The Mudsill, Vol. 1, No. 5
March 1, 2021
We are grateful to bring you another number of The Mudsill.
In Craft, we offer you a stunning work by the poet D.A. Gray, whose work has appeared in The Sewanee Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, and many other sterling publications. Gray’s poem in this number of The Mudsill, “Four Stories of Burning,” is a tour de force on the history of America’s forced forgetting.
In Context, we are pleased to bring you an essay by public historian and inclusion activist Jennifer Vannette, “Performative Patriotism: The Pledge of Allegiance and the Politics of Identity.” Vannette’s essay explores how America’s forced forgetting happens via a particular kind of compulsory remembering.
In Critique, we offer something completely different: “Prepping for Godzilla v. Kong: The Showa Era (1960s),” by Vineet Azeez, a medical engineering scholar and real-life Renaissance man. In this sprightly orientation to and celebration of the history of the Godzilla film franchise, Aziz highlights the early Godzilla films of the period while offering a ranked list of recommended viewing for the rest of the Showa era flicks. Read Aziz’s recommendations, make your viewing list, pop your popcorn, and enjoy a stomp with the OG chonk.
In Comment, we are publishing a brief meditation by your intrepid but very tired editor, L.D. Burnett.
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Four Stories of Burning
by D.A. Gray
In this country we burn our mistakes, watch them disintegrate, become ash and disappear from our sight As a child once I dropped a note from the teacher into the fire place, watched flame wrap around the corners of a crisp white sheet, embrace it, then eat it. Smoke for a brief moment billowed out into the living room. In the field more than once a cow would die, left alone by the herd. If we were lucky we would find it before the flies started to emerge from its body, before rain washed its residue into the water supply. We burned the bodies, took kerosene and stood over watching the flame feast. Once the wind picked up and fire burned four acres of field, collateral damage in a quest to make unpleasant things disappear. We were uniquely American. One Halloween a group of racist neighbors (I only heard of them in pronouns) made a new farmer’s barn, tiers loaded with tinderbox dry tobacco, a year’s work of labor, disappear. I didn’t learn until I’d become an adult, that time when I stopped running from unpleasant truths, whole towns once disappeared that way. I learned when we reached Iraq that nothing truly disappears, the garbage the human waste, turned into prophetic pillars of smoke, a dark swirl in the Euphrates. We thought then we would leave the destruction return with our innocence intact. But we brought everything (all of it) home, growing inside us.
D.A. Gray is the author of Contested Terrain (2017) and Overwatch (2011). His poems have appeared in The Sewanee Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Appalachian Heritage, Comstock Review, Still: The Journal and Wrath-Bearing Tree among others. He holds Masters Degrees from The Sewanee School of Letters and Texas A&M-Central Texas. A veteran, Gray now teaches, writes, and lives in Central Texas.
Performative Patriotism: The Pledge of Allegiance and the Politics of Identity
by Jennifer Vannette
Recently, Florida Representative Matt Gaetz proposed that the House Judiciary Committee recite the pledge at the start of each meeting. His request was denied, partly because the House already begins each day with the pledge. Gaetz claimed it would be a statement of unity in our turbulent times and heavily implied that Democrats who refused his proposal lacked patriotism.
The idea of using the Pledge of Allegiance in an emotional, political response to current events is par for the course. From its origins, through several language tweaks, to Supreme Court rulings, to its added religiosity in the 1950s, the pledge changed to adapt to political and emotional appeals of the times. And nearly every single change has been misrepresented in various political arguments. For example, the Supreme Court ruling that recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance could not be compulsory came about not because atheists opposed the inclusion of God but because the Christian denomination the Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that they could not be compelled to say it because oath-swearing went against their religious beliefs. This happened in 1943. The “under God” clause was added in 1954. (Sidebar: SCOTUS ruled on the grounds of freedom of speech rather than religion.)
In 2000, Michael Newdow filed suit against his child’s public school district on the grounds that, as an atheist, the “under God” clause violated the freedom of religion clause of First Amendment. Newdow argued that expecting school children to recite a pledge with the phrase “under God” amounted to state-sanctioned religion. While in 2000, it was simply a contentious debate over the constitutionality of the words, when the Supreme Court decided in 2002 that Newdow did not have standing to bring the suit in the first place, the decision was entangled with the emotional and political aftermath of the attacks on 9/11. I remember standing in the middle of a Boston suburb on Independence Day in 2002, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before the fireworks display, and people all around me practically screamed the words “under God” as if their volume would equate to permanence.
