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December 08, 1974 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1974-12-08

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Page Four


Sunday, December 8, 197Pi


. ...


Did you hear the story about
the insecure Jewish comedian?

Nate Shaw's life and times:
Southern pride and prejudice

LET YOU, by Wallace Mark-
field. New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 182 pages, $5.95.
TULES FARBER is on the
verge of becoming a saint.
His unexpected death h a s
brought a deluge of epitaphs
heralding him as everything
from a "ritual scapegoat" to
the Messiah.
However, in all this intellectu-
al outpouring there is no men-
tion of what Jules Farber really
was-a stand-up comedian, a
very funny man.'
Sound familiar! It should.
Wallace Markfield's third novel,

You Could Live If They Let
You, owes a debt of gratitude to
the current Lenny Bruce reviv-
al. In fact, Bruce is mentioned
as a predecessor of Jules Far-
ber. Farber is Lenny Bruce II.,
Although there are obvious'
similarities in their comedic
styles, Farber dies, not a de-
feated junkie, but a rather pros-
perousentertainer felled by a
heart attack.
Yet, an appointment with
sainthood requires suffer-
ing. Whereas Lenny fought and
lost to social pressures, Jules'
pangs revolve around his fam-
ily and his heritage.
W TELL JEWISH life in Am-
erica; that's enough of a
joke," says Farber, explaining
his comedy. He admits the
greatest shocks of his life were
when he discovered that "Cary
Grant wasn't Jewish. Jello's not
Farber's story is told by
Chandler Van Horton, a guy
from the Midwest. Chandler is
an academic ("Yentas with
facts" according to Farber) and
a perfect foil for Farber's witti-
Farber agrees to the first
meeting only if Chandler signs
the following statement: "I,

Chandler Van Horton, do ab-
solve Jules Farber of the killing
of Christ. It is my understanding
that the very worst his people
might have done was to lean on ixx
Him a little."
So begins the start of a cul-
tural exchange and a close "
friendship which allows Chand-< }
ler to record Farber's madcap '
banterings ("the secret of Jew-
ish survival? Keep your sex dir- black housemaid because "if
ty and your house clean") and tk housemid, ecs e "ef
his anguish caused by a mis- the anti-Semite needs the Jew-
A idaA mnr,., .. a1 the Jew has almost as much

gui e marriage.

need of Anti-Semite-or else heI

Ann Arbor
Kosher Meat o-op
Ordering Meeting
SUN., DEC. 8
7 P.M.
1429 HILL ST.

EARBER HAD ALWAYS con-i loses his edge.
sidered shikses as the ulti- And it is just that "edge" that
mate in both sex and servitude. Farber needs to keep on his toes
Until he married one. Then Mar- -to be ready with the witty re-
lene, a former stewardess, fails ply.
to teach their son sphincter con-
trols and blames the pending di- ON HIS DEATH comes the
vorce on Farber's failure as a eulogies of his genius, not as
father figure. a man of humor, but one of
Farber is badgered by his mo- prophecy. The intellectuals mis-
ther, his father and his sister, read the speed of his mind as
but instead of returning the fury the strength of it. Only his im-
he puts it to work in his humor, mediate family remember him
telling a group of Jewish ladies, for the joy he brought into the
r . xr aE"yx. :::.,,::.. ;>,;. You Could Live If They Let
You is twodbooks for the price
Jules Farber enjoys of one. The first half contains
some of the funniest one-liners
the distinctions, even around. The humor is fast, fur-
ions and allstoo accurate. For
ninety pages Markfield has a
favors the presence veritahe classic on his hands,
i but then things start falling
of anti-semites in the apart.
world because "if the The notion that pain is a pre-
requisite of laughter and that
every comedian's punchline is a
anti-semite needs the repetitive plea of "love me, love
me, love me" has been around
Jew-the Jew has a long time. Perhaps too long.
Farber's suffering, and Chand-
almost as much need ler's perception of it, tends toE
consume the laughter in the end,
ea i-semite- and the character becomesj
merely pathetic.

All God's Dangers: The Life
of Nate Shaw by Theodore
Rosengarten. New York: Al-
fred A. Knopf, 556pp., $10.
i probably chose the title of
this book to emphasize Nate
Shaw's wisdom. "Yes, all God's
dangers aint a white man."
There were also wicked blacks,
boll weevils, and bad luck to
worry about. But, principally,
Nate Shaw's story is one of evil,
not of fate. It is a tale of evil
visited upon blacks by whites,
and of a system so relentlessly
oppressive that only a hero
could survive it with both his
dignity and his life intact.
Rosengarten was a graduate
student in history When he first
met Shaw in 1969. He went to
Alabama to study the Share-
croppers Union (SCU), organiz-
ed in 1931 and soon thereafter
crushed by local authorities. Up-
on asking about the union, he
was led to Nate Shaw (a pseu-
donym, as are all other personal
and local place names in the
book). Rosengarten found him,
asked him why he had joined
the union, and, tape-recorder in
hand, listened for eight hours as
Shaw began to narrate an incre-
dibly rich and detailed story
atot nmsir na oou ti"

