Watch “Geometry of Circles,” the Abstract Sesame Street Animation Scored by Philip Glass (1979)

Look into the child­hood of any high­ly inno­v­a­tive Amer­i­can artist of the past cou­ple gen­er­a­tions, and you’ll prob­a­bly find at least a trace of Sesame Street. The long-run­ning chil­dren’s pub­lic tele­vi­sion series, though wide­ly regard­ed as a sound source of enter­tain­ment and edu­ca­tion for the coun­try’s young­sters, has also done more than its part to expose its quite lit­er­al­ly grow­ing audi­ence to the vast pos­si­bil­i­ties of cre­ation. This has proven espe­cial­ly so in the realm of music, where the show’s per­form­ing guests have includ­ed Her­bie Han­cock, Nina Simone, and Grace Slick — to name just three of the ones we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here.

But Sesame Street, known in its hey­day for a stead­fast refusal to talk down to its view­ers, no mat­ter how small, has also demon­strat­ed a reach far out­side rock, pop, and soul. In 1979 it aired “Geom­e­try of Cir­cles,” a series of four ani­ma­tions with music by min­i­mal­ist, “repet­i­tive structure”-oriented com­pos­er Philip Glass, who turns 80 years old today. Pro­duc­er Cathryn Aison, accord­ing to the Mup­pet Wiki, com­mis­sioned Glass to score her visu­al work, whose sto­ry­boards had already got­ten the go-ahead from Chil­dren’s Tele­vi­sion Work­shop.

The music she received from Glass to accom­pa­ny this show of shape, line, and col­or “under­scores the ani­ma­tion in a style that close­ly resem­bles the ‘Dance’ num­bers and the North Star vignettes writ­ten dur­ing the same time peri­od as his Ein­stein on the Beach opera.”

“Glass has writ­ten scores to The Tru­man Show and Notes on a Scan­dal and his style is much imi­tat­ed,” writes Tele­graph “opera novice” Sameer Rahim by way of back­ground on the com­poser’s wide range of oth­er work in a review of his five-hour for­mal­ist col­lab­o­ra­tion with exper­i­men­tal the­ater direc­tor Robert Wil­son. “Any­one, like me, born in 1981 has absorbed his musi­cal gram­mar with­out real­is­ing.” Though a few years too young to have caught “Geom­e­try of Cir­cles” in its first run (and hav­ing grown up in the wrong coun­try in any case), the will­ing­ness of cre­ators like Glass to work in all kinds of set­tings, and the will­ing­ness of venues like Sesame Street to have them, plant­ed the seeds for count­less careers, both today’s and tomor­row’s, in art, in math­e­mat­ics, and no doubt even in exper­i­men­tal opera.

Below you can lis­ten to an 47-track col­lec­tion of Glass’ work. The Spo­ti­fy playlist is sim­ply called, “This is: Philip Glass.” If you need Spo­ti­fy’s free soft­ware, down­load it here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Min­i­mal Glimpse of Philip Glass

Watch Philip Glass Remix His Own Music—Then Try it Your­self With a New App

‘The Bal­lad of the Skele­tons’: Allen Ginsberg’s 1996 Col­lab­o­ra­tion with Philip Glass and Paul McCart­ney

Watch Jazzy Spies: 1969 Psy­che­del­ic Sesame Street Ani­ma­tion, Fea­tur­ing Grace Slick, Teach­es Kids to Count

Watch Nina Simone Sing the Black Pride Anthem, “To Be Young, Gift­ed and Black,” on Sesame Street (1972)

Watch Her­bie Han­cock Rock Out on an Ear­ly Syn­the­siz­er on Sesame Street (1983)


Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Joan Jett Sings “Love is All Around,” the Theme Song from The Mary Tyler Moore Show

There’s lots of sturm und drang here in America–enough that we did­n’t get to pay our respects to Mary Tyler Moore, an icon of 1960s and 1970s tele­vi­sion.

Above, we give you our favorite trib­ute. Joan Jett per­form­ing a sweet rock­ing cov­er of “Love is All Around,” the orig­i­nal theme song from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. If you came of age dur­ing the 70s, you’ll sure­ly know the song.

Jet­t’s per­for­mance was record­ed on The Late Show With David Let­ter­man back in 1996.

