Saturday, October 30, 2010

Retracing Footsteps

Opening today at the mission was Lewis & Clark Expedition Across America. This children’s exhibit focuses on the explorers’ experience: befriending American Indians, tracking wild animals, and enduring a transcontinental journey. I can imaging school kids next week playing with the period costumes and teepee, building with Lincoln Logs, smelling the plants, and being grossed out by the animal remains…although the prairie dog pelt was kind of cute. There’s even a “Wheel of Misery” (or at least that’s what I think it’s called) that told me I survived falling from a bluff. Nasty!

Two of my sisters and I spent this afternoon checking out the new addition and amusing ourselves with the Thomas Jefferson quotations. (Being voting season, anything said by a politician gets responded to by a smirk!) For adults, the California Exhibition Resources Alliance has sponsored Lewis and Clark Revisited: A Trail in Modern Day. Photographer Greg MacGregor retraced the path forged by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition. He documents not untouched nature but modern reality, yet his black and white pictures still convey a wild and historical feel. If you take a look at the photos online or in his book, Lewis and Clark Revisited: A Photographer's Trail, you’ll see what I mean. Mission San Juan Capistrano’s a small organization not really known for hosting major traveling museum exhibits, but this photo one was a good choice.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Of Men and Makeovers

About a week ago, I attended “Fit to Flatter,” this month’s free styling event hosted by Style 2020, a fashion consultation firm here in Orange County. What first impressed me was that this was not just some hour-long sales pitch. The stylists were actually interested in educating the guests on how to improve their look. But what I really appreciated was that the first half of the presentation was entirely devoted to men, arguably an underserviced demographic when it comes to teaching about appropriate dress. Too bad the male sex only made up probably 1% of the audience.

Most women will agree that most men need serious help in the fashion department. Most men, I think also agree. But unfortunately very little gets done about it. It’s not that men never ask for advice. I’ve been called upon by friends numerous times to make suggestions, but rarely have I seen a significant effort made to follow through on any of them. Men will admit they have problems, but then refuse to do anything about it. Looking good is a low priority.

There are a number of reasons for this. Men have been indoctrinated with the false notion that looks don’t matter to women. They realize they could use a makeover, but they don’t think of it as a necessity. Whether in the dating market or the job market, men expect to be valued by everything but that related to dress and grooming. Then they’re hurt and offended when they’re judged by their appearances. No, nice clothes and a fit body aren’t mere proxies for money and power. Women like good-looking men. So do employers and clients. It’s a well-proven fact.

I remember once having an otherwise good-looking student who seemed to be unsuccessful hitting on the girls in the class. I really wanted to inform him that his standard wear – disheveled and unwashed hair, tank-top-like undershirts with armpit and chest hair peaking out, worn flip-flops, and too-thin swim trunks – was probably a major turnoff. But he apparently put more trust in his smarts and winning personality. Hopefully, a job search has changed things. (It did for me!) But I know many more like him. You, dear reader, probably do too.

Unfortunately, some men just aren’t motivated to change even when they recognize much can be gained by the process. It’s more fun to criticize women’s dress: too immodest, too old-fashioned, too frumpy, too revealing, too whatever. All the while, men ignore the logs in their own eyes. Case in point: A friend of mine has been very supportive of people creating new books, magazines, and websites devoted to beauty and fashion for Christian women. However, when I once suggested creating a resource for Christian men (soon after Men’s Vogue met its tragic end), he shot that idea down in a flash. Why? He didn’t think it was needed! Hello? I can spend a whole day in LA without spotting a guy wearing a shirt or suit jacket that actually fits well. Yet men think women need another magazine to tell them what to wear?

Many women are low class when it comes to fashion, but it’s the men who are below the poverty level. Who really should get the charity? Many Christian and secular resources are out there telling women “what men want.” Men probably live in fear of retaliation. We don’t see the Harris boys doing a Modesty Survey about what guys wear that disgusts and embarrasses girls! Would giving up sagging pants and “bicep seams”* really be too much of a sacrifice? Maybe it’s true that men can “dish it out” when it comes to criticizing women’s figures and swimsuits but can’t “take it” themselves?

I sincerely believe that, despite the lack of resources, men can learn to dress appropriately. Admit that baggy clothes don’t hide thin frames or belly fat. As one Style 2020 consultant pointed out, clothes are supposed to touch your body. And we need to strike “metrosexual” from the English language. It’s become a catch-all negative label for “anything I don’t usually wear.” And, by all means, men should take solicited advice seriously. It wasn’t provided for them to pick and choose what sounds like the least amount of work.

Now, there are a few brave souls who ask for advice, but they usually doubt its validity and usefulness. Men seem to require at least two female witnesses before accepting that showing off their backsides is disgusting. I’m not saying that all women are fashion geniuses. (After all, I was the one attending a style event!) But there needs to be more resources offering help to men, especially Christian men.

So here’s my idea: the Men and Makeovers Survey – Part I. Women, this is your opportunity to provide your Christian brothers with constructive criticism about men’s fashion, grooming, and modesty (or lack of it). And men can participate too, by submitting questions that women can answer in Part II. The survey’s anonymous on both ends, so there’s no reason to not to participate. Mean comments will be edited. I expect that few men will participate or read the results, but at least there will be a platform for discussion. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts and sharing them in the future.

*That was a Style 2020 consultant’s term for the shoulder seam on a shirt that’s definitely too large for the wearer!

Christians: Artistic and Entertaining

The 7th Annual Evening of Arts & Entertainment certainly offered a unique experience. I first heard about Arts & Entertainment Ministries back in the summer of 2006 when Joel Pelsue spoke at one of David Bahnsen’s Southern California Center for Christian Studies conferences here in Orange County. But as schedules go, I didn’t have a chance to attend the organization’s annual event until this year, meaning earlier this month. It was definitely a lot smaller and more intimate than I expected. But it was nice to have the opportunity to leisurely browse the gallery art and actually have conversations with many of the featured artists.

