Author Archives: ffredpalakon

Ron Paul Newsletters / Ron Paul Survival Report August 1994

A transcript of the August 1994 Ron Paul Survival Report. A scan of this excerpt of the newsletter is on scribd: “Ron Paul Survival Report August 1994”.

Buy a Gun, Now

In a matter of months, or perhaps sooner, the federal government will begin a crackdown on the only remaining legal way to buy an unregistered gun: private sales at gun shows and through classified ads. Since the passage of the Brady bill, gun shows have become enormously popular, attracting people from all walks of life. Licensed dealers have to comply with all the unconstitutional BATF paperwork. If you meet a private person with a gun to sell, it is not only legal for him to sell it to you, but for you to buy it, without any paperwork whatsoever.

The feds, with the help of the Wall Street Journal and other establishment news outlets, has begun to claim that gun shows are used by gang members to buy weapons. In fact, gang members do not need to go to shows. Plenty of guns are available on the streets. It is middle and working class people who fear the streets and go to gun shows to purchase weapons for their self-defense.

But as with other anti-gun propaganda, the gun lobby does not have the strength to counter the disinformation with facts. The left pretends as if the NRA is the most powerful lobby in Washington. If that were true, legislation based on pure lies would not stand a chance of passing.

So get to a gun show. They are usually advertised in the sports section of the newspaper. Another option is to comb the want ads in your local newspaper. Through these means, you can purchase all the guns you might need, without paperwork. At the same time, you should always have at least one registered weapon to turn in when the BATF stormtroopers come calling, as they may if the American people don’t stop this evil crusade.

However you go about it – whether through the want ads or the guns shows – you will need to act soon. Gun prices have settled down a bit since the hysteria of a few months back. You might catch the market at the lowest it is going to be for the foreseeable future. And remember, it is never wise to underestimate the feds’ determination to disarm the public.

Haitians and Americans

The Left has found a war it can love. It is expensive. It is not in our national interest. It promotes the United Nations and therefore world government. It risks American lives to help the underclass of a third-world country. And it has an unmistakable racial dimension. I speak, of course, of the military operation in Haiti, which all the left-liberals seem to favor.

Where have all the Peaceniks gone? Into the Republican Party. They deserve credit for not beating the drums for this outrageous war. But they should have resisted our first act of war against Haiti, the embargo which has driven standards of living even lower.

Haiti, like all countries of a similar type, is ruled by a cruel government. The system reflects the demographic makeup of the country: overwhelmingly populated by poor, uneducated, and superstitious blacks, but ruled by an educated mulatto elite. It is that elite which the Congressional Black Caucus has targeted (even though polls suggest that black Americans have no interest in the situation at all).

The question is not whether Haiti can have a constitutional republic. That is out of the question. The question boils down to letting the natural elites rule or imposing “democracy” and a communist ex-priest as president, risking mass bloodshed of Rwandan proportions.

It is always hard to root against your own government in foreign affairs, but the consequences of displacing the Haitian elites with Jean Bertrand Aristide would be disastrous.

It is a sign of Bill Clinton’s weakness that he has allowed himself to be dragged into this conflict. He knows it is against his long-run self interest. No regular American wants to take over Haiti and put it on AFDC and food stamps, which is what would happen.

Hessians

As the U.S. sends its soldiers to police foreign lands, the U.S. government is inviting foreigners to police us. It happens under every tyranny. Governments rely on distant enforcers when local ones would be insufficiently brutal. The local police in Waco, Texas, for example, would never have torched the Branch Davidians. This psychological dimension explains why every dictatorship in world history has centralized the police function.

The Clinton crime bill passed by the House and Senate centralizes enforcement in myriad ways. And it also takes the astounding step of recruiting foreigners from the Royal Hong Kong Police to serve in federal “law enforcement” (Section 5108) Fortunately, some state legislators are standing up to this outrageous idea, which reminds me of King George’s Hessian mercenaries used against our Founding Fathers.

The crime bill will also cost the American taxpayers more than $30 billion, yet it will not result in less crime. The bill itself is a “crime” in that it violates the Constitution. It also violates the rights of the American citizens by having more of their wealth confiscated through taxation.

Federal crime control is contrary to all that was intended by the Founders. It raises the number of federal crimes from 22 to 70. The one benefit from this is that it is stirring up the judges and prosecutors in the state law enforcement agencies whoa re losing control. May they someday reject this and all other unconstitutional federal mandates, in obedience to the 10th Amendment.

Murderous Clintonians

The media trumpeted “Independent Counsel” Robert Fiske’s conclusion that Vincent Foster killed himself and was not therefore murdered, contrary to reports in this newsletter and others. Fiske came to this conclusion by noting that Foster was “depressed.” And what about the odd positioning of the gun? Recall that it stayed in his hand, and not ten or twenty feet away, as one would expect. Fiske said his thumb stuck in the trigger.

That’s it, the whole report. It was astonishingly thin. It begged questions, dismissed others entirely, and evaded crucial pieces of evidence to the contrary. Yet the Counsel’s explanation was enough for the statist media. Not one American media outlet dared raise any points in opposition.

Of course, nobody seriously thought that errand boy Fiske would conclude otherwise. In some sense, it is amazing a commission was forced to comment on it at all. But let’s just say he had discovered evidence of a White House conspiracy to kill Foster and cover it up. Would he have revealed it?

Let’s see. In the entire Foster report, not one mention was made of the decade-long adulterous affair between Hillary Clinton and Vince Foster. Yet this affair has been well documented by many sources. The press in Arkansas and Washington spoke of it often. Everyone in the White House knew about it. Yet this fact, which would seem to have some bearing on the Foster investigation, was never mentioned.

Given this obvious coverup, how much less likely is it that Fiske would have considered exposing a murderous plot to kill Foster? If he doesn’t report on well-known facts that have bearing, we can’t expect him to report on something as earth-shaking as a murderer in the White House.

Meanwhile, even The Economist has reported on the deaths associated with the Whitewater affair. The Vincent Foster “suicide” was far from the only one. Also included:

1. “On May 11th this year Kathy Ferguson, a 38-year-old hospital worker was found dead in Sherwood, Arkansas. A gun shot had pierced her right temple in what a local police report labeled a suicide. A note was found next to the body suggesting as much. Mrs. Ferguson’s death came only five days after her ex-husband, Danny Ferguson, an Arkansas state trooper, was named as co-defendant in Paula Jones’s sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton.”

2. “On July 12th Bill Shelton, an Arkansas police officer, was found dead – again in Sherwood, Arkansas – lying sprawled on the grave of Mrs. Ferguson, who was his girlfriend at the time of her death. Again a suicide note was found next to the body. The police report, which again describes the death as suicide, states that the bullet entered behind the right ear and came out behind the left ear.”

3. “On August 15, 1993, Jon Walker fell to his death from the top of the Lincoln Towers Building in Arlington, Virginia. In March 1992, Walker, an investigator for the RTC had contacted the Kansas City RTC Regional Office for information concerning possible ties between Whitewater Development, Madison Guaranteed Savings and Loan, and the Clintons.”

4. “On September 26, 1993, Jerry Parks was killed when several bullets were pumped into him on a street corner in Little Rock, Arkansas. Parks had been the chief of security for Mr. Clinton’s national campaign headquarters in Little Rock during the 1992 presidential campaign. No autopsy report has been released nor has anybody been charged for what looks like a professional hit. Mr. Parks’ son, Gary, says his father carried out private investigations on Bill Clinton during the 1980s. He also says the material gathered was stolen from the family home in July 1993.”

5. “On July 26, 1992, Gary Johnson, a lawyer was beaten up so badly that he had to have a ruptured spleen removed. Mr. Johnson lived in Quapaw Towers, in Little Rock, in the flat next door to Jennifer Flowers. Miss Flowers claimed during the campaign to have had a twelve year affair with Bill Clinton, which Mr. Clinton denied.”

The Economist also reports that Dennis Patrick survived

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Ron Paul Newsletters / Ron Paul Survival Report July 1993

A transcript of the Ron Paul Survival Report of July 1993. Scan of this report is on postimage:

july 1993 1 july 1993 2 july 1993 3

The report was taken from the blog, @RP_Newsletter, “July 1993: The Ron Paul Survival Report”.

per ounce dropped to $304 an ounce in the first quarter of ’93 down from $368 a year ago. Homestake’s policy of not selling its production forward means the company participates fully in a rising gold market.

Another good company is Agnico Eagle Mines (OTC-AEAGC $9 1/4) Agnico Eagle produces approximately 170,000 ounces of gold annually and has recently hit a new high-grade zone at its La Ronde gold mine in Quebec. Agnico Eagle will benefit from rising silver prices as well. The company’s silver operations are currently shut down awaiting $6-$7 silver.

One speculation we like – and you must hold the blue chips first – is Fairfield Minerals, Ltd. (TSE FFD $1 7/8). Fairfield is developing a high grade gold mine in southern British Columbia with the potential to produce 50,000 ounces annually. Last year the company produced 9,000 ounces as it was testing the continuity of the vein system.

Work for 1993 will test mining methods prior to making a commercial production decision. With talented management, a strong balance sheet and a promising ore body, Fairfield could be a winner.

The Koresh Tapes

Several months after the mass murder in Waco, Texas, the FBI released some transcripts of the local sheriff’s conversations with David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians, on the 911 line. Published by the Houston Chronicle, they confirm much of my initial analysis.

Far from revealing a crazy madman, the tapes show him to be a reasonable person, despite his alleged religious views, with a traditional American request: to be left alone. Of the BATF, he told the sheriff: “they could have arrested me any day, taking my jogs. Every day, I took them…I don’t care who they are. Nobody is going to come in my home, with my babies around, shaking guns around, without a gun back in their face. That’s just not the American way.”

Poor Koresh. He’s right that it ued to be the American way. But no longer. In the tapes, Koresh also relayed a comment made by an FBI agent to a Davidian who left the compound. “You give me the heebie-jeebies,” said the government goon to the Davidian. “I hope you fry.”

Koresh also said: “you brought a bunch of guys out here and you killed some of my children. We told you we wanted to talk.”

After the deaths of the Branch Davidians, Janet Reno said there would be no recriminations (investigations) into who did what to whom. The only hearings would be on how to do better next time. But after this tape cam out, she ordered an investigation as to why they were “leaked.”

If there were ever proof of a coverup, this is it. The government has quietly dropped its claim that the Davidians killed themselves, the line they insisted upon in the early days. They are still not forthcoming on why they were after Koresh in the first place.

I continue to believe the real purpose was to demonstrate the government’s power to go after gun owners and religious dissenters.

The original English settlers of this country came here with a religious goal in mind. They wanted a society that reflected their understanding of Christian morality.

Some of the Founders of the nation had views influenced by the Enlightenment and others were explicitly Deistic. But on the whole their worldview was not far removed from the form of Christianity preached and practiced by the early settlers. The result was a society, culture, and political order that reflected a Christian understanding of family, property, and ethics.

Somewhere between then and now, this was marginalized and repudiated. The federal government even feels itself justified in causing the deaths of 80 people who separated themselves so they could freely exercise their faith, just as the original settlers did.

Bill Clinton can pray at the graves of dead Kennedys, and Hillary can urge us to adopt a new secular spiritualism in the form of a “politics of meaning,” but public high schools can no longer have clergy to pray at graduation, just condoms in the classroom. In short, government and its apologists are the only entities entitled to free exercise of religion.

The rules that govern the free exercise of religion in this country are confused and contradictory. But people who hold to old-fashioned Christian values know that one thing comes through: they can no longer expect to have the expression of their religious faith culturally or legally protected.

What happened at Waco was a human rights violation as serious as any that occurred in the waning days of the Soviet Union. In fact, if anything such as this had occurred under Brezhnev, the U.S. government and human rights activists would have declared it as further evidence of Russia’s evil empire.

Already the memory of the martyrs at Waco is leaving our national conscience, thanks to the government and its kept press.

Lesser crimes in the past have led to the overthrow of whole governments, on the grounds that any government so wicked as to cause the mass death of innocents simply because they challenged state power cannot claim to be legitimate representatives of the people.

In the case of the United States, it should at least serve as a catalyst for drastically reducing the power of the federal government in our lives. For this is the government that has set fire to the Constitution just as surely as it burned the homes in Waco.

Randy Weaver

An atrocity that preceded Waco involved Randy Weaver, the Idaho political dissident whose wife and son were murdered by FBI snipers. The government lies surrounding this event are still coming out in the open. Under oath, the FBI admitted to tampering with the evidence to suppress the truth.

Here again the crime was a concocted infraction of the gun laws, a parking-ticket like offense. But the real concern was that some Americans had religious and racial beliefs that were politically incorrect.

David Bond, an Idaho columnist, said it all: “What would happen if some guys in camouflage came into your yard and lured your dog and your children outside, then shot them in the back,” then held a press conference, then “drew a bead on your spouse and blew her head off, all the while telling the media that you’re a dangerous, bigoted religious kook?”

The Unmentionable Cause of Breast Cancer

The tragedy of breast cancer is rightfully getting more

(page missing)

Clinton’s Deficit Cutting

Buried deep in the budget bill working its way through Congress is the sentence: “Increase the statutory limit on the public debt to $4.9 trillion to comply with reconciliation instructions.” Congress, at Clinton’s request, recently raised the debt limit by $250 billion, and this buried sentence raises it again by $600 billion for the coming fiscal year. In other words, $600 billion is what Clinton expects his “lowered deficit” to be! And usually these predictions are way too low. Note: the real deficit (the increase in the national debt) is always much larger than the official deficit reported int he press, thanks to various off-budget shenanigans that I fought when I was in Congress.

Gergen’s Connections

Before he could become President Clinton’s fix-it man at the White House, former Reagan spokesman David Gergen had to “resign” from some of his organizations. In case you had any doubts about the Gerg, they included the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bohemian Grove, the Aspen Institute, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Gergen was editor and then columnist for U.S. News & World Report. Why isn’t being an Establishment shill considered a compromise of journalistic integrity? Or does no one pretend that such a thing exists any longer?

Achtenberg Update

Thanks to Clinton and the Senate, we now have a far-left normal-hating lesbian activist heading the anti-discrimination bureau within HUD. Her most vociferous opponent was Jesse Helms, bless him. A few days after her confirmation, in an interview with the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, she called Helms’s opposition to her “anti-Semitic” because he called her “pushy.”

Hillary’s Marxism

Congressman Dick Armey (R-Tex.) is one of the better guys on Capitol Hill, but he found himself in hot water when he publicly stated that Hillary has Marxist friends. He then retracted the statement and apologized. But if he had chosen to do so, he could easily have defended this position. She is surrounded by Marxists, and has been since her student days.

Like all Marxists, she is also duplicitous. She can stand before the AMA and neutralize their opposition to her socialized medicine by saying exactly what the medical profession wanted to hear. (Say, I wonder what the AMA’s IQ is?)

By the way, anyone who wants to understand exactly how we got ourselves into this medical mess should read a small book by Terree Wasley called What Has Government Done to Our Health Care, a play on Murray N. Rothbard’s famous book on money. It is published by the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Ethics in Government

After it turned out that taxpayers were paying for Stanford president Donald Kennedy’s yacht and other luxuries, the Department of Health and Human Services asked 261 colleges and universities to examine their books for similar expenses wrongly billed to Uncle Sam. The biggest offender, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, had $10.5 million in illegal billings. The charges were run up when Donna Shalala was the campus’ Chief Executive Officer. She illegally charged $58,000 for maids, flowers, and other luxuries. Kennedy was fired as Stanford’s president. Shalala is now secretary of Health and Human Services.

Just What We Need

The Clinton administration is determined to broaden the definition of “standing” with regards to the court. With a broader definition it will become easier for individuals and environmental groups to sue companies who they believe are violating federal environmental standards. This will not only play havoc with the court system, but will put another money wrench into the business of doing business.

Clinton will use this as a criterion for appointing federal judges and he is going to have ample opportunity to do that over the next three years. Also, the liberal Congress, at Clinton and Gore’s urging is passing environmental statutes that will encourage more lawsuits. Both the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that are now going through the Congress are going to broaden the power of the U.S. government and enhance the ability of environmental groups to file harassing lawsuits. It will be a boon to the attorneys, as usual, and will further undermine the integrity of our economic system.

Lost Dreams

For two decades Sweden has been held up as the ideal socialist state. The Swedes eventually reached a point

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Ron Paul Newsletters / Ron Paul Survival Report March 1990

A transcript of the Ron Paul Survival Report of March 1990. Scan of this report is on postimage:

mar 1990 1 mar 1990 2 mar 1990 3

The report was taken from the blog, @RP_Newsletter, “March 1990: The Ron Paul Political Report”.

AIDS as a Communicable Disease

The Center for Disease Control and other organs of the U.S. government have long held that AIDS was transmittable only through sexual relations, needle-sharing, and blood-to-blood contact. Skeptics like surgeon Lorraine Day of San Francisco General Hospital, on the other hand, have held that “aerosol transmission” was also possible. That is, that AIDS could be transmitted by sneeze, breath, etc. through the air.

After long suppression, we now find out that a Florida dentist, who kept seeing patients after he knew he had AIDS, transmitted it to 22-year-old Kimberly Bergalis, probably by breathing in her mouth during a tooth extraction. We know the dentist–and nothing else–was responsible, because of a DNA analysis of the AIDS virus in his blood and hers.

It has received virtually no publicity, however, that two additional patients of this evil dentist have also developed AIDS through the same route, and there may be others on the way.

AIDS may be the first “politically correct” disease, but when are we going to wake up? Patients have the right to know if their doctors are AIDS carriers, and doctors have the right to know the same about their patients. Am i the only one who thinks that it is insane, on both sides, for this vital medical information to be legally hidden?

Palestinian Rights?

In the case of Taher Shriteh, we get a glimpse of how even well-known Palestinians are treated by Israel. Shriteh, a reporter for Reuters and other news organizations, was arrested and held without charges for three weeks. Through media pressure, he was granted a bail hearing, which the New York Times described as “a rare glimpse” into Israel’s military “justice” system.

Shriteh supposed crime was reporting on the contents of Infitada pamphlets, but the Israeli press does the same. In fact, the military felt he should be a spy for their occupation forces. He refused, and so has been tortured, held in a cell 60″ by 30″, in which he cannot stand, and denied food and bathroom facilities. We hope, said the prosecutor, that “very difficult conditions in prison” will make him “tell us more things.”

During the trial, which was conducted in Hebrew without translation for Shriteh, the stenographer stopped taking notes when the defense spoke. The judge refused bail and agreed to hold Shriteh for 60 days longer without charges. He agreed with the prosecutor that “continuing the investigation” is more important than “the freedom of the individual.”

Besides, Taher Shriteh is obviously a dangerous man. He was found to be in possession of “an unregistered fax machine,” which

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Ron Paul Newsletters / Ron Paul Survival Report December 1991

A transcript of the Ron Paul Survival Report of December 1991. Scan of this report is on postimage:

dec 1991

The report was taken from the blog, @RP_Newsletter, “December 1991: The Ron Paul Political Report”.

Mr. Johnson’s Magic

I shouldn’t admit it, but I had never heard of Magic Johnson before he announced his HIV infection. Thus, I had no emotional attachment to Magic, and I do not understand why his view of “safe sex” deserves the same respect as his basketball ability.

The subject of promiscuous sex is still undiscussible, even though that is what needs to be opposed. All the government commissions and “education” will not stop the virus’s spread unless we break this taboo.

The National Commission on AIDS has issued a report with 30 separate recommendations. Not one mentioned the necessity of stopping the sexual practices that lead to AIDS. At one point in our history, diseases like syphilis were considered socially negative. Thanks to lobbying efforts, it is Politically Incorrect to place AIDS in the same category. It is nearly impossible to find government officials or media people who will point out the importance of personal responsibility.

People say government should do more to stem AIDS. Actually, it should do less and thereby help more. FDA regulations prevent potential cures from being developed and used. Sick people and their doctors should decide about what drugs to try, not bureaucrats. Moreover, insurance companies should be able to request HIV testing as a condition of extending coverage, but in California, this is illegal, and the battle is on to extend this rule to other states. Just what we need–a government intervention to make the insurance industry even shakier.

Nor will we see improvement in black family structures so long as people like Wilt Chamberlain (who claims to have slept with more than 20,000 women) and Magic Johnson (who says he was hyper-promiscuous) are heroes. What an outrage that even President Bush declared Magic Johnson “a hero.”

Johnson may be a sports star. but he is dying because he violated moral laws. His campaign to make young people use condoms–which fail almost 14% of the time in heterosexual

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Ron Paul Newsletters / Ron Paul Survival Report June 1991

A transcript of the June 1991 Ron Paul Survival Report. A scan of this part of the newsletter is on scribd: “Ron Paul Newsletter June 1991”.

Tax Guerilla Warfare

Recently, nine pipe bombs were launched at a government building. No, not in Northern Ireland or the Middle East, but in Fresno, California. The target was the Internal Revenue Service Center.

This is not the right approach, of course. Sometimes I dream about a giant electromagnet that would not damage people or property, but simply erase all computer records when passed near federal buildings.

* * * * *

We’ve all heard of the Type A personality. Well now, Professor Frank Farley of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin claims that there is a Type T personality too. This personality, he says, delights in “cheating” on his taxes. He is a thrill seeker and risk taker. Such people, claims Farley, can engage in the most negative or positive behavior.

His study shows that when there is guaranteed anonymity, Type Ts will admit they cheated on their taxes. They are usually energetic, self-confident, and independent sorts. The T personalities enjoy the thrill of tax cheating because, he claims, it’s easy, risky, and “profitable.” Farley hypothesizes that there may be genetic reasons for Type T behavior.

Farley says: “We need to learn more about the psychology of tax cheaters–their motives and habits–before we can fully understand this socially costly behavior.”

In other words, give him more money for another study. I’m sure we can expect a Type T office soon at IRS headquarters.

(missing pages)

to electric shock, burning with cigarettes and acids, and threatened by sexual assault and execution. A Baker aide said: “It’s a real problem and they are still trying to figure out how to deal with it.” But Bush has defended the Kuwaiti treatment of alleged collaborators, with one man getting 15 years in prison for wearing a Saddam T-shirt in the privacy of his own home, a shirt he had had for years.

Note: we have also learned that our weapons only worked about 33% of the time against a worthless enemy. What else haven’t we been told?

Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo

The riots that broke out in the Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant areas of Washington, D.C., receive global attention. And mot papers portrayed the rioters and looters as they are: hoodlums. In Washington proper, however, things were different. The only possible explanation allowed was that the Hispanics who started the riots, and the blacks who did the looting, were “ignored” and therefore justified. For example, neo-conservative black commentator William Raspberry blamed the violence on “accumulated grievances” like “rough evictions, callous officials, exploitative employers, uncaring teachers.” The rioting youth are “voiceless,” but not–unfortunately–fistless.

D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon promised jobs for all unemployed Hispanics, either in government-financed rackets or in the government itself. The blacks screamed that they should be offered the same, and Dixon complied.

How did the three days of rioting, looting, and burning begin? A female cop shot a Hispanic man in the chest after he tried to stab her. But that was just an excuse for the massive criminality that followed. Buses and cars were torched, hundreds of windows were broken, and dozens of shops were looted.

But because of D.C. government orders, for the first evening, the police did virtually nothing to stop the destruction. A black police captain even gave interviews spouting liberal psychobabble about “frustrated” youths and excusing their behavior. It wasn’t until late in the evening that the cops could bring out tear gas and make arrests. Black cops even threatened to arrest a Korean shop owner who wanted to use his gun to defend his storm from looting, which apparently now represents a sort of instantaneous welfare.

In Washington, these neighborhoods are widely heralded as models of racial and ethnic integration and love. That was always nonsense, of course. This is only the first skirmish in the race war of the 1990s.

King George and Foreign Aid

Last month, the Bush administration submitted an outrageous request to Congress: that the president be able to take full control over the foreign aid budget, without any congressional “interference,” for the sake of the New World Order!

I don’t believe in foreign aid, and Congress is notorious for doling out money to parochial interests, especially Israel. But that doesn’t mean that the president should be dictator.

Challenge to Liberty

Everyone expresses surprise and shock when an unwed mother tosses her newborn baby into the dumpster to die. If she is caught, the authorities prosecute her for murder. But since an entire generation has been taught that pre-born life has no value, is it any wonder that newborns don’t qualify for much more?

We condemn murder; why is not the killing of a human fetus also an act of aggression? My new book, Challenge to Liberty: Coming to Grips With the Abortion Issue is written out of my experience as a lawmaker and a physician. If you’d like a copy, sen $10 to my Houston address, or call 713-333-4888.

Curious George

In all publicity about President Bush’s thyroid condition, no one has mentioned the possible mental effects. Talk about media control! As a physician, I knew about them. Others do too.

I pulled down the standard Textbook of Endocrinology from my shelves and read–remembering the president’s frenetic conduct in Kennebunkport last summer and all during the war–about “mental and physical ‘jitteriness.’ The patient’s thoughts flash rapidly” and he is “in more or less constant motion.”

“There are many unrestrained emotional swings. There may be unjustified outbursts of laughter, loquacity, euphoria, and great exuberance.”

“Psychasthenia, neurasthenia, and ‘nervous breakdown’ are not uncommon. Agitation, delirium, and other forms of toxic psychoses develop. Manic depressive states, schizophrenia, and paranoid reaction are observed” and “severe thyroid storm” has caused “degenerative changes in the brain.”

Time for Scientologists

Last month, Time magazine ran a hatchet-job cover story on the Church of Scientology. I am not a Scientologist, but I was outraged.

The only good thing about the cover story was that it showed–to the careful reader–that the Scientologists have been targeted by the IRS for more than 30 years, especially because they are the only organization ever to plant agents within the IRS! As a result, an IRS memo called for “the ultimate disintegration” of the church.

The Scientologists are also hated, said Time, because of their “notorious jihads against individual agents.” They don’t know that IRS agents are supposed to be immune no matter how outrageous their actions.

Any organization hated by the IRS and the Trilateralist Time magazine has got to have something going for it!

Politically Correct?

There are three concepts that should determine our thinking about the new authoritarianism (political correctness) sweeping our campuses and society at large:

  1. Free speech: all speech in a free society should be permitted, especially if the opinions are controversial. Speech that is slanderous or libelous is best dealt with in a civil court, but neither is an issue in political correctness.
  2. Private rules: the private university, in a free society can make its own rules by voluntary contracts with its students. Rules and regulations designed by the college and clearly presented to students before their entrance can be used to shape behavior. We are free to disagree with the rules and motivations, of course.

    State-run universities muddy the water then they define rules and regulations, but where doubt exists, maximum freedom of expression must be permitted.

  3. Good taste: moral and ethical standards are a personal matter. Much of the talk on political correctness is from authoritarians who would like to silence “rude” individuals, rude being defined as unfashionable ideas.

More Nonsense From Gingrich

On national television recently, Congressman Newt Gingrich debated a liberal on government housing. “If this $5 billion government program worked and helped the poor, would you support it?” he was asked. Gingrich answered: “Of course.” In other words, if theft “works”, great.

Of course, even by their own standards, the welfare state is a failure. And no one thought to ask a much better question: if

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Isaac Woodard, Officer X, and Orson Welles

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

(photo of Isaac Woodard and his mother taken from New York Post article, “Ask U.S. to Probe Negro Vet’s Blinding by Carolina Cops”, article by Ted Poston, no photographer identified. The distance of the victim from major press centers and the obscurity of the case has caused Woodard’s name to be consistently mis-spelled, as it is in this New York Post story; the proper spelling is Woodard, no “w” in the middle.)

What follows is a product of laziness and procrastination. While working on something else (which I hope to have done in the next day or two), I thought of breaking away from work to transcribe parts of this startling episode that I came across in Simon Callow’s Orson Welles: Volume 2: Hello Americans. The sad contemporary relevance of the following need not be spoken of, it’s so obvious, nor why it might carry greater immediate urgency, now, than when I read it earlier in the summer. I do not think I am entirely ignorant of history, the life of Orson Welles, or Hollywood of the forties, and yet it was a story I had never heard before. The label “story” feels like a misleading, as if this is something made gentle and constrained, when this story resists all such constraints, and bleeds into our present.

I do not excerpt Callow’s work in any attempt to purloin readers from his book, which stands (to my humble mind) as one of the great achievements in film scholarship. I do not make any attempt to elevate Callow’s account of this moment over others; I give extensive space to Callow’s account because it’s the most extensive I’ve come across and which I had easy access to. As said, this project began out of laziness; only after starting it, did I give myself more work to try and track down additional material, including the radio broadcasts of Orson Welles, which I’ve since uploaded to youtube. I am deeply indebted to archive.org as a resource for this audio, which can be found here: “1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”.

Given the length of excerpts used here from Callow’s book and other sources, for purposes of readability, I’ve avoided using the usual quote tags. Quoted excerpts within Hello Americans are given the quote tags.

After the break Hello Americans begins, with occasional interruptions by me. I have often relied on scans made by Andrew Myers, whose conference paper “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” is accompanied by an on-line bibliography which is currently the premier source for documents related to the Woodard case, and whose work I’m deeply grateful for. I have transcribed many of these scans, again, not for the purpose of purloining readers from Myers’ site or his conference paper, only that this case and its details be better known.

These events begin in the summer of 1946, five years after the release of Citizen Kane, as Welles is ending an unsuccessful tour of a stage adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. At the time, Welles had a program on ABC Radio called “Commentary”, and each Sunday he would deliver a fifteen piece on contemporary political or social issues. In this memorable historical episode, Welles would put this program to very good use, and the boy wonder would show that he still had one or two magic tricks left, wielding the power of radio to astonishing effect.


Two days before Welles put up the sign backstage at the Adelphi Theatre giving his Around the World company a week’s notice, he received a letter from Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; they had an urgent matter on which they wanted to communicate with him. The following day White, the executive secretary of the organisation, visited him in his dressing room with Oliver Harrington, famous in the black community as creator of the radical cartoon Bootsie in the Pittsburgh Courier, but now starting his new job as publicity director for the NAACP. The story they brought Welles cannot have been unknown to him, because a fortnight earlier Harrington had secured headlines for it in the left-wing press to which Welles subscribed, and which – not least because of the incessant search to find material for his weekly Commentary programme – he studied assiduously. His old rage the populist New York Post [this is before the paper was taken over by new owners, and became infamous for its hard right reactionary and racist attitudes, examples of which can be found amongst “Bottoms Up! Here’s to the End of Sean Delonas” and “Is the New York Post Edited by a Bigoted Drunk Who Fucks Pigs?” by Tom Scocca, “The Post’s ‘Person of Interest’ Is a Local High-School Track Runner” by Max Read, and “A Letter To The New York Post” by Public Enemy] had carried a front-page story, but it was the Daily Worker‘s headline that put the story as succinctly as shockingly as possible: SOUTH CAROLINA COP GOUGED OUT EYES OF NEGRO VET WHO FOUGHT IN PACIFIC; in a boxed inset was the phrase GET THAT COP!

The story had first broken in the Lighthouse and Informer, South Carolina’s leading black paper, after which the NAACP had taken it up, approaching the War Office for redress. It was the rejection of responsibility by the War Office’s legal department on the grounds that Sergeant Isaac Woodard Junior, the veteran in question, had been officially discharged (albeit only five hours earlier) that provoked the NAACP’s release of the material to the major newspapers; and it was the determination of White and Harrington to secure not only justice for Woodard, but also maximum publicity for the cause, that led them to Welles. Welles’s access to the airwaves, however relatively small his listenership, meant the possibility of a nationwide campaign. They, like everyone else, never ceased to think of him as the man who brought America to a standstill with The War of the Worlds – radio’s Barnum and Bailey, its unparalleled showman. They also knew him and profoundly respected him for his absolutely consistent and unwavering support for racial equality, not merely as an ideal, but in professional and personal practice, from as early as the Harlem Macbeth ten years before, through his constant sponsorship of black jazz musicians, his plan to film the life of Duke Ellington, and the rumours of how he had intended in It’s All True to feature the black population in the Rio de Janeiro favelas. He was, in a way that few of even his most liberal colleagues were, genuinely ‘colour-blind’.

Welles had long anticipated the growing demand among black people for equal opportunities and eights and constantly – in speeches, in articles and on radio – warned of the lurking dangers of the continuing privation and humiliation of a large section of the populace. The war, as he frequently observed, had changed everything; black servicemen had seen a world in which racial prejudice was not institutionalized, and had fought side by side with their white companions-in-arms, experiencing a proximity and a parity, almost a camaraderie, that they would never have known at home, especially if they came from the South. Moreover, the particular circumstances of war had given black activists at home a lever with which to extract concessions; the establishment in 1941, under threat of a mass protest in Washington, of the first all-black flying squadron, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, at Tuskegee in Alabama (lyrically celebrated on the Broadway stage the following year in ‘Flying Man’ from Oscar Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones), was a giant first step towards self-respect. Similarly, but more sombrely, the return from war of veterans accustomed to being treated at the very least as human beings – and no longer prepared to tolerate their former servility – had given rise to a series of incidents of which the Isaac Woodard story was not necessarily the worst, but was certainly the most poignant. The NAACP, keenly aware of the historical moment, was understandably eager to make the very most of it, and looked to Welles to fan the flames.

They knew that he was fearless. After a recent Commentary (7 July 1946) in which he had mildly suggested that, on the face of it, there was no reason why a black man and a white woman might not get married [I have searched for this radio broadcast, and been unable to find it] – a broadcast for which he had received the enthusiastic support of Negro organisations – he had received a letter from a young woman in Los Angeles, Mrs. Edna Fraser, which showed something of what he was up against.

My dear Mr Welles

You are not advocating inter-racial marriages between the Whites and Negroes, are you Mr Welles? Your commentary last Sunday, July 7th, would lead me to believe that perhaps you are. It is very difficult for me, who have believed in you so much, to believe that a man possessing the intelligence that I have credited you with possessing, could be swayed by a trend of insidious propaganda, or would lend his time and talents to championing such an unworthy cause. – No, Mr Welles, I am not prejudiced against the Negroes…but the Negro, as a race, is mentally incapable of taking a place alongside the white man. He is not competent to make intelligent decisions for himself.

[Etc.]


The full text of the letter continues on like this in Hello Americans, but for the purposes of this post, the opening paragraph captures its perspective in its entirety.


The emotions inspired by the case that White and Harrington brought to Welles in his dressing room at the Adelphi were of an entirely different order – both in quality and in intensity – from the petty racism of Mrs Fraser and Miss Houston: for one thing, it happened in the South, which was presently in a state of uproar, bellowing and lashing out wildly like some cornered animal. The profound sense that something had indefinably changed, and that the tide of history was, however gradually, flowing irreversibly away from it, its entrenched world-view dissolving in the wake, sent a wave of terror through the Southern states. It was a time of extraordinary ferment: in February of 1946 the riots in Columbia, Tennessee, had rapidly descended into what the black writer and activist, Langston Hughes, described as “a hate-filled orgy”; twenty-eight Negroes were charged with attempted murder in the first degree, and although (thanks to the NAACP) they were all finally acquitted, it was, as Hughes wrote, “a dangerous, costly and heart-breaking process – one hardly calculated to bolster a returning veteran’s faith in democracy.”

The very day before the NAACP delegation’s visit to Welles at the theatre, there had been a particularly brutal quadruple lynching of two men and their wives in Walton County, Georgia, where the governor-elect, Eugene Talmadge, had called for mob action to “keep negroes in their place”. Walter White, that heroically tireless campaigner against lynching, had issued a statement to the Associated Press denouncing the deaths as “the inevitable, inescapable result of Talmadge’s and the Ku Klux Klan’s advocacy of outright violation of the laws of the Federal Government and human decency”. Describing Talmadge as “a man as brazen as Hitler in his racial theories”, White observed that his election made “other such dastardly crimes” inevitable, calling on the Federal government and public opinion to halt it. “Negroes were the victims yesterday,” he said. “Other minorities and eventually democracy itself will be the victims tomorrow.” The Federal government had failed to stop mob violence.


Welles would single out Talmadge in one of his broadcasts, and a FOIA request in 2007 would uncover that the FBI considered the possibility that Talmadge may have given full license to members of Monroe county to pursue justice however they wished, after Roger Malcom, a black man, stabbed Barney Hester, a white farmer. A day after this incident, Talmadge visited the county and allegedly made this promise, and a day afterwards, the state election was held. Eight days after the election, Roger and his wife, Dorothy Malcom, along with another couple, George and Mae Murray Dorsey, were driving home when they were swarmed by a mob, dragged out of their car, and shot dead. This episode and Talmadge’s possible involvement is described in detail in “FBI Investigated Ga. Gov in Old Lynching” by Greg Blustein. Though I’m often hesitant to link to wikipedia, I think the entry “1946 Georgia lynching” gives a good description of the events.


“What other alternative is left to these citizens, many of whom are veterans?” Other NAACP officials linked the outrage in Walton with what they called “the bestial gouging out of the eyes of veteran Isaac Woodard in South Carolina”; while White forwarded a telegram to the Attorney General, Tom Clark, pointing to suspected police complicity in the lynchings and, by implication, sympathy with the Klan. “At a time when our statesmen are demanding democracy and a restoration of morality in Iran, Germany, China, Japan, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, it seems ironic that Americans are dying because of a lack of this same democracy in Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina (the home of our Secretary of State) and other parts of the South.” Welles had been saying the same thing for years: there were atrocities in America’s own back yard that ranked with the atrocities of the Axis powers.

The NAACP was an organisation after Welles’s own heart: radical without being doctrinaire. Few of its members belonged to any other left-wing grouping, and virtually none was communist (though Oliver Harrington was eventually to leave America in disgust, first for Paris and finally East Berlin, as he recounts in his autobiography, Why I Left America). Welles scarcely needed persuading to take up cudgels on Isaac Woodard’s behalf.

