Damn The Man/You’re The Man

The dual identity of “the man” in American slang perplexes me. We say “Damn the man” or “Don’t let the man get you down” to sneer at establishment figures, from the police to nameless powers-that-be. Yet at the same time, perhaps even in the same conversation, we praise peers’ success by declaring “You’re the man!” or “You the man!” (“You’re the woman/You the woman” is basically nonexistent, replaced instead with the cheer “You go girl!”)

This makes me wonder: Is the dual existence of “damn the man” and “you’re the man” simply a colloquial quirk, an example of language’s inherent slipperiness, or is it more of a Freudian slip, a symptom of the United States’ inherent contradiction of being a land of the free where everyone wants to be “like a boss”?

In any event, in case you’re interested, “the man” as a synonym for authority figures first appeared circa 1918, especially among underworld figures, and percolated into the mainstream in the 1960s. Meanwhile, “You’re the man” has a slightly hazier history, but internet detectives point to The Kay-Gees’ oft-sampled 1974 LP “Who’s the Man (With the Master Plan),” which includes just two lyrics, “Who’s the man with the master plan?” and “Inflation in the nation, headed for starvation.”

Here’s the audio:

Friday Vibes Video: GnR, ‘November Rain’


Friday Vibes Videos are typically poppy and boisterous, but his week’s been looong, and today also happens to be the 27th anniversary of Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I hitting the billboard charts, so I’ve gone a different direction with “November Rain.”

It’s a depressing track, sure, but, I mean, it’s also so great and there’s Stephanie Seymour and Slash’s solo and just… everything. Have good weekends, all!

The First Vampire Was a Lesbian

In case you’re interested, the first vampire novel was 1872’s Carmilla, by Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu, and it had a distinct lesbian bent: The titular character is a succubus-esque creature who tries to seduce and feed upon a young woman, a plot perhaps informed by eons-worth of patriarchal anxieties.

Predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years, Le Fanu’s story first appeared as a serial in The Dark Blue, a literary magazine, before being published as a single volume illustrated by D.H. Friston, the same man who first illustrated Sherlock Holmes.

Above, one of Friston’s  images from that collection depicts Carmilla making for her prey, Laura.

Lyndon Johnson Hated ‘The Graduate’

Lyndon Johnson’s greatest presidential legacy was by far the Great Society, a series of New Deal-inspired initiatives expanding social and cultural services in America — public broadcasting, national endowment for the arts, and Medicare and Medicaid were all part of his circa 1964-1965 program. Some of his efforts were successful; others fell short, such as Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” which many, including Martin Luther King Jr., described as  a “war on the poor,” especially people of color, for all its inadequacies, inequalities, and impotencies.

But the pros and cons of LBJ’s Great Society aren’t the point here. The point is that despite his apparent interest in the little guy, Johnson hated Benjamin Braddock, the protagonist of The Graduate. I understand Braddock — fresh from Williams College, from a wealthy, white family — doesn’t qualify so much as “the little guy,” but the widespread alienation he represents/ed put him squarely on the “us” side of the archetypal “people versus the establishment” equation. That said, one might think Johnson would feel a bit of empathy for lost, confused Braddock. Wrong.

“How in the hell can that creepy guy be a hero to you?” he told staffer-turned-biographer Doris Kearns (pre-Goodwin).

“All I needed was to see ten minutes of that guy, floating like a big lump in a pool, moving like an elephant in that woman’s bed, riding up and down the California coast polluting the atmosphere, to know that I wouldn’t trust him for one minute with anything that really mattered to me. And if that’s an example of what loves seems like to your generation, then we’re all in big trouble. All they did was scream and yell at each other before getting to the altar. Then after it was over, they sat on the bus like dumb mutes with absolutely nothing to say to one another.”

Perhaps Johnson’s distaste for Benjamin Braddock and the ennui he embodies stems from Johnson’s hurt feelings over American youth’s utter disdain for him. Vibrant John Kennedy’s successor, stodgier-seeming Johnson was far more pro-Vietnam than the slain Camelotian, a stance that garnered him plenty of intergenerational ire. And it’s clear this animus bothered Johnson something awful. “I don’t understand those young people,” he said. “Don’t they realize I’m really one of them? I always hated cops when I was a kid, and just like them I dropped out of school and took off for California. I’m not some conformist middle-class personality. I could never be bureaucratized.”

Luckily for Johnson’s ghost, his legacy has been undergoing a redesign lately, as people shift their attention from his failings vis a vis Vietnam and focus on his more progressive moves. Coincidentally enough, Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about that very subject a few weeks ago at The Atlantic.

Friday Vibes Video: Jeannie C. Riley


On this date 50 years ago, country singer Jeannie C. Riley went number one with her instant classic “Harper Valley PTA,” a lyrical rebuke against gossiping, trash talking, shade throwing and general small mindedness. The track and the no nonsense narrative haven’t aged a day.

Have good weekends!