Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Nightmare of American Dreamers

Weimar, Germany. As a Ph.D in American Civilization, this week has been the saddest in my life! The gross militarization of local police trying to suppress protests against the unconvicted murder of a young black seems to me the lowest we can go as a "civilization". 

I came to Weimar in 1999 when it was that year the Cultural Capital of Europe to write a book on the Bauhaus, that egalitarian vision of German idealists right after their defeat in 1919. That idealism appealed to me as a blue-collar Detroiter who had to work summers in automobile factories for tuition money for the doctorate I needed to become a college professor of American Literature. I was, as a professor of Am Lit, a skeptic about the national fantasy about America as the most civilized culture in the world. Contrarily, I taught my students that the American Dream was a dangerously false myth: the Puritan fantasy that God saved the "New World" for arriviste Europeans.

We had begun by exterminating millions of the indigenous Indians, trapping "the survivors" in cruel reservations. Then we bought five millions of Africans to do the dirty work of raising the cotton to supply New England clothing factories. Their exploitation was even more severe that the Indians' had been. A tragic Civil War had created the most complicated traditions for creating an American at its most idealistic. Racism made the egalitarianism virtually unreadable.

My education at Holy Rosary Academy in Bay City, Michigan (my father had fled to Las Vegas with his secretary forcing my mother to teach in Hamtramck, a Polish suburb of Detroit) was as egalitarian as its German Dominican nuns allowed (Except for their Catholic convictions: I still remember the counsel of Sister Mary Giles--the senior dormitory nun--when I prepared as an eventually emerging English professor nuts about books) to my first visit to the Bay City Library, halfway downtown on Central Avenue, the main drag. "Patrick", Sister Giles advised: "Don't cross the streets: That's where the Lutherans go to Church!" By the way, I still remember Jim Rich, our sports coach, a poorish young man from South Bay City, who insisted on fairness in our chained fence sports football layout where we played all our sports.

I patriotically joined the U.S.Navy at 17, right out of the Jesuit High School, to become an aviation radar technician. That was so intellectually challenging that we entered the Navy as Seamen 1st class. In Boot Camp regular group used to mock us, singing, "Take down  your service flag, Mothers. Your son is a Navy RT. He'll never get hurt by a slide rule or killed by the square root of three. RT,TS, (as in "tough shit")." Indeed, those mere "Able Bodied Seaman" were bugged by their superiors! But it turned out that I met my first Jews who had the IQ required for radar techs. Some of my lifelong friendship started there. By the way, the radar schools were in the South, Gulfport, MISS and Corpus Christ TX where I got my first snootfull of racism.

So when the war was over, I signed on as a high school student at the Jesuit U. of Detroit (I was always amused by the canny Jebbie ploy of never naming their schools after Saints: Detroit, St.Louis, Marquette, for examples. Heh, how many non-Catholics learned the Catholic Faith, willy nilly! Every year the Midwestern Jesuit U's had an essay contest. I won it my senior year with a rant entitled "Needed: More Red-Blooded American Catholics" because in the forties the Commies among the few (Dorothy Day and Marshall McLuhan were Catholic exceptions). My girl and I integrated the Senior Prom double-dating with the U's only black couple,  and where I took flack from my classmates at the collective urinal for Nigger Loving!

At U of D I joined a student club that tried creatively in Northern Detroit to make racial diversity accessible to highschool students.

I began my doctoral studies at Cleveland's Western Reserve. My Uncle Al was the editor of the college Catholic weekly paper there, giving me a crutch on my first college away from home. When I proposed to write my dissertation on Marshall McLuhan, the doctoral committee uniformly spoke, Huh, Who? I moved to Michigan State, a cow college about to become an internationally regarded humanities research university via a brilliant English Department. But their "cowlish" rep won the prize of the first educational TV channel, WKAR-TV.They were hungry for programming so I, now ensconced at E.Lansing High, the best motivated students I ever had anywhere, with parents as either professors or Lansing executives. So they gladly went along with my proposal for a weekly TV romp on teenage leisure patterns, dubbed "Every Man Is a Critic". It was so successful that the Ford Foundation, unrequestedly awarded me a grant in New York to see if we could get the TV brass to sponsor more programs of educational value.

I visited Scholastic Teacher for their views and ended up as radio-TV editor to a magazine in every high school in America! I kept the job for six years until David Riesman recommended me to be the founding director to a State Department's scheme in Honolulu, The East-West Center for American Studies: Asian students learning America Technology, American students absorbing Asian Culture. It was the best job I ever had. I loved Honolulu. I had a weekly TV hour called "Pacific Profile" where I snared folks passing through Honolulu for a palaver. Taking one Communist participant to return to Goa, he astonished me with a story of how Thomas Jefferson, who was always on the lookout for his Virginia farmers almost get executed for stealing a new Italian seed in his hollow cane. I observed how I knew a lot about Jefferson, but somehow missed that anecdote. As he closed the door at the airport, "That's because you're not in the Third World, Dr. Hazard!" Yikes!  Except for one dirty detail. I was informed that my assistant who had been appointed without my approval, one Seymour Lutsky, had been in the CIA for the ten years since getting his Ph.D. from Iowa, which you get for milking as few as ten cows. Was I ever pissed! I quit on the spot and flew back to Philly to my Louie Kahn house in Greenbelt Knoll, Morris Milgrim's experiment in planned integration: 10 white families and 9 black. It was a most congenial home, with the first black Congressman, and a writer like Charles Fuller as daily neighbors.

Luckily I landed on my feet, with an English chairmanship with a tenured professorshop. I helped prexy Edward Gates and dean Margaret Leclair guide a women's college with an increasingly volatile name, Beaver College, to  the both sex Arcadia University. I stayed there till my mother died in 1982. I was pleasantly surprised when my father, who abandoned me when I was three when he sent me $100,000 guilt money and his Bigamate kicked in an additional $80,000. Whoosh. Overnight I became an x-rated Professor with a global agenda. Granted I did professor related sinecures: spending every Tuesday in New York advising Time-Life Films what BBC flicks they should gather for sale to public TV and high schools. Never did $1000 a month enter my bank so sweetly from four days a week "work".

As I was wrapping this up little whine about how the country is losing its ideals, I saw Daniel Baronbeim on the BBC, praising the East-West Divan he had created in Weimar the year I got there. The orchestra has half Israelite and half Palestine.The interviewer was wondering if the current hostilities between the two cultures was changing his mind. His answer was short and sweet: "Despair is never creative".

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