Born in 1885 into the lowest
stratum of Southern society,
Nate Shaw soon proved himself
an unusually diligent and single-
minded worker. Indeed, he was
almost a Puritan in his faith in
the ennobling character of work
and his natural probity and re-
straint. One of the wonders of
this book is the way in which
Shaw provides an entirely new
perspective on old ideas like in-
dividualism, pride in posses-
sions, uprightness, and respect-
ability, forcing us to free them
of bourgeois connotations and
understand from them'"anew.
Nate Shaw had respect for
himself, "the strength of a man
who comes to know himself."
Very early in life, he says, "I
begin to want to be a man of my
own, get out there and do what
would prosper me in life." In
order to make money he be-
came an accomplished cotton
farmer, blacksmith, basket ma-
ker, lumberer, and teamster. He
sought individual autonomy not
as a source of power over oth-
ers, nor as an eynression of
wifidrm rnl from the commit-
nmantS of commiunity. hxt sn "1
didn't have to beg nobody." "I
was a worker," he says, with aI
kind of pleasure that is difficult

see a nigger with too much." g
After working on shares for two |
white landowners, Shaw got free
of his "notes" and never again
lived as a sharecropper. As a
straight renter, he built up his
stock and personal possessions,
bought a Model-T, added a Che-
vy, and earned the respect of
nearly everyone.
Some, however, were not so the soul of that system, then
willing to grant that resnect. In credit was the body. Landlords
particular, his landlord, Mr. bankers, and merchants kept
Watson, continually importined most blacks in the bondage of
him to sign a new note. Failing debt from birth to death, their
that, he convinced the local fer- children in the fields and away
tilizer merchant to refuse Shaw from what education there was.
credit. A friendly white man, W i t h economic dependence
however, arranged for Shaw to came political dependence
buy his fertilizer at another (Nate Shaw n e v e r cast a
store. In the face of a system vote). Many left for Northern
whose every brick and bolt was cities, but theirs is another
designed to make just such an story. Nate Shaw stayed.
event imnossible, Nate Shaw When Shaw joined the SCU, he
was "making it" without accep- Whe Satoned h kCU,
ting many of the "rulins" of i provided Watson and his kind,
wite supremacy". lns who coveted the chance to cut
white sunremacy.e him down to size and get hold
The collapse of the interna- of his valuable land, an excuse
tional cotton market after World to take violent action.
War I plunged the rural South
into depression long before the WITH HIS UNCANNY combi-
Great Crash. Desperate for ca- nation of courage and pru-
pital, landowners and middle- dence Nate Shaw had resisted
men were foreclosing mortgag. the seemingly inevitable conse-
es, cutting credit, and raising quences of the system. When,
prices, on a December morning in 1932,
By organizing the dispossess- he stood before Watson and the
ed, encouraging them to claim sheriff's posse to defend the pro-
whateversright the system offer- perty of his neighbor and fel-
ed, and assisting them in obtain- low union member, his time had
ing redt fomnwlyavaprbe- come. Fired upon, he fired back.
federal sources, the SCUpre- The posse killed two and wound-
sented a true threat to the en- ed many, including Shaw. His
tire structure of power in the bullets hit no one. He was ar-
rural South. For, if racism was rested, tried, convicted, and sen-
tenced to 12-15 years in the state



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Sbouthisenw daybulife."R s for most of us to appreciate,
Southern way of life." Rosen-
garten quickly abandoned hisi Despite the enormous con-
"topic" and devoted himself en- straints upon him.rNate Shaw
tirely to that story, returning
for three summers to get it all prospered. That was his undo-
down. ing, for whites "didn't like tot

The destructive masculine ideal

While imprisonment forever
ended his rise in the world (he
had hoped to own his own land),
it never broke his spirit or his
conviction that he had done "the
right thing." Partly this was be-
de- of 4 ' eto t

or else he loses his
"Never, never, never be asham-
ed you're Jewish, because it's
enough I'm ashamed 'you're
This is the key to Farber -
the suffering Jew. "Yiddish," he
says, "is the language of sor-
Chandler tries to convince him
that "all gentiles are not plumb-
ers and all Jews are not pro-
phets." But Farber wil not buy
it, he enjoys the distinctions, ev-
en favors the presence of anti-
semites in the world, like his

The brilliant characterizations
and tight organization of Mark-
field's writing falls apart after
the first half of the book. Far-
ber is reduced to the idiot mum-,
blings of his mentally retarded
son, and Chandler faithfully re-
cords them.u
worry about staying on1
stage too long. A rottine mayI
have the audience falling out of
their seats, but if the comedian
lets it drag on, he might as well1
have bombed. The adage says,
"You gotta leave 'em lauzghin'."11
You Could Live If They Let
You contains enough laughs to1
fill Henny Youngman's violin
case. But as the story progress-
es, Markfield defeats himself. It
comes out sounding like a joke
we have heard too many times.
Take Jules Farber-please.
Don Kubit is a frequent con-
tributor to the books page.

