Tag Archives: censorship

The Filthy Truth by Andrew Dice Clay (with David Ritz)

The Diceman Cometh… back.

“I wanted to show the world that a comic could be as big as a rock star.”

There was a time in the late 80s when I swore that one day I’d see Andrew Dice Clay in concert. In those years he was everywhere–the raunchy hottest comedian around; his shows were rude, crude and lewd–the sort of comedian bound to offend someone. In fact, even saying that you were an Andrew Dice Clay fan raised eyebrows. No matter, I love a good laugh and my sense of humour has always been in the gutter.

the filthy truthIn spite of my intentions to one day attend a Diceman concert, it never happened. Most of Dice’s fans are aware of the ‘controversy’ that buried Dice’s career–Dice was slated to appear on SNL (yes, that supposedly cutting edge comedy programme) when one of the cast members boycotted the show. The boycott was joined by Sinead O’Connor, and then MTV slammed a lifetime ban (lifted in 2011) on Dice following the 1989 MTV awards (come on, if you make Dice a live prime-time TV presenter what the hell do you think is going to happen?) and then the Puritanism snowballed from there. Dice, at the top of his game and able to sell out tens of thousands of seats in minutes, suddenly became a hot PC potato. He disappeared, reappearing briefly in a sadly harnessed performance for a drab television sitcom.

Frankly, it was startling to see how Dice’s career was eviscerated practically overnight. William J Mann’s book Tinseltown documented the witchhunt that threw Fatty Arbuckle to the ‘moral reformers’ and ruined his career. Perhaps we could expect scapegoating in the 1920s–those days of imminent film censorship, but it is startling to see the same sort of thing occur again in the 90s. And let’s not forget that Fatty Arbuckle was accused of rape and murder before emerging, an innocent man, from no less than 3 trials. The most Andrew Dice Clay can be accused of is bad taste, and I bet he’d gladly admit it.

If the press didn’t understand that the Diceman was a character who amplified certain attitudes that millions of people had–not only amplified those attitudes but actually made fun of those attitudes by making fun of himself–then the press had its head up its ass.

I’ve missed Dice over the years, but I’ve had the occasional Dice Nostalgia Night with a rewatch of one of the many Dice concerts or even his cult film: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, and I was delighted to see Dice in the role of a disgruntled ex-husband in Woody Allen’s 2013 film Blue Jasmine. Could this mean that the Diceman is back?….

The Filthy Truth, Andrew Dice Clay’s memoir, begins with Dice at the lowest point of his life. He’s “lost millions” and with two marriages behind him, “broke, grinding through the toughest decade” of his life, is about to play to an audience of 16 in the back room of a Las Vegas sushi bar–a far cry from the days when he sold out two consecutive days at Madison Square Garden–the only comic in history to do so. Dice says of the experience in the back room of the sushi bar,  “that night was the beginning of the ride back,” The book then moves from Dice’s childhood in Brooklyn, through the beginnings of his comic career, the formation of his Dice persona, the struggles, the successes, the marriages, the pinnacle of his success and his fall.

The book includes details of several sexual encounters, and this is when the book is at its weakest. Unlike Dice’s jokes, these encounters don’t come with a punch line, and the stories just read as titillation rather than interesting or even erotic. The details of Dice’s family, known as the Originals are wonderful; you just knew that he had to come from some pretty extraordinary people, and Dice’s parents (his mother especially) come to life in the pages. There’s the sense that Dice had an incredible career that was unique for a number of reasons, and Dice always seemed to be able to gauge the right moves at the right moment–that is until he drastically underestimated the power of Moral Righteousness and “the orchestrated campaign” which finally dragged his career into the undertow.

I ran down to the newsstand on the corner and picked up the paper. And right there, in a five-word description of the Diceman Cometh, I read, “The Demise of Western Civilization.”

I was half amused, half amazed that the Times took me so fuckin’ seriously. But I wasn’t upset. I was actually glad for the attention. Let the press write whatever the hell they wanna write. I work for the fans, not the press. All the press could do was bring me more fans. I didn’t see then–and remained blind to for months to come–the power of the press to fuck me up.

