The Yale Alumni Magazine is owned and operated by Yale Alumni Publications, Inc., a nonprofit corporation independent of Yale University.
The content of the magazine and its website is the responsibility of the editors and does not necessarily reflect the views of Yale or its officers.
Armed with a 35mm Leica camera and Guggenheim grant, Tod Papageorge traveled the country in 1970 with the aim of documenting the phenomenon of spectator sports in America. He was compelled to alter his project, however, by the tragic events at Kent State that spring. Confronted with deepening public malaise over the seemingly interminable war in Vietnam, Papageorge decided to retain sports as his nominal subject, but focus his inner lens on the anarchy taking place beyond the sidelines. After lying dormant in the photographer’s studio for nearly four decades, the project is finally being published this January as American Sports, 1970 (or, How We Spent the War in Vietnam). The book offers a penetrating portrayal of a society descending into chaos.
For the image here, Autograph Seekers, Shea Stadium, NY, Papageorge (now the Walker Evans Professor of Photography at the Yale School of Art) trained his lens on a frenetic crush of star-crossed autograph seekers who had jammed themselves against the barrier separating spectator from sport. The scramble of torsos, hands, arms, and paraphernalia that spans the frame reads almost like a cubist collage. On the faces of the fans is the full range of emotions that a zealous youngster might experience in his or her dogged pursuit, from giddiness and satisfaction to resignation and anguish. In the center of the picture, a clear-eyed man stares out at us with strange calm. Providing a stark contrast to the experience of America’s young soldiers nearly half a world away, these enraptured fans might also serve as an analogy. In Papageorge’s eyes, even our national pastime has failed to relieve us from the discontents of war.
The release of American Sports, 1970 follows the publication last year of Papageorge’s Passing Through Eden: Photographs of Central Park. As director of perhaps the most acclaimed graduate photography program in the country, Papageorge has played a central role in shaping contemporary photographic practice. With these books, his work is garnering long overdue attention of its own.
In July 1997, Demetri Martin ’95 went onstage for his first stand-up gig. He had written 12 jokes and was hoping for one good laugh. He got six. “I was thrilled,” he recalls. “I left the stage thinking, ‘Oh man, I’m a comedian.’”
At his internship at the Daily Show the next morning, everybody asked how his set went. “And I said, ‘Actually, it went well. I got laughs, I had a good set.’ They were like, ‘Great, great.’”
That night, he went onstage again. “Now I’m confident. I get on stage, do the same set. Silence. Bombed, just died. I was shocked. I leave the stage, sweating, thinking, What happened?
“The next day I get back to the Daily Show and they say, ‘How’d it go?’ I say, ‘I bombed.’ And they said, ‘Now you’re a comedian.’”
Ten years later, Martin is a rising star. He appears frequently on the Daily Show as their “youth correspondent"; he wrote and starred in a web campaign for Microsoft’s new Vista operating system; he’s writing movie scripts for two major studios (Sony and DreamWorks); and later this year, his sketch-variety television show, Important Things with Demetri Martin, will debut on Comedy Central.
Martin is consistently hilarious. A good Demetri Martin joke is a miniature lab experiment with reality, delivered with economy and impeccable timing:
“There’s a store in my neighborhood called Futon World. I love that name, Futon World. It makes me think of a magical place that becomes less comfortable over time.”
“A drunk driver is dangerous, but so is a drunk backseat driver—if he’s persuasive.”
“Every dance move is the Robot if you can imagine an advanced enough robot.”
Martin says that when he goes onstage, he’s never certain which jokes will get laughs. “The whole thing is probabilistic. If you tour, and you’ve done a joke a bunch of times, you get a sense: Oh, this joke works 80 percent of the time, this works 90 percent, this works 50 percent. It’s the uncertainty—it’s like quantum physics. In a sense.”
Martin grew up in New Jersey. His middle-class Greek family owned a diner; his father (now deceased) was a Greek Orthodox priest, his mother a nutritionist. He expected to become a corporate lawyer—a big leap for his family—and went straight from Yale to NYU Law School on a scholarship. But he found law school boring. “I was skateboarding a lot, I was skipping classes, I started drawing and painting—stuff I never really did.” Instead of studying for finals, he found himself “writing fart jokes.”