When he heard the full story, and read Woodard’s affidavit describing precisely what had happened to him, Welles knew that he could do full justice to it; moreover he knew it was exactly what he was looking for. “It was on Friday night. When I and my associates read it in my backstage dressing room, we knew we must begin the fight immediately.” Just as the NAACP knew that it was an ideal story to make their case, both human and particular – who cannot respond to a story about a blinding? and the blinding of a soldier returning victorious from war at that – so Welles was aware that it would give sharp focus to his radio programme, which was in danger of becoming a catalogue of complaints against non-right-thinking people; a couple of weeks before he had taken on A-bomb tests and the ending of rent and price controls [both of these episodes are part of “1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”, “The OPA Is Dead”, broadcast date June 23, and “Bikini Atomic Test”, broadcast date June 30], and had struggled to make the programme cohere. Woodard’s affidavit (no doubt composed with a little help from his friends at the NAACP) was a clear and credible statement of events, but was shot through with a sense of bitter irony and injustice, its opening paragraph setting the tone: “I, Isaac Woodard Jr. being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows – that I’m 27 years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served 15 months in the South Pacific and earned one battle star…when they discharged me from Camp Gordon, I’d given four years of my life to my country. I had survived the war and come home to “the land of the free”. I became a casualty five hours later.”


A scan of this affidavit can be found at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Affidavit, April 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 1012-1013)”. A transcript of this document, along with a transcript of Woodard’s deposition to the FBI, the scan “Statement to FBI, September 1946 (NAACP Papers, REel 28, Frame 911)”, is at this footnote1.


As he described it, on the afternoon of 12 February 1946, Sergeant Woodard had been discharged from the army at Camp Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. That evening he boarded a bus for Winnsboro, South Carolina, where his wife lived. At Aiken, South Carolina, the bus stopped and he asked to be allowed to disembark and use the toilet; the driver was aggressive, accused him of being drunk (which he was not) and told him to sit down. Woodard persisted in asking to use the toilet, which he was finally allowed to do, but when the bus next stopped, he was taken off it by police and arrested. When he protested, he was viciously beaten around the head with a blackjack, a lead-weighted bludgeon, and taken to jail. Next morning, his eyes red and swollen, he found that he was unable to see. Brought to the mayor’s court, he pleaded guilty to being drunk and disorderly, for which he was fined $50; he only had $40 in his wallet, plus another $4 in his watch pocket, which the court accepted. At first they wanted him to cash in the cheque for his army discharge payment, but gave up after ascertaining that he was unable to countersign the cheque because he could no longer see it. From court he was taken to the Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina; three months later, in May, he was discharged, totally blind, the bulb of both eyes having been irremediably ruptured. On leaving the hospital, he was helpfully advised by the doctor to enrol at blind school. After that, he went to New York to be looked after by his sisters. His wife stayed behind; and that was the end of his marriage.

Once in New York, Woodard went to the NAACP, where he met Thurgood Marshall, the chief legal counsel, and his assistants. They approached the War Office which, as we have seen, denied responsibility because Woodard had been discharged – even if only for five hours. After the NAACP broke the story in the Daily Worker, the Post and PM, the FBI finally sent someone to Aiken to investigate, while Woodard himself started to talk publicly about his story, with extraordinary calm and modesty. “Down South they think we are worse than dogs,” he said. “Nobody would treat a dog like they treated me. But the harm’s done now and I’m not near as bitter as my mother and father.” It was the NAACP’s offer of $1,000 for the arrest and conviction of the policeman who beat and blinded Woodard that finally resulted in headlines in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune as well as the Post, which in turn stirred the War Office and the Department of Justice into action at last.

The crucial thing Welles seized on was the fact that no one had yet identified the policeman responsible for the crime, GET THAT COP! the Daily Worker had declared, and that is what Welles set out to do. Working closely with Oliver Harrington, who spent each Saturday night after the show working with him on the broadcasts, and using the latest unpublished on-the-spot reports from the Lighthouse and Informer, Welles wrote what were in effect a series of dramatic monologues, which are among the most deeply felt, revealing and personal utterances he ever made, recklessly outspoken on a subject that, as we have seen, was a matter of deep ambivalence for many (if not most) Americans in 1946. In the broadcasts he plays the role of a kind of omniscient avenger determined to track down the perpetrator of the assault. It is a role – pitched somewhere between The Shadow and Inspector Javert from Les Misérables, with maybe a touch of Captain Ahab thrown in – and yet it is Welles, too, recognisably the same commentator who had been engaged in intense, urgent dialogue with the American public for nearly a year now – passionate, rhetorical, now angry, now lyrical. These weekly fifteen-minute Sunday afternoon programmes had developed a distinct identity, building on the telephonic intimacy of the early programmes (still sponsored by Lear [Les Lear]) to become almost confessional in tone, expounding Welles’s deepest political feelings, communicating his hopes for democracy and his frequent disappointments with it.


The following is the Welles broadcast that is referenced in the text, “Affidavit of Isaac Woodard”, broadcast date July 28, 1946. Transcript for broadcast is at this footnote2.

Times listed in brackets are the sections in the youtube clip where the quote can be found; the link in the starting time in the bracket will take you to the exact point in the broadcast.


From his first words, there can be no question that Welles is deeply and genuinely scandalised by what has happened to Woodard the man, and to Woodard the unwitting representative of his race. Welles starts quietly, evenly, with the affidavit: “I, Isaac Woodard Jr. being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows…” He reads it quickly, almost casually, slowing down only for the doctor’s advice to Woodard to enrol in a school for the blind. Then, leaving Woodard’s statement hanging in the air, he segues, in a characteristic device, into a story – almost a parable – told to him, he says, early that morning when he went for a coffee with Woodard’s affidavit burning a hole in his pocket. The story, told to him as a joke by someone in the coffee shop, concerns a commercial traveller, a white man who stays in a black hotel, sharing his room with a black man. The next day he goes to get on the train, but is refused admission and told to go to the Jim Crow part of the train. He protests, but as he reaches out his hand he realises that he’s turned black, and realises why. “They woke up the wrong man!” [3:05-4:50] Welles then comes back to Woodard [5:55-6:23]:

Now it seems that the officer of the law who blinded the young negro boy has not been named. The boy saw him while he could still see, but of course he had no way of knowing which particular policeman it was who brought the justice of Dachau and Oswiecim to Aiken, South Carolina. He was just another white man with a stick, who wanted to teach him [it’s actually “a Negro boy” in the broadcast] a lesson – to show him [again, it’s “a Negro boy”] where he belonged: in the darkness. Until we know more about him, for just now, we’ll call the policeman Officer X. He might just be listening to this. I hope so.

He continues, “What does it cost to be a negro? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his eyes. What does it cost to wear over your skeleton the pinkish tint officially described as white? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his soul.” [9:42-9:59]

He returns to the question of price. “What are they quoting for one eye? An eye for an eye? You had eyes to see, but you have never seen. You were born in a pit.” [these are two different sections, with “What are they quoting…” 10:17-10:21 and “You had eyes to see…” at 12:32-12:42] Then suddenly, passionately, he asks: “Where stands the sun of common fellowship? When will it rise in your dark country? When will it be noon in Georgia? I must know, Officer X, because I must know where the rest of us are going with our American experiment.” [11:57-12:05] In this phrase, Welles articulates the despairing, underlying quest of his past few years. He returns to Officer X [Callow’s excerpt leaves out a middle section, “a moment from the philosophers”, 7:39-11:22]:

We invite you to luxuriate in secrecy. It will be brief. Go on, suckle your anonymous moment while it lasts. You’re going to be uncovered. We will blast out your name, your so-called Christian name. We will give the world your given name, Officer X. If he’s listening to this, let him listen well: Officer X, after I have found you out, I’ll never lose you. If they try you, I’m going to watch the trial. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future. I will take note of all your destinations. Assume another name and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. I will find means to remove from you all refuge, Officer X. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment, you and I – and only death can cancel it.

The effect is rousing, certainly, but also somewhat disturbing. Who exactly is speaking, one wonders? The tone is personal, vengeful, obsessive, but also melodramatic, stagy. As if to answer the unspoken question – and to puncture the theatricality – Welles asks: “Who am I? A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir. Merely an inquisitive Citizen of America. I admit that nothing on this inhabited earth is capable of your chastisement. I am simply but quite actively, curious to know what will become of you. Your fate cannot affect the boy in the county hospital for the blind. We want a word to lighten his darkness. You’re sorry for him? He rejects your pity. You are ashamed? He doesn’t care. We want to tell him soon that all America is ashamed of you.” [11:25-12:24] The rhetoric resumes, mounts; the sentences become shorter. There is endless play on the idea of eyes and seeing. Woodard will never see, but the lids are merely closed on Officer X’s eyes. One day, Welles hopes, he will learn “to try the wild adventure of looking…then there will be a shouting of trumpets to raise the dead at Gettysburg. A thunder of cannon will declare the tidings of peace and all the bells of liberty will laugh out loud in the streets to celebrate the good will toward all men. The new blind can hear. It would be very good if they could hear the news that the new blind can finally see. Then, Officer X, you’ll find you can wash off what should be washed, and it will be said of you – yes, even you – that they awakened the right man.” [12:58-13:37] He pants, seems to be shaking with emotion. The programme ends with him broken-voiced as he signs off “Obediently yours.” There is nothing obedient about it: the commentator is no one’s servant, except perhaps blind justice’s.

It is a remarkable performance, both in conception and execution, a passionately eloquent affirmation of human values; but – certainly at this distance – there is a quality of hysteria about it that seems curiously solipsistic. In dramatizing the events, the feelings of the pursuer come to seem as important as those of the victim, while the perpetrator of the crime – however loathsome he might be – is elevated under the weight of this onslaught to an almost sacrificial status.


There is the notable fact here that Welles moves the issue here away from the abstractions of race and differences in treatment before the law, to the immediate. This is not an in-depth essay on racial inequality, but a practical detective thriller: there is a monster on the loose and I am going to find him. Despite his question and answer, “A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir,” it is almost not to think of such figures who are there when justice fails, as well as the necessity of there being something like this. The blinding of Isaac Woodard took place because he believed there would be no justice, that no law would come into effect, and Welles countered that a moral force would be there, and this was not embodied in Welles, but a universal justice which would have to be answered, just as Abel had to answer for his crime.

The other final point is how exotic this approach is to us now, and this lies with the difference between television and radio. Welles has an astonishing power here, but I think that power would vanish were he to give the same speech, word for word, on television, a cold medium. Anyone acting outside a narrow range of calm and temperate feeling on television news comes off as a lunatic. Those who claim this area of emotional hysteria are not from the left flank of the aisle, but on the right, the most notable example being Glenn Beck, a long-time enthusiast of Welles’s radio work, and who is no doubt familiar with the Isaac Woodard broadcasts. That we now find this hysteria on the right is in part due to the convergence of religious feeling with the political right, and we see a precursor of this in the movie Network, which, despite being considered a movie about liberal frustration, I have always thought to be about, first and foremost, the conservative anger of the silent majority which elected Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (for more on this, see “Network: Song for the Silent Majority”). Welles is nearly panting by the end of his monologue, while Howard Beale collapses after one of his speeches hit a fevered pitch. The rightward concentration of unrestrained passion is also a consequence of the simple asymmetry that exists with regard to the ideas of the left and right. Liberals must make thoughtful, rational cases for a higher minimum wage or better working conditions, and still these opinions are barely tolerated to hold space in the room. On the other hand, demagogues are allowed to shout out about welfare cheats, mortgage freeloaders, liberal fascists and criminals, and these ideas are always expected to be heard, and they are heard, for the simple reason that these opinions coincide with the interests of whatever large corporation owns that press, while those arguing for better wages and worker treatment are always the enemy.

We return to Hello Americans:


The impact of the broadcast on his listeners was understandably electric. “Orson,” Les Lear, his former sponsor, wrote in a letter after the first Woodard programme, “I can’t begin to express the profound administration you have won on the part of thinking America for the magnificent manner in which you are championing everything and anything that has to do with the American way of life. I am confident that, should you ever elect to head a world-wide movement to further tolerance, your followers would outnumber all other mankind-benefiting societies a million to one.” Another letter of support, more personal, came from the all-Negro Santa Fe Waiters’ Union: “as soon as your broadcast message were reported to all the waiters and bartenders on the Santa Fe Railroad from LA to Chicago, at union meeting we suggested someone should send our appreciation to such a loyal an [sic] liberal white person…the young negro appreciates people like yourself, Mrs Roosevelt and other liberals in America for fighting peaceful for we believe the pen is mightier than the sword – We thank you very very much for ever your loyal friendship from over 1,500 people we remain yours, Al Laster.”

It was not all roses: someone signing himself A FORMER FAN wrote to Welles that Woodard was trying to get away from flight with another Negro; and the flagrantly reactionary Congressman John Rankin sent a copy of the broadcast to J. Edgar Hoover at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

More disturbingly, at the urging of Police Chief Sprawls, Aiken mayor Odell Weeks wrote to Welles: “Since your Sunday night broadcast went out to the nation, and the locale of the story was wholly untrue, I urge that you have the courage and forthrightness to retract the wrong you have done this city in your broadcast next Sunday night, giving to your retraction the same emphasis that you placed upon your original broadcast of the story.” The city of Aiken, a former health resort, prided itself on its southern charm; once a winter colony for the wealthy, it had become an equestrian sporting centre, and its population included a number of well-heeled socialites. Mayor Weeks was genuinely affronted by the slur on the city’s good name, although the county of which it was the seat was rather less fastidious, boasting as it did a sign on its borders that stated: NIGGER, DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOU IN AIKEN COUNTY. But the mayor had a point. No one had been able to trace either the policeman who had assaulted Woodard, or the incident itself: there was no record of it in Aiken’s jail or its courtroom. In fact, both the FBI and the NAACP had good reason to believe that Woodard had mistaken the place where the bus had stopped, but both were biding their time until they had made thorough investigations; they did not let Welles into their suspicions.

He took to the air again the following Sunday (the day after the closing night of Around the World, which may have affected his mood). It was a typical Commentary, starting with Welles musing on the betrayal of Yalta and the Peace. He denounces all the Allies: Stalin, who has reneged on the terms of the treaty a mere week later in Bucharest; Roosevelt’s party, which follows a Republican programme; the Labour Party in Britain, which is dancing the Dance of Death of Tory ignorance and Tory cowardice; it is the eleventh hour for mankind, as people prepare for a Third World War. He brings to his bitter reflections a tone of scathing despair at the post-war world: is this, he asks, what we fought for? The feeling is very personal and hurt – above all, weary – but it is something of a harangue, and listening to it is like being trapped in a bar with a very gloomy fellow on New Year’s Eve; it is almost impossible to believe that the speaker is only thirty years old. After a general survey of the world and the state of democracy, delivered in a listless monotone (even the jokes are weary: “some people feel Mr Truman should stay out of local politics; some people think he should never have left it”), he introduces Woodard, and suddenly becomes lively.


This full broadcast, “The Peacemakers”, broadcast date August 4th, 1946, can be found at “1946 Orson Welles Commentaries”. The following is the segment devoted to Woodard. Transcript for this segment is available at the footnote3.


Quoting from Mayor Weeks’s letter, Welles turns the tables on him, inviting him to join the manhunt. He hopes, he says, to be able to retract the story and be able to apologise to Aiken. “There are thousands of cities where negro soldiers have not been blinded. I hope that it will be my privilege to announce that your city is one of these…I’ve sent investigators to your city who should bring out the truth, unless it is too skilfully hidden…there is an American soldier who believes that it did happen in your city. And I cannot forget that. It is to him, Mr Weeks, that you should address your first and most indignant letters. They will of course have to be transcribed in Braille.” He is on curious ground here, arguing that there are more important things in life than Aiken’s amour-propre; but if you pose as the champion of truth, it doesn’t do to get your facts wrong – far less to hurl around false accusations. The tone is, again, worrying: “I’ve sent investigators to your city.” Who does he think he is? Aiken was certainly not mollified, and duly delivered to the New York Times a packet of evidence exonerating itself from the indictment, securing itself a front-page headline the day after the broadcast: AIKEN IS ANGERED AT WELLES CHARGE. Welles<s answer was to broaden the terms of the debate in the following week's broadcast. His text was drawn largely from the speech he gave at the great Peace Rally in Chicago in 1943, subsequently published in pamphlet form under the title Moral Indebtedness, as he acknowledged: “I’ve said this before: to be born free is to be born in debt; to live in freedom without fighting slavery is to profiteer.”


The broadcast, “To be born free”, broadcast date August 11, 1946:

Transcript is at the footnote4.


It is fine rousing stuff, delivered with the sweeping rhetorical power that was uniquely his, and it produced a passionate response. “Keep up the marvellous work,” said an anonymous correspondent. “We’re all behind you 100%. Too bad you’re not in politics…we need such men as you.” Another note said: “I wonder if anywhere in the world today [a Sunday, of course] was preached a sermon that was comparable to your expression.” Yet another listener wrote: “I can think of nothing nobler expressed by anyone at any time in world history. You deserve the deep gratitude of everyone that has a spark of nobility and I hope you continue to devote your great ability to the same noble purpose.” Quite separately from his work an actor, writer, director, Welles’s impact as an inspirational non-party-political figure was immense; for many people, he was a beacon.

The momentum in the Woodard case was building inexorably. The NAACP arranged a huge rally in the vast Lewisohn Stadium in New York under the sponsorship of the black newspaper Amsterdam News and the Isaac Woodard Benefit Committee; the singer Carol Brice and the great boxer Joe Louis were prominent members. Thirty thousand people heard Louis read a statement by Welles, who was by now in Los Angeles, preparing the film he was to direct for Harry Cohn:

Isaac Woodard is on the conscience of America. – The sin which was committed against him is the sin committed every day against his race – which is the human race. We cannot give him back his eyes. But we can make tough new laws – laws to drive the concentration camps out of our country – we can make laws to stop lynch law. – We can make prejudice illegal, and see to it that our American Nazis are punished for their crimes. – If Woodard had to lose his sight to show us that we need those laws, the least that we can do for him is to make those laws and make them now and make them stick. – If we don’t, we are more blind than he. – The only defence against the mob is the people.

Woodard himself spoke with his characteristic simplicity and dignity, and then – to what he later said was the most tumultuous reception he ever received. Woody Guthrie sang the specially written “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” [a cover of this song is on youtube, “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard” by Raymond Crooke], sung to the tune of “The Great Dust Storm” [also on youtube, “Woody Guthrie- The Great Dust Storm”].


A fragment of the speech Joe Louis gave here would later appear in a profile of the man in Jet magazine, from the issue of July 13 1978, now on google books, page 55:

In New York, he made one of his rare public speeches, at Lewisohn Stadium inside the City College to protest the beating of Black war veteran Isaac Woodard, whose eyes had been punched blind with billy sticks of some southern policemen.

“Nobody in America should have to go through second class citizenship,” he told the crowd. “Me and a whole lot of Black guys went out fighting for the American cause, now we’re gonna have to get America to give us our civil rights too. We earned them.”

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Isaac Woodard flanked by Joe Louis and unidentified man. Photo taken from Blackpast.org, “Woodard, Isaac (1919-1992)”


That afternoon from California Welles broadcast the fourth of his programmes devoted to Woodard, armed with a telegram from the NAACP saying that the attack probably took place in Batesburg, South Carolina, nineteen miles from Aiken. HOSPITAL RECORDS AMAZINGLY BRIEF NO MENTION NAMES POLICEMEN WHO DELIVERED VET TO HOSPITAL NOR PLACE WHERE ATTACK OCCURRED THIS EXTREMELY UNUSUAL FBI REPORTS CONFIRM OUR INVESTIGATORS.

Welles starts the broadcast with Aiken.


The broadcast, “Welles film banned”, broadcast date August 18, 1946. Transcript is at the footnote5:

It was on this broadcast that Welles identified Officer X as Lynwood Shull, of Batesburg, South Carolina:

I have before me…wires and press releases to the effect that a policeman of Batesburg…a man by the name of Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, it is given three different ways here…the flash is just before us…

Chief L.L. Shaw. Pronounce it however you want it. Or want to. Has admitted…that he was the police officer, who blinded Isaac Woodard. Thirty miles from Aiken. In South Carolina. This is in Batesburg.

Back to Callow’s Hello Americans.


He repeats another promise in the identical words with which he ended the first programme: “If Chief Shaw or Shawl or Shull is listening – and I have good reason to think that he is – I say: if they try you, I’m going to watch the trial…we have an appointment, you and I – and only death can cancel it.” And then he moves on to deal with the Texan gubernatorial election.

Chief Lynwood Shull (as opposed to Shaw or Shawl) had indeed been found, and admitted to having struck Woodard with his blackjack when he became unruly, taking the stick from him. “I grabbed it away from him and cracked him across the head. It may have hit his eyes.” Thus vindicated, the NAACP took the case to the Department of Justice, which – purely because it was an election year, in the view of the judge who finally tried the case – finally intervened, filing federal charges.


The best background on Lynwood Shull I’ve found comes from NAACP documents at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Background information collected by local black newspaper editor, September 1946 Part 1 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 893-894)” and “Background information, September 1946 Part 2 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 895-896)”, scans at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”. We are not given the convenience of an all-out villain. He, like many children of the South, was raised by a black woman and he played and socialized with the children of the black farm hands. We are told that many of the farm hands think him considerate, and then abruptly the record stops: “some of them admit hearing of several atrocities against other Negroes attributed to him”. We are faced with the stark truth that this cruelty does not stem from who you do or do not socialize with, but who the law protects and who it does not, and what takes place when you may be cruel without penalty or consequence. The Shulls ran a large farm, and they were a major power in the town. The mayor, H.E. Quarles, was an in-law, and considered part of what the NAACP papers refer to as “Shull’s machine”, with Shull’s position as sheriff a consequence of this machine. Except for sundays, the day of rest, the sheriff would always dress in a uniform of blue serge suit, white shirt, black tie, black shoes, and black hat. No one can remember the names of his deputies anymore, and refers to them always by their nicknames of “High Pocket” and “Dood all”. The sheriff is kind, considerate, and wordless except: when he is accompanied by his deputies, and then he is “a roaring maniac”6. We have all the elements that might make this into a folk tale, with not simply a wound, but a blinding, and a sheriff who is calm and unthreatening, unless near deputies who are nameless except for their nicknames, who exert almost a magical power to render him into a violent animal. These qualities give us the luxury of seeing all this as unreal, a world only of folk tales, when the violence, the cruelty, the lack of ward or protection for the assaulted man was very much our world, then and now.

Back to Hello Americans.


Oliver Harrington had no doubt about Welles’s influence on the outcome: YOUR TRULY GREAT COMMENTARIES IN BEHALF OF ISAAC WOODARD ARE RESPONSIBLE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE FOR THE APPREHENSION OF THE POLICE TORTURER IN BATESBURG COUNTLESS THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS ARE BETTER HUMAN BEINGS FROM HEARING YOUR BROADCASTS AGAINST FASCIST SADISM NOW SWEEPING A LARGE SECTION OF OUR COUNTRY. Samuel Proctor, a black man who fought in the Second World War, wrote: “The crying need of the minorities, particularly, the colored man, is a spokesman. I believe you can fill that job, even though it means being a martyr…I hope you will accept the enclosed check to help defray expenses involved in making America conscious of its duty and its opportunity” – a phrase that must have moved Welles, because that is exactly what he hoped and believed he was doing. Someone else wrote to say that he had fought in the war, but “it seems that I was fighting in the wrong place”, a common reaction. A nameless fan was even more enthusiastic: “Thousands of years ago/ God gave to the world Moses – the great teacher / Then Jesus the Saviour / Then Abraham Lincoln the Emancipator / The Franklin Delano Roosevelt the great Humanitarian / and now Orson Welles – the most wonderful fighter for the rights and freedom of all mankind.”


I am not the only reader, I think, who is made queasy by some of this sentiment. This grateful feeling arises not just from the heroic actions of Orson Welles – and they were very much heroic, and very much against the norm in 1946 – but the powerlessness of the indivudals requiring help. I think people may well see something of white saviorhood here, and I think we see it arising not out of the self-indulgence or arrogance of Welles, but the asymmetry of power itself, the legacy of a vast and cruel history.

Again, back to Hello Americans.


Aiken felt a little differently. “Please don’t come to Georgia,” said one sinister little note, “we don’t think it would be very healthy for your down this way.” The Republican county chairman John Willingham had issued a ghoulish invitation – COME OVER HERE SOMETIME WE ARE ANXIOUS TO ENTERTAIN YOU – followed by a more explicit threat of a libel suit: YOU MUST REALISE THAT AN IRRESPONSIBLE PERSON OF YOUR CHARACTER CANNOT MERELY HAVE ACCESS TO THE WAVE FREQUENCIES AND DEFAME A WHOLE COMMUNITY WITHOUT PROVOCATION. No doubt it was this that put the wind up Adrian Samish, vice-president of ABC, and his colleagues: OUR NEWS DEPARTMENT HAS BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION, he wired Welles, THE PROBLEMS THEY HAVE BEEN HAVING LATELY ABOUT TRYING TO GET YOU TO WRITE A SCRIPT AND TRYING TO GET YOU TO SUBMIT IT IN SUFFICIENT TIME FOR THEIR REGULAR REVIEW OF ALL COMMENTATORS FOR LIBEL, GOOD TASTE AND APPROPRIATE NEWS AUTHORITY. His script, Samish continued, must be submitted at least two hours before broadcast time. Welles will not be permitted to ad lib; if he persists, they will be forced to cut him off the air, explaining that he is broadcasting material he has refused to submit to ABC. WE ARE HAPPY TO GIVE YOU THE OPPORTUNITY OF UTILISING YOUR GREAT TALENT BUT UNDER THE FCC LAW THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF BROADCASTS ARE ABC’S I AM SURE YOU WILL UNDERSTAND OUR POSITION AND I AM TELLING OUR NEWS DEPARTMENT THAT I PERSONALLY KNOW YOU WILL CO-OPERATE. And he added, a little desperately, PLEASE DON’T LET ME DOWN. It was scarcely to be imagined that Welles would be allowed to get away with it for much longer.

Ignoring Samish and with only the merest nod in the direction of Aiken’s offended civic pride, he returned to the fray the following week. “The place was Batesburg,” he says firmly, then recapitulates what happened the week before in Aiken: the banning of the movie, the stripping down and burning of the posters, the hanging in effigy.


The broadcast, “The Place Was Batesburg”, broadcast date August 25, 1946. Transcript is at the footnote7:

It should be noted that Welles here misidentifies the perpetrator as M.L. Shull, when it was L.L. Shull (for Lynwood Lanier Shull), as he properly named the accused in “Welles film banned”.

It is possible, given the testimony we have, to locate where all this took place in Batesburg. Woodard would testify during a later civil suit against the Greyhound bus company, in detail, on where he was arrested and the beating began. An excerpt from this testimony, “Sworn Testimony for Civil Lawsuit, November 1947” (along with parts two, three, and four), taken from “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”:

I gets up and walks out of the bus and there was two polices standing there when I walked out. He was standing out there talking to the police.

He said, “This soldier has been making a disturbance on the bus,” so I goes to explain to the police that I had not been doing anything for them to arrest me, I was explaining to them what the bus driver said to me and what I said to him, but before I could explain it the police hit me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up. So I hushed, so the bus driver finished talking and after he finished talking the police said to me, “You won’t ride this bus out of here. You will catch the next bus out, otherwise I am going to look you up.” So then he grabbed me by my right wrist and twisted it behind my back and walks me down the street twisting my arm and looking at me just like he wanted to hit me. I don’t know but that is what I was thinking to myself.

So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way, and he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too, he just turned the corner and twisted my arm all at the same time, and so then I lit into him. I still did not say anything, so he asked me, “Have you been discharged?” and I says “Yes,” just like that. So he said, “Don’t say ‘Yes’ to me, say ‘Yes, sir,’ so I begged his pardon and I told him I would say ‘Yes, sir’ to him if he wanted me to, which I did.

So he started beating me all at the same time, just as soon as I said “Yes,” so then I throwed up my left arm and blocked a few licks and he continued to beat me until I had to do something so I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand, and when I did that some other officer throwed a revolver in my back and says, “Drop that billy. If you don’t I will drop you,” so I drops the billy and he picks it up and walked me on up to the jail and started beating me again.

“So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way” is the key phrase for the location, the corner of an intersection, at which point Shull jerks Woodard’s arm without warning him of the turn – “he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too” – and then it begins: “So he started beating me all at the same time”.

We are told what specific corner this is, in the testimony of the bus driver, Alton C. Blackwell, in this same civil suit. From a transcript of this testimony, at “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 1” and “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 2” 8:

Q According to this map, at right angles to North Railroad Avenue appears to be Oak Street and Granite Street down here. In which direction did Officer Shull take Woodard, did they go toward Oak or Granite Street?

A Toward Granite Street.

Q You spoke about seeing them approaching, I believe you said a corner when Woodard was apparently trying to jerk away from Chief Shull or the corner, is that right?

A The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.

Q Did they go around that corner in the direction fo Granite Street?

A Yes, sir, around the corner down Granite Street.

Q Did you see them any more?

A No, I did not.

Q State whether at any time in your presence or so far as you saw, Officer Shull struck Woodard with his hands or with any weapon.

A No, sir, I did not see him strike him at all.

“The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.” Woodard alleges the beating began on this corner, and this is the corner identified by Blackwell as the one at which they turn. I was unable to find anything labeled Granite Street on the Google map of Batesburg – but this is because Fulmer Street is also known as Granite Street, and this Fulmer Street intersects with West Railroad Avenue. That Granite Street is also known as Fulmer Street I discovered from the book South Carolina Postcards Volume 4: Lexington County and Lake Murray. This book is on google books, with a 1912 photo of Granite (Fulmer) Street (page 57):

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Fulmer was a busy thoroughfare of Batesburg. It was where the cotton was sold. Page 55 of South Carolina Postcards:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

This avenue divides in two, a northern strip and a southern strip, and this intersection is with the northern strip of Railroad Avenue, North Railroad Avenue. Oak Street runs parallel to Fulmer alongside it. There appears to something off in the google map of Batesburg – when I try and save the location on North Railroad which is the corner of Fulmer, I end up a block over. This may be due to my inexperience with this app. On Google Street View, this is the corner of Fulmer and North Railroad Avenue.

Here is a screenshot from Google Street View, the intersection of Fulmer and Railroad Avenue.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Many of the buildings in Batesburg are the same structures from a century ago.

This is the corner of Oak Street from 1908, page 58 from South Carolina Postcards:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

This is the building today, where we can see the same half moon windows alongside Railroad Avenue. On Google Street View here:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

This is what used to be the opera house at the end of Oak Street, South Carolina Postcards page 59:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

It’s now a florist’s, and one can see the same windows immediately. On Google Street View here. A screenshot from my Google Street View:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

That I locate this event, is not to provoke any violence, for violence sickens me, and I think it often the cowardly fantasy of those who’ve only enjoyed it at a distance, for the simple purpose of memory. What happened to Isaac Woodard was of historic significance, and where it took place is of historic significance as well.

Back to Simon Callow’s Hello Americans:


Welles sums up his own contribution to the story, returning to his Shadow mode [1:31-2:19, for most of the following, after which he reads the letter from an angry listener then reads his response, with the closing moment, “Well, that’s enough of that for now…” coming in at 6:22-6:31]:

When I stumbled upon this story several weeks ago…the name of the guilty policeman was unknown and it looked as though it always would be. I promised to get that name. I have it now…we won’t let him go. I promised I’d hunt him down. I have. I gave my word I’d see him unmasked. I have unmasked him. I’m going to haunt Police Chief Shull for the rest of his natural life. Mr Shull is not going to forget me. And what’s more important, I’m not going to let you forget Mr Shull. Well, that’s enough of that for now. We’ll come back to Mr Shull next week. And the week after that. And the week after that.

He moves on to a retelling of the story of the Unknown Soldier, one he had already written up for Free World, to which he bring exactly the same degree of emotion as he brought to Woodard’s story. “The people want world government,” he cries, “standing side by side, when the tools of war are put down forever.”

There is no contradiction in this, no insincerity: but in the end it is rather like being at Hyde Park Corner, with Welles, the radical gun for hire, on his soapbox, ready to sound off on the good causes of the week. In fact, he didn’t return to Woodard, or Chief Shull, until the penultimate Commentary some weeks later; after which Samish, true to his word, cut him off the air, selling his space instead to Chimney Sweep, the latest in a long line of ignominious substitutions that had started with Tarzan at RKO. Samish offered him a lifeline: if Welles was interested in doing a Commentary that completely ignored politics, Samish believed he had “a commercial spot where he can be sold”. It was not a proposition Welles cared to entertain.


For the moment, this penultimate Commentary broadcast I have been unable to find.


Then, with justified pride, he quotes the telegram Oliver Harrington had sent him, informing him that Lynwood Shull had been made the target of a criminal information charge by the Department of Justice for violating the Civil Rights Statute, a seldom-used statute passed by Congress in 1870 giving civil rights to black people: ACTION OF JUSTICE DEPT IS HISTORIC MOVE PROFOUND IMPLICATIONS I PERSONALLY FEEL YOU MORE THAN ANY OTHER RESPONSIBLE PLEASE ACCEPT DEEP GRATITUDE OF THE NAACPS 700,000 MEMBERS.

In a letter to radical Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, Welles said that he had had thousands of letters, almost all of which were commendatory, and hundreds of requests for the script. “You will all be disappointed to know,” he said, alluding to the 1870 statute, “that the penalty is only one year and the fine an extremely nominal one…Attorney General Clark has stated that he will ask for an amplification of the penalties…we must hold him to it…and use the publicity generated by this case to guarantee other minorities’ rights.” It was the single most effective political action of his life, though not in its immediate outcome, because as the trial judge J. Waties Waring feared, Truman and his Attorney General – “alarmed at the increased racial feeling in the country” – were more interested in being seen to have done something about the situation than in actually doing it. Waring was none too impressed by Welles’s involvement, either, directing the jury not to be influenced by “publicity seekers on the radio agitating for the prosecution of this case, or by politicians, mindful of the ballot box”. The prosecution case was at best half-hearted, crucial witnesses were not called, defence witnesses were indulge, and despite Waring’s instruction to the jury that they were trying “only one white police officer, not the South’s racial customs”, the defence attorney declared: “If delivering a verdict against the federal government means that South Carolina will have to secede again, then let’s secede.” The judge had to force the jury to discuss their verdict for at least twenty minutes. The instant they re-entered the courtroom, they returned a “not guilty” verdict. Chief of police Lynwood Lanier Shull resumed his job, ending his days, covered in respect and affection, in a retirement home in Batesburg, South Carolina.


This court case and its aftermath is well-described in the book, A Passion for Justice: J. Waties Waring and Civil Rights by Tinsley E. Yarborough, a biography of judge Waring which is scanned at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”, “Tinsley Yarborough, A Passion for Justice, pp. 48-53”, and whose relevant sections devoted to the trial are transcribed here.


The early case which apparently had the greatest influence on Judge Waring’s growing commitment to civil rights, however, concerned Isaac Woodward, Jr., [sic] a twenty-seven-year-old black [sic] whose wife was then living in Winnsboro. On February 12, 1946, Woodward was discharged from the Army at Camp Gordon, near Augusta, Georgia. That evening, he boarded a bus bound for his wife’s Winnsboro home. At Batesburg, a sleepy village thirty miles from Columbia, he was taken off the bus by police and arrested. The net morning, he pleaded guilty to public drunkenness and disorderly conduct in the Batesburg mayor’s court. Mayor H. E. Quarles imposed a $50 fine, but Woodward only had $44. Quarles collected that and suspended the rest of the fine. Woodward’s eyes were red and swollen. Later that day, he was admitted to the veteran’s hospital in Columbia. Three months later, he was released from the hospital – totally blind.

Civil rights groups soon complained that Batesburg police chief Lynwood Shull had gouged the veteran’s eyes with his blackjack, and by late summer, the Woodward case had become a national cause in the black press. Woodward’s parents lived in the Bronx borough of New York City. In mid-August, 20,000 supporters, including a number of prominent entertainment figures, attended a benefit rally at a New York stadium sponsored by the Amsterdam News and the Isaac Woodward Benefit Committee. In a speech read to the gathering in his absence, New York’s Mayor O’Dwyer, honorary chairman of the benefit, condemned the “brutal treatment” to which Woodward had been subjected and announced that New York police had recently been issued a policy statement forbidding discrimination in the performance of their duties. In an interview with reporters the day before the benefit, Chief Shull readily confirmed that he had hit the veteran with his blackjack when he became “unruly.” “I hit him across the front of the head after he attempted to take away my blackjack,” Shull explained. “I grabbed it away from him and cracked him across the head.”

Through the NAACP, Woodward also told his story to the Department of Justice. Ordinarily, federal officials might have considered the incident a state matter, best left to the discretion of local authorities. But 1946 was a congressional election year. In late September, the Justice Department telephoned U.S. attorney Claude Sapp in Columbia, informing him that charges had been prepared against Shull and were being mailed to South Carolina for filing in the district court. Fearing that a grand jury would be unlikely to indict Batesburg’s constable on felony charges, the Department had decided to bring misdemeanor charges against Shull under an information or affidavit of the U.S. attorney. On September 26, Sapp filed the information in the district court, charging Shull with a violation of Title 18, Section 52, of the U.S. code.

A remnant of the Reconstruction era, Section 52 made it a crime for persons acting “under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation or custom to interfere with rights “secured or protected” by the U.S. Constitution or federal law. Conviction carried a maximum punishment of one year, $1,000 or both. The information charged Shull with violating Woodward’s

right to be secure in his person and to be immune from illegal assault and battery; the right and privilege not to be beaten and tortured by persons exercising the authority to arrest; the right and privilege not to be beaten, tortured, and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because of having committed any offense; the right and privilege not to be denied equal protection of the laws; and the right and privilege not to be subjected to different punishments, pains, and penalties by reason of his race or color.

Following the filing of federal charges, South Carolinians closed ranks behind Chief Shull. In October, the state law enforcement association adopted a resolution protesting the “high-handed” interference of federal authorities in a “purely local matter,” and a movement was begun to raise a defense fund in the constable’s behalf. Three prominent Batesburg citizens, including Mayor Quarles and a former state highway commissioner, posted his bond. Civil rights groups continued to give the case extensive attention.

The trial was set for November 5, election day in Columbia. Shortly before it was to begin, however, Claude Sapp visited Judge Waring’s chambers and told the judge that he had been directed by the Justice Department to file the information against Shull, that the department had furnished him with no witnesses, and that the attorney general was now instructing Sapp to seek a continuance in the case.

Judge Waring now suspected that the filing of charges had been a mere election-year ploy, and that, following the election, the charges would be quietly forgotten. He was shocked and furious. He told Sapp that he would deny any motion for a postponement of the trial. Instead, he would dismiss the charges against Shull and issue an order detailing his reasons.