Mary, you will be missed.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Willie Nelson and His Famous Guitar: The Tale of Trigger: Watch the Short Film Narrated by Woody Harrelson

There are those albums that can change some­one’s per­cep­tion of an entire genre of music. Willie Nelson’s Red Head­ed Stranger was such an album for me. But Nelson’s approach on his 1975 con­cept record not only chal­lenged my pre­con­cep­tions, it chal­lenged the sureties of the coun­try scene of the time. By per­fect­ing the music’s capac­i­ty for aching beau­ty and sad­ness in spare, aus­tere folk songs, Nel­son para­dox­i­cal­ly expand­ed its pos­si­bil­i­ties. His fel­low artists thought it was “prac­ti­cal­ly blas­phe­mous and insub­or­di­nate,” notes Kelsey But­ter­worth, “to record coun­try in so spar­ing a man­ner.”

Record buy­ers dis­agreed. Nel­son fans loved Red-Head­ed Stranger’s dusty, wide open spaces, its bal­lads full of lone­li­ness and regret. With­out the over­wrought pro­duc­tion so many coun­try singers received at the time, the songs became show­cas­es for the plain­tive crag­gi­ness of Nelson’s voice, and for the unmis­tak­able sound of Trig­ger, his famous Mar­tin N‑20 clas­si­cal, “a gor­geous instru­ment,” writes Texas Month­ly, “with a warm, sweet tone,” bought in 1969 by “a strug­gling coun­try singer, a guy who had a pig farm, a fail­ing mar­riage, and a crap­py record deal.”

Trig­ger has been with Willie Nel­son ever since, a com­pan­ion as faith­ful as the horse it’s named after. The instru­ment is famous, most­ly, for its beat-up con­di­tion, includ­ing a large hole near the bridge. But in the video above from Rolling Stone (nar­rat­ed by Woody Har­rel­son) we learn much more about the rela­tion­ship between man and gui­tar. The love was first kin­dled by Nel­son find­ing in Trig­ger the tone he had been search­ing for—the tone of his gui­tar hero Djan­go Rein­hardt, “the best gui­tar play­er ever.”

But in Nelson’s hands, and play­ing his songs, Trig­ger became the dis­tinc­tive sound of so much Out­law Coun­try, the “blas­phe­mous and insub­or­di­nate” sub­genre pio­neered by Nel­son, Way­lon Jen­nings, John­ny Cash and oth­ers. “You hear that gui­tar,” says luthi­er Mark Erlewine, “even with­out him singing, and you go, ‘That’s Trig­ger.’” I think even casu­al fans of Nel­son who only know his great­est hits can instant­ly pick up on the dis­tinc­tive­ness of his guitar’s mel­low voice. “There’s a Hoodoo about Trig­ger,” says Erlewine, “that you just can’t mess with it.”

The biog­ra­phy of Trig­ger is insep­a­ra­ble from the sto­ry of Willie Nelson’s rise to fame, and we get a brief tour of his career above. Nel­son began as a tra­di­tion­al but­toned-up Nashville croon­er, but he decid­ed to retire his act and move back to Texas to farm. Then he found Trig­ger. That meet­ing of play­er and gui­tar pos­si­bly rein­vig­o­rat­ed Nelson’s entire career, inspir­ing his move to Austin and his com­plete rein­ven­tion of coun­try music.

“Willie Nel­son and His Famous Gui­tar: The Tale of Trig­ger” will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Willie Nelson–Young, Clean-Shaven & Wear­ing a Suit–Sings Ear­ly Hits at the Grand Ole Opry (1962)

Willie Nel­son Audi­tions for The Hob­bit Film Sequel, Turns 80 Today

John­ny Cash: Singer, Out­law, and, Briefly, Tele­vi­sion Host

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Albert Camus, Editor of the French Resistance Newspaper Combat, Writes Movingly About Life, Politics & War (1944–47)

Image by Unit­ed Press Inter­na­tion­al, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

When total­i­tar­i­an regimes around the world are in pow­er, writ­ing that tells the truth—whether lit­er­ary, jour­nal­is­tic, sci­en­tif­ic, or legal—effectively serves as counter-pro­pa­gan­da. To write hon­est­ly is to expose: to uncov­er what is hid­den, stand apart from it, and observe. These actions are anath­e­ma to dic­ta­tor­ships. But they are inte­gral to resis­tance move­ments, which must devel­op their own press in order to dis­sem­i­nate ideas oth­er than offi­cial state dog­ma.

