November 22, 2019

“My God, what did I do? Was I the Al Jolson of androgyny?”

Said Julia Sweeney, quoted in "Who Is Julia Sweeney Coming to Terms With? It’s Pat/The 'Saturday Night Live' character has been used as an insult for decades. Sweeney and some of her most prominent critics address the enduring legacy of her role" (NYT).

Wasn't Pat worse than what Al Jolson did? Seems to me Pat was an intentional effort at encouraging the audience to feel revulsion and engage in mockery against a kind of person who is an outsider.

From the Wikipedia article, "Al Jolson":
Jolson often performed in blackface makeup. Performing in blackface makeup was a theatrical convention of many entertainers at the beginning of the 20th century, having its origin in the minstrel show. According to film historian Eric Lott:
"For the white minstrel man to put on the cultural forms of 'blackness' was to engage in a complex affair of manly mimicry... To wear or even enjoy blackface was literally, for a time, to become black, to inherit the cool, virility, humility, abandon, or gaité de coeur that were the prime components of white ideologies of black manhood."
In the retrospective view of a later era, however, the use of blackface has come to be viewed as implicit racism. Music critic Ted Gioia, commenting on Jolson's use of blackface, wrote:
"Blackface evokes memories of the most unpleasant side of racial relations, and of an age in which white entertainers used the makeup to ridicule black Americans while brazenly borrowing from the rich black musical traditions that were rarely allowed direct expression in mainstream society. This is heavy baggage for Al Jolson.
Historians have described Jolson's blackface and singing style as metaphors for Jewish and black suffering throughout history. Jolson's first film, The Jazz Singer, for instance, is described by historian Michael Alexander as an expression of the liturgical music of Jews with the "imagined music of African Americans," noting that "prayer and jazz become metaphors for Jews and blacks." Playwright Samson Raphaelson, after seeing Jolson perform his stage show Robinson Crusoe, stated that "he had an epiphany: 'My God, this isn't a jazz singer', he said. 'This is a cantor!'" The image of the blackfaced cantor remained in Raphaelson's mind when he conceived of the story which led to The Jazz Singer.

Upon the film's release, the first full-length sound picture, film reviewers saw the symbolism and metaphors portrayed by Jolson in his role as the son of a cantor wanting to become a "jazz singer":
Is there any incongruity in this Jewish boy with his face painted like a Southern Negro singing in the Negro dialect? No, there is not. Indeed, I detected again and again the minor key of Jewish music, the wail of the Chazan, the cry of anguish of a people who had suffered. The son of a line of rabbis well knows how to sing the songs of the most cruelly wronged people in the world's history.
According to Alexander, Eastern European Jews were uniquely qualified to understand the music, noting how Jolson himself made the comparison of Jewish and African-American suffering in a new land in his film Big Boy: In a blackface portrayal of a former slave, he leads a group of recently freed slaves, played by black actors, in verses of the classic slave spiritual "Go Down Moses". One reviewer of the film expressed how Jolson's blackface added significance to his role:
When one hears Jolson's jazz songs, one realizes that jazz is the new prayer of the American masses, and Al Jolson is their cantor. The Negro makeup in which he expresses his misery is the appropriate talis [prayer shawl] for such a communal leader.
Many in the black community welcomed The Jazz Singer and saw it as a vehicle to gain access to the stage. Audiences at Harlem's Lafayette Theater cried during the film, and Harlem's newspaper, Amsterdam News, called it "one of the greatest pictures ever produced." For Jolson, it wrote: "Every colored performer is proud of him."

68 comments:

Nonapod said...

In fairness, Pat was never portrayed as a bad person (if I'm remembering correctly). Pat was always presented as pretty nice and helpful. I think that the humor was in people's reactions.

gilbar said...

This is the Way of the World
The leftist establishment ridicule and humiliate a group...
Right up to that time...
When the leftist establishment says that it is a Mortal SIN to ridicule or humiliate that group

Trans
Gays
Blacks
Women
take your pick.

In the future, you'll be able to date a comedy skit, by who they are insulting*

who they are insulting* except, of course, for white Christians... They ALWAYS insult them

Char Char Binks said...

All humor is about ridiculing others. Even if it’s self-depreciating, it ridicules others who are like you. Maybe we should just stop it.

Wilbur said...

Jolson was a legend. I've listened to some of his radio shows and the greatness comes through. By all accounts he was a major league asshole.