After Sapp left his chambers, Judge Waring prepared a rough draft of a memorandum order. Nothing that the charges against Shull had been prepared in Washington and forwarded to South Carolina “for immediate filing,” he asked: “Why this haste in [the] start of a prosecution and reticence in trying it?” Then, appearing to answer his own question, he observed:

I am not unmindful of the fact that this matter has attained unpleasant and undesirable publicity. It is probable that agitators for prosecution and agitators against prosecution are not averse to the publicity which they themselves receive from the advocacy of these measures. I am also aware of the fact that a national election is impending.

Such factors, he asserted, should have no influence on the judicial process.

I do not believe that a criminal prosecution in the courts of this country should be influenced one way or the other by the desire of any of such parties for publicity and the resultant benefit to seekers for public exhibitionism or for political preferment. I am of the opinion that justice in the courts should [be] administered irrespective of race or color and that judges and jurors must be color-blind in rendering justice. If this case is based upon facts and the defendant committed the acts as charged, he is guilty of a heinous offense and prompt trial should be had. If these charges cannot be sustained, then he is being subjected to grave injustice to allow the case to continue upon the calendar of the court. I am unwilling that a matter of this kind should be allowed to drag on and perhaps disappear after the national election. And I do not believe that this poor blinded creature should be a football in the contest between box office and ballot box. The case must be tried or dismissed and the government announcing that it is not ready for trial, accordingly it is ordered that the cause be dismissed for want of prosecution. The defendant is hereby discharged and his bail bond exonerated.

It is not known whether Judge Waring shared his draft order with Claude Sapp. After conferring further with the Justice Department, however, the U.S. attorney reported to Waring that a department attorney and several witnesses would be available and that the case would go to trial on schedule. On Monday, November 4, the first day of the term, Judge Waring disposed of near fifty cases including nineteen revenue violations, three cases of automobile theft, and an embezzlement count. On Tuesday, a jury heard the Shull case.

Isaac Woodard was the government’s principal witness. Dressed in a brown suit and wearing sunglasses with green lenses, the slim black veteran testified that a few miles outside Augusta, when the bus made a stop to pick up passengers, he asked the driver to wait while he went to a restroom. The driver, he said, cursed him and told him to return to his seat. “[T]alk to me like I’m talking to you,” Woodard said he retorted. “I’m a man just like you.” Woodward then went to the restroom. When he returned, the driver said nothing. When the bus reached Batesburg, however, the driver summoned Woodward off the bus to meet “someone I want you to see.” Once outside, Woodward encountered Chief Shull and another policeman. Woodward testified that when he attempted to explain his difficulty with the driver, Shull told him to “shut up” and hit him on the head with his blackjack. Then he twisted Woodward’s arm behind his back and led him up a street and around a corner, out of the view of the other bus passengers. Approximately a hundred feet beyond the corner, according to Woodward, Shull asked him whether he had been discharged from the Army. When Woodward indicated that he had, the police chief began beating him with his billy club and shouted, “You don’t say ‘yes’ to me, say ‘yes sir!'” Woodward complied but then struggled with Shull, wresting the blackjack from the officer. Another policeman ran up at this point, Woodward testified, and threatened him with his pistol until Woodward dropped the blackjack. Woodward conceded that he had “a drink or two” but denied that he used profane or abusive language on the bus, or that any passenger had complained to the driver about his behavior. After his appearance in the Batesburg mayor’s court, he added, he had been returned to his jail cell; no physician had examined him until his transfer to the veteran’s hospital.

Two passengers on the bus, a University of South Carolina student and a white veteran, testified that they had not seen Woodward drinking, that he was simply the one among many Army dischargees “jollying around” on the bus who had been singled out for arrest. The testimony of most witnesses, however, differed markedly from Woodward’s version of the events. Bus driver A. C. Blackwell of Columbia testified that Woodward was drinking on the bus and offered a drink to a white soldier. “He was drunk,” Blackwell said, “he was pretty drunk,” and had “caused commotions” at several points along the bus route. “Boy,” Blackwell said he told Woodward at one stop, “I’m going to leave you somewhere.” The black’s language had been so profane, Blackwell added, that an offended white couple had asked that he be removed from the bus.

Lynwood Shull, dressed in a blue suit and appearing clean-cut, pleaded self-defense in the line of duty. Shull conceded that he may have “bumped” Woodward lightly with his nightstick at the bus station but insisted that he had hit the defendant only when Woodward attempted to seize his blackjack.

I kept trying to hush him…The next thing I knew he caught the loose end of my blackjack and pulled me right into him. I didn’t have time to pick a spot. I’m sorry I hit him in the eyes and blinded him. I had no wish to blind anyone. I had no tention of hitting him in the eyes, but I had to hit him in self-defense because he was advancing on me.

Had Woodward “hushed up” his cursing, Shull said, he would not have arrested him. When Woodward first declined the police chief’s offer to seek a physician following his court appearance the next day, moreover, the policeman had bathed the soldier’s swollen eyes with warm water and a cloth.

Other witnesses backed Shull’s position. Another policeman testified that he had not been present when the defendant and Woodward were struggling for the nightstick. But he agreed that the veteran had been cursing. Mayor Quarles reported that Woodward had admitted in his court to being drunk and disorderly. A Batesburg physician, who said that he had examined Woodward at the jail before his transfer to the veteran’s hospital, testified that the injuries to both Woodward’s eyes could have been caused by one blow, as Shull had testified. Under questioning from a government attorney, the doctor did concede that such a blow would have to be “perfectly timed.” Three character witnesses, including the county sheriff and a black Methodist minister, declared that Shull was a man of fine character and reputation.

Throughout the trial, Judge Waring attempted to thwart the appeals to racism of Shull’s counsel. In his charge to the all-white jury, moreover, he observed that the case’s racial elements had attracted “unwanted and undesirable” publicity and urged the jurors to “put aside prejudice and give due justice…You are trying only one police officer,” he warned, not the South’s racial customs or “black against white.” In their summations to the jury, however, Shull’s attorneys used a distinctly different approach. One claimed that Woodward belonged to “an inferior race” and that his “vulgar” talk was “not the talk of a sober South Carolina Negro…If Lynwood Shull is convicted today,” he warned, “you will be saying to the public officers of South Carolina that you no longer want your home, your wife, and your children protected.” Another of Shull’s counsel alluded heavily to the Confederacy and the Civil War. If delivering a verdict against the federal government “means that South Carolina’ll have to secede again,” he told the jurors, “then let’s secede!”

Judge Waring doubted that the jury would deliberate more than a few minutes before returning to the courtroom with a verdict of acquittal, but he wanted to give the proceedings, ” a little more atmosphere of respectability.” “I’m going out for a walk,” he told the bailiff ager discharging the jury, “and I’ll be back in twenty minutes’ time.” “But Judge,” the bailiff responded, “that jury ain’t going to stay [out] for twenty minutes.” “They’re going to stay out twenty minutes,” Waring countered, “because they can’t come in until I come back, and I’m not going to be back here for twenty minutes.” Judge Waring briefly walked the streets of Columbia, then returned to the courtroom. The bailiff met him at the door. “Judge, the jury’s all ready; they’re rapping on the door and say they want to come in.” The case had gone to the jury at 6:30 P.M.; its verdict was delivered at 6:55. That verdict, as Judge Waring expected, was acquittal.

Like other white-owned South Carolina newspapers, the Columbia State applauded the jury’s decision. Evidence presented in the case, The State editorialized, established that “the Negro had caused trouble on the bus all along its route…that he was boisterous and caused offense by unseemly language,” and that Shull had “struck the veteran in discharge of his duty and in self-defense.”

A special prosecutor was sent to Columbia from Washington to try the case. This may have been an implied insinuation that the case would not receive fair and unbiased treatment in the South, but it also removes the possibility of any possible future implications of the sort….

Such intercession on the part of the central government in the affairs of the states can lead only to a renewal of argument over states’ rights. It is therefore an unwholesome influence against unity in the Union, and something to be studiously avoided whenever possible.

While hardly agreeing with The State’s assumption that justice had been served, Judge Waring had no quarrel with the Shull jury’s verdict. “I made no comment,” he later recalled.

I have no comment or criticism of them now. I couldn’t ask them to find [Shull] guilty on the slimness of that case, but I was shocked at the hypocrisy of my government and your government in submitting that disgraceful case before a jury. I was also hurt that I was made a party to it, because I had to be a party to it, however unwilling I was.

Isaac Woodward’s plight, the racial appeals of Shull’s counsel, and the Justice Department’s failure to pursue the prosecution aggressively had a tremendous impact on Judge Waring. The case was also, he would later say, Elizabeth Waring’s “baptism in racial prejudice.” Partly to escape the increasingly chilly atmosphere of Charleston, Elizabeth often accompanied here husband when he heard cases in Columbia and other communities where they were still graciously received by the local bar. A March 1946 society column in the Columbia State noted, for example, “Mrs. J. Waties Waring, attractive wife of Judge Waring, lending a breath of spring to the federal courthouse yesterday with a lovely silk dress and charming straw hat.” Elizabeth heard the Woodward case, then returned to their hotel room in tears. She told Judge Waring that she had “never heard such a terrible thing and had no idea how bad the situation was.” When she confessed her shock to a Columbia matron, her acquaintance wearily responded, “Mrs. Waring, that sort of thing happens all the time. It’s dreadful, but what are we going to do about it?”


We return to Callow’s Hello Americans:


The event nevertheless had a considerable long-term effect. Among other things, it politicised Judge Waring, who became a close associate of the NAACP; he lived to be the first judge of modern times formally to declare segregated schooling unequal. The path to racial integration, the bare minimum for civilised interracial relations, was a long and stony one, and one that has perhaps not ended, but the Woodard case was a valuable step along it. His testimony illustrated as vividly as anything could have done that the issue was, above all, one of the right to respect. The whole incident had begun in the bus when the driver had cursed him for making him stop so that Woodard could use the toilet. “Talk to me like I’m talking to you,” the mild Woodard had said. “I’m a man just like you.” It was for this outrage that the driver reported him to the police. And when he got off the bus at Batesburg to meet “someone I want you to see”, and Shull had hit him on the head with his blackjack, Woodard answered the question as to whether he’d been discharged from the army with the single word “Yes”. “Don’t say yes to me,” Shull had said, “say yes sir.” And then, enraged by Woodard’s impertinence, he laid about him again with renewed vigour.

Welles did not often speak of his involvement in the case, but some years later, in London in 1955, he recounted the story on his television programme Orson Welles’s Scrapbook. And having recounted it, he observed:

We’re told that we should co-operate with the authorities. I’m not an anarchist. I don’t want to overthrow the rule of law, on the contrary, I want to bring the policeman to law. Obviously individual effort won’t do any good. There’s nothing an individual can do about protecting the individual in society. I’d like it very much if somebody would make a great big international organisation for the protection of the individual. It would be very nice to have that sort of an organisation, be nice to have that sort of card. I see the card as fitting into the passport, a little larger than the passport, with a border around it in bright colours, so that it would catch the eyes of the police. And they’d know who they were dealing with…and it might read something as follows. “This is to certify that the bearer is a member of the human race.”

This mellow and rueful tone was not available to Welles in the forties. Too much was at stake.


Callow is a superb and thorough researcher, but here he gets a detail wrong. In his first volume, he eloquently describes the abilities of Welles as a painter and sketcher, able to draw up easily the appearance of a character, with this sketch carrying a succinct essence of the character, and this programme for the BBC was not a memory book, but a tribute to the skills of the director in this area, Orson Welles’s Sketchbook, with each episode featuring Welles sketching various episodes and characters while telling his stories. This episode, along with the rest of the Sketchbook series, is currently on youtube: “Orson Welles Sketchbook – Episode 3: The Police”. The opening of the episode is devoted to the Woodard case, with Welles sketching the man, and his description leaving no doubt of the importance of the case to him. During this opening, he appears to commingle details from the case. The policemen did wish to make Woodard appear drunk, and they offered him something to drink, and they poured water over his head to wash the blood from his wounds, but here they now pour alcohol from a bucket on his head. Full transcript of this program is at the footnote9:

I was, uh, many years, a radio commentator…in America. During that time, of course, I had occasion to speak on a great variety of subjects. *tears paper out of sketchbook* Of all those subjects, one of the most interesting stories, the one that sticks most vividly in memory, had to do with a Negro soldier. Here he is:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Boy had seen service in the South Pacific, he was on his way home. Home was in one of the Southern states…he was on a bus, on the way he felt ill, he asked the bus driver to let him off. Bus driver refused, abusively. There was an argument, at the end of which a policeman was called in, who dragged the boy out of the bus, took him behind a building, and beat him viciously. And when he was unconscious, poured gin over him, put him in jail, charged him with drunkenness and assault. When the boy regained consciousness, he discovered that he was blind. The policeman had literally beaten out his eyes. Now, of course, that sortof policeman is the exception. That’s when a policeman is a criminal in uniform. I had the satisfaction of being instrumental in bringing that particular policeman to justice. Case was brought to my attention, and I brought it to the attention of the radio public, and we did finally manage to locate this man, and bring him into a court of law.

This episode would be an ending for the Welles in the venue which allowed him to make such an extraordinary debut in movies, the medium of radio. The crucial importance of radio for Welles in shaping his sensibility and his movies is often understated, if not ignored entirely, because the medium of episodic radio was moribund – if not extinct – for decades until its revival by This American Life, a revival further sustained by programs like The Moth. These, however, are still a different creature than what Welles was working with, fictional drama in contrast to non-fictional reporting, essays, and memoir. Radio had sustained Welles in between his film work, and though it is now entirely forgotten, one can count the Woodard case among his greatest triumphs, a result of his genius for this medium. That his film career would go into an advancing and steep decline with the end of radio is a possible connection to any reader of Callow’s Hello Americans, yet one seemingly little noted by many. Hello Americans:

The Commentary of 1 September was not only Welles’s last appearance in the series, but his last appearance on American radio, the medium in which he had earned a living for most of his professional life, and which he had loved in so many and various ways – some admittedly not wisely, but too well. He had understood its possibilities from the moment he started to work in it; he had brought what he learned there to the theatre and to film. Latterly, he had seemed to lose his youthful interest in it as a medium per se; he had become captivated rather by its possibilities as the most direct means of conveying his ideas, unmediated by production of any sort, to the American people. It was a very pure form: just his voice and the listener’s ear.

Lynwood Shull would outlive both Woodard and Welles. The legendary film director would die in 1985 (given his celebrity and status, there is no question of the date of October 11 1985, and his New York Times obituary is here: “Orson Welles is Dead at 70; Innovator of Film and Stage”), while Woodard would die at 73, on September 23, 1992, a date which I get from the less reliable wikipedia and the entry, “Isaac Woodard”, which carries no citation for the date of death. Lynwood Shull would die at age ninety-five in 1997, a detail which can be found alongside a description of the Shull descendants in The Grace of Silence: A Family of Memoir. This memoir by NPR correspondent Michele Norris focuses on her own family, and her father being shot by the police during the same era of Isaac Woodard’s blinding. While exploring her own family history, Norris investigates the Woodard case and interviews surviving family members. From Grace of Silence:


The man accused of blinding Isaac Woodard, Police Chief Lynwood Shull, pretty much disappeared from the historical record after his acquittal in November 1946. He stayed in and around Batesburg for most of his life. He had a daughter and worked for a time as the county road commissioner. He died in December 1997, at the age of ninety-five. Eager to know more about him, I called up some of his relatives: not a one had a clue that Lynwood Shull had been a figure in the national news for his involvement in the Woodard case. They had no idea that Shull had been the subject of a series of radio tirades by Orson Welles, the creator of Citizen Kane and The War of the Worlds. Most were dumbfounded to discover that their relative had been accused of a crime so heinous as to prompt executive action by a sitting U.S. president. Some were eager to get me off the phone, but others wanted to hear more.

Patsy Quarles, who married into the family, learned of the story from news clippings she discovered while cleaning out her in-laws’ farmstead. “It was hush-hush,” she said. “I was married thirty years before I even heard it mentioned. At that time a newspaper article turned up and I said what was this about and [my husband] said it is not something the family talks about.” Quarles told me that she wants to know more but is afraid to press the subject.

Hugh Shull, who lives in Lexington, South Carolina, is a nephew of Shull’s. His father, Cothran, was the youngest of six Shull siblings; Lynwood was the oldest. When I asked Hugh if he had ever heard of Isaac Woodard, he said, “Never heard a word of any of this, and I am fifty-seven years old.” In one of the most uncomfortable conversations I’ve been party to, I read Woodard’s affidavit to Hugh Shull on the phone; he gasped time and again at the other end of the line.

“He is my uncle Lynwood,” Hugh Shull said. “It is a shock to me. Yes, ma’am. Not so much a shock that things like that happened in that period. But a shock that he would do that.” I explained that my father was a black veteran also wounded in a police shooting, and that he, too, had kept the story to himself to avoid passing his pain on to his loved ones. Shull told me, “They say that was the greatest generation, the ability to try to protect their family, and I guess that is what they did. They protected their families.” The Shull family had also been burdened, it appears, and in some ways shaped, by the weight of silence. Hugh Shull seemed conflicted about what he’d heard. “It makes me feel ashamed that something like that happened, and I don’t know if I should apologize or what, but I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Davis and Betty Shull live in nearby Aiken County, South Carolina. They were not close to Lynwood Shull; they last saw him at a livestock market years before his death. They, too, were in the dark about Lynwood, but, as they see it, the connection of their family name to the Woodard scandal is no cause for apology. “It does not bother me,” Davis Shull, Lynwood’s cousin, said. “I did not know it. I would assume the man could have been at fault. If he [Shull] was acquitted, [Woodard] probably did something.”

Davis Shull is troubled by the notion that all Shulls – all southerners, for that matter – should be besmirched by any one incident. “We’re all supposed to be haters,” Davis said. “But hey! We have relatives who are black. We know who they are. Goes back to my great-granddaddy. We knew who they are and one of them was even raised up in the same house with my grandmother. In some way we see things clearly.” His wife, Betty, noted that the South’s tortured history vis-a-vis race makes it hard for whites to wade into racial discussions. “Nowadays everything is racist,” she told me. “No matter what you say. You can’t tell the truth without being racist. You can’t say anything.”

Listening to Davis and Betty Shull, I couldn’t help but think of the newsreels from the civil rights era’s most vicious conflicts. Lynwood Shull is dead, but many of the people who threw bricks at college students, or spat at ballplayers, or yelled awful things at schoolchildren are still alive. And if America is as determined as it appears to be to have a frank conversation about race, those very people, who’ve been denounced and derided – demonized – must have a seat at the table, so that they can be a part of the dialogue. For often discussions about race are one-sided, driven only by those who have experienced directly or through family ties the burden of rampant and vicious discrimination. The “success despite oppression” trope is quite common in politics, business, and the media. Less common – more muted, perhaps – are the viewpoints of people who enforced, enjoyed, or evolved past presumed white privilege. Their stories and sentiments, too, must be considered for greater understanding, as all of us try to explore and explain a country that has moved from the legislated marginalization of people of color to their predicted attainment of majority status in less than forty years.


The voice of Isaac Woodard, his own voice, is almost entirely missing from all these accounts. The closest I have come is his testimony as part of a lawsuit against the Greyhound company. He would lose the lawsuit, as described in the contemporary piece, “Greyhound Not Liable For Beating” by A. H. Calloway, and for which I am grateful to “jimgaines” for clipping. What follows is Woodard’s testimony. Nutter is T. Gillis Nutter, attorney for plaintiff, while Morris is Stanley C. Morris, attorney for the defendant. This testimony is transcribed from the scan, “Sworn Testimony for Civil Lawsuit, November 1947” (along with parts two, three, and four) at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”.


Q I wish you would turn to the jury there on your left and state in your own language what occurred or what happened to you between Augusta, Georgia and Batesburg, South Carolina.

A What occurred after I boarded the bus?

Q Yes.

A Well, a few miles out of town, about an hour’s ride, the bus driver stopped the bus. I asked him did he have time to wait until I go to the rest room, I mean the latrine. He says to me, “Hell, no.” He said, “God damn it, go back and sit down. I ain’t got time to wait.” I says, “God damn it, talk to me like I am talking to you. I am a man just like you.” He said, “Go ahead then and hurry back.”

Well, I goes ahead and hurried back and takes my seat again. That was all of that. So he did not say anything more to me and I did not say anything more to him until we come into Batesburg, South Carolina. He gets in Batesburg and he stops and gets off the bus and I don’t know what he got off the bus for, but he came back to the bus and walks up to me and taps me on the shoulder and says, “Get up, some one outside wants to see you.” He turns around and walks back out of the bus. I gets up and walks out of the bus and there was two polices standing there when I walked out. He was standing out there talking to the police.

He said, “This soldier has been making a disturbance on the bus,” so I goes to explain to the police that I had not been doing anything for them to arrest me, I was explaining to them what the bus driver said to me and what I said to him, but before I could explain it the police hit me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up. So I hushed, so the bus driver finished talking and after he finished talking the police said to me, “You won’t ride this bus out of here. You will catch the next bus out, otherwise I am going to look you up.” So then he grabbed me by my right wrist and twisted it behind my back and walks me down the street twisting my arm and looking at me just like he wanted to hit me. I don’t know but that is what I was thinking to myself.

So he was not saying anything to me and I was not saying anything to him, and he comes to the corner where one street goes down straight and another goes around a corner this way, and he turned right but instead of him telling me to turn too, he just turned the corner and twisted my arm all at the same time, and so then I lit into him. I still did not say anything, so he asked me, “Have you been discharged?” and I says “Yes,” just like that. So he said, “Don’t say ‘Yes’ to me, say ‘Yes, sir,’ so I begged his pardon and I told him I would say ‘Yes, sir’ to him if he wanted me to, which I did.

So he started beating me all at the same time, just as soon as I said “Yes,” so then I throwed up my left arm and blocked a few licks and he continued to beat me until I had to do something so I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand, and when I did that some other officer throwed a revolver in my back and says, “Drop that billy. If you don’t I will drop you,” so I drops the billy and he picks it up and walked me on up to the jail and started beating me again. He hit me and knocked me unconscious and I fell; so when I come to myself he hollered to me to get up, and when I went to get up he knocked me back to the ground. He had the end of his billy driving it into my eyeballs. So when he did that I gets up and he grabbed me by the left shoulder and shoved me inside the cell and shut the door. So I walked over to the bench and leaned up on the bunk there and in a few minutes he come in, opened the door and said “Here’s your wallet,” and passed my wallet in and it fell near my feet, which I could still see a little at that time. So I picks up my wallet and puts it in my pocket, so I scuffled around and lay down on the bunk, so after a while I goes to sleep. The next morning —

Q Let me interrupt you there. How many times did he hit you, if you know, between the bus station and the turn of the corner?

A Well, I can’t say just about how many but my estimate about it is at least six or seven times, I know.

Q That was before you got to the jail?

A That is right.

Q After you turned the corner there facing the jail how many times did he hit you then?

A I wouldn’t know about how many times he hit me then, but it was more than one or two times. I know that.

Q You spoke of him punching you in the eyes. When did he do that?

A That is when I was right in front of the jail.

Q How many times did he punch you in the eyes?

A I don’t know how many times he punched me in the eyes, but I do remember that he was jabbing into my eyes when I come to myself.

Q Did he jab you more than once in the eyes?

A I believe he did.

Q What do you mean by jabbing you in the eyes; what did he do?

A He had the end of his billy longways driving it into my eyes like that (demonstrating).

Q Now, you say you lay down on the bunk. Then what did you do after that?

A So I goes to sleep, so the next morning he came in and said, “All right, come on out. Let’s go up and see what the judge has to say to you.” I says, “I can’t see.” He says, “You can feel, can’t you?” So I did not make no move to come out, so I guess he saw then that I could not see anything, so he walks on back to me and catches me by my left arm and leads me up to the fosset [sic] and tells me to wash my face. So I washed my face. He leads me on up to the judge and he told the judge, he says, “This soldier was making a disturbance on the bus last night, drunk and disorderly.” The judge asked me, “Do you have anything to say?” I says, “Yes, sir.” So I explained to him what I asked the bus driver and what the driver says to me and what I said to him, about him cursing me and me cursing him. When I said that the judge said, “Well, I will tell you, we don’t have such stuff like that down here.”

He says, “I find you fifty dollars and give you thirty days hard labor on the road.” I says, “I will pay the fifty dollars but I don’t have it all at the time.” The Chief of Police says, “You have some money in your wallet though,” so he took my wallet and I had forty dollars in it. He took the forty dollars out and he said, “Is that all the money you have?” I said, “No, I have some more in my watch pocket.” I had four one-dollar bills in my watch pocket and I pulled it out and they took that. So I had a check in my pocket for $694,73 and he pulled that out and he says, “I see you have a check from the Government. Sign your name here.” I said I could not sign my name because I never had tried to sign my name without seeing, so he gave me that check back, so the judge told the police to carry me back and lock me up then.

Q When you were taken for trial there did you have an attorney in the court that morning, a lawyer to represent you?

A No, sir.

Q Did you have any friends there?

A No, sir.

MR. MORRIS: I do not believe that is material, Your Honor.

THE COURT: It is not prejudicial to give the background of the entire affair.

MR. NUTTER: We also allege in our bill of complaint that he was afraid, that he did not resist.

THE COURT: Very well, you may go ahead. The objection is overruled. (Exception)

MR. NUTTER: You say you paid forty-four dollars?

A Yes, sir.

Q Why did you pay it?

A Because I was scared. He had done beat me up so bad I couldn’t see, so I paid it.

MR. NORRIS: We object to that last question and the answer, and move to strike them out.

THE COURT: That is the explanation of why he paid the fine. In your opening statement, Mr. Morris, I believe you said that he pleaded guilty. I think it is proper for the witness to say why he pleaded guilty, if he did so plead, and why he paid the fine. The objection is overruled. (Exception)

MR. NUTTER: After your trial where did you go then?

A I goes back down and in a few minutes, after I am back in the cell and laying down, the Chief of Police he comes in and he says to me, “We have some whiskey upstairs. Here, take a drink,” but I did not accept, so he goes out comes back and says he brought me a hot towel to put across my forehead. He says, “I am going to get a doctor for you.” So he goes out to get the doctor and come back and said, “I did not find no doctor but I have some eye wash,” so he poured that into my eyes, so I lie back down until later on they brought my lunch in and set it down beside the bed and said, “There is your lunch,” so I tasted it but it made me sick, so I did not eat it, I left it there.

Q Then what happened?

A So then about 5 o’clock that evening he come in and he says, “Get up and put your clothes on. I am going to carry you to the hospital.” I asked him what hospital and he said he was going to take me to the Veterans’ Hospital at Columbia, South Carolina, so I gets up and puts my clothes on and he leads me out and puts me in the car. I asked him just as we left the jail house, I says, “What town is this?” He said, “It is Aiken, South Carolina.” He carries me then on to the hospital, so the doctor went in and he lays me down on the bench or a chair or something, anyway I know I lies down. So one of the nurses or a clerk or somebody, anyway, she commenced quizzing me, asking me where I was born and things like that, and I told her. After a while the doctor came in, and the doctor says to the police, “What is the matter with this fellow here, this soldier?” The police says, “He was drunk and disorderly last night on the bus.” so the doctor asked the police where he was from and he told him Batesburg, South Carolina — I mean Aiken, South Carolina, is where he told him he was from. So he asked me was I drunk and I told him no. So he had the nurse take me on into the room and put me to bed. In a few minutes after that the nurse come around and started giving me shots; so I stayed there for two months.

Q You were there two months, you say?

A yes. So when I got ready to leave the doctor told me that I was permanently blind and the best thing to do is to go ahead and join a blind school, and one fellow come in and took out a pension for me for fifty dollars a month, but I never did receive it, I don’t [know] what become of it.


The question of any great issue is always, “What is to be done?” I do not believe that remembering necessarily requires an immediate answer to this question, or that the simple act of remembering is contingent on providing an answer. I believe the first step in any resolution will always, and can only be, remembering.

(Substantial edits, including new material and spellchecking were made on September 3rd, 2014, though no doubt further additions will still be made.)

FOOTNOTES

1 Woodard’s affidavit, transcribed from “Affidavit, April 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 1012-1013)”:

I, ISAAC WOODARD, JR., being duly sworn, do depose and state as follows:

THAT, I reside at 1100 Franklin Avenue, Bronx, New York, Apartment 2. I am 27 years old, and a veteran of the United States Army, having served from the 12th of October, 1952, to the 12th of February, 1946, when I received an honorable discharge from Camp Gordon, Georgia. I served for 15 months in the South Pacific with the 429th Port Battalion. I served in the Philippines and in New Guinea and earned one battle star.

I was discharged about 5:30 P.M. on February 12, 1946, from Camp Gordon, Georgia. At 8:30 P.M. at the Greyhound Terminal in Atlanta, Georgia, while I was in uniform, I purchased a ticket to Winnsboro, South Carolina and took the bus headed there to pick up my wife to come to New York to see my father and mother. About one hour out of Atlanta the bus driver stopped at a small drug store. As he stopped, I asked him if he had time to wait for me until I had a chance to go to the rest room. He cursed and said, “No.” When he cursed me, I cursed him back. After I cursed him, he said, “Go ahead and get off and hurry back,” so I got off, hurrying back as he said.

About half an hour later, when the bus got to Aiken, he stopped again and got off and went and got the police. I did not know what he was doing and thought it was just a regular stop. He came back and came in the bus and came to me and said, “Come outside for a minute,” and I got off the bus. When I walked out, the police were there. As I walked out, the bus driver started telling the police that I was the one that was disturbing the bus. When he said that, I started explaining to the police that I was not raising a disturbance on the bus, but they didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me with a billy across my head and told me to “shut up.” After he finished talking he said to me, “You won’t catch this bus out of here, you catch the next bus.”

After that, he grabbed me by my left arm and twisted it behind my back, and walked me down the street, continually twisting my wrist. I figured he was trying to make resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me was I discharged, and I told him, “Yes.” When I said, “Yes,” that is when he started beating me with the billy; hitting me across the top of my head. After that, I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. He ran behind my back and grabbed my arm again. I had him by his right shoulder. After that another policeman came up and throw [sic] his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he would drop me, so I dropped the billy.

After I dropped the billy, the second policeman hold his gun on me while the other one was beating me as we were walking down the street. I did not see anyone on the street. When we got to the door of the police station, he struck me again and knocked me unconscious. After I commenced to come to myself, he hollered, “Get up.” When I started to get up, he started punching me in my eyes with the end of his billy. I finally got up, and when I got up, he pushed me inside the jail house and locked me up. I could still see for a few minutes as I can remember, because I was hardly conscious.

A few minutes after he locked me up, he came in and threw me my purse. He went back out and locked the door. I picked out a cot and lied down.

I woke up the next morning and could not see. Someone brought me my breakfast to the bed. After that, a policeman came to the door and opened the door and told me to come out. He said, “Let’s go up here and see what the judge wants.” I told him that I could not see how to come out, I was blind. He said, “Feel your way out.” I did not make any move to come out, so he walked in and led me to a sink and told me to wash my face, and said that I would be all right after I washed my face. He then led me up to the judge, and the judge said to me, “You were raising sand on the last night – – – stubborn.” So I said to him, “No, sir,” and I told him what happened. After I told him what happened, he said, “We don’t have that kind of stuff down here.” After he said that, the policeman spoke and said, “He wrung my billy out of my hand, and I told him that if he did not drop it, I would drop him.” That is how I knew it was the same policeman as had beat my eyes out.

After that, the judge spoke and said, “I fine you $50.00 or 30 days on the road.” I said I would pay the $50.00 but I did not have the $50.00 at the time. So the policeman said “You have some money there in your wallet.” He took my wallet and took all I had out of it, which was a total of $40.00 and took $4.00 form my watch pocket. I had a check for $694.73, which was my mustering out pay and soldiers deposit. He said to me, “Can you see how to sign this check — you have a government check.” I told him, “No, sir”. So he gave it back to me after that.

He took me back and locked me up in jail. I stayed in there for a while and after a few minutes he came in and asked me if I wanted a drink of whiskey — if I took a drink of whiskey I would probably feel better. I told him, “No, sir,” I did not care for any. He went and got some kind of eye medicine and came back and poured it in both my eyes. He went and got a hot towel and spread it across my head. I stayed there for the rest of the day until about 5:30 that evening. I could tell about what time it was because I asked a policeman and he told me it was late. I do not know if that was the same policeman. At that time he came in and get me and told me that “We’re going to take you to the hospital.” I did not hear anyone else in the room.

He took me to the Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, S.C. When I got there, the doctor was not in at the time, so he laid me on a bench. A nurse took my name and asked me where I was from and everything, so I told her I was from Winnsboro, N.C.

The doctor came in and he questioned the policeman and asked him what was the matter. The policeman told him that I was raising a disturbance on the bus and drunk. The doctor asked the policeman was I drunk then, and he said “No.” So the doctor had an attendant carry me in a room, and the attendant undressed me and put me to bed.

About 5 or 10 minutes after I was in the bed, the nurse came around and started giving me shots in my arm.

One of the contact men came around one day and said to me they were going to take out a pension for me. I believe that the doctor who cared for me was named Dr. Clarence. I told him what had happened to me. He made no comment, but told me I should join a blind school.

I stayed in the hospital for two months — I went in on the 13th of February and came out on the 13th of April. My sisters came down to see me, and since they discharged me while they were down there, they brought me back up to New York to my father’s home in the Bronx, where I am still staying.

Sworn to before me
this 23rd day of
April, 1946.

Woodard’s FBI statement, transcribed from “Statement to FBI, September 1946 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frame 911)”:

New York, N.Y.
Sept. 25, 1946

I, ISAAC WOODARD, Jr. make the following voluntary statement to Leon C. Kelmer and Edward F. Stiles whom I know to be Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No threats or promises of any kind have been made to me in connection with this statement. I realise it may be used in a court of law.

I was discharged from Camp Gordon, Georgia, between 6 and 6:30 pm on February 12, 1946. At about that time I boarded a bus for Augusta, Ga. On the bus were about 30 passengers, including about 10 civilians and about 20 soldiers. The soldiers I believe were discharges. The bus was driven by a white civilian. I did not recognize anyone on the bus which was en route to Augusta, Ga. I observed no drinking on the bus. The ride to Augusta, Ga. took about 1 hr. and we arrived there between 7:15-7:30 pm. on February 12, 1946. I went to the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Augusta and purchased my ticket for Winnsboro, South Carolina. I sat down in the terminal for about 5 or 10 minutes and then went to the restaurant next door where I purchased 10 Hot Dogs. I had nothing to eat or drink in the restaurant and took the Hot Dogs out with me. I ate 5 or 5 [sic] of the Hot Dogs and later gave the rest away on the Greyhound bus to some colored soldiers. I did not take any intoxicating beverage while I was waiting for my bus, nor did I take any such beverage at any time that day of Feb. 12 nor later that evening when I rode from the rear, next to a colored soldier, whose name I do not know. I know nothing about this soldier or any other passenger on the bus which could assist in identifying them. About 30 or 40 minutes after the bus left Augusta, a colored girl came on the bus and the soldier who was seated next to me offered her his seat. I do not know this girl’s name or address. On the opposite side of the bus from me 5 or 6 white soldiers were passing a bottle of liquor among themselves. I did not observe any of the colored soldiers on the bus drinking or passing a bottle of whiskey. I was never offered a drink from a bottle of whiskey on the bus nor did I take any such drink. I was absolutely sober on the bus.

I have had the above statement read to me by Special Agent Kelmer in the presence of my brother Saul Woodard and it is true and correct.

(*) ISAAC WOODARD, JR.

Witnessed:
(s) Leon C. Kelmer, FBI, NYC, 9-25-46
(s) Edward F. Stiles, FBI, NYC.
(s) Saul Woodard

2 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: Affidavit of Isaac Woodard”:

Good morning, this is Orson Welles speaking.

I’d like to read to you…an affidavit. I, Isaac Woodard Jr, being duly sworn to depose and state as follows: that I am twenty seven years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served fifteen months in the South Pacific, and having earned one battle star. I was honorably discharged on February 12, 1946, at Camp Gordon, Georgia, at 8:30 pm at the Greyhound terminal at Atlanta, Georgia. While I was in uniform I purchased a ticket to Winnsboro, South Carolina, and took the bus headed there to pick up my wife to come to New York to see my father and mother. About one hour out of Atlanta, the bus driver stopped at a small drug store, as he stopped I asked if he had time to wait for me until I had the chance to go to the restroom. He cursed and said no. When he cursed me, I cursed him back. When the bus got to Aiken, he got off and went and got the police. They didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me across the head with a billy, and told me to shut up. After that, the policeman grabbed me by my left arm and twisted it behind my back. I figured he was trying to make me resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me, “Was I discharged?” and I told him, “Yes”, when I said “Yes”, that was when he started beating me with a billy, hitting me across the top of the head, after that I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. Another policeman came up and threw his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he’d drop me, so, I dropped the billy. After I dropped the billy, the second policeman held his gun on me while the other one was beating me. He knocked me unconscious. After I commenced to recover myself, he yelled “Get up!”, I started to get up, he started punching me in my eyes with the end of the billy. When I finally got up he pushed me inside the jailhouse, and locked me up. I woke up next morning, and could not see.

A policeman said, “Let’s go up here and see what the judge says.” I told him that I could not see, or come out, I was blind. He said, “Feel your way out.” He said I’d be alright after I washed my face. He led me to the judge, and after I told the judge what happened, he said, “We don’t have that kind of stuff down here.” Then the policeman said: “He wrung the billy out of my hand, and I told him if he didn’t drop it, I’d drop him.” That’s how I know it was the same policeman that beat my eyes out. After that the judge spoke and said, “I fine you $50 or thirty days in the row.” And I said I’d pay the fifty dollars, but I did not have the fifty dollars at the time, so the policeman said, “You have some money there in your wallet.” He took my wallet and took out all I had, it was a total of forty dollars, and took four dollars from my watch pocket. I had a cheque for six hundred and ninety four dollars and seventy three cents, which was my mustering out soldiers’ deposit. He said to me, “Can you see how to sign this check? You have a government cheque.” I told him, “No, sir.” So, he gave it back to me after that. Took me back, locked me up in the jail, the policeman did, I stayed in there for a while, and after a few minutes, he came and asked me if I wanted a drink of whiskey. If I took a drink of whiskey, I’d feel better. I told him, “No, sir.” I didn’t care for any.

