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Mitch Wagner's Whig History
http://www.heinleinsociety.org/thsnexus/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=1030
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Author:  RobertPearson [ Wed May 11, 2011 1:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Mitch Wagner's Whig History

I found the time to read some of the Tor.com commentary on the biography. While much was interesting, some was misguided and a little was just foolish, IMHO.

This bit made me snort with derision:

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/08/heinlein-forward-looking-diversity-advocate-or-sexist-bigot-yes
Heinlein is to be admired as a pioneer in espousing ethnic and gender equality, but he wasn't perfect. He was a man of his period, and his period fell short of our own. We shouldn't be too smug, because we're going to be judged by future generations the same way that we judge Heinlein.

"He was a man of his period, and his period fell short of our own."

In what respect, Mitch? In that it wasn't as far along in the march toward the ultimate triumph of political correctness? Yeah sure, in 50 years there will be no countries, nothing to kill or die for and no religion too...

Bollocks.

Some people try to make Heinlein out as something of a "Whig historian" himself, the future gonna be so bright with spaceships and technology we gotta wear shades; but beginning with Stranger and his ability to write what he wanted he portrayed, it seems to me, a fascinating mixture of progress and dystopia. There is travel to Mars, and also a mob that screams for a "nigger necktie" for VMS. There's the nasty prejudice against APs in Friday.

It seems just as possible to me that future generations may look back on us and think we let standards of conduct and decency and propriety slip awfully far, so that they had to clean up our PC mess.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Wed May 11, 2011 3:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mitch Wagner's Whig History

I saw (mostly quoted here) an unbelievable number of unbelievably vapid, biased and just plain stupid comments from the Tor blog, some from people who really should know better (or at least be able to express themselves better). It did nothing much to improve my opinion of Tor or blogs.

I don't have as much of an issue with that sentence, though. Heinlein's formative era - maybe through the 1940s? - did fall short in gender and racial equality, even on superficial levels. He generally transcended the average and even most progressive/liberal thinkers in these areas, but as we're kicking around elsewhere, he didn't completely shed the chains of biased thinking.


This may or may not be a good place to pass along an illustrative story that just happened to me. We've been watching the few DVDs of the old "Barney Miller" series, and the 1970s sensibilities and assumptions can sometimes make your hair stand on end. BM was famous for introducing offbeat characters including openly gay figures... but omigod what caricatures by today's standards. (The real problem for our kids is that they know New York City as a pretty clean, decent, exciting place, so the endless background discussion of it as a near-slum takes a lot of explanation...)

Then they hit a REAL zinger, one that still gives me heart palpitations to think of. The city is broke and laying off cops, so the 12th Precinct is taking its hits. The main characters are standing around wondering how Downtown is deciding who to lay off, and someone (Wojo, I think) says, "Maybe they just go 'eenie, meenie, miney, mo.'" There's a pause, and then Harris (played by Ron Glass) says, "Oh my god, that means I'm next!"

That they would reference something like that, even indirectly, shows a shocking difference in sensibility between 1975 and the last decade or so (at least), within my adult lifetime. So I can see both where Heinlein would have been limited by his formative learning and learned to transcend it... but not fully.

Author:  RobertPearson [ Wed May 11, 2011 4:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mitch Wagner's Whig History

James, are you an Admin? I may have made an error in placing this in Bio Discussion area. Maybe it ought to go in RAH Discussion. I would like to say more on this but it's OT to the biography.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Wed May 11, 2011 4:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mitch Wagner's Whig History

I used to be an admin. Then the real aliens landed and it wasn't funny any more... :)

This is loosely tied to the bio. If it drifts too far overall, David can move it. Continue.

Author:  RobertPearson [ Wed May 11, 2011 4:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mitch Wagner's Whig History

JamesGifford wrote:
This is loosely tied to the bio. If it drifts too far overall, David can move it. Continue.

Okay then... ;)
JamesGifford wrote:
Then they hit a REAL zinger, one that still gives me heart palpitations to think of. The city is broke and laying off cops, so the 12th Precinct is taking its hits. The main characters are standing around wondering how Downtown is deciding who to lay off, and someone (Wojo, I think) says, "Maybe they just go 'eenie, meenie, miney, mo.'" There's a pause, and then Harris (played by Ron Glass) says, "Oh my god, that means I'm next!"

What I am driving at is that the thing that gives you heart palpitations may not represent some kind of advance on 1975, or Heinlein circa 1948, at all. Instead of future attitudes being a continuum toward the End of the History of Noticing Differences, our g-g-grandchildren may very well think that this era was utterly obsessed with race/creed/nationality/LGBT stuff. They may very well laugh at Polish jokes and gay jokes and other sterotypes.

I remember Barney Miller--the sequence you mention was making fun of that old schoolyard rhyme. Today, South Park makes good dirty fun of every sacred cow in sight, and that's why it's so damn funny.

No one can "fully transcend" their cultural milieu, not even RAH. But he saw farther than others, and realized that it's all very temporary.

Author:  holmesiv [ Sat May 28, 2011 4:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Mitch Wagner's Whig History

I sometimes think what you might call Heinlein's "sexism" kinda depends on what story you're reading.
For the most part, Heinlein was very much into the progress of women and their acceptance as more than just harlots and mothers by society. I think you can find examples of this going way back in the RAH canon, but let me just mention "If This Goes On." Maggie is one of the strongest female characters Heinlein ever wrote; maybe could even beat Friday at arm wrestling.
On the other hand, the guy was a writer of popular fiction, and as such, had few qualms about using stereotypes when it suited his purpose. Case in point, a later story: The Star Beast. Both Betty and Mrs. Stuart are the worst kind of female stereotypes -- and RAH used them in a book that he obviously wrote to combat notions of racial stereotypes!
I think you have to consider what he wrote about women from the 70s on before you can begin to try to figure out the man's attitude toward women (even though at the beginning of this post I urged you to take into consideration a 1941 work.)

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