Thursday, October 11, 2018
Once Again Despite The Tweeter Firestorm-In Honor Of The 150th Anniversary Of The Publication Of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” (1868)-A Book Review-Of Sorts
Once Again Despite The Tweeter Firestorm-In Honor Of The 150th Anniversary Of The Publication Of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” (1868)-A Book Review-Of Sorts
By Alden Riley
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, Roberts Brothers, 1868
I have to admit I am a bit exasperated over the “firestorm” from Twitter and other sources over my original book review honoring the 150th anniversary of the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women which I just found out has been made into a yet another film adaptation for a modern 21st century audience far removed from the semi-nomadic existent back in the day before cellphones and Facebook. Sometimes you just can’t win in any quarters that is for sure. I wouldn’t mind if the prairie fire came from one comment but even side issue stuff raised some ire. Jesus. First, I mentioned- “I thought things were supposed to change around here with the changing of the guard, otherwise known at least among the younger writers as the purge and exile of the previous site manager Allan Jackson and his replacement by Greg Green after a bitter internal fight with no holds barred and no prisoners taken in the fall of 2017.”
Although as a free-lancer, a stringer I did not have a decisive vote in the vote of no confidence that replaced Allan Jackson, in the interest of the seemingly obligatory statement of transparency an old friend of some of the writers here from high school and anti-war Vietnam War soldier days, with Greg I do know from various sources, reliable sources, that among the younger writers their actions were seen as a fight to the death. That Allan had to go, that Greg had to take over the whole site manager operation and that a guiding hand Editorial Board had to be established so one person could not wield an iron hand over the whole operation in the future. All of this over the to me pretty harmless policy decisions of Allan to spent plenty of time in 2017 and 2018 commemorating the 50th anniversaries of the many historically important events of that era beginning with the Summer of Love, 1967.
At some point, maybe rightly if the extent of coverage projected by Allan is any indication the younger writers ire, who like myself at best knew of those events second or third hand rebelled, got some aid from old-timer Sam Lowell, also an old friend of Allan’s from high school days who decided it was time to “pass the torch” they were able to remove Allan from his post. According to Sam Lowell, who after all as “the father we never knew” of the rebellion should know, the talk around the water cooler was to fight to the finish, to sent Allan packing, no regrets. So now readers who have a partisan interest in defending the actions of the younger writers are up in arms arguing that their “gentile” actions were merely to force Allan to retire. I am done with the silly issue and Sam has agreed to reply to anybody who still feels that terms like “purge” and “exile” were exaggerations of what went on.
Next up in the batting order a simple statement about Greg’s early stewardship and the pitfalls of following a legendary figure at this publication like Allan Jackson after his purge and exile-“Then Greg, I think to show he was his own boss, his own operator came up with the silly, silly even to Will Bradley who originally presented the idea before thinking better of it, that to appeal to a younger, eventually non-existent audience, that the publication would feature film reviews of Marvel/DC comic book characters gone to screen, serious analysis of rap and current pop music, and review graphic novels. …”
I came on board shortly before this change of leadership while Greg was handling the day to day operations and Allan was making policy decisions, so I had a chance to see what Greg was trying to do to make his own mark, to become his own legend here just as he had been for many years over at American Film Gazette. In the beginning of the Green regime through Senior Film Editor Sandy Salmon I was getting some very good films, books, and music to review. Assignments like the Hammer film noir series pitting my take against Seth Garth’s, commemorating the various anniversaries of books like The Great Gatsby that had heretofore been staples of the Western literary canon and all kinds CD reviews from classic rock to world music.
Then the world caved in. Somehow Greg thought that what was needed to spruce up the publication, to appeal to a younger audience in the 21st century rather than the hard-core Generation of ‘68 devotees who have sustained this publication since their own youths back in hard copy days through the current on-line version was to review comic book character films, video games and such, and rap and techno-music in its various mutations. A bad decision which even Greg knew was true as he retreated back to some more civilized material. The blow-back from readership was this seemingly orchestrated sycophantic echo about how I was being too hard on Greg for a momentary mistake, a good faith effort to reach a new audience, to try something new and that it had been, and I will quote from one irate tweet “bad taste” to bring up that serious error of judgment now that Greg has righted the ship. Ho hum.
