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21 March, 2021 - Birding in the Illawarra, Street Art, Egypt, and Fifty Years of American History

This Little Wattle Bird has been making his presence known in my front yard and on a neighbor’s aerial for the past could of weeks. Okay with me if he sticks around.

Welcome Swallows are very common in the Illawarra. Even so, I kind of like these photos I took of the ones I found not far from Wollongong mall recently. It was a windy day. They tend to have their nests under bridges and in places dark and secretive. They are a popular sight at Wollongong Botanic Garden in the pond area. There are not many places in the Illawarra where you can’t find these Welcome Swallows. There is a car park across from Wollongong hospital where I also suspect they nest.

Street art is a continuing happening in Wollongong. Some of it is very good, other efforts a bit on the strange side. Some of this art has been commissioned by local council no doubt to prevent the worse cases of graffiti from occurring. At given times this does work.

Street art or should I say crab art plus there is a sign that Wollongong is gearing up for Easter.

There has been in Wollongong mall of late a floral tribute to the change of seasons. Apparently autumn in the Illawarra and flowers go together.

A food concern in Wollongong has an odd but effective slant on French cooking. A bit of tongue in cheek fun I am certain the more politically correct among us will be extremely upset over. I haven’t tried their cooking myself. I might do so next time I am in Wollongong and it is a Thursday.

This is my name in Egyptian hieroglyphs. It might take a while to get my pyramid started. It won’t be a cheap feat of engineering, it never is with pyramids. Ah well! One can dream. Also I haven’t found the right woman to be buried with. I suppose I have to locate the right one to live with first. The afterlife does have its complications. I do have my copy of the Book of the Dead somewhere.

I am still re-reading through Doctor Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent. I read a friend’s copy about twenty years ago but felt I needed to refresh my memory as to his arguments against comic books and comic book reading. I won’t give a final evaluation of his work until I have completed my second reading. What I will do now is give you my own breakdown of the first fifty years of American life in the 20th Century and what most probably led to the writing of Doctor Wertham’s book and his concern for to comic book readers.

During the 1890s, and continuing well into the 1920s, there was a great influx of migrants from Europe into the USA. First port of call was generally New York but from there they spread out to other major cities such as Chicago or wherever work took them. They brought their culture and through them new words entered the English language. Charlie Chaplin made much of the hardships suffered by some migrants to America in his silent films.

It should be noted here that new ways of making steel had come about and so it was now possible to build upward, ever upward. The first skyscraper was constructed in Chicago.

This influx of people caused a housing shortage in major cities and problems with sanitation as well as education. Beer companies with German and Belgium names started up. Industrialists such as Henry Ford saw these immigrants as an opportunity to expand their businesses and make more money.

Wages for factory workers were not always close to being living wages. Sometimes it was a choice of whether to pay the rent or buy food. Unions started up, demanding better wages and better conditions.

A further disruption to life in the USA was America’s entry into the First World War in 1917. The frankfurter became the hotdog because a treasured snack at baseball games could no longer be both patriotic and have a German name.

Anti-German feeling pushed the agenda for an end to the saloon. In 1919 the senate voted in an amendment to the American constitution that would result in restrictions on the use of alcohol. It was the Volstead Act. Prohibition of drinking alcohol throughout the USA began effectively in 1920 and lasted, in most states, until 1933.

Many senators wanted in 1919 a ban on the various whiskies available but saw nothing wrong with beer, wine, cider and champagne. The harshness of the Volstead Act, therefore, was a surprise to many and it had indeed gone too far.

The notion that you could make drinking alcohol but not sell it also didn’t make much sense. You could sell the ingredients for making an alcoholic drink but not the drink itself. What’s more, prohibition did not affect the sale of alcohol that had been bottled before prohibition went into effect so there was a New York yacht club that had so much booze that was pre-1920 stored up they could serve customers for the entire time prohibition was in effect.

This ban on alcohol drinking did not affect religious ceremonies that were protected by another amendment or cough mixtures that contained alcohol. Certain of these cough mixtures, however, came to be banned because of physical danger to the public. Also alcohol was a prime ingredient in top grade cleaning solutions used in hospitals and in the manufacture of perfumes.

Add to all this the facts that Canada is above the USA and Mexico is below the USA. Then there were many politicians who considered funding efforts to catch those smuggling in alcohol via the various USA coastlines a low priority.

Apart from speakeasies in major cities, there were cordial shops selling more whisky than cordial and paying off local police to look the other way. There was a rise in crime associated with either the making of liquor to sell or the illegal importation of it. Without government control, drinkers could not be sure of the quality of what they were drinking. Improperly processed alcohol sent customers blind, mad, and also to the morgue. Prohibition did not stop alcoholism.

It was during this period that the gangster in the USA was seen as not so bad in terms of his defying prohibition, thought of by many as simply unjust. The nation became divided. Those living in the major cities were basically for alcohol consumption and the more rural areas were generally against it. As a side note, both Henry Ford and the Ku Klux Klan were for prohibition but for very different reasons.

