Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tell us about Washington, son - Is it run by a bunch of crooks?

            It’s funny how political humor from 60 years ago could still stand up today.  Li’l Abner was a fairly subversive political satire when it started running in the 1930s, the “Doonesbury” of its day.  Like Lucy and Desi’s baby a few years later, the marriage of Abner Yokum and Daisy Mae Scragg was a huge media event in 1952.  In 1956 it was turned into a Broadway musical, with a fine score by Johnny Mercer and Gene DePaul, and a villainous plutocrat called General Bullmoose (“He makes the rules and he intends to keep it that-a way / What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA”).

            The most famous song is about Jubilation T. Cornpone (unshaven and shorn-pone!), but the most amazing thing is the Foucaultian eugenics song, sung by the government’s scientists:

Fellow scientists!  What delicious conformity!  Imagine – all reactions completely, utterly, precisely alike!  Think of the unbounded horizons of science!  When we can make all mankind look, act, think, feel, hope, desire, dream, buy and sell, inhale and exhale, exactly alike!

Oh, happy day, when miracles take place
And scientists control the human race,
When we assume authority of human chromosomes,
And assembly-line women, conveyor-belt men, settle down in push-button homes.

Oh, happy day, when all the cells conform
And the exceptional becomes the norm,
When from a test-tube we produce gargantuas or gnomes,
And assembly-line babies, conveyor-belt storks, only come to push-button homes.

So much of this, so much of that for the ears and eyes,
So much of that, so much of this for the toes and thighs.
Pour in a pot, stir up the lot, that's the basic plan,
What have we got? I'll tell you what: We've got man-made man!

Oh, happy day, when we can choose their looks
From formulae in scientific books
And add their personalities from psychiatric tomes
And assembly-line women, conveyor-belt men, settle down in push-button homes.


But what is inspiring this blog entry is the song describing the government after Li’l Abner visits DC for the first time.  Here is a clip from the 1959 film version of the musical, which retained the male Broadway principals, but not the females (Leslie Parrish for Edie Adams as Daisy Mae, and Stella Stevens for Tina Louise as Appassionata von Climax, but notably retaining the immortal Julie Newmar as Stupefyin’ Jones).  The indented material was deleted from the movie, but it’s all still amazingly resonant.


Them city folks and we’uns
Are purdy much alike
Though they ain't used to living in the sticks.
We don't like stone or ce-ment
But we is in agree-ment
When we gets down to talking politics

The country's in the very best of hands, the best of hands, the best of hands

The treasury says the national debt is climbing to the sky,
And government expenditures have never been so high,
It makes a feller get a gleam of pride within his eye
To see how our economy expands.
The country's in the very best of hands

The country's in the very best of hands, the best of hands, the best of hands.

[You oughtta hear the senate when they’re drawing up a bill
Whereases and to-wits are crowded in each codicil
Such legal terminology would give your heart a thrill
There's phrases there that no one understands
The country's in the very best of hands

The building boom, they say, is getting bigger every day
And when I asked a feller “How could everybody pay?”
He come up with an answer that made everything okay:
“Supplies are getting greater than demands.”
The country's in the very best of hands

Don't you believe them congressmen and senators are dumb
When they run into problems that is tough to overcome
They just declares a thing they calls a “moratorium”:
The upper and the lower house disbands.
The country's in the very best of hands.]

The farm bill should be eight-nine percent of parity.
Another fellow recommends It should be ninety-three.
But eighty, ninety-five percent, who cares about degree,
It's parity that no one understands!
The country's in the very best of hands

Us voters is connected to the nominee,
The nominee's connected to the treasury,
When he ain't connected to the treasury,
He sets around on his thigh bone.

They sets around in this place they got,
This big congressional parking lot,
Just sets around on their you-know-what,
Up there, they calls it their thigh bone.

Them bones, them bones gonna rise again
Gonna exercise the franchise again
Gonna tax us up to our eyes again
When they gets ‘em off’n their thigh bone

The country's in the very best of hands, the best of hands, the best of hands

Them GOP's and democrats each hates the other one.
They's always criticizing how the country should be run.
But neither tells the public what the other’s gone and done.
As long as no one knows where no one stands,
The country's in the very best of hands

[They sits around in this place they’re at,
Where folks in Congress has always sat
Just sits around on their excess fat,
Up there they calls it their thigh bone

They sits around till they starts to snore
Jumps up and hollers “I has the floor!”
Then sits right down where they sat before.
Up there they calls it their thigh bone.

Them bones, them bones gonna rise again
So dignified and so wise again
While the budget doubles in size again
When it gets them off of their thigh bone

The country's in the very best of hands the best of hands, the best of hands]

The money that they taxes us, that's known as revenues.
They compounds the collaterals,  subtracts the residues.
Don't worry about the principal and interest that accrues,
They're shipping all that stuff to foreign lands
The country's in the very best of hands


So here’s the genetics question:  Which of the actors in that clip do I share 12.5% of my DNA with, by descent,  including my Y chromosome?  I’ll  give you a hint, it’s my father’s father’s brother.  No, it’s not Peter Palmer (Abner), and it’s not Stubby Kaye (Marryin’ Sam). 
            Watch carefully when Pappy Yokum says “Tell us about the government, all them crooks!” at 0:59.  See the resemblance? 
            All right, this is like Hamlet convincing Polonius to see camels and whales in the clouds.  I might as well be related to Julie Newmar.  But that’s Joe E. Marks.  He was in several things:  He played Smee in the Mary Martin – Cyril Ritchard  “Peter Pan” and he was the first person on camera in the Lesley Ann Warren  - Rodgers & Hammerstein “Cinderella”.  You can also hear him here, in the 1965 musical, “Flora, The Red Menace” which was Liza Minnelli’s first Broadway lead:


And I still have her autograph, from when we went backstage and met her.  I think it was just before 3M invented invisible tape.



Al Capp, the cartoonist who drew Li’l Abner, was quite a douchebag in real life, no matter what his politics.  Although his politics were progressive in first few decades of Li’l Abner, he swung to the right as the country moved to the left.  Here he chats with John and Yoko, and sounds almost like Eric Cartman.  At the time, he and John Lennon were about equally famous, and both were more famous than you-know-who.  




Oddly, although alkaptonuria was one of the first diseases shown to be inherited genetically, he didn’t have it.


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