I quit watching SNL long before the Pat character appeared.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Art is right wing and right wingers like to laugh. Too bad Sweeney’s getting woke. She used to be funny.

richlb said...

The humor in the "Pat" character was like a lot of universal humor - the relatability we've all felt in not knowing the gender of someone. Or I guess it used to be relatable.

n.n said...

Diversity breeds adversity. Conflation of sex and gender. Political congruence (PC) is a selective, opportunistic sociopolitical construct.

Rabel said...

"Wasn't Pat worse than what Al Jolson did? Seems to me Pat was an intentional effort at encouraging the audience to feel revulsion and engage in mockery against a kind of person who is an outsider."

Maybe the audience members with a cruel streak a mile wide responded to that alleged encouragement and felt the revulsion, but I always felt sympathetic towards the character.

J. Farmer said...

If Julia Sweeney wants to apologize for anything, it should be making that shitty It's Pat movie back in 1994.

Ugh. This country is so fucked it isn't even funny. We are redefining reality in order to cater to an infinitesimally small number of mentally disturbed gender freaks.

Bay Area Guy said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was then, this is now, blah, blah, blah.

Don't forget Pat's cousin on SNL -- Lyle the Effeminate Heterosexual -- played by Dana Carvey.

We should probably declare SNL a "Hate Network"

Carter Wood said...

Apropos of little, I work in D.C. within a 15 minute walk of Talmud Torah Synagogue, where Al Jolson's father was rabbi and cantor. It's now the DC Medical Examiner's office.

Until urban renewal, SW Washington was once such an interesting area. Now, it's appallingly brutalist.

n.n said...

Gender: masculine, feminine, refers to a constellation of observable sex-correlated physical and mental attributes. Sex can be deduced from gender or direct sampling.

Lucid-Ideas said...

The funniest thing about Pat is that while being sexually ambiguous Pat is fundamentally a likeable person, largely because Pat is portrayed as being genuinely asexual. Who cares what Pat is, and Pat was the kind of person willing to laugh with you and at themselves.

The problem now is we have a large number of sexually ambiguous people who are A) most definitely not asexual, B) cannot laugh at themselves and C) demand that you acknowledge both their sexual ambiguity and the non-asexuality in the way they desire it immediately.

Pat was funny because it's an inside joke. In a world where everyone is telegraphing their sexual unambiguousness all the time Pat is different. The joke is the constant telegraphing of sexuality, not Pat. It actually poking fun at the telegraphing.

In a world where gays and heteros, trans and asexuals are constantly going on an on about telling you all about it Pat cannot be tolerated. Pat isn't making fun of transgenders. Pat is making fun of everyone else giving a shit.

Bay Area Guy said...

@Farmer,

Ugh. This country is so fucked it isn't even funny. We are redefining reality in order to cater to an infinitesimally small number of mentally disturbed gender freaks.

Why do you blame the "country" and "we" instead of those political/cultural segments within the country -- cough, leftist Democrats, cough -- pushing this nonsense.

PM said...

Presentism appears to be an untreatable disease.

wendybar said...

Amen Bay Area Guy!!! Amen!!!

J. Farmer said...

@Bay Area Guy:

Why do you blame the "country" and "we" instead of those political/cultural segments within the country -- cough, leftist Democrats, cough -- pushing this nonsense.

That's a bit like saying we shouldn't describe the Soviet Union as communist because not all Soviets were communists. The people that control the country--the political establishment, the media, the corporate sector--have pretty much gone all in on transmania. Obviously by saying "the country," I am not referring to every single person in the country.

Ice Nine said...

>>Wasn't Pat worse than what Al Jolson did?<<

No, Pat wasn't worse or better or whatever. Pat was simply funny. Leave Pat alone. For that matter, leave Al alone too.

J. Farmer said...

"But what’s the post-gay-marriage strategy to keep the pot bubbling here in America? Sure, the gay marriage whoop-dee-doo served as a distraction from the major issues America faces (it’s not wholly coincidental that Wall Street ponied up much of the money for the campaign), but perhaps the media can double down and find an even smaller group to noisily champion. How about…transsexuals, transvestites, trans-whatevers?

World War T!

Indeed, I started to notice that World War T was the next domestic campaign last spring when The New York Times splashed a big story about how a “transgender” mixed martial arts fighter” “Fallon Fox, born Boyd Burton” was being discriminated against by not being allowed to beat up women for money."

-World War T, by Steve Sailer, 22 Jan 2014

Drago said...

The revolution always consumes its own.

bleh said...

