/ Culture /
|Racist Note||A decade or so ago I wrote with confidence that one or two readers actually understood me, didn’t auger into the ground at my ironies and sarcasms. That’s no longer true. Also, once upon a time I thought my writing improved with experience, with new learning; now I suspect I’m long in the tooth on every front. So the dangerous tricks I try become more dangerous. It doesn’t matter how brilliantly the Jew writes if the Nazis who grade him remain devotedly hell-bound.
Ferinstnace, I need to review everything at K. where I employ slurs to try to shame the racists, the bigots, the illiberals. When I write “greaser” I’m not insulting Italian immigrants, I’m insulting the racists. Just above: I’m not insulting the Jews, I’m insulting the fascists.
I’ve been valiantly trying to watch Grease, 1978, for the first time. John Travolta shoved up against Olivia Newton John: repellant forces, ugh. Travolta I’d loved in Saturday Night Fever, 1977. I knew him before that because the twelve year old neighbor I adored in Long Beach had “Vinnie” and “the Fonz” painted on her swimmer’s perfect shanks. Olivia Newton John escaped my attention till this week, finally trying to catch up on this movie: and now, shrug, sure, she’s cute, but so what? She’s a correct WASP, has no business even talking to the greasers in Grease. She’s a daughter of the English-speaking empire, buy her a cashmere sweater, don’t tell her to blow you, like Travolta told the Brooklyn girl in Saturday.
Grease, the movie’s, opening song makes it clear that it’s using the loaded word “grease” deliberately. The history goes back to WWII, spans Marlon Brando in The Wild One and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. That’s the span of my life time, this is my culture. Let’s spew a few things just on the word: “Grease” is an insult, a racist slur. You can’t write a movie called Grease and not know that, not be exploiting it. 1953 Brando was dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket. He rode a Triumph, big English twin, very fast, 650 ccs. Guys came back from WWII, addicted to adrenaline, to excitement, to danger. They were used to being aliens in someone else’s culture. And of course those guys’ hair was too long and too duck tailed to work in a bank, .
Dean wore a red leather jacket, His hair was too long to be altogether respectable. Now he could have gone out with the WASP Olivia; not the wop greaser Travolta. He, Dean’s character, did go out with Nathalie Wood, the perfect little girl on Santa’s lap in Macys.
Btw, Brando’s wild one struck me dumb. Once in the theater men’s room for The Wild One I caught myself in the mirror, the king size Chesterfield hanging from my lower lip. Ugh! But at fifteen I was a follower. By 1955’s Rebel I was a fashion leader, not a follower at all. I felt no need whatsoever to look like James Dean: or even to sympathize with him altogether. (Nathalie Wood though I’ll take, then or now, dead or not.)
Note, the icons are the same: jeans, leather, bikes, hot rods: gangs of guys, chicks too. Guys sacrificing their careers at the bank to be unconventional, put themselves in danger.
The beat generation would transform some of those icons, but the history is the same. Or sort of crooked-parallel. The beats followed jazz; the greasers loved rock ’n roll. Notice, Elvis wasn’t a wop, but he was a greaser, a working class slacker: and Elvis never went to the bank except to deposit money or get cash.
Jeans and motorcycle jackets and ducktails had a history and a symbolism before Brando wore the costume. I saw myself in the mirror dangling my cigarette, thinking wild one, but greaser symbols developed around me In others. Brando wore the thick leather belt, garrison belt, with the heavy buckle, a weapon in a fight. The kids who wore those garrison belts twisted the buckle the side, off center from the fly. One thing they were showing, what Elvis would epitomize once he showed up on TV was working class. The was not a comfortable role in my school. My school was much like Dean’s in Rebel: affluent; not my family, but our neighbors. We were more grinds than greasers. Though my friends, nor I, were grinds. We cooperated to the minimum with school work; but our expectations were of affluence.
In the mid Fifties we at my school didn’t use the term greaser: except specifically to insult Italians: not I, but some of my friends. We used the words “rock”: and “hood”. The were badges of working class culture. Another sign was the collar raised in the back of the neck. One guy still pegged his pants, a hold over from the ’40s, hipster dress. In the case of one conspicuous guy there seemed to be a hint or two about sexual orientation: this guy pegged his pants, wore long sleeved shirts with pronounced cuffs and cuff links, wore his collar high up on the back of his neck, wore pinks! bleached his long hair, had a blond duck tail, not black, and permed his hair to pile up high. Jeez did the biology teacher lay into him, insulted him regularly and out-loud. Was this the queer version of working class adrenalin addict? I was never sure. But that guy lived way out at the edge of the town: one higher address number and he’d have gone to Hempstead High, not Rockville Centre’s South Side High.
more comin, needs work