One of the tragic aspects of the emancipation of the serfs in Russia in 1861 was that while the serfs gained their personal freedom, the land – their means of production and of life, their land was retained under the ownership of their feudal masters. The land should have gone to the serfs themselves, for under the homestead principle they had tilled the land and deserved its title. Furthermore, the serfs were entitled to a host of reparations from their masters for the centuries of oppression and exploitation. The fact that the land remained in the hands of the lords paved the way inexorably for the Bolshevik Revolution, since the revolution that had freed the serfs remained unfinished.
The same is true of the abolition of slavery in the United States. The slaves gained their freedom, it is true, but the land, the plantations that they had tilled and therefore deserved to own under the homestead principle, remained in the hands of their former masters. Furthermore, no reparations were granted the slaves for their oppression out of the hides of their masters. Hence the abolition of slavery remained unfinished, and the seeds of a new revolt have remained to intensify to the present day. Hence, the great importance of the shift in Negro demands from greater welfare handouts to “reparations”, reparations for the years of slavery and exploitation and for the failure to grant the Negroes their land, the failure to heed the Radical abolitionist’s call for “40 acres and a mule” to the former slaves. In many cases, moreover, the old plantations and the heirs and descendants of the former slaves can be identified, and the reparations can become highly specific indeed.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818; rev. ed 1823) is often referred to as the first science-fiction novel. I don’t think it is that; there are, for example, the earlier stories of voyages to the moon by Francis Godwin in 1638 and Cyrano de Bergerac in 1657 (no less an authority than Arthur C. Clarke credited Cyrano’s book with anticipating the ramjet), to say nothing of Lucian’s similar tales fifteen centuries before those. But Frankenstein certainly represents a major pioneering work in science fiction, and the next three songs all have some connection to it.
310. Irving Berlin and Harry Richman, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1930):
“Puttin’ on the Ritz” began life as a racist and classist song making fun of working-class blacks trying to put on airs and dress fashionably; the original lyrics referred to “Lenox Avenue” (in Harlem), “every Thursday evening” (the traditional maids’ night off) instead of “Park Avenue,” and “fifteen dollars” (and “see them spend their last two bits”) instead of “lots of dollars,” and included such charming lines as:
upon the bevy
of high browns
from down the levy
puttin’ on the Ritz
Here’s Fred Astaire singing the same original-lyrics version, also in 1930; you can hear the lyrics a bit better in this one:
In 1946, Berlin rewrote the lyrics, likewise for Fred Astaire, to make it a song about upper-class (and presumptively white) people instead of lower-class black people, and this version of the lyrics became the standard one:
But then, in 1974, the performance of the song by Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in Mel Brooks’ movie Young Frankenstein forever cemented its connection to the Frankenstein legend:
311. H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, “To Life” (from Shoggoth on the Roof, 2005)
H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West – Reanimator” is a modern updating of the Frankenstein story. It’s far from being his best story, and Lovecraft was never happy with it; but its mad-scientist protagonist is nonetheless one of the many Lovecraft characters to appear in the Lovecraft-inspired parody musical Shoggoth on the Roof, in which various songs from Fiddler on the Roof are rewritten with humourous lyrics reflecting the Lovecraft mythos. (Alas, the musical’s actual stage performance is illegal, because IP.) Here, for example, “To life, to life, l’chaim!” becomes “To life, to life, I’ll bring them!” – which is arguably the cleverest change in the lot.
Here’s the original song (from the 1971 movie):
And here’s the Re-Animated version:
312. Bobby Pickett, “Monster Mash” (1962):
Finally, this next song is especially appropriate to Hallowe’en, which is nearly upon us.
While “Monster Mash,” sung in imitation of Boris Karloff’s voice (except for Dracula’s line about the Transylvania Twist, where Pickett imitates Bela Lugosi instead), invokes various popular movie monsters, the centerpiece of the song is the Frankenstein legend. Indeed, Lugosi-Dracula’s “Transylvania Twist” line is a complaint about his own dance being displaced in popularity by the Frankenstein-inspired “Monster Mash” dance. (Pickett did indeed release a “Transylvania Twist” number, but it’s poor competition for the Mash.) Here, by contrast with the movie version, the Karloff voice seems to be the doctor’s rather than the monster’s (“I was working in the lab late one night”), although at some point the perspective may shift to that of the monster (if, as I suspect, “get a jolt from my electrodes” refers to the electrodes embedded in the monster’s neck in the Karloff movies – and Pickett’s Karloffian facial expressions in the video also suggest the monster more than the scientist).
The song was initially banned by the BBC for being “too morbid.”
I keep seeing people online complaining that superhero movies and tv shows are now completely dominated by women and minorities.
So let’s take a peek at what domination looks like. Here are the stats from the past 20 years. (In some cases assigning a show to a particular category was a judgment call, open to reasonable challenge; but the overall shape of the info seems clear enough.)