I certainly have been around long enough in the publishing business now to know how to weather such storms but the next “fire storm,” really a tempest in a teapot to quote Sam Lowell on some internal controversy, a one- man crusade really was too much. Here is what I “wrongly” said- “Then Allan Jackson whom we all though had perished, gone to pot, dope pot, was working for Mitt Romney out in Utah Mormon country, running a whorehouse with an old flame in East Bay or living with an old former hometown corner boy turned “out” drag queen in San Francisco depending on which rumor you believed at the moment, showed up to do a series of encore presentations of material he had produced over the years in order to get back that older audience which had sustained the publication through good times and bad.”
Of course, the one-man crusade was one Allan Jackson, now a contributing editor doing encore presentations at this publication under the good graces of his old friend Sam Lowell and Greg. Apparently Allan does not have Greg and Sam’s good graces and let the whole shady rumored past year or so go to ground. No sooner had he seen my comments that he ripped out a few thousand word “essay” on my “libelous” statements concerning his whereabout after he got that proverbial boot in 2017. If anybody, and I worry about what you have been doing with your precious time if you have, has not seen Allan’s encore presentation introductions which are as self-serving as anything I have seen of late then a brief summary of his slights is in order. Under Allan’s tutelage all rumors were allegedly untrue or half-truths (a nice dodge when you are on the defensive, especially those unfamiliar with the intentionality rule in libel cases to tar the writer that scurrilous “half-truth” tag).
Allan didn’t try to weasel out of what everybody knew was true, that he had been purged and gone into exile like a beaten cur. Gone far away to try to “rebrand” himself where he was not well known. What he has argued, unconvincingly, is that he merely went West to seek work after he had been “blackballed” by some phantom network emanating from this publication along the East Coast. I have recently been given by our legal department five affidavits from publishers in New York and Boston who almost overnight after hearing of Allan’s untimely, their common term, ouster offered him jobs with increases in salary and less responsibility just to have his name on the masthead (and not on some other publication and mercifully not on ours). He allegedly needed money for his various ex-wife alimonies and the onerous college tuitions for his slew of good kids still in the higher education pipeline and has declared (at the notoriously accurate office water cooler) that no East Coast publisher would touch him with a ten- foot pole. In an age of the casual off-hand lie this is a whooper.
We can dismiss the Mitt Romney press agent rumor out of hand since I looked at the archives for 2008 and 2012 and noted that Allan had skewered him and his white underwear fetish, his inability to keep to one single answer for more than ten minutes before flipping earning the sobriquet “Mr. Flip-Flop,” and his undying hatred for those who have not gouged the populace and not emulated his scorched earth policies at Bain Enterprises. At least I thought I could discount that rumor until I found out from Sam Lowell, who knows Allan like a book, when he went up to Olde Saco, Maine to offer Allan that Encore Presentation gravy job, that he told Sam that when he had landed in Salt Lake City out in the Utahs he approached the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune for a job to tide him over for a while. Here is the totally cynical part when you think about it. He intended to use that position to springboard himself onto Mitt’s campaign when he announced he was running for the U.S. Senate seat ancient Orrin Hatch was vacating. That is neither here nor there job-wise but his “pitch” was that since he had been an expert skewer of Mitt he would be the perfect guy to deflect any hard-ball stuff that those unruly ruffians might throw Mitt’s way. Yeah, cynical is right.
A man, any man, any woman for that matter has the right to have an affair with whoever they want and not have it published throughout the land. The rumor about Allan running a whorehouse, a high-end whorehouse for high-end Asian businessmen with a kinky streak, for a taste for a walk on the wild side, with an old flame, a woman who goes by the name Madame La Rue whose real name I have known for a while but will stick with her alias since my beef is with Allan not her was essentially true. From “an unnamed but reliable source who has asked to remain anonymous since he or she is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter” I found out that Allan landed in Half Moon Bay south of Frisco, the site of Madame’s house of ill-repute as Fritz Taylor put it in his ironic tone with the clothes on his back and not much else and Madame lend him a bunch of money, so-called lent him the money. Back in the day and I am not sure if it was before they split or after Allan (while still married to wife number two) had fronted Madame the dough to buy an old worn-out mansion on the shoreline, fix it up, grease some palms and other start-up costs-with no strings attached and no requirement to pay back. Nice, very nice. So Madame was just paying back that unrequired pay-back. That is the public story-the real story is that Allan acted as “master of ceremonies” at the place to earn his keep. I don’t know about you but that sounds an awful like pimp to me. Frankly I think Madame got the worse of the bargain for her outlay but I will keep mum about that since I am told they had started up their old torch while he was there before she booted him out for some unexplained reason.