When it comes to art, many Christians focus on how Scripture inspired them. William Butler, Jennifer Kimbrough, and Glen LaMar were three such artists, using paint to convey poetic messages about God’s power and care for His people. Think of soothing lines and abstract work.

By the exit, however, was a very different approach. Kevin Rolly showed highly controversial paintings on not-so-pleasant Bible stories such as Jephthah’s sacrifice and Judah’s affair with his daughter-in-law. He spoke about the importance of depicting evil in art and offering something relevant to the suffering world around us. Although his pieces aren’t what most middle-class Americans would envision in their livingrooms, I felt that they were the most powerful ones exhibited in the gallery.

Last was Kengsen Chong, a Malaysian preacher who enjoys incorporating ancient Chinese characters into his paintings that add very subtle theological meaning. His work might be thought of as “Sir Edward Elgar meets Pablo Picasso.” Although restricted by the Muslim government, this artist apparently has managed to touch his community through his work and arts programs.

For the performance part of the evening, the sanctuary of Vineyard Christian Fellowship-West turned into a theater. First up was Yolanda Tolentino, singing two numbers from her musical Spirals, Boxes, and Clocks with the AEM House Band. I hope the musical eventually gets performed; I’d like to know the story behind “Back to Holding” and “Still Sadness.”

Another vocalist, Kelda, sang “Puzzling” and “I Hear You Now” from her Free album. She had a sweet voice, so I really enjoyed listening to her. In contrast, hiphop artist Jahmal Holland (aka “One Truth”) showed the music video Cannot Close My Eyes, telling a story about the plight of teens (but I wasn’t sure about what exactly). His “He Brings Change,” in my opinion a better song, was performed live along with a shorter work where he rapped about men taking responsibility (from what I could make out). (Next time I’ll have to bring along a baby sister or brother to translate!)

The evening wouldn’t have been complete without spoken word. Kristin Weber, a homeschool graduate who opens for Christian comedians, talked about moving to Los Angeles and informed the audience that she, age 26, was actually 90 in single-homeschool-girl years. (Guess that makes me a centenarian!) Later, poet Aaron Belz read excerpts from Lovely, Raspberry, adding more laughter to the night’s program.

Two films made the cut: The documentary In a Still Small Voice (site) by Steven Holloway featured interviews of Christian artists talking about their work and what being an artist meant to them. Closing the program was Jeffrey Travis’ animated film Flatland (site, imdb). It’s been more than ten years since I’ve read E.A. Abbott’s “romance,” but I remembered enough details to both appreciate and dislike Travis’ modern retelling. I was pleased that the overall point of the story remained intact.

Far cry from a church talent show, this event showcased professionals and their serious work. Not all of it was “Christian” in the sense we might generally use the term, but it was “Christian” in the sense that Christians were doing what they loved and glorifying God in the process. AEM is a small organization, so the evening wasn’t exactly a smooth run. Patrons had a disadvantage since seating was dividing into three categories: reserved for artists and performers, reserved for volunteers, and saved-two-hours-before-curtain-by-family-and-friends. However, I’d still encourage everyone in the Southland to try to make a future show if possible. You probably won’t like everything featured – I sure didn’t! – but it’s worth one trip to see what’s going on with Christians in the secular world of arts and entertainment.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trail-Mix Ice Cream

Awhile back, I wrote out this recipe for a contest, which needless to say I didn’t win, probably because it wasn’t original enough. I’ve never requested this from Cold Stone Creamery, but it’s very similar to the way they create their strange mixes. At any rate, here is the revised version without exact measurements (how I do most of my cooking) for your consumption, it you care to try it.

Scoop a desired amount of pre-softened vanilla ice cream on to a pre-frozen piece of stoneware. Thoroughly mix in whatever amounts of Milk Chocolate M&Ms Chocolate Candies, raisins, roasted unsalted peanuts, and roasted unsalted almonds that look appetizing to you. Then let the ice cream refreeze in a mixing bowl for a few minutes. After dishing it out evenly into serving-size bowls, drizzle some chocolate syrup and caramel sauce on top. Then let me know what you think of it.

The Marriage Market

Early last week, I was teaching my students about the unemployment rate and suddenly it hit me just how similar the marriage market is to the labor market. So here are some redefined terms not found in any legitimate textbook that you can use to impress (or depress) your friends at your next singles party:

Adult Civilian Population: Economists usually define this as those age 16 and older. We know better. Parents may pretend that their daughters are too young to start dating, but girls as young as three start practicing their man-hunting techniques.

Out of the Labor Force: These are women who, when pressed, will say they don’t want a relationship right now. They’re officially not in the marriage market. They cite careers, education, and lifelong singlehood as the reasons. But we know most fit the bill of the “discouraged single,” corresponding to the economist’s “discouraged worker,” who’s given up looking because “There just aren’t any men available.”

In the Labor Force: These are the employed (women who have men) and the unemployed (those willing to fess up about wanting them).

Employed: These are the attached (steady girlfriends) and married (wives) living in relationship bliss. Well, maybe not. Some economists theorize that there exists the “underemployed,” who have unfulfilling jobs with bad hours, poor working conditions, lousy pay, and irritable bosses. So we suspect that the “under-attached” also exist. Even though they appear to be out of the marriage market, they continue to give the unattached a lot of competition because they’re always on the lookout for a chance to move up.

Unemployed: These are the unattached (never married, widowed, and divorced) singles looking for Mr. Right. They spend millions on improving their human capital. (The beauty industry owe a lot to them.) They spend more time with matchmaking services than at their college career centers. They put more effort into constructing online dating profiles than they do revising their resumes. And many leave the marriage market still single, fed up with it all.