It’s clear that Dice, born and raised in Brooklyn, was always a ‘character,’ as we read of his childhood (he was a “third-rate student and a first-rate clown,”), how he “dated” his mother’s fur coat, his first and last trip to a bordello (“the madam looked like Bela Lugosi in drag,”) and worked at a men’s clothing shop selling cheap suits “a little better than papier-mâché.” But it didn’t take long for Dice to realize that he was not going to have a traditional career, and so we follow how he developed his first act and made the decision to move to L.A. where he built his routine at the Comedy Store. Reading the book gives the impression that Dice is in the room telling his story complete with frank admissions of mistakes and failings, and there’s the sense that a fall will occur as we hear about the houses bought, the huge gambling losses, the purchase of a car for sixty-nine thousand in cash, and the night he played Vegas with three-hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of chips stuffed in his pocket.

Included in the book are snapshots of various celebrities who befriended Dice or gave him a kind word along the way–including  Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Murphy, Mickey Rourke, and Eminen.

The Filthy Truth will appeal to all the fans out there who’ve missed Andrew Dice Clay and are still cheering for him. Those familiar with Dice will know what to expect in terms of language and subject matter, so readers can’t bitch when they find the first four letter word. Dice’s role in Blue Jasmine signals his triumphant return, but his fans never forgot him in the first place.

I got up onstage and I took my sweet fucking time lighting my cigarette with a flick of the Zippo and an over-the-shoulder back of the-head drag. I opened with the nursery rhymes.

Review copy

 

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Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins has written a number of Nathan Heller novels which focus on real events, including the assassination of Huey Long, the Black Dahlia murder, and the Lindbergh kidnapping. In common with the Nathan Heller series, The Seduction of the Innocent, is also inspired by true events. Collins explains, however, that while the Heller books “hew religiously to actual events” he opted to take a different tack with this latest release from Hard Case Crime, and if you read the book, it’s easy to see why (more of that later). In his latest novel, Collins appears to have a lot of fun with his characters, and as a result, The Seduction of the Innocent is laced with the sort of humour that reminds me of Donald Westlake.

seduction of the innocentMeshing fact and fiction into a perfect blend, the novel centres on the comic book industry–specifically our narrator Jack Starr, part owner of The Strip Joint, a Manhattan restaurant that’s just one part of the Starr Syndicate’s business concerns. Stripper Maggie Starr, known professionally as Libidia Von Stackpole, is Jack’s sexy stepmother who is the brains of the operation, and since she owns 75 % of the Starr Syndicate, she’s also his boss. The Starr Syndicate is also involved in the comic book business, and that’s a prickly business to be in as comic book crusader Dr. Werner Frederick  has made it his mission to clean up comic books and their perceived bad influence on children. Frederick’s book Ravage the Lambs is getting a lot of press in a society in which censorship and blacklisting are the results of the vicious, paranoid politics of the times, and with a grand jury investigation about to begin, those within the comic book industry are feeling a lot of pressure. With tempers running high, a murder occurs, and the killer left a calling card which implicates that this is a crime committed by someone in the comic book biz. Jack Starr steps up to investigate, and along the way he tangles with a few colourful characters and a very sexy dame.

On one level, this is a great pulp story, full of eccentric and sometimes badly behaved characters: there’s Will Allison, a promising young artist, Bob Price, a comic book publisher who naively believes that testifying before the grand jury will help argue his cause, luscious artist Lyla Lamont and her abusive boyfriend, Pete Pine, and sexy psychologist, Sylvia who admits to mixed feelings about Dr. Frederick. While she disagrees strongly with Frederick’s position on comic book censorship, she admires other aspects of his career.

While Seduction of the Innocent is a great romp through the comic book scene of the 50s, it’s a lot more than that, and the novel also addresses the issue of censorship with one cast of characters arguing vehemently against any policing of their industry, and Dr. Frederick arguing that comic books poison the minds of children. Dr. Frederick seems to be a rational enough, even open-minded human being, but get him started on comic books, and we see a normally reasonable, gentle man go ballistic:

“I do not dispute that the comic strip,” he said, mildly irritated, “has blossomed in its limited way in the greater garden of the American newspaper. But its bastard child the comic book is a poisonous weed that infests our newsstands. A dozen state legislatures have worked to ban or limit this blight upon our children, and many parents have risen up, even having public burnings of these wretched pamphlets.”

