A tale of two empires


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of Their Romulus and Their Remus

Ancient Rome, the first 'global' empire, built upon both an early republican regime and a literal foundation of slavery, and often compared to its seeming successor some twenty three centuries hence, America.

Far less prominent in these storied comparisons, howsoever apt or otherwise, is the strangely topical and relevant animistic mythology of the orphaned twin brothers, Romulus & Remus, and their dominant/subservient status, respectively, in both empires.

Apropos this imperial analogue, the first 'global' President of that, then, nascent American Empire of the 20th Century, the first of his ilk to travel abroad (to Panama in inspect a certain monumental ditch dug largely by Remus's kin), dubbed by author Ron Chernow 'Theodore Rex', said this of the chronicler of America's Remus:

"Presidents may come and Presidents may go, but Uncle Remus stays put. Georgia has done a great many things for the Union but she has never done more than when she gave Mr. Joel Chandler Harris to American literature."

That literary legacy is so deep and wide that it may count such luminaries as Clemens/Twain, Pound, Eliot, Kipling, and Ellision and Lester, African-American scholars/writers and commentators in its variously emulative and/or admiring orbit.

Yet, in 1946 an equally admiring Walt Disney resurrected this somewhat forgotten body of work in his controversial 'Song of the South' film, to this day never released for home or theatrical viewing. Certainly this controversy was America's reminder of its less than proud distant as well as recent past wherein its conquering WWII armies featured a still-segregated second rank of its citizen soldiery.

Which brings us to today, August, 2011, another besmirching spot on American history's long-suffering calendric measure of a 'dumb show' known as the U.S. Congress whose titular leader of its lower House, one Speaker John Boehner, was heard to casually utter the falsely joyous refrain of the oppressed mass of those second rank persons, 'zip eh dee doo dah', whilst traversing the halls of the very structure largely built by that same body of Remus's. To paraphrase Robert Zimmerman/Dylan, you don't need a Freudian to know which way the spin's going.

And, close on, during the heat of battle betwixt a comparatively grown-up, almost avuncular President and the minions of regression and an almost plantation mindset of ordained cultural superiority, one Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) uttered these te4lling, splintering words:

"Now, I don't want to even have to be associated with him (President Obama). It is like touching a tar baby and yet get it----you're stuck, and you're part of the problem now."

That latter quote clearly conjures a Tea Party of another stripe, one dreamt of by Lewis Carroll, and hosted by a certain oppressive Mad Hatter, and not the right-minded revolutionary group of an American Revolution aimed squarely AT an oppressor.

What, then, of this animistic seeming anachronism? Why is it so sadly relevant to this seminal time when America's first President of partial African heritage occupies The White House? It is the still oppressive Remus splinter in our Romulus-dominated matrix's collective cultural mind, much in need of curative lancing, 'boiling' as it does our necessarily neutral national skin.

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Chandler was but the Caucasian 'compiler' of African American wisdom and, whilst a captive of his time, performed a timelessly needed evolutionary service through his largely lauded literature in imparting ageless wisdom via the composite mouth of the wise slave Remus, not unlike his Roman predecessor, one Aesop the fabler, himself once a slave of the Roman empire. Presaging Martin Luther King, Jr.'s indelible ideal of measurement by means of 'the content of one's character', Chandler's most famous tale speaks to us anew, accented by the professorial plebeian President, 'Brer Rabbit & the Tar Baby'.

Let's revisit it, briefly: "One day Brer Fox thought of how Brer Rabbit had been cutting up his capers and bouncing around until he'd come to believe that he was the boss of the whole gang. Brer Fox thought of a way to lay some bait for that uppity Brer Rabbit. He went to work and got some tar and mixed it with some turpentine. He called the contraption Tar Baby, Brer Fox laying in the bushes to see what would happen. Brer Rabbit came along, sassy as a jay bird. 'Good morning, nice weather we're having' said Rabbit. Brer Rabbit, hearing no replies to his courteous gestures, wondered aloud if Tar Baby was deaf. 'You're stuck up, you think you're too good to talk to me' Rabbit said. 'I'm going to teach you how to talk to respectable folks if it's my last act' Brer Rabbit determined. Deciding to touch Tar Baby on the head, urging him to remove his straw hat out of respect. Well, the more he tried, the more he was stuck to the disrespectful Tar Baby. Now Brer Fox emerged and sassed Brer Rabbit: 'You look sort of stuck up this morning, you're always getting into something's none of your business' he added. 'Serves you right, no one invited you to talk to this Tar Baby; I'm gonna bar b q you now'.
Brer Rabbit, using his best reverse psychology, 'I don't care what you do with me, just don't fling me into that briar patch.' Well, sure enough, Brer Rox, unable to start a fire, or drown, or hang or skin Brer Rabbit, he flung him you know where. Soon, Brer Fox spied Brer Rabbit sitting on a log, combing the tar pitch out of his hair with a chip. 'Born and bred in the briar patch!' And, with that, Brer Rabbit skipped out just as lively as a cricket in the embers of a fire."

The moral of the ageless story is as steadfast as nature itself, and the content of its character: grow or die, America, by removing the false splinter of your collective mind. You, once orphaned of Europe and Africa heritage, recognize your brotherhood, whether Romulus or Remus.

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Updated Oct 17, 2018 6:47 AM EDT | More details

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