Homework Assignment:
  1. Calculate the unemployment (unattachment) rate.
  2. Some economists argue that singles are single because they refuse to underbid their competition (offer more for less) or settle for a less-desirable mate. Others argue that society owes single women husbands commensurate with what they believe they can offer in a marriage. Which view do you prefer?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Duke..Mussolini, not John Wayne

Over the past few months, while soliciting participants for my WWII Political Leaders Opinion Survey, I’ve been blogging about times when my path through life has inadvertently crossed these guys. I suddenly realized that not only did I know very little about Il Duce Benito Mussolini of Italy; but unlike Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, and Stalin, his legacy has been pretty much zilch. My life has virtually been untouched by this man. I decided some movie-watching was in order. So far I’ve watched one: Vincere (site, imdb).*

This historical drama is about Ida Dalser and her fight against the man she worshipped who literally took her for a ride. She spends the rest of her life fighting back and loses. It’s dark. It’s sad. It’s depressing. And if I were cold-hearted I’d ask, “Why does she bother?” But hormones definitely can do that to women. That was what the NWNW movement was all about. Some men are perfectly happy to take a woman’s virginity and money and run, leaving her with a kid and a difficult legal situation. At least from what I’ve been able to find, Ida Dalser was actually able to get a marriage out of him (unlike what the movie portrays). However, that didn’t do her any good when her husband was Number One Fascist and eager to avoid a bigamy charge. (Where’s the Italian Inquisition when you need it?)

Now the details: The acting was fairly convincing, even if the leading actor looked nothing like the real deal. I also really liked the use of historical footage and silent film interspersed throughout the movie. But did I enjoy the movie? Sort of. It’s not American “family friendly” by any means, so I’m not recommending it. But for me, it painted a more personal view of the dictator’s life than I’d gotten from any history textbook. He was Number One Cad.

*Netflix has this film on instant viewing, but not the documentaries. Shows you where their priorities lie.

The Search for the African Christian Tradition

A few weeks back I finished reading Thomas Oden’s How African Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity. The author claims to be presenting a case for an ancient African Christianity to encourage the growing African Christian population. Just by reading that last sentence, you’ve probably spotted the problem, as I did somewhere near the beginning of the first chapter. What does he mean by “African”?

Ancient North Africa produced many theologians (e.g., Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian), church traditions (Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox), and Christians of many different ethnicities (Berber/Numidian, Coptic/Egyptian, Ethiopian, Nubian, etc.). It’s a no-brainer that Christians today of any heritage should be studying the contributions and lives (especially the martyrdoms) of this region. However, Oden, playing with terminology, argues that this heritage is of particular importance to what might be called black Africa, the “Negro,” “Niger-Congo,” or “Sub-Saharan African” world. To him racial divide and social isolation don’t matter, but the modern scientific definition of “continental plate” does. Any “Africa” is “Africa” in his book, but he remains as unconvincing as if he were telling Queen Elizabeth to study her Basque heritage. Even discussing the need to translate the ancient writings into completely unrelated languages (e.g., Zulu and Swahili) should tell Oden that something’s amiss. The chronology provided in the back of the book is another clue: No members of the Niger-Congo family to be found, and I looked really, really hard.

Oden has a legitimate concern about the future of African Christianity. Islam is promoted falsely as an indigenous language compared to Christianity, which has been cast as the religion of conquest. Everything from legitimate historical research to silly works of fiction like Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family reiterate a Muslim legacy. An old Christian tradition has been a source of comfort for the persecuted Assyrians and Coptics, but unfortunately not everyone has the ability to draw from such a long history. However, Christianity is about tearing down walls between nations. We can take comfort from the lives of people who shared our faith and yet were of a different background, culture, ethnicity, language group, race, or social class.

What I admire are Oden’s aspirations for reviving the works of ancient “African” Christians. Sub-Saharan Africans should be able to read Augustine and Origen in their own languages just as we now have English translations widely available. I’m looking forward to seeing what The Center for Early African Christianity accomplishes over the next decades in that regard. However, we just can’t expect children in Botswana to connect with these teachings any more than children in China. It’s equally their Christian heritage. (And likely equally boring.)

Also, Oden is focusing on the past to the detriment of the present. It’s not as if there is no local Christian tradition from which Sub-Saharan Africans can draw. There’s at least two centuries if not more of converts, cultural transition, schools, and churches to discuss. Read anything written by the old Anglican bishops. Listen to the Nigerian composers of both high church and gospel music. Keep up with the controversies in Kenya and Uganda over homosexuality. And I’m speaking to the Americans here. We should be promoting the Sub-Saharan African Christian tradition that really exists instead of telling our brothers and sisters in Christ to confirm their identity in the ancient Mediterranean world. We don’t like it when the historical revisionists claim Socrates was “black.” We don’t need to be doing the same for the Early Church Fathers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Campaign, intr. v. To avoid work

This morning my mother was trying to reschedule her flight lesson. Why? Because Mr. President was at USC, campaigning for Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer. So LAX, the Republican movie stars,* and all the little puddle-jumper runways in the Southland were shut down for his arrival. Now, it’s not as if I think Senator Boxer shouldn’t have her celebrity endorsements. After all, the Hewlett-Packard lady Carly Fiorina has the McCain-Palin vote. But on a general level, it bothers me that campaigning has become the number one item in every politician’s job description.

Instead of doing important things like learning how to appropriately greet foreign dignitaries, President Barack Obama is in the worst part of LA trying to convince college students not to do what they do best: avoid the voting booths. At the same time we have Congressional representatives running around saying “Vote for me again!” after proving how incompetent they are by leaving Washington before passing a budget. Really, normal people would be fired for not showing up for work. Why not them?

*For non-Southern Californian readers: I mean the John Wayne (Orange County) and Bob Hope (Burbank) airports.

Blame the Woman

Flashback to Sunday School. The Bible lesson is straight forward. There’s a story with “good guys” and “bad guys.” Afterwards, there’s a verse to help us remember the good deeds the “good guys” did and encourage us to do likewise. Simple. Too simple. When are we ready for the heavy stuff (1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3)?

