What follows is completely true and yet unreal.
Stephen Foster met Uncle Ben in my radio reverie this morning. For real, or so it seemed. (Y’all know I hear odd connections in that place between asleep and awake.)
Two southern stories that seem literally black and white, but turn out to be anything but!
Radio news reported that the Southland’s good old-fashioned composer is on his way out; our conservative and affable new governor actually refuses to have our state song played in his presence (yet in the same breath he says, “whatever the people want satisfies me” . . .which sure sounds unreal to me.)
Nobody said anything unmannerly or politically correct about unpopular language, although that’s likely the truth behind it. One legislator did mention the word “darkies” but to hear them tell the story, it’s not that, just that the times they are a’changin’ . . .hey, now THAT would make a great state song!
Meanwhile good old-fashioned Uncle Ben got a promotion to Chairman of the Board. He isn’t the kindly kitchen rice-cooker anymore, now he’s the Donald Trump of Rice, with his own fancy penthouse office, jet-setting schedule and authoritative rice-education curriculum. (You can poke around his empty office, open his travel journal, it feels almost like corporate espionage, with him hanging on the wall watching your every move!)
One a real human, the other made up as marketing image. (Although real and made up aren’t “really” opposites either, see Straight Dope’s “Were Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima real people?”.)
One going down for the last time, the other movin’ on up.
One dead and therefore dismissed; the other never alive in the first place and therefore lives on (hmm, an apt juncture to consider all the meanings of “immortal” fitting together. . .)
And silly me, I thought “Uncle Ben” was already made over by the Spiderman blockbusters anyway.
But what the composer and the kitchen help do share, and why my mind connected them unbidden, is that these famous identities were both born of vague cultural stereotyping, human belief embodied in “art” that first captures our imagination but grows real enough to threaten us and thus need killing or elevating to higher power, (either is risky in itself). . . Read the rest of this entry »