Just as political events impacted American reactions to the Newdow suit, political factors have heavily influenced the entire history of the pledge, especially the addition of “under God.” It’s never been just a simple statement of loyalty.
Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 for school children to recite as part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Americas. Published in the Youth Companion, it was part of a promotion to encourage schools to purchase flags – hence the awkward primacy of the flag in statement over the republic.
The original pledge simply read: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The idea of being “one nation indivisible,” reflected the process of healing from the Civil War. Bellamy, despite his deep faith, did not choose to invoke God in anyway, and he reportedly felt strongly about the separation of church and state. However, from that point on, the pledge became part of the civil religious expression of the United States, meaning we invoke particular symbols and words as sacred in order to give the nation meaning.
The pledge went through several modifications. In 1923, lest anyone be confused about whose flag it was, “my flag” became “the flag of the United States.” Then in 1924, some concerned citizens felt the need to further clarify that it was the “flag of the United States of America.” At that point, many Americans embraced the calls for 100% Americanism, and expressed fear – and hatred – for immigrants.
Congress officially recognized the pledge in the flag code in 1942, and the primary purpose at that point was altering the flag salute from an outstretched arm to a hand placed over the heart as a means of dissociating the action with the Nazi military salute. The U.S. officially named it the Pledge of Allegiance in 1945, and the recitation went as follows: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
For nearly sixty years, Americans did not feel like anything was missing from the pledge. Then came the Cold War explosion of overt religiosity as Americans were encouraged to defeat the “godless communists” of the Soviet Union with “spiritual weapons.”
The Catholic brotherhood Knights of Columbus lobbied to add the phrase “under God” to the pledge in 1951, and they found an ally in Michigan Democrat Louis Rabaut who introduced legislation in the House. No one took notice until President Eisenhower and several other government representatives visited the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church for Lincoln Sunday on February 7, 1954.
Rev. George M. Docherty’s sermon on freedom and the “American way of life” represented civil religion at its finest – a sprinkling of biblical text mixed with a generous pour of U.S. History from the Puritans to Lincoln and shaken with icy Cold War anticommunism.
Docherty spoke about the Pledge of Allegiance and shared his realization: “There was something missing in the Pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in ‘the American Way of Life.” The definitive factor? Faith in the Almighty. He argued from the pulpit that Soviets could claim they adhered to principles of justice and liberty – anyone could claim that – so the U.S. needed to take immediate action to distinguish its identity. The solution, Docherty said, would be to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, which school children recited daily.
Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan obliged by introducing a resolution to add the phrase “under God” the Pledge of Allegiance. His words on the Senate floor echoed Docherty’s sermon, as Ferguson argued, “America must be defended by spiritual values which exist in the hearts and souls of the American people.”
The House revived Rabaut’s proposal. Before they voted, an editorial in the ecumenical magazine The Christian Century cheekily stated that the bill would pass unopposed, but not because congressional leaders were so devout, but rather, because no one would dare go on record as having voted against God.
It’s not that no one brought up the First Amendment’s Freedom of Religion. Congressional leaders simply argued that God did not mean Christian God. Alternatively, they argued that no one intended to compel religious belief, just that the “underlying philosophy [of the nation] recognizes the existence of God,” as explained by another Michigan Representative Charles Oakman. One might recognize that the rationalization still leaves out a great many faith traditions along with nonbelievers. But in 1950s America, pluralism really meant Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, and a sort of seeking out of the lowest common denominator. Obviously, this has a world of dogmatic problems as well, but in the civil religious sphere of the 1950s, it was enough to equate faith in God generally with loyalty to the U.S.
So, on June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower signed the new resolution into law and the Pledge of Allegiance became the now familiar version that proclaims we exist as a nation under God. Senator Ferguson and Representative Rabaut had the honor of leading the assembly in reciting the pledge. Despite so much pluralistic rhetoric, the military band played “Onward Christian Soldiers” creating a decidedly Christian atmosphere.