Recently, I read Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life, a sixteen-point study of The Book of Acts, motivating Christians to live a more active faith. Although the lessons provided much food for thought, the author’s reliance on stories – his, his acquaintances’, and Bible characters’ – was more than a little disturbing. Of course, I spent much of my early teens listening to Bill Gothard creating a whole theology around personal testimonies, so perhaps I’m oversensitive to this approach. However, we can’t construct sound orthopraxy out of people’s behavior. Lucado doesn’t provide biblical support for the action he advocates, and it’s not as if it doesn’t exist. Even if most of his readers are “baby Christians,” I still think he could’ve provided more meat for consumption.

There’s an additional problem with the storytelling approach. Lucado, like many authors, reverts to modern retellings for emphasis. I’m of the opinion that this is an effective technique. Often the biblical culture is so far removed from ours today that the severity of a situation goes completely unnoticed. In addition, a lesson’s general applicability is missed if Christians don’t immediately recognize a modern analogous situation.

That said, modern retellings can be dangerous. It’s so easy for a misleading interpretation to creep up, especially when the author believes that it’s okay to sacrifice little details for the sake of a gripping story. Take Lucado’s version of Acts 5:1-11. Luke is obviously stressing the fact that Sapphira knew what her husband did just to rest assure the reader that she indeed deserved death too. But Lucado decides to make it her idea (p. 89). Instead of the moral of the story being “Don’t lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:9), he has inadvertently turned it into “You shouldn’t have listened to your wife,” a lesson for a different time and place (Genesis 3:17). Some might say he’s just being creative, but I think preachers least of all people should appeal to artistic license.

*This book was provided for review by BookSneeze.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Great Healer or God?

My church has been recently doing a study on the life of Jesus Christ. A few weeks ago, the text was on some healings early in His ministry, recorded in Luke 5:12-26. Confronted by a paralytic, Jesus responds by declaring that the man’s sins are forgiven (v.20). Immediately the religious leaders denounce Him as a blasphemer since God is the only one with the power to forgive sins (v.21). Before healing the man, Jesus replies to His critics, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (v. 23). Although the claim to forgive sins is greater than the claim to heal the suffering, He seems to have made a good point: that someone’s ability or inability to forgive sins is not easily proven or refuted whereas the powers to heal are more so. In short, it is easier to falsely claim to be God than to actually substantiate that claim with miracles. Yet, as Jesus’ opponents knew, the former false claim would be a serious affront to our Heavenly Father, hence their reaction in this story.

Thinking more about this made me realize how often attention is paid to those whose claims are like the ability to heal rather than like the claim of being a deity. For example, many Christians are eager to dismiss faith healers and modern-day miracle workers as quacks. Those charlatans, especially if they were on television decades ago, are a favorite conversation topic, especially among those who regret being duped once. Yet, what is the claim of God-given healing powers compared to the claim to being God? The likes of Marjoe Gortner* are more likely to come up in conversation than the Shakers’ Ann Lee, the NOI’s Wallace Fard, or members of “I’m a goddess” movements. It’s almost as if Christians ignore false claims of divinity, despite the vast numbers who are often led astray. Are we just not taking them seriously? Or is it just more fun to speculate the one-hundred-and-one ways a mega-church preacher might be faking miracles?

*By the way, language and adult subjects notwithstanding, I really enjoyed watching Marjoe, a documentary available on Netflix that was recommended awhile ago by a friend.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

We’re All Americans Now!

This was the last term paper I ever wrote. I enjoyed writing it, although I never got the impression that my professor was impressed. Last week, World War I came up in my lecture quite unexpectedly, when an off-the-cuff example popped into my head, and earlier today I was brainstorming ideas for a spring term course on America’s diversity. So, with a few edits and reorganization, here’s my perspective of wartime popular music. The selections were chosen from among my sheet music collection.

We’re All Americans Now!
Ethnic Unity in American Popular Song during the Great War

Intro and Vamp

During the Great War, Americanism was in, and “hyphenated Americanism” was out. People of various minority races and ethnic groups were pressured to give up overseas ties and pledge sole allegiance to American. However, many individuals found ways to show their loyalty to the United States while still expressing hints of minority identity. This essay analyzes the lyrics of popular songs that indicate this.


World War I sprung out of a broader era of nativism, racism, Jim Crow segregation, and newly established anti-immigration legislation. Racial and ethnic groups were struggling to complete in the white society for an improved existence while still maintaining their cultural identity.1 With the United States’ entry into the war, these groups suddenly found their loyalty questioned precisely because of foreign or at least different affiliations.

The most popular statement made against “ethnicity” at the time was former President Theodore Roosevelt’s words addressed to the Knights of Columbus, a “fraternal benefit society” for Roman Catholic men,2 in 1915: “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism…[A] hyphenated American is not an American at all…Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance…” Roosevelt condemned sentiment for European countries of origin as the cause of America’s inevitable “ruin” if “hyphenization” were permitted to continue.3

Anti-war, anti-assimilation, and pro-German song, although popular early in the war, soon came under direct attack.4 A new pro-war song tradition took form, promoting the unification of Americans against the German enemy.5 Propaganda of all types were seen as key to military success and convincing – even intimidating – a populace into support.6 Sheet music, heard and sung by citizens, became a part of this campaign.

As is shown below, one aspect of this musical tradition promoted unification among racial and ethnic groups in terms of particular group culture. In other words, in the midst of nativist scares, popular wartime lyrics often took an approach of “cultural pluralism” to unification.7 Rather than erasing heritage and identity in a “melting pot,” those elements became interwoven into the framework for promoting an unassimilated Americanism. The people were called to identify with America’s mission through their own racial and ethnic heritages.

