November 27, 2013

"For his senior thesis, he turned the Bill of Rights into a play. 'I made each amendment into a character...'"

"'The First Amendment is a loudmouth guy who won't shut up. The Second Amendment guy, all he wanted to talk about was his gun collection. Then the 10th Amendment, the one where they say leave the rest for the states to decide, he was a guy with no self-esteem.'"

From the Wikipedia article on David E. Kelley, the TV writer and producer (who made "Ally McBeal," "Boston Legal," and a lot of other shows). The play in question was written while he was an undergrad at Princeton. He later attended Boston University School of Law and was a lawyer before he branched out into TV writing.

How did I end up on that article, of all articles? I got there from the page on Michelle Pfeiffer (who happens to be his wife), and I was reading about her because we were talking about the movie (which I love) "The Witches of Eastwick," which we were talking about because the Susan Sarandon character in that movie is an elementary school music teacher who has some scenes with the band that are reminiscent of the school band scenes in "The Music Man." (Sarandon is inspired by the Devil, and the Music Man is a bit of a devil, a trickster palming off a fake system for kids playing musical instruments.)

And we were talking about "The Music Man" because Meade was singing "'Til There Was You" as a consequence of my asking for more examples of songs about nature seeming to express the feelings of the singer, such as "Close to You," which begins "Why do birds suddenly appear every time you walk near." I rejected "'Til There Was You" as an example of what I was looking for, since it's not a fantasy about nature, but a true statement of the singer's increased awareness of the beauty of nature. "There were birds in the sky/But I never saw them winging/No, I never saw them at all/'Til there was you."

The "Close to You" fantasy is really the same idea, expressed subjectively. The birds seem to appear because love has heightened the singer's awareness of the existence of birds, but she doesn't seem to understand, as does Marian the Librarian (the lovely Shirley Jones, whom you can cause to suddenly appear if you click on that last link, above). The "Close to You" singer (let's pick Karen Carpenter) presents herself as baffled by the phenomenon. She asks "why?" Marian/Shirley is the fully/overly rational woman, the librarian with book-learning of the existence of birds, and she too has some fantasy — the notion of never having seen birds at all before the arrival of love. She means: I never really saw them. Or perhaps: Seeing without the emotional lift of believing that the birds are about this love of mine is not really seeing.

So continue this long train of thought with me as we circle back to the Bill of Rights and talk about the infusion of human emotion into that which is not human. Do you picture the rights as human entities with feelings and motivations, and if you do — or force yourself to do it — is the 10th Amendment a guy with no self-esteem?

I am outraged at the disparagement of the character of the 10th Amendment!
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The man who knows the scope of the job he's been hired to do and doesn't spread himself thin taking over things that other workers have been doing for a long time — and know how to do better — isn't a sad sack. It's the guy with the inferiority complex who feels he's got to take over everything. Mr. 10th Amendment is smart and competent. He knows he's got plenty of important work that needs to be done well, he sticks to that, he has the integrity to resist seeking brownie points for doing extra work, he's not a jerk who can't trust the other workers to do things well enough, and he's not an egomaniac who thinks he's got the one right answer that must be applied to everyone regardless of the different ideas they might have and good experiments they might like to try.

I know you need a villain to pump some drama into your play, but I think in a theater piece about the Bill of Rights, the villain should be the federal government. The rights are all heroes. In my play.

26 comments:

Meade said...

Author!

FleetUSA said...

I would think Mr. 10th Amendment would really be the CEO (or coach) who runs the team knowing that he must delegate everything to others while he maintains the defense and freedom of his company.

You could segue into the movie 10. She certainly controlled the men around her.

Rob said...

Yes, it's a failure by Kelley to appreciate the glory of there being rights that go beyond the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and that those rights nevertheless belong to the people. (In keeping with the philosophy that underlay the Declaration of Independence, these were likely considered to be natural rights.)

Kelley's attitude is similar to the impoverished mentality that holds that all our income belongs to the Government, which kindly forbears to take only a portion of it.

Matt said...

There are religious songs where nature expresses the feelings of the singer. My first thought was "All Creatures of Our God and King." It's not exact, but close.

As for popular music, most of the bird-related songs are analogies (e.g., Freebird: "I'm as free as a bird"). There's Cucurrucu paloma, which talks about a crying bird that is actually a lovelorn soul. It's one of those Spanish songs, like Besame mucho, that are in the periphery of popular culture.

Ann Althouse said...

"Yes, it's a failure by Kelley to appreciate the glory of there being rights that go beyond the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, and that those rights nevertheless belong to the people."

And that's a failure by Rob to appreciate the difference between the 9th Amendment and the 10th Amendment!

Ann Althouse said...

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

That's the 9th.

Note the difference between "rights" and "powers."

Ann Althouse said...

"Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?"

"Like a bird on the wire… I have tried in my way to be free."

MadisonMan said...

I enjoy reading the thoughts and tangents that go into a blog post.

Ann Althouse said...

"I enjoy reading the thoughts and tangents that go into a blog post."

Thanks. There was a point before I asked the question about songs and nature that I wanted to remember… and I just couldn't get all the way back.

