Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIn my public internet class the other day I demonstrated the power of using quotations in a search by having my pupils type "the woods are lovely, dark and deep" in their Google search fields.

"Does anybody recognize this phrase?" I asked.

"Yeah! They said it in that Chuck Bronson movie!!!” an elderly African American man from Georgia sitting on the front row shouted.

“Actually, it’s from the poem by Robert Fro - YOU'RE RIGHT! Telefon! About all of the sleeper cells!”

I hadn't thought of that Chuck Bronson classic of Cold War paranoia in years. In the move, these seemingly all-American ordinary citizens, going about their day, making a pancake breakfast for their kids, for exacmple, receive a phone call.“The woods are lovely, dark and deep” a silkily but sinister voice (Donald Pleasance) on the other end of the line tells them.

Then their eyes glaze over and they stumble out to their car to go blow up the local military installation and themselves along with it.

This brainwashing idea has been spoofed many times, most memorably in the Naked Gun. Here's a great New Yorker article on brainwashing and popular culture.

Their characters lived in a world gone wrong, a world in which, long before the atom bomb, civilization had created the machinery for its own destruction and was learning to use it with all the moronic delight of a gangster trying out his first machine-gun.
Raymond Chandler

Times may be scary now, but I still think it was much more terrifying growing up with the threat of global nuclear annihilation. It didn’t help that a high school teacher of mine, one of those types that goes into teaching to push their little agendas on impressionable minds, had me convinced that nuclear war was imminent. He assigned all of this material to scare the hell out of us and supply us with a lifetime of radioactive nightmares. We were all waiting for the other shoe to drop. I remember wishing, rather selfishly now that I think of it, that the Reds would drop the bomb and just get it over with so I wouldn’t have to write my gigantic final term paper that I had procrastinated even getting started (typically) until the night before it was due.

Mr. Harmon's reading list to scare the shit out of young ladies:

A Canticle for Leibowitz
You think you’re reading a charming little story about a Medieval monastery full of manuscript illuminators until it dawns on you that this is actually the post apocalyptic future, the 26th century to be exact, and the manuscripts the monks are illuminating are bomb blueprints that survived “The Great Burning.” (You can guess what that was).

By the Waters of Babylon
Short story of a young aboriginal tribesman on a vision quest who travels to a mysterious and perilous place called the Island of the Dead. I wonder if this is story is where Miller, the author of Leibowitz, got the idea.

Alas, Babylon
Survivors in a small Florida town deal with the aftermath of nuclear holocaust.

On the Beach
Australians survived the initial blast, but they soon realize that they're doomed by a radiactive cloud headed straight for them. The book revolves around how the characters spend their last time on earth before they take their government supplied cyanide pills.

How are we humans ever going to get past our death drive? Even that Frost poem, when you get down to it, is a hypnotic love poem to death. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, for sure. As the Abbot Dom Zerchi so poignantly asks in A Canticle for Leibowitz, "Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix, in an unending sequence of rise and fall? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Empires of Charlemagne and the Turk. Ground to dust and plowed with salt. Spain, France, Britain, America—burned into the oblivion of the centuries. And again and again and again."

I love A Canticle for Leibowitz. You're right- starts out so charming and seemingly innocent, and then it gets pretty crazy. The end is hard to forget.
Anyways, I thought of you when I read this:
It's fuunny how people's cultural references change. Instead of associating the quote witht the poem, they associate it with the movie. Thomas, the other day, referred to that Who song, "Magic Bus" as that song from the car commercial, instead of that song by the Who. What's up Charlotte, it's Helen in Sewanee. I had the wierdest dream about you. That you had 2 illegitimate sons that you had born and began raising during those "lost years" when you quit Sewanee. They were teenagers now. It was so real. Anyway, good to talk to you. Tami is having her baby this month!!!
It is indeed funny about the cultural reference and the change, not just from era to era but from person to person--I read the quote at the end of the post and immediately thought of Uncle Willie in Philadelphia Story with the champagne and Miss Imbrie. Your blog's pretty amazing. I went online to try and find, not the translated lyrics, but the actual Spanish lyrics of the Guatemalan Love Song, and yours seems to be the only place on the web that they exist. So you got that going for you. Which is nice. Thanks.
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