Family Issues

Ripping Yarns for Orientalist Boys

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It spent most of last year perched atop the bestseller list in Britain, and now the American version of The Dangerous Book for Boys, a Tom Brown's Schooldays for the modern lad, is mirroring its success (It's currently number three on Amazon's bestseller list). reason's Cathy Young recently noted that bloviaters on the right—most notably that intrepid gender expert Rush Limbaugh—are heaping praise on the book for its supposed reassertion of traditional gender roles. Or something. Now it's time for the other side to weigh in. Over at The Nation, a priggish Katha Pollitt warns parents that the book promotes sexist, racist and colonialist attitudes.

Take the militaristic nostalgia (even for the imperialist Battle of Rorke's Drift against the Zulus, and the pointless slaughter of Balaclava and the Somme). When I raised this issue in a radio debate on NPR's On Point, Conn Iggulden suggested that battles appealed to boys longing to test themselves–but why these battles, and why (Greece and Rome excepted) always told from the Anglo side?…Rosa Parks was courageous. Frederick Douglass was courageous. In fact, black history is full of heroes, but people of color barely appear in The Dangerous Book. Maybe the Igguldens think black boys don't need a book like this–they're already dangerous.

It hasn't occurred to Pollitt that perhaps, to use the nomenclature of The Nation, she is being a mite Amerocentric. While this American adaptation removes some particularly British references—excising a section on cricket and adding one on the Navajo code talkers, for instance—The Dangerous Book is still a distinctly British affair. It's unashamedly misty-eyed take on the recent past is chock-full of RAF heroes (the British, not German, variety) and hagiographic treatments of Duke of Wellington-types. And while Rosa Parks is indeed a great American hero, she would, it seems, be slightly out of place in this volume.

Check out Pollitt debating Dangerous Book author Conn Iggluden, who seems both bemused and irritated at being pegged as the 21st century mix of Field Marshall Haig and Bobby Riggs. And for a children's book that would surely please the Nation-reading parent, there is always this .


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  1. Also, Rosa Parks didn’t stab anyone with a bayonette or defeat her enemies in hand-to-hand combat.

  2. British war heroes? I didn’t realize this was a fantasy book.

  3. “Also, Rosa Parks didn’t stab anyone with a bayonette or defeat her enemies in hand-to-hand combat.”

    Neither did Mohandas Gandhi…

  4. I shouldn’t, but I just gotta: what the heck does that mean, Dan T.?

  5. Conn Iggluden … pegged as a 21st century mix of Field Marshall Haig and Bobby Riggs.

    Namechecking Bobby Riggs! Ahhh there’s a blast from the past. Bobby’s infamous image was entirely the product of his own creation. Bobby was far more colorful and talented than most people are aware of.

    Well worth a look
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Riggs

  6. Could we throw both Rush Limbaugh and Katha Pollitt on the maggot pile?

  7. And while Rosa Parks is indeed a great American hero, she would, it seems, be slightly out of place in this volume.

    Isn’t that begging the question? I haven’t listened to the interview, but the post suggests that the problem with the book is that Rosa Parks would be out of place, although not because she’s an American.

  8. Russ 2000,

    I’d rather mate them and create and race of superidiots that could roam the Earth arguing with themselves.

  9. If I had read this book when I was a boy, back in the fifties, I would have considered it totally candy ass, about as exciting as Bible camp. You know what’s dangerous? Drugs, sex, and rock and roll, that’s what’s dangerous. Why don’t the Igguldens write about that? And maybe fast cars, hand guns, and booze. This is Boy Scout shit. And you know what Scout founder Baden-Powell liked doing? Skinny-dipping with the lads. Manly, my ass!

  10. I’d rather mate them and create and race of superidiots that could roam the Earth arguing with themselves.

    We have that already. They’re called politicians.

  11. Britain’s highest military decoration, the
    Victoria Cross, has been awarded more than 1,300 times since 1856. Surely some of these recepients are true heroes, not just guys who slaughtered poorly armed wogs from 300 yards with machine guns.

  12. Taktix?,

    Clearly, you never saw Gandhi II.

  13. and the pointless slaughter of Balaclava and the Somme

    Bear in mind that:

    a)Britain won both those wars.

    b)Both of them were fought against someone else’s “imperialist aggression”.

  14. And you know what Scout founder Baden-Powell liked doing? Skinny-dipping with the lads.

    Baden-Powell was not a pederast. He did, however, come to recognize that the Scouting movement attracted pederasts, and he attempted to keep them out (without a lot of success, unfortunately). See Scout’s Honor, by Patrick Boyle.

