Dewey has written some 40 books of fiction and nonfiction, as
well as contributed scores of stories to magazines and other
periodicals. He has also had some 30 plays staged in Europe
and the United States. Dewey was editor of the ASME-award winning
magazine Attenzione and was editorial director of the
East-West Network, overseeing a dozen in-flight magazines and
the PBS organ Dial. Don's latest book, Franchisement:
The Alan Gibb Story, is now available.
image of baseball as essentially pastoral in its origins because
it is played on grass is about as meaningful as viewing poker
as essentially wooden because of the tables where the cards
are dealt. This hangover belief in simple serenities makes for
a set with such other images as fathers playing catch with their
sons, the game’s ultimate objective of reaching home,
and breaking the window of the cranky old Norman Rockwell neighbor
with an errant line drive. It is reassuring imagery, and not
at all confined to illusions about the sport’s happy innocence
before the days of free agency and mega-billion TV contracts.
Just the opposite, the Field of Dreams vision is a conductive
remnant of the good old days of virtuous bloodshed when men
were men and others weren't, when the air carried admiration
for militarism as much as the odors of hot dogs and beer. Missing
that context from back in the era when being macho was a superfluous
concept, very little of the sport’s lore would resonate.
Before the legends went somewhere to die, they had come from
somewhere to live. And what they toted with them were cultural
presuppositions that had curious, not to say convenient, conceptions
of what we usually call innocence.
Americans prize their innocence. We weren’t ensconced
in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve spoiled everything,
but at various junctures we have debated the personality of
the mythically innocent “American Adam,” identifying
him with everybody from Walt Whitman to John Wayne. Thanks in
good part to the early Puritans, in resistance as much as acceptance,
such speculation seems to have come with the territory mapped
between the Atlantic and the Pacific east to west, Canada to
Mexico north to south. Not everybody on the planet has earned
tribute as a Chosen People. Not every land on the planet has
been called the “Galahad among nations.” Name another
people with the pursuit of happiness as its Constitutional goal.
Or think of another place populated by so many instant historians
avid to announce that this war or that terrorist bombing, this
defection from a home team by a free-agent catcher or that forty-dollar
loss at Three-Card Monte marked an “end of innocence.”
Sex, that French business about losing one’s virginity,
has been the least of it, too blandly literal. Here, never here,
or, oops, disappeared through the door just a minute ago, the
conceit of what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr described as
the “pretensions of innocency” has mesmerized as
fable disguised as ethnography. Whether it's a cop being listed
as a casualty for cracking his fingernail while gunning down
a pickpocket or a G.I. losing a leg in some foreign country
to which he had not been invited, American authority is routinely
depicted as an innocent party. For Stuart Creighton Miller,
the bottom line is that "American innocence has been historically
nurtured and protected by a conveniently selective collective
memory." A literary critic has compared the cultural climate
to "Billy Budd about to have [his] first experience with
evil." Merely the description of the nineteenth-century
frontier with its hundreds of thousands of Crows, Sioux, Kiowas,
etc. as "virgin territory" begs much more than vocabulary
that our innocence equates to a blamelessness: Our history has
shed too much blood for indulging that self-delusion. The presuppositions
of white privilege when it comes to black slavery and decimated
Native Americans are not debatable. Historians have gone so
far as to assert that not thinking about that privilege has
been the essence of American innocence. Even short of that,
our tenacious belief in it at a cultural Identikit level, invoking
youth, naivete, or good intentions, would ransom brutality in
retrospect; i.e., so all right we were a little rash back then,
but wasn’t there an excitement in being more than Europeans,
Asians, or Africans, in the presumption that we were superior
for being white Christians, in colonizing a fabled New World?
We were an untried people on an untried terrain; errors, even
to a genocidal degree, were inevitable. Let’s move on.
There is rebirth, innocence of the baptismal kind, isn’t
there? Dwelling on history only brings on lamenting callow objectives.
A purportedly comprehensive study such as Daniel Boorstin's
The Americans: The Colonial Experience doesn't mention
slavery at all, and who misses it? Forgive and hope we don’t
share Boorstin's forgetfulness.
be careful. Don't look too deeply into the Anglo-Saxon premises
of philosopher John Locke's "In the beginning all the world
was America." Keep in mind Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville
who, inspired by the Puritans, launched centuries of crowing
about how America was “exceptional,” going so far
as to make an ism out of it. He didn’t claim that about
New Caledonia, did he? Well, actually he almost did, and indeed
few countries have not been called exceptional at one time or
another. Moreover, the American political and rhetorical translation
of exceptionalism down over the years has never truly reflected
the Frenchman's observation since, rather than lauding a unique
innate characteristic of Americans, he was mainly pointing out
that "in spite of the ocean which intervenes, I cannot
consent to separate America from Europe . . . The position of
the Americans is therefore exceptional, and it may be believed
that no democratic people will ever be placed similarly."
