American Literature: Activism

How did Jacob Riis and Stephen Crane contribute to the Crusade for Activism? Easy: they opened a lemonade stand in their front yard and contributed fifty percent of their profits. ...Okay, maybe that's not true and they did some other stuff, but you'll have to watch this video to find out.

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Transcript

00:34

heart I've been to more protests than i can count

00:38

so i'm actually uniquely suited for the subject of the

00:41

day activism in the late eighteen hundreds And what about

00:45

activism in the seventeen hundreds Or even earlier you might

00:49

ask didn't exist If you try to speak out against

00:51

authority you'd lose your head quite literally But now that

00:55

democracy was on the upswing in the eighteen hundreds the

00:58

masses suddenly had an opportunity to talk trash to the

01:02

people in charge We call that activism will be looking

01:05

at the works of two epic activist today stephen crane

01:08

and his novel maggie a girl of the streets and

01:11

jacob rees a legendary photographer of his era Both of

01:14

these men fought the man on inspired social change using

01:18

just words and photographs will kick things off with stephen

01:21

crane's novel maggie a girl of the streets The novel

01:24

is about a girl named maggie which i think you

01:27

might have guessed she lives In a bad part of

01:29

town in the bowery in new york city to be

01:32

specific this is what the barry looked like back then

01:36

Maggie comes from a family of irish immigrants which to

01:39

readers of cranes day would emphasize her low social standing

01:43

Quick aside you've got to remember the context in which

01:46

the novel was written At the time irish immigrants who

01:49

were newcomers to america were viewed as well not even

01:52

human more like animals to most people different was bad

01:56

No thank you They hated the new immigrants and their

01:59

strain foreign culture their bazaar irish food incomprehensible slaying and

02:04

even their religion catholicism's which was thrown a lot of

02:08

shade by the majority protestant residents of america On top

02:12

of that americans accused the irish of taking their jobs

02:15

which sure doesn't sound familiar now Nope Anyways maggie's home

02:19

life isn't great Her little brother jimmy is your average

02:22

hooligan and there do well and her mom hits the

02:25

bottle hard But maggie is different She has appear heart

02:29

so you could understand why she swept off her feet

02:32

when she meets pete who's not only a total stud

02:35

but also might be our ticket out of the hood

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There is just one problem Mom and jimmy despise maggie's

02:41

new babe So much so in fact that they boot

02:43

maggie out of the apartment And as if family drama

02:47

wasn't enough jimmy also chooses tell beat the crap out

02:50

of pete Yeah he's That kind of brother peter is

02:53

furious and dumps maggie which ultimately forces her toe live

02:57

on the streets and become a sex worker From there

03:00

the novel gets ambiguous All we know is that maggie

03:02

ends up dead When jimi reveals this to his mom

03:06

she promises that she'll finally forgive maggie though it may

03:10

be a tad late for that mom For our purposes

03:12

We're interested in maggie's depiction of poverty that's where crane

03:16

flexes activist muscles so to speak One big way that

03:19

crane does this is by establishing a creepy atmosphere in

03:23

the slums You could also refer to this as tone

03:26

the way crane wants us to feel about the whole

03:28

sordid affair It's both gothic and realistic Like if edward

03:32

scissorhands somehow ended up in a gritty cop drama Let's

03:36

take a look at one extended bit from chapter two

03:38

to start cranes Word choice Says it was all dark

03:42

Gruesome sure doesn't sound like beverly hills Also check out

03:45

the use of color Color is one of crane's trademarks

03:48

Many of his books use the color red Like the

03:51

aptly named red badge of courage The short story the

03:53

bride comes to yellow sky employees No not yellow but

03:57

green What a fake out Well the blue hotel revolves

04:00

around you guessed it The color blue The guy loves

04:04

colors more than john sena love pumping iron in maggie

04:07

the color red pops up most crain uses it to

04:10

describe how maggie's mom skin goes flush when she drinks

04:13

to refer to the blood jimmy spills during his novel

04:16

opening brawl and to describe the scarlet dress worn by

04:19

a singer Drinking fighting and singing sure seems like red

04:23

is associated with emotion and passion Right Let's go back

04:27

and look at the passage from chapter two again The

04:29

last sentence is a floozy There's some personification there Crane

04:33

talks about a building as if it had bowels like

04:36

a human We do not want to think about that

04:38

too hard But check out the phrase the weight of

04:41

humanity really lit nerds would call that synnex dickie crain

04:45

uses one aspect of people their weight to refer to

04:48

humanity at large which both gives a sense of just

04:51

how many people are crammed in these tenements and also

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how these folks are at the bottom of the social