There was a lot more to the conversation, involving dreams, learning to sing loud, camp songs, political songs, etc. etc. But I can't remember the link in the chain that got me to that question!

Kirk Parker said...


"but I think in a theater piece about the Bill of Rights, the villain should be the federal government."

"There you go again!" :-)

Irene said...

The type of nature that often conveys emotion in many lyrics is specific: birds!

Now I have "Blackbird" in my head.

Irene said...

But then, there's "Edelweiss."

Krumhorn said...

How about the great Nina Simone song, Feeling Good?

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good,yeah

Fish in the sea you know how I feel
River running free you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree you know how I feel

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don't you know
Butterflies all havin' fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done
That's what I mean
And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
For me

Stars when you shine you know how I feel
Scent of the pine you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good

I'm feeling good


If you want to hear a kick-ass performance, try the Carly Rose Sonnenclar X Factor audition.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BgvBycavWSM&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DBgvBycavWSM

AustinRoth said...

The 10th character should have been written as a closed casket.

:)

Crunchy Frog said...

Why do flies suddenly appear every time you are near?

Broomhandle said...

Jesus, Althouse. Meade must be doing the cooking.

Ann Althouse said...

"Jesus, Althouse. Meade must be doing the cooking."

What does that mean? It was a 2-sided conversation. And people talk while cooking...

Beach Brutus said...

Professor said: "I know you need a villain to pump some drama into your play, but I think in a theater piece about the Bill of Rights, the villain should be the federal government. The rights are all heroes. In my play."

Welcome to the Tea Party!

Howard said...

"The Wind Cries Mary"

After all the jacks are in their boxes,
and the clowns have all gone to bed,
you can hear happiness staggering on down the street,
footprints dress in red.

And the wind whispers Mary.

A broom is drearily sweeping
up the broken pieces of yesterday's life.
Somewhere a Queen is weeping,
somewhere a King has no wife.

And the wind it cries Mary.

The traffic lights they turn blue tomorrow
And shine their emptiness down on my bed,
The tiny island sags downstream
'Cos the life that they lived is dead.

And the wind screams Mary.

Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past,
And with this crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers, "No, this will be the last."

And The Wind Cries Mary.



David said...

In the film version, which is the only one that everyone sees, Mr. 10th Amendment is cut out of the story completely.

"Far too difficult to understand" says the committee of nine directors.

David said...

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

That's the 9th.

Note the difference between "rights" and "powers."



Government is people too. People who govern.

Far too many people who govern now do not accept the limitations natural law and the Constitution impose on them, and forget that whatever powers they have exist only because the people have granted them. Of course that is the nature of people who govern, which is why sometimes the people must rise up against the government.

Thus the original tea partiers. Thus George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Nat Tuner, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Cochise, Sitting Bull, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Barry Goldwater, Clarence Thomas, Michael Goodman, James Cheney, Michael Schwerner and thousands of nameless individuals who have stood for the rights of the individual over the power of government over our history.

The force of government tried to crush each of these at one time or another. It is trying to do so now, in a new and ominous way, by inducing dependency, intimidating, dispensing largesse to the powerful and demonizing those who dare stray from the ruling notion of what is good and necessary.

Our mainstream institutions seem inadequate to counter this authoritarian force. Often they fail entirely to detect it.

If this continues, the alternatives will be revolt or repression.

Big Mike said...

In my rewriting of the play the Second Amendment is a young woman sitting in an chair stage right with her arms crossed over her torso and a smug expression on her face. From time to time she uncrosses her arms revealing a shiny revolver in each hand. She says "Go ahead, mugger, make my day!" This is alternated with variants such as "Go ahead, rapist, just try it and see how far you get with your testicles shot off." Also "Go ahead, crazy ex-boyfriend, I see you brought a knife to a gun fight."

The Third Amendment is a British soldier in 18th century uniform sleeping on a bed up stage left when two young children stand sobbing alongside.

I can also do the Ten Commandments. You should see what I do with the 7th.

Broomhandle said...

I was referring to the impressive length of the post.

Sean Gleeson said...

Your “nature expresses singer’s feelings” discussion immediately made me think of Peter O’Toole singing “What a Lot of Flowers” from Goodbye Mr Chips.

But then, immediately after that, for some reason I conjured Ann-Margaret in The Pleasure Seekers, singing “Everything Makes Music When You’re in Love,” even though it doesn’t strictly fit the topic, because it references artifacts such as dishes making music in addition to natural things such as fishes. Great tune though.

Sean Gleeson said...

But then, just now, watching Peter O’Toole reminded me of my favorite all-time favorite aria, “Le Violette” by Scarlatti! This is something of a rejoinder to the “Close to You” genre of songs, because the violets express not love and happiness, but rather mockery and rejection to the singer.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

The ninth amendment is kind of lazy. One wishes more of those rights might have been enumerated. And the existence of those rights, like the right to privacy, are always being disparaged, and the lazy ninth does nothing.

But what kind of America hater would cast the federal government as the villain in a play about the Bill of Rights? It is a showcase of our republican values.