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Black on White

Old Noah Webster is having an uncomfortable time in his grave, and living grammarians are having fits. The greatest deluge since the first Noah is under way—a deluge of luscious slang, cock-eyed grammar, mixed metaphors and political argot. In short, General Johnson and Senator Long are having a public spat. Between Hugh and Huey there is, philologically speaking, little to choose.

It’s lusty stuff. Shakespeare might not understand much of it but he would relish the flailing, exploding, tomtom spirit of the thing. None of your old-fashioned diplomatic innuendo and circumlocution, my friends, but insults as thick as German sausages and seasoned with gall and garlic.

“Hitler couldn’t hold a candle to Huey in the art of the old Barnum ballyhoo,” said Hugh of Huey.

“You’re just a screwdriver in the hands of Barney Baruch,” said Huey to Hugh.

“If Father Coughlin wants to engage in political bundling with Huey Long it’s only a fair first move to take off his Roman cassock,” Hugh winked.

I recommend the front pages of the last few days to teachers of English in our schools. Why waste time on the King’s English when they can have the Kingfish’s American. It’s the official language of the near future, despite formal text-books. And maybe it’s the government of the near future too.

The first serious revolt against Mussolini has just been publicly recorded. It appears that contrary to his express orders, and despite the diligent efforts of all good Fascists, the women of Italy have not produced children at the rate planned for them. Had the Italian birth rate remained what it was in 1922, when Fascism was in its glorious and prolific youth, the country would now have 2,377,140 people more than it has. Sabotage is a mild word for such loafing on the job.

“Nearly two and a half million individuals unborn during twelve years,” the official newspaper complains, “signifies a slice four times larger than that taken from our people during the world war.”

In other words, Italy might have fought four more losing world wars with the cannon fodder unpatriotic females have failed to produce.

It is a curious and significant fact that all dictators want more people to whom to dictate. Both Hitler and Mussolini make marriage almost obligatory and prolificness a patriotic duty. Even in Russia, where birth control is available, the official propaganda is for more offspring. All of them are breeding for Mars.

A fairly well-known author, Mawell Bodenheim, “made the front pages” this week. He applied for home relief and obtained a tiny government hand-out. Bodenheim has contributed some good poetry and a few not-so-good novels to American literature. Whatever one thinks of his style, however, there are ho two ways of thinking about the style of a social system that reduces gifted writers to beggary.

The Moscow authorities called together representatives of the cinema producers of the world, had them show their best products, then voted all the orchids to the Soviet films. Without minimizing the artistry of Russian pictures, the proceedings seemed to me just short of sportsmanlike. At least the judges should have been international in character, rather than all-Soviet with a dash of acquiescent French.

Hollywood received a left-handed compliment and was damned with faint praise by an award of third prize to Mickey Mouse. That satirical gesture was worthy of Gogol.

Personally I think it was all a set-up. I thought so when the international motion picture festival was announced. For Soviet officials to admit that capitalist art is equal or superior (in any sense except “technically”) to their own is utterly inconceivable.

Had the decision been left to a secret ballot of the Soviet masses the results would have been quite different. The superior judges took into consideration such solid ingredients as social contribution, realism, etc. The ingredient they did not consider—and the one on which movie fans the world over including Russians base their judgment—was entertainment value.

Despite the self – glorification (modesty is not especially a Bolshevik virtue) the Soviet audiences as yet prefer the cheapest foreign film to their native products.

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