But never mind that, it need not be admitted. More important
was the contention of George Bancroft in his nineteenth-century
History of the United States that the nation had been
established as a divine plan for showing the world how superior
democratic institutions were. Genocides or not, Guilty doesn't
have to be the final verdict for innocence.
The obsession with national innocence has weathered obtuseness
and plain malice ever since the final signer of the Declaration
of Independence laid aside his quill. It has also survived an
early premise by forefathers such as Jefferson that it
was tied to a rural existence ("when the lands are exhausted,
Americans will get piled upon one another in large cities, as
in Europe, and go to eating one another as they do there").
A half-century later, congressman George Julian was voicing
the same attitude with observations such as: "The life
of a farmer is favorable to virtue, and both individuals and
communities are generally happy in proportion as they are virtuous."
At another extreme the same innocence has been the motor for
American hypocrisy in that this quality requires a modicum of
feigned purity. Or, as Walter Nugent says, "the distance
between noble purposes and self-serving aggressiveness is the
measure of hypocrisy." Measuring that distance has led
to some odd proposals. The historian Gordon S. Wood, for instance,
might have been right in asserting that American colonists "knew
they were freer, more equal, more prosperous, and less burdened
with cumbersome feudal and monarchial constraints than any other
part of mankind in the eighteenth century." But if this
is so, this also contributed to the mania at the dawn of the
nineteenth century for abolishing the English language for dripping
with history, too much of it shameful, less than prosperous,
and certainly none of it the responsibility of those who inherited
it. Thomas Jefferson went so far as to advocate a new code of
laws every generation so nobody would be burdened with the sullied
limitations of its predecessors. A couple of decades later,
de Tocqueville could still permit himself an observation that
when it came to the Americans "no one cares for what occurred
before his time . . . In America society seems to live from
hand to mouth, like an army in the field."
This was no passing phase. Further decades later, following
a suggestion by Ralph Waldo Emerson in an essay that there might
be something gained by examining classical writings, the journal
Democratic Review shot back that "probably no
other civilized nation has at any period . . .so completely
thrown off allegiance to the past as the American. The whole
essay of our national life and legislation has been a prolonged
protest against the dominion of antiquity in every form whatsoever."
Another eight years after that in 1850, in his novel The
House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne had one
of his characters exclaiming: "Shall we never, never get
rid of this Past? It lies upon the present like a giant's dead
body! The case is just as if a young giant were compelled to
waste all his strength in carrying about the corpse of the old
giant his grandfather who died a long awhile ago and only needs
to be decently buried. Just think a moment and it will startle
you to see what slaves we are to bygone times -- to Death if
we give the matter the right word." All of this was taking
slightly more literally than de Tocqueville had meant with “for
every democratic nation each generation is a new people.”
On the other hand, it hardly contradicted the Frenchman when
Americans] owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing
from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering
themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine
that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus not
only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors,
but it hides his descendants and separates contemporaries
from him. It throws him back forever upon himself alone
and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within
the solitude of his own heart.
pixilated as this no-past movement sounded, it would be reflected
in various creationist myths at the end of the nineteenth century,
covering everything from sports and the entertainment industry
to the premise that American invasions of other countries were
unlike any launched before so could not be likened to their
intentions or excesses. Indeed, the obsession was never more
rampant than during what has been called the Gilded Age or Anything
the Trust Wants It Gets. Going further, Eric Rauchway has not
been alone in asserting that "the United States became
American during a particular and well-defined phase in its development
-- specifically, during the half-century following the Civil
War, stretching up to the start of World War I in Europe."
Desire commanded enterprise, ideally with a corporate articulation.
Bankruptcies disposed of crooks and their prey, too bad about
that, but many of both survived and with few contusions on a
confidence in basic national purity. The more venal was the
plundering, the more it supposedly represented the American
spirit. Horatio Alger wasn’t a board chairman, but if
he invested modestly in a monopoly or two, that was okay, too.
and losers as parameters of the human species wasn’t invented
by the sleazoids in our era but traced back to the Goulds, Fisks,
and assorted Gilded forefathers. Profits were rewards bestowed
from a higher spiritual plane; failures were a baleful judgment
on the human soul. Henry Ward Beecher spoke for all the true
patriots when he said that “God has intended the great
to be great and the little to be little.” Or: "It
is your duty to get rich . . . To sympathize with a man whom
God has punished for his sins is to do wrong." Those not
hearing it from Beecher could have heard it as the credo of
the Massachusetts Episcopal bishop William Lawrence: "The
race is to the strong. Godliness is in league with riches."
In short, what God didn’t bless hadn't deserved being
blessed, so don't be surprised that the 700 Club with its creaky
moderator has been on the air for so long. And God also made
it evident that He had no objections to violence for implementing
innocence; in the name of purification, it was redemption all
around. In this context "what is distinctly American,"
as Richard Slotkin has noted, "is not necessarily the amount
or kind of violence that characterizes our history but the mythic
significance we have assigned to the kinds of violence we have
actually experienced, the forms of symbolic violence we imagine
or invent, and the political uses to which we put that symbolism."
