Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Reporter - Part 3: May 19, 1955

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Several weeks have gone by the boards since my last post concerning the collection of vintage issues of The Reporter that came into my possession was presented here. And several years—nearly six—elapsed between that first issue of The Reporter in the collection and the one now coming to bat. There are no issues to fill the gap between 8/30/49 and the issue under discussion today, dated May 19, 1955. As we have no evidentiary explanation for this hiatus, we will attempt neither speculation on its causes, nor interpretations of its significance. What we can say, since we have it in writing, is that the common thread running through the collection, columnist Sidney Alexander, is no longer an American ex-pat wandering the streets of Florence, Italy interviewing alienated minority former G.I.’s. At this juncture, we learn, he is “teaching in the English Department at Fairleigh Dickinson College. So, out of Tuscany, into New Jersey: we can only hope that there was some kind of half-way house available along the way to help Prof. Alexander acclimate to the culture shock.

Gone from this issue is the urgency of the domestic Red Scare. Gone, too, is the interest we saw in 1949 in the Race Issue. There are no cartoons in this 1955 edition. Still, it is to be hoped that there was sufficient truth proclaimed in the pages of an edition 55 years old this month that some of it at least will have proven to be prophetic. I find that this is the case.
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While Alexander was still writing very much in the wake of WWII in 1949, by 1955 we see him writing a standard book review of a critical biography of Walt Whitman. Along the way, Alexander has this to say:

The American psyche…is woven of these two extremes—the tartly asserted individual and the myth of the Common Man. We’re always shuttling between saving the world for democracy and scowling behind our ocean fronts, those overgrown Walden Ponds.

And a bit further on:

In our jittery age we shy away from figures like Whitman. We just can’t grasp that amoebic all-inclusiveness of his. His impulse to be a universe swallower strikes us as a circus trick; we marvel but we have no desire to do it ourselves. We want sharp boundaries, not inner suspensions; answers, not the coexistence of contradictions.

Well, Alexander doesn’t exactly predict the advent of the Age of Aquarius, LSD, and “In A Gadda Da Vida” there, does he? He concludes as follows:

More than ever we need the sound of Whitman’s voice. A great voice—a wind in the upper branches—not the whine of our poetlings and the ululation of our despair. Lesser writers snap and rot. But he continues to grow—a great live oak, ever utter for us joyous leaves.

“Lesser writers snap and rot.” Hmm. (Kerouac, perhaps? Kerouac, still at this point two years away from fame and avant-garde respectability; more than a decade from rusting out…?)

The focal point of this issue, coming as it does about ten years before this country had gotten itself seriously mired in a pointless and tragic war in southeast Asia, is a series of articles on “Red China.” The banner on the cover announces, Three Windows on Red China. These are: 1. Chou En-lai at the Asia-African Meeting; 2. Mao’s ‘Paradise’ as Seen from India; and 3. Are Religions the Opium of the People? The latter article concerns itself with the struggles of Buddhists (the “liberation” of Tibet comes into play there), Confucians, and Taoists to coexist with a Maoist regime. Strangely, the fate of Chinese Christians does not seem to be of interest here.

But, of interest to me is a mini-review in the “Editor-at-Large” column of the novel Something of Value by Robert Ruark. This is the fictionalized history of the Mau Mau insurgency in colonial Kenya. I read it as a high school student and was strongly affected by it. I recommend it still today.

In the end, I found the most prophetic item in this issue of The Reporter to be a snide little piece of doggerel composed by “Sec”—who I take to be the mag’s poet/humorist-in-residence:

Riviera Emperor

To destiny I will not bao,
xxxFor I would sooner dai
xxxThan leave my croupiers
xxxxxxhai and drai
And ngo to Vietnam nao.

Ha-ha-ha. Is this the attitude that forged the fate of my whole generation?

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