this doesn’t affect our friendship,” her friends vowed.
Though when they made plans, she was never invited out.
Jesus strives to uphold the legacy of his name.
His strong arms lift the burden of disdain.
He takes on the jobs no privileged man would claim.
But you know the privileged man doesn’t feel the same.
What constitutes as the American Dream?
Success and wealth and the idea of being free?
Maybe what it is, is what it is indeed.
The meeting of high standards of an oppressing society.
Whether goal-bound, homebound, or career-bound,
Their opportunities are limited to what their surroundings allowed.
Bound? More like boundaries, clearly marked on the ground
Of the caged individuals in the lost, stray pound.
Bound by their parents, their school, their friends.
Bound by their jobs, and never-ending dead ends.
Bound by this dream neither yours nor theirs.
Bound by a system where nobody cares.
To achieve the Dream, a lot more has to be done
Than just sitting around thinking, “One day, we shall overcome”.

Dedicated to an acquaintance of mine, M, and every other POC who feels bound by the restrictions of this seemingly “free” country.

APUSH Early America Timelines

*Credit goes to one particular Coach Nance :D*

The Real Reason Why The Da Vinci Code is a Universal Bestseller

Hey all! Since I haven’t been able to post anything these past couple of weeks, I just thought that I should at least give y’all a bit of content seeing as I’m on break so I don’t have the excuse of not having enough time to write. Well, this isn’t content written specifically for Outlet but it is an essay we had to do for an English Literature class. However, since it fits the theme of Outlet and it’s recently written, I thought I should post it here albeit in a slightly altered form. If you guys have read some of my other articles, you can see some recurring ideas and points that I will make again in this essay so yes, I am aware that I reuse examples sometimes, especially when it comes to Dan Brown (if you can’t tell by the title) and the Spanish-American War. Lemme know what you think and if you agree or disagree and let’s jump right into it.

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It all begins here.

 

When it comes to controversial pieces of literature, the authors behind those pieces are often accused of ulterior motives. In the case of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, he was blasted for discrediting the biggest religion in the world while pushing his “feminist” agenda, all using information taken from a questionable source that had been debunked to high heaven. Yet, despite the expert opinions of specialists in both literature and history against him, The Da Vinci Code remains a book eagerly received by the American public. Some critics say Dan Brown took advantage of the social and political turmoil after 9/11 and sold his books when the American public needed for everything to make sense. As one critic puts it, “When bad things happen, Brown reassures us, it is probably because of the machinations of a 1,000-year-old secret society which is quietly running the world, though often in conflict with another hidden organisation.”[1] However, what I want to argue against isn’t about Brown’s lack of literary common sense but how he has managed to seduce the American public into pushing the book to become the second-most popular in modern literature by taking advantage of human nature.

Dan Brown’s success was by no means a fluke. Predecessors before him, like Ayn Rand, took advantage of the social sentiment of their time and used it to spread their message and sell their books. Ayn Rand took advantage of the political unrest and fear of the rise of the USSR and communism in the global arena to sell her books and spread her ideals. Mark Lawson, the critic whose assertion that the events of 9/11 were the main reason Brown’s novels have sold well, says as much, “But the success of this book is due not to the writing but to post-9/11 therapy. It tells so many Americans what they want to hear: that everything is meant.” Nobody likes to admit that they have no idea what’s going. No one wants to believe that things happen at random. There has to be a bigger picture somewhere and that’s what Dan Brown sells us. While I have to admit that, yes, the insecurity after 9/11 helped to contribute to a national mindset that was more receptive to books centered around conspiracy theories and an everyday Joe turned savior of the world, The Da Vinci Code would have been at least moderately well-received in any case. With the main character being a college professor with a quirky Mickey Mouse watch (that, Dan Brown doesn’t fail to remind you, was given to him by his mother when he was ten although it has no impact on the story or Langdon’s character whatsoever), it gives any person the room to dream that they may also be able to become a Robert Langdon. In insinuating the machinations of secret organisations as the root of world strife, it gives people the simple answer they want. No one wants to talk about why establishing Israel in Palestinian land was politically and ethically questionable, or talk about the Persian Gulf War or the continuous conflicts in the Middle East when it could all be explained away by the fact that the US government wanted an excuse to wage war against Iraq and Afghanistan to gain access to their fossil fuel resources. Hence, conspiracy theories. What’s worse about the book besides the fearmongering and the offering of a deceptive truth to complicated events (like the interpretation and the “true” events behind biblical stories) is the fact that Brown dared assert that his books are factually accurate. It is an atrocious claim. This not only allows his readers to fantasise about such simple solutions to what’s going wrong in the world, but it also gives them ground to bring that thinking to the real world and that encourages thinking rife with logical fallacies, which, in all cases, is never good when looking at real-life situations and trying to solve real-life problems. So it’s not that 9/11 was responsible for this way of thinking, it is human nature to want simple answers. In this case, Occam’s Razor isn’t the way to go — the simplest solution is NOT the best solution. The machinations of humans are rarely so neat or premeditated.

