Here is your open thread for March 31, 2020.
Maine Sen. Angus King turns 76 today, but since Sen. King didn’t write and perform the guitar riff in the song below, we’ll go with Angus Young, who turns 65:
This song scared the bejeebus out of Sketch Erickson and all the other anti-rock guest speakers who toured my church and private Christian school and youth group retreats when I was growing up fundie. That’s a measure, I think, of the song’s artistic success, as it upset just exactly the sort of people it was intended to upset. All of those anti-rock guest speakers indignantly went on to repeat every outrageous urban legend about the band and its name, that left the moral high ground to the band itself, since they at least weren’t piously bearing false witness against their neighbors.
In any case, I’ve come to embrace this song as a head-banger’s version of Huckleberry Finn’s redemption, the moment he declared “All right, then, I’ll go to Hell” and thus was born again.
Two infamous sermons were delivered on March 31. The first of these was given by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in 1146, kicking off the promotional campaign for the launch of the Second Crusade. The abbot then traveled throughout Europe, repeating variations of this sermon to raise support for the crusade. The armies Bernard helped to raise for this crusade mostly never even made it to the Holy Land, getting crushed by the Turks along the way. Bernard thus became something like Colin Powell, a previously respected man who obediently sacrificed his integrity to drum up war fever for a foolish and unnecessary invasion of the middle east that turned into a historic debacle.
Bernard’s frenzied calls for war — “Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood” — led to violence in Europe as well, inciting pogroms and the mass-murder and torture of Jews in France and Germany. To his partial credit, I suppose, Bernard traveled around to condemn the pogroms, trying to put out some of the fires he himself had started. But the bottom line is that there wouldn’t have been a Second Crusade without him, and the only thing the Second Crusade produced was thousands of dead Jews and thousands of dead crusaders. So, I guess, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, pray for us.
The other notorious sermon delivered on March 31 (although, of course, I’m sure there have been many others over the years) was preached by Benjamin Hoadly, the Anglican bishop of Bangor, in Wales, in 1717. It was a sermon on “The Nature of the Kingdom of Christ” and it was about church polity, which is to say about the form and source of churchly authority. It was thus also, by analogy, about politics — about the form and source of political authority, and the firestorm that followed — the Bangorian Controversy — involved a host of both politicians and churchmen arguing about democracy, representative government, and the divine right of kings all while scrupulously pretending to merely be arguing about the role of bishops and archbishops. In a strange-bedfellows twist, the British king, George I, wound up defending Hoadly’s implicit attack on his own claim to be the nominal head of the church because he saw it as ammunition against the bishops in the House of Lords he saw as his political foes.
(This admittedly obscure affair is right in my wheelhouse given that I’m an American and a Baptist and an American Baptist. Baptist church polity is, after all, much easier to reconcile with the idea of democracy — while also serving as a perennial warning of its deficiencies.)
On March 31, 1899, American armed forces seized the city of Malolos, thus crushing the First Philippine Republic. The people of the Philippines — like the American colonists a century before — had thrown off the colonial rule of Spain and declared their independence. They established a democratic republic and proclaimed their own constitution in January, 1899, thereby instituting the first democratic, constitutional republic in Asia. America declared war on the Philippine Republic the following month, replacing the constitutional republic with the United States Military Government of the Philippine Islands.
The Motion Picture Production Code went into effect on March 31, 1930. This is why people kissed like they didn’t know what they were doing in Hollywood movies made between 1930 and 1966. The code was bonkers — simultaneously forbidding any depiction of “miscegenation” while also prohibiting “willful offense to any race, nation, or creed.”It’s fascinating to explore the creative ways filmmakers devised to bend and dance around the strict censorship rules of the code. Watch Elmer Gantry and think about how Richard Brooks and Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons avoided running afoul of the code’s prohibition against “ridicule of the clergy.” Or compare Brooks’ 1958 movie version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with the original play, considering the code’s prohibition of any depiction of “any inference of sex perversion.” (The code forced Brooks’ script to remove every suggestion of Brick’s homosexuality, but Paul Newman ignored that and, flouting the code and the literal text of the screenplay, played the part Tennessee Williams wrote.)
The code didn’t just outlaw cussing and kissing (imposing a three-second limit on kisses), it decreed what kind of stories movies were allowed to tell. Movies had to reaffirm that crime doesn’t pay, that authority figures are noble and good, that police are always righteous and presidents always noble, that “traditional values” are beyond challenge or question. That’s what ultimately doomed the code, I think, the need to tell and to be told better stories than it allowed.
The Civilian Conservation Corps began on March 31, 1933. I’ve hiked on trails they created and walked over bridges they built. We may need something like this again after the pandemic. Heck, we needed something like this again before the pandemic.
Rene Descartes was born 424 years ago today. This is your cue to make some “I think therefore I am” joke and/or to say something pretentious about Cartesian dualism. Or both.
Joseph Haydn was born 288 years ago today, making him the second greatest composer born on March 31, because Johann Sebastian Bach was born 335 years ago today.
The feminist and abolitionist writer Mary Abigail Dodge was born on March 31 and 187 years later there are still dimwitted men insisting that women can’t be funny.
Boxer Jack Johnson was born 142 years ago. Seeing a black man become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world caused white people to lose their minds. (Maybe not quite to the same self- and nation-destroying level as seeing a black man become president, but still, they lost their minds.)
Labor leader and civil-rights champion Cesar Chavez was born 93 years ago today. He was born the same day as William Daniels. Happy 93rd birthday to John Adams, Dr. Craig, Mr. Feeny, and K.I.T.T.
Shirley Jones turns 86 today. She’s best known as the mom on the Partridge Family, but she also won an Oscar and was pretty terrific in Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Music Man.
Jazz musician turned industry exec Herb Alpert turns 85 today. Former Rep. Barney Frank and current Sen. Pat Leahy both turn 80. Christopher Walken turns 77, so he’s still young enough to host Saturday Night Live again.
Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) turns 75 today. Al Gore turns 72 — so he’s still younger than any of the remaining major candidates for president. Gore is still alive, though, and the official rules say that he must continue to be mocked until after he dies, at which point we will finally be permitted to forgive him for having been so very right about climate change so very much sooner than we were prepared to listen.
Rhea Perlman turns 72 today. Ewan McGregor turns 49.
The Church of England honors John Donne with a feast day today (he died March 31, 1631). “No man is an island,” Donne wrote, “because I am involved in Mankinde.” Still wise words, but please, for now, pretend you’re an island and avoid getting involved any closer than six feet, thanks.
In my native New Jersey, March 31 is Thomas Mundy Peterson day, commemorating the vote Peterson cast 150 years ago today in a local election in Perth Amboy. This was the first election following the enactment of the 15th Amendment and Peterson’s vote was the first by a black American under the new constitutional regime.
Right now, in churches and law schools across America, “conservatives” are working feverishly for the repeal, erasure, neutering, and nullification of that same 15th Amendment.
Finally, March 31 is the International Transgender Day of Visibility. “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.'”
Kiss somebody for four seconds. And talk amongst yourselves.