Digging In…

It was mentioned yesterday that one topic you would have liked to learn more about is the period in the middle of the twentieth century that joins the Black and Green Atlantics. That time of radicalism and revolution.

It is a period that interests me as well and I look forward to discussing it with a new group of students in the Fall. The course, Bloody Conflict in America and Ireland: 1968-69, will explore how the decade that began with young idealism and revolutionary possibilities, ended with raised fists and violent terror.

One way that that period is rich with connections are the visual images that were created.

Thinking of this moment, I immediately remember the Guinness poster created in the 1970s that commercializes the “Black is Beautiful” slogan. That slogan became popular in the 1960s as a way of promoting black beauty and confidence that black women should reject European beauty standards, including wearing their hair naturally. Sixty years later, politics still surround the way in which black women wear their hair.

Though I have to do more research into the history of the poster, a 1978 NY Times editorial on the Americanization of modern Ireland found the poster crude. In, “The Blueing of Ireland,” the staff writer wrote:

On a commanding hillside overlooking Waterford stands a new hostelry imported from Miami, its lobby dominated by a huge bar and its environs stripped of any distracting public verandas. It took a week and the counsel of American, not Irish, guides to find “real” Irish bread and other delicacies. Most hotels limit themselves to American‐style toast and commercial marmalade. The potato alone has survived the cosmopolitan pretensions of the new Irish kitchen. And, as one American observed, the Irish have become an instant‐coffee nation. They are surrounded, too, by billboards, the worst of them shouting “Black is Beautiful” for the Guinness dark beer people. The one consolation of Ireland is the snail’s pace of everything — including change. There is still time to save the Republic if enough Americans will let it be known that they cross the Atlantic to find a taste of Ireland not home.

Personally, I like the Guinness “Black is Beautiful” poster. It makes me smile. Black is beautiful and the poster adds an additional layer to the multiple connections between black America and Ireland. The fascination (and at times, fetishization) of blackness in Ireland does not seem violent. For better or worse, even those offensive gestures are attempts at understanding Irish displacement; expressing solidarity with another participant in the struggle.

On 24 May, the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) is holding an online discussion regarding their Spring 2020 exhibition. This move to an online forum is another reminder about how in loss we have also gained during the pandemic. If it were business as usual, I would not have the opportunity to participate in the exhibition. If you take a look at the posters from the Civil Rights Era in Ireland, you will find a Black Panthers, Free Huey poster. And when I wrote WCML to find out more information on the exhibition, the exhibit’s curator was reminded of this moment remembered by Eamonn McCann in War and an Irish Town.

One of the loudest cheers I ever heard in the Bogside came in response to the cry: “The whole black nation has to be put together as a black army, and we’re gonna walk on this nation, we’re gonna walk on this racist power structure and we’re gonna say to the whole damn government-STICK ‘EM UP MOTHERFUCKER, this is a hold up, we’ve come for what’s ours…

The declaration was the last item in the ten-point programme of the Black Panther Party, enunciated in rich, booming R&B tones on the soundtrack of a film projected against the gable which was later to become Free Derry Wall, in the small hours of a riotous night in 1969.

The cheer had as much to do with the daring of the language as with the sentiment of the slogan. But it also signalled the extent to which civil rights campaigners at that time felt an association with the Panthers, then under murderous assault by the feds and local police forces across the US.

The international dimension has virtually been written out of history. The North is scarcely mentioned in accounts of sixties revolutionism, even by some who came among us to be pictured at barricades, clenched fists on militant show.

To insist now on the relevance of internationalism is to venture onto ground which has been little disturbed by the stride of standard-issue chroniclers who assume that Northern Ireland…

There’s a deep well of these connections and it was a pleasure sharing some of them with you. I look forward to seeing you all again in the Fall.

More information on the posters can be found here. Please get in touch if you are interested in joining the 24 May talk.

Missed Connections. New Opportunities

All day yesterday, I kept getting reminders: Trevor Noah – Loud & Clear Tour. Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, IN.