At 5:30 that evening they took me to the veterans’ hospital, in Columbia, South Carolina, one of the contact men came round one day and said to me they were going to take out a pension for me. I believe that the doctor who cared for me was named Dr. Clarence. I told him what had happened to me, he made no comment. But told me I should…join a blind school.

Sworn to me, on this 23rd day of April 1946.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I had that affidavit in my pocket a few hours before dawn when I left off worrying about this broadcast long enough for coffee at an all-night restaurant, I found myself joined at the table by a stranger. A nice, soft-spoken, well-meaning, well-mannered stranger. He told me a joke. He thinks it’s a joke. I’m going to repeat it, but not for your amusement, I earnestly hope that nobody listening will laugh. This is the joke.

Seems there’s a white man who came on business to a southern town, it could be Aiken, South Carolina…and found he couldn’t get a bed in any of the good hotels. He went to the bad hotels and finally the flophouses, but there was no room for him in any of the inns reserved for white folks, in that southern city, so at last, in desperation, he applied to a Negro hotel where he was accepted with the proviso that he would consent to share a double room with another guest. In rueful gratitude, this white man paid his bill left a call for early in the morning, he rested well, quite undisturbed by the proximity of the sleeping colored man beside him, and he was awakened at the hour of his request. After breakfast, he left for the railway station where he boarded his appointed train, but the conductor would not let him into any of the regular coaches. The man was told quite rudely to go where he belonged, the Jim Crow car. The hero of this funny story allowed he hadn’t washed in the morning, and the dust of travel must be responsible for the conductor’s grievous social miscalculation. He went to the washroom, he started to clean his hands.

They were black. An even hued black. Then he looked into the mirror. His face was the same color. He not only looked darker than white, he was quite visibly a Negro. A great oath precedes the final line which is presumed to be the funny part of this little anecdote: “I know what’s happened,” are the next words of the man. “It’s very simple.” “They woke up the wrong man!”

I left the teller of this tale in the coffee shop, but I found I couldn’t leave the tale itself. Like the affidavit I read at the start of the broadcast, it seems to have become a permanent part of my mental luggage. I sketched in my imagination a sequel to the stranger’s funny joke. I saw the man of business who’d gone to bed a white man getting into an argument with a conductor, I saw a policeman boarding a train at the next station, and taking the man of business out on the platform, and beating the eyes out of his head, because the man thought he should be treated with the same respect he’d received the day before when he was white. I saw a man at the police station trying to make him take a drink, so the medical authorities could testify that he was drunk. I saw the man of business bleeding in his cell. Reaching out with sightless hands through unseen bars, gesturing for help that would not, could not ever come. And I heard his explanation echoing down the stone hallways of the jail: “I know what’s happened, it’s very simple.” “They woke up the wrong man.”

Now it seems the officer of the law who blinded the young Negro boy in the affidavit has not been named. The boy saw him while he could still see, but of course he had no way of knowing which particular policeman it was. Who brought the justice of Dachau and Oswiecim to Aiken, South Carolina. He was just another white man with a stick, who wanted to teach a Negro boy a lesson – to show a Negro boy where he belonged: In the darkness. Till we know more about him, for just now, we’ll call the policeman Officer X. He might be listening to this. I hope so. Officer X, I’m talking to you. Officer X, they woke up the wrong man. That somebody else, that man sleeping there, is you. The you that god brought into the world. All innocent of hate, a paid up resident member of the brotherhood of man. Yes. Unbelievably enough, that’s you, Officer X. You. Still asleep. That you could have been anything, it could have gone to the White House when it grew up. It could have gone to heaven when it died. But they woke up the wrong man. They finally came for him in the blank grey of dawn, as in the death house they come for the condemned. But without prayers. They came with instructions. The accumulated ignorance of the feudal south. And with this particular briefing they called Cain, for another day of the devil’s work. While Abel slept. Wash your hands, Officer X. Wash them well. Scrub and scour, you won’t blot out the blood of a blinded war veteran. Nor yet the color of your skin. Your own skin. You’ll never, never change it. Wash your hands, Officer X. Wash a lifetime, you’ll never wash away that leprous lack of pigment. The guilty pallor of the white man.

We invite you to luxuriate in secrecy, it will be brief. Go on. Suckle your anonymous moment while it lasts. You’re going to be uncovered! We will blast out your name! We’ll give the world your given name, Officer X. Yes, and your so-called Christian name. It’s going to rise out of the filthy deep like the dead thing it is. We’re going to make it public with the public scandal you dictated, but failed to sign.

We pause now for a word from the philosophers. A short reminder regarding the matter of payment and cost. Nothing is paid back. That does not happen. Not on earth. A favor cannot be paid back, neither can a wrong. We say a criminal pays for his crime, when we lock him up, a murderer pays for his murder when the state murders him, but really the state is hiding an unsightly object. Society is merely sweeping its dirt under the carpet. We may sometimes manage to cure the thing called “crime”…but the man called a criminal is never punished; he can be inconvenienced, or tormented, or done away with, but he can never pay for what he has done. If the ledger is ever balanced, it is not by him, but by some other man having nothing to do with him. It is balanced by deeds of virtue. By unrelated good works. The evil-doers agony doesn’t show up in the books. Only that fiction known to us as money can be paid back. The true debt, the debt of a friend to a friend, or a foe to a foe outlives the principles involved. So much for payment.

Price. That’s something else. There’s a price for everything. There’s nothing that does not have its cost. Joy and inspiration and mere pleasure have a market value precisely computed in terms of their opposites. The cost of youth is age, the cost of age is death. You want love? The cost of love is independence. You want to be independent, do you? Then pay the price, and know what it is to feel alone. Your mother paid for you with pain. Nothing nothing in this living world is free. The free air costs you the life consuming effort of breath. Freedom itself is priced at the rate of the citizenship it earns and holds. What does it cost to be a Negro? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his eyes. What does it cost to wear over your skeleton a pinkish tint officially described as “white”? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his soul.

Officer X may languish in jail. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible he’ll serve as long a term as a Negro would serve in Aiken, South Carolina, for stealing bread. But Officer X will never pay for the two eyes he beat out of the soldier’s head. How can you assay the gift of sight? What are they quoting today for one eye? An eye for an eye? A literal reading of this Mosaic law spells out again only the blank waste of vengeance. We’ve told Officer X that he’ll be dragged out of hiding. We’ve promised him a most unflattering glare of publicity. We’re going to keep that promise. We’re going to build our own police line-up to line up this reticent policeman, with the killers, the lunatics, the beastmen, all the people of society’s zoo. Where he belongs. If he’s listening to this, let him listen well. Officer X. After I’ve found you out, I’ll never lose you. If they try you, I’m going to watch the trial. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future. I will take careful note of all your destinations. Assume another name and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. I will find means to remove from you all refuge, Officer X. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment, you and I. And only death can cancel it.

Who am I? A masked avenger from the comic books? No sir, merely an inquisitive citizen of America. I admit that nothing on this inhabited earth is capable of your chastisement. I’m simply but quite actively curious to know what will become of you. Your fate cannot affect the boy in the country hospital for the blind, but your welfare is a measure of the welfare of my country. I cannot call it your country. How long will you get along in these United States? Which of the states will consent to get along with you? Where stands the sun of common fellowship? When will it rise over your dark country? When will it be noon in Georgia? I must know where you go, Officer X, because I must know where the rest of us are going with our American experiment. Into bankruptcy? Or into that serene tomorrow, that plenteous garden that blind soldier hoped for when he had his eyes, and with eyes open, he went to war. We want a world that will lighten his darkness. You’re sorry for him? He rejects your pity. You’re ashamed? He doesn’t care. We want to tell him soon that all America is ashamed of you. If there’s room for pity, you can have it, for you are far more blind than he. He had eyes to see and saw with them, they made out if nothing else, at least part of the shape of human dignity, and this is not a little thing, but you have eyes to see and you have never seen.

He has the memory of light. But you were born in a pit. He cannot grow new eyes to open the world again for his poor bruised ones. Never. No. The only word we can share with the martyr to carry him from the county hospital to the county grave is word concerning your eyes, Officer X. Your eyes, remember, were not gouged away. Only the lids are closed. You might raise the lids, you might just try the wild adventure of looking. You might see something, it might be a simple truth. One of those truths held to be self-evident by our founding fathers and most of us. If we should ever find you bravely blinking at the sun, we’ll know then that the world is young after all. That chaos is behind us and not ahead. Then there will be shouting of trumpets to rouse the dead at Gettysburg. A thunder of cannon will declare the tidings of peace, and all the bells of liberty will laugh out loud in the streets to celebrate goodwill towards all men. The new blind can hear, and it would be very good if they could hear the news that the old blind can finally see them. Officer X, you’ll find that you can wash off what should be washed, and it will be said of you, even you, they awakened the right man.

Now it’s time to say goodbye. Please let me call again. Next week, same time. Until then, I am always…obediently yours.

3 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: The Peacemakers”:

Last week, I read you an affidavit from a Negro soldier named Isaac Woodard. You remember he was taken off a bus in South Carolina by a policeman and beaten until he was blinded in both eyes. I have a formal letter from a Mr. H. Odell Weeks, who, it seems, is the mayor of the city of Aiken in the state of South Carolina. Where, according to the soldier’s affidavit, he was blinded. The mayor encloses affidavits of his own, sworn to by the city recorder, by the city chief of police, by a couple of patrol officers. Now, these gentlemen deny all knowledge of the incident.

“It is indeed unfortunate,” writes Mr. Weeks, and these are his exact words, quote that you did not fully verify this story. Before you broadcasted it. Unquote. The mayor goes on to say that since my broadcast went out to the nation, and since, according to the affidavits, whose accounts are wholly untrue, he the mayor urges that I have the courage and forthrightness to retract the wrong I’ve done his city. Giving to my own retraction the same emphasis that I’ve placed on the original broadcast. Well, Mr. Weeks…I hardly know how to make affidavits of your city recorder and city policeman as emphatic as Mr. Woodard’s in the hospital for the blind. If it turns out to be true that the city of Aiken is blameless of this hideous scandal, it is my duty to make that innocence as public as possible. I hope to be able to. But: I must warn you that denials are never dramatic. And if I’m to say something exciting about Aiken will have to be something better than that a Negro boy was never blinded in its streets.

I look forward to giving the subject of Aiken all the emphasis it deserves. But I am bound to fail without some affirmative material. There are thousands of cities where Negro soldiers have not been blinded. I hope it will be my privilege to announce that your city is one of these. But since the broadcast is going to go out, as you put it, to the nation let’s spice up the retraction with a little good news. I won’t ask you what the city of Aiken has done for Negro soldiers, or for Negroes, or for the blind. I’ll only ask you if you’re willing to join with me in a manhunt. A man dressed as a policeman blinded a discharged veteran. The blinded boy swears that his tormenter told him he came from the Aiken police. It is surely a more urgent matter for you to apprehend this impostor before he commits further outrages in your city’s name, then it is to exact from a commentator the cold comfort of apology.

You’ll get the apology when the facts are clear. Until then you must understand why it must be deferred. After all, Mr. Weeks, I have not only the affidavits of your policemen, I have also the affidavits of the blinded soldier. Working on the meagre clue that there’s also an Aiken county, I’ve sent investigators there and to your city. Who should bring out the truth. Unless it is too skillfully hidden. The soldier might easily have made a mistake, but there’s a man in a policeman’s uniform who made a worse mistake. And all the retractions in the world won’t cleanse the name of Aiken. Till we find that man. I assure you Mr. Weeks, I do not doubt the word of your police chief. Your patrol officers, or your city recorder. But neither do I doubt the word of the blinded Negro boy. His suffering gives his oath a special validity. And I would take it against the Supreme Court and the President of the United States.

Let us say he misunderstood what was said to him. Or let us say he was lied to. But just saying that isn’t enough. Your city’s honor is certainly more important than my pride. But honor and pride are piddling trifles beside a pair of eyes. If it is your point that the boy was lied to, it is my point that we must refuse to rest until we’ve unmasked the liar. If you want me to say that this awful thing did not happen in your city, then there’s an American soldier who believes that it did happen in your city. And I cannot forget that. It is to him, Mr. Weeks, that you should address your first, and most indignant letters. They will of course need to be transcribed in braille.

And now I see my time is just about up. That’s all I have to say to you, for the moment, Mr. Mayor of Aiken. And you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to this part of your dial at this part of a Sunday. Please let me join you next week at this same time and…
let me hear from you. Your letters are much appreciated, I like reading them on this program. Till next week then, same time, same station. I remain as always, obediently yours.

4 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: To be Born Free”:

This is Orson Welles. I’ve spoken these words before, but not on the radio. To be born free, is to be born in debt. To live in freedom without fighting slavery, is to profiteer. By plane last night, I flew over some parts of our Republic where American citizenship is a luxury beyond the means of the majority. I rode comfortably in my plane above a sovereign state or two where fellow countrymen of ours can’t vote without the privilege of cash. I bought my breakfast this morning where Negroes may not come except to serve their white brothers. And there I overheard a member of some master race or other tell all those who listened that something must be done to suppress the Jews.

I have met southerners who expect and fear a Negro insurrection. I see no purpose in withholding this from general discussion. There may be those in that outcast ten percent of the American people who someday will strike back at their oppressors, but to put down that mob, a mob would rise. I’d like to ask please, who will put down that mob? The scaly dinosaurs of reaction, if indeed they notice what I’m speaking here, will say in their newspapers that I’m a communist. Communists know otherwise. I’m an overpaid movie producer with pleasant reasons to rejoice, and I do, in the wholesome practicability of the profit system. But surely my right to having more than enough is cancelled if I don’t use that more to help those who have less.

My subject today is the question of moral indebtedness. So, I’d like to acknowledge here the debt that goes with ownership. I believe, and this has very much to do with my own notion of freedom, I believe I owe the very profit I make to the people I make it from. If this is radicalism, it comes…automatically to most of us in show business, it being generally agreed that any public man owes his position to the public. That’s what I mean when I say I’m your obedient servant. It’s a debt payable in service and the highest efforts of the debtor. The extension of this moral argument insists no man owns anything outright since he owns it rent free. A wedding never bought a wife. And the devotion of his child is no man’s for the mere begetting. We must each day earn what we own. A healthy man owes to the sick all that he can do for them. An educated man owes to the ignorant all that he can do for them. A free man owes to the world’s slaves all that he can do for them. And what is to be done is more, much more, than good works, Christmas baskets, bonuses, and tips, and bread and circuses. There is only one thing to be done with slaves. Free them.

If we can’t die in behalf of progress, we can live for it. Progress, we Americans take to mean, a fuller realization of democracy. The measure of progress, as we understand it, is the measure of equality enjoyed by all men. We can do something about that. The way our fighting brothers and sisters looked at it, some of them dead as I speak these words, the way they looked at it: we’re lucky. And they’re right, we’re lucky. We’re lucky to be alive. But only if our lives make life itself worth dying for. We must be worthy of our luck, or we are damned. Our lives were spared, but this is merely the silliest of accidents. Unless we put the gift of life to the hard employments of justice. If we waste that gift, we won’t have anywhere to hide from the indignation of history.

I wanna say this. The morality of the auction block is out of date. There is no room in the American century for Jim Crow. The times urge new militancy upon the democratic attitude. Tomorrow’s democracy discriminates against discrimination. Its charter won’t include the freedom to end freedom. What is described as a feeling against some races can’t be further respected. Feeling is a ninnyish, mincing way of saying something ugly. But the word is good enough for race hate when we add that it’s a feeling of guilt. Race hate isn’t human nature, race hate is the abandonment of human nature. But this is true: we hate whom we hurt. And we mistrust whom we betray. There are minority problems because minority races are often wronged. Race hate distilled from the suspicions of ignorance takes its welcome from the impotent and the godless. Comforting these with hellish parodies of what they’ve lost. Arrogance to take the place of pride. Contempt to occupy the spirit emptied of love of man. There are alibis for the phenomenon, excuses, economic and social, but the brutal fact is simply this: where the racist lies are acceptable, there is corruption. Where there is hate, there is shame. The human soul receives race hate only in the sickness of guilt.

The Indian, the Red Indian, is on our American conscience. The Negro is on our conscience, the Chinese and the Mexican American are on our conscience. The Jew is on the conscience of Europe. But our neglect gives us communion in that guilt. So that there dances even here the lunatic spectre of anti-semitism. This is deplored. But it must be fought. And the fight must be won. The race haters must be stopped. The lynchings must be stopped. No matter who’s going to be governor of Georgia, the murders in Monroe must be avenged. Gene Talmadge might call it foreign meddling, but the governor-elect who, you remember, campaigned on the Bilbo platform of race-hate needs to be told: that all the states in the Union and all the people in them are concerned. Immediately, personally concerned when a mob forms in the sovereign privacy of Georgia. The mob said it was taking care of things in its own way, well then, we’re going to have to take care of the mob. In our own way.

Those who take the law into their own hands are going to learn about some laws that’ll tie their hands. We’ll write those laws, and we’ll enforce them. To do him justice, old Gene went and issued himself a statement. After the killings in Monroe were public knowledge, he said the killings were regrettable. But old Gene’s made it plenty clear, he doesn’t figure any foreigner has the right to poke around asking embarrassing questions. I am sending old Gene a copy of the dawn sermon of the tolling bell, but I don’t suppose he’ll get the point. The point is, of course, that no man, even Gene Talmadge, is an island entire of itself. Point, of course, is that even Georgia is a piece of the continent. The American continent. And if a clod be washed away by the sea, or if a colored man and his wife are murdered on a dusty country road, America is the less.

And then there’s the soldier in the hospital. The blind soldier. The soldier said he was blinded, and the mayor and the chief of police in the place where the soldier says it happened, are most indignant with me for repeating what he said and swore to. The Times the other day was full of their official protests. Sent under seal all the way up to New York City via the inviolable borders of Aiken county, in South Carolina. My investigators are still hard at work on the case. If the soldier was wrong about the place, I’m going to do something about it. But he isn’t wrong about his eyes. He lost them. I’m going to do something about that. All the affidavits from all the policemen in the world won’t protest his eyes back in his head. Somebody, somebody who called himself an officer of the law, beat that boy with a stick, until he lost his sight. Now, that somebody is nobody. He’s vanished, he’s never been heard of, he hasn’t any name, well…he’s going to be heard of. The blind soldier has my promise of that. That somebody is going to be named. Editorials, and lots of newspapers, and lots of people, are writing me to demand to know what business it is of mine. God judge me if it isn’t the most pressing business I have.

The blind soldier fought for me in this war. The least I can do now is fight for him. I have eyes. He hasn’t. I have a voice on the radio, he hasn’t. I was born a white man. And until a colored man is a full citizen, like me, I haven’t the leisure to enjoy the freedom that colored man risked his life to maintain for me. I don’t own what I have until he owns an equal share of it. Until somebody beats me and blinds me, I am in his debt. And so I come to this microphone not as a radio dramatist, though it pays better, not as a commentator, although it’s safer to be simply that, I come in that boy’s name, and in the name of all who in this land of ours have no voice of their own. I come with a call for action. This is a time for it. I call for action against the cause of riot. I know that to some ears, even the word “action” has a revolutionary twang, and it won’t surprise me if I’m accused in some quarters of inciting to riot. Well, I’m very interested in riots. I’m very interested in avoiding them. And so I call for action against the cause of riots.

Law is the best action, the most decisive. I call for laws prohibiting what moral judgement already counts as lawlessness. American law forbids a man the right to take away another’s right. It must be law that groups of men can’t use the machinery of our republic to limit the rights of other groups. The vote can’t be used to take away the vote. It’s in the people’s power to see to it that what makes lynchings and starts wars is dealt with. Not by well-wishers, but by policemen. And I mean good policemen. Oh, for several generations there may be men who can’t be weaned away from the fascist vices of race hate. But we should deny such men the responsibility in public affairs exactly as we deny responsibility to the wretched victims of the drug habit. There are laws against peddling dope, there can be laws against peddling race hate. But every man has a right to his own opinion as an American boasts, but race hate is not an opinion, it’s a phobia. It isn’t a viewpoint, race hate is a disease. In a people’s world, the incurable racist has no rights. He must be deprived of influence in a people’s government. He must be segregated, as he himself would segregate the colored and semitic peoples. As we now segregate the leprous and the insane.

Anything very big is very simple.¸ If there’s a big race question, there’s a big answer to it. The big answer is simple. Like the word no. This is my proposition: that the sin of race hate be solemnly declared a crime. What makes this difficult is the conservative fear of raising issues. Well, let’s admit that this fear is often no more sinister than an honest dread of going to the dentist, but let’s respect the effectiveness of reactionary manipulations of that fear, which is the fear of anarchy and revolution. It is put to wicked use against the same general welfare conservative opinion seeks to protect. Forced to acknowledge Hitler’s enmity, conservatives are loathe to admit that even as he surrendered in Europe, he succeeded in America. Let conservatives evaluate the impudent candor of fascism in Argentina today. And be reminded that the heroic survival of our liberty is no proof of its immortality. Our liberty every day has to be safe from marauders whose greed is for all things possessed by the people. Care of these possessions is the hope of life on this planet. They are living things, they grow. These fair possessions of democracy. And nothing but death can stop that growth. Let the yearners for the past, the willfully childish, learn now the facts of life.

The first of which is the fact of that growth. In our hemisphere, the growing has begun, but only just begun. America can write her name across this century, and so she will, if we, the people, brown and black and red, rise now to the great occasion of our brotherhood. It will take courage. It calls for the doing of great deeds, which means the dreaming of great dreams. Giving the world back to its inhabitants is too big a job for the merely practical. The architects of freedom are always capable of hope. The lawmakers of true democracy are true believers. They believe quite simply in the people, in all of them. Only the devout deserve the trust of government, for only the devout can face the unimaginable vistas of man’s destiny. God grant them steadfast hope and the rest of us enduring patience. For we must not expect from any leadership a shiny ready made millennium in our time. No one of us will live to see a blameless peace. We must strive and pray and die for what will be here when we’re gone. Our children’s children are the ancestors of a free people. We send our greetings ahead of us to them.

To history yet unmade, our greetings.To the generations, sleeping in our loins.Be of good heart. The fight is worth it.

That just about means that my time is up. When my time’s up, it’s time for me to say goodbye, and to invite you please to join me, the same time, the same station. Next week. Until then. Thank you for your attention. I remain as always…obediently yours.

5 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: Banned Film”:

This is Orson Welles speaking. A motion picture in which I play a part was scheduled for a couple days running last week in Aiken, South Carolina. But the film was banned. Well, I’m used to being banned. I’ve been banned by whole governments. The Nazis in Germany have banned me, and the fascists of Italy and Spain have banned me. Here at home, the merest mention of my name is forbidden by Mr. Hearst to all his subject newspapers. But: to be outlawed by an American city is a new experience.

The movie in question is neither controversial, nor obscene. But I’m in it, and for the taste of Aiken, that makes any movie too offensive to be endured. Not only was the actual celluloid driven out of the city limits, as with a fiery sword, but in defense of civic sensitivities and to protect the impressionable of Aiken’s youth from the shock of my name and likeness, a detachment of police officers working under the direction of the city council itself solemnly tore down such posters as the local theatre manager had been rash enough to put up by way of advertisement. And burnt same, together with all printed matter having reference to me, in a formal bonfire in the public streets.

I’m also informed I’ve been somewhat less officially “hanged” in effigy. And while I have an apology to offer Aiken, it’s been suggested that I would be ill advised to deliver it in person. Since I brought to your attention the case of Isaac Woodard, the case has grown to an issue of the most heated popular concern. It deserves all the national interest it’s getting. Isaac Woodard is the veteran whose eyes were beaten out of his head by a policeman, in the streets of a place in South Carolina, that Isaac Woodard thought was Aiken. He said so in an affidavit, and when I read his affidavit on this program, the mayor of Aiken, the chief of police and others, subsequently preoccupied with the public burning of my name and picture, sent affidavits of their own protesting innocence.

My problem was the choice of affidavits. The boy had been blinded. That was the one clear, brutal fact. And I stuck to that with a promise to Aiken’s officialdom that I would apologize for publishing the veterans’ testimony when and if my investigators could show a decent doubt. The records were amazingly brief. The policeman who delivered Woodard to the hospital was not named. This is most unusual. The place where the attack occurred was not mentioned in the report. This is almost unheard of.

But my investigators, the investigators of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the investigators of the FBI, have together, narrowed down the search to the town of Batesburg, some nineteen miles from Aiken. And this morning comes word that the search has been narrowed still further. I have before me…wires and press releases to the effect that a policeman of Batesburg… a man by the name of Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, it is given three different ways here…the flash is just before us…Chief L.L. Shaw. Pronounce it however you want it. Or want to. Has admitted…that he was the police officer, who blinded Isaac Woodard. Thirty miles from Aiken. In South Carolina. This is in Batesburg.

I give you a few more of the facts. He has corroborated an army statement. Has police chief Shull or Shaw. That ex-serviceman Isaac Woodard was struck on the head with a blackjack. Chief Shull or Shaw says he was called to the bus one night last February to arrest Woodard who, and I’m reading from a Press Association, he said was drunk. Shaw claimed to have hit Woodard across the head when Woodard tried to take away his blackjack. He added that the blow may have landed in the veteran’s eyes. Shull or Shaw, the police chief, described the eyes as swollen the next day when Woodard was fined and the record’s his court, and says he then drove Woodard to a veterans’ hospital, at a doctor’s suggestion. Now, you remember from the affidavit, and from further reports of our investigators, that Woodard said he’d been offered liquor, after he was attacked by the police, which he refused. And investigators at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples, have discovered three other occupants of that bus. All of whom claim, in affidavits, that Woodard was not drunk, nor was he drinking. Woodard, you might remember, appealed for medical aid. And also according to the UP, Shaw, or Shore, or Shull, brands these stories as lies. He has volunteered no information, for this, he was unearthed by investigation. Well, the good citizens of Aiken must be surely so glad to hear this, that my apology tendered here with and as promised, most abjectly, will come as merely incidental comfort.

Batesburg, unlike Aiken, has turned out to be to blame. The search is narrowed down. We’re getting close to the truth, we have the admission of a man that he was the officer, the officer whom I call X. I would like to remind Officer X, otherwise known as Shull or Shaw, of another promise, a promise I made to the blinded Isaac Woodard. If Chief Shull or Shaw is listening to me now and it’s more than possible that he is, it gives me pleasure to repeat that promise. Officer X. We know your name now. Now that we’ve found you out, we’ll never lose you. If they try you for your crime, I am going to watch the trial, Chief Shull. If they jail you, I’m going to wait for your first day of freedom. You won’t be free of me. I want to see who’s waiting for you at the prison gates. I want to know who will acknowledge that they know you. I’m interested in your future, I will take note of all your destinations. Assume another name, and I will be careful that the name you would forget is not forgotten. Officer Shull or Shaw. Police chief of the city of Batesburg. I will find means to remove from you all refuge. You can’t get rid of me. We have an appointment. You and I. Only death can cancel it.

6 From “Background information collected by local black newspaper editor, September 1946 Part 1 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 893-894)” and “Background information, September 1946 Part 2 (NAACP Papers, Reel 28, Frames 895-896)”, scans at “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond: The Blinding of Isaac Woodard”. These documents refer to Lynwood as “Leonard”, the only documents to do so – “Leonard” may have been his familiar name, while Lynwood was his formal one.

MEMORANDUM FOR ORSON WELLES’ PROGRAM

From: John H. McCray
10322 Washington Street
Columbia 20, S.C.

LIGHTHOUSE and INFORMER
John H. McCray, Pub.

Leonard L. Shull

SEP 19 1946

Leonard L. Shull, son of Mr. and Mrs. T. H. Shull was born 41 years ago in Lexington county, South Carolina — not more than eight miles from Leesville nor more than 10 miles from Batesburg, where he now serves as chief of police.

Leonard is the oldest of five children and was nursed and cared for by a colored woman, Eunice Summers, who is still in the employ of the elder Shull, who is now 49 years of age and has worked with the Shull family without respite since she was 8.

Leonard Shull grew up under the care and friendship of the colored farm hands about his father’s farm. He played ball, games, hunted, fished and occasionally fought with the young boys of his father’s tenants. And although today he has achieved greater success than they, he visits the few still alive who work for his father, the children of others whom he knew and is most cordial with the tenants who came after he grew up.

The older hands think well of him and his father. They speak of him as being considerate, as having always been good to them, some of them admit hearing of several atrocities against other Negroes attributed to him but react differently. One woman said: “Maybe it’s because some people feel they have to act mean when they’ve got a certain job.” Another, an elderly attendant of cattle and other stock owned by T.H. Shull, said, “He’s always been good to me. I hear how he done that soldier (Isaac Woodard) and some other people but I don’t know for sure. He has been good to me personally but maybe he had a reason for not hurting me”.

Leonard Shull had no “bad habits”. To this day nobody will say that he either drinks or smokes. To this day nobody will say that he either drinks or smokes. This is perhaps accounted for in the rather strict upbringing of T.H. Shull. All of the Shull children had to attend Sunday School and services in the Methodist Church near Leesville. Today, Leonard is a member of the Methodist Church at Batesburg. His father and other members of his family belong to the Methodist Church in Leesville, a town just two miles away. Persons who have been arrested by chief Shull in Batesburg describe him as of two characters. If Shull is alone, he is nice, civil and “hardly says a word to you”. If, on the other hand, either of his two aides is present, he is more often than not a roaring maniac.

It is interesting that none, or at least a negligible few, of the colored residents in Batesburg know the actual names of either of the two officers working under Shull. They have assigned their own names and have used them so long that the real names are forgotten. One of the men is known as “High Pocket” and the other, “Dood all”.

Leonard Shull attended the Batesburg-Leesville high school, at Batesburg, after which he worked on his father’s farm, whiling away his idle time around the train stations, alternately at Batesburg and at Leesville. In this manner he came to learn many of the people in the two towns and laid the groundwork for his present position.

About 16 or 17 years ago he married a young woman he met in Batesburg but who is a native of Charleston county and had moved here with her family. Today, Mamie Shull is about 35 years of age, sort of plump, has brown hair and blue eyes. To this union was born a daughter, Heloine, who is about 14 years of age and attends the Batesburg-Leesville School. Having acquired much of her father’s obesity, she appears older and larger than her actual age.

Leonard Shull, himself, is about 5 feet 9 in height, weighs about 225 pounds; has blue eyes, brown hair which is slightly grey-stroked.

He dresses plainly, come Sundays when he doffs his customary uniform, he dons the only attire he has been known to wear for years: blue serge suit, white shirt and black tie, black shoes and tops it off with a black hat. Last year, the TWIN CITY NEWS, weekly newspaper published for the two towns, listed his weight at 215.

The chief has always loved Ford cars. Presently, his is a 1946 Ford sedan (black) model in which he usually rides Heloine to and from school in, and give the family a Sunday outing in or shuttles back and forth between his father’s present home, located on U.S. Highway No. 1 between Batesburg and Leesville, where he visits his mother and two brothers who live with their parents.

Leonard’s brothers are Shuford and Carson. Both are veterans of World War Two, Carson having been wounded in action in Europe, Carson is also married but Shuford isn’t, Leonard’s two sisters are both married. One married a man by the name of Charles and makes her home with him now in Edgefield county. The other married a man from Orangeburg county, where she now lives.

The older Shull, while credited by his farm hands and house servants as being a “good white man”, doesn’t enjoy a similar reputation from men released from the Leesville camp of the Lexington county chain gang system. For a number of years, T.H. Shull has been superintendent or supervisor Captain of the Louisville camp which enjoys a reputation as unsavory as any other of several camps in the county. His office is located in the county courthouse at Lexington. Officially, he is listed as one of three county commissioners for Lexington county, renominated to the office in July’s democratic primaries.

Leonard’s present position, while probably accentuated by his own elbow rubbing, is attributed to his father’s political influence. It is believed that his father had a direct hand in his appointment. It is known, however, that mayor Quarles of Batesburg, an in-law of Leonard’s is a part of the elder Shull’s machine and owes his office largely to Shull’s interest.

Servants report having heard the elder Shull counsel his son to “be careful” several times after rumors spread that a Negro had been mistreated by Batesburg officers. They quote the younger Shull as saying his men were “too hard”. When news of the Woodard blinding broke, the younger Shull, after conferring with his father, left Batesburg for a “vacation” and stayed away a month, Mayor Quarles also took a sudden vacation but stayed away about fifteen days.

Leonard consulted his father on his return and was told “things have died down but for goodness sake, be more careful the next time”. No serious incidents have been reported at the hands of any Batesburg officer since that time. However, residents still plead with you to “be careful” and “don’t let them (police) know you are here”. These people believe that Batesburg officers operate under an extensive “stool pigeon” system, in which in return for safety to themselves, Negroes “stool” on other Negroes.

NOTE: Please protect identity of Denice Summers mentioned in this memorandum. Others involved, from whom much of the information contained herein came, are A.C. Bernos [maybe – this last is very difficult to read in the original], stockyard attendant for the older Shull who, by the way has extensive land and dairy holdings in the county, Mrs. Archie Beacham, Mrs. Annie Mae Cortmann and Mr. Amos, the town’s undertaker. Some of came also from a filling station attendant, a packer [again, maybe – this last is very difficult to read in the original] a few doors from the Shull home and several other persons.

Leonard Shull and his family live in a beautiful bungalow in front of the Batesburg post office and diagonally across from the Batesburg railroad station.

7 Transcript for “Orson Welles Commentary: The Place Was Batesburg”:

This is Orson Welles speaking. The place was Batesburg. Isaac Woodard thought it happened in Aiken. He was wrong. I’ve repeatedly explained Woodard’s mistake, and repeatedly apologized. But I broadcast his affidavit, and now the city of Aiken having banned my movies burned the posters in the streets, and hanged me in effigy, is threatening to sue me for the sum of two million dollars.

Well, if I had all that money, honestly, I wouldn’t mind owing it to Aiken for the pride of having finally put the blame where it belonged. The blame belongs, as I say, in Batesburg. Batesburg, South Carolina. It was Monday, February 13th, 1946. A minister and several workmen saw the police chief of Batesburg and a highway patrolman, pouring buckets of water over the head and body of a soldier who’d been arrested the night before. What the policemen were washing away was blood. And between each bucket they stopped and asked the soldier, “Can you see yet?” Each time the soldier answered, “No.”

The soldier was a Negro. We know now that his name is Isaac Woodard. And that the police chief had beaten him the day before. And blinded him. With a blackjack. When I stumbled on the story several months later, and brought it to public attention on this program, the name of the guilty policeman was unknown and it looked as if it always would be. I promised to get that name, I have it now. The minister and the workmen provided our investigators with one clue, and there were other clues, all led to a single man.

All clues led to Mr. L. L. Shull. Chief of police in Batesburg, South Carolina. Now we have him. We won’t let him go. I promised to hunt him down. I have. I gave my word I’d see him unmasked. I’ve unmasked him. I’m going to haunt police Chief Shull. For all the rest of his natural life. Mr. Shull is not going to forget me. And what’s more important, I’m not going to let you forget Mr. Shull.

Now, here’s a letter. It goes like this: Well, Mr. Welles. You’ve just lost yourself an ardent fan. That little speech you made on the radio about that Negro got his eyes poked out did it. You don’t know a thing about this case, and I’m quite sure I heard the correct side of the story. Being as I live in the very state in which it happened. And proud of it. But it seems as if the Yankees always have to pick on somebody about something, and especially the South. Well, I’m going to put you wise for once. If the North would let the South alone a while, and not try to bully them, everything would soon turn out just right for everybody concerned. We want the Negro to have a fair chance, we don’t believe the two races should mix. However, it seems as if the North is trying its darndest to make a mulatto nation of the whole South. Well, it isn’t going to work. I believe that we would all die fighting – men and women, side by side. Before we would let a calamity like this happen to the glorious homeland of gallant men and their women, who have certain well-founded beliefs, and never take anything from anybody. Now to get back to that story. I’ve been around associating with the policemen, or round about, and I happen to know the Negro who received the eye injury was extremely insolent, very unruly, tried to make a getaway from a police officer. Seems like you all want to give the Negro a better chance than you would a white man. And my dear man, I shall present a startling fact to you: the policeman in question did not cause the eye injury to the Negro, it was due to a fight the Negro had with another Negro. And he is trying to put the blame on the officer so he will draw a pension. Think that over, Mr. Orson Welles. Doubtless you have lost quite a few fans from that little dramatic speech you made so full of emotion and tragic tears for the man. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Signed, Your former fan.

Well, we’ve been getting a lot of those anonymous letters since we broke the Isaac Woodard case on this program. But this answer answered them all. Dear former fan, You say the north is bullying the south. That if the yankees would stop always picking on somebody for something, everything would turn out just right for everybody concerned. I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Batesburg isn’t another battlefield of the civil war. The sides contending over the scandal of Isaac Woodard, aren’t the blue and the gray. They are the right and the wrong. And on your side of the Mason Dixon line, as on mine, most of the people are on the right side of that argument. Course you’re proud to live in South Carolina, you ought to be. I think you’ll find that most of your neighbours in South Carolina are ashamed of Mr. M. L. Shull, the police chief, who beat out the Negro soldier’s eyes with his blackjack. I’m proud to live in America, but I’m ashamed of Chief Shull and his blackjack. I’d be ashamed of him if I was a citizen of Tibet. Isaac Woodard was not involved in a conspiracy to make a mulatto nation of the South. He was just taking a bus trip to Winnsboro to meet a young woman who belongs to his race and who bears his name. But Isaac Woodard never got to see his wife. He’ll never see her. Never. Isaac Woodard is blind. Why? Because the North is bullying the South? My dear former fan, your startling fact about the eye injury, “eye injury”, those are your words, “eye injury”, being the work of another Negro is meaningless. In the face of Chief Shull’s own confession, he did it himself. And even Chief Shull doesn’t claim he was defending the sanctity of white womanhood. Even Chief Shull doesn’t claim he was keeping Isaac Woodard from marrying his sister. Well, that’s enough of that for now. We’ll come back to Mr. Shull next week. And the week after that. The week after that.

