30 September 2010

Day 187: Obscene in the Extreme

Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath by Rick Wartzman.  ISBN: 9781586483319.

This is an excellent overview of the political and economic circumstances surrounding the time when The Grapes of Wrath was banned in Kern County, California.  The major reason was of course the pro-Union sentiment.  I have very mixed feelings about labor unions.  They have done amazing, wonderful things for this country, such as the 40 hour work week, guaranteed lunch breaks, etc.  But recently it seems like I'm reading about unions capitulating on raises, etc. so that people can keep jobs.

I understand this on some level, but aren't they also supposed to stand up for a certain kind of American job?  Shouldn't companies continue to feel pressure to provide their labor force with humane conditions and living wages and retirement and health insurance when they're probably high on the list of reasons our health goes to shit to begin with?  I guess it's better to save the economy of the country than to improve the individual lives of millions of Americans, it's not like they're part of this country.

I feel so angry and so hopeless right now.  I can see why Steinbeck would write what he did, and even exaggerate it out of proportions to get his point across.  He probably felt just as angry on behalf of the Americans who were kicked and beaten and did the only thing they knew to do to support their families -- they moved half way across the country and lived in dirt poor conditions, in the very slim hope of finding work.  Work that was dirty and terrible and degrading.  So Steinbeck tried to give them a little more, by exposing their plight to more fortunate Americans and providing a means for the Okies to better themselves and their condition.  Unions.

And now my profession is under attack.  Before I have even had a chance to get started, my benefits are being ripped away.  I read this article on Monday in which libraries are being PRIVATIZED.  The first thing they do is to cut union employees.  They hire most of them back but state, "While the company says it rehires many of the municipal librarians, they must be content with a 401(k) retirement fund and no pension."  We are talking about people with Master's degrees; they went into debt in order to be public servants, in order to serve you and the community, and now we are turning them out to pasture when they're worn out.  We might as well send them to the glue factory, it would be more humane than allowing them to live on wondering how long their retirement funds will last, or whether their ever so wonderful 401(k) will be doing well enough so that they can retire.

What a great country we live in, where we toss people out on their asses and say, "Whelp, they should have worked harder," when that's all they've been doing their entire lives.  And then there's me, who wants to work.  I want to work so hard that I even signed up for the Take Our Jobs campaign.  No word back yet, but I might be under those same hard conditions as my grandfather faced in the Depression when he hopped rails to find seasonal work for his sisters and mother.  The only difference between us at this point: he had an 8th grade level education whereas I have a Master's degree.  Oh, and he ended up having a pension that I have no hopes of obtaining.

Who wants to be the new Steinbeck?

My review can be found on Goodreads.

The Grapes of Wrath was banned as Communist propaganda and for containing foul language and sex.  It was also most likely banned to prevent sympathies for the Okies and their plight

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