Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Atticus Golden Jubilee

Yes it was fifty years ago "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published. This is a big deal in the literary world.

It's a darned well written novel, very controversial subject in its day.

So yeah, the golden jubilee of "To Kill a Mockingbird" is subject of discussion in the literary world. Bunch of smart folks are saying very interesting things. Here's what they're missing...

By 1960, US culture wasn't any more a place where books had big impact. If one wants to see TKM's real legacy in the culture, got to look at the movie version. Very few films can rightly be called flawless, but screen treatment of TKM belongs on that list. Millions of people who'd never purchased a book in their lives saw that movie in 1962, and it changed our culture in a very real way.

See? Lots of regions in the nation were far removed geographically or demographically from the South, and issues of race. Those people just couldn't relate; they saw the news, but they didn't feel empathy. Watching Harper Lee's story play out on a movie screen gave a lot of Americans, well, skin in the game.

That's about exactly what happened with "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 1852. In a very real way, that book helped start the War Between Brothers. Northerners internalized a well crafted fiction, and began to empathize with people far away, in very different lives.

So the movie "To Kill a Mockingbird" was a big part in a culture change. It made people all over the US more favorable on the Civil Rights legislation of 1964.

Interesting ripples in the cinema world too. Gregory Peck won best actor Oscar for his performance as Atticus. Well, who won the following year? Sidney Poitier, for "Lilies of the Field." First black performer to ever win best actor.

So TKM is a work that challenges one to empathize, and empathize they did. In part, it led to societal rifts being healed.

Thank you Harper Lee, thank you Atticus, thank you Tom Robinson.

I gotta get back to hard news now. Starting to sound like 'New Yorker' magazine or something!!!