My time remaining is dedicated to a man whose name we’ll never, never know. Before the year now generally called “Munich”, perhaps a season or so earlier, there was a treasure hunt, in Paris. Please visualize the celebrants, not as Parisians, but as notables as they mostly were of a very publicly gay wing of international society. You may know that a treasure hunt proposes a number of unlikely quests. When the list is imaginative, it can be fun. Here was a treasure hunt for the history of the game. There was no limit to the mad invention of it, one item was something unmentionably intimate, and that’s all I know about it, a possession of the mistress of a cabinet minister. Another prize was a legal certificate of marriage binding between a couple who hadn’t considered any such solemnity. There were a dozen more of these treasures, all as extraordinary, and for a climax, nothing less than a cigar still smoking lit at the flame which burns forever, by the tomb of the unknown soldier. Now, decency expects of a tomb that it guard for the lifetime of stone what was once the habitation of the spirit of man. The conscience of the world defends the memorial of those who in the last war, as in this, died for peace. You agree we catch a glimpse here of something worse than mere bad taste, picnicking on an old grave, something…perverse. Wickeder than any casual defilement of god’s image. Only another bad peace could make anyone laugh at a dead soldier again.

‘Course, whoever lit his cigar from that flame may have thought the unknown soldier wasn’t anybody he knew. It’s true there isn’t anyone in particular to mourn for the man who is buried there, so…everybody mourns for him. The marker can’t have known that he profaned his brother’s grave. But how could he forget? The sense of man’s brotherhood is all that can sustain the human spirit for the loss of god. And this man had no god. By what did he live? The loss of faith is the condition of despair and the alternative to despair is the worship of Caesar. What’s sure is the marking of sacrifice cannot survive elsewhere, but in that evil climate of the soul where fascism prepares its subjects. Very probably the man with the cigar was one of these pre-fabricated pagans who rode the joyless carousel of the twenties and thirties, one of those, you know, who doubted if anything is ever really bad or really good. If the man with the cigar is alive then he might have changed his mind, he found something bad enough to fight. He might even think something good is real enough to defend. I think we know these things, but never say them enough. Bad and good have been at war, god knows, since the first morning of the world. Men do the fighting, if they didn’t, this planet would be nothing better than a zoo.

Faith is the tinder of man’s greatness. So long as he shields it from despair, he is going to keep the gift of fire. There is one choice, no more. One choice, and no exemptions. Those who believe this recent war can be the last, are those who won it. Those who lost suppose that war itself breeds without cure in the nature of all people. These are the same who fattened on this war, they’re the same who plan the next one. The slaves doubt their kind’s capacity to learn and change. The slavers curb with doubt the people’s righteous will to abide by its own laws. They are all the same, we have this to be glad of them. These who are of little faith, the blasphemers, experts in chaos, or the sick in spirit, these who can’t or won’t affirm the plain magnificence or decency of human folk, all such on this our brightening world, are rallied in the shadows now, under the banners of despair. Defeat if their profession. And their destination. Victory rises even today. Before the men of faith.

This last war might have been the last war. If it was, and only if it was, we’ll know the world’s first peace. But let’s have an end, to the old stalemates and manipulations. The people want a government of all their nations, the chance to know each other better, to visit neighbors and make friends. They want open borders. They want everything printed in the newspaper, so they know whether they like what’s going on or whether they don’t. They’re tired the people are, of secrets and spies, they’re tired of striped pants. The people want their own diplomats. And all these things, the people are going to have. Unless they’re cheated out of them. Paris notwithstanding. If free men who fought for freedom, aren’t going to be allowed to destroy fascism, if anything that looks like fascism is suffered to sit down among us, the cynics will be right again, an ordered world where everyone is free to prosper and improve is still a far off dream. The fuhrer gave his sway a thousand years. His doom was sure. He lost. But those who fought him know they might not win.

That thousand years of his was a good guess. At least a thousand years waits on the chance of another war, another war means worse than the leveling of all the cities, we know that. It means retreat, a setback longer than the quarter of a century, wasted since the unknown soldier died for us. A thousand years is a long march. We are the ancestors of unknown soldiers who must go that bloody length again. Unless we who are weary of marching, go on marching. Forward is the way, forward, beyond peace, on into the free world which depends on it. A free world means just that, we must refuse all substitutes. A free world depends on that refusal. Liberals have a lot to say these days about the dangers of reaction. Reaction is no danger, it’s a certainty. Maybe it won’t amount to much, maybe it’s going to be a tidal wave, the answer isn’t written in the stars, it’s up to the democratic man. He must stand fast now. This time he daren’t lose, or nothing will be left. Nothing even to start with. And they’ll build a new war monument, not to the unknown soldier, but to the unknown cause.

Maybe they’ll keep an enigmatic flame alive, to show where freedom died. But nobody will start a cigar on that sepulchre. Wouldn’t even be funny. The alternative, of course, is civilization, a bookish and uneasy word, that civilization. Our languages will bare fairer names for it when we’ve struggled closer to what we describe. Peace then will go as unremarked as the free air. Peace after all is no more than the victory of the farm over the wilderness. As probable as that, no more hard earned. But never think our work is over when we’ve won that peace. We’ll know better. And even when the world is free, we’ll know we’ve just begun. Here it is: here is the peace, we’ll say. Standing in the midst of it, like ploughmen, content with the good order of their fields. Standing together, since mankind will be every man’s family. When the tools of war are put away for good. Here is peace. Here is peace, we’ll say to each other. Proudly, undismayed. Nobody will confuse it with the millennium. Then the abundance of the human spirit will be ready for harvest.

And even the children will see the final peace, is merely history’s first important date.

Now I see my time’s up. Thank you for letting me come to call, please make a date for next Sunday at this same time. Until then. I remain as always, obediently yours.

8 Transcript from “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 1” and “Bus driver testimony, November 1947 Part 2”. T. Gillis Nutter is the attorney for the plaintiff. Stanley C. Morris is the attorney for the defendant:

ALTON C. BLACKWELL, having been first duly sworn as a witness, testified as follows:

DIRECT EXAMINATION

BY MR. MORRIS:

Q What is your name?

A Alton C. Blackwell.

Q Where do you live?

A Columbia, South Carolina.

Q What is your age?

A Thirty-four.

Q What is your occupation?

A Bus driver for the Atlantic Greyhound Corporation.

Q How long have you been a bus driver for the Atlantic Greyhound Corporation?

A Approximately 5 years.

Q Please state whether or not at or about the time you were employed, or early in your employment, you were given a course of training in that work.

A Yes, sir, I was trained.

Q Did you attend one of their drivers’ schools?

A Yes, sir.

Q At what place?

A Charleston, West Virgina.

Q What was the lighting in the bus at that time? Were there some dim lights on?

A A small light across from the emergency door was burning.

Q All right, what happened as you went on toward Edgefield or as you got to Edgefield or after you got there?

A After I got to Edgefield stepped off the bus directly behind me and requested that I wait for him.

Q Did he assign any reason?

A Yes, he said he had to go around the corner and take a piss.

Q Was that the language he used?

A That was the language he used exactly.

Q Did he speak that in confidential tones or loud tones?

A Well, it was loud enough that anybody could hear it in front of the bus, I don<t know whether they could hear it in the back or not, but they could in the front.

Q Did he get off the bus then?

A Yes.

Q Was he back as soon as you were ready to go?

A Just a few minutes later.

Q What happeend then after you left Edgefield?

A I said, "Boy, go on back and sit down and keep quiet and don't be talking out so loud. Everybody can hear you."

Q Did he say why he wanted you to stop?

A Yes.

Q Did he use the same kind of languge?

A He used the same language.

Q What did you say about his opportunity to releive himself at Batesburg or get off later?

MR. NUTTER: Your Honor, I object to all these leading questions.

MR MORRIS: Q Well: did you tell him anything else besides telling him to go back and sit down?

THE COURT: Yes, that question was leading, Mr. Morris.

MR. MORRIS: Very well, Your Honor.

Q Did you tell him anything else other than to go back and sit down, on that occasion?

A I believe I told him he could get out at Batesburg, that it would not be but a few minutes before we got there.


Q According to this map, at right angles to North Railroad Avenue appears to be Oak Street and Granite Street down here. In which direction did Officer Shull take Woodard, did they go toward Oak or Granite Street?

A Toward Granite Street.

Q You spoke about seeing them approaching, I believe you said a corner when Woodard was apparently trying to jerk away from Chief Shull or the corner, is that right?

A The corner at Granite and North Railroad Avenue, yes, sir.

Q Did they go around that corner in the direction fo Granite Street?

A Yes, sir, around the corner down Granite Street.

Q Did you see them any more?

A No, I did not.

Q State whether at any time in your presence or so far as you saw, Officer Shull struck Woodard with his hands or with any weapon.

A No, sir, I did not see him strike him at all.


Q All right, now did you go back to the sidewalk or where did you go from there, you and Officer Long?

A I believe I went back outside the bus to check the bus before leaving.

Q What was happening at that time as between Chief Shull and Woodard?

A They were leaving, I believe, going on to the jail.

Q Going away from the bus?

A That is right, and I could see them rounding the corner down there and he was puling back, resisting arrest.

Q Where was that?

A And he was using loud and boisterous talk. That wasn’t the corner down from the drugstore and the bus station.

Q Have you examined this map sufficiently to identify where the bus stopped there in Batesburg?

A Yes, sir.

9 Transcript from “Orson Welles Sketchbook – Episode 3: The Police”:

I was, uh, many years, a radio commentator…in America. During that time, of course, I had occasion to speak on a great variety of subjects. *tears paper out of sketchbook* Of all those subjects, one of the most interesting stories, the one that sticks most vividly in memory, had to do with a Negro soldier. Here he is:

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Boy had seen service in the South Pacific, he was on his way home. Home was in one of the Southern states…he was on a bus, on the way he felt ill, he asked the bus driver to let him off. Bus driver refused, abusively. There was an argument, at the end of which a policeman was called in, who dragged the boy out of the bus, took him behind a building, and beat him viciously. And when he was unconscious, poured gin over him, put him in jail, charged him with drunkenness and assault. When the boy regained consciousness, he discovered that he was blind. The policeman had literally beaten out his eyes. Now, of course, that sortof policeman is the exception. That’s when a policeman is a criminal in uniform. I had the satisfaction of being instrumental in bringing that particular policeman to justice. Case was brought to my attention, and I brought it to the attention of the radio public, and we did finally manage to locate this man, and bring him into a court of law.

But there is, another sort of police abuse. Of which I think we all suffer, more or less. We suffer it at the hands of good policemen. Decent policemen. Policemen doing their duty. These are all the little petty annoyances, that don’t seem very important, but add up to an invasion of our privacy, and assault against our dignity as human beings. I’m brought in mind by all this, because just now I had my passport renewed. That made me think of all the forms, police questionnaires we have to fill out. One of the unpleasant things about your passport, getting a new one of course, is that you have to get a new picture, in which you invariably look older, and sometimes, a little worse than older.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

I wonder why it is that so many of us tend to look like criminals in a police line-up when we have our picture taken for our passport. I suppose it’s the unconscious foreknowledge of the…scrutiny to which our likeness will be subjected that gives us the hangdog guilty look. Really, theoretically, a passport is supposed to be issued for our protection. But on how many frontiers, and how many countries I’ve handed over my passport with all the emotions of an apprentice forger trying to fob off a five pound note on the Bank of England. A guilty conscience, I suppose. But, there’s something about being ticketed and numbered, that gives a man the feeling of being a piece of baggage, a convict. You can’t help thinking of our fathers’ day, when the world hadn’t grown so small. You could move about in it without being watched so closely.

Nowadays of course, we are now treated as demented or delinquent children. And the eyes are always on us. In our fathers’ day, of course, there weren’t any passports. The only countries that required an entry visa were Montenegro and Russia.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Here I am in the hands of the police. This is an illustration of a story. It happened in a country that I think had better remain nameless.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Enough trouble in the world as it is. First of all, I better explain that I carry, or at least carried, what Mr. Roosevelt once described when I showed it to him as the cheapest diplomatic passport in the world. In an American passport, I don’t know whether it’s true in an English one, on the front page there’s a place that says: “In case of death or accident, please notify…” and then you usually put the name of some near or dear one. In my case, I put “In case of death or accident please notify Franklin D. Roosevelt, Washington, D.C.” But at the time of this story, when I was stopped by the police, Mr. Roosevelt had died, Mr. Truman was president, and an election was coming up in which Truman was running against Dewey. Now, I made the mistake that a great deal of my fellow countrymen did, that Mr. Dewey was going to win. And because I wasn’t very fond of Mr. Dewey, I had written in my passport, “In case of accident, please notify Thomas Dewey, Washington, D.C.” My thought being, the least I could do to devil Mr. Dewey was to arrive in a coffin some morning. And it was therefore that passport that I handed to the police at eleven o’clock one wintry night in the mountains. And they jumped out of the road which, as I say, is going to be nameless, and with drawn guns, demanded what I had in my baggage.

Now there wasn’t any frontier, there couldn’t be any question of customs, so I asked them cheerfully, by way of conversation, whether this was a raid on dope smugglers, black marketeers, or whatever; they didn’t feel like joking, they said “It is not for you to converse with the police. Open your bag!” And I said, “Well, I’m afraid to, because the bag will blow up.” And they asked me what I meant by that, and I explained I had an atom bomb, a small one, in the bag – so wired to the catch that if you opened the bag, there would be a dreadful explosion. Why? I said I was going to La Scala, that I didn’t like the opera, and I was angry at the management, I was going to make an outrage, and that was what I had in my bag. And they said, you mustn’t joke with the police, the argument went on some time, very unpleasant, it got to be about two in the morning, one of those long drawn out practical jokes that you’ll regret, and finally they got around to looking at my passport. I was, of course, grateful, most grateful that they did, because when they saw the name Thomas Dewey, they said, “Oh! Excuse us Mr. Dewey, please continue!” And I don’t know quite what that story illustrates, except that it shows that a passport does have its purpose.

I don’t want you to think from this story that I’m an anarchist, or that I’m against the police…on the principle that I believe in fighting them with practical jokes, much less by lawlessness, just the contrary.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

Now, I know I was wrong to make all that trouble for those police, in the mountains of that…nameless country. But, you see, I do a lot of travelling, I’ve been travelling all my life in fact. I was born in America, raised partly in China, and sent about the world a good bit before the war, and a great deal during it, and more afterwards. An office in one country, a studio in another, the last film, for instance, was made in four countries. So I have a good deal of experience in crossing borders, and coping with the coppers all over the world. And it is true, you know, that we’re invited in the travel posters be tourists, but once we attempt it, we do discover we’re guilty until proven innocent.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

That being so, I think a word or two on red tape-ism and bureaucracy, particularly as it applies to freedom of movement, might be in order. Sure that’s true of all of us. Think of all those forms we have to fill out, for example, you know what I mean by police forms, we get them at hotels and frontiers, in every country all over the world. We’re asked, state your sex, male or female, for example. Well, obviously I’m a male, I’m a man, why should I have to answer that? State your race and religion in block letters…well now, why should I have to confide my religion to the police? Frankly, I don’t think anybody’s race is anybody’s business. I’m willing to admit a policeman has a difficult job, a very hard job. But it’s the essence of our society that a policeman’s job should be hard. He’s there to protect…protect the free citizen, not to chase criminals, that’s an incidental part of his job. A free citizen is always more of a nuisance to the policeman than a criminal. He knows what to do about the criminal. I know it’s very nice to look out of our window in our comfortable home and see the policeman protecting our home, we should be grateful to the policeman, but I think we should be grateful too…for the laws which protect us against the policeman. There are those laws, you know, they’re quite different from the police regulations.

But the regulations do pile up. Forms keep coming in. We keep being asked to state our grandmothers, fathers’ name in block letters, and to say whether we propose to overthrow the government, in triplicate, why, that sort of thing, but you see, the bureaucrat, and I’m including the bureaucrat with the police, is part of one great big monstrous thing. The bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer, you can never pay him off, the more you give him, the more he’ll demand. You fill in one form, he’ll give you ten. And what are we going to do about it? Obviously, we can’t go on giving into this thing. Well you say just a minute, why shouldn’t we give into it, why should we make trouble for the policeman? Well, the truth is, why should the policeman make trouble for us? Why should he ask these things that are stated quite clearly enough in our passport? Our passport tells us everything that the policeman doesn’t need to know. Why should we make trouble, well…we don’t, because we don’t want to get into trouble with the police.

We’re told that we should co-operate with the authorities. I’m not an anarchist. I don’t want to overthrow the rule of law, on the contrary, I want to bring the policeman to law. Obviously individual effort won’t do any good. There’s nothing an individual can do about protecting the individual in society. I’d like it very much if somebody would make a great big international organisation for the protection of the individual. That way there could be officers at every frontier. And whenever we presented with something unpleasant, instead of having to fill out one of these idiotic questionnaires, we could say, “I’m sorry, it’s against the rules of our organization to fill out that questionnaire.” And when they say, ah, but it’s the regulations, we could say, “Very well, see our lawyer, because if there are enough of us, our dues would pay for the best lawyers in all the countries of the world.” We could bring to court these invasions against our privacy and test them under law. It would be very nice to have that sort of an organisation, it would be nice to have that sort of card. I see the card as fitting into the passport, a little larger than the passport, with a border around it in bright colours, so that it would catch the eyes of the police. And they’d know who they were dealing with, something like this.

Isaac Woodard Officer X Orson Welles

The card should look like a union card, the card of an automobile club, and since its purpose is to impress and control officialdom, well, obviously it should be as official looking as possible, with a lot of seals and things like that on it. And it might read something as follows. “This is to certify that the bearer is a member of the human race. All relevant information is to be found in his passport…and except when there’s good reason for suspecting him of some crime, he will refuse to submit to police interrogation on the grounds that any such interrogation is an intolerable nuisance. And life being as short as it is, a waste of time. Any infringement on his privacy or interference with his liberty, any assault, however petty against his dignity as a human being, will be rigorously prosecuted by the undersigned, I.S.P.I.A.O.,”…and that would be the International Association for the Protection of the Individual Against Officialdom.” If any such organization is ever organized…you could put me down as a charter member.

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Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: A Maze of Death

(What follows is a modified and expanded version of the Disqus comment, “Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: Suicide Mission”. Various errors in that comment, such as the constant mis-spelling of Boxer Santaros’ name, are corrected here. What follows contains spoilers for Southland Tales, Knowing, and End of Days. Though an attempt is made to dis-entangle the plot by writing about the surrounding events of the movie in roughly chronological order, the assumption is made that any reader has seen the movie at least once and is somewhat familiar with its story. The prequel script referred to in this post can be found on scribd, a link I arrived at via the very helpful “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly” by Abraham Riesman.)

The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described… . It was that beauty the great poets dream about but describe most poorly and inadequately. Thirty seconds after, the explosion came first, the air blast pressing hard against the people and things, to be followed almost immediately by the strong, sustained, awesome roar which warned of doomsday and made us feel that we puny things were blasphemous to dare tamper with the forces heretofore reserved to The Almighty.

Kenneth Bainbridge, the supervisor of the test, turned to Oppenheimer and said, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

From a description of the first A Bomb test, in Eric Schlosser’s essential Command and Control.

A film that plays the apocalypse completely for laughs, and which gave me a great deal of joyful laughter when I first saw it and badly needed such relief. The movie’s strength lies in the fact that its scenes work (or don’t work) as self-contained episodes, with any larger issues of structure or comprehensibility lessened by your focus on the immediate action. Were I to compare it to anything, it would be the strange skits that Saturday Night Live leaves for its very end, a sample of which might be found in “10-to-1 odds: 19 bizarre sketches from Saturday Night Live’s last 10 minutes” by Claire Zulkey, Steve Heisler, Erik Adams, Phil Dyess-Nugent, Ryan McGee and Will Harris, though perhaps the best example comes from Commander Blop in the comments: “How did “Potato Chip” not make it? I think of that as the quintessential example of the last fifteen or so years.” (link) This skit involves a NASA job interviewee stealing a single chip from the interviewer’s precious bowl of thirty five chips. The humor doesn’t really lie with the premise, or any single element, but the combined absurdity of it all: the anachronistic speech and manner of these Southern Country Gentlemen at NASA, Mr. Greenblatt’s petulance over the single missing chip, the baroque anguish of the secretary. “Potato Chip Thief” is on the Yahoo! SNL archive, though an excerpt from a transcript at SNL Transcripts (“Potato Chip Thief”) might convey the tone:

Mr. Greenblatt: Well, I got that space test right…

[ Mr. Greenblatt stops mid sentence and stares at the bowl of chips on the desk. He quickly scuttles towards it and begins thumbing through the bowl counting quickly under his breath. ]

Mr. Greenblatt: Thirty four. (stares at Mr. Aymong as he sits down.) Thirty four! (yells to get Janelley’s attention) JANELLEY! Could you come in here, please!

[ Janelley enters the office and approaches Mr. Greenblatt. ]

Janelley: (In a quivery quiet voice) Yes, Mr. Greenblatt?

Mr. Greenblatt: Janelda, how many potato chips did you put in there today?

Janelley: Thirty five.

Mr. Greenblatt: (with conviction) I thought so. I thought so! Janelley, what would you say if I told you that that man right there is nothing but a common potato chip thief!

Janelley: (In an overdone scream of horror) AHHHHHHH! POTATO CHIP THIIIIIEEEEFFFFF!!!!

The scenes in Southland Tales rarely fall under quotable humor, or things that can be easily summarized to explain why they’re funny. It’s this quicksilver quality which, for me, makes the movie so enjoyable, as the jokes keep coming in unpredictable sizes and shapes. The movie bears the influence of Philip K. Dick, an influence which it openly acknowledges with a witty reference: “Flow my tears,” says a policeman (in other words, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said), while both the prequel script and prequel comics feature a scene with the characters bonding over, respectively, The Man in High Castle and the already mentioned Flow My Tears 1. That its apocalyptic premise is coupled with absurdist dialogue makes Southland Tales feel closer to the books of Dick than adaptations like Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly which keep the vertiginous elements, while dropping the discordant hyperbolic writing that often sounds like an unintentional ten-to-one SNL skit, the beatnik daughter of Ayn Rand hanging out at the space disco. One might pick a few examples from an obvious and near-by choice, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

These excerpts all involve the book’s lead, Jason Taverner (and of course, Seann William Scott’s protagonist in Southland is Roland Taverner), and his ex-girlfriend, Ruth Rae:

That was one factor about Ruth Rae: her obsession with sex. One year that he recalled she had laid sixty men, not including him: he had entered and left earlier, when the stats were not so high.

And she had always liked his music. Ruth Rae liked sexy vocalists, pop ballads and sweet– sickeningly sweet–strings. In her New York apartment at one time she had set up a huge quad system and more or less lived inside it, eating dietetic sandwiches and drinking fake frosty slime drinks made out of nothing. Listening forty-eight hours at a stretch to disc after disc by the Purple People Strings, which he abominated.

“Hi,” she rasped in her bourbon-bounded voice. “Who are you?”

Jason said, “We met a few years ago in New York. I was doing a walk-on in an episode of The Phantom Baller. . . as I recall it, you had charge of costumes.”

“The episode,” Ruth Rae rasped, “where the Phantom Baller was set upon by pirate queers from another time period.” She laughed, smiled up at him. “What’s your name?” she inquired, jiggling her wire-supported exposed boobs.

“I’ll go punch the stove-console.” Ruth Rae skittered barefoot, wearing only a box bangle, from the bathroom into the kitchen. A moment later she returned with a big plastic mug of coffee, marked KEEP ON TRUCKIN’. He accepted it, drank down the steaming coffee.

“I can’t stay,” he said, “any longer. And anyhow, you’re too old.”

She stared at him, ludicrously, like a warped, stomped doll. And then she ran off into the kitchen. Why did I say that? he asked himself. The pressure; my fears. He started after her.

Southland replaces this unintentional absurdity with its own intentional, utterly strange jokes. One of the first scenes, when Zora Charmichaels buys a gun and blanks for the staged shooting from a weapons dealer who works out of an ice cream truck:

ZORA
You know, there would be a lot less violence in the world if everyone got a little more cardio.

WALTER MUNG
Yeah…

ZORA
HEY. Is that a bazooka?

WALTER
What the fuck is this?

ZORA
What…you won’t take a personal cheque?

WALTER
No, I won’t take a personal cheque. Get the fuck out of my ice cream truck, you cro-magnon bitch.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

There’s the reunion of Santaros with his in-laws, along with the woman who protected him during his time of exile, porn star Krysta Now:

MADELINE FROST
Cock Chuggers 2? Cock Chuggin? Who the fuck makes this shit? Huh?

BOXER
Hey, hey. She just cut her own pop album.

SENATOR FROST
“Teen horniness is not a crime. Keep an open heart and an open mind.”

KRYSTA does the “love you, too” signal to the Senator.

BOXER
She’s developing her own reality show. Clothing line. Jewelry, perfume, and not to mention, energy drink. Which I tried. And her drink tastes really really good.

KRYSTA mouths thank you.

BOXER
Can I see the Cock Chuggers?

MADELINE FROST
No!

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

A conversation on Krysta Now’s talk show, which is kind of like The View, except all the table mates are porn stars, and where they discuss the important issues of the day, like teen horniness and quantum teleportation:

SHOSHANNA COX
I have a question…for the Supreme Court. What happens…when a woman has sex on a flight from London to Los Angeles. Then takes the morning after pill. While flying across the time zone.

KRYSTA NOW
I don’t know.

COX
Then it becomes the morning before pill.

DEENA STORM
You are a genius.

NOW
Holy shit.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The Dickisian influence is there in the ways I see the movie: as a satire on the American fascination with the apocalypse, and as the briefly realized dream world of a dying man, Roland Taverner. Dealing with the first gives me an opportunity to lay out the surrounding timeline of the events of the movie, in chronological order, as described in the film, the prequel comics (Southland Tales: The Prequel Saga on Amazon), and the prequel script (Southland Tales: The Prequel Saga on scribd) – though they overlap in many ways, the prequel script and the prequel comics have their differences. Though “Everything you were afraid to ask about “Southland Tales”” by Thomas Rogers is very effective in disentangling the various plot details of the movie, it spends less time on the events leading up to the movie’s plot, which I think are equally important in understanding what takes place.

What should first be noted is that a central part of Southland‘s plot is the idea of various world religions in a competition for apocalypse (a kind of Death Race 2000, I guess), with one winner emerging from these sweepstakes. This is why Boxer has tattoos on his body of so many symbols and words representing various faiths, and when Christ’s head bleeds through at the end, this is the chosen (and expected) winner. This crude competition is very much satirical, and mirrors the religious bigotry of Bobby and Nina Mae Frost who express an opinion that doesn’t make it into the movie, but is very much there in the prequel works – that the war on terror is a war for Christian supremacy. In “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly” by Abraham Riesman, Kelly confirms all this:

In the graphic novels, we learn that boxer’s tattoos represent all the major world religions, and that whichever one bleeds, it means that religion is the one true religion. Jesus ends up bleeding, of course. So, why Christianity? Why does it win?

Why does Jesus win? (Laughs) Well, because it’s Revelation and it is the Second Coming. And the joke is, someone *has* to win, and it’s part of the satire.

Sorta like a parody of the Bush administration’s invocations of god?

Well, I mean, it’s the foundation of that entire administration, was Christianity. And Southland Tales is very much a reflection of that administration and those eight years.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

These are the Frosts in the comic, on the intersection of war and religion:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

These are the Frosts in the script, on the same subject (page 83):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The screenplay that’s mentioned several times in the movie, The Power, is a script which serves as a prophetic work predicting the events leading up to the apocalypse, and excerpts of the script appear in the prequel comics. Though it will be discussed at greater length later, we might look at the scene in the script where Jericho Cane gets his tattoos, after which Boxer Santaros will get the very same set of tattoos to play the role of Jericho Cane2. This is Jericho Cane getting the “armor of god”, the religious tats:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

This is Boxer getting the same set of tattoos, in the script (page 66):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

In the comic:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Serpentine: “When da true Messiah returns…da tattoo of the winning religion will bleed da blood of da serpent.” Fortunio: “The winning religion? Is this some sort of competition?” Serpentine: “Of course it is…you fool!” (page 80)

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Perhaps the best place to start the chronology is with an exposition scene in the prequel script, where we discover the Defense Department has been funding research into the Book of Revelations for decades. The conversation is between General Teena MacArthur (Janeane Garafolo) and General Simon Theory (Kevin Smith); Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake) is in the scene because he’s participating in a military experiment involving Fluid Karma (page 91):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The primer is Martin Kefauver, the man who fires the rocket launcher at the end, and whose name is deciphered later by Krysta Now.

As we know from the opening scenes of Southland, the expanded war in the Middle East has led the U.S. to research alternative energy resources. Baron Westphalen has solved the problem through Fluid Karma, a mysterious substance that generates electricity when exposed to oxygen. In the Baron’s presentation from the movie’s opening, he seems unable to quite explain how his energy system, powered by the ocean’s waves, quite works – this is because the explanation is a deception. Fluid Karma isn’t produced, but mined from the ocean floor, a place called the Serpent Trench.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

By mining this material, they’ve unleashed something unforseen unto the world. The first sign of something gone awry is the incident involving Flight 23, going from Los Angeles to Dallas, where passengers and crew were struck by a massive outbreak of hysteria mid-point in the flight. Everyone on board afterward suffered from amnesia, except for one person – Krysta Kapowski, also known as Krysta Now.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

During interview sessions after the event, it’s discovered that Kapowski now has psychic powers. It’s after this discovery that Dr. Katarina Kuntzler has her dictate the script The Power.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The script is supposed to be a kind of modern Book of Revelation, predicting the events leading up to the end of the world. Instead of the porn actress, the script features Krysta Now’s doppelganger, oceanography expert Dr. Muriel Fox, who describes Krysta’s experiences on United 23 as her own. Before the outbreak of hysteria, the passengers fall into a coma in which Krysta is the only one awake. She sees a vision of a multi-headed snake beast ridden by the whore of Babylon, Krysta Now. This perhaps is how Kapowski sees herself, as two selves separated by the transforming incident – Krysta Now and psychic Dr. Muriel Fox. This vision explains exactly what will take place before the apocalypse, events mirrored in the end of the movie:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Simon Theory has come across an anagram of letters that must be deciphered, F R E A K M A N V I R T U E, which also unscramble to Martin Kefauver, the man who’ll fire the rocket launcher at the movie’s end. This is the “trigger” they’re seeking, the man who’ll set off the apocalypse. From the prequel script, when Simon discusses the anagram with Teena MacArthur (page 113):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

From The Power script in the comic, when Muriel Fox unscrambles the letters:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Muriel explicitly identifies Kefauver as “the executioner” in The Power script:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Much of Kapowski’s script is excerpted in the comics, and the impression given is of a prophetic document disguised as a juvenile Michael Bay movie. Two cops, Jericho Cane (played by Boxer Santaros) and his partner, Chuck MacPherson (not Roland Taverner, but an older man in his fifties), along with Dr. Muriel Fox, are trying to unravel the mystery behind a baby named Caleb that has mystic qualities and may well be the messiah. It ages at an accelerated rate, and never has a bowel movement, but its farts are so powerful that they shake the earth. Eventually, Jericho Cane takes the baby to a farmhourse where he finds the mysterious sorceress named Serpentine, the very same Serpentine of the world outside the script. Serpentine is surrounded by snakes, and one of them swallows the baby, before the serpent is destroyed by one of the child’s cosmic farts. Serpentine declares the child the messiah. It’s after this point that Serpentine explains the idea of the “armor of god”, the tattoos which must be printed on Jericho Cane’s skin.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Though it’s omitted in the general release cut, there’s a lengthier discussion of the script in one of the ridealong scenes in the Cannes cut. I know that some have accused this movie of pretentiousness, and yet the full cut of the scene gets close to the tone which the movie aims for all the way through, one that has a serious undertone, but is also through and through ridiculous. The recurrent phrase, “nobody rocks the cock like Krysta Now”, is something like an advertising jingle which ends up in the heads of everyone, though for a product more demimonde than we might expect for these infectious mantras.

BOXER
So, I’m fucking her last night…and right before I come, I puke all over her tits.

TAVERNER (impassive, blase, unperturbed)
It happens.

BOXER
No, I’m telling you, nobody and I mean nobody, rocks the cock like Krysta Now. Nobody.

BOXER CONT’D
Nobody.

TAVERNER
I got it.

BOXER
Fucking nobody.

Back to the Neo-Marxist headquarters. DREAM talks into the mic, which TAVERNER hears over the earpiece.

DREAM
Ask him about his wife.

TAVERNER
So what does your wife think about your new girlfriend?

BOXER
My wife?

TAVERNER
Yeah. She cool with the fact that you have a porn star girlfriend on the side?

BOXER
I’m not married.

TAVERNER
You’re not?

BOXER
No, I’m not.

TAVERNER
I could have sworn you were married to the daughter of a Texas senator. Senator Bobby Frost.

BOXER
Well no, I’m not. I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t know who he is. Furthermore, I don’t want to talk about this. Why are you asking me questions? I just want to talk about my movie.

TAVERNER
Okay, let’s talk about your film. What’s it really about?

BOXER now interested, leans closer
It all hinges…on a top secret experiment. Young couple comes home from the hospital. With their new-born baby. A week goes by, and the baby still hasn’t produced a bowel movement.

TAVERNER
Maybe the baby’s just constipated.

BOXER
No no no no no. This is a very special baby. This baby processes energy differently. Every time it farts, it creates a small earthquake. The prophecy of Jericho Cane says there will be one final thermonuclear baby fart which will then trigger the apocalypse.

TAVERNER
I haven’t had a bowel movement in six days. I haven’t taken a piss either.

BOXER looks down at TAVERNER’s pants.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Though it’s never stated explicitly, somehow this baby Caleb is also Roland Taverner. The baby’s growth is so accelerated in the script that we can conceive this baby being of the age and appearance of Taverner when he first shows up. They both share a distinct trait: like Caleb, Taverner cannot have a bowel movement no matter how hard he tries. This is a point made several times in the comic:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The various researchers of the movie – General Simon Theory, Dr. Soberin Ex, Dr. Katarina Kuntzler – pinpoint that the strange incident on board Flight 23 took place over Lake Mead, Nevada, where an unusual structure has come into existence: a vast maze in the shape of Texas. Within the maze is a rift in time and space. Kuntzler believes the maze’s shape to be a reference to the nuclear detonation in Abilene, a communication by a sentient intelligence – the Serpent Trench.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Attempts are made to research this time rift. The best description of what takes place is in Southland when Satoro discovers his own dead body, and Soberin Ex tells him what led up to it:

EX
And what did we do when we discovered a rift in the fourth dimension? We launched monkeys into it.

BOXER
Only a human subject can survive that challenge. The soul of a human monkey can’t survive the dimensional threshold.

KUNTZLER
So we learned. At which point we decided that the first human subejct to travel through the rift would be a movie star.

BOXER
Why me?

KUNTZLER
Your celebrity and your political ties proved an irresistible combination.

EX
At 10:59 AM, and this is sixty-nine minutes before you passed through the rift, a duplicate Boxer Santaross appeared.

SIMON
You traveled sixty nine minutes back in time, sir. At which point your future self…and your past self, confronted one another.

BOXER
So, I’m my future self. And I’m the dude who traveled through the rift.

EX
And this…[nods to the burned out body] is all that’s left of your past self. This body…this artifact. This dual existence of a single human soul could unlock the secret of creation, the secret of humankind.

BOXER
I don’t understand. I’ve never considered committing suicide. I’m a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.

EX
We don’t know what would happen if two human souls were to come into immediate close contact with one another.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

This may be a deception as well; Boxer perhaps isn’t taken to the maze because he’s a movie star, but because of the prophecy of The Power script. Boxer is at a campaign event on June 27th where he’s with his in-laws, Vice Presidential nominee Bobby Frost and their family, when he’s kidnapped (page 74):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Afterwards, Boxer Santaros has forgotten everything in his life – except the moment of being in the maze. He comes across the monkey that’s already been sent through the time rift. This monkey’s gone to heaven:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

In the prequel script, park rangers searching the area come across the dead monkey as well (page 8):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

He wanders the maze and comes across a giant snake which then attacks him. This might be taken as a metaphor for the entire movie, characters wandering a maze ruled by a snake, Serpentine. Boxer escapes by ascending the stairs to a gauzy field marked by an open hand: the time rift. He jumps through and afterwards sees Taverner. When asked his name, he says “Jericho Cane”, even though he hasn’t read Krysta’s screenplay yet.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

After Boxer jumps through the time rift, his past self may have gone back into the Treer vehicle where it was destroyed by a remote self-destruct trigger, according to this conversation at the end of Southland:

BOXER
You made sure to have no one go through the time rift with me. Then you hit the SUV self destruct trigger. By remote. Which means I didn’t kill myself.

SERPENTINE
You’re a pimp. Pimps don’t commit suicide.

BOXER
You got that right.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Though Roland Taverner suffers from amnesia as well due to the time rift, he too remembers the maze as a dream, which he tells Boxer about when they sit down to eat during a break from the drivealong. The upbeat “Oh My Angel” by Bertha Tillman plays in the background, making things even more unsettling.

TAVERNER
I’ve had this recurring dream.

BOXER can tell that he wants to tell someone, anyone about this dream.

BOXER
Tell me about it.

TAVERNER
I wake up in this dungeon…the walls are made of sand. As I slowly make my way through this…maze. Approaching a light source at the end. Guess who’s standing there, waiting for me?

BOXER
Who?

TAVERNER
You.

BOXER is now very interested.

BOXER
Do you ever feel there’s a thousand people…locked inside of you?

TAVERNER
Sometimes.