After two years, over the objections of his family, he left school and took temp jobs so he could focus on comedy. As his act developed, he started experimenting: he learned guitar and began playing onstage, and he added a segment with drawings on a large notepad. In five appearances on Last Call with Carson Daly, he has screened gags on an overhead projector, prerecorded his jokes on a cassette player, and brought his grandmothers onstage to tell jokes for him—but he has opened his mouth only once.
Now Martin is an established figure, verging on celebrity. Unusually for a comedian, he’s even becoming a sex symbol. He looks much younger than his 34 years, with a lanky frame, a pleasant, boyish face, and a brown mop-top hairdo. At his shows, enraptured female fans scream out their love. Several enthusiastic followers have proposed marriage via the Internet.
But success doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. He says he’s still learning. “Woody Allen said, 'The audience teaches you how you’re funny.' And it’s true. If you pay attention, they guide you. They shape the thing that you’re making. It always keeps you down to earth, because if you think you’re cool, you’re really funny, all you gotta do is bomb.”
You Can Quote Them
In the Yale Book of Quotations, I sought to bring a new kind of research to the quotations field by questioning all received wisdom about the origins of quotations. I have tried to get to the bottom of the years of quoting and requoting, attributing and misattributing, by making use of state-of-the-art online resources and extensive networks of researchers around the world. This enterprise did not stop with the publication of the book. Every week brings new discoveries and information from readers. Below, and in the next few installments of this column, I present some of the post-publication revelations.
“Too rich or too thin”
In my book, I attributed “You can’t be too rich or too thin” to Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, because the earliest evidence I found was a 1970 newspaper article crediting her. The duchess was the cause of King Edward VIII’s abdication. Her own life was devoted to being, well, too rich and too thin.
Recently, further searching yielded a 1969 Los Angeles Times article quoting socialite Babe Paley: “A woman can never be too rich or too thin.” (Babe’s father was Yale professor Harvey Cushing, Class of 1891, the pioneer of neurosurgery.) Paley thus takes priority over the duchess as a possible coiner.
But an older article, published October 15, 1967, in the Chicago Tribune, puts both attributions in doubt—though it provides no alternative: “‘A woman can never be too rich or too thin,’ said one of the Beautiful People as reported by Suzy Knickerbocker last spring.” Knickerbocker (pseudonym of Aileen Mehle) was a columnist for the New York Daily News; I have not so far found her original column.
“The butler did it”
The quintessential solution of all mystery stories is usually traced to Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1930 novel, The Door. The phrase does not appear in that book, but the guilty party is the butler. In researching the YBQ, the earliest occurrence I found (Kansas City Star, March 30, 1930) referred to Rinehart.
But I have now found a usage in the Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail of October 26, 1929—too early for The Door to be the model. And a comic novel of 1922 suggests the phrase was already a cliché, and a joke, by then. In Jiminy, a Gothic spoof by Gilbert Wolf Gabriel, the title character and her husband write their landlord to ask about the decor of a cottage. He replies that a former employee handled it. “‘He knows nothing—,’ gasped Jiminy,” and her husband says, “His ex-butler did it!”
“A dark and stormy night”
One of the pastimes of Charles M. Schulz’s Snoopy was sitting on top of his doghouse typing a novel, always with the first line “It was a dark and stormy night.” These are the opening words of an 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (commemorated annually in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for the most memorably bad first sentence of an imaginary novel).
Now, however, etymologist Barry Popik has found new information. On the listserv of the American Dialect Society, Popik explained: “It appears that ‘it was a dark and stormy night in winter’ was the standard start to a story in the 1820s. … The oft-reprinted Dutch short tale, ‘Jan Schalken’s Three Wishes,’ dates before 1830 and seems to have popularized ‘dark and stormy night.’” The earliest use Popik located was a story in the Saturday Magazine, June 20, 1822.
Roots, now on the web
If you’re a fan of American roots culture, but you’re on a tight deadline, by all means avoid paying a visit to www.folkstreams.net. Folkstreams, created in 2000 by documentary filmmaker Tom Davenport '61, is a repository of more than 80 videos about North American and world folklore and folklife. The films range in length from a few minutes to more than an hour, and anyone with an Internet connection can view them all for free. It’s easy to lose track of time watching documentaries about preaching in the Virginia Blue Ridge, logging in backwoods Maine, eating salamanders at a Pennsylvania frat house, and singing the blues in the Mississippi Delta.
