Thursday, 26 November 2009

Down California Way

Throughout the last couple of years, I feel as though my life in education has been focused on two key areas. Of course, I have branched out the other subjects unwillingly, and even in some rare cases, willingly, but I find myself returning to these two things. Every time. Its the sort of phenomena that can convince you of the existence of God. And not that happy-go-lucky God from the bible. Im talking a malicious god. The type you find in Pagan lore. A god whose sole purpose is to torment humans, to test us until one of two inevitabilities occurs; We go insane, or we deal with it and let it stew as a mental illness. I am talking about the two subjects in my education that appear again and again.

1. 20th Century America (and everything encompassed within: The Dustbowl, The American Dream, etc...)

2. The Gothic

The fact that I adore the first and despise the second probably says alot about me as a person, much like my choice on the age-old question, "flight or invisibility?" but the point remains, I have been drawn in by fiction/non-fiction/cinema/music/journalism based around the first choice time and time again, and as of yet, I have no idea why.

This strange compulsion was fed like an angry snake last week, with the viewing of John Fords classic interpretation of John Steinbeck's "The Graps of Wrath". It was a great movie, and whilst it was not as good as the book, as these things often arent, it did give a great visual interpretation of one of my favorite parts; the journey. I've always been attracted to the nature of travel, and I'm still attempting to take "the Great American Road Trip". Obviously this is a little hard when you come from the English south-west, rather than the American south, but I've always been enchated by Route 66, and the journey part of the novel reminds me of the childish sense of wonder I have about travelling. The truth is its damn annoying, it can make or break friendships, and it can be hellishly boring, but its always something that retains its magic.

The film depicts the journey as a time of hope, a time of the anticipation of prosperity, and its strange that despite the deaths of Grandpa and Grandma, the decision to press on is unanimous. Its sort of like the deaths of the Grandparents signify the cutting of the chord, like the family has no place in Olklohoma anymore because their history there has been lost. Or it could just be a way of evoking some emotion at the realistation that these people literally have nothing but eachother. Either way, its an event that Steinbeck really executes well.

Its no surprise that the novel was written as an attempt to show the plight of the citizens of the dustbowl, and its a shame that the message was lost in the financial storm that followed the book. Its a book, and a movie, that continues to feed my love for 20th Century America.

Maybe one day, I'll get out to Californee, see what all the fuss is about...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

When Men were Men, and Boys were scared.

The history of journalism happens to be one of my favorite subjects, especially throughout the days of the American Frontier, because as it turns out, "The West" was really won through the toil at the grubby hands of those grubby journalists, all hoping to grab their slice of America pie. These were the real men, the ones who printed exactly what they saw. If One-Eyed Jack kicked up a fuss in the local saloon, then he would print it.
Of course, whilst these people were brave, taking the blessing of literature and writing to an area where it might have died out, there was a man who took the idea of Frontier journalism as far as it could go, and then some. The illustrious, the fantastic, Mr William Randolph Hearst.

W.R.Hearst really had everything going for him at exactly the right time. Much like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, he was the right man at the right time. Except there were fewer terrorists. And even fewer hulking Aryan terrorists with silken golden hair that seems so thick and well kept that he could use it to fly.

So the story goes, everybody was poor. Almost too poor, and after New York was pretty much done and dusted, and the immigrants had nothing else to build, there were a few reports of gold in San Francisco, many populated by Hearst himself, and with the San Francisco Chronicle that he published in many, many languages, he was really just hitting every target possible. He was the go-to guy for hokey information, and it seemed that 1849 would be his...golden year. Ahahaha...that's not funny.

Whilst the information as to the possible locations of the gold may have just been wild fabrications, it was an incredibly profitable time to own a paper, especially when the toothless prospectors would have done anything for a slice of the gold.

Eventually our friend Hearst expanded to the east coast, purchasing the New York Journal, entering into a circulation war with Pulitzer, and being thoroughly ironic by claiming to be a man of the people whilst being completely racist at the same time. It was a time of being who you wanted to be, clearly, and racism is not something I condone (in fact its something I'm disgusted by) but you have to respect the man for being what he was regardless of any one's judgement.

It seems strange that I would find a role model in a man who died 40 years before I was born, but the coming of the frontier press is a subject that I am perpetually interested in. In fact, I just bought a book, aptly titled, The Coming of the Frontier Press. A compelling read, no less. Hearst was an icon. His standing in the journalism community is timeless, and at the time of his death, he owned 26 newspapers. 16 magazines, 11 radio stations, five news services, and a monstrous house in Malibu. Its scary how much the movie Citizen Kane captured, with Orson Welles' performance being one of the most enigmatic that I have seen in ages, a true testament to a legendary man, by another legendary man.

I just wish I had been there to see it all happen.