BOXER
But it’s your memory. That keeps them glued together. Keeps all those people from [makes Rock’em Sock’em motions] fighting one another. Maybe in the end that’s all we have. The memory. Gospel.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

It’s after this point that Boxer is picked up in the desert by Foruntio Balducci, while Roland Taverner ends up on the houseboat of his parents, along with his double, his past self. They’ve been gone in the maze for three days, since it’s now June 30th:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Whether Tab and Eve Taverner are actually Roland’s parents, or just actors playing a part, I’m not sure. They’re Neo-Marxists, and his father lies to Roland that the other body is his twin brother, and not a copy of himself:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Taverner is transferred by his parents over to the custody of fellow Neo-Marxist Zora Charmichaels, while Balducci drives with Boxer to a strip club where Krysta Now is headlining. The comic’s opening has many of the characters clustered all together on the Taverner houseboat, with Krysta Now and Balducci there for a gambling junket, where high stakes card games are played against, amongst others, U.S. soldiers stationed in Syria. We are told that Tab is on his way to drop off some very important cargo in Los Angeles – Roland Taverner and his copy. Balducci goes off into the desert, with a necessary state travel pass given to him by Krysta. Though it’s never stated explicitly in the comic, I make this assumption: Krysta is psychic, and Krysta knows Balducci will pick up Boxer in the desert, after which she’ll see them at her strip club. In the comic, they simply meet at the club, whereas in the prequel script, Krysta makes a beeline for Boxer. Again in the prequel script, she presents him with the prophecy script, The Power, which carries a co-writing credit for Santaros, while in the comic she enlists Balducci to convince Boxer that The Power is entirely his script. He’ll be playing a part in other people’s games, but it’s important that he thinks it’s all a product of his own imagination, his own creation.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

When Krysta meets Boxer in the prequel script (page 17):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Towards the end of the prequel comics, there’s this moment between Krysta and Boxer which suggests she knows exactly what will happen to all of them, that they’re going to bring about the apocalypse:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

A contingent point, revealed only at the comic’s ending: Krysta has been doing this all for the Baron. We’re told this in a scene where Krysta tells her friends, Deena Storm and Shoshanna Cox, that they’ve received an invite to dance on the Westphalen zeppelin for their fourth of July party:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Zora is an agent of the Baron as well:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The burnt out body of Boxer Santaros is found by park rangers. After they put the body into storage, mysterious figures come into the ranger station, kill the rangers and retrieve the body. In both the prequel comics and the script, the body then ends up in Westphalen laboratories, but in the prequel script, it’s more explicit that the kill orders come from the Baron:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The park ranger discovers the body in the prequel script (page 10):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Baron gives the order to shoot in the prequel script (page 11):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

That Taverner ends up with the Neo-Marxists and Boxer ends up at Krysta’s, is also part of an elaborate plan, chess pieces in their proper place, as it’s made clear in the comic book:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The purpose of it all is to bring about the apocalypse. Janeane Garafolo shows up in Southland only for a few seconds in a mute appearance towards the end, alongside Pilot Abilene in the Utopia 3 Station; she’s there, according to the prequel script, after waiting it out at a remote command center. We have here the obvious irony, that she has to be at a remote location so she’s not destroyed, while waiting out the three days until all of earth is annihilated (page 116):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

A compilation of Teena MacArthur’s scenes from the Cannes cut of Southland Tales:

The drive along with a staged shooting and the drive along disrupted by a real shooting are all parts of a larger plan. It’s Balducci who tells Dion and Dream to take the scenario for the faked shooting from a scene in The Power (page 82):

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The scene of the couple from The Power:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

That various characters are used as instruments shouldn’t imply that they know the full plan. Fortunio thinks the idea of a competition among the religions a ridiculous idea; all he knows is that he’s paid to do certain things, though these very tasks end up being necessary steps towards the apocalypse. One of the last scenes in the prequel comics is Fortunio confronting Krysta about what exactly she knows:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Though he doesn’t know the full plan, Balducci is still very much in the pay of these same shadowy forces. Southland, the movie, opens with Balducci welcoming Taverner as an old friend; he actually doesn’t know the man at all. He has been paid by Serpentine to bring about the meeting of Taverner and Boxer:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The last scene of the comics is Boxer overwhelmed by all the things he’s experienced, and going out to the beach where he collapses after injecting himself with Fluid Karma – which is not only a source of energy, but a potent drug as well. It’s in the morning after this that we see him in the movie’s opening, waking up on the beach. Fluid Karma is used in various military experiments on soldiers, in order to try to endow them with psychic abilities, and among the experimental subjects are Roland Taverner and Pilot Abilene. Those who inject themselves with Fluid Karma tend to experience time breaking down, or “bleeding”, and Boxer runs into this at the house where they first find baby Caleb, with the dead father of Caleb speaking to Boxer through a mirror. It’s this same phenomenon of bleeding that Taverner experiences in his opening scene, where his mirror reflection appears to be a few microseconds behind.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

SUICIDE MISSION

This is a movie where the apocalypse does not come about as an unexpected by-product of anything else, or by accident, but out of exact intent. Southland gets at the lunacy of nuclear madman theory and at the madness at the heart of the apocalyptic thinking now so prevalent among evangelicals in the U.S. The movie says the unsayable: that the destruction of the entire earth is actually part of a divine plan. We have it stated very well in the excellent study of the Book of Revelation and its modern misinterpretations, A History of the End of the World by Jonathan Kirsch:

Revelation achieved its first penetration into American politics with the unlikely rise of Ronald Reagan, first as governor of California and later as president of the United States. Raised in a church with roots that reached all the way back to the era of the Second Great Awakening – and reportedly an early reader of The Late Great Planet Earth [a book from 1970 which repurposed the Book of Revelation to predict the apocalypse in contemporary times] – Reagan was perhaps the first national figure outside of fundamentalist circles to openly and unapologetically affirm his belief in the imminent fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

“Apparently never in history have so many of the prophecies come true in such a relatively short time,” said Ronald Reagan, then serving as governor of California, in an interview that appeared in 1968 in Christian Life magazine. And he was even more forthcoming at a political dinner in Sacramento in 1971 when he commented on the significance of a recent coup in Libya: “That’s a sign that the day of Armageddon isn’t far off,” declared Reagan. “Everything’s falling into place. It can’t be long now.”

Reagan, in fact, was able to cite chapter and verse to support his prediction. The incident in Libya apparently put him in mind of a Sunday-school lesson on the apocalyptic prophecies of the Hebrew bible: “For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near,” goes a passage in the book of Ezekiel. “Ethiopia, and Libya, and Lydia, and all the mingled people…shall fall with them by the sword.” And Reagan, apparently inspired by the sight of waiters igniting bowls of cherries jubilee in the darkened dining room, was mindful of God’s vow to bring down on Gog, the biblical enemy of Israel, “great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.” Reagan alluded to these passages during his table talk and concluded: “That must mean they’ll be destroyed by nuclear weapons.”

In Southland Tales, the only caveat to this armageddon being part of some larger divine cosmogony is that this plan seems to be entirely the design of a less than divine figure, the comic book dragon lady Serpentine. It’s a movie that plays like a parody of a conspiracy theory, with almost every character acting as a double agent for someone else, whether it be Zora, Krysta, and Fortunio acting on behalf of the Baron, or the members of U.S. Ident, the NSA subdivision that oversees the internet, that are actually Neo-Marxist moles. Southland ends with the revelation of double dealing at the very tippytop of the hierarchy, with Baron Von Westphalen declaring himself a Neo-Marxist: “Our mission, is to destroy capitalism…dethrone god…” The very same credo uttered by a Neo-Marxist in one of the comics:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

The mohawked Neo-Marxist who says this line is the ubiquitous Hermosa, who also applies the religious tattoos to Boxer, and makes a silent and enigmatic appearance in the movie, conferring with Taverner during a break in the ride along:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Baron Von Westphalen is actually a relative of Karl Marx on his wife’s side3, so the fight in this movie which at first appears to be a conflict between the left and the right, the Neo-Marxists against the establishment, is actually between the Neo-Marxists versus the Marxists, or, if we take the Baron’s final words as sincere, between the Neo-Marxists and the Neo-Marxists. This is a massive conflict where both factions are on the same side, where the outcome has already been foretold by Krysta Now’s screenplay, all orchestrated by a single, sinister force behind the scenes. Serpentine has all the qualities of a conspiratorial figure, qualities which approach the level of magic, being able to travel seemingly everywhere and, though she wears an eye-catching outfit, is near invisible to everyone around her, who never notice her ubiquity. This is a movie marked by characters who we assume to have great power, whether it be Boxer Santaros, one of the biggest stars on the planet, Bobby Frost, vice presidential candidate, Nana Mae, deputy director of the NSA, Baron Von Westphalen, said to be the most powerful man in the world (described as the wizard, presumably because his inventions resemble something close to magic), General Simon Theory (nicknamed the Dungeon Master, presumably because he stick to subterranean locations and the sense that he’s the hidden power behind everything) – and yet all their power is for naught in the face of this larger plan. Again, we have another standard feature of conspiracy theory, where the most powerful individuals are apparently helpless pieces in a plot. Though all these figures help bring about apocalypse, the only one who actually gets what they want is Serpentine. Again, we have the destructive paradox involved in the planning of various kinds of warfare: what else did you expect to happen when this plan was put into effect?

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Kelly confirms this view of what takes place, of Serpentine orchestrating everything, in Abraham Riesman’s “The ‘Southland Tales’ That Never End: An Interview With Richard Kelly”:

What’s Baron’s endgame?

Well, I mean, that’s part of the ending that I’d like to eventually restore. The Baron has been duped by Serpentine, and Serpentine is aware of the handshake and shutting existence down with the handshake. The Baron has dreams of floating over the apocalyptic landscape in his MegaZeppelin and ruling over humanity, and Bai Ling tricks him and shuts down all existence. That’s why she’s—there’s more of it in the Cannes cut.

Who in the movie wants to bring about the end of the world?

Bai Ling and Zelda Rubenstein. Katarina Kuntsler. Inga von Westphalen is aware of it, somewhat. But basically, Serpentine and Katarina hoodwink the Baron into shutting down all existence because the Baron is drunk with power and intends to destroy humanity and lord over humanity in his MegaZeppelin, so they decide it’s better to shut down all existence.

The cut of Southland that appeared at Cannes has footage which establishes this point strongly. Following the scene where Cyndi Pinziki threatens Vaughn Smallhouse (“Let me tell you something, Terri. When the shit hits the fan, it all smells the same”) and which closes with Krysta’s line, “I don’t know what it is you’ve done…but you have to promise me he won’t get hurt. He’s not the person you think he is”, we have this brief scene at the Vaughn Smallhouse estate between Katarina Kuntzler and Serpentine, about the Baron:

KUNTZLER
The world is merely an object being manipulated by him. Your Baron is drunk with power. The tidal generator is driving everyone mad. And this madness, this religion of chaos will not abate, until the end of all things.

SERPENTINE
Today the world ends.

KUNTZLER nods and mouths a silent “yes”.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

After the Baron’s line “Our mission is to destroy capitalism…”, we also have this:

BARON
Our mission is to destroy capitalism…dethrone god…

BOXER
Officer Roland Taverner. That’s who you want.

We cut to the TAVERNERS shaking hands in the ice cream truck, the one in the sweatshirt pointing a gun to his head. We go back to the zeppelin.

KATARINA KUNTZLER
He is the one who can dethrone god.

BARON is puzzled. Though he usually knows everything, he wasn’t notified of something.

BARON
Mother…he wasn’t supposed to go through the rift. The car was supposed to be on auto-pilot!

INGA VON WESTPHALEN is impassive.

BARON (desperately)
Serpentine!

SERPENTINE
This is the way the world ends…not with a whimper, but with a bang.

She places her hands together.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Both of these scenes, as well the other deleted scenes from the Cannes version mentioned here, are in the following compilation of clips on youtube, “Southland Tales Deleted Scenes”:

Southland tips its hat a few times to Philip K. Dick, it shares common obsessions with the late author’s work, and I find some of its DNA in Dick’s novel, A Maze of Death. In that book, (I think the SPOILERS tag needs to go here, if you want to remain unsurprised by Maze‘s final twist) a group of space colonists are trapped on a ship stranded near a dead star, as a result of an accident years ago. They pass their time by creating virtual worlds they can wander about in. The worlds are a consensus effort of the various passengers, the religion a synthesis of their beliefs, consisting of four divinities – the Mentafacturer, the Intercessor, the Walker-on-Earth, and the Form Destroyer. After all these years, the ship passengers despise their fellows, and they end up murdering each other on the virtual world. Inevitably, the world collapses and the Form Destroyer, their death god, overwhelms everything. The passengers are outwardly sane, yet secretly mad, and there is a secret, unacknowledged madness to not just the planning of nuclear war, but all war planning. Southland Tales is often about illusions that are suddenly real, and the anticipation of war is the expectation of both an illusion of heroism and physical genius, as well as a reality so cruel and sordid that it pierces all veils. It is supposedly a baptism, in which you will be re-born into something greater, and it is a secret lake into which you descend, and never come up for air. This is the veiled lunacy at the heart of Southland Tales, and here too, a Form Destroyer prevails.

Dick was obsessed with theology, and his books benefit and suffer from this, with his fascinating plots often metaphors for religious ideas, and these plots in turn trapping their characters like flies in amber, the entire book stiff with reflection on a particular idea, rather than focusing the reader’s interest page by page. We might get some sense of his obsession from the story related in the film Waking Life, told by the Pinball Playing Man (Richard Linklater) to the Main Character (Wiley Wiggins). I am grateful to the transcript from the site Waking Life, which offers transcripts by James Skemp to all the scenes in the complex and in-depth conversations of the movie, including “Trapped in a Dream”:

PINBALL MAN
I’m gonna tell you about a dream I once had. I know that’s, when someone says that, then usually you’re in for a very boring next few minutes, and you might be, but it sounds like, you know, what else are you going to do, right? Anyway, I read this essay by Philip K. Dick [“If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others”, I believe, from The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick].

MAIN CHARACTER
What, you read it in your dream?

PINBALL MAN
No, no. I read it before the dream. It was the preamble to the dream. It was about that book, um Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. You know that one?

MAIN CHARACTER
Uh, yeah yeah, he won an award for that one.

PINBALL MAN
Right, right. That’s the one he wrote really fast. It just like flowed right out of him. He felt he was sort of channeling it, or something. But anyway, about four years after it was published, he was at this party, and he met this woman who had the same name as the woman character in the book. And she had a boyfriend with the same name as the boyfriend character in the book, and she was having an affair with this guy, the chief of police, and he had the same name as the chief of police in his book. So she’s telling him all of this stuff from her life, and everything she’s saying is right out of his book. So that’s totally freaking him out, but, what can he do?

And then shortly after that, he was going to mail a letter, and he saw this kind of, um, you know, dangerous, shady looking guy standing by his car, but instead of avoiding him, which he says he would have usually done, he just walked right up to him and said, “Can I help you?” And the guy said, “Yeah. I, I ran out of gas.” So he pulls out his wallet, and he hands him some money, which he says he never would have done, and then he gets home and thinks, wait a second, this guy, you know, he can’t get to a gas station, he’s out of gas. So he gets back in his car, he goes and finds the guy, takes him to the gas station, and as he’s pulling up at the gas station, he realizes, “Hey, this is in my book too. This exact station, this exact guy. Everything.”

So this whole episode is kind of creepy, right? And he’s telling his priest about it, you know, describing how he wrote this book, and then four years later all these things happened to him. And as he’s telling it to him, the priest says, “That’s the Book of Acts. You’re describing the Book of Acts.” And he’s like, “I’ve never read the Book of Acts.” So he, you know, goes home and reads the Book of Acts, and it’s like uncanny. Even the characters’ names are the same as in the Bible. And the Book of Acts takes place in 50 A.D., when it was written, supposedly. So Philip K. Dick had this theory that time was an illusion and that we were all actually in 50 A.D., and the reason he had written this book was that he had somehow momentarily punctured through this illusion, this veil of time, and what he had seen there was what was going on in the Book of Acts.

And he was really into Gnosticism, and this idea that this demiurge, or demon, had created this illusion of time to make us forget that Christ was about to return, and the kingdom of God was about to arrive. And that we’re all in 50 A.D., and there’s someone trying to make us forget that God is imminent. And that’s what time is. That’s what all of history is. It’s just this kind of continuous, you know, daydream, or distraction.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Southland is afflicted with the opposite problem, as the subject is very much religion, but without anything like the depth of knowledge or obsession which Dick brought to his work. The apocalypse feels like an appendage to the often very funny skits, and it’s perhaps relevant that Kelly worked on a script for the apocalyptic fantasy, Knowing, before moving on to Southland. I turn to Eliot Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington of The Flophouse for a summary of this film. From “Episode #44: Knowing”:

ELIOT KALAN
Nicolas Cage is a single father, widower- [DAN: Just trying to make it in the world.] Yeah. His son acquires from a time capsule a piece of paper buried fifty years ago, with lots of random numbers on it, written by a creepy girl in the 1950s. It soon turns out, however, that Nicolas Cage discovers by applying his eyes and bourbon-

DAN WELLINGTON
By applying whiskey to paper.

ELIOT
That these numbers match up to disasters or catastrophes, or things where lots of people died, where they say the date and the body count.

ELIOT
He finds out that it’s also predicting other disasters, he finds out that the numbers match up to the longitude and the lattitude that he just happens to be on one day and a plane crashes. And people are stumbling out of the plane on fire and he can’t save any of them, because he’s incompetent.

STUART MCCOY
And he can’t dispel CGI flames.

ELIOT
Yeah, exactly. To make a long story short, because the movie was way too long [STUART: Super long.] He meets up with the daughter who wrote these numbers-

DAN
-played by Rose Byrne of 28 Weeks Later, and the hit show Damages.

STUART
She looks like, I think you put it really well, Eliot, when you say she seemed like an achievable Selma Hayek.

ELIOT
Was I the one who said that?

STUART
Or I said it.

ELIOT
One of us said something like that.

STUART
If you were at a bar, and you were hitting on Selma Hayek, and she turned you down, you’d be like, “OK, Rose Byrne’ll do.” It’d be like a cabana bar.

ELIOT
Cabo wabo.

DAN
My wife saw her on the subway once, so she seemed attainable.

STUART
For realz?

ELIOT
I saw Hope Davis on the subway once.

Anyway:

ELIOT
Anyway, he meets up with Rose Byrne, who’s also a single parent with a daughter-

STUART
Oh, that’s convenient, because it’s like puzzle pieces.

ELIOT
-the daughter and the son-

STUART
It’s like Step by Step.

ELIOT
It’s just like Step by Step, except without the wacky older cousin…who lives in a van?

STUART
Or The Brady Bunch, which is more appropriate.

ELIOT
Except less of them.

STUART
Yeah, or more well known.

ELIOT
Well, Step by Step is basically The Brady Bunch. Anyway, I’m glad we made that point. It turns out the son and the daughter have both been hearing whispers, from mysterious beings, and disasters happen and disasters happen, and it turns out there’s going to be a big solar flare that’s going to wipe out all life on earth. Mysterious beings turn out to be alien angels that take the son and the daughter up into the stars, and the earth is destroyed in a fireball.

DAN
The end.

ELIOT
And then we see the son and daughter on an idyllic planet, where there’s also a tree, representing the garden of Eden and Tree of Knowledge.

DAN
Not the ending one would expect at the beginning of the movie, based on the beginning of the movie.

Of some note is that the son of that movie, the only male survivor of humanity is named Caleb; and, of course, the Messiah baby in The Power script who appears to develop into Roland Taverner is also named Caleb. But is Knowing any good?

STUART
I really didn’t like this movie, it was long and boring, it was shot kinda cool, and the music was nuts.

ELIOT
He was stealing from everything.

STUART
Yeah, it was crazy. It was boring, it was way too fucking long, and it was not exciting, so don’t watch it. Although some of the explosions were cool. The CGI flame was awesome.

ELIOT
I agree. This was a bad, bad movie. And I didn’t enjoy it, it was slow and boring and long, with Stuart. Although there were some scenes that looked pretty. That were shot nicely.

STUART
Oh, that moose that was on fire? The CGI moose that was on fire?

Knowing, despite its CGI moose on fire, takes very seriously what Southland plays for laughs, and given the success of Knowing and its barely veiled religious references, the question that might be asked of the audience and its makers is: how seriously do you take this? The apocalypse of Knowing is not presented as a disaster, or a sick joke, but a good, just, and necessary thing. Southland‘s satire of apocalyptic thinking isn’t mockery of straw men and women, but the ribbing of a sensibility that is very much in existence. The counter-argument is that the perspective isn’t actually prevalent, that the belief is unimportant, that politicians who profess such belief don’t actually believe it – and Southland‘s counterargument in turn is, suppose they do?

Though it makes this counterargument, the apocalyptic plotline which comes to the fore in the last hour is Southland‘s weakest aspect. The characters of this movie are broad types, a necessity for the kind of comedy they’re doing, yet broad types should still have details and nuances that make them inextricably part of a profession, time, or region. No such knowledge is displayed of employees of the NSA or the military. Southern politicos are probably the most interesting politicians in the United States, but Bobby Frost is a rote combination of a Texas accent and religious fanaticism. Fanatics, as Flannery O’Connor has taught us over many stories, are not dull, and as Orson Welles said, quoting Renoir, “Everyone has his reasons.”4 This last problem overlaps with the movie’s insufficient depth when it comes to religious thought, a flaw that marks too many movies now, a result of the perhaps commendable development of a less ardently religious culture in the United States. The movies are characterized by knowing religious belief seemingly only from the outside, as a lifelong agnostic. Somehow this sensibility marks the movies of the believers as well the skeptics, whether it be Knowing or 2012: they have the feel of chintzy, sentimental “Yours in Christ” greetings by a printing shop that makes most of its money with dirty postcards.

Southland Tales might be connected with Knowing, but even more with two other movies about the apocalypse, End of Days and Kiss Me Deadly. Jericho Cane is the name of the cop that Boxer Santaros plays in the script, The Power, and though his last name is never dropped in the movie, it’s the credited name for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former cop in End of Days. The ridiculousness of The Power script featured in the comic book is very much the ridiculousness of End of Days, as two streetwise former New York cops go up against Satan himself. In The Power, Serpentine tests whether the baby Caleb is the messiah by having a snake swallow him, while End of Days opens with a woman giving birth, after which it’s determined that the baby is the fated one, the woman who will in turn give birth to Satan, by feeding her snake venom, and seeing that the poison has no effect on her. The finale of End of Days takes place among the roaring crowds and celebrations of the millenium; the finale of Southland Tales is set among the hoopla of the fourth of July. Mysterious figures in The Power come to take the baby Caleb, and mysterious figures (who turn out to be Knights of the Holy See) come to kill the woman who’ll serve as the vessel for the devil’s spawn. Krysta of Southland Tales is a woman who is afflicted with psychic premonitions of the future, and the woman at the center of Days suffers from visions as well, and her name is Christine.

There’s another Christine in Kiss Me Deadly, the woman in the trenchcoat who Mike Hammer picks up, and who starts the case off. Krysta Now wears the same style trenchcoat at the Smallhouse estate, Boxer’s car when he races off from the estate is Mike Hammer’s car, and the backview shots of him racing away are just like the over the backview shots of Hammer in his car at the beginning of Kiss Me. The very beginning of the movie plays at the opening of Southland when Krysta wakes up, and its ending plays on the zepplin’s screens near the movie’s closing. These two moments supplement other appearances in the comics and prequel script. “What are you watching?” Boxer asks Krysta in the script (page 110). “Kiss Me Deadly,” she says. “I think it’s based on the Lita Ford song [“Kiss Me Deadly” by Lita Ford].” In the comic, Boxer asks, “Who does Ralph Meeker play?” Krysta: “He plays Mike Hammer. The hard boiled private eye. This is your favorite film. You based the character of Jericho Cane on Mike Hammer.” The doctor who explains to Boxer what happened in the desert is Soberin Ex, and the chief villain of Deadly is Dr. Soberin. “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot and “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost recur in Southland, whild the center of Deadly‘s mystery is “Remember” by Christina Rossetti, “the darkness and corruption leave”, hinting at the destructive capacity of a new weapon. As Deadly moves towards its end, Hammer’s secretary Velda falls apart. She’s deeply in love with Hammer, who doesn’t return anything like her affection, and this might parallel Starla’s obsession with Jericho, and her erotic hunger for him is like the immediate and fervent hunger every woman in Deadly has for Hammer. That movie ends with a kind of small apocalypse, with a small box containing a strange and devastating energy, an antecedent for the unrestrained apocalypse of Southland. The horrific revelation of Santaros comes in a box as well – the sealed container with his double’s body. There are no martyrs in Deadly, but there are in Southland, with Boxer surrendering himself to whatever comes next, and there’s a martyr in End of Days as well. In the finale, the bodily host of Satan is destroyed, which leads him to take over Jericho Cane, and Cane defeats Satan by sacrificing himself.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales - juxtaposition of Southland Tales and Kiss Me Deadly - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/WillingSoftAfricanporcupine

A compilation of moments from the movie and comic of Southland Tales which intersect with Kiss Me Deadly.

Another movie which references Kiss Me Deadly.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Southland Tales is a movie obsessed with movies and pop culture, and where Kelly displays his aptitude, where he shows a real familiarity, is in the area of performers and the entertainment industry, and it’s this world which dominates Southland‘s first half. All the performers have an exaggerated sense of their self-importance, they’re solipsistic, and they see everything in terms of the entertainment world they live in. They may be broad types like every other character in the movie, but Kelly has the speech and manner down pat. Vaughn Smallhouse, the political advisor to Vice Presidential nominee Bobby Frost, asks Krysta Now if she’s the mysterious figure that’s been leaking information against them: “Are you Deep Throat II?” Krysta: “I’m not in that movie.” Smallhouse picks up a tape that might damage their political reputation from the Neo-Marxist porno director Cyndi Pinziki. “Is this the only copy?” Smallhouse asks her. Pinziki: “I’m not in distribution.” All the artists, even the Neo-Marxists, are hustlers. “I write poetry. I’m developing my own pop album, reality television show, clothing line, jewelry line, perfume and energy drink,” Krysta says in the prequel script. “So… you guys are spoken word poets now?” asks Roland of Dion and Dream in the prequel script. “We’ve released four folk albums. We’re publishing a memoir of free associative thought… and we’re in final negotiations to bring our tantric dance revue to Broadway,” Dream answers. “You know, I still don’t see why facial prosthetics are necessary,” says Zora of the disguises that Dion and Dream sport for the faked shooting. “I’ve told you a million times, genius,” says Dream. “Dion and I are cultural icons. We cannot afford to get recognized by the camera.” The movie’s characters cannot see outside themselves, and this is something shared by the protagonists of Maze of Death, as one of them laments: “Everyone in this colony had a dream. Maybe that’s what was wrong with us, he thought. We have been lodged too deeply in our respective dream worlds. We don’t seem able to come out of them; that’s why we can’t function as a group.”

This is a movie about the movies themselves, and the way movies offer a hypervivid imitation of life which derives its power from its hypervivid resemblance to life, but which we end up preferring to life itself. A good example of this might be found in “A Drug Dealer Threatened To Kill Me Because Of A Feature Script” by Molly McAleer5, where McAleer’s association with a name TV network is a kind of magic, though she doesn’t like the work or think it’s any good. She only plays the part of a successful TV writer, and her dealer buys more fully into this image than anyone else, thinking she has the cachet to produce a script written by one of his jailmates:

At the time I was working for a premium cable network that had a comedy website that was supposed to be their answer to Funny Or Die/ Huffington Post. Their vision was v. unclear and we were all getting paid a crazy amount of money for writing shitty sketches then hiring decent comedians to perform them for us. I would be stoned pretty much every day at that office and never treated it like a real job because it was so obvious that the whole thing was going to fall apart soon. But being young and naïve and again, new to the city and life, basically, I’d tell people, “Oh yeah, I work at [insert premium channel’s name here.]” and they’d be all like, “Wow, you’re so impressive,” and I’d be like, “I know.”

During one of our chats, Greenie asked me what I did for a living and I told him what I told everyone. It didn’t even occur to me that I might not want to tell my drug dealer where I work and what I do. As soon as he heard the flashy name, he started to tell me about his friend who was in prison for murder (and how he was totally innocent) who had written a movie about his days as a martial artist. He started to pitch the project, basically. I listened politely because like, why not, and then he told me he was going to get me the script to read and give notes on. I explained that I had limited experience with any kind of screenwriting and absolutely no pull at my company. I wasn’t even in the feature department. I wasn’t even in any department, really.

Boxer Santaros rides along with Roland Taverner to learn how to be a cop, though Taverner isn’t a cop at all, but has learned how to talk and act like a cop from Dion and Dream. The feuding couple are simply a reprise of a scene from Krysta Now’s script. The script is a piece of prophecy by Krysta Now, but it also resembles how movies are self-actualization, the screenplay written and movie made because of characters the actors want to be, and which the audience wants to pretend to be as well. Krysta Fox blends into Dr. Muriel Fox, who is both Krysta and not Krysta, an oceanography expert who moonlights at a strip club. Santaros is going to be playing the part of Jericho Cane, but he’s already started being Jericho Cane. “Who are you?” asks Roland Taverner in the maze, and Boxer gives this as his name. “Are you ready to become Jericho Cane?” asks the tattoo artist before applying the religious tats. Southland is about how movies approach the real, for the frisson of reality, and then pull back into the realm of fantasy – except Southland doesn’t. In what might be the most powerful effect in the comic, a young couple at 1400 Wanito Place are killed in various ways, over and over again in variations of fantasy, hallucination, and reality. In the script, Jericho Cane and his partner show up at a domestic disturbance, Rick and Tawna fighting. Cane, just like Bart Bookman, shoots Rick dead. A bunch of black Suburbans then show up, carrying a security detail acting on behalf of the Baron, and they raze the house with gunfire which kills Tawna. Jericho and Muriel Fox go to a McDonald’s where they meet a cashier, Shawna, who’s Tawna’s identical twin. Again, the black Suburbans show up, and flail the place with gunfire, and Shawna is killed – and it’s as if Tawna dies again. Boxer and Krysta visit the actual Rick and Tawna for research, but Rick is already dead, having overdosed months ago. Boxer goes to the bathroom and sees a vision of Rick from months before, a channel opened up between the past and the present. When Rick discovers he’s dead in the future, he overdoses as Boxer looks on. Dion and Dream reprise the couple’s lives, and they’re shot dead by Bart Bookman. We’re suddenly outside of the world of performance, but we also never leave it; earlier, Dream scolded Zora, “Just because it’s loud doesn’t mean it’s funny,” and now Zora listens in as they’re shot dead, giving the counter-critique: “Now that was loud. And that was funny.”

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Dion and Dream are two people playing, while Bart Bookman is very very real, an actual cop whereas Boxer is reproducing an imitation of an imitation. The question of the sincerity of the performance, whether something said is false or actual feeling underlies one of the best scenes in the movie, a moment in the ridealong. The scene is memorable, without any of the flop sweat usually produced through self-importance or attention getting provocation:

We assume that both BOXER and ROLAND start out from prepared parts, prepared by others – BOXER reads his initial questions from index cards, while ROLAND wears a very visible earpiece.

BOXER
Roland, let me ask you…what goes through your head when you sit behind the wheel? Cruising the streets. Digesting humanity. Is it a process of elimination? Each car that passes. The person inside…are they a mere suspect? Or, are we all innocents, our chariots mere chess pieces waiting to be thrown from the gridlock and into the arms of the wolves?

ROLAND
Well, I say we act like concerned citizens. We look at all the people, all the cars. We look for any unusual and erratic behaviour, speed changes and lane changes, see what’s safe.

BOXER
Yeah, but don’t you think emotions come into play? Judgement calls. Affected. By whatever mood you’re in on that particular day. Emotional responses based on your past events.

ROLAND
Well, there is one thing.

BOXER
I knew it. I knew it. Tell me. Be honest.

ROLAND
To be honest…we’re just looking out for the niggers.

There is a very long pause here. BOXER takes off his sunglasses, and gives ROLAND a look of loathing that he’s finding it difficult to suppress.

BOXER
The niggers.

ROLAND
Yeah. They’re everywhere.

ROLAND has turned to BOXER when he says this, and he gives an ugly laugh.

BOXER smiles, and though part of him seems to want to let this go, he’s not quite ready to let this go.

BOXER
You’re joking?

ROLAND
No, I’m not joking.

BOXER’s smile leaves his face.

ROLAND
I’m just fucking with you, man.

ROLAND gives a small laugh, and BOXER gives a laugh that’s obviously false, contemptful in its falseness.

BOXER
That’s a funny joke.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

These moments preface the movie’s ending, where we once again wonder: are you for real, or are you playing? This very question was there about Ronald Reagan’s belief in the apocalypse, and again Kirsch’s End of the World addresses it well:

“We may be the generation that sees Armageddon,” he [Reagan] told televangelist Jim Bakker in 1980. “You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about,” he told a Jewish lobbyist in 1983. “I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly described the times we’re going through.”

Such notions were wholly unremarkable in the fundamentalist churches of America – and they reached an even wider audience through the radio and television broadcasts of various apocalyptic preachers, both famous and obscure – but they were deeply unnerving in the mind and mouth of a man who is accompanied wherever he goes by the launch codes of the American nuclear arsenal. If the president of the United States is a true believer who is convinced that “the day of Armageddon isn’t far off,” would he not be tempted to take it upon himself to rain fire and brimstone down on the latest enemy to be seen as the Antichrist?

That troubling question was raised by network correspondent Marvin Kalb during the televised debates of the 1984 presidential campaign, Nancy Reagan could be heard to mutter “Oh no!” in the background, but the president himself was prepared with a reasonable and even statesmanlike answer. Reagan conceded that he had a “philosophical” interest in the biblical prophecies about the battle of Armageddon, and he argued that “a number of theologians” had suggested that “the prophecies are coming together that portend that.” But he concluded that it was impossible to know whether Armageddon “is a thousand years away or day after tomorrow.” And he insisted that he “never seriously warned and said we must plan according to Armageddon.”

We expect Southland Tales to finally veer away from the apocalypse, but no, all these silly games are leading up to an end of the world that won’t be blinked away. The link between the real and the unreal, life and movie life, is there in the relation between Taverner and Santaros. The latter is a movie star, on whom we bestow the qualities of the divine and the sacred6 In the prequel comics, there’s a gathering of Neo-Marxists who wave giant glow sticks powered by Fluid Karma, and the crowd of light forms Jericho’s face – pagan worship and modern idolatry at once. This idolatry surfaces again with Starla’s worship, literal worship, of Jericho Cane. We expect this actor to carry all the qualities of an action movie character, the embodiment of will, but the actor who plays these parts is the exact opposite. Boxer tells us his exact character in a brief confession when he’s first picked up by Balducci in the desert: “I am a pragmatic prevaricator with a propensity for oratorical seniority, which is too pleonastical to be expeditiously assimilated by any of your unequivocal verities.” Boxer is a pragmatic prevaricator – when he’s confronted with a crisis, like the killing of Dion and Dream, he runs away. He’s constantly putting a seemingly random loud emphasis on words – a propensity for oratorical seniority – which he does to give himself authority, but instead conveys the entirely opposite impression, that he has no idea what he’s talking about7. We are given a lead-up to Santaros confronting his secrets in the zeppelin, with some standard motifs of action movies – it’s scored to Beethoven’s Ninth just like Die Hard, Santaros picks out a conveniently located gun – all of which leads up to Santaros drawing his gun on General Simon Theory, only to be easily outdrawn by the general. We’re surprised by this, but only because Boxer plays action heros, and is played by an action star (Dwayne Johnson), while Simon Theory is played by Kevin Smith – in terms of the characters themselves, it’s not surprising at all. Simon Theory is a military veteran with decades of experience, and Boxer Santaros is an actor.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

This character calls to my mind Hal Incandenza’s essay in Infinite Jest on contemporary television heroes of the time, Frank Furillo of the police drama Hill Street Blues and Steve McGarrett of Hawaii 5-0 (this section can be found on google books, page 103 – however for this excerpt, I am grateful for the transcript on the tumblr My Infinite Jest: A Record of the Bookmarks I Made While Reading Infinite Jest, “3rd November Y.A.D.U.”):

What kind of hero comes after McGarrett’s Irishized modern cowboy, the lone man of action riding lonely herd in paradise? Furillo’s is a whole different kind of loneliness. The ‘post’-modern here was a heroic part of the herd, responsible for all of what he is part of, responsible to everyone, his lonely face as placid under pressure as a cow’s face. The jut-jawed hero of action (‘Hawaii Five-0’) becomes the mild-eyed hero of reaction (‘Hill Street Blues,’ a decade later).

And, as we have observed thus far in our class, we, as a North American audience, have favored the more Stoic, corporate hero of reactive probity ever since, some might be led to argue ‘trapped’ in the reactive moral ambiguity of ‘post-’ and ‘post-post’-modern culture.

But what comes next? What North American hero can hope to succeed the placid Frank? We await, I predict, the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus, carried here and there across sets by burly extras whose blood sings with retrograde amines.

Though Santaros has all the marks of the divine, a figure that is distinct and unique, in the movie’s theology he’s not the messiah, but only the guardian – Taverner is the messiah, though a seemingly powerless one. That Taverner is the messiah of this world makes sense to me, because I think he’s very much its creator, and this world is one entirely of fantasy, the last vision of a man on the verge of death. The movie might be likened to “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, or “A Torture by Hope” by Villiers De L’Isle-Adam, though the theme has been reprised in countless other movies and stories which cannot be named without spoiling their twists. We have here another similarity to Maze of Death (though this effect is often used in fiction), where the characters do not simply cease consciousness when killed in their virtual world, but persist in imagining an existence:

A terrific _bang_ boomed at her eardrums; deafened, she moved a step back and then she felt great pain in her chest; she felt her lungs die from the great, painful shock of it. The scene around her became dull, the light faded and she saw only darkness. Seth Morley, she tried to say, but no sound came out. And yet she heard noise; she heard something huge and far off, chugging violently into the darkness.

She was alone.

The clear, white light appeared. She yearned toward it, and something helped propel her. Are you angry at me? she thought, meaning the enormous presence that throbbed. She could still hear the throbbing, but it was no longer meant for her; it would throb on throughout eternity because it was beyond time, outside of time, never having been in time. And–there was no space present, either; everything appeared two-dimensional and squeezed together, like robust but crude figures drawn by a child or by some primitive man. Bright colorful figures, but absolutely flat. . . and touching.

“Mors stupebit et natura,” she said aloud. “Cum resurget creatura, judicanti responsura.” Again the throbbing lessened. It has forgiven me, she said to herself. It is letting the Intercessor carry me to the right light.

Toward the clear, white light she floated, still uttering from time to time pious Latin phrases. The pain in her chest had gone now entirely and she felt no weight; her body had ceased to consume both time and space.

Wheee, she thought. This is marvelous.

Throb, throb, went the Central Presence, but no longer for her; it throbbed for others, now.

The Day of the Final Audit had come for her–had come and now had passed. She had been judged and the judgment was favorable. She experienced utter, absolute joy. And continued, like a moth among novas, to flutter upward toward the proper light.