The lack of non-Christian voices raising objections might be due to the fear of drawing attention to anything beyond the status quo at a time where standing out meant scrutiny by the feverous McCarthyites bent on rooting out communists. Some, like Jewish representatives from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, opted to embrace the nondenominational language and focus on support of the nation. During debates, several representatives argued that the flag salute was not an inherently religious act, and because the Supreme Court already said the pledge could not be compulsory, the First Amendment did not apply.
These points are debatable. It’s clear that without the Cold War’s spiritual warfare, the pledge would not acknowledge God. It’s also clear that the addition was a political calculation, just as much as the original version was calculated to sell flags. However, given the overtly religious signing ceremony and overtly Christian leadership on the effort, it’s not clear that we can separate religious meaning from the pledge.
Also, when claiming it is not compulsory, we need a closer examination of the veracity of that statement. Sixty-one percent of Americans favor having children recite the pledge each school day. Particularly in light of the fact that most nations do not have children participate in a daily flag salute, we should examine why we do. What is the purpose?
If daily recitation is to condition children to reflexively respond to the flag and country a particular way, then it perhaps makes sense. If it is to teach children about civic pride, then robust civics education makes far more sense. Because otherwise, we must confront what Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote for the majority opinion in Engel v. Vitale (1962, school prayer case). He said that schools hold such authority over minors that they may not truly feel free to abstain from a school sponsored activity.
We can debate whether or not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance has value in our public sphere, but we cannot abide the claim that the desire to recite it is a mark of “true” patriotism. To make such a claim is antithetical to the principles for which we are supposed to be expressing loyalty.
If one truly believes in the oath, then one should just as adamantly support the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience that lead others away from that performance.
If the act of saying the pledge is all that we have to demonstrate unity, then we are in a precarious place indeed.
Jennifer Vannette is an independent public historian and inclusion advocate, living and working in middle of the Mitten State.
Prepping for Godzilla vs. Kong: The Showa Era (1960s)
by Vineet Aziz
Godzilla finally hit Criterion last year and there’s a huge movie coming out this month, Godzilla vs. Kong (dir. Adam Wingard). You’re ready to finally learn to love the big chonk, but with 67 years of history, where do you even start? From the beginning!
The Showa Era covers 1954-1975, the first of three Godzilla “eras.” During this time, director Ishiro Honda, composer Akira Ifukube, and effects director Eiji Tsuburaya created the character, revolutionized Japanese sci-fi cinema (the modern tokatsu genre), and smoothly guided the series for a few years before stepping away as the direction of the films evolved in the late 60s and 70s. Of their original films, the essential holy trinity is Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Not only do they tell a single coherent story, but if you watched only these three, you’d meet most of the main monsters, you’d develop an artistic appreciation for the effects, and you’d see some of the most iconic Godzilla films ever made. These three films are the cornerstone of all the lore and love behind the goofy, gif-able Godzilla Gang of the Showa Era.
Mysterious shipwrecks. Radioactive footprints. An ancient myth.
The original Godzilla film is a surprisingly human story. After leading paleontologist Kyohei Yamane confirms the existence of a 50m sea dinosaur which has mutated to walk on land, his small fishing village descends into turmoil. The heart of the movie is Yamane’s innocent desire to peacefully study the creature, in bold contrast to the rest of society. Added to the ethical and scientific dilemma is a layer of tragic pathos, as Yamane’s daughter abandons her fiancé for a ship captain (who is naturally anti-Godzilla). Meanwhile, the ex-fiancé secretly devises a devastating new weapon to destroy Godzilla for good.
The nuance and intensity of the philosophical debates are what make this monster movie truly timeless. None of the humans are portrayed as true villains or heroes. Each character has their own unique perspective on how to handle Godzilla. Should the public be told about him? Should he be killed, or studied? These aren’t novel monster movie questions, but they’re handled with such thoughtful solemnity that the audience truly empathizes with each point of view. The script is abundant with complex metaphors grappling with the creation and consequences of nuclear power, and the ending is stunningly emotional.
Beyond the page, the filmmaking is masterful. Taking inspiration from 1933’s King Kong, effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya presents a seamless mix of stop-motion, miniatures, and revolutionary lighting. Most famously, Tsuburaya debuted “suitmation” for Godzilla’s more fluid movements by filming stunt actor Haruo Nakajima in a rubber suit on top of a miniature city. At the same level of excellence, Akira Ifukube’s score still stands powerful today. Heavy percussive beats evoke the impending terror of Godzilla’s approach, and the two human themes are full of swashbuckling adrenaline and unspeakable sorrow. Lastly, the film is elegantly edited with a careful use of fades and wipes. A few elements of intricate set design stand out, like the Frankenstein homages in the weapons laboratory.