In the Pat sketches, the humor came from the other characters being confused while trying not to offend Pat. Seems like it should still be a funny concept today even to the woke scolds.

Temujin said...

The character of Pat was way ahead of her/his/it's time. That was before people would introduce themselves by first giving their preferred pronoun, before universities posted lists of acceptable pronouns which which to refer to someone, before injecting 7 year olds with hormones so that they can be the gender they feel they are. At age 7.

Today's campuses are full of Pats. Look at any video of a protest against a conservative coming to campus and you'll see lots of Pats in the videos. Some wearing black masks over their heads. That's a particularly stunning look.

Balfegor said...

I would not have thought that blackface would be a live issue in 2019, but here I am in Virginia, where Governor Blackface has just been rewarded by the electorate with a Democratic legislature, south of Canada, where Prime Minister Blackface has been returned to power. It's a salient issue, I guess, because it keeps on happening on the Left, and exaggerated breast-beating about how awful blackface is has to substitute for actually tossing the Left-wing blackface blackguards out.

Limited blogger said...

Now, Joe Piscopo was funny!

You from Jersey? What exit?

bagoh20 said...

Black people back then enjoyed it? Where do they get off doing that. We moderns know what's best for every race, creed and gender.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

Julia's! That's how they role

wasn't Julia Roberts considered for a Harriet Tubman role?

Bay Area Guy said...

@Farmer:

You are dodging.

"That's a bit like saying we shouldn't describe the Soviet Union as communist because not all Soviets were communists. The people that control the country--the political establishment, the media, the corporate sector--have pretty much gone all in on transmania.

Better. But you still ignore the opponents to the transmania.

Obviously by saying "the country," I am not referring to every single person in the country.

Strawman. There is an active opposition in the country to the transmania (good word) nonsense you rightly decry. For some reason, you lump them together with the political establishment.

J. Farmer said...

@Bay Area Guy:

Better. But you still ignore the opponents to the transmania.

I don't ignore them; I am one of them. I was arguing for jettisoning the T from GLBT 20 years ago.

There is an active opposition in the country to the transmania (good word) nonsense you rightly decry. For some reason, you lump them together with the political establishment.

I am not exactly sure what "lump them together with the political establishment" means. My point is that they are losing.

Texas is not exactly a hotbed of social justice leftism, and yet:

Transgender wrestler Mack Beggs wins second Texas state girls' championship

Fernandinande said...

mockery against [] an outsider

I thought it was about the strange feeling of not knowing someone's sex, even when it didn't matter what it was.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

“Ugh. This country is so fucked it isn't even funny. We are redefining reality in order to cater to an infinitesimally small number of mentally disturbed gender freaks.”

Not really. On the ground, virtually not at all. The Pats, the trannies, they’re as much subject to the humor, gentle or otherwise, of normal folks as much as they ever were. The fantasist’s agenda is manifestly not the reality. Why pretend it is?

Fernandinande said...

Even if it’s self-depreciating,

Nobody gets tired of self-defecating humor, believe me.

Ken B said...

Farmer is right. World war T is being won, and Farmer is right about who is winning it.
A lefty acquaintance told me that woke culture was actually a corporate plot. I had said companies knuckle under as the path of least resistance, but he was insistent it worked 5he other way, that it was coming from the plutocrats outward to the rest of us. He never gave a coherent motive, other than generic social control, but I will say I am more open to the theory now than I was a few years ago. It’s like 1984. If they can get you to agree to a lie, knowing it’s a lie, that hobbles your capacity to resist.

Ken B said...

Refulgent
Because now you can be dropped from social media, fired, blacklisted, and prosecuted over pronouns. Because now even presidential candidates have to promise to pay for surgery for prison inmates or they lose their de facto corporate sponsorship from CNN and the like.

Bay Area Guy said...

@Farmer:

I don't ignore them; I am one of them. I was arguing for jettisoning the T from GLBT 20 years ago.

Great.

There is an active opposition in the country to the transmania (good word) nonsense you rightly decry. For some reason, you lump them together with the political establishment.

I am not exactly sure what "lump them together with the political establishment" means. My point is that they are losing.

Yes, we are losing, but the question is, What are you doing to oppose it?

In 1948, The US was "losing" the Cold War. Whitaker Chambers, an ex-Soviet spy, ratted out current Soviet spy Alger Hiss, and thought he too had just joined the "losing" side (the West). Sometimes ya just gotta fight for the cause.

This is a "Cold Cultural War"

J. Farmer said...

@Bay Area Guy:

Yes, we are losing, but the question is, What are you doing to oppose it?