  15. Good ol’ Katha Pollit. If she didn’t exist conservatives would have had to invent her. A more spectacular example of knee-jerk leftism and left-feminism I have yet to see. Granted, my expsoure has not been especialy broad or deep, thank God.

    I recall an issue of the Nation where Kucinish was praised to the skies by Studs Terkel, followed by an issue where Pollit took Dennis to task for the audacity to be pro-life. didn’t matter to her that Dennis was otherwise a lefty’s wet dream. He had been pro-life, and the meant he had to hate women, or something.

    Guess she wasn’t the only one that felt that way, since within a week or two Kucinich had “rethought” his abortion stance.

  16. Clearly, Ms. Pollit needs a strong and dominant man around.

  17. Jammer,

    Don’t call her a broad. 🙂

  18. “One of the surest signs of his genius is that women dislike his books.” – George Orwell on Joseph Conrad.

  19. the imperialist Battle of Rorke’s Drift against the Zulus

    Rorke’s drift was pretty heroic by any standards. The “primitive” zulus had just slaughtered over a thousand British troops and their allies. About 5,000 Zulus moved in on the small hospital at Rorke’s drift intend on wiping them out. 139 Brits, many who were sick or wounded, defended the outpost, killing over 500 Zulus. All due respect to Rosa Parks, standing up on a bus just isn’t the same.

  20. Alan Vanneman | July 3, 2007, 3:57pm

    And you know what Scout founder Baden-Powell liked doing? Skinny-dipping with the lads. Manly, my ass!

    1. Lord Baden-Powell was a married father of three. As a matter of fact, at age 55 he married a 23-year-old and sired those three children in the span of five years. Manly enough, I’d say.

    2. I’m not much for witch-hunting after homophobia, but it seems to me that you are using the (false) imputation of homosexuality as a proxy for effeminacy.

    3. And please, Mr. Vanneman, let’s leave your ass out of the discussion.

  21. creech | July 3, 2007, 4:11pm | #

    … guys who slaughtered poorly armed wogs from 300 yards with machine guns.

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  22. parse wrote: “Isn’t that begging the question? I haven’t listened to the interview, but the post suggests that the problem with the book is that Rosa Parks would be out of place, although not because she’s an American.”

    Because it’s fucking BORING. She stood up on a bus. Yawn. There’s no Adventure in that!

    Joan of Arc might fit in the theme of the book, or Amelia Earheart but not Rosa Parks. What she did was risky, but not in the appropriate way to fit. Sucks for Pollitt’s pet hero, but where is it written that every work written must stroke every interest group?

    I mean, good lord, grown thalidomide babies demonstrate great fortitude and bravery just getting through life, and just getting dressed is harder than anything A-Rod will do in any given week. But jesus christ, it’s a downer.

  23. Or, to put it another way, it’s the Dangerous Book For Boys.

    Not The Book Of Small Quiet Acts Of Brave Dignity, For Boys.

  24. Flea, while guest-blogging at Feministe, had a much better take on this book.

    Katha Pollit is the product of a wealthy and well-bred Boston family who has never been out much with us in the World of the Unwashed. It’s very easy for hear to condemn something like this book because every other bloody person she’s around already knows all this.. I, who grew up among trailer-park residents, would be thrilled if this book were given out to every parent of a newborn boy, especially parents with lots of tatoos. The part about Latin would be enough.

  25. This is a very dangerous book, and children should be protected from it by any means necessary.
    Within hours of reading just a few chapters, my children planted their flag (a Spongebob pillowcase on a ski pole) and colonized the yard next door.
    Then, they subjugated the neighbor’s children who are now weaving rugs in our garage for export to “the colonies” (Grandma’s house).
    And before dinner, they discriminated against our black lab, making him wait till after the German Shepard had eaten to have his kibble.
    The sun never sets on the Maple Street Empire.

  26. …The Dangerous Book is still a distinctly British affair.

    Presumably it includes such figures as Boudicca or perhaps Aphra Behn then.

    ad,

    The Crimean War was fought in part as a means to maintain the buffer zone between the British Empire’s colonies and Russia’s southern frontier. It was, in other words, part of the Great Game.

  27. So you know when you hear Limbaugh and Coulter make extreme comments about liberals, and you think “Well that’s a generalization, and I’m sure they don’t really think that”? The Nation really thinks that.