And here I thought the doc didn’t like the Nazis….

With emotions in the comic book biz running at an all time high, it’s no wonder that someone ends up dead, and it’s Jack Starr’s job to make sure that the right man (or woman) takes the rap for this dastardly crime.

One of the aspects of this book that I enjoyed the most was the way the author used the facts of the times to create a good, solid pulp story which manages to include some very serious moral questions, and we see the catastrophic results of one man with a few credentials seizing the moral high ground, “riding the comet of a controversy of his own creation,” while the rest of the characters struggle to justify their existence. The real life comic book crusader, Dr. Fredric Wertham is, of course, the model for the fictional Dr. Frederick, and Wertham’s expose book was called Seduction of the Innocent (hence the tongue-in-cheek title of the book). So here Max Allan Collins turns a tense period of history into a crime zone that could so-easily have happened with just a little stretch of the imagination. While some of the aspects of the fictional Dr. Frederick character may seem over-the-top or bizarre just go read about the person this character is based on and you’ll see that this is not an exaggeration. In one part of the novel, our fictional Dr. Frederick has a fit over the content of several comics. He sees evil and smut where it doesn’t exist and conversely, he fails to see evil when it stares him in the face. Dr. Frederick shows glimpses of homophobia in his gross misinterpretation of some of the comic book heroes:

The undercurrent of homosexuality in the Batwing comic book,” he said as if tasting something sour, “is extremely damaging to impressionable minds, and children are inherently in that category.”

“Homosexual?” I asked.

That got me another flash of a look from Maggie.

“Impressionable,” he said sternly. “And the Amazonia comic book is rife with fetishistic bondage, and the lead character herself is clearly lesbian.”

“She has a boyfriend, doesn’t she?” I asked innocently. Some captain in the army or air force?”

“Amazonia is a closeted lesbian, frequently shown participating in semi-clothed frolicking with other lesbians.”

I never get invited to the good parties…

Dr. Frederick also sees comic book hero Wonder Guy as a “reprehensible exhibition of the Nazi theme of the Superman.”

Anyone that reads that much dirt into a character who is a patent do-gooder like Wonder Guy deserves to be handcuffed, gagged, dressed in latex, and spanked by someone named The Gimp. But I’d guess that Dr. Frederick would probably enjoy that too much.

To complement the subject, there are several appropriate illustrations throughout the novel, and in the afterword, Max Allan Collins talks about his “fact-inspired” novel, the real comic book crusade, Dr Wertham and comic book censorship along with further reading suggestions on the topic.

Review copy.

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Zola Translations

Due to questions about the merits of one translation over another, and just how much the Vizetellys chopped from the original Zola novels in the Rougon-Macquart cycle, I decided to write a post comparing passages from Zola’s L’Assommoir. I’d say L’Assommoir is one of the naughty ones, and that means the 19th century censors probably had a whooping fun time tutting over it while slyly slobbering over the salacious bits.

The first quote is from the copy I read. It’s published by Oxford World Classics, and the translator is Margaret Mauldon. In the section “notes on the translation,” Mauldon states:

 L’Assommoir is a notoriously difficult text to translate. No translation, however faithful its rendering of the novel’s gutter slang and obscenities, could possibly recreate the impact of that language on the nineteenth century reader.

That gives it away right there: gutter slang and obscenities. Now we’re talking….

When I started the reading the series, I found that the Vizetelly translations were dismissed as “bowdlerized,” and this was discouraging. I almost didn’t want to bother reading the cycle since so many of the novels were only available in the Vizetelly versions.

Most of what I’ll term the ‘better‘ novels in the series have been translated–some more than once, and a couple of new translations appeared since I started reading the cycle in 2007 ( I finished in 2010). Fortunately, I didn’t let myself be put off by the Vizetelly translations. I should add here that I read other translations when available, but if the Vizetelly version was the only thing out there, then that’s what I read. BTW, when I started reading the Rougon-Macquart series, I thought Vizetelly translations were altered on some whim, but a bit of digging told me that the Vizetelly family paid dearly for their commitment to publish Zola. Discovering how they were dragged into court on obscenity charges put a different light on the subject. Henry Vizetelly was even sent to prison for his ‘crime.’

