Archive for racism

High on “The Man in the High Castle”

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

One of my holiday traditions is to indulge in a television binge watch—ideally, a series that gives me that delightful, reckless feeling of wasting time. To enhance the celebration, I watch on my laptop in bed. With tea.

In 2014, the holiday binge was Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a light-weight crime series set in 1920s Australia. In 2015, I escaped with Underwear, a series about life at a lingerie design house in contemporary Tokyo.

This year, I found a speculative/suspense series on Amazon Video set in 1962 America: The Man in The High Castle. And my indulgence in comfort TV has turned discomforting.

Vintage paperback edition of the book

An early edition of the novel

The Man in The High Castle was inspired by a Hugo-Award winning novel of the same name published in 1963 by the late Philip Dick. This talented author’s science fiction has formed the inspiration for other films including Blade Runner, Total Recall, and The Minority Report. Dick was a tortured genius, with mental health issues and a deep interest in philosophy. He believed that different worlds can exist because of people’s mind-states. The possibility of multiple realities flows through his works, including this series.

The Man in The High Castle hurtles us into a world where the Axis prevailed in World War II. In 1962, the former United States are dived into Pacific States (the west), the Greater Nazi Reich (the East Coast, South and Midwest). The Rocky Mountain states lie in the Neutral Zone, but it is far from a safe haven. In Japanese-occupied San Francisco, a degenerate artist named Frank and an aikido teacher named Juliana (they were married in Dick’s novel) live together in a dank San Francisco basement. They are thrown into danger when Juliana’s half-sister Trudy flings a film reel at her just before she is executed by the Japanese police.

Juliana Crane, played by Alexa Davalos, lives in Japanese-governed San Francisco

Juliana’s efforts to deliver the film to the person Trudy intended brings her into contact with the resistance, and throws Frank and his relatives, who have a fraction of Jewish blood, into danger. The situation is complicated when Juliana is aided by an attractive young man, Joe Blake, working for the Nazis. Not going to say any more on the plot, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

While the TV series is action-packed and suspenseful, the creepiest moments show the subtle ways  the foreign powers reshaped the lives of the Americans following the atomic bombing of Washington DC. In the Pacific States, many bus and street signs are in Japanese, and people routinely eat with chopsticks and fall into deep bows when faced by their rulers. In New York suburbs, families look “Father Knows Best” perfect, but the kids wear Hitler Youth uniforms to school, the textbooks are all about allegiance to the Führer, muesli is on the breakfast table and people use fork and knife in the German fashion. Costumes and sets and the cinematography are top-notch.

Backyard baseball on Long Island, played by Nazi-American characters

Before viewing the first episode, I wondered if Germans and Japanese would feel disheartened by seeing their worst moments in history glorified.  I was relieved to discover humane characters among all the communities portrayed.  A pair of German and Japanese government men, Rudolf Wegener and Nobosuke Tagomi, scheme together to keep power balanced between the two sides to avoid a war. And the Americans subject to rule—the “pawns” who work for the occupying forces, and those in the resistance—have to weigh whether their fight for freedom will bring death to innocents around them.

Japanese Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

This series was shot in 2014 and premiered in 2015 with season 1 (you must watch Season 1 in order to understand Season 2). The US presidential race hadn’t yet begun, which meant that white supremacists were lurkers, rather than a much-publicized, blatant force. The Man in The High Castle feels like the canary in the coal mine: the harbinger of disaster.

Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith of the American Reich

In the first month after the  presidential election, we have witnessed almost more than 1000 hate incidents. The president-elect said nothing against these acts until he was coaxed to make a statement by a journalist, at which time he looked into a TV camera and said, “Stop it.”

But they won’t stop.  The KKK marched through North Carolina to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory. Trump appointed Steve Bannon, his election strategist and a founder of the racist Breitbart News website, as White House chief of staff. Richard Spencer, a young man who heads a white nationalist group called The National Policy Institute, held a conference of followers in Washington DC where Sieg Heil saluting was widespread in the audience.

Spencer is married to a pro-Putin Russian propagandist Nina Kouprianova. Trump does business with Russia and praises Putin. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is an ExxonMobil CEO who has been awarded a medal from Putin’s administration. New York looks to be the center of Trump’s government, just as it is for the Nazis in the series.

Well worth watching!

