Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

The Smoking Section

Back when such things were still allowed, the smoking section was stuck in the back of an airliner — even in the politically incorrect '70s and '80s, smokers were segregated in the back of the bus.

And yet, it was in the smoking section that one heard the most laughter, where the most fun on the plane seemed to be had. That was where a game of canasta might be found, or a spare cribbage board to wile away the hours before switching planes in Albuquerque and heading on to Dubuque.

Those days are long gone, of course, done in by fascists in white lab coats who will be targeting red meat and probably sex next.

If there's a hell, it's not only gone non-smoking, but only serves the vegetarian platter and enforces celibacy ...

When is censorship not censorship?

Over the summer, MGM released a movie primarily by, of and for a black audience. While theaters surely didn't turn away white patrons wanting to see "Barbershop" any more than blacks were turned away from, say, "Legally Blonde," the movie was created for a black audience.

So Jesse Jackson should be pleased, yes? A movie about black Americans — written, directed and acted by black Americans.

Well, except not all black Americans worship at the altar of Jesse — and so his royal reverendness took offense at the fact that in the movie one character mocked Jesse (as well as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.).

Barber pole

Even though the other characters quickly chastise the statements in question, Jackson and the once-disgraced Al Sharpton threatened a boycott if MGM didn't excise the passage.

To its credit, MGM told Jackson and Sharpton to shove it. Politely, of course. But the movie will remain as is, unaltered now, unaltered when issued on DVD and video. The threatened boycott never materialized, and Jesse's now running around squawking about Augusta National Golf Club not admitting women.

Which is how it should be in a free nation: let the protestors protest, and then simply ignore them if they're wrong.

But what has Turbula a bit confused is the silence of the anti-censorship forces, those guiding lights of moral probity who rise up at the slightest hint of censorship. Something as mild as pornography filters in public libraries can work the ACLU up into a regular lather, but a major civil rights figure calling for Hollywood to alter a film to suit his whims causes no concern?

If this had been a film that mocked, say, Ronald Reagan instead, and conservative groups threatened a boycott if the scene weren't removed, there would have been dire warnings of book burnings and neo-Nazis taking over Hollywood.

It would have been pure balderdash, of course, but the ACLU would still have gained massive publicity form its dire warnings — and undoubtedly gained millions in donations and ...

Oh. Never mind. It would seem we just answered our own question ...

Unheralded genius

When novelist Chaim Potok died this past summer, it was without much fanfare or notice. Never a favorite of the critics, Potok remained an outsider in the literary establishment his entire life.

Chaim Potok

Which, given that he always wrote about outsiders, might have been just as liked it.

Those of us fortunate enough to stumble across his writing knew how special he was, though.

Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, and a lifelong devout Jew, Potok was also the quintessential American writer. Firmly in the vein of literature that gave us Stephen Crane and Ernest Hemingway, Potok wrote about the average folks who surround us. The difference was that for the most part Potok wrote stories about practicing Jews.

One of Turbula's editors recalls discovering Potok as a young Catholic growing up in the Midwestern suburbs. While the America of Potok's early novels ("The Chosen," "The Promise," "My Name is Asher Lev") was a very different place than the placid suburbs of southwestern Ohio where they were being read, in Potok's hands the noisy ethnic neighborhoods of the Eastern Seaboard came alive in a youngster's mind.

And if Potok's books were about Jewish characters, they were also about universal themes; conformity versus individuality, coming of age, responsibility versus freedom.

We imagine there will be a ready audience for such books many years after the snotty literary critics who pooh-poohed Potok are long forgotten ...

Talkin' 'bout my generation

John EntwistleIn a day and age when rock 'n' roll stars are starting to die of old age (see John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas), seeing The Who bassist John Entwistle die of a drug overdose at age 57 was, well, discomfiting.

There is something tragic about young genius snuffed out through self-destructive behavior. It's this sense of tragedy that has elevated Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and even Entwistle's former bandmate Keith Moon to the status of semi-deity.

Whether we ought to have such reverence for those blessed with more talent than common sense is a fair enough question, and one Turbula is open to exploring in a future issue should any of our loyal correspondents wish to tackle it. But what seems even more absurd than a 20-something dying from an overdose is a 50-something killing himself with cocaine.

If Hendrix and Joplin dying from drugs was tragedy, then Entwistle's death is farce. Living fast and hard may be part of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, but there is also something to be said for the acquisition of wisdom and the example of grace.

Laureate blues

Here in Southern California there is much wringing of hands over the fall from grace of one Quincy Troupe. Troupe was Miles Davis' approved biographer, and a well-published poet of no mean repute. The longtime University of California, San Diego professor had recently been named California's state poet laureate.

Yet Mr. Troupe was found to have padded his resumé; to have claimed a degree he didn't actually earn. When caught in the lie, he compounded the sin by blaming the false claims on some unnamed others who had given him bad advice in his youth — and then further confounded his supporters by claiming he'd attended classes it later turned out he hadn't.

So now the good professor has lost his lucrative, six-figure sinecure at UCSD, resigned his laureateship, and announced he is moving to New York when spring semester is over.

In the current political fashion of our times, many of his fellow faculty members at UCSD are outraged that he was "forced" to resign — charging everything from racism (for Troupe is black) to a political vendetta (he is apparently somewhat left of center).

Turbula is hardly convinced that a youthful indiscretion on one's resumé ought to be cause for professional ruination. At the same time, Troupe's unwillingness to stand up and accept responsibility for padding his resumé — without equivocation or excuses — is equally troubling.

In the end, poetry is above all a search for truth, no matter how uncomfortable. That itself is a truth that Troupe has studiously avoided.

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