For the French Resis­tance dur­ing World War II, one such pub­li­ca­tion that served the pur­pose came from a cell called “Com­bat,” which gave its name to the under­ground news­pa­per to which Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus both con­tributed dur­ing and after the war. Camus became Com­bat’s edi­tor and edi­to­r­i­al writer between 1944 and 1947. Dur­ing his tenure, he “was sus­pi­cious,” writes Michael McDon­ald, and he urged his read­ers to “be sus­pi­cious of those who speak the loud­est in defense of demo­c­ra­t­ic ideals and absolutes but whose goal is to instill fear in oppo­nents and to silence dis­sent.”

Camus wit­nessed and record­ed the lib­er­a­tion of France from the Nazi occu­pa­tion in mov­ing pas­sages like this one:

Paris is fir­ing all its ammu­ni­tion into the August night. Against a vast back­drop of water and stone, on both sides of a riv­er awash with his­to­ry, free­dom’s bar­ri­cades are once again being erect­ed. Once again jus­tice must be redeemed with men’s blood.

After the pre­vi­ous­ly unthink­able event that end­ed the war in the Pacif­ic, the 1945 bomb­ings of Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki, Camus explic­it­ly cri­tiqued the “for­mi­da­ble con­cert” of opin­ion impressed with fact that “any aver­age city can be wiped out by a bomb the size of a foot­ball.” Against these “elo­quent essays,” he wrote dark­ly,

We can sum it up in one sen­tence: our tech­ni­cal civ­i­liza­tion has just reached its great­est lev­el of sav­agery. We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between col­lec­tive sui­cide and the intel­li­gent use of our sci­en­tif­ic con­quests.

Camus heav­i­ly doc­u­ment­ed the ear­ly post-war years in France, as the coun­try slow­ly recon­sti­tut­ed itself, and as coali­tions for­mer­ly unit­ed in resis­tance col­lapsed into com­pet­ing fac­tions. He was alarmed by not only by the fas­cists on the right, but by the many French social­ists seduced by Stal­in­ism. The very next month after the lib­er­a­tion of Paris, Camus began address­ing the “prob­lem of gov­ern­ment” in an essay titled “To Make Democ­ra­cy.” Gov­ern­ment, writes Camus, “is, to a great extent our prob­lem, as it is indeed the prob­lem of every­one,” but he pref­aced his own posi­tion with, “we do not believe in pol­i­tics with­out clear lan­guage.”

By Decem­ber of 1944, a few months before the fall of Berlin, Camus had grown deeply reflec­tive, express­ing atti­tudes found in many eye­wit­ness accounts. “France has lived through many tragedies,” he wrote, and “will live through many more.” The tragedy of the war, he wrote, was “the tragedy of sep­a­ra­tion.”

Who would dare speak the word “hap­pi­ness” in these tor­tured times? Yet mil­lions today con­tin­ue to seek hap­pi­ness. These years have been for them only a pro­longed post­pone­ment, at the end of which they hope to find that the pos­si­bil­i­ty for hap­pi­ness has been renewed. Who could blame them? … We entered this war not because of any love of con­quest, but to defend a cer­tain notion of hap­pi­ness. Our desire for hap­pi­ness was so fierce and pure that it seemed to jus­ti­fy all the years of unhap­pi­ness. Let us retain the mem­o­ry of this hap­pi­ness and of those who have lost it.

These lucid, pas­sion­ate essays “include lit­tle that is obso­lete,” wrote Stan­ley Hoff­man at For­eign Affairs in 2006. “Indeed it is shock­ing to find how cur­rent Camus’ fears, exhor­ta­tions, and aspi­ra­tions still are.” Hoff­man par­tic­u­lar­ly found Camus’ demand “for moral­i­ty in pol­i­tics” com­pelling. Though “deemed naïve… [by] many oth­er philoso­phers and writ­ers of his time,” Camus’ insis­tence on clar­i­ty of thought and eth­i­cal choice made for what he called “a mod­est polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy… free of all mes­sian­ic ele­ments and devoid of any nos­tal­gia for an earth­ly par­adise.” How sober­ing those words sound in our cur­rent moment.

