Allen Rausch on what Schoolhouse Rock Has Become

24 09 2009

Welcome to my first attempt at Search Engine Optimization. If you’re seeing this because you’ve searched for my name after hearing me on the Lars Larson radio program, welcome! “Allen Rausch on what Schoolhouse Rock has become” was the phrase that Lars used yesterday and seems to be the one that’s showing up in my search logs, so I thought, lets try and direct you folks to exactly what you’re looking for.

Yesterday was the second time I’ve been on the show and as always, it was great fun and a pleasure to talk to Lars. If you’re here about my series on the politics of Schoolhouse Rock, you’ll find them right here!. Once you’re done with those, though, please feel free to take a look around. there more politics and if you’re a gamer, a lot of stuff on that too. While you’re here, why not get Angry Bear updates on my Facebook fan page or pick up my RSS feed.

And again, Welcome!

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Verb! That’s What’s Happening (We’re All Raaaaacists Now)

19 09 2009

(read the whole essay here!)

John O’Sullivan’s first law is that groups that aren’t specifically right-wing tend to become left-wing over time. I believe this because the process is pretty easy to understand and see as it happens. The Right by its very nature as conservatives is reactionary — acting to stop some sort of social change. The kind of small-l liberalism that lies behind the great social movements begins in order to address some perceived hole or injustice in the current social structure. There is nothing wrong with this. indeed, it’s the finest tradition of “liberalism” that they are about liberty — freeing other human beings from the yoke of oppression.

That brings us to “Verb! (That’s What’s Happening)” and the sad decay of a once powerful and important word in our language — racism.

This is the latest essay in my “Politics of Schoolhouse Rock” series and it’s one I was a bit scared of writing. It’s about the health care debate, tea parties, the word “racist,” and how social movements get co-opted to serve agendas that would horrify their founders and lead those they purport to liberate to a place very different than where they think they’re going. Plus it’s got a real catchy tune.

I have no doubt that some who read it will be quick to level the charge of “racism” and it shows how much power that word still has in our society that hearing it leveled at me will no doubt sting. To this I can merely throw up my hands and say that if wishing for a society where we are judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin is racist, I’ll take that hit. In the end, the only way to have a truly color-blind society is start acting color-blind.

As Stacy McCain would say, please remember that there are five “A’s” in raaaaacism

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The Politics of Schoolhouse Rock

6 09 2009

I’ve added a new section to the blog — The Politics of Schoolhouse Rock. After the response my essay on Elbow Room (Everything I Need to Know I learned from Schoolhouse Rock, I decided that I might like to go through the rest of the old videos (especially America Rocks) and see what kind of thoughts they inspired. I started by expanding my initial “Cultural Imperialism is a Crock” block post into a whole new essay about The Great American Melting Pot.

Please enjoy! And if you do, why not share the blog with some of your friends:

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Finished up with Lars Larsen

5 09 2009

Finished up with the Lars Larsen show where we got into a wide-ranging discussion about the Politics of Schoolhouse Rock series. Lars could not have been any nicer (we had an interesting discussion about terrorism, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Cory Doctorow’s new book during the commercial break) and I had a great time talking about the inception of the series and the first entry. I also mentioned that I was going to work on the next one in the series — “Sufferin’ till Sufferage.” I should probably get started on that.

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Tune in to the Lars Larson radio show…

5 09 2009

I’m going to be on the Lars Larson radio show tonight at about 5:30 PM Pacific time talking about the first in my Politics of Schoolhouse Rock series. Check it out and keep an eye out for the next one in this series along with this week’s Angry Bear!

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31 08 2009

Woohoo! My first personal Instalanche! Thanks, Glenn!

If you’re new here, you might want to check out all the Angry Bear Columns as well as the first part of my series on the politics of Schoolhouse Rock.

And while this may seem a bit crass, I am a freelance wordsmith looking for new gigs, so why not click on my

Everything I know I learned from Schoolhouse Rock – Part I

18 08 2009

There’s a generation out there — call us “X” — for whom the influence of Schoolhouse Rock simply cannot be understated. It’s more than just being able to sing the preamble to the US Constitution or knowing what goes on at “Conjunction Junction.” Schoolhouse Rock captures an amazing pre-MTV moment when the nascent entertainment-industrial complex was just catching on to how the power of music and amusement could fundamentally shape the way people viewed the world. (I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say that much of the way most people view Sarah Palin has less to do with her actual policies than her portrayel by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live). In this case, though, that power was applied to a more benign purpose — teaching kids the multiplication tables.

Schoolhouse Rock was the brainchild of ad man David McCall and a host of talented musicians who came primarily from the jazz and folk music world (if you listen to Schoolhouse Rock, there’s actually remarkably little “rock” — the outstanding “Sufferin’ until Sufferage” notwithstanding). There’s also an appealing naivete to them, especially the ones collectively referred to as “America Rocks.” These are a series of shorts concerning American history and government that predate the politically-correct educational agenda that casts America as the quintessential villain in its own history. I always wanted to go back and take a look at some of these shorts with the perspective of time and experience and talk about the way I viewed them them, the way I view them now and what they still have to teach us about — well, everything.

With that in mind, why not start with what is easily the most controversial Schoolhouse Rock — “Elbow Room?” There’s a politically incorrect howler in almost every frame of this little classic. “Trample down the wilderness?” A celebration of Manifest Destiny? “Plenty of fights to win land rights?” To hear some people tell it, this three-minute clip should be nothing but tears over the theft of this country from the Native Americans and the atrocities and genocide that accompanied the settlement of the American West.

