Friday 8 July 2022

Defending Dame Lynley.

Bone Of Contention: Fantastic classics though they may be, opines Perth’s Edith Cowan University academic, Dr Helen Adam, books such as Harry the Dirty Dog, Where the Wild Things Are, Hairy McClary and Possum Magic no longer “accurately reflect the diversity of the modern world.”

DAME LYNLEY DODD’S Hairy Maclary and his canine pals have delighted Kiwi kids and their parents for decades. “Doing the voices” for the whole Maclary gang was a staple of my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime entertainment. Dame Lynley’s superbly crafted rhymes and evocative illustrations practically force her readers to do this. The woman is a national treasure.

Which can only mean that someone, somewhere, will feel obligated to “deconstruct” her work and draw the world’s attention to its deficiencies. In Dame Lynley’s case that ‘someone’ is Dr Helen Adam of Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. According to Dr Adam, Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy, and its ilk, are guilty of “perpetuating outdated stereotypes” and lacking in “diversity”.

Fantastic classics though they may be, opines Dr Adam, books such as Harry the Dirty Dog, Where the Wild Things Are, Hairy McClary, and Possum Magic no longer “accurately reflect the diversity of the modern world.”

Leaving aside the unconscious racism of Dr Adam presenting the campus of Edith Cowan University, or, for that matter, the Commonwealth of Australia and its clutch of Western allies, as “the modern world”; since when did reflecting the diversity of the contemporary world become a requirement of the artist’s job? Works of art do not retain their grip on our hearts and minds by reflecting the “real” world, but by enticing us to enter the world of the artist’s imagination.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, arguably the greatest children’s adventure story ever written, in no way reflects the diversity of the modern world. Truth to tell, it did not even reflect Stevenson’s own Nineteenth Century. All the action of Treasure Island takes place in the world of the Eighteenth Century.

Written as a “tale for boys”, Stevenson’s novel long ago transcended that narrow category. So vivid are the characters, so evocative the settings, so thrilling the action, that no young human-being – male or female – in possession of a working imagination has ever failed to be enthralled by Stevenson’s riveting narrative.

Not that the book would pass muster on Dr Adam’s ideological parade-ground. For a start, the only woman in the whole novel is the hero’s mum. Everybody else is emphatically masculine. No less than Hairy Maclary, Hercules Morse and Schnitzel von Krumm; Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney and Long John Silver are red-blooded males.

Outdated stereotypes? Not really. While history records some female pirates, it does not record many. Back in the Eighteenth Century, the overwhelming majority of sailing vessels were commanded and crewed by men. It doesn’t hurt the young readers of the Twenty-First Century to discover this blunt historical fact. Indeed, discovering just how different the past is from the present is an empowering, not a dispiriting, experience.

Indeed, what Dr Adam and her academic colleagues should be combatting is the growing cultural trend towards recasting the facts of the past to meet the ideological expectations of the present.

Anyone who watches the BBC light-entertainment series Sister Boniface will recognise this mania for historical revisionism. In the real Great Britain of the 1950s, black detectives from the Caribbean did not work alongside white detectives in rural villages. Local newspapers were not edited by women. And Catholic nuns most certainly did not ride out from their convents on Vespas to solve murders. The real Britons of the 1950s were ferocious racists. Their daily newspapers were sexist nightmares. And the Catholic Church’s female religious orders elevated poverty, chastity and obedience well above crime-fighting.

Combatting stereotypical thinking is not assisted by pretending that there is no difference between the present and the past. (Although it’s probably fair to say that the behaviour of dogs hasn’t changed all that much since 1983, when Dame Lynley wrote Hairy Maclary.)

How are young people supposed to understand the racism and sexism of their grandparents’ generation if they’re never allowed to see it depicted on the screen, or read about it in novels? How will their grasp of how far women have travelled toward equality be assisted by recasting Jim as Jackie Hawkins, and installing our diversity-affirming heroine, now a thirteen-year-old girl, on a schooner crewed by cut-throats?

All Dame Lynley is guilty of is delighting generations of Kiwi kids. A much lesser crime, I would have thought, than telling lies about the past to placate the woke censors of the present.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 July 2022.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Chris, well said. I shudder to think how the critics would rework Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town!

PaulVD said...