Of course, the show and all the other events scheduled for IDEA week have been canceled. I had even purchased tickets for One Republic (C loves that song Counting Stars and I thought, why not, she’ll have fun). I am sorry that we missed Trevor Noah. I think adding his interpretation of blackness—how it has changed and been challenged since coming to the United States—would have contributed to our class discussions this week in an intriguing way. I am sorry that I did not get to take you all out to dinner before the concert; sit around a table and eat with you and get to know each of you a little more outside of the classroom setting. Sneaking small peaks of your homes has been lovely, but I would have much preferred chatting together over a meal. The Trevor Noah event is just one more addition to the now long list of events canceled because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

I am not writing this post to lament what we have lost. Yes, I am disappointed about not seeing each of you on campus, about the events that we did not get to attend, about being stuck in the house, but I am also really proud of how this class has been able to adapt to the online version of the course. This blog, our class blog, which started off as a dairy of your readings each week has truly evolved and become more; a point of interaction for each of us as we practice social distancing. Discussing The Commitments today reminded me about the importance of focusing on what we have gained during this difficult and strange moment.

In our conversation today, I wanted to make sure we concentrated on how Doyle frames class in the text. The Irish are “the niggers of Europe,” because of their marginalized class status. The emphasis is not a political declaration of race, but an acknowledgement of their poverty and oppression. Yet as we focused on the economics in the text, we did not get a chance to discuss the music as much as I would have liked to. And this is where our blog has become quite useful: A chance to communicate with each other in-between class meetings. So, between now and our next class on Wednesday, I want you think about the music. The movie gives us a much better way to access the music but there are a couple of other videos that I want us to think about, if we can.

U2. I have yet to meet one person from Ireland that likes this band. I never was a U2 fan. I know many of their songs—they were a very popular band—and a friend took me to see them once in concert (it was weird, the PopMart tour, I think). Yet nearly every person I have met in Ireland has nothing good to say about this band. They are mentioned dismissively in the book only a couple of times. Once here: “It had been a great gig. Hot Press told Jimmy. Dublin needed something like The Commitments, to get U2 out of its system. He’d be doing a review for the next issue. Then he asked for his two pounds back” (111-12). This mention, in particular, reminded me that the most popular band in the world, at the time, was not equally appreciated in their home country. Yet U2, like The Commitments, are very much influenced by black American soul music. Shortly after this book is published, U2 releases a documentary discussing their identity as a band, including their connection to black America and black American music. What are your thoughts? There are some interesting connections between U2, the U2 film, and The Commitments.

a. U2: Rattle and Hum – Trailer The way in which all the American cities listed connects to The Commitments, no?

b. U2: Rattle and Hum This is the only digital version of the film that I can locate. If you are interested, watch the entire video (1 hr 39min). U2 plays with a gospel band in Harlem, they go to Graceland (Elvis’s relationship to the history of black American music of course has to be considered in this scene), they play with BB King, and sing their tribute song to Martin Luther King Jr (some of the facts of King’s death are wrong in that song). Sunday, Bloody Sunday is played as well, which connects to other topics we have discussed. Bono particularly dismisses Irish Americans and their understanding of Irishness when they sing this song.

Phil Lynott. I only discovered Lynott and Thin Lizzy after I lived in Ireland, but I knew some of their music. I just had no idea that the band singing Boys are Back in Town was an Irish rock band and that their lead singer was black. Irish, yes. But a black guy. Jimmy dismisses Phil Lynott as having any influence on The Commitments because he was not soul (67). What do you think? In The Deportees, the story “Home to Harlem” discusses someone like Lynott (and in some ways must be inspired by Lynott’s family). Irish and Black. The story begins, “He couldn’t find himself on the registration form” (179). What box do you tick when you’re black, and Irish, and emigrating to the United States? Declan ends up ticking other. Here’s a link to Thin Lizzy Boys are Back in Town. And just for fun, Thin Lizzy’s version of Whiskey in the Jar is my absolute favorite.