Seth, Jack Callahan (who has done yeoman’s service funding this publication in the dark red ink days), Si Lannon, Sam, all Allan’s friend, his corner boys from the old Acre neighborhood in North Adamsville had the usual pre-Stonewall “fag” “light on his feet,” ‘fairy” vocabulary and social distain before they got enlightened about LGBTQI matters. The one person who I have not put in that mix but who was in the thick of the gay-baiting of certain people (and of each other as well accepted ritual in those hard macho days) is Timmy Riley. Timmy Riley who maybe as a defense mechanism of his own preferences suppressed himself as long as he was in the Acre, and before Stonewall at what cost we will never know. Timmy though turned into Miss Judy Garland, a drag queen, who subsequently has run the famous drag queen club in Frisco for many years. What people did not know was that Allan at some point when Timmy was down in the streets lend him the money to buy the Kit Kat Club in North Beach and from there he zoomed along to fame and fortune. So the story-the public story is that after Madame threw Allan out he went to Timmy with some sad tale and Timmy lend him some money. (All of this money supposedly to pay that damn alimony and those blood-sucker colleges, Allan’s expressions). The real story is that Allan, while living above the club in one of Timmy’s spare rooms declared himself “master of ceremonies” downstairs at the club. Yeah, right we can read between the lines.
Remember boys and girls all these critics of my review have said not word one about the impact, or lack of impact, of the Ms. Alcott’s book on me, or the world of literature. And before I mention what they have said, or not said there is yet another firestorm they had been more than happy to enflame. This is the offending section-“The only thing I knew about Louisa May Alcott, and this second-hand through Sandy Salmon when he was Senior Film Editor and I was his associate editor was that her father, Bronson Alcott, was a wild man, had run amok at Brooks Farm, the holy of holies in the pre-Civil War Transcendentalist movement, you know Emerson, Thoreau and other Buddha-like figures who ran around Cambridge, mainly Brattle Street telling naked truths naked. Bronson has run through whatever dough he had from his inheritance and had fathered, some say illegimately, a bunch of children by various female denizens of that isolated farm including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife and had had an affair with Herman Melville’s brother. Such things are hard to pin down but all I know for sure is that he claimed Louisa May and three other young women as his children. Lacking DNA testing who knows. So old Bronson was a certified wild man no doubt…”
I need not stand on the silly defense that the information I got about the old wild man Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s beloved if looney father, was gathered from Sandy Salmon, my boss. I refer the reader, and especially those readers who have decided out of some serious naivete to defend this lout, Sol Sandburg’s classic and some say definitive book on Bronson Alcott and the whole Brook Farm ménage In The Time Before Hippie Times; The Brook Farm Commune. Reading the book made even my jaded ears ring. Sure there were serious things going on in the ante bellum period in America, up in cold New England where the least of it was that they stopped believing in the eternal Father, Son, Holy Ghost trifecta, stopped believing in God if you really delve into the Universalist doctrine without flinching. Started a whole movement called if you can believe this the Transcendentalist movement which let’s face it would draw as many wooly-headed minds as intellectual giants like Thoreau and Emerson. The streets of Cambridge were filled with cranks con-men and drifters of no repute who were ready to listen to anybody except maybe Martin Van Buren about how to break out of the nine to five rat-trap circa the 1840s.
This mayhem was a perfect foil for a flake like Bronson Alcott (who also had several aliases to cover his various bigamous marriages both before Brook Farm and after so when I pose the question of who were actually Bronson’s prodigy I wasn’t blowing smoke although the four Alcott sisters, including literary Louisa May, seen to have been his legitimate daughters-all others including the bastard raised by Nathaniel Hawthorne are different stories). No money, no standing, no anything yet he was able in those odd times to ingratiate himself with a ton of intellectual heavyweights and eventually have a soft landing at Brook Farm where he literally went amok, went crazy with laudanum, morphine, hemp (what we call marijuana), opium anything coming off the China sea Yankee clippers that could be ingested. Had those two billion affairs and whatever number of children and walked away with not so much as a by your leave when the place folded due to corruption, malfeasance and general hubris. Some say he was later kept by a woman who ran a whorehouse next to the Parker House in Boston since he was so dope-addled that he was unemployable and needed whatever alms would provide for the children he would claim as his own. A shabby, shabby man and Sol Sandburg nailed the bugger, put him in the deadbeat hall of fame. This is the guy all those irate tweeters have been defending unto death for the sake of Louisa May’s reputation. But enough.
