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Musing #22: Dame Agatha, Part II (Christie in Context)

Welcome to the continuation of Musing #21: Dame Agatha, Part I (Infamous Jew-Hating).

What began as a tale of Dad being characteristically weird has evolved into something entirely other.

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You are now reading the middle installment of an initially unforeseen three-part essay.

Most writers will tell you that the process often leads you nowhere near where you thought you were headed at the outset. I started writing about Dad’s bizarre teaching methods and ended up with a diatribe on anti-Semitism. And that diatribe elicited a strong reaction from one of my most devoted readers, who happens to be a fellow Member of the Tribe.

While not taking issue with anything I said, the reader wrote to me responding specifically to the following statement:

“[M]y father and I have always been able to enjoy Christie’s work whilst acknowledging the not-at-all-veiled Jew-hating within it. Her Jew-hatred has no bearing on my experience of Dame Agatha.”

Below is an excerpt from that reader’s comment:

I actually have struggled with this so many times. I CANNOT get over [anti-Semitism] at all. I stopped watching Harry Potter films because in one of them the banker goblins looked like a caricature of Jewish people. I even [G]oogled it a long time ago and I wasn’t the only one offended. I won’t watch a Mel Gibson movie. I won’t read Mark Twain because of the many anti-Semitic comments he made. I know he also said positive things but he really seemed to stereotype Jews. For me it’s almost impossible to get over that in my head. Oh and I refuse to ever own a German car. Volkswagen in particular.

A very common perspective; indeed, one of which I was acutely aware when I wrote the lines in question. But this reader showed me that my choice of phrasing can be read as inappropriately blasé from a certain point of view. Clearly, I must expound upon how and why I am unfazed by Agatha Christie’s bigotry…

We love us some Braveheart in my family. Unabashedly.

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Fadda raised me to separate an artist’s biography from his or her art and to approach everything from the proper historical context. (There will be more on historical context in the final “Fadda’s Shtick” post, coming a few weeks from today. Stay tuned!)

Christie’s overt racism (which actually extends toward many ethnicities, most notably the French) doesn’t offend us because it reflects a time and place in history. To judge World War I nurse Christie by 21st-century standards of social acceptability is to espouse revisionist history.

And we loathe revisionist history in my family.

Fadda and I acknowledge the bigotry inherent in Dame Agatha’s work and choose to love it anyway because it has value unrelated to its racist components. (More on that next week.)

Christie’s xenophobia doesn’t hurt us, it merely tarnishes her own legacy for herself.

On the “don’t hate people (at least, publicly)” front, Western civilization has largely wound up on the right side of history. It has been a painful, bloody birth, and the feet of “Baby Tolerance” haven’t yet fully emerged from the womb of justice. But the moral authority of tolerance in Western society can no longer be challenged with anything resembling a decent argument.

Ask any bigot to explain the hate, and watch the bitch squirm.

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Of course, Western Jew-hating is no obsolete relic of the ignorant past. Quite the contrary. Sadly, there has been a recent spate of bad news in the Jew-bigot department. Here’s a tasting menu of some contemporary sour flavor:

A survey of discrimination and hate crimes against Jewish people in Europe, released to mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht (night of broken glass), suggests that [anti-Semitism] is on the rise, with three-quarters of those polled reporting an increase in the last five years and growing fears over online abuse and hate speech.…76% thought the situation was getting worse and that [anti-Semitism] had increased over the last five years, and 46% said they worried about being verbally assaulted or harassed in public because they were Jewish. A third were worried about being physically attacked, and 57% said they had heard or seen someone claim over the last year that the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated. Almost 6,000 Jewish people in eight EU member states – Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the UK – took part in the survey. The eight nations are home to 90% of the EU’s Jewish population. – The Guardian [11-08-13]

Regarding Hungary alone:

[A] poll last year showed that sixty-three per cent of Hungarians feel hostile toward Jews, up from forty seven per cent in 2009. – The New Yorker [11-11-13]

And, from an article frighteningly headlined “Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town’s Schools,” there’s THIS outrage from right here in New York:

The swastikas, the students recalled, seemed to be everywhere: on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, a playground slide — even on a student’s face. A picture of President Obama, with a swastika drawn on his forehead, remained on the wall of an eighth-grade social studies classroom for about a month after a student informed her teacher, the student said. For some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare. They tell of hearing anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and horrific jokes about the Holocaust. They have reported being pelted with coins, told to retrieve money thrown into garbage receptacles, shoved and even beaten. They say that on school buses in this rural part of the state, located about 90 minutes north of New York City and once home to a local Ku Klux Klan chapter president, students have chanted “white power” and made Nazi salutes with their arms. – The New York Times [11-08-13]

Yeah. Horrid.

But at least that shit is regarded as horrid by the mainstream of Western media. In Christie’s day, this was most definitely NOT the case. Had it been, the Holocaust might have been avoided altogether.

Never underestimate the power of the Fourth Estate.

OK, I know you’re beginning to wonder whether I’ll ever get to the curious case of Fadda absconding with Murder on the Orient Express. I will. I swear. Next week.

And I’ll tie up my Dame Agatha triumvirate by explaining what the value is in her work…despite her unimaginative prose, overuse of the word “adenoidal” and raging bigotry. Here’s a clue, courtesy of South Park’s twin geniuses (one of whom is a fellow Member of the Tribe):

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“Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but the man knows story structure.”

So tune in next Friday for Musing #23: Dame Agatha, Part III (The Rule, Broken).

Until then, “Damn the strychnine, full speed ahead!”

Stacy the Unabashed Jewish Christie Fan

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