Time for me to temporarily resurrect another human you may be unaware of: Jessica Mitford (1917-1996), of the distinguished Mitford clan. British author, journalist, activist, she renounced many of the privileges of her upper-crusty family (including an adherence to Hitler) and became an ardent Communist; she was called the “red sheep” of the family. She ran away from home to fight in the Spanish Civil War. She emigrated to the US and became an American citizen in 1944.
Perhaps her most famous book is “The American Way of Death,” published in 1963, a scathing exposé of the funeral industry and its unscrupulous practices of bilking those who are in the midst of grief. When Evelyn Waugh complained that she did not have “a plainly stated idea of death,” she asked her sister to tell him “Of course I’m against it.”
She then dismantled the “FamousWritersSchool” in a long article in the Atlantic Monthly (1970), exposing the false promises of that magazine-ad “writing” course.
In 1973, she took on something that still shames the US in the world’s eyes—our capital punishment system. That was called “Kind and Usual Punishment,” a neat inversion of our phrase “cruel and unusual punishment.”
She was fired, then reinstated via trial, from her teaching post at San JoseStateUniversity for refusing to sign a “loyalty oath.” Her course, “The American Way,” was one of the most popular on campus, investigating controversial areas of American life such as McCarthy-ism and Nixon/Watergate.
A couple of favorite quotes: “Objectivity? I’ve always had an objective!” and “You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.”
© 2014 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs