Monday, October 19, 2009

In Which Atticus Finch Gives 12 Racist Men a Faceful of Scowl...

First, read this article. I'll wait.
Malcolm Gladwell is a media whore. I look at him and see a pimply faced weirdo who probably wore trench coats unironically in college and constantly pestered professors with non sequitur questions. He is the author of such abysmal affronts to good science and economics as Blink and The Tipping Point. One of his most dubious downfalls is his almost religious belief that correlation indicates causality. Using very small pools for his social experiments, Gladwell tends to make gross exaggerations verging on hyperbole, assuming that because his data challenges the status quo, that it immediately indicates that he has done something brilliant that deserves praise and adoration. The problem is that this modus operandi actually works for him, as his books tend to spend ridiculous periods of time on the New York Times bestseller list. Not only that, my good old alma mater, Stony Brook, required that I read Gladwell's The Tipping Point in my freshman year. Why? Well, people think that the only way to get uneducated people to talk to one another about something other than reality television requires that they read some trashy book and discuss it at length, praising only what is in the text, and not critically analyzing it. "At least they're talking!" supposes the New York State Board of Regents.
This particular article that I have forced my noble readers to suffer causes me no small measure of consternation. As an adamant admirer of Atticus Finch, the noble lawyer of Maycomb, Alabama in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, I found this particular article offensive, almost dangerous. I venture to use the word dangerous here because I fear that in the hands of unthinking cretins around this world, such information would downplay the importance of Atticus Finch and thus Mockingbird as an entire piece. He compares Atticus to Jim Folsom, a man well known for seeming to believe that hypocrisy scribbled by Thomas Jefferson saying something about "all men [being] created equal." The parallel is weak. It is true that Atticus worked in a small area of "friends and neighbors" in Maycomb, but Gladwell seems to conveniently ignore the time that Atticus spends at the state capitol. Mockingbird is, at heart, a narrative of the experiences of one young girl growing up in a small town in the Deep South during the most depraved depths of American racism. As such, we never know what Atticus is up to when he is not in Jean-Louise's (a.k.a. Scout's) immediate presence. For all we know, Atticus may have been drafting a Civil Rights Bill in his spare time. While this may sound a stretch, and borders on fan fiction, one cannot discount it. But even based on his language and convictions on equality, one can assume he was not a proponent of Jim Crow.
Gladwell accuses Atticus of being nothing but an inactive character in the civil rights movement, and thus commits the same crime the Maycomb County jury did when they proclaimed Tom Robinson guilty - he ignores facts in favor of his own prejudices. As Tom wouldn't have the money for his own lawyer, the judge appointed Atticus to take the case, knowing that Atticus' belief in universal equality and justice for all would guarantee at least a good fight against the jury's obvious racist slant. Atticus went well beyond his call of duty. Another lawyer in Alabama during Jim Crow wouldn't have bothered to visit Tom's family to make sure they were keeping afloat during these trying times. Atticus did just that. Another lawyer wouldn't DREAM of waiting outside a prison to protect his client from the cruel hands of a lynch mob. Atticus did just that. Another lawyer wouldn't bother going for the appeal process, but Atticus swore to do just that.
We never asked Atticus Finch to be a Civil Rights leader. Stripping him to his essentials, what is he but a loving father, an avid reader, a terrific checkers player, a dead eye with a rifle, and a staunch believer in equality for all people. Gladwell seems to hold the idea that people are inherently different because of the color of their skin; he would favor making laws that protected people whose pigmentation appeared darker than some set scientific standard. It is my belief that Atticus transcended this belief. Rather than championing the single cause of rights for Blacks, Atticus instead challenges humanity to look deeper, seeing that there is no inherent different between people, no matter what color, religion or sex they may identify as. Atticus would fail to see the need of affirmative action, noting that color shouldn't even be a consideration when applying for a job - that giving jobs specifically to minorities is itself racism, as it identifies these people as inherently different and declares them more deserving of something as a result.
I've wasted too much breath downplaying Gladwell's importance in society. Any person with even a scrap of intelligence can see through his wishy-washy pop-economics. If people still think reciting his bogus claims at parties counts as intelligent conversation, so be it, but he will not be allowed to bash well-established literary heroes - NOT ON MY WATCH!
Stay tuned NEXT TIME for my EPIC deconstruction of our NATIONAL PAST TIME!
My Thesis:
How Postseason Baseball Destroyed Baseball: A Nocturne of Too Many Commercials, Too Many Pitching Changes, and the Inane Ramblings of Incompetent Men Named Tim McCarver.

1 comment:

  1. You forgot to include "too few Yankees championships."