"telling lies about the past to placate the woke censors of the present". Precisely so. We need to read more stories that show the diversity of views in different societies, not pretend that unapproved views never existed.
Indeed, a novelist such as Nevil Shute should be prescribed high-school reading, precisely because he is a chronicler of a world that has vanished within the memory of some still living.
In a novel such as The Chequer Board (1947), Shute's characters say "mugger" and "mucking" as substitutes for words that could not be printed then, but would not offend modern censors. But they also casually describe non-whites with a word that I will not repeat for fear of getting your Blogger account blocked.
And yet Shute gives a nuanced view of the various racisms of the day. The UK was certainly racist by modern standards, but he tells a story that shows us how it was racism of a quite different order than the form that gripped the US. And one of his characters grows into an understanding of an Asian culture, and develops a respect for it and a willingness to live within it, as a member rather than a colonial ruler.
His books are novels rather than history, so we should not get too carried away with his depictions. But the immense popularity of his work showed that this was how many people wished to view their society. And if the modern inquisition puts his books on the Index of Prohibited Books, we will lose an insight into that society, and an important way to understand our own.

DS said...

While I heartily agree that going after Hairy Maclary for lack of diversity achieves a level of self-parody hitherto unthinkable, I would raise one major objection to your argument.

Namely that unless a text is historical fiction (where the author is obsessing about accuracy), art set in the past is not supposed to educate or accurately represent the time. It's supposed to encourage immersion on its own terms, which is something quite different. It's called artistic licence for a reason, and is a concept in artistic criticism as old as Aristotle.

To take Treasure Island... the text says more about the views of Stevenson's nineteenth century than it does about life in the eighteenth century. We don't judge it as a documentary-level portrayal of an earlier era, but rather as what the late nineteenth century would have considered fun and worthwhile entertainment. There were no muppets in the eighteenth century either, but that doesn't stop people enjoying Muppet's Treasure Island.

(By the same token, 'That '70s Show' is full of anachronisms, and very rarely deals with issues pertaining to the 1970s. Didn't stop 1990s audiences enjoying it).

As for Sister Boniface, I have not seen it, but would you have the same objections to, say, G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories on the basis that the Catholic clergy are not generally associated with solving crimes? Murder mysteries are rarely supposed to be social documentaries either.

David George said...

The best thing is to either ignore, or laugh at, the increasingly unhinged rants coming from what passes for academia these days. Read what you want, think what you like and say what you think. I'm sure I'm not alone; the pronouncements of the woke thought police only serve to wake my contrarian instincts. Fuck them!

I see Jordan Peterson has been cancelled from Twitter for "deadnaming" (apparently it is a thing) some fool of an actress pretending to be a man. He's refused to take down the post, good on him. Elon Musk has supported him and says Twitter have gone way too far.

Don Franks said...

Hmmmm Treasure Island. Differently abled person Blind Pew appears as a totally negative character, greedy and cruel. Amputee LongJohn Silver doesn't come off much better either. Who gave him the right to enslave a beautiful creature of the wild and reduce its horizons to pieces of eight? Although Dr Livesey - yes, a male doctor, male and white, although he may possibly have been Asian, his ethnicity not specified - lamely cousels against excess, binge drinking is glorified throughout the novel from start to finish. Social differences between the characters are routinely solved by resorting to mindless acts of armed violence. Sound vegan dietry principles like apple eating are dismissed by "don't go a suckin'on that bilge, let's get to the rum!"Overriding the whole grotesque proceedings is the assumption that "Treasure Island" was possesed of no indigenous name, lying supine for whatever manner of colonial atrocities which pirates - and 'legal' pirates like exploiting landed gentry Squire Trelawney might feel entitled to visit upon it. Dubious example there Chris.

greywarbler said...

I don't want to be ruled or dictated to by females who seem akin to those running the Magdalena Laundries in Ireland. Ostensibly they were run by devout Catholic convent females but had priests over them in various ways. Today's new women seem to have done a sex change and adopted the attitudes of the predominantly male Spanish Inquisition which in Spain were less about witches than general heresy.