  28. Michael’s ellipses (“Conn Iggulden suggested that battles appealed to boys longing to test themselves–but why these battles, and why (Greece and Rome excepted) always told from the Anglo side?…Rosa Parks was courageous. Frederick Douglass was courageous”) drop something useful, but I bet he knew that:

    “I’m sure the Alamo looks rather different to the young Luises and Jesuses of our increasingly multiethnic America. Beyond that, is anyone served when heroism is united with war as an ideal for the young? What about the courage of standing up for justice? Of defying the majority? Of doing what’s right?”

    Also:

    “So you know when you hear Limbaugh and Coulter make extreme comments about liberals, and you think ‘Well that’s a generalization, and I’m sure they don’t really think that”? The Nation really thinks that.'”

    Really thinks what, exactly? That valor in battle isn’t the most useful yardstick for courage we can provide our children? I’m a former paratrooper, and I’m proud of that. But if my son decides he wants to go “test himself” against some measure of courage, I’m going to see to it that he’s got a broader definition to consider than the one I was chasing when I decided to earn my jump wings.

    Pollit:

    “Playing up and playing the game, moreover, brought both nations the fiasco in Iraq. But then, as the British tend to forget, Captain Scott–brave, but ill prepared and amateurish and hampered by exactly the simplistic public-schoolboy mores promoted here–was a failure too. It was the clever, careful, modest Norwegian Amundsen who got to the South Pole first and lived to tell the tale. Maybe life isn’t like a game of cricket after all.”

    Typical pussy liberal. Limbaugh and Coulter are right to call them traitors, eh, Dave?

  29. Captain Scott–brave, but ill prepared and amateurish…

    So Pollitt believes that, eh? Well, it has been the popular view for years but more recent research has shown that in, fact Scott’s expedition was one of the most professional, well-organized and well-equipped ever. However even with the best meteorologist in Britain they could not predict the unseasonably cold weather that they encountered.

    In fact, Shackleton appears to be the one who was unprepared and survived partly through dumb luck. That and a whole lot of perseverance and bravery as well.

    Katha Pollit is the product of a wealthy and well-bred Boston family who has never been out much with us in the World of the Unwashed.

    That could describe just about any member of what passes for “the left” in America today. Almost any other country for that matter I suppose.

    The days when the leaders of the left had working class roots are long gone. On balance that’s not such a bad thing when one considers how nativist and racist such people tended to be.

  30. Isaac,

    While some of Scott’s problems can be blamed on unusually inclimate weather (or rather, weather more inclimate than usual), if the man-hauling that Scott’s team had to endure is any indication, then they were far less prepared and less professional than Admundsen’s team, which used dogs.

  31. Why those things and not others? Because it’s HIS bloody book! Write your own, lady!

    Really, it’s that simple, not to mention that she makes his point perfectly:

    1) The PC nannies have kept kids from reading about things like Rorke’s Drift, all they get is Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.

    2) Your book has imperialist racist stuff like Rorke’s Drift in it! Why don’t you have Rosa Parks or Harriet Tubman?

    I’m going to watch Zulu with my child tonight…

  32. “The PC nannies have kept kids from reading about things like Rorke’s Drift, all they get is Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.”

    *snort*

    Some day conversational archaeologists will consider mention of “PC nannies,” “thought police,” “gestapo,” etc. like a geologist might think of a particularly novel, if short-lived & evolutionarily unproductive, geological age.

    “Ah, look! Here we have mention of ‘PC thought crime.’ The middle class of this era was very concerned with the evolutionary threat posed by comparative literature professors and eco-pacifist readers of ‘The Nation.’ They sought to remedy the threat by deprogramming their children with repeated viewings of valorized imperial battle epics. Their children responded by becoming comparative literature majors. The gun industry died, but spirulina farmers had record sales and ushered in what we now refer to as ‘The Soy Age.’ All the boys grew man-boobs and died off. As you’re all aware, the penis remains illegal.”

    Or something. Damn PC thought nannies.

  33. Maybe you ought to go look at a school textbook– and the process by which such things get adopted– before you go flailing so wildly at the straw men that inhabit your vivid imagination.

    It is absolutely possible to grow up being intimately acquainted with Harriet Tubman’s life while having no idea who Ulysses S. Grant is. This is not, in itself, a completely bad thing. I have no problem with a broader view of history that brings Ms. Tubman in, far from it. But the idea that the one book published in the last 30 years to stress battles is somehow missing something by not having her as well is a perfect example of nannyism in practice. The answer isn’t changing his book to meet your preconceptions, it’s making your kid read two books! Or even more, believe it or not!

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