While Godzilla ambitiously aspires to marry the dazzling production of 1977’s Star Wars with the moral introspection of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, I think it inevitably falls short to connect the two. For me, the biggest flaw is that the humans and the monster mayhem never fully intertwine on-screen. Godzilla is more of a plot device for character drama than an actual source of terror, rendering the stakes more theoretical than tangible. Nevertheless, it’s still a great movie, but the human/monster disconnect denies the film of its potential for perfection.
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)
Although not the first Godzilla sequel, Mothra vs. Godzilla can be watched immediately after the original, and it must not be missed. When a Mothra egg is bought by a greedy corporation, two fairy twins warn the executives that the egg must be returned, or there will be grave consequences. Of course, the warning is not heeded. When Godzilla re-appears, the fairies summon an old, dying Mothra to protect her egg... but will she be enough?
The story is relatively basic, but the themes and spectacle more than make up for it, because Mothra vs. Godzilla is one of the most fantastic, exhilarating, indescribable experiences I’ve ever had with a film. With complete respect for their audience, and the highest levels of craftsmanship, the filmmakers bring to life a series of fever dreams, the kind you only fantasize about but never see made, and they’ve supported all of it with meaningful commentaries about the human condition. MvG feels like it wasn’t meant for human eyes; it’s simply too special and full of childlike wonder with unbounded creativity, from the costumes and culture of Mothra’s Infant Island to the soulful, sorrowful song of the fairy twins. I truly felt like I’d been transported to some faraway strange land, like a Wizard of Oz spinoff set in the world of Godzilla Japan. A purely outlandish, magical story told with utter sincerity and a clear moral center. Watching this brought back my childhood. Perhaps unlike anything I’ll ever see again.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
A detective is sent to protect a princess from assassination, but she soon begins acting strangely. Meanwhile, the space dragon King Ghidorah arrives on Earth in pursuit Venusian refugees hiding among humans. With three heads and lightning powers, Ghidorah is too powerful for any one monster alone. Godzilla will have to work with his past enemies if he hopes to save the Earth.
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster solidifies the transition from symbolic sci-fi/horror to full-throttle fantasy action cheese. The film still toys with politics and philosophy, but mostly as lip service. Some of the effects are even stronger than in Mothra vs. Godzilla, possibly because there were fewer effect sequences in favor of more rubber-suit battle royale. The monster personalities are funnier than ever, which makes the action sequences a solid step up from the already-great fights of Mothra vs. Godzilla. The outrageous ideas come with a straight-faced seriousness that doesn’t sacrifice what makes it so much fun in the first place. They aren’t terror-inducing dinosaurs, they’re clumsy buffoons with lovable personalities. While Ghidorah is only modestly intriguing as a story, the effects and creativity behind the large-scale monster slapstick make this film a worthy installment in the classic Godzilla pantheon.
Besides the trilogy, I’d recommend sticking to release order.
However, if you want a quick pick-and-choose approach, here’s what you need to know for the ‘60s:
1964 Mothra vs. Godzilla
Bafflingly beautiful, especially in the music, effects, themes, and art direction. Godzilla in Oz, featuring live-action Pokemon battles. A Godzilla GOAT.
Deadly serious and deadly tragic. Maybe humans are the real monsters?
1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla
Uproarious satire, schlock, and absurdity. A ridiculously good time with straight-faced goofs. Totally standalone, and totally worth it.
1964 Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster
An epic team-up ends the first trilogy, heralding a major tonal shift in the series.
Heinous but Hilarious (So Bad It’s Great)
1967 King Kong Escapes
Introducing Mechani-Kong! Super silly, super dumb, and a guaranteed fun time.
1967 Son of Godzilla
Maybe one of the worst films in the series, but I was dying of laughter the whole time. Absolutely lovable mess of a movie. Must be seen with friends.
1966 Ebirah, Horror of the Deep
Godzilla beach party! Fun, funny, and nonsensical. Kaiju volleyball at its finest.
