Thursday, April 28, 2011

This morning, after paging through my father-in-law's New Yorker, I found myself, without much foreknowledge of the subject, puttering through Claudia Roth Pierpont's essay about British explorer and travel writer Freya Stark, whose books about the Middle East were popular in the 1930s and 40s. I haven't read very far into this essay, but I may have gotten as far as I'm going to get--not because it's uninteresting but because I ran across a remark so deeply dismaying yet true that I may not have the heart to venture beyond it. Here's the paragraph in which Pierpont leads up to Stark's comment:

Stark could talk her way into any situation and, most of the time, out again, in a remarkable number of languages. [In April 1941] she had just talked her way back to Baghdad from Tehran, when . . . she was stopped by Iraqi police at the frontier. All British citizens were barred from proceeding further, and she was officially in custody; others, she learned, had been put in prison camps. Yet she cajoled the station attendant into bringing her tea and her police guard into sharing it, and informed the guard of the sheer impossibility of staying on without a ladies' maid. Surely he could see her problem and wished to be civilized? . . . And the policeman--no longer guarding a prisoner but protecting a lady--put her on the next train to Baghdad. "The great and almost only comfort about being a woman," Stark reflected, in a maxim that encompasses many such events in her illustrious career, "is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised."

Perhaps the link is merely coincidental, but in my mind Stark's management of her situation, which I'm sorry to say is still a useful mechanism for dealing with both car trouble and the police, is somehow segueing into the ridiculous and embarrassing birth-certificate accusations that are dogging President Obama as well as a parallel incident here in Maine involving clueless public racism and classism. The situation centers on Philip Congdon, the governor's top economic development advisor, who, according to the Bangor Daily News, resigned after "reportedly offend[ing] multiple groups of people on separate occasions during events in Aroostook County earlier this month. According to multiple sources, Congdon made racially insensitive or inflammatory remarks about [black] college students and dismissive comments about the prospects for economic development in The County," which is sparsely populated and dependent on potato farming.

I would like to say something pithy here, but I find myself unable to compose an intelligent summary to this post, one that would neatly tie up all these frayed edges and demonstrate my sociological acumen. All I can do is put my head into my hands. Why is the American president forced to waste his time dealing with what the New York Times calls "such poisonous fire"? Why did Maine's governor hire an economic development advisor who despises the people he is supposed to help? Why do women still automatically feign stupidity, and why, as Stark notes, is "no one surprised"? Humiliation, it seems, is timeless.


Maureen said...

There seems to be no end to this stuff; it's all just so appalling.

Ang said...

We moderates and lefties are too freaking nice, me included. I have visited the dens of the right wing nuts and they are down and dirty. It seems like incivility, rudeness and even brutality rule the day. I believe that the disaffection of the middle class is being coopted and fueling this bonfire. People see that they are working and working and getting nowhere and their kids have even less a chance. They believe that merit does not matter anymore. This anger gets heaped down rather than up. Probably because up is just too scary for people who have bought in so completely.
Thank you, Dawn, for giving a damn!!!!!