Camus’ Com­bat essays have been col­lect­ed in Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press’s Camus at Com­bat: Writ­ing 1944–1947 and in Between Hell and Rea­son: Essays from the Resis­tance News­pa­per Com­bat, 1944–1947 from Wes­leyan.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Albert Camus: The Mad­ness of Sin­cer­i­ty — 1997 Doc­u­men­tary Revis­its the Philosopher’s Life & Work

Albert Camus Talks About Nihilism & Adapt­ing Dostoyevsky’s The Pos­sessed for the The­atre, 1959

Albert Camus’ His­toric Lec­ture, “The Human Cri­sis,” Per­formed by Actor Vig­go Mortensen

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

1,000 Musicians Play Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Live, at the Same Time

In July of 2015, 1,000 musi­cians gath­ered togeth­er in Cese­na, Italy and per­formed in uni­son a rol­lick­ing ver­sion of the Foo Fight­ers’ song “Learn to Fly.”

Now, they’re back and play­ing the best-known song from Dave Grohl’s ear­li­er band. We’re talk­ing, of course, about Nir­vana’s hit, “Smells Like Teen Spir­it.”

Here we are now. Enter­tain us. Ladies and gen­tle­men, the world’s largest rock band.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Nir­vana Per­form “Smells Like Teen Spir­it,” Just Two Days After the Release of Nev­er­mind (Sep­tem­ber 26, 1991)

Pat­ti Smith’s Cov­er of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” Strips the Song Down to its Heart

Kurt Cobain’s Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track From ‘Smells Like Teen Spir­it,’ 1991

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Henry David Thoreau on When Civil Disobedience Against Bad Governments Is Justified: An Animated Introduction

“In March 1845, the Unit­ed States acquired a new pres­i­dent – James K. Polk – a force­ful, aggres­sive polit­i­cal out­sider intent on strength­en­ing his coun­try and assert­ing its pre-emi­nence in front of oth­er world pow­ers, espe­cial­ly Mex­i­co and Great Britain,” says The Book of Life. “With­in a year of his inau­gu­ra­tion, he had declared full-scale war on Mex­i­co because of squab­bles over the Tex­an bor­der, and was soon rat­tling his saber at Britain over the own­er­ship of Ore­gon. To com­plete the pic­ture, Polk was a vig­or­ous defend­er of slav­ery, who dis­missed the argu­ments of abo­li­tion­ists as naive and sen­ti­men­tal.” How did Amer­i­cans who dis­agreed with this vicious-sound­ing char­ac­ter endure his term?

Though Polk did enjoy pop­u­lar sup­port, “a size­able minor­i­ty of the cit­i­zen­ry dis­liked him intense­ly,” espe­cial­ly a cer­tain cit­i­zen by the name of Hen­ry David Thore­au. The author of Walden; or, Life in the Woods believed that “true patri­ots were not those who blind­ly fol­lowed their admin­is­tra­tion” but “those who fol­lowed their own con­sciences and in par­tic­u­lar, the prin­ci­ples of rea­son,” even when it meant pub­licly stand­ing against not just the man in office but the many who agree with him, or even when it meant run­ning afoul of the laws of the land. He elu­ci­dat­ed the prin­ci­ples behind this posi­tion in the 1849 essay “Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence,” which Josh Jones wrote about here last Novem­ber.

The ani­mat­ed video above from Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life, also the pro­duc­er of The Book of Life, places Thore­au’s ideas on the role of the indi­vid­ual ver­sus the state in the con­text of Thore­au’s life — one he lived with­out fear of, say, get­ting thrown into jail for refus­ing to pay tax­es to what he saw as an immoral state. “Under a gov­ern­ment which impris­ons any unjust­ly,” the tran­scen­den­tal­ist fig­ure­head declares in “Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence,” “the true place for a just man is a prison.” Well over a cen­tu­ry and half on, Thore­au still reminds us that polit­i­cal sys­tems, no mat­ter how long they last, remain ever sub­ject to break­down, adjust­ment, and even dis­man­tling and rebuild­ing at the hands of the rulers and the ruled alike. Pol­i­tics, as his­to­ry occa­sion­al­ly and force­ful­ly reminds us, is nego­ti­a­tion with­out end, and some­times nego­ti­a­tions have to get ugly.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hen­ry David Thore­au on When Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence and Resis­tance Are Jus­ti­fied (1849)

Hen­ry David Thoreau’s Hand-Drawn Map of Cape Cod (1866)

6 Polit­i­cal The­o­rists Intro­duced in Ani­mat­ed “School of Life” Videos: Marx, Smith, Rawls & More

Read the CIA’s Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al: A Time­less, Kafkaesque Guide to Sub­vert­ing Any Orga­ni­za­tion with “Pur­pose­ful Stu­pid­i­ty” (1944)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Hannah Arendt on “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship:” Better to Suffer Than Collaborate