Don’t tread on me but don’t lose any sleep about
treading on others. It was a delirious epoch and, aside from
recurring national depressions, angry strikes, and a moral alertness
as soporific as a feather pillow, favored the favored in their
virtuousness. Vicious circles had never been so impeccable.
studying this era, historians have been struck by how often
children -- matched only by lambs as symbols of innocence --
appeared as protagonists of literature, leisure-hour restoratives
to surrounding soullessness. Children, in the view of T.J. Jackson
Lears, "embodied the moral innocence and the emotional
spontaneity which seemed increasingly absent from the public
realm." But the analysis didn't stop at individual childhood
innocence; on the contrary opening the door to much wider implications.
For one historian, "by the 1880s the link between the childhood
of the individual and of the race was firmly established in
the bourgeois imagination." This in turn led to flirting
with such theories as that children "alone possess in their
fullness the distinctive features of humanity, that the highest
human types as represented in men of genius present a striking
approximation of the child type," while on the other hand
social maturation was "to some extent progress in degeneration
and senility." At issue, of course, were not playground
boys and girls. As Barry Spector viewed it, "America's
cult of the
child is not really about actual children, but about idealized
images that help to cover up the disgraceful reality."
For proponents of such a diagnosis of late nineteenth-century
society, it was only another short hop from there to emphasize
the physical vitality of children in contrast to the intellectual
stolidness of adults for warning of the dangers posed by what
was fashionably called "overcivilization." If you
fell on the overcivilized side of the line, there was plenty
wrong with you, but most of all you couldn't furnish more of
the innocence that had spurred America's growth till then. The
energy required for sports was not in itself a guarantee of
that, but it was certainly closer to godliness than the languors
of adulthood and for that reason alone was to be encouraged
as the nation's saving grace.
One of the gestures of that encouragement was the establishment
of the Amateur Athletic Union (1888) to organize that vitality
as much as possible. By any measure, the AAU was the first attempt
at bureaucratizing "organized play," an endeavor that
would throw up more than one scandal along the way. Its public
founders included James E. Sullivan, who would figure prominently
in the Doubleday myth and related affairs touching on Albert
Spalding, hardly a disinterested party in a big new market for
his sports goods. And what could possibly offer more uplift
than the stories of Frank Merriwell, the all-lettered collegian
who had not even had to chop down a cherry tree for demonstrating
his character in some 200 books that sold 125 million copies.
For folklorist Tris Coffin, Merriwell was "everyone's dream
of himself -- secure, resourceful, capable, fair, if unrelenting,
cool under fire, respected, eventually loved by his enemies."
Not that Frank was a rube: He was a collegian, no hay baler.
When violence was necessary to reach his worthy goals, he resorted
to it. Come to that, he didn't mind too much crossing that wavering
line of legality when necessary, either. That was also an important
part of being an American.
by Donald Dewey:
Myth, and the Gods of Summer Pt. I
Playing It Safe
Not to Live By
to the Rescue
Playing It Safe
Them Entertain Us
a Kindergarten Life
of Humour in the Cinema
THE ALAN GIBB STORY by DON DEWEY
becoming the world's most respected life, death, and everything
in between coach, Alan Gibb shared that common frustration over
the failure of astrology, numerology, and similar religions
to direct all aspects of human behavior. They might have all
been sacred systems for establishing a personal identity, but
there was a rusty screw at their core. Even when the revolutionary
tenets of Franchisement occurred to him, he knew they might
remain stillborn without the attacks, arrests, and tragedies
customarily accompanying an original vision. Happily for Gibb
and the tens of thousands of his fellow believers, he was assaulted
in physical, mental, and dietary ways and hauled in as a fraud,
thug, and stalker even as he pressed forward on his crusade
to share Franchisement with the hordes crying for it as a national
pastime superior to baseball. More happily, the tragedies struck
others, not him, enabling him to enjoy the millions Franchisement
brought through the Internet, the telephone, and pay-on-demand
cable. As he noted repeatedly, the delivery vehicle was unimportant
as long as a customer thought he wanted what he was getting.
"If you listen to people, the world is divided between
the Yankees and the Red Sox," he liked to chuckle fondly.
"Tell that to those with a crush on the Minnesota Twins.
A vision that isn't comprehensive sees only its own nose."
OTHERS ARE SAYING:
there are many similar books too numerous to count, but this
book is sui generis." --- Benjamin Acocella, S.J., President
of the Council for Mental Observances.
book changed my life when it most needed changing." ---
Sidney Willinger, Leisure Sciences Department, University of
love is a 13-letter word." --- Jennifer Pryor, Harvard
School of Theoretical Business.
demonstrates how life is more than steak knives and storm windows."
--- Joel Sternheim, Informercials Institute.
Trade Paperback - 6 x 9 x .7
FICTION / Humorous / General
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FICTION / Sports
& Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the
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