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May 08, 2013


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Michael Teter

I been pondering this post for awhile, after first reading in on my Mac. Even now that I've made my through my second Starbucks coffee, I'm still not sure what I think.

Alfred Brophy

Hi Michael, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

What really interests (and scares) me are Stoddard's and Grant's books. They are shocking in their boldness about the challenges to white supremacy. I'm going to say a lot more about this, I hope this summer, when Elizabeth and I get our paper into shape for workshopping. Eugenics is just one piece of a big battle over white supremacy and how to maintain it. The tragic riots and lynchings in the wake of the "Great War" are another, as was the renewed push for Jim Crow statutes and private segregation (such as racially restrictive covenants). That's the substantive part of this.

The lighter part of the post is about what the heck Stoddard/Goddard are doing in the novel. I think they convey a couple of things -- the ideas of the class of which Buchanan is a representative. (There's some great stuff in a college textbook on eugenics about how upper class white women need to have more children, based on a study of I think it was Smith graduates.) And Fitzgerald makes Tom look even more substance-less by depicting him as mistaken on the name of the people about whom he claims knowledge.

But then there's the twist: is this designed in some way to provide advertising for another book by his publisher? Maybe not -- or maybe it's a subtle jab at his publisher?

Tamara Piety

I'd be more inclined to think it was a jab at his publisher for publishing that sort of thing. Product placement, while not unheard of at that time, was not so common as it is now and if it was a placement, it would have been pretty inept not to get the details right. Since Tom is not a likeable character in the novel it hardly seems like the sort of thing that anyone pushing the book would want to see as a product placement. Advertisers tend to want to put their products next to a pleasant or likeable figure, in an agreeable context, etc. There are obviously exceptions but that is the general rule. I suspect though that the most likely explanation is that it was neither a jab nor a product placement but that it just happened to come to mind because this stuff was being talked about at the time. Perhaps getting the name wrong was evidence of his lack of familiarity with the material because of distaste or rejection of it (one hopes). Or maybe it was deliberate misdirection. But he does seem to have intended it to make Tom more unlikeable which is somewhat inconsistent with the product placement idea. But who knows? Interesting question.

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