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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dud in the Race

We saw a documentary called Blood in the Face last night. It's a 1991 record of a white supremist convention where they get together in a farmhouse or something, cosplay, and rile each other up with hectoring rhetoric and bogus scholarship about race issues. The thing I found most unsettling about the conventioneers (bearing in mind that many of them were leaders in the white supremacy field) is how superficially normal they seemed. I mean, they were foolish hicks with awful ideas, self-bamboozled with less than rigorous arguments, but if they were to take off the swastikas and keep their hate in their pants they wouldn't seem that different from any number of folks you'll see at the mall. There's a lot of addlepated overweight white people around who are perfectly fine people, many of whom despise racism and bigotry, and I was uneasy about how easily the hardened haters could blend in. I'm more used to the Klan kids I rode with in the bus down Signal Mountain TN every day as a high schooler.

Man, some of those kids were proud, outspoken children of Klansman, and they really wore their white inferiority up front. Faces like Halloween masks. Second and third chins, but no first chins. Adam's apples like whiskery fists. I can't help but feel pity for these products of multigenerational malnutrition and, shall we say, bloodline purity, but is it any wonder The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is such a therapeutic film for me?

Our neighborhood was a well-to-do suburb, but we weren't that far from Byron de la Beckwith, the infamous killer Klansman, who once told an interviewer that he joined the Klan because he applied for membership in every club in town, and The Klan took him (I heard it on Fresh Air (that's as close to sourcing as I get)). Maybe if The Elks or somebody had taken Beckwith it would have turned out better for everyone (except maybe The Elks).

Anyway, the haters in the film are very big on rhetoric and logic that isn't really any less connected to reality than a lot of other ideas that float around, which is pretty troubling. One woman talks about how she didn't get into the racist scene because of hate (she draws a strong distinction between separatism and hate) but because she started going to a white supremist church and picked up the ideas in pretty much the same haphazard way she might have picked up any other batch of ideas if she'd ended up at a different church. She seems harmless, but it turns out her man killed an outspoken Jewish radio jock, so her apparent mildness allowed her to play a dumbed-down Camilla to her Nazi Tony (I actually feel bad comparing The Sopranos to these mooks, but the pattern of self-deluding enabling is similar). Another guy talks about his life from childhood, and it's evident that he's led a hard life with little real parental/moral guidance. And now he dresses up in Nazi bricabrac.

One of my favorite bits is when all the preachers and such are hanging out and one guy who's crazy about pop eyed biblical numerology starts going on a complicated spiel about how numbers in the Bible prove The Race War is immanent (it must be solid logic: it's got math in it!) and the other preachers' expressions go from patient, to trying-to-be-patient, to disgusted. The two most comforting things in the film for me are that

1. not that many people were at the convention, and

2. The finest minds in the White Supremist leadership are dumb guys. Not unusually dumb, though. It gets down to George Carlin's dictum that (paraphrased for delicacy's sake) there's a distinction between being stupid, being full of it, and being nuts. Racists are all three.

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