Even when there is no threat, people have been known to create monsters out of shadows, so to speak, and sometimes due to a sudden unexplained psychosocial phenomenon called mass hysteria. For example, the most prevalent example of a phantom threat in history can be seen in the late 1800s when the rivalry between two newspaper tycoons caused the Spanish-American War. In that case, the careless remarks and actions of a Spanish ambassador were sensationalised by the newspapers who tried to outcompete each other by seeing who could rile up the most amount of people possible over what amounts to a diplomatic blunder. That is, until the explosion of a US ship in Spanish-controlled Cuba seemingly confirmed their distrust. The political and social landscape during those times weren’t strenuous; the American populace was largely cohesive with the political climate being stable and the social order upheld and what policy disagreements there were over dealing with Cuba were being remedied between the two countries so there was no need whatsoever to even think that the already weakened Spain had any ill intentions towards the US. The brain’s ability to see patterns is a great skill and a great weakness. It is what gives conspiracy theories that irresistible ring of truth. So, the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code couldn’t be attributed mostly to 9/11 because despite the lack of any meaningful stimulus, people have somehow still overreacted in the past. In playing into the cliche of an ordinary man defeating age-old evil organisations through a series of amazing coincidences, Brown has managed to tap into people’s subconscious need for order, simple explanations, and the fantasy of being involved in something bigger than themselves. There doesn’t need to be any external motivation. Despite the bad reviews from the professional world, Brown and his books have survived and even managed to get adapted into film. This just goes to show that its appeal hasn’t diminished even over a decade after 9/11.

Dan Brown’s books, particularly his most popular, The Da Vinci Code, all follow the trend of being easy to read, self-important, and lacking any real originality. However, in following this trend, they are also ensured a loyal readership because familiar subjects and familiar plots make the readers feel safe in said familiarity while allowing them to enjoy afresh what they liked about other books. In doing this, with the addition of an interesting opening premise and the promise of a satisfying ending with the hero’s victory, Dan Brown has managed to secure (most) of his readers’ loyalty and keep them coming back for more books and movies to help explain away the confusing and out-of-reach aspects of life and experience. While the occurrence of a traumatic event like 9/11 certainly did strengthen the public’s need for order and simplistic explanations, people’s psychology would have drawn them to the book regardless. Since Brown often asserts that false facts are true, it is then imperative that his readers draw a line between his stories and the real world because the fact is that what the world needs to fix problems is not a man solving puzzles and outsmarting evil secret organisations; the real world solves problems by having well-informed citizens who rely on themselves and their diplomatic ability to reconcile their wishes with opposite parties and what is realistically plausible. We don’t need people to rely on unconventional heroes to save the day because then, the very source that makes unconventional heroes becomes dry: the common citizen who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and tries to fulfill his desire for a better world for all.

Critique Source

APUSH Discussion Groups: Did Yellow Journalism cause the Spanish-American War? (Yes)

Stance: Yes (how the media blew up what was happening in Cuba in order to sell more papers)

Synthesis & Thesis: The Spanish-American War wasn’t the first time the Americans were whipped into a frenzy of mass hysteria: the earliest and most famous example of which was the Salem Witch Trials. Over two hundred people were accused between February 1692 to May 1693 and twenty were executed. They were accused of practicing witchcraft and people believed that they were agents of the devil and could bring curses upon those they didn’t like. It turned out that there was a strong correspondence between the wealth and status of the accused and the accusers. The economic hardships of the time as well as their deep-seated superstitions and resentment caused the Trials and their beliefs spurred on by rumors and fear, spiralled out of control and resulted in very real consequences, much like the baselessness of the Spanish-American War. With the press actively working to encourage war, public opinion soon became putty to be molded according to the news headline of the day. With news stories so completely false and separate from the facts and yet having a massive following with eye-catching headlines, the US and Spanish government was soon backed into a corner where one had to fight to save face or risk rebellion and the other had to fight to relieve the bloodlust of its people. Yellow journalism caused the War by putting forth false and sensationalist news that fuelled public outrage and then forced the hand of the government through the pressure of public opinion.

Points:

  • Background-
    • Main players involved Hearst & Pulitzer, together had millions of readers
    • Penny newspaper means customers who are mid-lower class = less interested in mundane news = a lucrative business selling sensational headlines
    • Pulitzer and Hearst were rivals in the business
      • Pulitzer was against war but printed pro-war to increase circulation
  •  Incidents and Effects
    • De Lome’s Letter- construed as “the worse insult in American history”
    • He had to resign and it wasn’t much of a big deal if not for…
  •  Maine in Cuba
    • Was in Cuba on the pretense of being “a friendly act of courtesy”, the Vizcaya was sent to the US in return
    • Was hailed as the first “offensive” of the United States into Cuba by media
    • Was blown up, media blamed it on Spanish gov’t and spread the news that the Maine was blown up by mines planted by the Spanish government
  •  Vizcaya
    • Vizcaya arrived just after the Maine explosion
      • Front-page news for weeks, all spewing pro-war headlines of course
      • Suspected Vizcaya of ulterior motives– offended, Spanish officials barred Hearst’s men from boarding which caused more suspicious rumors
      • moon w/ two rings = sign from heaven
      • testimonials of wretched mothers (even made up a quote from Roosevelt), people volunteering to fight and condemned peace attempts as twaddle, whipping people up to a war-ready frenzy — revenge