Women in universities have found a way to make a name for themselves and get as much publicity as the builders and operators of the giant experiment, the hadron collider which otherwise would get all men's admiring attention because...machine, large, huge Meccano... › resources › faqs › facts-and-figures-...
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the most powerful particle accelerator ever built. The accelerator sits in a tunnel 100 metres underground at CERN, etc.

But women can talk about the intricacies of being women. There is plenty to consider there. Reading about past mistreatment of women can do your head in. But these are ordinary people. not having previously been through the university or tertiary mill. Bad things are brought to light, and the adult women react as if it was personally felt, or as if only women ever suffered. They have factually often been targets, and Freud probably was the first to get a foothold on the slippery slope of sexuality and the power over women's fertility. It's a difficult one but the attempt to cast females as good and males as bad full stop, needs to be scaled back.

Women can't be perfect but they are pretty good when they put themselves out to be in a moral, and also artistic way. When the morals applied to women are unreasonable to bear they should rise up together, or as many who still have clear idea about their beliefs and needs, and claim what is fair, after careful thought. The present scattershot approach of demands and fractious complaints is damaging to women as a whole. There is a tendency to bunch together and follow a forthright leader, perhaps lemming-like. Better keep an eye out for the doings of your favourite leader you females, is her name Euphoria?

The Barron said...

"Robert Louis Stevenson died at 8.10 p.m. on December 3, 1894 ... The servants gathered around the body, and the Catholics among them asked permission to chant prayers for the dead ... awakened during the night by chanting in Latin and Samoan ... R.L.S. had specified that he wished to be buried at the summit of Mount Vaea, but the mountainside was a tangle of lianas, foliage, creepers and fallen tree trunks. Dark cloth was ordered from a store in Apia to make appropriate funeral attire, and the men who arrived from all over the island clad themselves in a lavalava made of this material and donned white shirts as they began the labourous work of clearing a path up the step mountain. It must have been grueling work in the stifling heat ...Meantime, Chiefs made their way from all over the island to py their respects, and as they gather, keening noisily on the lawn, the body was covered with the mats which are of supreme value in Samoa. Lloyd recounts that one old chief whose forbidding appearance had initially impressed him "most unfavourably" gave a moving, impromptu elegy. "Samoa ends with you Tusital. When death closed the eyes of our best and dearest friend, we knew as a race our day was done."
The climb up the mountain with a coffin must have been an almost unbearable test of human endurance and strength. The men could only take the weight for short distances before being replace, and at some points the coffin-bearers had to be hauled up by ropes tied around their waists and pulled above them ...
The tombstone carries in Samoan the Old Testament spoken by Ruth to Naomi, 'Thy people will be my people, they God my God, and where thou diest will I die." The hibiscus and the thistle are the only adornment. Engraved on the central plaque are the words of Stevenson's 'Requiem':

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This is the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill"
Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa, Joseph Farrell (2017)

No one owns the narrative, it has meaning to each person that encounters it, within their time and culture.

Archduke Piccolo said...

Tell you what: I'd be fascinated to discover what changes this Dr Evans would suggest to the Hairy Maclary stories that would make them more 'diverse' or what these 'outdated stereotypes' are that they 'perpetuate'. Perhaps the 'perpetuation' lies in the books failing to self-destruct after a suitable period of time? Remember, stereotypes, like archetypes, are 'types'.
You get those.

It never ceases to amaze me just how the silliness in (of?) academia seems to have become worse and more pronounced in the last 20-30 years. It's not even as if academic institutions these days are noticeably revolutionary or representative of genuine challenge, by questioning issues of material significance or by speaking truth to power. 'Wokism' (i.e Political Correctness mark 2.0) and identity politics are luxuries - fripperies we can no longer afford. I sometimes wonder if 'Wokism' is the beginning of the Western World's age of 'Harrison Bergeron'...

Jason Barrier said...

Well said Chris. I am 'over' all this revisionist tripe. It is the same suffocatingly arrogant myopia, that leads to the tearing down of historical statues and the renaming of cities. Heaven forbid these desolate imaginations ever cross paths with a copy of Tolkien, lest we end up with Frida Baggins and the cross-dressing Orcs.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Storm in a teacup – no one is going to take the slightest bit of notice of the woman, except the people who feel the need to be indignant at everything.

Simon Cohen said...

I think it should be a condition of employment that university academics refrain from making statements to the media. Never has so much crap been written by so few about nothing of importance.