The use of Chain Gang by The Commitments irritated me. Of all the songs that they sing, this song is particularly connected to black American history and culture. What are your thoughts? Here’s the Sam Cooke version.

Any way. Those are some additional thoughts that I had about The Commitments after our conversation today. This book, unlike most of the titles that we have discussed this term, takes place during my lifetime. While I knew nothing of Ireland at the time the book was published, there is one detail listed in the text that connects to my own childhood memories. When Jimmy meets Joey, he is “wearing a Jesse Jackson campaign T-Shirt” (28). I share a picture of myself wearing one of those shirts from the 1980s.

New Irish Literature and Literary Studies

New Irish Literature and Literary Studies

Our ND Irish Studies Librarian and the Curator of Irish Studies Collections, Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, has a blog that keeps track of new and relevant books. You should check it out!

There’s a book listed that I had not heard of before and I have just added it to my list! Hollywood Cemetery, by Liam O’Flaherty. If you are writing about The Informer / Uptight, you might want to check it out. O’Flaherty spent time in Hollywood while Ford was making the film. The novel recreates his time there from a satirical pov and supports my reading of the film as noir (I think). Very interesting development. It seems the novel was banned in Ireland and only survived one printing.

Aedín also included this note: Please don’t hesitate to ask if there are books or articles you need. There is so much information about online resources and services that I’d rather pass it along selectively as needed, but you can find it all in the ‘COVID 19 Service Continuity’ link on the library home page.

So again, if you have trouble finding materials while you write your research papers, please let me know. I will do my best to help you locate the texts you need to finish your papers.

Happy reading and writing!

New Irish Literature and Literary Studies

Useful Web Links

Abby found a pdf version of A Tempest. I posted it on Sakai as well.

Also, I mentioned on Monday the work of Matthew Reilly. His work might be particularly of interest to Abby, as he is an Anthropologist doing Black & Green Atlantic work. However, the rest of class might get something out of his work as well.

Uptight: Details

Please take a moment to read Roger Ebert’s entire review.

Here’s an early contract for the film

Some points to consider:
-What are King’s words that are being played? The I’ve been to the Mountaintop speech. Free at Last. Free at Last. Thank God almighty I’m Free at Last.

-King’s legacy is discussed immediately. What does Tank say? How do Johnny, his sister, and BG portray MLK (Booker!)? What does Johnny say in regards to King’s death: He was a big man…but he was holding us back. Memphis proves the answer is guns and more guns

-What else is happening? The streets are filled with people. Can you explain the various positions of the people who have taken to the streets?
– Complete social unrest; out of work, angry, frustrated=disenfranchised.
– Bible thumpers
– Black men who have gone into armed forces. Most likely experienced racism in the army are also excluded from black social groups at home.
– Representatives of non-violent direct action (MLKs primary form of action)
– Continual references to being on one’s knees. This was a complaint in Ireland as well. Explain the tension between someone who prays for salvation and someone who takes up arms.

-The militants steal arms as a way to prepare for what they are characterizing as a revolution?
– Revolt: rise in rebellion: the insurgents revolted and had to be suppressed; refuse to acknowledge someone or something as having authority: voters may revolt when they realize the cost of the measures.
– Rebellion: an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler; the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention: an act of teenage rebellion.
– Insurrection: a violent uprising against an authority or government: the insurrection was savagely put down | opposition to the new regime led to armed insurrection.
– Riot: a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd; an uproar; an outburst of uncontrolled feelings: a riot of emotions raged through Frances.
– Uprising: an act of resistance or rebellion; a revolt: an armed uprising.

When the stumping starts talking about machines and being obsolete, he looks directly at Tank. How has Tank become obsolete? What is significant about Tank being killed/assassinated at the mill he worked at for over twenty years by a black man? The mill is empty and he lost his job there for standing up for other black workers.