1965 Invasion of Astro-Monster
Godzilla in space! Insane sci-fi designs mask a surprisingly boring story. The direct follow-up toGhidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.
1968 Destroy All Monsters
The ultimate crossover finale, but all spectacle and no soul. After several films of total silliness, the gravitas of original director Ishiro Honda feels out of place. Features cameos from almost every monster introduced so far.
1969 All Monsters Attack
An anti-bullying ad that actually advocates bullying. Mostly scenes from past movies spliced together, one could argue it’s not even a real movie? It’s just bad.
But this is only the beginning! There’s a whole world of Godzilla Gang goodness, from the other ‘60s spinoffs (Rodan, Mothra), to the ‘70s soft reboot, to the ‘80s edgy reboot, to new fave Shin Godzilla and the ongoing “Monsterverse” franchise in Hollywood. Don’t forget King Kong (1933), a still-untouchable classic (tribal stereotypes aside) with his own iconic sequels. Whether you’re rooting for Kong or Goji, it’s a great time to start watching!
Godzilla vs. Kong will be in theaters and on HBO Max March 31, 2021. Please watch responsibly.
Vineet Aziz is a Bionics Engineering MSc student at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, an English teacher in Poland, and a fan of international film history.
by L.D. Burnett
As you may have heard, I done got fired over a tweet.
The firing is a clear violation of my First Amendment rights. My employer (until May 14) is a government agency. As much as the community college may wish that I were consistently nice on the internet, it cannot legally punish me for Mean Tweets. Even in an employment at will situation (and isn’t that all of us now, honestly?), a government employer cannot legally refuse to renew a contract if even part of the motivation to do so is to chill, punish, or retaliate for protected speech.
TL;DR: when I’m writing on my own time and my own dime I cannot lose my job for what I write, even if I (occasionally? daily?) turn my Twitter feed into what one detractor has called a display of Public and Open Bitchiness.
That’s not my band name, but it is definitely one of the tracks on my latest album.
Will my employer have to make amends for my firing, or pay a settlement, or issue an apology, or take a crash course in First Amendment law? Or will they get to do this to me now and then steamroll other faculty into terrified silence while the administrators proceed with their plan for the “Amazonification” of the college?
No idea. Guess we’ll all find out together.
I can tell you this: though it may seem that I am taking this well, I am not in fact Taking This Well. At least, it doesn't feel that way.
Today Mr. B held me while I cried. Again. “It’s not fun to be famous for getting fired,” I sobbed, “even if I am in the right.”
Mister B said, “I think it’s just not fun to be famous. That’s probably part of it.”
Yes, he is a keeper.
Of course, I’m not really famous—just currently blinking against the spotlight glare of this higher education internet outrage du jour. The spotlight will eventually sweep past—though I do hope it lingers in the immediate vicinity long enough to cast all the worst flaws of my ideological foes in sharp relief while ever so subtly softening my public image.
A girl can dream.
And a girl can write. Eventually.
For now, this girl will need some time to recover from this shock to my sensibilities. (Given everything I know about my college’s leadership, my firing wasn't a surprise, but something doesn’t have to be a surprise to be a shock.)
Still, I will keep editing The Mudsill. That is part of my road to recovery. And I will keep paying our contributors, because I’ll be damned if my dumb employer steals that joy from me.
With our current paid subscriber base, The Mudsill is able to continue paying $25 per contribution (our current rate). So if you’re a paying subscriber, please stick around!
If you’re not a paying subscriber, that’s okay. Please just do us the kind favor of sharing this newsletter as widely as you can, across every network to which you belong. Because the work people are sending to me for consideration is outstanding, and it deserves a wide readership, and I just might not be the best or most consistent spokesperson for the virtues of The Mudsill at present.
Public and Open Bitchiness is therapeutic for me from time to time, but that’s not our brand here at The Mudsill. So please share this newsletter with anyone who might be interested in a truly eclectic read. If they ask you, “Wait, is that the L.D. Burnett who just got fired from her job for Mean Tweets,” just yell, “OMG did you see Kate McKinnon in that brunette wig and red leather dress?!” and run like hell. But drop that link first.
And of course we would not turn down new paying subscribers. But—and I promised this from the outset—as our paying subscriber base grows so our payment per contribution will increase. That’s my commitment, and I’m sticking to it.
Thank you for sticking with The Mudsill. And with me.