So here we have it: some books in the cycle are ONLY available in Vizetelly. Be grateful for what you can get. If you can read another translation, then I strongly encourage it. And here to make a point are two comparison quotes from L’Assommoir. As a matter of explanation, Gervaise operates a laundry. She’s married to Coupeau who’s turned to booze following a roofing accident. Coupeau strikes up an unfortunate relationship with Gervaise’s ex-lover Lantier, and he moves into the household. Both men lay around while Gervaise slaves away, and eventually both men have sex with Gervaise who simply becomes worn down and lacks resistance.

I compared the Mauldon translation with the Vizetelly version that’s FREE on my kindle. Here’s Mauldon:

Gervaise, meanwhile, was quite untroubled on this score, because such filthy ideas never crossed her mind. It even came to the point where she was accused of being cold-hearted. The family couldn’t understand why she was so down on Lantier. Madame Lerat, that inveterate meddler in affairs of the heart, now dropped in every evening; Lantier’s attractions were irresistible she declared, and even the poshest of ladies would fall eagerly into his arms. As for Madame Boche, had she been ten years younger, she wouldn’t have answered for her virtue. An unacknowledged but relentless conspiracy was spreading and spreading, slowly pushing Gervaise towards him, as if all the women around her must satisfy their own need by giving her a lover.

Here’s the Vizetelly version (from my Kindle)

Gervaise lived quietly indifferent to, and possibly entirely unsuspicious of, all these scandals. By and by it came to pass that her husband’s own people looked on her as utterly heartless. Mme Lerat made her appearance every evening, and she treated Lantier as if he were utterly irresistible, into whose arms each and every woman would be only too glad to fall. An actual league seemed to be forming against Gervaise: all the women insisted on giving her a lover.

Just one paragraph but the first has quite a different implication and addresses the idea that Gervaise’s sex life is a matter of scandal but also that she’s a surrogate for the unsatisfied sexual appetites of her female acquaintances. Sex is in the air and not just for Gervaise.

Here’s a second quote. The incident takes place when Gervaise and Lantier return home to find Coupeau drunk. It’s an important scene as Gervaise has so far resisted Lantier’s advances, and on this night her bed is fouled by Coupeau’s vomit:

‘Christ Almighty!’ muttered Lantier when they were inside. ‘Whatever’s he been doing? The stink’s revolting.’

And indeed it stank to high heaven. Gervaise who was hunting for matches, kept stepping in something wet. When she finally managed to light a candle, a pretty spectacle lay before them. Coupeau had vomited his guts out; the room was covered in vomit; the bed was plastered with it, the carpet too, and even the chest of drawers was splashed. And what’s more Coupeau had fallen off the bed where Poisson must have dumped him and was lying right in the middle of his filth, snoring. He was sprawled in it, wallowing like a pig, with one cheek all smeared, breathing foul breath through his open mouth, while his already greying hair brushed the puddle surrounding his head.

‘Oh, the swine, the swine!’ Gervaise kept repeating, fuming with indignation. ‘He’s got everything in a muck …  No, not even a dog would have done that, a dying dog’s cleaner than that.’

They neither of them dared move or take a step. Never before had the roofer come home so pissed or got the room into such an unspeakable state. Consequently, the sight was a harsh blow to any feeling his wife might still have for him. In the past, when he’d come home just a bit tiddly or absolutely plastered. she’d been sympathetic rather than disgusted. But this, this was too much; her stomach was heaving. She wouldn’t have touched him with a barge pole. The mere thought of that lout’s skin close to hers was as repugnant to her as if she’d been asked to lie down beside a corpse that had died of some foul disease.

A powerful passage indeed. Now here’s the Vizetelly version thanks to the censors:

Gervaise stood aghast at the disgusting sight that met her eyes as she entered the room and saw where Coupeau lay wallowing on the floor.

She shuddered and turned away. This sight annihilated every ray of sentiment remaining in her heart.

Not much comparison. So again: if there’s a newer translation of Zola out there grab it. Most of the Rougon-Macquart novels that lack a newer translation are the lesser novels (exceptions in my view and those in dire need of re-translation are The Conquest of Plassans, Money and His Excellency). And don’t blame the Vizetellys. Blame prudery.

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Filed under Fiction, Rougon-Macquart, Zola