Monday, April 15, 2013

Call it a refreshing reaction to repulsive attitude once mistaken for acceptable

I was at a theater this weekend with one of those types of crowds that insists on talking back to the screen. Or maybe I was just seated right in the middle of a group of a dozen people who were particularly vocal about their reactions.

We all were watching “42,” the new film that purports to give us the story of Jackie Robinson’s beginning in baseball back in the years following the Second World War.

THE FILM HAS the potential for controversy because the producers didn’t go out of their way to couch the ways in which southern ballplayers and fans (both Yankee and Dixie) were blunt in their use of epithets and other means of expressing their displeasure with the breakdown of the major leagues as a white-only entity.

I have no doubt that such words really were used. In fact, there was hardly anything in the film’s facts that hadn’t been documented excessively elsewhere. This film does not give us any new information or different understanding of the facts.

It does depict anecdotes that we have all had the opportunity to read for decades. I suppose for people who don’t want to read and need things visualized, this film is a plus.

So for me, the intriguing part of seeing this film was literally listening to the reactions of the people sitting around me. They were appalled at so much of what came from the mouths of actors portraying Dodger ballplayers Dixie Walker and Kirby Higbe and Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman.

I CAN’T RECALL the last time I heard so much booing and hissing and chants of “You suck!” being hurled at the screen every time somebody said something scurrilous, scandalous or just downright mean and vile!

And no, this wasn’t in a movie theater in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. I’m sure at least a few of the people who were in attendance were amongst the types of individuals who believe that racism is something that certain people in our society exaggerate in order to gain something for themselves at the expense of the greater good! (My fingers feel like they went to the toilet just typing up that line of hooey).

To see that so many were so offended at a reminder of just how blunt and guttural the racist expressions once were is truly evidence of how much our society has changed for the better. Perhaps we need more reminders of what “Jim Crow” once was to keep us from reverting back as a society?

If anything, that scene where actor Alan Tudyk (who portrayed Chapman) is the part that will forevermore stick in my mind. The endless flow of slurs – taken from what really happened when Brooklyn first played the Phillies in ’47 – sticks in my mind more than anything actor Chadwick Boseman said or did while portraying Robinson himself.

PERSONALLY, I WONDER if those people who wanted to make a campaign issue back in 2008 about Barack Obama and his family once being members of a congregation presided over by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (he who has been captured on video saying “God Damn America”) have second thoughts.

Since what Wright was expressing anger over with such rhetoric was a society that once thought people like Chapman were completely acceptable – and ones who bought into the explanation that Chapman really did give to reporters to explain his on-field rhetoric.

That ballplayers like Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio were able to “laugh about it” when they were hit with on-field taunts for being Jewish and Italian, respectively. Anybody who has ever read anything about Greenberg, at least, knows he didn’t think it was humorous.

We are now able to look back and see just how ridiculous such trash-thought truly was. Just like last year’s BIG film “Lincoln” made some political interests look downright ignorant for the way they tried defending the institution of slavery.

IF ONLY WE could keep this thought in mind – how will people some 50 years from now look back at us when they have to think about an issue such as gay marriage, or perhaps the immigration reform spectacle?

Which means Jackie Robinson’s life story may still be teaching us some life’s lessons – or at least more than the 1950 film “The Jackie Robinson Story,” notable only because it starred Robinson as himself in a fictionalized account of his life.


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