Lenny and 'The Lottery'

For Your Consideration

Peter CavanaughJuly 9, 2013 

It has been judged a "chilling tale of conformity gone mad."

"The Lottery" was first published by The New Yorker magazine in June of 1948 and is today regarded as one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature — dazzlingly brilliant in its relentless darkness.

In an annual rite of spring, a rural community chooses — by random drawing — a sacrificial victim, who is then stoned to death by one and all to insure a bountiful harvest.

Written by Shirley Jackson, "The Lottery" is a study in collective mentality, an evolutionary adaptation that provides a mechanism for common consensus, but also offers an ever present possibility of group sanctioned, morally reprehensible behavior.

An extreme example in modern times is easily witnessed by brief reflection at the ultimate horrors unleashed under Hitler's Third Reich.

Discernible resonance might be cited in mindless generational adherence to traditionally cherished, but demonstrably antiquated notions such as belief in an utterly flat world from which we might sail straight off the edge without due caution. It's been far less than a thousand years since our relatively ancient species set that matter straight.

An even milder, but similarly concerning development in recent days has been the stunning cultural castigation of Paula Deen, a stoning I feel is both unwarranted and unfair.

Paula Deen, 66, is an American celebrity chef and Emmy Award winning television personality with whom I had been completely unfamiliar until she admitted using the "N-Word" during questioning in a legal deposition and now the you-know-what has hit the you-know-where.

Mind you, Ms. Deen didn't use the "N-Word" on her TV show or in her cookbooks.

She merely admitted that she had allowed that word to pass her lips at some point in life. Her exact testimony under oath was, "Yes, of course. But that's just not a word that we use. I don't — I don't know. As time has gone on things have changed since the 60s in the south."

Since this display of sincere candor exploded on the front page of the National Enquirer last month, Paula Deen has been brutally ostracized by the American press — her integrity bashed, her endorsements crashed, her reputation thoroughly trashed.

She has been effectively fired by The Food Network, Walmart, Target, QVC, Home Depot, J.C.Penney, Sears, K-Mart and Ballantine Books in an outrageous example of wimpy, smarmy, patronizing, knee-jerk, lemming-like response to potential accusations of marginally offensive racial insensitivity or something vaguely akin.

What's wrong with us?

I find myself in complete agreement with former President Jimmy Carter who courageously states, "I think Paula Deen has been punished, perhaps overly severely, for her honesty in admitting the use of the word in the distant past. She's apologized profusely and should be forgiven."

I'll go one step further. I think we should all use the "N-Word" as often and as loud as we can till it's all worn out and we can throw it away forever.

Here's Dustin Hoffman quoting Lenny Bruce in a movie as directed by Bob Fosse back in 1972:

"It's the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness."

Lenny Bruce was a high wire act. A gentle genius.

When Michael Richards of "Seinfeld" fame tried to use Bruce's classic monologue on the "N-Word" in 2010, he failed miserably.

It's one of those stream-of-consciousness ramblings one has to repeat perfectly, word for word, beat for beat, or not try at all.

Richards is not a real racist — just a poor performer.

He tried some Lenny lines, blew his balance and killed his career in less than two minutes time.

Rather than bring my editor-boss-friend Brian Wilkinson to the point of instant cardiac arrest by suggesting we print the heart of Bruce's observations in this obviously family-friendly publication, daring and adventurous readers may visit petercavanaugh.wordpress.com for more complete elucidation.

"Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you" (Traditional Children's Chant — Timeless).

One more thing about Lenny Bruce:

"Dirty Lenny died so we could all be free."

Steve Earle — "The FCC" (2005).

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