Superhero / comic-book shows, Marvel or DC only, live-action only, tv-shows or theatrical movies only, 2000-present only:
One lead, white male: Smallville (2001-2011) Spider-Man (2002) Daredevil (movie; 2003) Hulk (2003) The Punisher (movie; 2004) Spider-Man 2 (2004) Constantine (movie; 2005) Batman Begins (2005) Superman Returns (2006) Ghost Rider (2007) Spider-Man 3 (2007) Iron Man (2008) The Incredible Hulk (2008) Punisher: War Zone (2008) The Dark Knight (2008) X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) Iron Man 2 (2010) Jonah Hex (2010) Constantine (tv series; 2014-2015) Human Target (2010-2011) Green Lantern (2011) Thor (2011) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) The Dark Knight Rises (2012) The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) Arrow (2012-present) Iron Man 3 (2013) The Wolverine (2013) Thor: The Dark World (2013) Man of Steel (2013) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) The Flash (2014-present) Ant-Man (2015) Daredevil (tv series; 2015-18) Preacher (2015-2019) Deadpool (2016) Doctor Strange (2016) Lucifer (2016-present) Logan (2017) Iron Fist (2017-2018) [for season 1] The Punisher (tv series; 2017-2019) Legion (2017-2019) Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Thor: Ragnarok (2017) Deadpool 2 (2018) Venom (2018) Krypton (2018-2019) Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) Shazam! (2019) Joker (2019) Pennyworth (2019-present)
Mixed ensemble, leader(s) white and male: X-Men (2000) Mutant X (2001-2004) X-Men 2 (2003) Fantastic Four (2005) X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) Watchmen (movie; 2009) X-Men: First Class (2011) The Avengers (2012) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-present) [for seasons 1-5] X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Gotham (2014–2019) Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Fantastic Four (reboot; 2015) Captain America: Civil War (2016) X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) Legends of Tomorrow (2016-present) [for season 1] Justice League (2017) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) Inhumans (2017) Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Avengers: Endgame (2019) The Boys (2019-present) Titans (2019-present) Doom Patrol (2019-present)
One lead, white but not male: Elektra (2005) Agent Carter (2015-2016) Jessica Jones (2015-2019) iZombie (2015-2019) Supergirl (2015-present) Wonder Woman (2017) Captain Marvel (2019) Batwoman (2019-present)
One lead, male but not white: Blade II (2002) Blade: Trinity (2004) Blade: The Series (2006) Luke Cage (2016-2018) Black Panther (2018) Aquaman (2018) Black Lightning (2018-present)
One lead, neither white nor male: Catwoman (2004)
Two leads, both white and male: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Two leads, one white and male, one white but not male: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Two leads, one white and male, one neither: Iron Fist (2017-2018) [for season 2] Swamp Thing (2019)
Two leads, one white but not male, one male but not white: Cloak & Dagger (2017-2019)
Three leads, all white but not male: Birds of Prey (2002-2003)
Mixed ensemble, leader(s) white but not male: Legends of Tomorrow (2016-present) [for season 2 onward] Powerless (2017)
Mixed ensemble, leader(s) male but not white: Runaways (2017-present)
Mixed ensemble, leader(s) neither white nor male: Watchmen (tv series; 2019)
Mixed ensemble, one leader white and male, one white but not male: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
Mixed ensemble, one leader male and one not, neither one white: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-present) [for seasons 6-7]
Mixed ensemble, no clear leader(s) : Suicide Squad (2016) The Defenders (2017) The Gifted (2017-2019)
Two weeks ago I was in New Orleans for the PPE conference. I gave a talk at a panel on self-ownership, and moderated two panels I’d organised, one on anarchist legal theory (with [a subset of] the Molinari/C4SS gang), and one on race and social construction. We discovered a great 24-hour Middle Eastern restaurant, Cleo’s (the new one on Decatur, not the old one-inside-a-grocery on Canal).
(The day before catching my plane from Atlanta to San Diego, I’d planned to drive up early, go to a bookstore in Atlanta, have a leisurely dinner, and then spend the night at a hotel. But the threat of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and two-inch hailstones kept me in Auburn until the evening when the forecast expired, so by the time I got to Atlanta there was time only for a quick bite at the 24-hour Waffle House across from the hotel.)
Next week I’m off to Prague, where I’ll be giving a workshop on praxeology at the CEVRO Institute, and then presenting a slightly revised version of my Čapek/Kafka/Hašek talk (yes, more Kafka!) at the PCPE. (The revision is a very slightly fuller discussion of my suggestion that Kafka’s bureaucratic nightmares are intended to be read at two levels – a political level, where they’re condemned, and a theological level, where they’re not. There’ll be a print version eventually, inshallah.)