Sounds like a paranoid conspiracy—but people are dead serious about it, and many Republicans now view Putin’s actions favorably. Having grown up in the Cold War, this seems to me like a revised version of The Manchurian Candidate—or at the very least a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

What could happen nextafter the ten episodes of Season 2 of The Man in The High Castle are finished? There may be a Season 3, although it’s not official yet.

In the meantime, another program is in the works. The A&E Network plans a documentary series called “Generation KKK” that will follow young Americans choosing racism. This kind of programmingwhich is bound to attract fans who will connect to the real-life charactersseems like it could be another goose-step in normalizing racist behaviors. But I’ll wait to see.

Stamped by Faith

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Religious Freedom stamp

While looking through our motley collection of stamps to find a small one  to add to an envelope, I stumbled across a surprise: a modest, black and white stamp honoring “Religious Freedom in America.”

I’ve seen stamps honoring different religious holidays, but never one for religious freedom. The stamp was issued 1957. The McCarthy years of political prosecutions were waning, but it was still an era that non-Christians were being turned away from universities and neighborhoods. Religious and political minorities did not have full rights.

The stamp’s fine print mentions the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657, wherein citizens of that part of “New Netherlands” (later to become New York) petitioned their Dutch colonial government on religious tolerance.

Stamps are both postage and government propaganda. I find it intriguing that the US Postal Service chose to promote a little-known event that predates the Revolutionary War. Yet it seems a precursor to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

It felt shocking to encounter this stamp after flying into Baltimore-Washington International airport this past Sunday. The airport’s many televisions broadcast a CNN feature about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump announcing a proposed expansion of his desire to ban Muslims from the United States. I noticed a young woman in a long dress wearing a small black voile headscarf standing near the TV. She was busy on her cell phone. I was worried that she would look up and see the latest distressing announcement.

Donald Trump now seeks to ban visitors and immigrants coming from any country compromised by terrorism.

Donald Trump now seeks to ban visitors and immigrants coming from any country compromised by terrorism.

Trump supporter Laura Ingraham finished her convention speech with this gesture

Trump supporter Laura Ingraham finished her convention speech with this gesture.

Adolf Hitler originated the Sieg Heil salute that became mandatory for civilians

Adolf Hitler originated the Sieg Heil salute that became mandatory for civilians.

My thoughts rolled to 1933. Germany’s president, Paul von Hindenburg, tried to appease the country’s Nazi party by appointing Adolf Hitler as chancellor. Chancellor Hitler played on people’s fears, spewing racism and anti-Semitism. He targeted a country where too many working class people had lost out economically and were looking for a champion.

I got to thinking about how people in the country reacted to Hitler’s appointment. Apparently, two-thirds of the country’s Jews stayed. I imagined them thinking then, just as we are doing now: shouldn’t we go about one’s daily life honorably and expect the country to come to its senses within the year? After all, Jewish families had resided in Germany for centuries. Many of them had good businesses and professional positions and many Christian customers, neighbors, friends. They felt they were German, and they were invested in remaining.

The Italian Jewish chemist, Primo Levi, survived Auschwitz. After the war, he wrote about the psychology of Jewish citizens wanting to stay in The Drowned and the Saved. “This village or town or region or nation is mine. I was born here, my ancestors are buried here. I speak its language, have adopted its customs and culture, and to this culture I may even have contributed. I paid its taxes, observed its laws. I fought its battles not caring whether they were just or unjust. I risked by life for its borders, some of my friends or relations lie in the war cemeteries. I do not want nor can I leave it…”

The normal life of middle-class Jewish people in 1920s Berlin

The normal life of middle-class Jewish people in 1920s Berlin

During the Hitler years, Jewish people with enough funds, connections and luck managed to get to countries not reached by Hitler’s army. Ironically, the Jews learned England and the United States were loath to welcome them. The Anglophone nations feared that amongst the refugees, Nazi agents would be hidden; and that if they allowed more than a handful of war refugees to enter, they would be unable to hold back the masses.

Syrian refugees arriving in Canada, one of the few nations offering wide support

Syrian refugees arriving in Canada, one of the few nations offering wide support

We have seen these attitudes replaying again as Donald Trump scapegoats Muslims. In Britain, more citizens voted to leave the European Union than to stay.

How can people think so little about the humanity of others, and fall prey to fear-mongers?

And will the rest of us be brave enough to stand up before it’s too late?