Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Everything Old Is New Again, Dept.
Here's what I love. Culture as a virus.
So, "Dat's de Way to Spell 'Chicken'" was written in 1902 by Sidney Perrin, a very successful African-American composer of what used to be called "coon songs."
Yes, in the ragtime/pre-WWI days, a hugely popular subgenre of American music was the coon song. Which, as you might guess, portrayed African-American life in the United States in unflattering caricature. Sort of like rap, in that white people loved it, black people performed it (although there were a number of white performers) and it contributed to ensuing decades of validated bigotry ("Yo, they call each other 'nigger' all the time, man!"). The only difference being that, in those unenlightened days, though "nigger," "darky" and "coon" were liberally thrown around, they didn't have quite as many brand names to flaunt and "bitches" and "hoes" had entirely different meanings.
Anyhoo. So, this song, which plays on the stereotypical love of African-Americans for the yardbird, features the following chorus in dialect:
C, dat's de way to begin,
H, dat's de next letter in,
I, dat am de third,
C, dat's to season the word,
K, dat's a filling in,
E, I'm near the end,
Dat's de way to spell chicken
So, we have an image of the African-American that is of an early-20th-century piece with razors, loaded dice and watermelon three meals a day.
Fast forward a hundred years, and we have this little bit of primary school theater.
Culture is a virus. It mutates and finds new hosts. Who will be singing the chicken song on our first extraterrestrial colonies?