On this day in 1902, the great poet Stevie Smith was born. She was also a novelist, but I haven’t read anything but her poetry. In fact, I most know of her from a really great film Stevie—which you should watch if you get the opportunity (it isn’t available on DVD). Her work is simultaneously playful and dark. Take, for example:
The great television producer Jay Ward was born in 1920. He created shows such as Crusader Rabbit, Hoppity Hooper, and George of the Jungle. But I love him most for Rocky & Bullwinkle. I discussed the show only last month (it includes a documentary about the show). But rather than embed yet another clip of that show, here is Super Chicken:
The day, however (and easily), belongs to the great writer Upton Sinclair who was born on this day in 1878. He is best known for the novel The Jungle. It is an amazing book. It is dystopian yet true. With 1984, there is always the sense that no government could be that perfectly authoritarian. But in the case of The Jungle, that is really the way life was. It is also the way life is in many parts of the world. And perhaps most interesting of all, it is the way that modern day conservatives wish society to be. This brings to mind the work of John Rawls who said that a just society would be the one that you would choose if you couldn’t predict where you would be born. Conservatives always look to a society in which they would be at the top. And indeed, the Gilded Age was a great society to be in if you were rich.
In addition to his large body of work, Sinclair also tried his hand at politics. He ran for governor of California in 1934. He was hugely popular. But then the newspaper owners turned against him and effectively cut off any good or even objective coverage of him, and he ended up losing. It’s a good thing to remember. There is no such thing as democracy if there is not a free press. And the lack of a free press does not have to be the result of government interference. Around here, Sinclair is most often mentioned for one of his many great quotes, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” We see this again and again, but most profoundly, we see it with supposedly objective journalists.
Happy birthday Upton Sinclair.