Barry said...

Chris - the absolutly wrong thing to do is make ant mention of these "searching for relevance" morons.
That halfwit from perth has been given relevance by Kim Hill last week and now you today. If you both just ignored people like this the world would be a much better ace.
Its the likes of her (and other reasons) that we have such an an crease in mental illness in society.

Anonymous said...

The good doctor demands diversity, yet fails to accept she is where she is because of her own white privilege. Rather than step aside to enable a less privileged person to advance, she rails against the system that spawned her.

Odysseus said...

"What song the Sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture." Clearly the Sirens had a reggae beat happening and Achilles was transgender.

Don Franks: very good!

Don Franks said...

Its a beautiful epitaph and a beautiful mountain, I was lucky enough to climb it. No "the" in the second to last line though

greywarbler said...

Reckons. I think that this woman professer is pulling a promotion stunt because of a need to build body count in her chosen specialty - wimin and how they have had their heads done in since before Anne Boleyn. Gruesome to recall and now we are all to be corrected and punished.

The attitude seems that once wimin are treated with the respect and rights they deserve all will be well in the world. The situation of course is fluid and some wimin fall in the ratings but they get a Get out of Jail pass after all they have put up with in the past.

I would like wimin to stop adding to the world's woes with this latest moral outrage, of which there have been many others. The time has come for that cliche about someone always being worse off than you; the trouble with cliches is that often they are true but most often we don't want to know that. It spoils the story which has been widened from wimin to include diversity, a general term which means anyone who fits their criteria of needy and hard done by (not parents with bad or no housing) and energy better used for advancing humanity positively, is dissipated.

The West Australian university has had a rise in publicity, but at the cost of losing standing amongst those who wish to learn about and measure our human advancement. However:

About the University : Welcome to ECU › about-ecu › about-the-univers...
Edith Cowan University (ECU) is a large multi-campus institution serving communities in Western Australia and a significant cohort of international ...

University rankings - (various criteria but quite high on academic profile. I think its world ranking is 410.)
Academic reputation (worth 40% of the overall score)
Based on a global survey of academics, who are asked to identify the leading institutions in their field...
QS World University Rankings 2023 methodology › methodology

An acerbic novel about the carry-on at some universities jumping on the latest humanities bandwagon -
Murdering Americans (Robert Amiss, #11) by Ruth Dudley Edwards... › book › show › 131277....
A first-class mystery accompanied by a scathing look at the political correctness and multicultural insanity on American college campuses. Lady Troutbeck and .

greywarbler said...

Barry Can you give a link to the Kim Hill interview with the Perth Uni woman please?
I'd like to know what was said but had a quick look and couldn't find it.

David George said...

I agree with you Barry, ignore "that halfwit from Perth" but the scary thing is: this isn't some nutter on a street corner, this women is a doctor of philosophy with 17 published papers and significant influence. Among her efforts: The urgent need for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy when sharing diverse books with children. It's all like that.

It's clear she has uncritically swallowed the critical theory BS but she is far from alone.
Academia is overrun with this nonsense and questioning and resistance is being actively shut down; dissenters dismissed. Our universities are failing their core mission and we will all pay a heavy price one way or another. Live not by lies.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well Simon, perhaps we should take a leaf from DeSantis's book, and muzzle academics. And free-speech be damned.


Trotter at his perspicuous best.

Worth repeating for its artful, shrewd, imaginative, on point perceptive social history commentary value... beautiful prose.

"Anyone who watches the BBC light-entertainment series Sister Boniface will recognise this mania for historical revisionism. In the real Great Britain of the 1950s, black detectives from the Caribbean did not work alongside white detectives in rural villages. Local newspapers were not edited by women. And Catholic nuns most certainly did not ride out from their convents on Vespas to solve murders. The real Britons of the 1950s were ferocious racists. Their daily newspapers were sexist nightmares. And the Catholic Church’s female religious orders elevated poverty, chastity and obedience well above crime-fighting".

Simply brilliant ... "ferocious racists" ... "sexist nightmares"! ... QED.

Barry said...

Ive just looked it up. June 2 at 11.07 am. 11:07 Dame Lynley Dodd: the inner workings of Hairy MacLary.
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