The only thing I can do: tell the truth and refuse to play along.

Roughcoat said...

How about "The Ambiguously Gay Duo"? Where does that one stand on the outrage continuum?

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

“Because now you can be dropped from social media, fired, blacklisted, and prosecuted over pronouns. Because now even presidential candidates have to promise to pay for surgery for prison inmates or they lose their de facto corporate sponsorship from CNN and the like.”

Perhaps, but nobody believes in this stuff. That being the case, it’s silly to pretend that this year’s style of political strong-arming (different in specifics, but identical in purpose to any year’s political strong-arming) represents some seismic decline. In fact, this is a remarkably flimsy social cudgel and it won’t work for much longer.

Roughcoat said...

Remember the recurring bit in the early years of SNL when the loathsome Buck Henry played a pedophile babysitter who photographed his clueless charges (played by Larraine Newman and Gilda Radner) frolicking in their undies? That was supposed to be funny.

Good times, good times.

rcocean said...

Shorter NYT: Al Jolson was Jewish, so its OK.

I liked the Pat sketch. Although it got old after about six episodes. The character wasn't supposed to be - and was NOT - "repulsive". It was "is she a man or woman?" and the constant unintentional words/actions by Pat to keep her sexually a mystery.

Julie Sweeny had some other funny roles, but it turns out she was another Left-wing obnoxious asshole, so I lost interest.



J. Farmer said...

@The Cracker Emcee Refulgent:

That being the case, it’s silly to pretend that this year’s style of political strong-arming (different in specifics, but identical in purpose to any year’s political strong-arming) represents some seismic decline.

It is true that no single incident at any given time is likely to represent a "seismic decline." But how important is any single slice in the death of a thousand cuts?

rcocean said...

This whole "Transgender" thing is the most bizarre thing ever. I was wondering what "Cause" the Left-wingers were going to champion after they'd won Gay Marriage, and this is it. The whole point of absurdity was reached when a bunch of PC Admirals/Generals announced in 2017 that we "Couldn't run a military without our Transgenders".

Honestly, if I'd told my Uncle - a Korean War Vet - back in 1985, that the US military couldn't survive without Guys who think they're women and wear dresses, he'd have locked me in an asylum!

buwaya said...

Wouldn't the then-celebrated Australian film "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" be much worse? What were these men doing making cruel fun of women?
Miles worse than Al Jolson.

Bilwick said...

Around the time of the "It's Pat" sketches, friends of mine used to refer to "Pat Types" when they encountered such androgenous types. It seemed a useful short cut to describe someone.

Hunter said...

There's no possible way that "Pat" is offensive and drag isn't.

One of these days the critical theorists are going to connect the dots. We're already part way there: look at how the vanguard of the woke community now regards gay white men such as Mayor Pete.

rcocean said...

Milton Berle wearing a dress was a laugh riot in 1948, now its a everyday work-wear for men.

rcocean said...

I remember Sweeny had a sketch where she's making fun of her Mom for not knowing Sweeny's big Block Parmesan Cheese isn't supposed to be grated. I laughed at the time, because we all know that our Parents just aren't "Sophisticated" - like us. Now, I don't find it funny, I just marvel at how superficial Sweeny was. Yep, you're like David Brooks, you know all about Parmesan Cheese and 12 kinds of Italian cold cuts, and think you're superior - but You're not.

Bay Area Guy said...

Last word to @Farmer:

The only thing I can do: tell the truth and refuse to play along.

No, too passive and you sell yourself short. Yes, you do tell the truth, but you should be acting on it against the foes of liberty.

But that sounds like a scold, so I will shut up. Good chat, Farmer.

Bay Area Guy said...

Buttiegieg-Booker in 2020!

Because we're not both gay!

Anonymous said...

Blogger J. Farmer said...

Texas is not exactly a hotbed of social justice leftism, and yet:

Transgender wrestler Mack Beggs wins second Texas state girls' championship


That case is actually a little different than it looks on the face. You see, Mack is a biological female, transitioning to male, and they won't let him/her compete with the boys. But the testosterone clearly gives Mack an edge over the girls.

Wince said...

Wasn't Pat whiny and antsy to the point of neurosis?

Howard said...