Image by Bernd Schwabe, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

When Eich­mann in JerusalemHan­nah Arendt’s book about Nazi offi­cer Adolf Eichmann’s tri­alcame out in 1963, it con­tributed one of the most famous of post-war ideas to the dis­course, the “banal­i­ty of evil.” And the con­cept at first caused a crit­i­cal furor. “Enor­mous con­tro­ver­sy cen­tered on what Arendt had writ­ten about the con­duct of the tri­al, her depic­tion of Eich­mann, and her dis­cus­sion of the role of the Jew­ish Coun­cils,” writes Michael Ezra at Dis­sent mag­a­zine “Eich­mann, she claimed, was not a ‘mon­ster’; instead, she sus­pect­ed, he was a ‘clown.’”

Arendt blamed vic­tims who were forced to col­lab­o­rate, crit­ics charged, and made the Nazi offi­cer seem ordi­nary and unre­mark­able, reliev­ing him of the extreme moral weight of his respon­si­bil­i­ty. She answered these charges in an essay titled “Per­son­al Respon­si­bil­i­ty Under Dic­ta­tor­ship,” pub­lished in 1964. Here, she aims to clar­i­fy the ques­tion in her title by argu­ing that if Eich­mann were allowed to rep­re­sent a mon­strous and inhu­man sys­tem, rather than shock­ing­ly ordi­nary human beings, his con­vic­tion would make him a scape­goat and let oth­ers off the hook. Instead, she believes that every­one who worked for the regime, what­ev­er their motives, is com­plic­it and moral­ly cul­pa­ble.

But although most peo­ple are cul­pa­ble of great moral crimes, those who col­lab­o­rat­ed were not, in fact, crim­i­nals. On the con­trary, they chose to fol­low the rules in a demon­stra­bly crim­i­nal regime. It’s a nuance that becomes a stark moral chal­lenge. Arendt points out that every­one who served the regime agreed to degrees of vio­lence when they had oth­er options, even if those might be fatal. Quot­ing Mary McCarthy, she writes, “If some­body points a gun at you and says, ‘Kill your friend or I will kill you,’ he is tempt­ing you, that is all.”

While this cir­cum­stance may pro­vide a “legal excuse,” for killing, Arendt seeks to define a “moral issue,” a Socrat­ic prin­ci­ple she had “tak­en for grant­ed” that we all believed: “It is bet­ter to suf­fer than do wrong,” even when doing wrong is the law. Peo­ple like Eich­mann were not crim­i­nals and psy­chopaths, Arendt argued, but rule-fol­low­ers pro­tect­ed by social priv­i­lege. “It was pre­cise­ly the mem­bers of respectable soci­ety,” she writes, “who had not been touched by the intel­lec­tu­al and moral upheaval in the ear­ly stages of the Nazi peri­od, who were the first to yield. They sim­ply exchanged one sys­tem of val­ues against anoth­er,” with­out reflect­ing on the moral­i­ty of the entire new sys­tem.

Those who refused, on the oth­er hand, who even “chose to die,” rather than kill, did not have “high­ly devel­oped intel­li­gence or sophis­ti­ca­tion in moral mat­ters.” But they were crit­i­cal thinkers prac­tic­ing what Socrates called a “silent dia­logue between me and myself,” and they refused to face a future where they would have to live with them­selves after com­mit­ting or enabling atroc­i­ties. We must remem­ber, Arendt writes, that “what­ev­er else hap­pens, as long as we live we shall have to live togeth­er with our­selves.”

Such refusals to par­tic­i­pate might be small and pri­vate and seem­ing­ly inef­fec­tu­al, but in large enough num­bers, they would mat­ter. “All gov­ern­ments,” Arendt writes, quot­ing James Madi­son, “rest on con­sent,” rather than abject obe­di­ence. With­out the con­sent of gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate employ­ees, the “leader… would be help­less.” Arendt admits the unlike­ly effec­tive­ness of active oppo­si­tion to a one-par­ty author­i­tar­i­an state. And yet when peo­ple feel most pow­er­less, most under duress, she writes, an hon­est “admis­sion of one’s own impo­tence” can give us “a last rem­nant of strength” to refuse.

We have only for a moment to imag­ine what would hap­pen to any of these forms of gov­ern­ment if enough peo­ple would act “irre­spon­si­bly” and refuse sup­port, even with­out active resis­tance and rebel­lion, to see how effec­tive a weapon this could be. It is in fact one of the many vari­a­tions of non­vi­o­lent action and resistance—for instance the pow­er that is poten­tial in civ­il dis­obe­di­ence.

