Saturday, August 28, 2010

Attitudes toward "The Other"

The stars appear to be in place for discussing different aspects of discriminatory practices directed at alienating "the other." Mad Men took a frank and open look at the subject of attitudes towards the Japanese twenty years after the end of World War Two, particularly the attitudes of Americans who had fought in the Pacific battles. Then, to remind us that this was no mere exercise in fiction, the news media latched on to Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally, taking place at the Lincoln Memorial 47 years to the day after Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream" speech at the same site. Coverage of this event is already on the CBS News Web site, including the following sentence from Beck's opening remarks:

Something that is beyond man is happening.

I am not sure how meaningful this sentence is in Beck's context; but, in the broader scheme of what is happening these days, I am tempted to say that the "something" that is happening is a new level of irony.

What I mean is that old wounds whose pain has evoked such angry rhetoric are actually beginning to heal, often in unexpected ways. Even the Man Men writers realized that the perfect agent for expressing anti-Japanese sentiments was the guy who is already the most loathsome member of the new partnership. Much closer to home, however, we have the fate of a famous composer who should have stuck to his music rather than penning one of the most notorious anti-Semitic tracts on record. The composer is, of course, Richard Wagner; and, because the San Francisco Opera will be unveiling their new production of his Ring cycle this spring, Wagner will be very much the "composer of the hour" for much of the coming season.

This will involve an abundance of "background" events intended to prepare us all for this ultimate operatic marathon. San Francisco Opera will have a hand in many of these events and will make it a point to publicize the others. Naturally, the Wagner Society of Northern California will have an event of its own at which Associate Professor (Emeritus) William Eddelman, in Stanford University's Department of Drama, will deliver a lecture entitled "Wagner's Ring—Myths and Imagination." This promises to be an interesting event, but the irony kicks in when we turn to matters of date, time, and place. The venue will be the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco; and the lecture will take place at 1 PM on November 6, which happens to be a Saturday (in other words, the Jewish Sabbath). This probably says as much about Wagner's old prejudices as it does about contemporary Jewish attitudes towards Mosaic law. However, if this really is a positive sign that the wounds are healing, I still want to know if, when the event is over, someone will ask Brünnhilde (hopefully politely) if, things being what they are, she would mind being the one to turn out the lights!

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