Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bemmys for Obama

If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let Your Sister Marry One?

The science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (Fishy name, eh? Possibly a nom de plume, or more likely a nom de mer!) asked this question as the title of a story once upon a time in the "golden age" of science fiction. Because I was recently writing about the death of Arthur C. Clarke while floundering in the maelstrom of current politics, especially the racial aspect as noted in Obama's speech of 3/18, I got to thinking about science-fiction and society and remembering some of the musings of Joseph Campbell.

Science-fiction is our post-technology mythology. Mythology, folklore, whatever-ya-wanna-call-it is how we self-define the zeitgeist of mores and societal expectations/norms for an era. In our case, it's an era of industry and technology far removed from earlier agrarian models. We're not in the antebellum South anymore, Toto.

In that "golden age" of sf (which I'm gonna casually define as 30s through 50s), concepts like race, which couldn't be easily discussed in reality, could be examined in the parable of a sf story. Interaction between races? Heck! Obviously, when we go into interstellar space, we'll meet nonhuman races. There's a ready-made parallel for ya. The lurid pulp fiction of the 30s often sported cover art featuring alien bug-eyed monsters making off with scantily clad White, I mean, *Earth* women. How's that for a Jungian archetype?

Sf folks back then, being the techno geeks of their day, soon shortened "bug-eyed monster" in their stories to a self-indulgent TLA: BEM. Now, BEM is pretty cool, but just a bit awkward to say; it's not very euphonious. However if we turn it into the lovely diminutive "bemmy" we have an aural/oral winner. So, all the elements are now in play for creating societal morality tales (or fairy tales, or mythology, or parables, or whatever the hell you wanna call 'em).

Instead of Whites and Negroes, an author could write about Earthmen (Whites) and Aliens (the dreaded, generic "others") who were BEMs (socially compliant Negroes) or bemmys (dem uppity niggers). An author, who might not dare to explore race issues in a mainstream, realistic story, could write a space opera about the relationships between Earthmen and various types of "others": benign BEMs, malevolent bemmys, maybe hapless (or uncooperative) bemmys who force us to shoulder "the Earthman's burden," or any combination or variation thereof which an astute observer could distill from contemporary society.

And using this conceit, the writer was free from the possibility of becoming the strange fruit which regularly drooped from "Earthman" trees in this country, even within the memory of your humble correspondent. No, no, no, my friends of planet K3 in the Cretinous Cluster! It's not at all a condemnation of Mississippi's K3's White Earth-dominant culture, it's just an amusing little sf story about some silly Earthmen who do some silly things when they interact with a race of bemmys who are simultaneously evil, hapless, malevolent, inept, vicious, and lazy. Amazing how much less evolved than us they are!

Earthman trees were producing strange fruit into the 60s. As recently as a few years ago, Earthmen were giving bemmys free rides on their planetary rough-terrain vehicles by allowing the bemmys to chain themselves to the back of the vehicle. Sadly, bemmy exoskeletons were not up to such largess and the unfortunate bemmys came apart. Who knew? Even in the last coupla years, places like Mississippi planet K3 were reporting negligible hate crime statistics. They say it's because there are negligible hate crimes committed there. I believe 'em. Really. I grew up one planet over from there. I'm sure it's pretty much the same for all the planets in that sector of the galaxy. Really.

No one likes violence but, I mean, what's an Earthman to do? Sometimes ya just gotta make an example of a troublemaker to get the rest of 'em to toe the line.

Some sf stories, especially as we got into the 50s, were very thinly disguised. There were bemmys, and semi-bemmys, and bemmy-lovers with the pure Earthmen lording it over them like ol' Massa pacing the veranda of his plantation with a mint julep in hand, surveying his antebellum domain. Woe betide the bemmy who wanted more than his divinely-appointed station in life. And why, dear, sweet Gods of the Universe!, would any sensible Earthman support such self-apotheosistic ambitions in a lower race? Bemmy lovers!

A bemmy-lover might as well be a semi-bemmy, and a semi-bemmy is no better than a full bemmy, so they're ALL bemmys.

Which brings me, finally, to the concept of this post. I was often called a bemmy-lover in the 60s and I accept that title with pride, just like Ranger Sergeant Kartr of the Stellar Patrol. Add to that the fact that we're all at least semi-bemmys in our DNA roots and I am, therefore, by the above definition, a bemmy.

As are we all. All bemmys, every one!

So, I declare my political affiliation for this election:

I'm a bemmy for Obama.

In closing, I'll bastardize a coupla couplets while conflating a coupla old tunes and ask the burning question of the day:

The righties will crumble.
The Bushies will tumble.
They all have feet of clay.
Obama's here to stay.

I'm tired of all the drama.
How about you?
I'm for Barack Obama.
How about you?

Bemmys for Obama!


  1. Ha! That was excellent, how you brought that back around. I had no idea where you were going for a moment there. ;)

    I had the same thought about sci-fi here. Now off to read Joseph Campbell -- wonderful link, thank you.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Ursula LeGuin is a lovely writer. I'm an old-time sf buff and you hit the nail on the head with your comments, as did she.

    Did you notice my comment on your blog about the trust birth conference? Did you see or do you know Laureen? It'd be pretty cool if you did.

  3. Yo cuz - nice read, I'll have to forward it to my Better Geek (Baroque German poetry I know, sci fi not so much).

    a momma for obama,