Davenport, who farms 1,000 acres in northern Virginia and these days is making a series of films about small-farming practices, started Folkstreams “out of frustration that so much good documentary material was so hard to find, if it was available at all.” He also wanted a place to showcase his own work, beginning with documentaries he made in the 1970s on the Shakers and the medicine show performer “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson.
Davenport’s parents exposed him early to folk music, and he found his musical home at Yale in the Saturday night campus hootenannies. Art student John Cohen '55BFA, '57MFA, and math teacher Tom Paley '52MA, both musicians, had started the hootenannies—freewheeling concerts of blues, old-time ballads, and protest songs accompanied by acoustic guitars and banjos—in 1953.
Cohen, who was also a filmmaker, inspired Davenport’s interest in creating movies about cultural traditions. In 1970, Davenport, equipped with a bulky 16-millimeter movie camera, visited Shaker communities in New Hampshire and Maine. Films on country musicians, mountain life, rural churches, and John Cohen himself followed. The films were never moneymakers. Davenport’s farm—his father bought the land at $50 per acre in the 1950s—kept him going, as well as a more-commercial series in the 1970s, live-action adaptations of the Grimms' fairy tales.
Davenport began developing Folkstreams in 2000. As a host for the site, he eventually chose iBiblio, a huge collection of public-domain material maintained and made available online by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The site now streams between 500 and 1,000 video viewings every day. It’s not just for traditionalists: a new title, Let the World Listen Right, focuses on hip-hop and the blues in Mississippi. The most popular film currently is one of Davenport’s own: Born for Hard Luck, on singer and harmonica player Sam Jackson. Music from that film was used in the soundtrack of the movie Amelie.
Originally Davenport had hoped his website would help filmmakers make money through sales of copies to viewers. But Folkstreams never became lucrative. Hardly anyone, “save Ken Burns, is making money creating documentaries,” says Bill Ferris, a UNC folklore professor and former director of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “It’s more an act of sheer love, and even when you can come up with the financing to finish a film, it tends to have a very limited life cycle and reach only the smallest audience.” Ferris is a filmmaker himself—one of his early efforts featured B. B. King, in Ferris’s own classroom when he taught at Yale in the '70s—and he has eight titles on the site. “Folkstreams opens up the possibility of truly global interest in your work,” he says. “It’s been a godsend for filmmakers.”
Davenport points to a larger mission. He notes that Our Lives In Our Hands, a 1986 documentary about Native American basketmakers in Maine, was picked up recently by Micmac Indian teenagers interested in learning the craft. “These films are resources,” Davenport argues. “We have seed banks for rare plants as a hedge against ecological disaster. Folkstreams.net is a kind of seed bank to prevent cultural disaster.”
Love and Hell
At least since Romeo and Juliet, one of the most predictable formulas of Western literature is that opposites attract, often to deadly effect. American society is not divided anymore into warring families (unless of course you count the Bushes and the Clintons). Rather than bloodlines, political and religious commitments divide us into Capulets and Montagues. So it should not be surprising that an American writer has now given us a novel about the intimate entanglements of Blue Staters and Red Staters—Bible believers intent on breaking down the wall separating church and state, and secularists hell-bent on reinforcing it.
Tom Perrotta '83 came to public attention through Election, a 1998 novel about warring high school cliques that became a popular film starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. In The Abstinence Teacher (which is also being made into a movie), he takes on the grown-up equivalent: the ongoing culture wars between religious conservatives and secular liberals.
The title of this novel would seem to promise a story about the strict moral ethos of evangelical Protestantism—more particularly the abstinence pledges of born-again groups such as True Love Waits. But the story revolves as much around the soccer field as it does around the drama of the virginity pledge.
Ruth Ramsey, one of the novel’s two protagonists, is a soccer mom and sex education teacher who believes “the Christian Right is taking over this entire country.” Given her personal creed that “Pleasure is Good, Shame is Bad, and Knowledge is Power,” it should not be surprising that she prefers condoms to abstinence pledges. This preference makes her suspect in the eyes of the denizens of morality at the local Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth. But then, in a class discussion, one of Ruth’s students turns up her nose at the notion of oral sex, and Ruth tells her, “Some people enjoy it.” Ruth’s principal responds by remanding her to basic training with an honest-to-goodness abstinence teacher.