We have exam­ple after exam­ple of these kinds of refusals to par­tic­i­pate in a mur­der­ous sys­tem or fur­ther its aims. Arendt was aware these actions can come at great cost. The alter­na­tives, she argues, may be far worse.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

Han­nah Arendt’s Orig­i­nal Arti­cles on “the Banal­i­ty of Evil” in the New York­er Archive

Hen­ry David Thore­au on When Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence and Resis­tance Are Jus­ti­fied (1849)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The Harlem Jazz Singer Who Inspired Betty Boop: Meet the Original Boop-Oop-a-Doop, “Baby Esther”

Jazz Age car­toon flap­per, Bet­ty Boop, inhab­its that rare pan­theon of stars whose fame has not dimmed with time.

While she was nev­er alive per se, her ten year span of active film work places her some­where between James Dean and Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe. The mar­ket for Boop-col­lectibles is so vast, a defin­i­tive guide was pub­lished in 2003. Most recent­ly, Bet­ty has popped up on pre­paid deb­it cards and emo­ji, and inspired fashion’s enfant ter­ri­ble Jean Paul Gaulti­er to cre­ate a fra­grance in her hon­or.

As not­ed in the brief his­to­ry in the video above, Bet­ty hailed from ani­ma­tor Max Fleischer’s Fleis­ch­er Stu­dios and actress Margie Hines pro­vid­ed her voice.

Phys­i­cal­ly, she bore a close resem­blance to pop­u­lar singer Helen Kane. Their baby­ish vocal stylings were remark­ably sim­i­lar, too. But when Bet­ty put the bite on a cou­ple of Kane’s hits, below, Kane fought back with a law­suit against Para­mount and Max Fleis­ch­er Stu­dios, seek­ing dam­ages and an injunc­tion which would have pre­vent­ed them from mak­ing more Bet­ty Boop car­toons.

The Asso­ci­at­ed Press report­ed that Kane con­found­ed the court stenog­ra­ph­er who had no idea how to spell the Boop­sian utter­ances she repro­duced before the judge, in an effort to estab­lish own­er­ship. Her case seemed pret­ty sol­id until the defense called Lou Bolton, a the­atri­cal man­ag­er whose client ros­ter had once includ­ed Harlem jazz singer,“Baby Esther” Jones.

Two years before Bet­ty Boop debuted (as an anthro­po­mor­phic poo­dle) in the car­toon short, Dizzy Dish­es, above, Kane and her man­ag­er took in Baby Esther’s act in New York. A cou­ple of weeks’ lat­er the non­sen­si­cal inter­jec­tions that were part of Baby Esther’s schtick, below, began creep­ing into Kane’s per­for­mances.

Accord­ing to the Asso­ci­at­ed Press, Bolton tes­ti­fied that:

Baby Esther made fun­ny expres­sions and inter­po­lat­ed mean­ing­less sounds at the end of each bar of music in her songs.

“What sounds did she inter­po­late?” asked Louis Phillips, a defense attor­ney.

“Boo-Boo-Boo!” recit­ed Bolton.

“What oth­er sounds?”


“Any oth­ers?”

“Yes, Wha-Da-Da-Da!”

Baby Esther her­self did not attend the tri­al, and did not much ben­e­fit from Kane’s loss. Casu­al car­toon his­to­ri­ans are far more like­ly to iden­ti­fy Kane as the inspi­ra­tion for the ani­mat­ed Boop-oop-a-doop girl. You can hear Kane on cds and Spo­ti­fy, but you won’t find Baby Esther.

With a bit more dig­ging, how­ev­er, you will find Gertrude Saun­ders — the giv­en name of “Baby Esther” — belt­ing it out on Spo­ti­fy. Some of her into­na­tions are a bit rem­i­nis­cent of Bessie Smith… who hat­ed her (not with­out rea­son). Saun­ders appeared in a few movies and died in 1991.

via Urban Intel­lec­tu­als

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Vin­tage Car­toons: Bugs Bun­ny, Bet­ty Boop and More

A 103-Year-Old Harlem Renais­sance Dancer Sees Her­self on Film for the First Time & Becomes an Inter­net Star

Cab Calloway’s “Hep­ster Dic­tio­nary,” A 1939 Glos­sary of the Lin­go (the “Jive”) of the Harlem Renais­sance

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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