Comedy and Cultural Critique in American Film

By Ryan Bishop | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
The Unspeakable and Political
Satire: Performance, Perception
and Technology

Other dogs bite their enemies. I bite my friends to save them.

Diogenes of Sinope

‘Jack, Jack,’ I said. ‘You don’t want to do it. Remember what happened to the guy
who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima? He went crazy!’

‘That asshole? He was not properly brainwashed. I,’ he said with great pride,
‘have been properly brainwashed.’

Spalding Gray, in Swimming to Cambodia

In the early part of the 1910s in the US, a small but influential movement to eliminate Darwinism and evolution from public education started to gain some legislative momentum, eventually resulting in laws forbidding such instruction and ending in one of the great trials of the century: the Scopes Trial of 1925. The trial became a radio and media spectacle featuring two of the best-known orators of the age: populist and perennial presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan and legal star for civil and constitutional rights Clarence Darrow. The two adversaries had once been friends and colleagues but fell out primarily over their religious views. Bryan famously took a swipe at geology, Charles Lyell, what his scientific investigations wrought in relation to the age of the earth, and Church dogma on the matter by saying, ‘Better to trust in the Rock of Ages than to know the age of rocks.’ The trial became a circus, in spite of the seriousness of the legal issues at stake, open-air tents containing preachers contending with hawkers of everything from food to cloth to special occasion goods. In Zelig-like fashion, stores began selling simian-themed items, including the ‘monkey fizz’ drink. Radio and newsreels, in a media frenzy indicative of the age, circulated the entire event. Additionally on offer was a Coney Island sideshow freak with a conical skull named Zip (an obvious reference to the minstrel character, Zip Coon), who was put forward as ‘the Missing Link’.

The missing link in the Great Chain of Being leading from animals

-125-

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