(Tank is a middle-aged, unemployed alcoholic who supported King’s non-violent approach, which the others have rejected in favor of violent revolution. It is later revealed that Tank lost his longtime job at the steel mill when he attacked a white co-worker who harassed the black mill workers. As a result, Tank was sent to prison and since being released, has been unable to find work.)

-How is the welfare system portrayed? The good, the bad, and the undermining of a community due to how social welfare is administered in the US.

– Teddy says: You can’t do it alone. Without me you cannot win. And he is proven to be right. When he tries calling to warn the group about the police coming to get Johnny they hang up on him. What do you make of that interaction? King’s mourners are primarily black, but it is very much an integrated audience. Dassin is white, a blacklisted American director who was forced to live in Europe, is making this film with a primarily black cast and co-written by Ruby Dee.

-Yet Corbin says, we have to do it ourselves. We have to develop our own knowhow.
-What do you make of this interaction? Both sides seem to make convincing arguments and treat each other as they do not like or want to be treated.

-Mentioned at the meeting: Medgar Evers (1963, applied to law school and rejected b/c he was black). Shot down in his drive way. In 1994, Byron De La Beckwith, was convicted for Evers’ murder. Also in 63, four girls were killed in a church by a bomb. Again, it wasn’t until years later, 1977, 2000, and 2001, that people were convicted for this crime.

-Mentioned at the meeting: Fascism and Camps. The reality of what happened in Germany is present and there is real belief that black citizens think they are going to be picked up and thrown into camps. BG says this is already happening. Can the prison industrial complex system be seen as a form of camps?

-Talk about the fun house scene. 1:01:58 /44:17 left. This idea that all of black America is in agreement with each other when the film shows, in this small section of Cleveland has depicted many many different points of view. Tank in many ways describes his experience as a black man in America. No water, no money, and exclusion from mainstream society.

-Money. What is the significance of money in this film? In Ford’s Informer he contrasts the reward with a opportunity to go back to America, start over. New life. What is happening here?

-Homosexuality. Clarence/ Daisy is immediately used as a scapegoat by Tank. What do you make of the depiction of homosexuality by Roscoe Lee Browne and his date, Claude.

-Options for tank getting money: hitting a number OR selling blood. Can you imagine the desperation to sell your blood for money so you can eat?

The Informer: Details

Some points to consider:

There are a number of brilliant scenes in the film that help capture not only the battle between ideals and weakness, but also the immorality Gypo feels for being an Informer.

One) The blind man. If justice is blind then the Gypo is sentenced to death from the moment he walks out of the police station. Upon seeing the blind man, Gypo intends to make yet another sacrifice of his morality to save his own skin, but when he realizes the man is blind gypo gives the man a quid and goes on way.

Two) The camera consistently shifts to clocks after Gypo has taken the reward money. Literally he’s running out of time. While Gypo might race from one section of Dublin to the next, his movements are followed and soon everyone will see his shame.

Three) The court scene. The nature of the party’s court is underground and secret. Not only does this court convene at 1:00 am, the justice being doled out is not in a proper courtroom of elected officials, but in the courtroom of the ordinary people.

Finally, the constant focus on the money. Whether it is the from the beginning of the film and the reference to Judas or the way the camera follows the bills and change Gypo carries, Ford wants the viewer to realize that principles aren’t free. Money is precious in this Ireland, even coins, the viewer can understand why Gypo goes after the reward money. He wants out of this dark world, he wants his girl to be respectable, he wants to start a new life. And perhaps, it is through the focus on money that Ford highlights one of the key aspects of film: The corruption of the American Dream.

While The Informer is not set in America, the American dream is very much present in this film. The reason behind Gypo’s deceit is the desire to go to America. For Gypo and Katie, America promises freedom from oppression, freedom from strife, and most importantly, freedom from their past. But similar to black Americans who arrived on America’s shores via slave ship’s and then upon winning their freedom from slavery are weighted down by Jim Crow in the South and ghettoizing in the North, America’s promise of freedom is not available to all who desire it.

In fact, without even stepping onto American soil, Gypo and Katie learn an essential fact of American life, that money is the root of all evil.