Saturday, October 29, 2011

Obscene in the Extreme

"Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath'" by Rick Wartzman - detailing the response of the growers and Bakersfield, CA politicians to Steinbeck's book, and to union efforts to organize pickers - fascinating … 

The behavior of the growers with regard to "immigrants" (in this case, Okies) and their absolute resistance to unions (after all, we don't want anyone usurping our "right" to arbitrarily set wages) hasn't changed one iota. 

On the one hand, the Okies were "dirty and immoral and a drag on local resources;" on the other, they provided cheap labor, and the more of them that came, the more competitive grew the job market, to the benefit of the growers. 

The parallels to our current debates about "immigrants" and labor and unions and Capitalism are uncanny, until one realizes that these debates have been an integral part of the American story, indeed, the human story.

The only element lacking today is the easy way in which the far-right then characterized labor organizing as "communistic" and un-American. It's fun to read how the growers and politicians labeled themselves "true Americans" and that capitalism was, of course, the American way.

Also, worth noting - rather than directly going after Steinbeck's social message, the book was attacked as "immoral" - as one politician said, "I wouldn't want my daughter reading this filth."

Some politicians said to the immigrants, "Either work at the wages offered, or no welfare."

Not quite 50% through, I'll update frequently.

As with so many things, a little history sheds light on our current debates and conflicts.

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