Sparks fly when Ruth, who has nothing but contempt for “the God of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the Republican Party—the God of War and Abstinence and Shame and Willful Ignorance,” is forced to sit through on-the-job brainwashing by a virginity consultant for whom the only safe sex is no sex. These sparks flare up again on the soccer field, where Tim Mason, a soccer coach and a fairly new convert to Jesus and the Tabernacle, leads his players in prayer after a particularly difficult game.
Among these players is Ruth’s daughter Maggie. When Ruth sees Tim bowing his head and leading his team in prayer, she freaks out, yanking her daughter out of the prayer circle and telling Tim to keep his soul off her child. What follows is a love story of sorts, as Tim starts showing up at Ruth’s doorstep unannounced and Ruth begins to fantasize, as Perrotta puts it, “about making love to a man who wouldn’t rule out the possibility that she was going to hell.”
in my own writing on religion in American culture, I have long observed this paradox: the Religious Right is morally certain that the country is being overrun by the left-wing relativists, while the Secular Left is equally certain that the country is being overrun by right-wing theocrats. Each of the armies in the culture wars is convinced the other side is winning. Both can’t be right, of course. And in fact neither is. But the anxiety on both sides is palpable, and one source of that anxiety is ignorance.
In The Abstinence Teacher, Perrotta seems intent on undercutting the ignorance of many of his readers concerning evangelicals. And to this intention all I can say is “Amen.” Many of my best friends are evangelicals, and none of them ever seems to act the parts that secular critics of their faith assign to them. My born-again friends struggle with doubt and they care about the environment. Sometimes they smoke pot, and often they vote for Democrats.
In this novel, Tim seems like one of them. He struggles mightily to make his second marriage (to a mousy born-again Christian named Carrie) work. But he finds himself drawn against his Jesus judgment to bars and poker games, and wondering whether his next step should be out of his church.
Novels are lies, of course, but the lies they tell should reveal something true about what it is to be human. In this case, one of the truths Perrotta seems intent on revealing is that evangelicals are people too. But most of the evangelical characters in this book do little to upend the stereotypes that New York City writers and readers harbor about them. Pastor Dennis of the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth is a fool and an ideologue. And while the virginity consultant JoAnn Marlow does ride a Harley, she also peddles, as Ruth puts it, “shameless fear-mongering, backed up by half-truths and bogus examples and inflammatory rhetoric.”
So any hope that this book might debunk the stereotypes hangs on Tim, who to Perrotta’s credit is the most fully realized character in the novel. In the end, however, neither Ruth nor Perrotta’s readers are allowed to fall in love with Tim until he falls out of love with Jesus.
There is a genre in religion journalism that might be called the “in-and-out” story. You go into some exotic religious community, participate in their crazy rituals, try to make sense of their nutty beliefs, and in the process tease your reader with the possibility that for some wacky reason you just might “go native.” But in the end it’s just a tease. You need to get back to your friends in the East Village or the Haight, and you need to reassure your readers that they can do the same. Faith, after all, is a foreign country. So as your story comes to an end, you and your readers head home and put away your passports.
The Abstinence Teacher is an in-and-out novel. In the end, Ruth and Tim aren’t a Capulet and a Montague but two Capulets. Rather than upending the Blue Staters' stereotypes, Perrotta massages them. I badly want to read a mainstream novel that depicts my evangelical friends as the human beings they really are. But I haven’t read it yet.
The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child
In 2005, the Yale Alumni Magazine asked Carlo Rotella, an award-winning freelance writer, to produce a feature about the parenting techniques of Alan Kazdin, a leading child psychologist. The resulting September/October cover story, “Breaking the Tantrum Cycle,” was extremely popular among Yalies with children. And Rotella and Kazdin hit it off. Now they have co-written a book that presents, in much greater detail, “a method for changing your child’s behavior that is based on good science.” “Parenting is a craft,” says Kazdin. This simple and eloquent owner’s manual will help any parent do a better job.