This imaginative experience is described eloquently in a passage which attempts, however, to convey only the sense of the brief life of a literary character ending with the closing of the book, by a writer focused intently on books only as books. The passage would be the very last sentences of Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov:

Rings of blurred colors circled around him, reminding him briefly of a childhood picture in a frightening book about triumphant vegetables whirling faster and faster around a nightshirted boy trying desperately to awake from the iridescent dizziness of dream life. Its ultimate vision was the incandescence of a book or a box grown completely transparent and hollow. This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. Easy, you know, does it, son.

I do not arrive at this possibility capriciously, and I don’t think it’s anything like a kludge, but one that fits well with all the other aspects of the movie. One might observe certain recurrent notes, the way an obsessive thought occurs in variations like a dream. The woman controlling everything is Serpentine. Fluid Karma is mined from the Serpent Trench, which has the shape of a serpent. The secret project where Santaros and Taverner are dropped into the time rift has the peculiar code name Serpentine Dream Theory. There is the strange fact that there is nothing inherent in the project which might make one associate it with dreams, yet the word is there in the title; there is the strange fact that the project title is made up of three character names: Serpentine (the woman who controls it all) Dream (the partner of Dion) Theory (General Simon Theory). The bill which would stop surveillance of the internet is Bill 69, and both Santaros and Taverner are sent sixty nine minutes into the future. The juvenile associations with this number are not accidental. This is a movie filled with dualities, feeding off of each other. The dream consciousness of a man dying from a suicide attempt reacts to that man’s actions: the mirrored selves of Roland Taverner, inextricably bound in a handshake, with which this movie ends. The Neo-Marxists are fighting the Baron, himself a Neo-Marxist. It’s a kind of ouroboros, the classic image of a snake swallowing its own tail.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

We are told in the comic that Pilot Abilene and Roland Taverner are best friends who serve together in Iraq. By accident, Taverner throws a grenade, which hits Abilene. It’s an event that has a horrific impact on Abilene, but on Taverner as well. “Fallujah,” Abilene narrates in the comic. “My face haunted his dreams. It was an accident. They call it friendly fire…and Private Taverner could not forgive himself.”

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

I think Abilene is killed by this, and afterwards, Taverner commits suicide in grief. All the events of the movie – the expanding war, the mining of Fluid Karma as an alternative energy, the creation of the time rift as a result of this mining – are an outgrowth of the event at the movie’s beginning, a nuclear bomb going off in Abilene, Texas. Though Pilot Abilene and Taverner are now stateside, are best friends, and very near each other in Venice Beach, they make no attempt to meet. In the comic, Taverner finds a letter from Abilene, a letter which is also featured in the movie.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

What is “the other side”? Both men are now stateside. There is the other curiousity about Pilot Abilene in the movie – though he remains always in one location, the energy depot of Utopia 3, his narration suggests he’s all seeing and all knowing, an omniscient narrator who can travel to whatever point in the world he wishes to. This is intertwined with the other strange point of Abilene, that he doesn’t interact with any of the other characters in the movie, except one, and that’s Martin Kefauver: the trigger, the executioner, the man who’ll bring this dream to an end. In the movie’s most bravura sequence (and its best known), Abilene sings along to The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” while a group of Marilyn Monroesque women in nurse outfits dance alongside him – the clip is, of course, on youtube: “The Killers – I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not A Soldier”. The choice of song is not arbitrary, but the one that Abilene was listening to when hit by the grenade. The women dance with electric happiness, while Abilene moves with sullen anger, his mood becoming more and more grim as the song goes along. The sequence captures better than so many other attempts the contagious happiness of popular music, but also the sense of isolation when one feels outside the audience. Abilene is at the center of the song – he’s singing it – and at the same time he’s apart. This is not the usual rock star pose of indifference at the orgy, but of a man surrounded by the physicality of life who’s already kissed life away.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

This is a movie where Taverner has given himself a companion in this dream life, Boxer Santaros, the way some people find comfort in the images of celebrities – yet Santaros, a pragmatic prevaricator, offers no comfort at all. The lives of the men mirror each other: both are together in the desert maze and both enter the rift in time. They come together for the drive along, then are set apart, though their fates are intertwined again by the movie’s end. On the zeppelin, Santaros finally discovers the most horrific secret: his double is actually dead, a burnt out corpse. It’s after this point that the theme of suicide shows up again and again, among different characters. On seeing the body, Boxer’s first response is: “I don’t understand. I’ve never considered committing suicide. I’m a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.” Boxer interrogates Serpentine, and the most crucial point for him is that the dead body is not the result of him committing suicide:

BOXER
You made sure to have no one go through the time rift with me. Then you hit the SUV self destruct trigger. By remote. Which means I didn’t kill myself.

SERPENTINE
You’re a pimp. Pimps don’t commit suicide.

BOXER
You got that right.

There is two very major, very relevant differences here between the Cannes cut and the final release; in that cut, when Boxer discovers his double in the zeppelin, he’s also told that he most definitely committed suicide:

BOXER
I’m a pimp. And pimps: don’t commit suicide.

BOXER gives a wink to Dr. Kuntzler.

EX
We don’t know what would happen if two identical human souls, and the vessels that they traveled in, were to come into immediate close contact with one another. Your quick, decisive decision to commit suicide was a sign to us: that humankind cannot go on with two, identical human souls walking the face of the earth.

KUNTZLER
Humankind owes you a great debt…for your sacrifice.

And in that cut, after all of Boxer’s denials, when we come to the moment where Boxer points a gun to his head, the Baron states explicitly that Santaros did commit suicide:

BOXER fires the gun into the air.

BOXER
EVACUATE THE ATRIUM! MOVE TO THE REAR OF THE MEGAZEPPELIN!

MEGAZEPPELIN COMPUTER VOICE
Evacuate.

BARON
No. Everybody…go back to your seats.

BOXER
Or I’ll kill myself. And I swear to gooooood…I’ll do it.

BARON
Now, Mr. Santaros, put down the gun. You killed yourself once already, there’s no need to be redundant.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Jericho Cane’s initials, as one character points out, are the same as that of a well-known martyr. Jericho Cane wishes to martyr himself, and a suicide that’s the result of Taverner’s kind of grief is a kind of martyrdom. What is the last name of Jericho’s character? Cane, the soundalike for the man who killed his own brother – Taverner killed his best friend and fellow soldier, Pilot Abilene. At the movie’s end, Jericho Cane ends up on the zeppelin’s stage, points a gun at his head, and says the following line: “This is all in my head. And I can pull the trigger now, and this whole nightmare will be over.” We then move to the floating ice cream truck, where the Taverner doubles confront each other. Taverner began the movie looking at his reflection, and the film ends with him looking at his reflection again. One double points a gun at the other, and then at his own head. His left eye is smashed in from the accident, just like the left eye of the double of Santaros. All along, Taverner has suffered from amnesia, and now it stops. “Do you remember Fallujah?” one double asks the other. “I remember everything,” the other answers. Then one double says to the other, the one holding the gun to its head, “I forgive you” several times.

Both TAVERNERS are in the floating ice cream truck, their hands locked tight in a clasp.

TAVERNER #1 (SWEAT SHIRT TAVERNER)
You have to let go!

TAVERNER #2 (UPU2 TAVERNER)
I can’t!

TAVERNER #1
You have to let me go!

TAVERNER #1 picks gun up off floor, points it at TAVERNER #2.

TAVERNER #2
The truck will fall and we’ll both die!

TAVERNER #1 points gun at his own head.

TAVERNER #1
Let me go or I’ll pull the fucking trigger.

TAVERNER #2
No you won’t.

TAVERNER #1
I swear to god, I will!

TAVERNER #2
No, you won’t!

We go outside, to a sweeping shot of Los Angeles, alongside a skyscraper with various apartments on fire. We go back inside the blimp.

BOXER
Officer Roland Taverner, that’s who you want.

We return to inside the ice cream truck.

TAVERNER #1
Don’t you remember, Ronald?

TAVERNER #2 shakes his head, no.

TAVERNER #1
Do you remember Fallujah?

TAVERNER #2
I remember everything.

TAVERNER #1 collapses for a moment in grief.

The zeppelin explodes from the missile, and we return back inside the ice cream truck. TAVERNER #1 is back to pointing a gun at TAVERNER #2.

TAVERNER #2
It wasn’t our fault.

TAVERNER #1 points the gun at his own head.

TAVERNER #2
It wasn’t our fault.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1
Friendly fire, friendly fire.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you, I forgive you.

TAVERNER #1 lets the gun fall to the floor.

TAVERNER #2
I forgive you, I forgive you.

PILOT ABILENE (V.O.)
Revelation twenty five: and god wiped away the tears, so the new messiah could see out to the new Jerusalem. His name was Officer Roland Taverner, of Hermosa Beach, California. My best friend. He is a pimp. And. Pimps. Don’t. Commit. Suicide.

What exactly is he forgiving him for? I take the scene as a parallel of what happens with Santaros – he is both dead and alive, knows that he is dead, yet some consciousness persists on, and in denial of what took place. The dream life Taverner forgives the Taverner that pulled the trigger and ended it all. In the comic, Rick “bleeds” into the future only to discover he’s dead. We see in his first scene the mirror reflection of Taverner a few microseconds behind the actual Taverner – a side effect of this time bleeding, but also like the microseconds before physical death finally consumes this last bit of consciousness. We even have Taverner point the gun at his own head and watch as the reflection follows suit, with Taverner even firing the gun – though away and into the ground.

Various characters quote T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, but they also frequently quote “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost; this movie is about a chosen side path before inevitable death. So, this is a vision incited by the destruction of Abilene (the death of Pilot Abilene), which brings about the split of the Taverners (the dying physical Taverner and this dream life Taverner), a split which takes place in a maze shaped like Texas which is believed to be a reference to the destruction of Abilene and a signal from an outside intelligence: again, the death of Abilene shapes all this. Pilot Abilene is given the movie’s last line, and gives Taverner an epitaph: “His name was Officer Roland Taverner of Hermosa Beach, California. My best friend. He is a pimp. And pimps don’t commit suicide.” Though I think the film touches here on a subject that is a more live wire than it suspects, this scene is keenly felt, and it makes the movie about one thing and nothing else. This is Roland Taverner’s apocalypse.

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

(Illustrations for the Southland Tales prequel trilogy by Brett Weldele; prequel trilogy comic books copyright Graphitti Designs, View Askew, and Darko Entertainment; all images from Southland Tales and End of Days copyright Universal Pictures; all images from Kiss Me Deadly copyright United Artists.)

(Though there are still other things that might be mentioned here, for the moment this post is long enough, and I’ll leave it as is.)

(On August 7, 2014, the notes on the Cannes cut were added. I give grateful thanks to those unnamed persons who let me see it. On August 8, 2014, some additional notes were made on Boxer’s suicide in the Cannes cut and on Taverner’s suicide in the last paragraph. On August 9th, the compilation of several of the deleted scenes from the Cannes version was uploaded to youtube and links to this compilation were added to this post. On August 10, 2014, the dialogue between the Taverners at the end of the movie was added. On August 11th, the following additions were made: the excerpt where Boxer is told by doctors Ex and Kuntzler that he committed suicide; so was the excerpt from Waking Life on Philip K. Dick’s religious obsessions; the excerpt from Roland Taverner telling Boxer about his dream; and the section on the connections between this movie, End of Days, and Kiss Me Deadly. On August 21st, the sections on Jonathan Kirsch’s History of the End of the World and “A Drug Dealer Threatened To Kill Me Because Of A Feature Script” were added. On August 22nd, the introductory excerpt from Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control was added. On August 27th, the section on Hal Incandenza’s essay was added. On May 17, 2015, the gif of Kiss Me, Deadly and Southland Tales comparisons was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 From the prequel comic:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

From the prequel script:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

2 Thanks to “Southland Tales Breakdown & Analysis??” by TheStrangeVerse, an intersting though restricted examination of the movie, I found out that Jericho Cane is a reference to End of Days, where the Schwarzenegger protagonist carries the same name.

3 The lineage is succinctly described in the comic books, accompanied by the irony that this incredibly rich family, seemingly an exemplar of capitalism and repudiation of its name, owes its wealth entirely to military contracts with the state:

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's Southland Tales

4 The following quote is taken from Arena – The Orson Welles Story:

Q: There’s always that, for the viewer anyway, a kind of moral ambiguity about the characters in that, Quinlan…

WELLES: Yes.

Q: -although he’s sort of vile, he’s-

WELLES: Well, you know what Renoir said? He said everyone has his reasons. And that really sums it up. You know, there’s no villain who doesn’t have his reasons. The bigger the villain, the more interesting it becomes, the further you explain his villainy, not psychiatrically, not because mama didn’t love him…but because you humanize him. The more human you make the monster, the more interesting the story must be, it seems to me.

5 Though I cite a story from ThoughtCatalog which I consider to be very good, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up some of the controversy surrounding the service, as described in “Why 53 Writers Have Asked Thought Catalog To Remove Their Work” by Callie Beusman and “Thought Catalog Is Now a White Supremacist Publication” by Rich Juzwiak.

6 A lengthy post which connects fame with the idea of the sacred is “David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: Bad Religion”.

7 This comes out most clearly in the beach house when Taverner and Santoro first meet, a transcript of which can be found at “Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: The Beach House Scenes”.

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“Janet my daughter, your prayers are going straight into my spam filter.”

From “The swift death of ReaganBook, the Facebook for patriots” by Colin Lecher:

The site requires no proof of identity (or semblance to reality) to log in, which becomes immediately obvious: everyone seems to be either using real names, the names of famous conservatives, or the names of famous conservatives paired with sex acts. Some are earnest; some are parody. Neither of these are instructive or valuable. The only worthwhile accounts are the ones that can’t be parsed. Someone with a Captain America avatar invites people to talk about guns; Margaret Thatcher leaves more than 700 comments on an innocuous status. There is an eagle crying, several photos of Jesus. Someone with the user name SATAN! SATAN! SATAN! pokes me. A photo of a monkey in a bubble bath is posted, and no one seems sure what side this person is on. Everyone is confused and angry with everyone else.

Janet Porter, president and founder of conservative group Faith2Action, started ReaganBook. Her posts began as quiet calls to arms for conservative causes, but as the situation spiraled out of control, she became frantic: “MY SINCERE APOLOGIES FOR THE VILE CONTENT. THIS WILL BE REMEDIED IN A MATTER OF MINUTES.” Below her, “Lord God” commented: “JANET MY DAUGHTER, YOUR PRAYERS ARE GOING STRAIGHT INTO MY SPAM FILTER. PLEASE TEXT ME FOR QUICKER RESPONSE.”

Tagged , ,

Under the Skin: This Woman’s Work

(What follows contains SPOILERS for the movie and the novel on which it’s based, as well as Jonathan Glazer’s Birth. However, given that this is an in-depth discussion of the movie, no attempt is made to summarize the film’s plot. Some further edits need to be made, and will be done on the 27th of July. While writing this, I found the following to be insightful and helpful: “Under the Skin Takes the Horror Genre in Infectiously Strange New Directions” by David Edelstein, “Under the Skin” by Noel Murray, “Under The Skin’s Alien Seduction Will Get You Where It Hurts” by Charlie Jane Anders, “Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Under the Skin Review” by Tina Hassanmia, and “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75.)

There was a time I was one of a kind
Lost in the world out of me myself and I
Was lonely then like an alien
I tried but I never figured it out
Why I always felt like a stranger in a crowd
Ooh that was then, like an alien

“Alien” by Britney Spears

Jonathan Glazer’s movie is like a fable, like Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête), a children’s fable turned upside down, Cocteau in color. I make this identification, and I immediately hesitate if it’s entirely right. The mix of subject and the approach, a fable told from an adult perspective, but without discarding the surreal imagery of fables, makes me think of Cocteau; the movie itself, with its long takes and frequent stretches without dialogue, make me think of Robert Bresson. The obvious choice not taken here is Stanley Kubrick. The score by Mica Levi reminds one in many places of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Dream of Jacob”, the early part features a breathing effect on the soundtrack that’s like the sound of 2001‘s David Bowman’s breathing in his spacesuit, and the sense of being alone with the movie, as if stranded in the arctic wilderness, suggests Kubrick as well – but his movies tend to hint at the epic, an enigmatic obelisk of larger significance. This story, on the other hand, is relatively straightforward, small in scale, the obvious focus this single character. The lengthy shots allow us the possibility to mine them for nuance, but there is nothing like a riddle we might feel compelled to solve.

We might easily speak of this fable in more traditional (or ancient) terms, to see its connections to the past: this is a story about a witch who lures men to her magical house, where they are transformed into food – just as the witch of Hansel and Gretel would bring in children and cook them into gingerbread. Though she wishes to cease playing the role of a witch, she cannot, and cannot be an ordinary woman either. This witch once held power over men, and now she is vulnerable. She is attacked by a man, loses her human form, and like many witches before her, is burned alive. The images which, for me, most strongly link this fable with those of the past are the witch’s decaying, magical house and the end where she’s destroyed by fire.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

The movie opens as an object, entirely dark except for a beacon light, moves to dock with a torus, the vast emptiness lit only by a single nearby star. We hear a voice over the soundtrack, the alien (Scarlett Johansson) learning english – except for a football player named Andy, there are no character names in the movie or the credits, but for ease of writing, I’ll give the alien the name she carries in the book, Isserley1. These objects conjoin while Isserley slowly learns this earth language, and then our perspective shifts. The movement of these objects in space becomes an eye, and we’re left uncertain if these two sets of images are separate or identical. The mechanics of the docking ship might imply the underlying mechanics of sight, or it may be more explicit than that – these objects are not in outer space at all, but the various parts of the mechanical eye in Isserley’s human mask locking into place. This entire sequence, ending with the camera pulling back from a tight focus on the pupil, ends with a smash cut of the title in black on white: UNDER THE SKIN. This is a movie about looking and its underlying mechanics. Seeing is a voyage across a distance, it is a mechanical sequence whose inner workings we are unconscious of, and yet there is an aspect that can be considered imprisoning. The cold darkness of space becomes the darkness of the pupil, and the men are lured to the witch’s haven by her looks, and she in turn traps them in a room of infinite blackness. Given this connecting point, we might see the areas of the eye reflected in the movie itself. Isserley first gets her clothes from a dead woman in a room that’s of endless white, like the eye’s sclera2. She is entirely unmoved by the dead body, her curiousity only roused by an insect’s motion, and we are given a close-up of the crawling ant; Isserley is a worker drone and a predatory insect as well. Isserley then goes out to hunt for men, the colored area that is the iris, and brings them home to the confining darkness, the pupil. Whether or not we see the union of the spaceship with the torus as a metaphor for sexual union, this movie is not just about looking, but the sexual gaze. Isserley slowly comes to grips with the sounds of english – “Ba-Ba- T- T- K- Kuh- Ch- Th- V- Th-” – in order to learn this new language while the ship docks and the camera pulls back from the eye; this movie is about learning to look again as if it were an unfamiliar tongue.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Isserley is now dressed in the other woman’s clothes, and she goes to a mall to pick up a few other things, lipstick and a fur coat. We follow alongside her at waist level as her behind swishes back and forth. We are stalkers, we are hunters, vision is a kind of travel, and now we travel with her; vision is also a trap. She is the one who’ll be doing the hunting. Isserley starts talking up a series of men, and it’s these conversations that make up the overwhelming majority of the movie’s dialogue, and these conversations are entirely superfluous for the traditional purpose of learning something about Isserley or her victim. They are a simple flip of the predatory male who seeks out women for biological release, with the conversation only a tactic for getting to the main action. Isserley talks to a man, and her mouth is a warm and inviting smile; the man walks away, and her face shuts down and goes cold completely.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

This is a movie where shots are held and held and held, designed so we might examine its multiplicities. Nothing is given away easily, nothing is given quickly, and any observations you make are perhaps uncertain and unresolved. Isserley’s eyes peek through the dark hair that falls over her eyes, and it’s like a sniper peeking out from a foxhole; she’s shot in the rearview mirror, her mouth blank and her eyes absent; she drives along, and her eyes give away nothing except the focused hunt for game; we catch her in the rearview mirror as light and shadow pass over, and her face conveys something, melancholy, regret, exhaustion, something. Isserley looks at her first victim, and there is something unsure in her come hither look, and it might be something like a girl trying out the unfamiliar, alien customs of adult seduction games. Isserley looks on a happy couple at the beach with loathing, and this could be an exile stranded far from home hating the possibilities she cannot have.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

In the forest sequence at the movie’s end, Isserley moves like a woodland animal given human shape, and this sensibility guides her behavior throughout the first half of the film, an animal whose focus is entirely on hunting, and nothing else. Outside the circumstances in which she might engage her prey, she is suddenly fearful. She travels Glasgow at night, unworried of what might befall her, and on these journeys, she engages in conversations with strange men, indifferent to what will happen next. Yet when she finds herself amongst a group of women at night, she is suddenly scared. She doesn’t know how to act in these circumstances, she’s worried as if her true form will be found out. They drag her to a club, and the noise scares her, the man who wants to talk to her frightens her. When she realizes that he’s trying for that thing, she is abruptly at ease. This is familiar territory, she knows how to handle this, she’s handled this many times before.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

In moments when we might expect any woman to feel some kind of fear, she is indifferent to threat. This film is often a horror movie in reverse. She meets The Nervous Man (Adam Pearson), who suffers from neurofibromatosis, and she asks him the kind of intimate questions, without feeling or empathy, that we might expect a man to ask a woman, especially a plain or ugly woman, as if no courtesy is owed. Together, they suggest a monster movie, the disfigured creature and the beautiful woman, though the monster in this movie is very much her. Isserley sits in her van and she sees a possible target up the street. We cut close to Isserley in the van and we have what should be a standard horror scare: suddenly another man appears, right by the driver’s side window. We are not, however, fearful for her, but for him. He turns out to be a group of hoodlums who smash at her car, trying to get in, and Isserley coolly starts up her engine and drives away, barely paying them mind; if you’re a woman, you may well envy and wish for her unflinching nerves in such situations. Yet there’s also a frightening absence in this Isserley. A man attempts to rescue a drowning couple, while Isserley stands by. This is the tradition we expect: the man acts, the woman watches. The man fails in his task, and we expect Isserley to give him a comforting hug and reassure him that it’s okay. She brains him with a rock. The next variation is the most horrific, and perhaps the most disturbing scene in the movie. She drags the man’s body, nothing self-conscious in her bent over figure, ignoring entirely the weeping of the baby nearby: this woman is without any maternal feeling whatsoever, and gender makes a definite difference here: we have become accustomed to this inhumanity from men, but not from women.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

We are left to read these images however we can for some insight into Isserley, who is an uncompromisingly alien character. When we try to discern what’s there in a look of hers, there’s no possibility of thinking in terms of, say, her relation to her family, the great loves of her life, or her childhood, but exclusively that of an animal struggling to adapt – and yet without the pejorative quality in that word, animal. She has had like experiences, and yet they’re outside our ken, the experiences of alien life, an alien knowledge. She has been placed in a strange landscape of unknown life, and her experience mirrors ours as we watch this movie, lacking any comfort or intimacy we might have come to expect. This character remains distant enough, and this movie remains sufficiently opaque, that we might see them as not just connected to this specific character.

From “Director Jonathan Glazer on Under The Skin’s complex honesty” by Scott Tobias:

The Dissolve: This seems to be self-consciously playing with her [Scarlett Johansson’s] image. She’s an icon, like David Bowie is more than just an actor in The Man Who Fell To Earth. She has an otherworldly quality.

Glazer: Well, we use that for sure. We’re using how Scarlett’s objectified, the glamour of her image. And she’s using all of that as well. There’s a deconstruction going on.

In the novel, Isserley attempts to break away from her alien society, and she tries to consume various human foods, often without success. Here, we have Isserley breaking away and the first food she tries is a large slice of chocolate cake, which is given an endless close-up. She spits it out soon after trying the first piece, and this seems not just about Isserley, but a woman’s relationship to cake itself, a toxin that will annihilate her body, that will destroy her entirely. Isserley’s physical appearance is examined from every angle by her supervisor, The Bad Man (Jeremy McWilliams)3, and it’s like a colonel inspecting a recruit’s uniform for dust, or a Pygmalion overlooking his Galatea4. We can place endless Svengalis and Trilbys in these roles, idolmakers and their starlets made of clay. The men are beguiled by Isserley into her dark room, they follow as if in a trance, moving towards her as she undresses, as they sink step by step into a gelatinous liquid that’s like a quicksand. They lust at the sight of her, never actually touching the woman, and this sight entraps them. Isserley walks off, indifferent to their fate. They are kept alive and their bodies prepped and fattened, before their essence is drained, and the husk is left floating behind. We have a variation here on the serial killer who embalms his victims, but we also have a reversal of the starlet industry, where a woman briefly enraptures the world’s imagination, an idealization that is momentarily trapped in amber, and then she’s thrown away.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

I add here what might be seen as a predecessor to these entrapments, one incongruous and ridiculous, and that’s Monty Python’s “Seduced Milkmen” sketch. There, a woman lures a milkman into her house, where he finds himself locked in a room with a group of other milkmen, some grown old, and one now dead. A brief description is on wikipedia, “Seduced Milkmen”, and the sketch can be found at the moment on youtube, “Monty Python – Milkman”:

Isserley’s questions which she asks without any interest in the answer, and are simply part of her routine to string the victim along, can be likened to those of any pick-up artist, but they also suggest the endless questions any celebrity is asked, which are given a calculated answer, and which seemingly give no sense or depth to the person. We might take some of the questions Isserley asks, and those asked of Scarlett Johansson at various interviews, and their banality blends together:

“Am I keeping you from something?” “Where are you going?” “Where are you from?” “You have family here?” “Do you have a special connection with your twin?” “So you live alone?” “How are you different now?” “And you love it?” “Where do you call home?” “What do you love about living alone?” “So you all go out in your sneakers?” “What about your friends?” “So you don’t have any friends?” “How about a girlfriend?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” “How old were you when you had your first real boyfriend?” “How old are you?” “What is the major difference between men and women?” “So don’t you get lonely then?” “You mean something fungal?” “Have you spoken to any skincare professionals about your interest in dermatology?”5

Isserley begins in the city and, after leaving behind her master, The Bad Man, goes to the country. This, I think, is obvious and necessary because the communion she seeks out is not with humanity, but what might be called the natural world, the untrammelled landscape outside humanity. She is already outside of humanity, for good and for ill: it’s why she walks by the wailing baby entirely indifferent, but it’s also why she doesn’t notice at all the disfigurement of The Nervous Man. She knows that there’s something which places this man outside of humanity as well, but she doesn’t know what exactly it is – the species is an undistinguished blur of strangeness to her. She brings The Nervous Man to her house, and she lets him sink into the pit. One of the aliens without his human covering (not The Bad Man, but one who will be part of the crew that will hunt down Isserley) is there at the pit, looking on. The alien blends with the image of Isserley, grouping her with them, and then she’s not with them at all. She walks down the stairs, and catches sight of herself in the mirror. We might guess she sees her alien surface, but also how alike she is to this man she just imprisoned. A fly buzzes against the glass, trapped, like the man in the pit. We see a close-up of her eye, something changes in her, and then the feet of Isserley and The Nervous Man together; she’s released him. She began in the white room, and now she is re-born in white, a long transitional moment in the fog.

Another man (Krystof Hadek) now gives her comfort and shelter. She leads men into a pit of liquid; when this man and Isserley reach a pool of water, he lifts her up and over it. They are on their way towards a castle, another touchstone of fables. They go back to his house to have sex, but something goes wrong: though Isserley is designed to attract men, she is not designed for actual sex, and her genitalia are for appearances only – there’s something missing. She flees into the forest, and where before we saw the dissolve which paired her with the alien, now an image blends her face with the trees. The Woodsman (Dave Acton) holds her down and starts to rape her, and Isserley looks up and finds consolation in the vast sky. The Woodsman sees the tear in her skin, and runs away. She holds her own head, entirely outside of her physical self, the beauty that is apart from her. This a movie where the human landscape is made alien, which moves further and further outside of human codes and judgements – the nude body of Scarlett Johansson becomes just one more nude body like that of the football player and The Nervous Man. The Woodsman returns and lights Isserley on fire. She began in a white room, was re-born in the white fog, and now she is re-born in the white snow-filled sky. This movie opens with a union, and in the closing moments, Isserley burns into ash, drifts into the sky, and unites with the pastoral world forever.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

A HEART THAT’S FULL UP LIKE A LANDFILL

This is a movie that emphasises film’s power outside of language, on creating a world of sound and images where things have nothing of the explicitness that we associate with words. Jonathan Glazer’s movie before this was Birth, and that felt as if it wanted to move towards something closer to this, something smaller, more intimate, more cryptic. That movie opened with an upbeat whimsical theme as a man jogged in a park, then collapsed in death. What followed was a sick twist on the kind of romantic comedy that might accompany such a buoyant piece of music, a boy telling a woman he’s the reincarnation of her dead husband after he finds a pile of their old love letters. The boy later reveals that he lied, that it’s all a hoax, but the woman now believes in the idea obsessively. If the obvious subtext of Under the Skin are images and fantasies of women, then the obvious subtext of Birth is the impossible fantasy of Hollywood romance, and movies in general, where all that is required is for you to belive. Anna (Nicole Kidman), the dead man’s wife, does believe in her movie’s fantasy, more and more fervently, and we see her as a disturbed obsessive, unhinged from reality. That the boy, Sean (Cameron Bright), is from a background that is commonly described as “working class” while Anna and her husband are wealthy lawyers who live in a coveted skyscraper apartment, only gives further emphasis to the point: somehow belief in these impossible Hollywood dreams of wealth and happiness is sufficient to bring us into such a life. This is a common part of any get rich pitch in any self-empowerment seminar or infommercial: do you believe in getting rich? Can you see a future where you are massively wealthy? Do you believe enough?

The power of the fantasy is such that it overwhelms both Anna and Sean. By the movie’s end, she runs away from her wedding because of this better possibility, while he, knowing best of all that the story is entirely false, returns to believing in it; we hear his voiceover of a letter he writes her, and it doesn’t suggest someone who no longer believes, but someone who’s had to stop expressing belief out of practicality and under pressure: “I’ve been seeing an expert. They sure talk a lot. They say I’ve been imagining things…They said they still haven’t figured out what was wrong with me, but the good thing is, nothing really happened. Well, I guess I’ll see you in another lifetime.” The voiceover plays as he gets his school photo taken, a smiling pose, a posed artifice like so many movies. The issue is not whether there should be any more school photos or Hollywood movies, but how much we should consider them close to anything like the true essence of life.

As said, Birth seemed too big for what was at its heart, with too many characters (the enviable supporting cast included Ted Levine, Arliss Howard, and Lauren Bacall) hanging on its vital center. The movie felt as if there should have been a culminating third act, when there wasn’t. Under the Skin avoids all this, paring away any superfluous parts of its story, keeping the focus on its lead, and slowing the pace down so that the final act follows naturally from what came before. Under the Skin derives its power from prolonged shots where the audience must simply pause and look, rather than move on to the next event or plot point, and we see this approach already in Birth‘s most bravura moment, when the camera stays on a close up of Anna for a minute and forty five seconds (from 26:15 to 28:00 on my copy) a little while after Sean has revealed that he’s the reincarnation of her dead husband:

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin

Under the Skin, the movie, makes the most of film as a non-verbal medium, something closer to painting or photography, something that too few films do, and making it a very different creature from, Under the Skin, the novel by Michel Faber. The movie appears to take a lesson from Birth, viewing the obligations of narrative itself as an impediment to its effects, by extracting only a fragment of the book’s plot and growing it in a separate plot of soil. I think the book is a separate treasure that gets somewhat discounted in the reviews I’ve read of the movie. “The film is quite a departure from Michel Faber’s novel, which is grisly, chatty, borderline satirical,” is the description in David Edelstein’s Under the Skin Takes the Horror Genre in Infectiously Strange New Directions”, and I wish this gifted writer had included at least one adjective of praise. The book is science fiction and an easy read, so perhaps these things count against it, but its ease stems largely from being cleanly and clearly written, the narrative never weighed down by pretense. Isserley is enraptured by the beauty of the Scottish landscape, and its virtues are conveyed well, without faux lyricism. Where the movie is opaque, the book is explicit, but never head-thuddingly so, and though in other hands we might call the novel preachy, the story and characters are never contoured for the message and life is never made simpler than it is for the necessity of a thesis.

We might see the skill of the writing in the very first passages. Isserley appears to be looking for men, but she’s just looking for grades of meat. There’s a paragraph about the road that is especially well done – the hitchers are like the forest creatures run over by passing cars, thinking they are in a safe place, when they’re near nothing of the kind. An atmosphere is conveyed well of the Scottish countryside in the last paragraph (she hunts there, while the movie’s Isserley sticks to Glasgow), but it’s also the earth as seen by an alien, a primitive, uncivilized, newly born place:

Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her.

At first glance, though, it could be surprisingly difficult to tell the difference. You’d think a lone hitcher on a country road would stand out a mile, like a distant monument or a grain silo; you’d think you would be able to appraise him calmly as you drove, undress him and turn him over in your mind well in advance. But Isserley had found it didn’t happen that way.

Driving through the Highlands of Scotland was an absorbing task in itself; there was always more going on than picture postcards allowed. Even in the nacreous hush of a winter dawn, when the mists were still dossed down in the fields on either side, the A9 could not be trusted to stay empty for long. Furry carcasses of unidentifiable forest creatures littered the asphalt, fresh every morning, each of them a frozen moment in time when some living thing had mistaken the road for its natural habitat.

Isserley, too, often ventured out at hours of such prehistoric stillness that her vehicle might have been the first ever. It was as if she had been set down on a world so newly finished that the mountains might still have some shifting to do and the wooded valleys might yet be recast as seas.

The novel’s Isserley might be one of the best and most memorable fictional characters I’ve come across in a while. Her appearance is very different from that of the movie’s, as well as an example of the book’s expertise at working in several modes at once without abrasion or discomfort. The central idea of the movie remains the same, with Isserley luring men to her car so they might be processed as food for her species. One key difference is that in the book, Isserley’s species is not bipedal, but a furred race which navigates on all fours with a powerful tail. Various surgeries have been made on her so she might walk on two legs and have human form. She is in almost constant pain when upright – the swish swish walk on heels that the movie’s Isserley does in the mall would be impossible for the book’s. This Isserley regards her human form as a horrible, humilating disfigurement. Her appearance features two striking physical details. There are the massive eyes of her species which have not been corrected by surgery, so she must wear glasses several inches thick to make their size appear to be a distortion of the lens. The engineers have also been crude and direct about what might attract men, so her own breasts have been sheared off, and massive human teats been implanted. At the same time, neither she nor anyone else in her species has any astuteness about human fashion sense, so we have oversized glasses, rather dowdy clothes, and a blouse with a plunging neckline. Isserley is both a frightening serial killer and utterly ridiculous in appearance.

The book uses more practical mechanics for the capture of these men, nothing like the magical darkness of Isserley’s house in the movie. After she’s certain from their conversation that the hitcher has no family or mate that might notice they’ve gone missing, she flips a switch and needles in the seat jump up and pierce their body, injecting them with an alien sedative called icpathua, and then she takes them to a farm where others of her species process them into food. We get some sense of Isserley’s comical look from two good descriptions in the book from two different hitchers. Details that might need explaining are that her short legs are, of course, a result of being from a quadrupedal species, that she has to blast the heat in the car because her missing fur makes her feel the cold acutely, and that the bodies of her species sweat far more than ours do, something that Isserley’s always does excessively in her excitement in the moments before she injects her passengers with icpathua. Description one, from the first hitcher:

Fantastic tits on this one, but God, there wasn’t much of her otherwise. Tiny – like a kid peering up over the steering wheel. How tall would she be? Five foot one, maybe, standing up. Funny how a lot of women with the best tits were really really short. This girl obviously knew she had a couple of ripe ones, the way she had them sitting pretty on the scoop of a low-cut top. That’s why this car was heated like an oven, of course: so she could wear a skimpy black top and air her boobs for all to see – for him to see.

The rest of her was a funny shape, though. Long skinny arms with big knobbly elbows – no wonder her top was long sleeved. Knobbly wrists too, and big hands. Still, with tits like that …

They were really odd, actually, those hands. Bigger than you’d think they’d be, to look at the rest of her, but narrow too, like … chicken feet. And tough, like she’d done hard labour with them, maybe worked in a factory. He couldn’t see her legs properly, she was wearing those horrible flared seventies trousers that were back in fashion – shiny green, for Christ’s sake – and what looked like Doc Martens, but there was no disguising how short her legs were. Still, those tits … They were … like … they were like … He didn’t know what to compare them to. They looked pretty fucking good, nestled next to one another there, with the sun shining on them through the windscreen.

Never mind the tits, though: what about the face? Well, he couldn’t see it just now; she had to actually turn towards him for him to see it, because of her haircut. She had thick, fluffy hair, mouse-brown, hanging down straight so he couldn’t even see her cheeks when she was facing front. It was tempting to imagine a beautiful face hidden behind that hair, a face like a pop singer or an actress, but he knew different. In fact, when she’d turned towards him, her face had kind of shocked him. It was small and heart-shaped, like an elf in a kiddie’s book, with a perfect little nose and a fantastic big-lipped curvy mouth like a supermodel. But she had puffy cheeks and was also wearing the thickest glasses he’d seen in his life: they magnified her eyes so much they looked about twice normal size.

She was a weird one all right. Half Baywatch babe, half little old lady.

Description two, from the middle of the book:

Her hair was matted, with streaks of something that looked like axle grease slicked through it, and tufts sticking out at odd angles. Here was a woman who hadn’t looked at herself in a mirror for a while, that was for sure. She smelled – stank, really, if he could be so judgemental – of fermenting sweat and seawater.

Her clothes were filthy with dried mud. She’d fallen, maybe, or had some sort of accident. Should he ask her if she was all right? She might be offended if he commented on the state of her clothing. She might even think he was trying to harass her sexually. It was so hard to be friendly, in any genuinely human way, towards female strangers if you were a male. You could be courteous and pleasant, which wasn’t the same thing at all; it was the way you’d treat the staff at the Job Centre. You couldn’t tell a strange woman that you liked her earrings, or that her hair was beautiful – or ask her how she came to have mud on her clothes.

The more he looked at this girl, the weirder she appeared. Her green velveteen trousers were very seventies retro-chic, if you disregarded the muddy knees, but she definitely didn’t have the legs of a nightclub babe. Trembling slightly under the thin fabric, so short they barely reached the pedals, they might have been the legs of a cerebral palsy sufferer. He turned his head to glance through the space between his seat and hers, half expecting to see a foldable wheelchair wedged into the back. There was only an old anorak, a garment he could well imagine her wearing. Her boots were like Doc Martens, but even chunkier, like Boris Karloff clogs.

