A few days before Thanksgiving I was in the car, waiting at a stoplight. The fellow who sells newspapers at that corner was strolling up and down the narrow concrete median strip, his shiny yellow-plastic vest scant protection, I thought, from any overly-enthusiastic drivers who might take the turn wide and not see him. This is the South, after all, and drivers here are largely insane.
He came even with my car, and with his usual flourish, popped the newspaper up high to get my attention. I said No thank you, and asked him how he was. He said Fine, and asked me if I was looking forward to my Thanksgiving bird. I told him I was vegetarian.
“Aw man,” he said after a long pause, looking at me as if I’d just landed from Alpha Centauri and asked where all the fertile women were.
A couple weeks before that, I had occasion to screen the 1974 hit film, “Blazing Saddles”, with a couple of friends. One was a toddler when the movie came out, and the other hadn’t been born yet. While I laughed my way through the movie almost as much as I had when I first saw it, they mostly sat and scratched their heads. (Though they did go into hysterics at the famous bean-eating scene.)
The friend who had been a toddler in ’74 said she wanted her money back.
Okay, so maybe Mel Brooks isn’t for everyone. But looking deeper here, I realized that these two people had been born into a time that I had already experienced as an adult. My innocence was of the late Fifties and early Sixties, post-Eisenhower and pre-Watergate. “All in the Family” was a monster hit when “Blazing” came out. The discussion on bigotry and racism was in the open; Martin Luther King, Jr. had given his iconic “I have a dream” speech more than ten years before.
And when Archie Bunker called someone a “spic” or a “mick” or a “jungle bunny”, America laughed—uneasily, perhaps, but also with some relief that we could finally address the simmering hatred that had been woven into the under-fabric of the country for so long. Mel Brooks’ movie simply addressed this in a big-screen way.
And with the two incidents I’ve mentioned—“Aw man” and the head-scratching over “Blazing”—I realized I was a remnant of that earlier time.
I’d had the good fortune to go through my childhood believing that government was on our side, that any war was necessary because there were bad people out there intending harm to us (Germany and Japan during WWII), or to others (North Korea to South). Whether this was truly the case then (that government was on our side), I don’t know; cynicism grown in the hothouse of mistrust over the decades has muddied the waters of memory on that point.
Mel Brooks was quoted in a Sept. 23, 2017 interview in Variety magazine as saying that he didn’t think Hollywood would make “Blazing” in today’s “stupidly politically correct” climate. I’d have to agree. Even my two friends—liberals both, and open to philosophical contemplations on matters political—gasped when the n-word was used in the movie. We’ve gone so far in the opposite direction of being open that we’ve reached a point where we can’t even hear certain things without reacting on a deep level—no matter how they are presented.
But the pendulum always swings. Perhaps it’s necessary for the debate to have rocketed past all point of reason into the constant You’ve-hurt-my-feelings territory, before it settles back to a more reasoned midpoint. That eventually people will realize participation ribbons just for kids showing up to an event does far more harm than good in terms of their views of themselves versus others, and that creating “safe spaces” at colleges to express feelings and not hear opposing viewpoints drains the vinegar out of the species. (Read what Alan Dershowitz had to say about such spaces.)
(Can you imagine the irate email that last paragraph will generate? Sort of proves my point that emotions run so high these days that there is no debate, only knee-jerk reactions. But really, I don’t blame people for reacting, believe it or not—the pressures to act “correctly” are enormous and unrelenting, and people feel like all power has been taken away from them. As a culture, we’ve emotionally moved from being innocent toddlers in the Fifties, to You’re-not-the-boss-of-me teenagers today.)
I’ve been alive long enough to take the long view. And while I might not live long enough to see that pesky pendulum slide back to the center, I have faith that it will happen.
In the meantime, I’ll happily continue being the politically-incorrect anachronism I’ve always been.
On another note: I’ve recently been fortunate enough to receive a number of new subscribers to my blog. Welcome aboard!
I want to reassure those of you who are new follows that I am not one of those authors who email-bombs you every other day with a plea to “Buy my book!” If I’ve signed up to get updates from an author, and my Inbox starts filling up with the same thing over and over, I quickly unsubscribe.
My subscribers receive one email when I release a new novel, and a single email when I post a blog article or essay (such as the one you just finished reading). That’s pretty much it. Since my daily allotment of keystrokes goes largely to writing my books, I don’t have a lot of extra time to generate blog posts.
And, I’ve noted that readers of suspense, horror, thrillers and the like are intelligent and discerning. If you like my writing, I trust that you will hunt up my books, and don’t need to constantly be reminded that they exist. I post plenty of such awareness-generating tweets on Twitter to reach those who do not yet know of my work, and that’s enough. You’re here, so you already know about my books. I don’t care for the hard sell, and I imagine you don’t either.
So we cool?
Please feel free to comment below on this essay. If you need to get in touch with me, use the Contact form I’ve set up for that purpose.
10 thoughts on “Birds a’Roastin’ and Saddles a’Blazin’”
Good post. Born in the early 40’s, I’ve seen it all happening. I have complete confidence the pendulum will eventually swing back. It has in the past. 🙂 — Suzanne
Thank you, Suzanne. The pendulum does swing back – we went from nine years of McCarthyism in the Forties and Fifties, to the flower children of the Sixties (and then disco in the Seventies, but we won’t talk about that 🙂 ).
I liked your post. I agree that the pendulum will swing back and probably forth again. I look forward to reading your books.
Thank you, Belinda. Be sure to let me know how you liked my books. 🙂
Not laughing at Blazing Saddles! Wow!
I hoped they laughed when Mongo knocked out the
horse. Or was this an appalling case of “equine violence” .
Did you point out that, in the end, the black guy was the
Hi, Michael, thanks for writing in.
As I recall, when Mongo socked the horse, they said something along the lines of, “Oh! Poor horsie!”
They understood that Bart was the hero. But it was as I was saying in the article, that the politically correct over-conditioning is too strong these days.
Still, I certainly enjoyed seeing “Blazing” again.
I know exactly what you mean I am on the wrong side of retirement going down that slippery slope and remember Blazing Saddles (and Stir Crazy) with much affection just thinking about brings a smile to my face Gene Wilder was one of a kind and my children look at me as if I am something other when I laugh at things they have never seen. Much prefer ‘old movies’ to some of today’s offerings. On another note yes I also take the long view and hop (tongue in cheek) that things will improve.
Hi, Jennifer, I appreciate you dropping in to comment.
Don’t forget “Young Frankenstein”–another of my Brooks favorites. A ton of good lines in that one.
One thing I noticed when watching “Blazing Saddles” was the pacing–by today’s standards, it would be considered slow, but I recall when I first saw it in ’74, it was very fast-paced. Just another example of how overworked our central nervous systems are these days with the constant bombardment. Probably the species will adapt in time, but those of us alive now will have to take more naps.
Hello from Australia David,
Overt exposure of racism surely helped. In oz we had British version ‘Til death us do part as well as Archie Bunker and I think they did a lot of good exposing nasty racists and their bigotry. Chris and I were recently discussing English “Love Thy Neighbour” and the adult attitudes of the wives exposed their husbands’ stupidity brilliantly.
My favourite “score” of all time was Virgil Tibbs’ response to the needling questions of the sheriff [was that Archie Bunker too?] – “They call me Mister Tibbs”. Stupendous Sidney Poitier.
It certainly was a fertile time in moving the human species forward to a more open awareness.