“Why do we love Sedaris?” asks Kopelson, a professor of English. In his examination of the comic essayist (which happily includes plenty of extended quotations), Kopelson likens David Sedaris to Marcel Proust—but a contemporary Proust, with the gift of brevity and the prose and timing to make a tour de force out of a subject like his ill-fated job as a Christmas elf.
American Angels: Useful Spirits in the Material World
In the Bible, angels were awesome creatures with the power to lay waste to whole cities. In the modern United States, God’s messengers have been reduced to “mere helpers in ordinary life”—think Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life. Gardella, a scholar of world religions, traces our cultural reshaping of angels and describes how, in America, angels “have retained one consistent characteristic: they have been useful.”
Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back
On August 15, 1790, Martha Ballard, a Maine housewife, prepared a meal of “bakt lamb with string beens and cucumbers” for her family. “Everyone at the table knew exactly where the foods came from,” writes environmental historian Vileisis. But we long ago “denatured” our senses and lost this knowledge. Vileisis explains how the gap developed, how our ignorance can affect the natural world and human health, and how we can change.
Modernism: The Lure of Heresy—from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond
“Astonish me!” So said ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev to his choreographers, and that command, like Ezra Pound’s dictum “Make it new!” summed up the heart and soul of modernism, the cultural movement that began in the nineteenth century as a revolt against the conventions of art, literature, drama, music, dance, and architecture. Gay offers a guided tour of modernism and its luminaries: Mondrian, Picasso, Proust, Woolf, Eliot, Stravinsky, and Wright, to name a few.
David Plowden: Vanishing Point—Fifty Years of Photography
For the last half-century, Plowden has been crisscrossing America on a mission to take black-and-white pictures of what’s about to disappear: steam trains, iron bridges, and the rural way of life. The images are reproduced exquisitely in this coffee-table retrospective of the photographer’s career. Plowden offers insights into the American character: “what has been lost and maybe what kind of world we are creating.”
More Books by Yale Authors
Bruner 1971 and Sean D. Carr
Buckley 1992 and Chris Ward
Campbell 1980, Matthew Pratt Guterl, and Robert G. Lee, Editors
Dunn 1976, 1985PhD
Friedlander 1963, 1967JD
Geiger 1990, 1994MArch
Hachigian 1989 and Mona Sutphen
Harshav, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Professor of Hebrew Language and
Kamensky 1985, 1993PhD
Kossek 1987PhD and Brenda A. Lautsch
Lawrence 1972PhD and Aisha Karim, Editors
Sanders McDonald 1992MArch
Peter B. Panagore 1986MDiv
1998, Paige Adams-Geller, and Ashley Borden
Rivers 1989PhD, Editor and Translator
Roosevelt III 1997JD
Steffen 2008MBA, 2008MArch, and Nina Rappaport, Editors
Teevan 1998BS and William Jones
Whitman, the Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law
Dien Winfield 1972, 1977PhD
Woolston, MD, 1970, the Albert J. Solnit Professor of Child Psychiatry and
Pediatrics; Jean A. Adnopoz 1981MPH, Associate Clinical Professor, Child Study
Center; and Steven J. Berkowitz, MD, Assistant Professor, Child Study Center
Bernard Yeazell 1971PhD, the Chace Family Professor of English
Zalesne 1987 and Mark Penn
Colorful Impressions: The Printmaking Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France
Yale University Art Gallery
Ninety-five images, many presented in multiple impressions or alongside related drawings, celebrate the period in France when new engraving and etching techniques first enabled the production of full-color prints from four basic colors.
Written by Johann Strauss Jr., Die Fledermaus is one of the most-performed operas in North America. Yale Opera’s production, in German with English dialogue, will be staged at the Shubert Theatre. Contact the Shubert for tickets.
British Orientalist Painting, 1830-1925
Center for British Art
The dynamic relationship between nineteenth-century British artists and the Islamic world of the Near and Middle East is the focus of an exhibition that explores the major genres, themes, and preoccupations of Orientalist painting. Approximately 80 paintings, prints, and drawings depict sites and subjects of interest to British artists of the time.
Metaphor Taking Shape: Poetry, Art, and the Book
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
A display of some 200 books explores the ways in which poets, publishers, artists, and printers have navigated the intersection of poetry and art in printed formats.
©1992–2012, Yale Alumni Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Yale Alumni Magazine, P.O. Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org