Like I said a minute ago nothing about the fucking book, not word one about what to their young impressible lives and I can only conclude, male or female, these tweeters have had nothing better to do with their time that throw cyberspace bombs my way to cover the very hard fact that except for an occasional Seven Sisters Lit major nobody has read the book since about 1960, maybe 1950. That said, that truth uttered why did nobody bother to froth-mouthed respond to my take on the book’s place, or non-place, in the expanded Western canon. In the interest of completeness I will retail what I have written previously in the forlorn hope somebody might pick a real literary fight in L.M. ‘s defense:
“Here is where things get weird though Sandy who knew Allan Jackson when they both were much younger and had worked the free-lance stringer racket we all go through before getting our so-called cushy by-lines at American Film Gazette asked him what sources I should go to for a look at the lingering influence of the book on modern girls and young women. Told Sandy to tell me to ask my sister, Ellen, when she had read the book and what she had thought of it. Here is the honest truth Ellen had never heard of the book, didn’t know who or what I was talking about and when I told her the outline of the story she laughed, smirked and laughed again saying “are you kidding” who had time to read such old-time melodramas. Failing that avenue I figured that I would work my way back so I mentioned the book I was reviewing to my mother who told me that my grandmother had read her the book at night before bed but she didn’t remember much except there were four sisters who grew up and got married or something like that and were good wives except one who died young of some strange disease. She said ask my grandmother. Bingo. Grandma quoted me chapter and verse without hesitation until I asked how the book influenced her. She told me those were different times, more restrictive times even against her growing up times in the 1930s so she would have to pass on the influence question. She was only a little shocked that my sister knew nada about the book and my mother only a little more. So I am going to take a stab and say as a 150th anniversary honor-women you have come a long way since those homebody marriage child-rearing times.
I had to think awhile, had to ask Seth Garth who is good at this kind of question and his old flame Leslie Dumont, both fellow writers here what was it about the novel that would have appealed to young girls and women up at least until my grandmother’s growing up times. And why when I later asked some other female contemporaries they came up as blank as my sister on even having heard of the book. Leslie said it best, or at least better. Those were male dominated times and so even the least amount of spunk, independence by say Jo, who is the character in the book who pretty much represents Louisa May’s profile was like a breath of fresh air even to young girls and women who knew the score, knew they would be driven back into the cave if they got too brave. Seth, who was more than willing to defer to Leslie’s judgment took a more historical approach saying there was nothing in the plotline that dealt with eternal truths so that such a novel would have a limited life-span except in the groves of academia where a couple of generations of Ph.ds could get worked up about the social meaning of it all.
That is about it except to briefly trace the story line, or lines since there are actually two main threads, the almost universal family-centered expectations for women and Louisa May’s struggle to get somebody to survive into strong independence co-managership of the family along with a thoughtful husband. Oldest sister Meg is pretty conventional, beautiful and domestic preaching to the younger sisters’ choir about the need to be civilized and good God-fearing wives. Jo, Louisa May’s character is strong-willed and thoughtful and will make the marriage that Alcott thought should be appropriate for her times and class (and the unspoken truth was to end the shameful lusts and lechery of one Bronson Alcott). Beth is something of a cipher, musical but early on sickly who died young from the after effects of horrible scarlet fever so no real lesson can be drawn from her life. (Funny how these Victorian novelists, male and female, have to have some frail sickly female character hovering in the background.) Amy, the youngest, is the closest to the character that let’s say my daughter could relate to if she ever finished reading the book which she adamantly refused to finish after reading about a third of it and declaring the thing utterly boring even the Amy character who struggle for artistic self-expression is very similar to her own feelings about what she wants out of life. As Sam Lowell has stated on many occasions-a slice of life circa the 1860s-that is the “hook.”