Marc Feigen Fasteau. New
York: McGraw Hill, 225 pp.,
Procrustean bed where
men mayrstowtheir emotions to
better assert their dominancer
and toughness, is a yardstick
for measuring the "desirable"
qualities of society's males. Yet
the ideal of perfect masculin-
ity" is a sham. Marc Feigen Fas-
teau's The Male Machine shows
that the distortion of the male
personality to match this forc-
ed image leads only to frus-
tration and failure, both in per-
sonal lives and in the arena of
public policy.
Fasteau first explores the ori-'
gin of the masculine ideal and
its failure to supply men with a
realistic role model. The mas-
culine drive limits men's capa-
city to express themselves as
human beings, Fasteau argues.

Men are seen to be machines, their self-esteem in terms of geca Use thr"ageat unaiusim
onl cpabe f espndng r n business marketability and n- change" that came upon him
only capable of responding t ant b einsroy soon after his conviction. "The
extremely narrow range of! come. This reinforces their need7 Lord blessed my soul," he said,
competitive situations. Iy thes aodremain tro o i seand st mena position tren-$
are to be "manly," they must and unemotional since these dii t"Prl twsarsl
be unemotional and explicitly qualities are strongly endorsed of that same strength of charac-
strong. in the corporate world as wor- ter that had governed his life
With such an ideal, men can- thy personal attributes. from the first.
j not be completelyhuman for Sports, along these s a m e He became at once a leader
they are never allowed the op lines, is "a key masculinity- and confidant of his fellow in-
portunity to be emotional or affirming ritual." "In p.articu- mates. Three times he refused
weak, dependent or passive. lar, it supplies a language and parole offered in reward for re-
Someone has wiped one half of rationale for men to use in vealing "secrets' about the un-
their palette clean. nonsports situations, a language I ion "I knowed why I was where




now in stock

THE INFLUENCE of the mas-
culine ideal on personality
is then shown through the com-
petitive worlds of sports and
business, where the emphasis isr
solidly on competition and
"proving" oneself.3
In fact, as Fasteau puts it,
(work) is the only area of'
life where accomplishment is
measured and rewarded by the
market." So not only must mcn
prove themselves to their peers'
in business on a personal level,
but they inevitably measure

which is widely understood and
which reduces the morecom-
plex real-life problems of choos-
ing objectives and weighing hu-
man costs to the simplistic im-
peratives of a competitive


i '
1 1

I was, he said, and that know-
ledge kept him from self-des-
tructive actshof violence as well
as from self-serving acts of sub-
mission. His s-" respect for
himself and his keen interest in
life never failed him.


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THE IMAGE of the mascu ine THERE ARE MANY wonders
ideal is then taken by Fas- in this book, too many to
teals and projected onto the mention. The language alone is
screen of American foreign a stunning revelation, a lan-
oolicv. Here we find the ideal e'aae of emotion that is per-
translated into a cult of tough. fectly simple yet perfectly rea-
ness, with the complexities of lized. "She was my very heart-
foreign affairs often swept throb," he says of his young
away and reduced to "the lues- w itf e "my heart's desire,"
tion of whether to stand up to courted in the time of plums,
the schoolyard bully." We find nlims aulenty on the trees."
the Berlin crisis taken by Jahn There are judgments of charac-
Kennedy as a personal test ofIter that are keen, precise, and
his courage, his masculinity, his I thoronghly convincing. There
toughness. We have Lynilon are lov'ing descriptions of tools,
Johnsonsnot wanting to be animals, and crops. There is the
almost Biblical recitation of
thought "less of a man'" by names - fathers and mothers,
puling out of iVetnam and duck- children, marriages, deaths.
ing his "masculine" duty to! And there is the unending chro-
nicle of injustice, stupidity, and
(Continued on Page s fear, never over-dramatized,
James Hipps is an economics never abstracted, always told
na jo. . ..with all its detail and meaning
intact. Most of all there is Nate
Shaw in his wisdom.
On Nov. 5, 1973, Nate Shaw
Lowest U.S. Bookstore died in the knowledge that "I
did my part for peace and
Prices for pleasure and unity." We are
New unued) ook likely t distrust the very idea
New (unused) Books of heroism, partly because we
have been offered clowns and

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social criminals as models. The
.world is not poulated with he-
roes, but heroism there is. Nate
Shaw is a black American hero
whom we have hitherto been
denied. We must now fully in-
tegrate him and his story into
our vision of reality.
Francis G. Couvares is a grad-
uate student in history.
Dec. 14
8 p.m.

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