The main assumption here is that the lyrics can reveal something fundamental about popular music. Simon Frith critiques the old style academic analysis that placed too much emphasis on literary content.8 He argues this on two points: First, “[s]ongs…are not mostly general statements of sociological or psychological truth…[as they are]…examples of personal rhetoric.”9 Rather that confronting this argument, it would do well to just accept it. The musical examples discussed here could be viewed easily as individual rather than community responses to wartime. Individuals were concerned about proving their loyalty to the United States, and individuals composed and performed songs. However, that would not diminish the fact that they do recognize a grand social truth: accusations of treason were a genuine fear at that time.

Second, Frith argues, it is a mistake to assume that “the ‘content’ (or ‘meaning’) of songs as revealed by the analyst is the same as their content (or meaning) for other listeners.” He argues that “[t]here is…no firm empirical evidence that song words determine or form listeners‟ beliefs and values.”10 Surely, it is possible for analysts to credit the lyrics with greater influence over the consumers than what it really possessed. However, the argument here is not about whether or not these songs successfully promoted these messages of racial and ethnic unification but about how they seemed to have done so. It would be advantageous to do an analysis of how listeners responded to Great War musical propaganda; however, that is beyond the scope of this essay.11

Here I examine of the role of popular song in American popular culture during the “Great War.” Using a small sample of sheet music, I analyze each song’s content and discuss what it reflects about American identity at that time. Central to the discussion are perceptions of American unity against hostile European powers that cross racial, ethnic, and religious boundaries. Secondary sources are used to discuss general theories about identity in popular culture, conceptions of ethnicity during the height of immigration leading up to the war, and conceptions of American culture.


At the time of the Great War, the United States population was divided by regional, racial, ethnic, and religious ties.12 The call for a unified America created what Glenn Watkins calls an “imagined idea of nationhood,” where these categories blurred to accommodate an all-encompassing pro-war rhetoric.13 Historical regional tensions had pitted North against South, East against West, and urban against rural. A successful fight against European tyranny required citizens to put an end to these divisions. “Good-Bye My Girl” is an example of the call for unification:

Our country’s call has rung out too all,
‘Tis no time to loaf or lag.
We’ve a foe to face,
Each must take his place,
As we rally ‘round the flag.
From the east and west,
We will march a-breast,
From the south and from the north,
Our battle cry Is “Win or Die”
As we go marching forth.14

This was also the message of “Where It’s Peach-Jam Makin‟ Time,” a song about “Yankee”15 comrades from Maine, the West, and the South talking about their homes.16 Although the Civil War had created a persistent riff between Northerner and Southerners, the experience of the Spanish-American War and the Great War provided a common enemy to divert attention.17 Songs such as “Forward, March! Mississippi Volunteers”18 and “The Dixie Volunteers,”19 praising the sons of “Dixie,” encouraged soldiers to fight as Americans but also as Southerners, proud of their heritage. The line “It’s a Long, Long Way to Dixie” was followed by “and the good old U.S.A.,” broadening the context of missing home.20

Particularly, “When the Boys from Dixie Eat the Melon on the Rhine” makes for an interesting study.21 Its text praises the expected victory of Southern Americans in Europe, making connections to their perceived ante-bellum heritage. What is also interesting is the cover, featuring black children eating giant watermelons. It raises questions about just who are the “boys” who will do the eating when the war is over. Although an argument could be made for the glorification of whites in the song, it could also be in part mocking the Germans, making the implication that poor little black boys will share in the victory over them.22

The “Afro-American” or “Negro” community, as did many immigrant groups, had become the target of military intelligence operations, seeking to uncover anti-American sentiment. In response, and also in hopes of gaining more respect and privileges in the white American society, many blacks joined the call to arms against Germany.23 Songs such as “When the Good Lord Makes a Record of a Hero’s Deed, He Draws No Color Line” also drew on perceptions of historical and spiritual heritage to invoke a sense of duty:

Your Granddad did his duty in the Civil war
He fell by his master’s side.
Your daddy bravely did his bit at San Juan Hill,
You know that’s where he died.
So I know that you will do your duty too,
And remember, son of mine,
When the good Lord makes a record of a hero’s deed,
He draws no color line.24

Foreigners, of course, were primary suspects of disloyalty, due to their threatening alliance with European countries. When Russian-born Irving Berlin and two cowriters quickly joined the budding the pro-war movement, they wrote a song a la Roosevelt called “Let’s All Be Americans Now”25:

It’s up to you!
What will you do?
England or France may have your sympathy,
Or Germany, But you’ll agree
That, now is the time,
To fall in line,
You swore that you would so be true to your vow,
Let’s all be Americans now.26

In this chorus, as in Roosevelt’s speech, loyalties even to allied countries were a perceived threat. However, that does not imply that non-mainstream ethnic and religious identities were excluded from participating.27

Roman Catholicism, a prime target for nativist sentiments, runs ramped in pro-war song, often as a reassuring balm to sooth wounded soldiers. Two extremely popular songs from that era, “A Soldier’s Rosary”28 and “There’s an Angel Missing from Heaven (She’ll Be Found Somewhere Over There),”29 create a universalistic representation of the Rosary.

Jewish identity is not very evident. However, it is noteworthy to mention that many of the writers, such as the famed Irving Berlin, were Jewish and promoted unification through music, hence some ethnic participation. One slight clue of ethnic promotion, however, is in the extremely popular song “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?).” The use of the Jewish name “Reuben,” although it might be meaningless, does hint at the Jewish community’s contribution to the war.30

Not to be left out of the discussion are the American Indians. Songs actually written by members of this group were not available for this study. However, the mention of them in popular songs for white audiences does indicate an assumption on the part of the creators that Indians should play a part in the war against Germany. “Indianola,” arguably a racist portrayal of these people, promotes the idea that traditional Indian terror, once aimed at whites, should be redirected towards the Kaiser.31 In contrast, the lighthearted “Green River” appeals to “rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief” to support Prohibition as an anti-German campaign.32 Even as an object of ridicule and the supreme image of non-assimilation, the American Indian is portrayed as a participant in this amalgamation.33


The racial and ethnic unification was short-lived, if it could be said to have ever truly existed at all. The post-war years of 1919 and 1920 brought numerous race riots, as friction between blacks and whites increased. Nativist sentiment culminated with the successful passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, establishing quotas to restrict the arrival of undesired Eastern and Southern Europeans. However, in a sense, the musical propaganda of the Great War was not created to bring to an end conflicts that arose in the previous century. Its goal was to foster a united front for the war effort, and for that reason alone it might be labeled a success.