Now I’m the last person that would ever claim that this country has clean hands when it comes to its treatment of Native Americans or blacks or women or anybody else for that matter. A lot of bad stuff happened in this country’s 200+ year history. What I resist is the idea that this country’s history is uniquely dark or savage or that it’s darkness outweighs the good it has done. Take, for example, describing what happened to the Native Americans as “genocide.” Put simply, there was no genocide. Indeed, as Jared Diamond pointed out in “Guns, Germs and Steel,” What happened in America is an almost stereotypical historical conflict between stationary farmers and classical hunter-gatherers and most of what is referred to as “genocide” was in fact carried out by diseases against which the Native Americans had no defense and the settlers had no idea they were carrying.

This part of history is tragic, no doubt and I do not mean to minimize the suffering of Native Americans or the real injustices that have been perpetrated against them but calling the settling of the American West “genocide” implies a concious choice on the part of the settlers and the United States that simply was never in the minds of most 18th and 19th-century Americans. Considering how many Natives died never having seen a white face, we must perhaps consider the possibility that the sterotypical vision of the American West seemed true for many of the settlers — that it was a vast and empty land waiting to be peopled. Yes, it was empty because many of the people had died of disease, but the fact remains — for people coming from a farm culture used to a much higher population density than that of Native American hunter-gatherers and nomads, the land was empty and waiting for use. The plagues were tragic, but hardly the fault of the settlers (and please don’t throw up the “smallpox-infected blankets” at me. If that happened, the historical evidence for it is pretty limited and it was certainly never a widespread practice.)

I’m reminded of the classic historical “rip-off,” the sale of Manhattan Island for $24 worth of beads and trinkets. It seems to me like both sides might have thought they were ripping off the other in that transaction. A group of people from a farm culture was purchasing land from a hunter-gatherer culture that simply had no concept of land ownership. For nomads, “treasure” consists of useful items that can be carried and moved. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Gods must be Crazy,” it quickly becomes apparent that the African natives in that movie would sell you the whole Kalahari Desert for a case of empty Coke bottles and consider themselves getting the better part of that deal. This is neither “simple” nor “primitive.” It’s merely a statement of different cultural values shaped by different lifestyles.

If you truly believe in appreciating unique cultural perspectives, one cannot judge the actions of one culture through the values of another. This, by the way, is not something that I believe, but it seems to be an article of faith amongst those who perpetuate the fiction of an American genocide in the West. Despite this, they seem to have no trouble judging the motives and actions of 19th-century Americans by the values of 21st-century Americans and infantilizing and romanticizing Native Americans with the silliest of “Noble Savage” stereotypes.

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Cultural Imperialism is a crock

15 08 2009

Just came back from taking the kids to see an exhibit on anime cels at the Academy for Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (Yes, the Oscar people). It was really enjoyable and a little eye-opening. The exhibit was fairly small and mostly covered the most popular anime that’s made the crossover to Western audiences — Pokemon, Vampire Hunter D, Gatchaman, Robotech, the work of Studio Ghibli. Still, what I found really fascinatring is how familiar with all of this stuff my four-year old son was. I realized that looking around the exhibit, that this wasn’t terribly different from what he sees when he watches Saturday morning cartoons. Like it or not, much of American kid’s TV and kid’s culture in general has become an outpost for Japanese culture.

That got me thinking about the people who scream about “cultural imperialism” when a McDonald’s opens in Paris. Why are these people never equally concerned when a big chunk of America’s youth culture is dominated by the output of a single foreign nation? Why when the threat of violence shuts down one of the pillars of Western culture (as it did during the Muhammed cartoon controversy) do we hear that we need to be “sensitive” rather than calling it what it is — cultural imperialism? Forcing one culture to bend to another and compromise some of its most cherished principles at the point of a sword seems to me to be the very definition of the term. Everything else is just “life” and “marketing.” And no, I do not consider “marketing” to be evil.

I believe in diversity and multiculturalism. More than that, though, I also believe in the somewhat outmoded idea of the “melting pot.” The classic Schoolhouse Rock video naturally whitewashes much of the unsavory history of this country of course — particularly our treatment of Native Americans — but I believe that there’s a truth at the core of this video about the healthy transfer of ideas and goods between cultures and how they impact and alter one another. Indeed, I believe that the genius of America is the idea that we are not “ein volk.” You don’t have to have blood ties to the land to be a true American. You don’t have to have a particular skin color or religious belief to be one. To be an American is at it’s core, is to be a subscriber to an ideal. True, the genuine nation of America often falls far short of the ideal, but that doesn’t mean the ideal isn’t important as something to shoot for.

The idea that a culture must somehow be kept “pure” strikes me as remarkably racist and bigoted. A “pure” culture, one that never changes, is never tainted by “outsiders” is a dead culture. More than that, it treats denizens of those other cultures like stupid children as if they aren’t fully responsible beings making their own choices. They perversely buy into the idea of American cultural superiority by treating American culture like a virulent plague that will just wipe out every indigenous culture it comes across. It often seems like those who cry loudest about “Diversity” mean it in the sense that hothouse flowers are diverse. They’ve got all kinds of pretty colors, but if they cross-pollinate with one another, then they become hopelessly mongrelized. At the risk of losing this argument before it begins, it’s the kind of fascist thinking that frankly scares me and it’s not the kind of thing I’ll allow my half-Jew/half-Mexican all-American-except-that-they-really-like-Transformers-anime-kids to be victim to.

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