Public Denunciations in Art

FIRST OF TWO PARTS

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The process of ostracizing a person or persons based on their beliefs or actions– more often than not, on rumors of their beliefs or actions– is nothing new. The power of gossip– part of human history since time began.

(How much of the Junot Diaz, Jay Asher, and Rachel Custer cases have been initiated and propelled by gossip? At their core, is there much more to the accusations than that?
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The subject of public shunning of an individual or group has been a mainstay in American literature from the beginning.

scarlet letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850, addresses Puritan New England circa 1642. Hester Prynne is forced to wear the red “A” on her clothes as token of her sin– her falling out from the mores and codes of the community.

Peyton_Place_0

The 1956 novel Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, likewise set in New England, updates the theme of the malign power of community. The rejection of individuals is less blatant than the previous work, but no less painful. Destruction begins behind the scenes– the target or targets left wondering what’s being said, who’s saying it and who believes it. (The blockbuster novel was turned into a popular 1957 film.)

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In theater, playwright Arthur Miller tackled the topic of rumor-generated hysteria with his look at the Salem witch trials, The Crucible.

The-Children's-Hour-1935-Postcard

The classic example from American theater is Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour— whose plot concerns rumors spread by a malicious student about two women teachers in an all-girls boarding school, stating they’re having an affair. The gossip has tragic results. The message again is the power of the “community”– which has different targets in 2018 but is no less able to cause mayhem in the lives of individuals who don’t follow acceptable standards. Who appear to leave the flock morally, artistically, or politically. As Hellman’s play demonstrates, the scantest evidence is enough to motivate that flock to create outcasts. Pariahs.

InvasionOfTheBodySnatchers1956A

FOR an example of the power of the conformist, properly-correct community taken one step further, see the two movie versions of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”— made in 1956 starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, and in 1978 starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Leonard Nimoy.

invasion_of_the_body_snatchers_1978

(NOTE the eerily prophetic statement on the 1978 poster: “Sleep . . . and be born again into a world without fear or hate!” Many people today would say, “Sign me up!”)

WHO are the pods?

WHY does everyone look with hostility at individuals exhibiting human qualities of emotion and difference of opinion?

WHY does everyone think exactly alike??!

Watch either movie version at your peril.
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NEXT: Whispering Campaigns and the Writer.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

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