End Notes

1 See Eleanor Alexander, “The Courtship Season: Love Race, and Elite African American Women at the Turn of the Twentieth Century” OAH Magazine of History 18, no. 4 (July 2004): 17-19; Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks & What That Says About Race in America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002); Iris Chang, The Chinese in America: A Narrative History (New York: Penguin Books, 2003); Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno, eds. Are Italians White? How Race is Made in America (New York: Routledge, 2003); and Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1996).
Knights of Columbus, accessed June 13, 2008.
3 Theodore Roosevelt,
Address to the Knights of Columbus in New York City (October 12, 1915), accessed June 12, 2008.
4 Glenn Watkins, Proof through the Night: Music and the Great War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 245-251.
5 Watkins, 251-255.
6 Regina M. Sweeney, Singing Our Way to Victory (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 2-4. There exists additional literature on home-front pessimism and military moral not consulted at this time.
7 Of course, this idea would not hold for all Great War song, but it is the argument for the small sample discussed here. Horace Kallen initially promoted this concept of “cultural pluralism.” See Josh Kun, Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 41-47, and David R. Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Basic Books, 2006).
8 Simon Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 159.
9 Frith, 163.
10 Frith, 164.
11 Further research might delve into sales and performance records and other sources of information that would indicate popularity. Frith’s discussion about “ideas” (lyrical content) versus “expression” (performance style) is also beyond this essay, but also would be relevant.
12 Political division is obvious and not of interest here. See Watkins for a discussion of conflicting anti-war and pro-war sentiments.
13 Watkins, 282. This idea is similar to the concept of “imagined communities,” in which members create a national identity through identifying as a group. See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, New Edition (New York: Verso, 2006).
14 “Good-Bye My Girl,” words by Captain Paul Allister, music by Margarey McKinney (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1918).
15 Note the universal application of an originally limited identity.
16 “Where It’s Peach-Jam Makin’ Time,” by Kendis & Brockman and Nat Vincent (New York: Kendis-Brockman Music Co. Inc., 1918).
17 Watkins, 283.
18 “Forward, March! Mississippi Volunteers,” words by Robert Levenson, music by George L. Cobb (Boston: Walter Jacobs, 1917).
“The Dixie Volunteers,” by Edgar Leslie and Harry Ruby (New York: Waterson, Berlin, & Snyder Co., 1917).
20 “It’s a Long, Long way to Dixie,” words by Tell Taylor, music by Earl K. Smith (Chicago: Music Pub. Inc., 1917).
21 “When the Boys from Dixie Eat the Melon on the Rhine,” words by Alfred Bryan, music by Ernest Breuer, (New York: Maurice Richmond Music Co. Inc., 1918).
22 That seems to be reading too much into the purpose of the artwork, but mockery is a fundamental element of musical propaganda.
23 Wray R. Johnson, “Black American Radicalism and the First World War: The Secret Files of the Military Intelligence Division,” Armed Forces and Society 26, no. 1 (1990): 27-56.
24 “When the Good Lord Makes a Record of a Hero’s Deed, He Draws No Color Line,” words by Val Trainor, music by Harry De Costa (New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1918).
25 Watkins, 251.
“Let’s All Be Americans Now,” by Irving Berlin, Edgar Leslie, and Geo. W. Meyer (New York: Waterson, Berlin, & Snyder Co., 1917).
27 Of those easily available for analysis in this essay, Irish-American popular songs, although there were plenty in existence in this time period, did not deal directly with the issue of war. So, unfortunately, they, as a subgroup, had to be left out of the present discussion.
28 “A Soldier’s Rosary,” lyric by J. E. Dempsey, music by Joseph A. Burke (New York: A. J. Stasny Music Co., 1918).
29 “There’s an Angel Missing from Heaven (She’ll Be Found Somewhere Over There),” lyric by Paul B. Armstrong, music by Robert Speroy (New York: Frank K. Root & Co., 1918).
30 “How ‘Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?),” words by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young, music by Walter Donaldson (New York: Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1919). Further research might lend itself to better examples.
“Indianola,” English lyric by Frank H. Warren, French lyric by C. Hélène Barker, music by S. R. Henry and D. Onivas (New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co., 1918).
32 “Green River,” words by Eddie Cantor, music by Van and Schenck, arranged by Jean Walz (Chicago: Schoenhofen Co., 1920).
33 In the most optimistic sense, this could be interpreted as an early attempt at “cultural interaction.” See Peter La Chapelle, Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, County Music, and Migration to Southern California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 44.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Extra-Parental Natures of God

Generally, when we Christians think of earthly analogies to our relationship with God, Bible passages portraying God as a loving father and faithful, but often betrayed, husband. Those images are so common that others can be overlooked. Here I discuss two parental roles that extend God beyond the position of a father.

God as a Caring Mother

No, this isn’t an argument for “Goddess” theology. Instead I'm arguing that God our Father identifies with maternal characteristics. We get some insight on this when Jesus Christ laments over His people, doomed for distruction, in Matthew 23:37 (ESV):

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not![”]

Christ’s longing to take care of the Jews as a hen wants to care for her young is similar to the phrasing used in Isaiah 49:14-15 (ESV):

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.[”]

God is comparing Himself to a nursing mother. We have an excellent example of what that entails in 1 Kings 3:16-28 (ESV):

Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.

Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.

So in a prostitute we can see the sort of compassion God has for His people. It’s self-sacrificial, and has the infant’s best interest at heart. And it’s the sort of love only a mother could have.

God as a Protective Father-in-Law

When a union is discussed, generally, God is portrayed in the Old Testament as a jipped bridegroom, a husband whose wife (his people collectively) has been unfaithful in keeping her marriage covenant. But in Malachi 2:10-16 (ESV) we get an additional perspective:

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!

And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Here, God is a witness to a symbolic marriage between the husband Judah and his bride. Judah commits adultery by being unfaithful to this wife and marrying someone else (Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18).

Why is God like an irate father-in-law? The first marriage seems to have been conducted in God’s house (Malachi 2:11). While intermarrying signifies union and acceptance between families or nations, refusing to intermarry means there’s separation and rejection (e.g., Genesis 34, Judges 21, Nehemiah 13). Malachi clearly discusses an alliance with God being broken in exchange for an alliance with a foreign god. These alliances are represented through the marriage covenants with their respective daughters.

We can understand God’s feelings by looking at Jacob's father-in-law Laban’s words in Genesis 31:50 (ESV):

If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me."

Like Laban, God is a protective father-in-law, taking responsibility for insuring that the union in His house is not profained. Just as a bride’s father comes to her aid against a wicked husband bent on distroying her reputation (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), God rejects Judah’s offerings and petitions as punishment for his misconduct.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Preparing for Singlehood

I just finished reading Women of Faith speaker Lisa Harper’s new book, Untamed: How the Wild Side of Jesus Frees Us to Live and Love with Abandon. Although Harper briefly mentions still being single while in her forties, this isn’t a “book for singles.” Her focus is on Christ’s passionate love for His people (p. 83). But something heart-wrenching stood out to me when she talks about the lessons she learned from her stepfather (p. 90):

My final exam in gender inequity took place about ten years later when he said he wouldn’t spend one dime on my college tuition because most women who went to college just got married and had babies and never ended up using their degrees anyway…[H]e didn’t think I needed to be educated past high school.

Harper used this story to segue into a discussion about Jesus’ unconventional approach to the treatment of women, but her singleness was fresh in my mind. Here was a girl who was refused higher education because it was assumed that she’d marry immediately. Instead, she’s now remained single all these years. Now, Harper has advanced degrees and a successful career, so I’m not about to turn her into a hard-luck story. But her situation perfectly illustrates the problem of not preparing young women for singlehood.

History is littered with the lives of women who were unable to find a husband for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, today we don’t have to suffer under the same conditions or rely on the charity of others. We can support ourselves. And higher education, for all its flaws, allows many women to make a comfortable living and even support their parents when necessary. Who would not wish that sort of future for an unmarried woman?

Perhaps I’m fortunate to have a father who has always been concerned about his wife’s and daughters’ ability to fend for themselves if the need ever arose. Sure, it’s much more fun to plan a future wedding, but no one can guarantee it will ever happen. Every generation has had its spinsters. Setting a woman up for financial failure unless she snags a man is a serious risk, and many women have had to pay the cost.

I’ve known men who’ve told me with a straight face that they won’t consider a college-degreed woman as a perspective wife. They reason that she obviously wants a career instead of a family. It saddens me that these men ignore my case and the case of other women they know: all women who dreamed of being homemakers yet found themselves in the workforce, likely for life. They pass over sweet young women I believe would make them wonderful mates, evident in part by their determination to “be prepared” for the unexpected. The end result is instead something like a self-fulfilling prophecy: These women who carefully pursue an education as insurance against being poor old maids then find themselves old maids because of that education.

*This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. A review has been submitted on

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

To Cheat, Lie, and Steal…and Get Away with It

Last night, I saw the new documentary Catfish (site, imdb). Three geeky guys and a crazy mystery were enough to raise my curiosity. Over all, I enjoyed it. It remained light and funny as the story about the fake identities unraveled. It also could serve as a wake-up call about the danger of internet relationships and of making personal information public and, therefore, available for use by the public.

There has been debate about whether or not the events in the film are genuine. After the showing, I overheard one viewer argue with another about actors not being able to fake being in love. (I agree.) And on my way to the parking lot, I overheard someone else pointing out an inconsistency between one character’s portrayal in the film and what was said about him during the Q&A. There were also a lot of questions about shots that were too perfect or events that were too coincidental.

Without any hard evidence to the contrary, I’m inclined to believe that the story’s real. Documentaries in general end up bending and morphing the truth anyway. What bothered me was the filmmakers’ decision leave out information that would make the story more coherent and convincing to naysayers. After the showing, Nev Schulman, the leading geek, discussed the reasons why his brother took up the project initially and chose to continue filming. Not including that in the movie is asking the audience to question it’s spontaneity.

Also, it was a bad decision to leave out the after-the-fact interviews of Schulman’s mom, friend, and the model Aimee Gonzales, whose physical identity was stolen. Why should we not see these people hurt, furious, and trying to readjust their lives? It was almost as if nothing was included to make Angela Wesselman-Pierce, the mastermind of sorts, look bad.

Someone in the audience asked who the victim was. Really, it shouldn’t be the woman who lied her way into the spotlight. Anyone who has felt deceived when meeting an online correspondent, anyone who has had to deal with identity theft, really anyone could be offended by this. Maybe Schulman doesn’t feel as though he has really been hurt. It’s not like she scammed him out of thousands of dollars. But that doesn’t make what she did to him or others okay. Maybe he feels sorry for her unsuccessful attempts to promote her art. But the world is full of honest artists, and we don’t see him helping their careers.

