Posts Tagged ‘Henry David Thoreau’

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #54: Masters Of War

They don’t come much more finger-pointing-y than “Masters of War.” Just a little over a year after The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released, Bob Dylan would tell The New Yorker’s Nat Hentoff that his next album (Another Side of Bob Dylan) wouldn’t have any “finger-pointing songs”:

“Those records I’ve already made, I’ll stand behind them, but some of that was jumping into the scene to be heard and a lot of it was because I didn’t see that anybody else was doing that kind of thing. Now a lot of people are doing finger-pointing songs. You know—pointing to all the things that are wrong. Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore. You know, be a spokesman…. From now on, I want to write from inside me.”

And yet what makes “Masters of War” so effective as a protest song is that it is so intensely personal. If you look at protest songs of the last few years (and George W. Bush spawned practically a whole genre of them), they are full of vitriolic plays on words (“Texas führer,” “this Weapon of Mass Destruction that we call our President,” “you and Saddam should kick it like back in the day,” etc.) and clichés (“Fuck Bush,” “No blood for oil,” “Does he ever smell his own bullshit?”). Basically, they pick an easy target and toss schoolyard insults at it. In other words, they suck. Continue reading

The Perils of Tolerance: Atticus Finch vs. John Brown

Malcolm Gladwell must really think he’s untouchable now, because he has taken to slamming the previously unslammble, Atticus Finch, in the latest issue of The New Yorker.

Atticus Finch, the hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, seems like a paragon of nobility and virtue. He is a single father who still manages to give his kids, Scout and Jem, one of best fictional parentings in all of literature. He defends a wrongly accused black man, Tom Robinson, despite the stigma it brings. Legal scholar Steven Lubet claims that, “No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession than the hero of Harper Lee’s novel.” He is even described as having “Christ-like goodness and wisdom.”

I, for one, have never been a big fan of Mockingbird, having never even finished it in high school. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s line in Capote— “Frankly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about”—really resonates with me. Nevertheless, even I think Finch is pretty irreproachable.

Gladwell’s point, however, is that Finch represents a brand of Southern liberalism that wasn’t uncommon in that era, and possibly kept Jim Crow alive longer than it would have survived on its own. Finch himself is decidedly not a racist, but he co-exists with bigotry that would be considered reprehensible today. Just as Finch is rational and compassionate about the case of Tom Robinson, he is rational and compassionate about the racism that exists in his community. He tells his daughter that it is not okay to hate those in Maycomb who would wrongfully condemn Robinson because it is never okay to hate anyone (even Hitler). Continue reading