No one really cares about this s***. So it makes the rounds on Twitter and newspapers and radio and TV yada yada yada but no one pays attention this kind of crap in daily life there is no crisis everything is fine most people are decent human beings they work hard, take care of their families. you gloom and doomers are wasting your lives fretting about nothing you see little shiny baubles that the media puts out there for you and you react emotionally physically mentally it's very very sad but a source of endless humor for us normals

J. Farmer said...

@Howard:

No one really cares about this s***.

Taika Brents and her cracked skull may disagree.

Howard said...

These anecdotes don't move me Jay farmer. I'm starting to think that because you have dedicated your life to trying to help people in the most Dyer and disgusting circumstances that you're beginning to see the whole world as your microcosm.

William said...

In their moment, I don't think anyone took offense at Sweeney or Jolson. Jolson may have even given his blackface a humane and sympathetic spin that subverted the ridicule inherent in blackface. I don't think Sweeney's character had anywhere near the fame and impact of Jolson's. I don't know any transgendered people, and I don't think Sweeney's comedy has had any effect on my views towards them either way. It's possible to live a good long life and never once meet one or, for that matter, give much thought to their problems. I suppose it's a tough life, but so is paraplegia or psoriasis or lots of other things. Why so much attention to this problem?.....There's a bill of attainder thing about these post hoc put downs. If people of their era were not offended, how offended should we be?

William said...

Any comments you make about sex, race, or religion will be considered mean spirited or ridiculous by future generations. I would recommend all young people to refrain from discussing such matters. To be on the safe side, they should avoid sex altogether and only mix with members of their own ethnic and religious groups. Even among such groups, they should not mix with people who are more than five or ten years older. Only in such a way will future generations revere their judgment and virtue.

Drago said...

Howard: "No one really cares about this s***."

Every single lefty everywhere cares about this.

Just because it embarrasses you to no end because they are your teammates doesn't mean you can Jedi-mind trick them away!!

You are standing in the middle of the road with your fingers in your ears screaming La La La La and pretending Team Dem isn't pulling this stuff everywhere.

And it's hilarious.

J. Farmer said...

@Howard:

These anecdotes don't move me Jay farmer. I'm starting to think that because you have dedicated your life to trying to help people in the most Dyer and disgusting circumstances that you're beginning to see the whole world as your microcosm.

I take your point, but don't misunderstand my pessimism with hysteria. I'm a pretty sober thinker. The sky is not falling. But even very small fires in a house can be dangerous because they have a tendency to turn into very big fires. It is not just about where are we at right now, but where are we going. From which direction are the winds blowing. Cultural patterns can emerge that make you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the future. For me, it is the latter.

Gahrie said...

In my experience, most lesbians embraced the character of Pat, at least at the time.

Howard said...

I will admit that having children and grandchildren makes me naturally optimistic about the future

Gahrie said...

before universities posted lists of acceptable pronouns which which to refer to someone,

I took a field trip of high school kids to the local public university (which also happens to be my alma mater) last week. The people running the thing introduced themselves included their preferred pronouns, and put them on power point slides too. I was dismayed.

stephen cooper said...

yes you were darling

stephen cooper said...

but its ok sweetie, you did not know what you were doing to our intersex brothers and sisters, you thought you were doing the right thing by making people laugh.


its ok sweetie, trust me, you were forgiven the moment you desired forgiveness.

The Crack Emcee said...

Does anybody else here resent growing up in a country where nobody's told anything, so nobody knows what-the-fuck to feel about anything, and then being told you failed to live up to a cultural standard the nation never defined either?

Because I sure as Hell do.

Fuck this place and all it's lies.

Lars Porsena said...

"“My God, what did I do? Was I the Al Jolson of androgyny?”"

Which brings to mine...

Who are the white equivalents of Steppin Fetchit and Matan Moreland?

ManleyPointer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ManleyPointer said...

I never thought the gag was about Pat's sex. Heck, we never even learn what that is. The joke was about our confusion over the matter.

So the analog wouldn't be a joke about a racial stereotype. It would be a joke about the ambiguity of someone's racial identity. Like Cameron Chao on 30 Rock:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x16ETR7Yulc

A difference is that Carmen was beautiful & Pat was all rolly-polly. So if anything, I thought the Pat joke was kind of a shot at fat people.

Lazarus said...

My gut feeling is that what Jolson did was worse.

But my head hurts when I try to explain why.

bagoh20 said...

"Does anybody else here resent growing up in a country where nobody's told anything, so nobody knows what-the-fuck to feel about anything, and then being told you failed to live up to a cultural standard the nation never defined either?"

I can handle deciding how to feel and think about things on my own. Do you need a national department of right think, becuase I don't.