Real or fake, the documentary portrays a woman who’ll play any untrue sympathy card – an alcoholic daughter, cancer treatment, and a burdensome, unfulfilling life – to get out of taking responsibility for her actions. The whole thing about her unrealized potential and the hardship of caring for her disabled stepsons was ridiculous. She has a caring husband who thinks that people should follow their dreams regardless and who went to all the trouble to give her space and time away from the children to pursue her work. Instead, Schulman essentially holds her husband responsible for “setting her up” for an online affair. Really, the image of a woman eager to sign release forms for a rather embarrassing film tells me that she had to only be interested in the publicity. And Schulman’s expressed regret that people would send her nasty emails is laughable. Why didn’t she expect that?

Identity theft of any form is a serious crime. Treating people’s hearts like dirt by awaking them emotionally and sexually to love under false pretenses of any kind is a serious sin.* I think that Nev Schulman is more of a victim than he actually realizes. He forgave her and tried to help her, and she tried again to build a relationship with him through a phony alcoholic daughter. Now he’s proud that she’s made money off her paintings from the movie? No, the moral of the story isn’t that we should be careful on Facebook. It’s that we can use the internet for evil purposes, get caught, and still expect to get away with it.

*Why is it that a young woman’s a “tease” if she gets a man’s hopes up with no intent of following through with any promises, but when an older woman does this, she’s a martyr looking for fulfillment?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Prooftext?

That my earlier post on “missionary dating” resulted in some debate came as no surprise. What did surprise me, however, was the complaint about me “prooftexting.” Lately, I’ve seen some online debate about this, but never took it seriously until now.

“Prooftexting” merely involves using verses to support arguments, and that might or mightn’t result in verses being taken out of their proper context. Most of the time, I believe the charge of “prooftexting” is a “red herring” (an attempt to distract the opponent from the real issue at hand). Jesus Christ and the devil “prooftexted” their way through a debate (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-12). I could point out the numerous times when Christ “prooftexted” to the Jewish leaders and scholars and when the Apostle Paul “prooftexted” to the recipients of his Epistles…but that would require “prooftexting.” The second century Christian writers and everyone since have continued the “prooftexting” tradition. In my opinion, there’s little evidence to support an argument that “prooftexting” per se is bad.

Getting back to my original post: What needed to be discussed was whether or not a command not to enter “unequally-yoked” marriages can be inferred from 2 Corinthians 6:14. Instead of just questioning that interpretation many Christians hold, the commenter made “prooftexting” the issue. I’m all for a reevaluation of that verse in light of the broader passage, but (as the commenter’s own arguments proved) that’s going to take a lot of legitimate “prooftexting.” We have no other means of building a scriptural argument.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Emperor’s New Art

Art is frightening. As Paul Fussell argues ad nauseum in his infamous Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, the middle class thrives on being perceived as well-educated. Admitting to not understanding or appreciating art is a sure way of losing social status in the eyes of other art illiterates. The safest bet is to just purchase museum memberships and walk quickly past the blank canvases towards the free food. Trusting the experts to define “art” and determine “value” is a lot easier than bothering to develop an informed opinion and risking making a fool of oneself. But why do we allow art institutions to dictate what should be personal preference? It’s because we’re continuously allowing them to make the decisions for us. In Museum Legs: Fatigue and Hope in the Face of Art, Amy Whitaker brings this up (p. 32):

In the case of artworks that most elicit a speechless “What the …?”, why does the museum choose to own them? And what are the grounds for the visitor’s confidence in the museum’s judgment? It seems that the viewer’s trust in the museum is the springboard for the museum’s educational mission. Trust is what makes the viewer patient. As if a principle of physics, the steadier the base, the further the cantilever can extend, meaning the greater the center of gravity of trust, the greater the range of comfort with experimentation and uncomfortably new art.

So, it’s like “give them an inch, and they’ll walk all over you,” except that we end up thanking, and paying, them for it. Whitaker goes on to compare the public’s trust in art galleries with their trust in government agencies. This makes a lot of sense. If no one believed that property rights would be upheld in court, or if no one was willing to use legal tender backed by the “full faith and credit” of the Federal government, economic activity would decline significantly. In the same way, if no one trusted the judgment of curators and museum directors, much of the art world’s economy – fundraising, grant writing, and patronizing – would grind to a halt. The whole museum industry depends on consumer confidence in that what they’re looking at really matters.

Last Sunday MOCA closed its Dennis Hopper: Double Standard exhibition. Keep in mind that, at the same time, the gallery was filled with such important artworks as a spinning office chair, a desecrated baby grand, and an automated spray paint gun shaped as a decapitated hand. In comparison, the eclectic collection of the actor’s work was simply refreshing. Yet, I had to questioned whether it too belonged there.

Hopper seems to have been an amateur and patron of the arts in the best sense of each word. He dabbled at a bit of everything, interacted with the art and photography greats of his day, and promoted popular and street art. His black-and-white photographs ooze with nostalgia, certainly gallery-worthy even if only for historical interest. The rest of the exhibit I could’ve done without.

At least a half dozen times, the MOCA docent referenced Hopper befriending and copying someone else’s techniques. In the music world, people are known to experiment with others’ dance beats and compose styles of music they haven’t yet mastered. Here was someone adventurous and with the means to try his hand at making art. Perhaps copying is the highest form of flattery. But unlike his mentors, Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp, Hopper hasn’t been credited with originality.

What are we to make of an autographed hotel sign: Hotel Green (Entrance) (1963)? A bigger-than-life model of a switch: Bomb Drop (1967-1968/2000)? What about graffiti canvases created by gang members and wall-to-wall paintings constructed by billboard artists? Is that really his work? Although Hopper’s noted for his wonderful photography, I even began to suspect the genuineness of what he captured after the docent explained that his well-liked Biker Couple (1961/2000) was not depicting real life, as the public had previously been led to believe, but a scene from a Hollywood movie.

Leaving the decision to the recognized authorities (e.g., MOCA’s director), we’d have to conclude that all this is museum-quality art. Maybe it’s time for a revolt.