|Lake Michigan: imitating the Ohio River crossed by the|
escaping Eliza? (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Or, to be more precise, I've got a book about Uncle Tom's Cabin that is un-put-downable I think is a must-read for anyone involved in the peace and justice movement.
Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America, by David S. Reynolds, details what may be the greatest example of creative resistance in history. And it's so relevant today: hey, we all know that stuff's messed up . . . the eternal problem is now to get the general public motivated to act!
Imagine the moment when Harriet Beecher Stowe's sister-in-law said, ""...if I could use a pen as you can, Hatty, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is." (Have you encouraged an artist or writer today? :-)
|Eliza Crossing the River|
Image taken from the title page of
Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom's Cabin
(Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1853).
Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
(More at Curious and Curiouser: Uncle Tom’s Cabin,
Anna Leonowens, and The King and I by Marcus Wood)
Why is a novel an important tool for creative resistance?
Well, for one thing, the novel is inherently inclusive. All movements thrive on the involvement of large numbers of people who are all encouraged to bring their special insights and contributions to the overall effort. As Reynolds explains, Harriet Beecher Stowe gathered an immense volume of material into a whole which then could be disseminated to achieve "distributive power," i.e. the "capacity for generating varied responses in different contexts." (p. 88)
The grudging compliment from a Southern paper summed up why this approach had power: "Thousands will peruse an interesting story, and thus gradually imbibe the author's views, that would not read ten lines of a mere argumentative volume on the same theme." (p. 152) (How many times have we complained that we make flyers, but not one reads them?)
In addition, Reynolds describes how the format of the novel -- the weaving of detail after detail into a whole -- supported a systematic critique of slavery, rather than just being an attack on certain "bad people."
Of course, Uncle Tom's Cabin wasn't just a novel. In fact, before it was anything else, it was a magazine series, written in installments. As such, it was part of a social phenomenon: "reading the weekly installments aloud became a family affair." (p. 126) And reading aloud, in general, was such an important habit in families and groups that it is estimated that actual "readership" was 10 times the number of books actually sold. (Approximate first year sales: US, 300,000 copies; UK, 1 million; rest of world, 1 million.) (Hmmm . . . what family entertainment rituals are we taking advantage of?)
|A film version of a theatrical adaptation of a derivative work|
containing a localization: Performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin
in the 1956 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's
The King and I [based on Margaret Landon's 1944 novel,
Anna and the King of Siam]. (From Wood: "Click on the
image to view an excerpt from the film on the Uncle Tom's
Cabin and American Culture Web site. Scroll down to the
bottom of the linked page to see the film.")
The theater was key. According to Reynolds, "many more people saw plays based on Uncle Tom's Cabin than read the novel." (p. 136) It's not insignificant that the producers of the Uncle Tom's Cabin adaptations revolutionized theater in America: "introduced single-feature entertainment" (p. 137) . . . "longest-running play in American history" (p. 137) . . . "made theater, once reviled, a holier place than the church in America" (p.145) . . . "By 1853, six versions were appearing on the London boards and four in Paris" (p. 145).
Well, I could go on and on -- just the treatment of religion and the role of "people of faith" in the movement to end slavery would require a blog post all its own -- but I should probably leave some of the book for you to discover for yourself. So I'll just offer one last quote. Reynolds points out that an important part of the power of Uncle Tom's Cabin was that the depth of the novel form enabled Stowe to tackle multiple arguments -- before her ideological opponents had a chance to weigh in. In fact, he says,
"she preempted them on virtually every point" (p. 156)
I think this is especially important for those of us who want a forum in which to present ideas in a way that goes beyond the sound bite.
Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America, by David S. Reynolds)
Creative Resistance section in the Organizer Manual on the NSDSW wiki!
(See A Force for Peace: Getting to Know Iran Through Film)
For the next three months, people will be talking about the film 12 Years a Slave and its Oscar prospects. And well they should. The film is about the experiences of the free man, Solomon Northrup, who was seized and enslaved for twelve years, and it may be the best thing ever to come along for enabling us to confront the true meaning of our history of oppression and racism in America. But it's not just about history.
(See 12 Years a Detainee)
My most prominent memory of my first viewing of the Guantanamo film, The Response, is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."
(See Understanding What Guantanamo Means)
Diverse artists and media kept the question of Guantanamo alive during 2010. Here's my list of "Arts and Media 2010 Responses to #Guantanamo" favorites -- tweeted during December, 2010.
(See Arts and Media 2010 Responses to #Guantanamo )
We need film and music and the other arts to keep turning our attention back to the truth. Despite the fact that creative expression can sometimes be confusing, distracting, or even misleading, it does tend to keep bringing us back to the deep questions, and to open our eyes to what we were unable to see just yesterday.
(See Air Power Infatuation (1967 All Over Again)
Five big realizations I'm taking away from the 2013 CODEPINK Drone Summit "Drones Around the Globe: Proliferation and Resistance" in Washington, DC.
(See The 2013 DC Drones Conference: 5 Big Takeaways )
@DroneHaiku reminded me of all the creative ways that we have used social media like Twitter in the past year to built widespread, robust, multi-dimensional protest. Efforts like #AfghanistanTuesday. And #Natoin5. And #NoIranWar.
(See #Art #Poetry and More During #AprilDays #Protest - #aprildayseverywhere )