After gangsters stopped killing each other in gang wars, or at least eased up, they began to form cooperative bodies. What’s more, when they saw the end of prohibition coming, they diversified further into gambling, prostitution, narcotics and small businesses. They had organized over alcohol and, becoming more and more organized, this would mean trouble for law enforcement for decades to come.

If the gangster had any real appeal to the American public it should have ended in 1933, whether this happened or not is a good question.

Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, made in 1936, dealt with the angst many Americans were feeling toward factory work and what it meant to be a factory worker.

In 1939 much of the world went to war. People of the Jewish faith in the USA were naturally concerned about Jews living in Europe. There were Polish Catholics also worried about their relatives. It was at this time comic book artists and writers launched their campaigns against fascism and their costumed heroes came to be on the frontline against what was happening overseas.

Racism was in the early comic books. This is something that cannot be denied. The way African Americans were portrayed was abominable. This was also true of the movies.

Asians were also treated badly. Created by the team that first brought to life Superman, Slam Bradley detective, in his earliest incarnation, went up against sinister Chinese of the Doctor Fu Manchu variety. It seemed that, in the 1930s, there was always something evil about the Chinese living in the USA. This changed because of the 2nd World War. Now, at least in the pages of the Golden Age Human Torch, the Chinese were portrayed as good sorts and top allies and it was the Japanese that were the evil ones.

As this garden in Sutherland, New South Wales, Australia illustrates, feelings against the Japanese that ran very high during and also after the Second World War, eventually eased in both Australia and in the USA.

As Americans went to war, there was lots of war propaganda in the USA comics just as there was lots of it in the movies. Strangely enough, the Germans didn’t always get treated as badly as the Japanese. In the comic book company that would become Marvel, The Destroyer worked with Germans intent on overthrowing Hitler and ending his madness.

I am not aware of any good Japanese or Japanese Americans portrayed in the comics until in the 1970s with Marvel’s The Invaders. It should be noted that one of the original actors of Star Trek is Japanese American and he spent his youth in an internment camp for Japanese Americans.

After the 2nd World War, there was an awkward peace that was to last a mere five years. The so-called Cold War started officially in 1947 but the gearing up for it happened in 1945 when the Russians, the British and the Americans grabbed as many German scientists and as much German technology as they could lay their hands on.

America’s use of the atomic bomb on two Japanese cities scared the hell out of a lot of people including Americans. During the Korean War, which began in 1950, there was the possibility the atomic bomb would be used against the communist Chinese. General MacArthur was all for it. The American president overruled him on the matter.

The Russians got the atomic bomb in 1949 so not blowing up communist Chinese during the Korean War was probably a good idea. Then of course came the nuclear missiles and with them increases in the arms race. Fear of attacks from outer space by the Russians kicked off the space race between the USA and Russia.

So what does any of this mean to someone living in 1950s America? A child of this period might be growing up in a slum. There are slum conditions mentioned in Doctor Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent. And certainly some of these slums might well date back to before the First World War.

Then there is the First World War to consider and the possibility the child has a grandfather who saw action in it. He may be aware of an uncle who owned a cordial shop during prohibition and sold liquor on the side. His father might have been a soldier during the Second World War and he could have a brother who was in the Korean War.

Now add to this the uncertainty of the arms race build up and there isn’t much to wonder why there was a lot of tension among young people of the era. There is film footage of the building of air raid shelters against first atomic and then nuclear air strikes.

Yes crime comics such as Crime Does Not Pay were popular in the 1940s going into the 1950s but so was Science Fiction and Horror. There were teenagers who thought they didn’t have much of a future so there was a live now while you can attitude that had more to do with the possibility of nuclear destruction that must of seemed so real back then.

In the 1955 movie Artists and Models, starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, there is a scene where a comic book publisher is face to face with an adolescent boy brought up on comic books. It is a tongue in cheek attack on Doctor Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent.

In the 1957 film The Delicate Delinquent, Jerry Lewis plays the role of a janitor mistaken by a police officer for a gang member and subsequently arrested. The police officer then sets about straightening out this delicate delinquent. It is a comedy but also a reflection on what life in the USA was like in the 1950s.

The musical Westside Story, starring Natalie Wood, came out in 1961 but still reflects the attitudes that were prevalent in the 1950s and also earlier in the USA. It was called a modern version of Romeo and Juliet where you have two lovers caught up in gang street violence.

Guns and gun control were big issues throughout the first 50 years of the 20th Century in America and continue to be so.

America remains a melting pot of many cultures with the good as well as the bad that entails. The first 50 years of the 20th Century were rough on many Americans as well as British and Australians. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s Australia, I didn’t have it so bad but, then again, I wasn’t old enough to be shipped off to Vietnam.

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