Strangest of all, though, was her skin. Every part of her flesh that he could see, except for her pale smooth breasts, had the same peculiar texture to it: a downy look, like the hide of a cat recently spayed, just beginning to grow back the fur. She had scars everywhere: along the edges of her hands, along her collarbones, and especially on her face. He couldn’t see her face now, hidden as it was behind the tangled mane of her hair, but he’d got a pretty good glimpse of it before, and there was scarring along the line of her jaw, her neck, her nose, under her eyes. And then the corrective lenses. They must have the biggest magnification known to optometry, for her eyes to look that big.

We have perhaps here the biggest difference from the movie, one perhaps impossible to transfer over. Each pick up of a hitch-hiker has the same structure, with us first hearing the thoughts in Isserley’s head as she evaluates the new victim and gives him a lift, then we shift to the thoughts of the hitcher. As the conversations go on, some men are allowed to simply get off at their destination because they reveal a wife or girlfriend is waiting for them, and therefore they’ll be noticed when they go missing. There is no justice to this: easily the most sympathetic of the hitchers, the man who makes the observations in the second excerpt, is sedated even though he has a girlfriend – he doesn’t start talking to Isserley because he doesn’t want to cause her any fear. Another hitcher carries a knife with him and attempts to rape her, and this man has more of a chance of escaping than the kind, silent man. She picks up louts, but good men as well, a brutal dog trainer followed by a melancholy figure devoted to his dog; both end up at the farm. The reader is allowed no satisfaction that any rough justice is done.

That Isserley traps and sedates a series of men, often sympathetic, after which they’re held captive in inhuman conditions and eventually killed, should alienate the reader from her, but it doesn’t. One reason is that Faber never attempts to be sentimental, or plead sympathy for this protagonist, but simply presents her as she is. She is placed as part of a larger alien society that is briefly but sufficiently detailed, and the comic aspect is this: though Isserley has contempt for the primitives of earth, her culture mirrors entirely that of contemporary British society, now. On her own world, she was a beauty born to a low caste, and she’s still bitter about all the false promises made to her by higher born men, instead being left behind to work deep underground in the abysmal conditions of the oxygen factories of her home planet, her only escape this job for which she had to suffer such disfiguring surgeries:

What about all the men who’d promised to keep her safe as she neared the grading age? ‘The Estates? A beautiful girl like you? Just let them try, Iss, and I’ll have a word with my father.’ Spoilt little poseurs, the lot of them. Fuck them, fuck them all.

But then no linguist would ever have applied for her job, that was for sure. Only desperate people with no prospects except being dumped in the New Estates would have considered it.

And even then, only if they were out of their minds.

She had been totally crazy, looking back on it. Deliriously insane. But it had all turned out for the best, after all. The best decision she’d ever made. A very small personal sacrifice, really, if it avoided a lifetime buried in the Estates – a brutishly short lifetime, by all accounts.

In fact, whenever she found herself grieving over what had been done to her once-beautiful body in order for her to be sent here, she reminded herself what people who’d lived in the New Estates for any length of time looked like. Decay and disfigurement were obviously par for the course down there. Maybe it was the overcrowding, or the bad food or the bad air or the lack of medical care, or just the inevitable result of living underground. But there was an unmistakable ugliness about Estate trash, an almost subhuman taint.

Most crucially, Faber never has Isserley transcend her society’s perspectives. She despises the system she’s in, but she does not question it. She never stops seeing the sentient species of earth as primitives, and in one of the novel’s most insightful touches, Isserley and her species refer to themselves not by some alien name, but as human, and it’s the humans of earth who are given the alien name, vodsels. The following is one excerpt of Isserley’s observations:

The thing about vodsels was, people who knew nothing whatsoever about them were apt to misunderstand them terribly. There was always the tendency to anthropomorphize. A vodsel might do something which resembled a human action; it might make a sound analogous with human distress, or make a gesture analogous with human supplication, and that made the ignorant observer jump to conclusions.

In the end, though, vodsels couldn’t do any of the things that really defined a human being. They couldn’t siuwil, they couldn’t mesnishtil, they had no concept of slan. In their brutishness, they’d never evolved to use hunshur; their communities were so rudimentary that hississins did not exist; nor did these creatures seem to see any need for chail, or even chailsinn6.

The member of her society who has transcended its attitudes, who is able to offer a critical perspective, is Amlis Vess, the son of the head of the corporation that runs the meat processing operation. He visits the Scottish farm where the processing operation takes place, and she is very attracted to him – attracted to his rich fur, his regal stature, all the marks of privilege:

Like all of Isserley’s race (except Isserley and Esswis [a male alien on the farm who’s also had surgery in order to appear human], of course) he stood naked on all fours, his limbs exactly equal in length, all of them equally nimble. He also had a prehensile tail, which, if he needed his front hands free, he could use as another limb to balance on, tripod-style. His breast tapered seamlessly into a long neck, on which his head was positioned like a trophy. It came to three points: his long spearhead ears and his vulpine snout. His large eyes were perfectly round, positioned on the front of his face, which was covered in soft fur, like the rest of his body.

In all these things he was a normal, standard-issue human being, no different from the workman standing behind him, watching him nervously.

But he was different.

He was almost freakishly tall, for one thing. His head was at the level of her breast; were he to be surgically made vertical, as she had been, he would tower over her. Wealth and privilege must have excused him from the typically stunted growth of Estate males like the one who was guarding him now; he was like a giant, but slender with it, not massive or lumpish. His colouring was unusually varied (gossips sometimes suggested it wasn’t natural): dark brown on his back, shoulders and flanks, pure black on his face and legs, pure white on his breast. The fur was impossibly lustrous, too, especially on his chest, where it was thicker, almost straggly. In musculature he was lean, with just enough bulk to carry his large frame; his shoulder-blades were startlingly prominent under their satiny layer of fur. But it was his face that was most remarkable: of the males Isserley worked with, there was not one who didn’t have coarse hair, bald patches, discolorations and unsightly scarring on the face. Amlis Vess had a soft down of flawless black from the tips of his ears to the curve of his throat, as if lovingly tooled in black suede by an idealistic craftsman. Deeply set in this perfection of blackness, his tawny eyes shone like illuminated amber. He breathed, preparing to speak.

The book is about the objectification of women7, but it’s also about objectification itself. She is the only woman who is part of the processing operation at the farm and she looks upon the other men and a physical appearance marked by rough and poor living with revulsion, because these are markers of a lower caste, even as she is able to perceive the vast process which brought them all to this place. The vodsels are fodder for this industry, and they are fodder as well:

Isserley’s arrival in the dining hall caused much guttural murmuring among the men. They obviously hadn’t expected her to reappear so soon after her humiliation, but that was because they were stupid and understood nothing. Wouldn’t they just love to have had a bit longer to gossip about her! What a stir her breakdown and her expulsion from the Processing Hall must have made in their stagnant little world! How the legend would have grown if she’d hidden away for days in her cottage, paralysed with shame, until at last she was so weak with hunger she was forced to crawl down to them! Well, she refused to give them the satisfaction. She would tough it out, show them what she was made of.

She cast her eyes disdainfully over the entire herd of them. Compared to Amlis Vess, they were scabrous grotesques, pea-brained savages. She should never have felt shame about her own deformity; she was no uglier than they were, surely, and infinitely better bred.

Isserley looked down at him, as he grinned back at her with decayed teeth and a glisten of gravy on his snout. Yet despite her distaste, she understood all of a sudden that he was harmless, an impotent drudge, a slave, a disposable means to an end. Imprisoned underground, he was living out an existence scarcely better than what he would have known if he’d stayed in the Estates. To be brutally honest, all these men were falling apart, hair by hair and tooth by tooth, like over-used pieces of equipment, like tools bought cheap for a job that would outlast them. While Isserley roamed the airy spaces of her unrestricted domain, they remained trapped below the barns of Ablach, labouring mindlessly, grubbing in tungsten-lit gloom, breathing stale air, eating whatever offal was too gross to be of value to their masters. Amid much fanfare about escape and pioneering, Vess Incorporated had simply dug them out of one hole and buried them in another.

One of her co-workers has a skin condition, “he had some sort of disgusting skin ailment that made half his face look like mouldy fruit,” and Isserley refers to him forever afterwards as the mouldy man, the way a man in another novel might refer to a woman as french smalltits, or some such thing. When Vess suggests the possibility of looking beyond these things, she rejects it, one more opinion of Vess that he’s privileged to have, the way the wealthy can declare that money doesn’t matter:

‘Of course I can see what’s been done to you, but what I’m really interested in is the inner person,’ he pressed on.

‘Oh please, Amlis: spare me this shit,’ groaned Isserley, looking away from him as the tears squirmed out of her eyes and ran down one cheek to disappear inside the ugly stoma of her mutilated ear.

Isserley is drawn to Vess because he is high born, yet she is repelled by the know nothingness of her own life that this high born man has. Vess does not manage to persuade her to take his view, but rather she despises him for having the luxury of this opinion – only a scion from the wealthiest class has the ability to laze around and examine the system. Vess’s opinion is, of course, entirely right, and yet we identify utterly with Isserley and how his righteousness is so connected with a particular pet cause, rather than remedying the immediate realities of a life like hers. He has the privilege of not having to partake in the brutalities of the system, while she must, and she despises the fact that he cannot see that participation in the system has nothing to do with moral choices, and everything to do with practical need. He has the luxury of having the power to change the system, where she feels as if she is only a prisoner within it. “That meat you’re eating,” Amlis Vess says to her of the food they process, “is the body of a creature that lived and breathed just like you and me.”:

With Amlis’s words still ringing in her ears, Isserley took courage, as she had done last time, by focusing on his upper-class accent, his velvety diction groomed by wealth and privilege. Deliberately, she recalled being petted and then discarded by the Elite; she pictured the authorities who’d decided she would be more suited to a life in the Estates, men with accents just like Amlis Vess’s. She invited that accent in, listening to the sharp chord of resentment it struck deep inside her, letting it reverberate.

A few fragments from their conversations together:

‘I had to see for myself what’s going on here,’ he growled.

Isserley tried to raise herself again, and covered her failure with a sigh of condescension.

‘There’s nothing so unusual going on here,’ she said. ‘Just … supply and demand.’ She spoke these last words in a sing-song, as if they were an eternal, inseparable pairing like night and day, male and female.

‘Well, I’ve confirmed my worst fears,’ he went on, disregarding her claim. ‘This whole trade is based on terrible cruelty.’

‘You don’t know what cruelty is,’ she said, feeling all the places on and inside her body where she had been mutilated. How lucky this cosseted young man was, to have a ‘worst fear’ that concerned the welfare of exotic animals rather than any horrors he himself might have to face in the struggle for survival.

‘You know,’ he said, almost dreamily, ‘I sometimes think that the only things really worth talking about are the things people absolutely refuse to discuss.’

‘Yes,’ snapped Isserley, ‘Like why some people are born into a life of lazing around and philosophizing, and others are shoved into a hole and told to fucking get busy.’

The processing of the humans, or vodsels, is exactly like that of any factory farm. The reader is warned that the following passages involve content more disturbing than anything in the movie adaptation. The alien Unser is their butcher:

The Cradle, constructed from pieces of farm equipment, was a masterpiece of specialized design. Its base was the cannibalized mechanism of an earthmover, welded to a stainless-steel drinking trough. Mounted on top, chest-high to a human, was a two-metre segment of a grain chute, artfully beaten into an amended shape so that its sharp edges were curled harmlessly in on themselves. Gleaming and elegant like a giant gravy boat, the chute was being tilted mechanically on its unseen fulcrum, assuming a perfectly horizontal position.

The person adjusting the balance of the Cradle was Ensel, smug in his responsibility of personally assisting the Chief Processor; his two cronies were engaged in the less precise task of undressing the vodsel, lying nearby.

Real music, human music, was being piped into the hall by loudspeakers nestled in the walls. Soft singing and the strumming of instruments imparted a reassuring flavour of home, a pervasive smell of melodies half remembered from childhood. They hissed and hummed soothingly.

‘Careful, careful,’ muttered Unser as the men scrabbled clumsily at the vodsel’s ankles to remove tight woollen socks. An animal’s shanks were close to where its faeces would fall once it was in the pens; any lacerations would be liable to fester.

Isserley strained to see, but Unser’s big wrists and the twisting motion of his fingers obscured the view as he carved out the vodsel’s tongue. Blood began to gurgle out onto the vodsel’s cheeks as Unser turned to drop his tools on the tray with a clatter. Unhesitatingly he snatched up an electrical appliance resembling a large star-point screwdriver and, squinting with concentration, guided it into the vodsel’s mouth. Flashes of light glowed through the gaps in Unser’s nimble fingers as he searched out the incontinent blood vessels and fried them shut with a crackling buzz.

He was already busy sluicing out the vodsel’s mouth with a suction pump by the time the smell of burning flesh had permeated the air. The vodsel coughed: the first real evidence that, far from being dead, it was suffering from nothing more serious than icpathuasi.

‘That’saboy,’ murmured Unser, tickling the Adam’s apple to make the creature swallow. ‘Uhr-rhum.’

As soon as he was satisfied with the state of the animal’s mouth, Unser turned his attention to the genitals. Taking up a clean instrument, he sliced open the scrotal sac and, with rapid, delicate, almost trembling incisions of his scalpel, removed the testicles. It was a much more straightforward job than the tongue; it took perhaps thirty seconds. Before Isserley had registered what had happened, Unser had already cauterized the bleeding and was sewing the scrotum closed with an expert hand.

The experiences of Isserley do not make her more sympathetic to the brutal experiences of the vodsels, but less so. She enjoys being superior to them, and the anger she feels towards the system itself and what it’s done to her she channels against the vodsels. When a vodsel has his throat sliced in front of her, a sentimental type might expect Isserley to be aghast or scream in horror, but she cries out in joyful catharsis. That the powerless find the only pleasure they have in dominating those with even less power is not, to say the least, an uncommon theme in history:

So intently was the vodsel striving now to retrieve his memory of Isserley that he seemed not to notice something being lowered towards his forehead that resembled the nozzle of a petrol pump, attached to the base of the Cradle by a long flexible cable. Unser touched the metal tip of the instrument to the unwrinkled flesh of the vodsel’s brow, and squeezed the handle. There was an almost imperceptible dimming of the lights in the building. The vodsel’s eyes blinked just once as the current travelled through his brain and down the filament of his spine. A subtle plume of smoke curled up from a darkening smudge on his brow.

Unser yanked the chin up to expose the neck. With two graceful flicking motions of his wrist, he slashed open the arteries in the vodsel’s neck, then stood back as a jet of blood gushed out, steaming hot and startlingly red against the silvery trough.

‘Yes!’ screamed Isserley involuntarily. ‘Yes!’

That this is pleasure in a violence re-directed, that she wishes violence, unremittingly cruel violence, on those who have power over her, is made explicit in one of the last chapters, when she speaks of her surgeons:

She crawled out of bed, crippled as usual. What heaven it would be to get revenge on the surgeons who’d done this to her! She’d never even seen their faces: she’d been drugged into oblivion by the time they’d stuck their knives in. And now they were probably boasting to Vess Incorporated how much they’d learned from their mistakes, how there was no comparison between the miracles they could perform now and the crude experiments that had been Esswis [a male alien on the farm who’s also had surgery in order to appear human] and Isserley. In a fair world, she would be given the opportunity, before she died, to tie those surgeons to a slab and do a bit of experimenting of her own. They could watch, tongueless, as she carved their genitals away. To keep their noise down, she’d give them big chunks of their own severed tails to chew on. Their anuses would clench as she penetrated their spines with iron skewers. Their eyes would blink blood as she sculpted brave new faces for them.

There is no Nervous Man in the book, and it is not Isserley who releases any vodsels, but Amlis. In fact, it is Isserley who helps to hunt down these vodsels and kill them, and she takes pride in her ability to do so. That the gesture of freeing these vulnerable naked vodsels out into the open is an entirely futile one, is to be expected from privileged creatures like Amlis who have no practical sense, and who are enraptured by the virtuousness of their gestures. At the very same time, Isserley knows there is something unnecessarily brutal in this life, one lacking in an essential quality even though her own language may have no word for it. Amlis and Isserley visit the prison in which the various hitchers are kept before they are processed, and one of them writes something in the dirt:

‘Look!’ Amlis urged.

Isserley watched, disturbed, as the vodsel scrawled a five-letter word with great deliberation, even going to the trouble of fashioning each letter upside down, so that it would appear right-way-up for those on the other side of the mesh.

‘No-one told me they had a language,’ marvelled Amlis, too impressed, it seemed, to be angry. ‘My father always describes them as vegetables on legs.’

‘It depends on what you classify as language, I guess,’ said Isserley dismissively. The vodsel had slumped behind his handiwork, head bowed in submission, eyes wet and gleaming.

‘But what does it mean?’ persisted Amlis.

Isserley considered the message, which was M E R C Y. It was a word she’d rarely encountered in her reading, and never on television. For an instant she racked her brains for a translation, then realized that, by sheer chance, the word was untranslatable into her own tongue; it was a concept that just didn’t exist.

Isserley does not want to try to pronounce this word for Amlis, because she feels this act would debase her:

She considered trying to pronounce the strange word with a contortion of her lips and a frown on her brow, as if she were being asked to reproduce a chicken’s cackle or a cow’s moo. Then, if Amlis asked her what it meant, she could honestly say that there was no word for it in the language of human beings. She opened her lips to speak, but realized just in time that this would be a very stupid mistake. For her to speak the word at all dignified it with the status of being a word in the first place; Amlis would no doubt go into ecstasy over the vodsels’ ability to link a pattern of scrawled symbols with a specific sound, however guttural and unintelligible. At a stroke, she would be dignifying the vodsels, in his eyes, with both writing and speech.

Shortly afterwards, in perhaps the book’s most powerful scene, Isserley gives a ride to the hitchhiker who rapes her, and she pleads for this same concept. We have here again the book’s casual, expert use of a variety of tones, none of which undercut the other: the horror of the scene alongside the comic mispronunciation which is also a heartbreaking plea for some relief from not just this moment, but her whole existence:

Without warning, he grabbed her elbow and pulled it upwards. Isserley didn’t have time to tense her muscles into a characteristic vodsel shape, and her arm bent freely at several joints, a zig-zag of unmistakably human angles. The hitcher did not appear to notice. This, more than anything else so far, filled Isserley with nauseous terror.

Once she was standing, the hitcher nudged her further along the car until she was against the bonnet.

‘Turn around,’ he said.

She obeyed, and he immediately grasped her green velvety trousers and tore them down to her knees with a single jolt.

‘Jesus,’ he growled from behind her. ‘You been in a car accident?’

‘Yes,’ she whispered. ‘I’m sorry.’

For a heady moment she thought he was discouraged, but then she felt the flat of his hand on her back, pushing her forward onto the car’s bonnet.

Desperately, she searched for the right word, the word that might make him stop. It was a word she knew, but had only ever seen written – in fact, only this morning, a vodsel had spelled it out. She’d never heard it spoken.

‘Murky,’ she pleaded.

Isserley escapes this by knocking out the man’s eyes through the powerful distorted arms of her race, but there is no happy end for her. She and Amlis never draw close into anything like sexual union or love, and he returns to his home planet. Her work exhausts her, and though she does not acknowledge it, her work is slowly destroying her: again and again in the book, tears fall from her eyes, and she’s unable to account for why. She lives in a morally indifferent universe where the kindest of souls end up trapped in the cages of her farm, and yet the book’s perspective is not itself indifferent to the fates of its characters. We see the juxtaposition of the two in the book’s ending, where a gesture of consideration leads to her destruction. Isserley stops for a hitcher whose wife is pregnant and he urges her to speed up, and she does so, but she is as clumsy at driving as she is at other human behaviors, and the car swerves off the road into a tree. The hitcher is thrown from the wreck and badly injured, while the steering column slices into Isserley, destroying her human bosom:

She looked down. Her green velvet trousers were sprinkled with broken glass and saturated with dark blood, and a twisted wedge of metal was taking up all the space where she would have expected her knees to be. She felt very little pain, and she guessed this must be because her spine was shattered. The crescent of the steering wheel had penetrated her breasts, leaving her torso uninjured. Her neck, though, felt better than it had for years, and this realization jerked a hysterical sob of laughter and grief from her. Something warm and gelatinous, trapped inside her top and Pennington’s pullover, slid down her abdomen and into her lap. She shuddered in revulsion and fear.

The Isserleys of the novel and movie both have a devotion to the earth’s landscape, perhaps the only love they can feel deeply, the only one undamaged by malice or distrust for the book’s protagonist. She joins this world in the movie as her body burns to ash and drifts into the sky, and the novel’s Isserley achieves the same transcendence through self-annihilation in what is probably the book’s best moment, an ending for this essay which I cannot improve on:

Isserley removed the spectacles and dropped them into her lap, where they landed with a patter of windscreen glass. She blinked, wondering why things were still out of focus. Tears ran down her cheeks, and her view through the shattered windscreen cleared.

Isserley checked the top of the dashboard, where Yns [an engineer], at the same time as he’d set up the icpathua network, had installed the other little alteration to the car’s original design: the button for the aviir. Unlike the icpathua connections, which involved fragile electrics and hydraulics that had obviously been damaged in the accident, the connection between the dashboard button and the cylinder of aviir was one simple, sturdy tube, waiting only for a squirt of something foreign into the oily liquid.

The aviir would blow her car, herself, and a generous scoop of earth into the smallest conceivable particles. The explosion would leave a crater in the ground as big and deep as if a meteorite had fallen there.

And she? Where would she go?

The atoms that had been herself would mingle with the oxygen and nitrogen in the air. Instead of ending up buried in the ground, she would become part of the sky: that was the way to look at it. Her invisible remains would combine, over time, with all the wonders under the sun. When it snowed, she would be part of it, falling softly to earth, rising up again with the snow’s evaporation. When it rained, she would be there in the spectral arch that spanned from firth to ground. She would help to wreathe the fields in mists, and yet would always be transparent to the stars. She would live forever. All it took was the courage to press one button, and the faith that the connection had not been broken.

She reached forward a trembling hand.

‘Here I come,’ she said.

(All images from Under the Skin copyright A24 Films and associated producers; images from Birth copyright New Line Cinema.)

(On July 27, 2014, some edits for aesthetics, grammar, and clarity were made; footnote #4 was added, as was a new footnote #1, on the name of the film’s protagonist; the section on how Isserley sees her co-workers only in terms of their physicality was added as well. On August 25th, 2014, the section on Monty Python’s “Seduced Milkmen” was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 Though it’s never said in the movie, a number of sources state the protagonist’s name as “Laura”, such as Grantland‘s “‘Skin’ Deep: Jonathan Glazer, Scarlett Johansson, and the Incurious State of Sci-Fi in Hollywood” by Sean Fennessey – “Glazer’s movie follows Laura, an alien played by a bewigged Scarlett Johansson” – and The Dissolve‘s review, “Under the Skin” by Scott Tobias: “Glazer’s main character—now named “Laura,” and played by Scarlett Johansson—reveals nothing of herself directly.”

2 Though I originally thought this first woman was simply a human The Bad Man had killed so they could use her clothes, I think this observation from SpaceMonkey23101 in “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75, is very solid, and in fact the best interpretation.

SpaceMonkey23101 (link):

I like to think that the first woman (who Scarlett gets her first set of clothes from) is her predecessor, and that she died by committing suicide. This is why she sheds a tear during the scene where Scarlett undresses her. She did it by drowning herself in the ocean, since she had seen so many men go into the black pool, and her limited intellect could only conceive of that as a method of suicide. She was driven to do this by her guilt for what she had done, luring so many innocent men to their deaths. It shows that she achieved the same sense of compassion that Scarlett does during the film. It basically turns the film into a much more optimistic story, since it suggests that the drones always develop empathy. This is what her supervisor (motor bike guy) is checking for when he’s staring at her so intently in her house. He is searching, in a strange alien way, for a sense of empathy or compassion within her. It’s almost as if the drones always fail because maybe living beings always grow towards compassion. It actually kind of suggests an ultimate – almost spiritual – morality and justice behind the film. Just a thought.

dalong75 (link):

Love it.

8th_Dynasty (link):

This is pretty close to my interpretation as well – however, and maybe it was just my eyesight, but I took the first girl to be “the same model Alien”, having the same skin. The Alien of our story that we watched was a sort of replicated replacement to pick up where the first one left off after she ultimately started to feel emotions. Sort of like a defective model that will work for a certain amount of time before breaking down and the Motorcycle Boss was constantly checking for signs of inevitable failure.

I feel like that first female character was also played by Scarlett [though there is a strong resemblance, the girl on the floor of the white room is played by Lynsey Taylor Mackay].

3 McWilliams is actually a “world champion motorcycle ace.” The short profile, “McWilliams is ‘bad man on mission for Scarlett Johansson'” details his background.

The name of this character as well as The Woodsman I got from “Under The Skin: Casting”, an interview with the movie’s casting director, Kathleen Crawford.

4 Again, “Under the Skin- Movie discussion including looking at the novel that inspired it”, a reddit thread by dalong75, contains valuable insights on this matter, from tesla86, EnsignMorituri, and dalong75.

tesla86 (link):

I was thinking about this movie for some time after seeing it, the affect of any momentous movie wether good or bad i might add.

I was particularly drawn to the ‘inspection’ scene, it was as though they (the aliens) are drone-like creatures, with the Motorcyclist as a soldier bee inspecting the worker bee (Johnansson) even the way ‘he’ articulates and postures around her is akin to their behaviour. Just a thought but the motorbikes themselves are quite bee/wasp like; driving handles = antennae , fuel tank = thorax, engine hums like wings etc

EnsignMorituri (link):

Absolutely. I think the closeup of the ant reflects the colony insect theme as well. To use a wasp or bee in that scene would have been too on the nose.

dalong75 (link):

Good point. I liked how mechanical it was. A simple four point inspection of her. Not at all how humans would inspect each other. Also perhaps looking for any breaks in her skin.

5 Questions were taken from “The Scarlett Johansson Interview” by Alex Bilmes, “Scarlett Johansson Interview” by Holly Millea, and “Scarlett Johansson 2.0: Glamour’s May Cover Star on Finally Knowing What She Needs in a Relationship” by Logan Hill.

6 These terms of alien vocabulary are never given an explanation.

7 The book is more explicit about this than the movie, as seen in these excerpts from a conversation Isserley has with one hitcher:

‘You know what gets me?’ he said, slightly more animated now.

‘No, what gets you?’ Isserley was sagging in relief, gratefully feeling the air grow less dense, the molecules moving more calmly.

‘Them supermodels,’ he said.

Isserley thought first of sophisticated automobiles, then thought he must mean the animated drawings which flickered on television early in the mornings: stylized females flying through space wearing elbow-length gloves and thigh-high boots. Just in time, as she opened her mouth to speak, she remembered the true meaning of the term: she’d glimpsed one of these extraordinary creatures on the news once.

‘What mystifies you?’ said Isserley, quite lost.

‘Where’s the tits on ’em, that’s what I want to know!’ he exclaimed, cupping one huge hand in front of his own chest. ‘Supermodels, and they got no tits! How’s that work?’

‘I don’t know who decides these things,’ conceded Isserley miserably, as the atmosphere in the cabin swarmed once more.

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An Attempt to Disconnect From Comcast / OK, Let’s Talk to Hell: A Transcript

The following transcript was made from audio discovered at “Sympathy for the Comcast Rep from Hell” by John Herman:

Above is eight solid minutes of empathic pain. It is a recording of a calm, polite caller, Ryan Block, attempting to cancel his Comcast service. The representative, by the time the recording starts, already sounds angry: He demands, again and again and again, to know why Block is leaving Comcast for a smaller provider, to know what it is that he—that Comcast—can’t supply that this other company, this obviously objectively inferior company, this loser company, can. Just tell him what he did wrong, he says. Just explain to him. Just make him understand this stupid mistake.

COMCAST REP
-eight hundred and five megabits per second internet, Astound will not give you that speed.

RYAN BLOCK
Okay, we’d like to disconnect. We’d like to disconnect. Please.

C.R.
So, why do you think you don’t want the faster speed? Help me understand why you don’t want faster internet.

R.B.
Help me understand why you can’t just disconnect us.

C.R.
Because my job is to have a conversation with you. About having- About dis- About keeping your service. About finding out why it is you’re looking to cancel the service.

R.B.
I don’t understand. Is this for-

C.R.
Okay, if you don’t want to talk to me, you can definitely go into the Comcast store, and disconnect your service there.

R.B.
We’re just asking to-

C.R.
-and kill two birds with one stone. You gotta return that cable card to the store anyways.

R.B.
We’re actually just going to mail the cable card in. But if you can just please cancel our service. That would be great. That’s all-

C.R.
We actually can’t-

R.B.
That’s all we want.

C.R.
We’re actually not able to return…a cable card by mail.

R.B.
Then I will send someone like, a taskrabbit, to go return the cable card for us. I don’t personally intend to go return the cable card. That’s why we’re probably not going to be canceling in store, that’s why I need you to cancel, by phone. So, can you cancel us by phone? The answer is yes, correct?

C.R.
It sounds like you don’t want to go over this information with me, I mean, if you don’t want to go over this information, okay, then that’s the easiest way to get your account disconnected.

R.B.
Uh, I am declining to state why we are leaving Comcast, because I don’t owe you an explanation…so, if you can please just go to-

C.R.
-the number one-

R.B.
Proceed to the next question. If you have to fill out your form, that’s fine. Please proceed to the next question. And we’ll attempt to answer that, if possible.

C.R.
Alright. So. I mean, being that we’re the number one provider of internet and TV service in the entire country…why is it that you’re not wanting to have the number one rated internet service? Number one rated TV service, available?

R.B.
I’m declining to state. We’re switching providers. Can you please go to the next question?

C.R.
Okay. So, what is it about Astound that’s making you want to change to them?

R.B.
I’m declining to state. Can you please go to the next question? So we can cancel our service?

C.R.
Okay. So. Okay. I mean. I’m just trying to figure out here what it is about Comcast services that you’re not liking? That you’re not wanting to keep? Why is it that you don’t want-

R.B.
This-

C.R.
-to keep our service?

R.B.
This phone call, actually, is a really amazing representative example of why I don’t want to stay with Comcast. So, can you please cancel our service?

C.R.
So, from- Okay. But, I’m trying to help you. K. Don’t worry.

R.B.
The way that you can help me, right now-

C.R.
-by declining answer, by doing all this.

R.B.
The way that you can help me is by disconnecting our service. That’s how you can help-

C.R.
But how is that helping you, though? How is that-

R.B.
Because that’s what I want.

C.R.
Remind me how that’s helping you.

R.B.
That’s what I want.

C.R.
Okay, so why is that what you want?

R.B.
Because that’s what I want.

C.R.
Okay, so, I mean, there has to be some sortof reason behind it. That’s what we’re trying to find out. We just want to find out what it is, that’s causing a customer, that’s been with us for a long time, to leave.

R.B.
Because that’s what we want.

C.R.
Okay. I mean, you’ve been with us since…October 2005. Nine years. You’ve been a Comcast customer, k, after a decade, okay? Clearly, the service is working great for you. You weren’t having any problems. But now all of a sudden you’re moving, k, you’ve kept this service at multiple addresses…all of a sudden you’re moving, and it’s making you want to change. What is it that’s making you want to change that?

R.B.
Because that’s what we want to do.

C.R.
K, why is that what you want to do?

R.B.
That’s none of your business. Your business is to disconnect us-

C.R.
As a company that is a cable internet provider. Primarily. K? It is our business. To know why our customers are leaving. Okay? If we don’t know why our customers are leaving, how are we supposed to make it a better experience for you next time? K? When Astound turns out not to-

R.B.
That’s a fantastic question, and something you can hire a firm to go figure out. For right now, I’m just a customer. Calling in. Attempting to disconnect service. That is something you can do, right?

C.R.
Yeah.

R.B.
You said that you can disconnect service…yes?

C.R.
Okay.

R.B.
Yes?

C.R.
I just don’t want to lose you as a customer!

R.B.
Is that something that you can do?

C.R.
-greatly, from transferring your service to your new address-

R.B.
Is that something that you can do?

C.R.
-offers-

R.B.
Can you disconnect us? By phone?

C.R.
-so-

R.B.
Can you disconnect our service? Yes or no?

C.R.
K. What I’m trying to find out-

R.B.
Yes or no?

C.R.
-same offer, or brand new-

R.B.
Can you disconnect our service?

C.R.
-faster internet than anyone can provide you. K? Why don’t you want services?

R.B.
Because I’m not interested in your services any longer. Can you-

C.R.
Okay. So you’re not interested in the fastest internet in the country?

R.B.
Nope. Not interested.

C.R.
K, why is that?

R.B.
Can you disconnect us? By phone? Are you capable, in your system, of disconnecting our service? Yes or no?

C.R.
Well, I’m just trying to get some information to find out why-

R.B.
Please answer my question. Are you capable, by phone, of disconnecting our service?

C.R.
It’s something we can do, I mean– Whether we do it-

R.B.
That’s something you can do, I would appreciate you now doing that.

C.R.
K. So.

R.B.
Please proceed in disconnecting our service.

C.R.
So, what is it about this other internet provider, this other TV provider? That’s making it sound so much better than the number one TV service available?

R.B.
I don’t know. It’s a totally arbitrary decision.

C.R.
K. So why not keep what you know works? When you’ve got a good service?

R.B.
Because. We’re not doing that. So, please proceed-

C.R.
Okay.

R.B.
-to disconnect-

C.R.
So, you’re saying you don’t want this service? You don’t want something that works?

R.B.
No. I guess I don’t want something that works.

C.R.
So, why don’t you want something that’s good service, and something that works?

R.B.
I mean, is this like a joke? Did we call- Is this- Are you punking us right now?

C.R.
I’m trying to get information. Okay? I’m trying to help our company be better. That’s my job.

R.B.
I can guarantee you, right now, you’re doing an incredibly good job at helping your company be worse.

C.R.
Okay. Well, you know what, I’m terribly sorry that it feels like I’m being- It sounds to you like it feels like I’m trying to argue, I’m just trying to help you out and get some information. We’ll just bypass all this information, I’ll go ahead and disconnect this service, okay-

R.B.
Fantastic. Thank you.

C.R.
It’s really a shame to see you go to something that can’t give you what we can.

R.B.
Okay, well if that winds up being the case-

C.R.
-that’s what I’m trying-

R.B.
-then we’ll call you guys back up, and reconnect.

C.R.
I mean, you’re not going to get the hundred thousand free on-demand titles. You’re not going to get hundred and five megabits per second for your internet. Guaranteed. Speed at a hundred and five. Okay. I mean, no one else can guarantee their speed like we can. Okay? So, I mean, we can definitely transfer this over to your new address, get you a lower rate, I can save you almost a hundred, actually, more than a hundred dollars per month. Over a hundred dollars per month. K? Doing that transfer. K? Get you internet that’s…five, six, times faster than anything any other company can provide you.

R.B.
Are you done?

C.R.
Get you the number one T.V. service available, okay? And, I mean, so…what about those savings? Those services, are you not wanting?

R.B.
Are you done?

C.R.
What makes you-

R.B.
-because-

C.R.
-not want that service?

R.B.
You literally, just a moment ago, said that you would go ahead and disconnect our service? And that’s what-

C.R.
Okay.

R.B.
-we’re gonna need to do. Can you go ahead and do that?

C.R.
I’m working on that process!

R.B.
Okay. Great. How much longer is that process going to take?

C.R.
I’m just asking some questions-

R.B.
Can you tell me how much longer-

C.R.
That’s all I’m doing.

R.B.
Can you tell me how much longer it’s gonna take?

C.R.
K, I’m just asking some questions. To do this process.

R.B.
I understand. Can you tell me how much longer-

C.R.
Okay? If you gave me a few more minutes-

R.B.
Can you tell me how much longer-

C.R.
A couple more minutes, here. Okay?

R.B.
Okay. A couple more minutes. K.

C.R.
Okay. So. I mean, what about the service is it, that is causing you to want to change? What is it about-

R.B.
I’m-

C.R.
-the offers that we have available to you-

R.B.
I’m good. I’m just going to wait until you can confirm that we’ve cancelled service. So, I’m just going to hang up here-

C.R.
Okay, you’re all set. You know, it’s disconnected. I’m really sorry to see you go to something that can’t give you what we can, but I’d like to thank you very much, for being a great part of Comcast, have a wonderful day.

R.B.
Uh- Can you give me a confirmation number for the cancellation of service?

C.R.
I- I don’t have a confirmation number.

R.B.
Well, how do I- How do I have confirmation that we-

C.R.
Okay. You’ll receive a final statement in about three weeks.

R.B.
A final statement in three weeks?

C.R.
Yes.

R.B.
Okay.

C.R.
Alright. Again, I want to thank you very much for…being a great part of Comcast, have a wonderful day.

R.B.
Okay, just so I can confirm, you said your name is [REDACTED FROM TAPE]?

C.R.
Correct.

R.B.
Okay. Cool. Thank you.

C.R.
Okay.

R.B.
Alright.

C.R.
You’re very welcome. Have a great day.

R.B.
You too.

A comment from “John Wantland@facebook”, at the original post (link):

Display common sense, lose your job. Try to keep your job, get hated on the Internet, and get punished anyway. Oh, and let’s not forget, not only do you lose your current job by displaying common sense, but hey, for getting fired, that makes you less desirable for any other company to hire you, on top of that. What do you want? What do you expect? Are you so willing to throw your career away because you’d rather be a polite homeless beggar than slightly annoy people and get to keep your house? I’m not saying it’s right, but the world we live in doesn’t allow for that kind of attitude, not really. If you have a job, you’re damn lucky to keep it. Look, I don’t like it any more than you, but I’ll put up with being slightly annoyed by a phone rep if the alternative is he loses his job. It’s not a defense of the system, but you do what you gotta do to survive, and until the day comes when all jobs are about cleaning up rainbow spills and unicorn poops, you just gotta suck it up and deal with the fact that no matter what you’re doing, once in a while you have to do something unpleasant, and maybe something you don’t agree with on a personal level, because it’s far better than sleeping in the gutter with your principles to keep you warm.

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