04:57

food chain so to speak the fact that maggie lives

05:00

in an irish neighborhood would have made it seem even

05:02

sketchier to readers of cranes day who's stereotype irish people

05:06

as violent drunks Of course crane doesn't bust those stereotypes

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here maggie's mom is always drunk and her brother is

05:13

often violent that's two for two for everyone keeping track

05:16

at home so don't think that crane was being particularly

05:19

woke in his depiction of irish immigrants He's still employed

05:22

stereotypes and he just used them to critique society's treatment

05:26

of the less fortunate These ideas help establish the setting

05:29

of the bowery a working class urban neighborhood with a

05:33

dark brooding atmosphere and rampant crime In other words not

05:37

a nice part of town wouldn't want to hold a

05:39

wedding there This nastiness helps establish maggie as a character

05:43

the beautiful pristine flower growing up in the middle of

05:47

a garbage dump that doesn't Mean she's not struggling before

05:50

we even know her name she's described as a small

05:52

ragged girl but we're also told that she has none

05:56

of the dirt of rum alley in her veins which

05:58

is a weird way of saying that she's a good

06:00

kid plus she pretty never basically she's one of the

06:04

few kids around here that has a shot at getting

06:06

out of the slums Her relationship with peter on the

06:09

other hand is totally naive We could tell that he's

06:12

no good from the moment we meet him and are

06:15

proven right when he dumps maggie without a moments notice

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despite the fact that she has nowhere to live But

06:22

the relationship is yet another reminder of how maggie is

06:25

failed by her environment If maggie lived in a decent

06:28

neighborhood with a decent family should be keeping it lit

06:31

all day every day but her mom's a drunk and

06:34

her brother's a bully which means that neither are interested

06:37

in teaching maggie about life love and all that other

06:39

tricky but super important stuff On top of that they

06:43

can take care of the practical matters either like keeping

06:46

a roof over her head And her out of trouble

06:49

And here we've reached the ooey gooey core of the

06:52

novels view of poverty the center of its gypsy roll

06:54

pop if you will crane like many thinkers of his

06:57

day believed that individuals are shaped by their environments whether

07:02

those environments are beneficial detrimental or anything in between which

07:06

is kind of obvious with the hindsight of the future

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But was a brand new idea at the time maggie

07:11

was failed by her environment her family her neighborhood her

07:15

peers and ultimately suffered a really a bummer of a

07:19

fate as a result and the fact that her death

07:21

was so anonymous that it occurred off screen emphasize how

07:24

women like maggie are overlooked My society at large holy

07:29

smokes is this stuff getting me fired up I've got

07:31

a protest something a sap If you prefer your activism

07:34

less literary and more visual however you're gonna lose your

07:37

mind over jacob reese Jacob riis was born in denmark

07:41

but immigrated to america in eighteen seventy with nothing more

07:44

than the change in his pocket which is to say

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not much So resettled in new york city eventually scoring

07:50

a job as a police Reporter for the new york

07:52

herald tribune in particular rees was known for his photography

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which was actually a rare skill in the days before

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snapchat and selfies He spent most of his time meeting

08:02

the rial rough neighborhoods of new york city especially ones

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with large immigrant populations which at the time were primarily

08:09

irish and italian His approach here is actually pretty similar

08:12

to the one taken by crane is now like he

08:14

doesn't employ stereotypes of immigrants and working class people After

08:18

all his work was meant to shock the audience that

08:20

was the reality tv of its day But rees used

08:23

these stereotypes to a positive end to show america the

08:27

suffering sitting right under its nose This was referred to

08:30

as muck racking sensational journalism that exposes corruption and abuse

08:35

by the powers that be as you might imagine a

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lot people despised res for his work They thought he

08:42

was just causing trouble What reason did have friends He

08:45

was buddies with theodore roosevelt while the future president was

08:49

still the police commissioner of n y c and yes

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that is your fun fact of the day Protest always

08:54

befriend future presidents It just might come in handy someday

08:58

In eighteen ninety three's released how the other half lives

09:01

a book that became a smash hit and he's also

09:04

considered an early example of published photo journalism The book

09:07

combines reasons photos with britain commentary on the awful reality

09:11

of urban poverty tenement buildings sweatshops unpleasantness galore On the

09:17

positive side the book had a really political impact on

09:20

society encouraging new york city officials to reform housing policies

09:24

and roosevelt who was still police commissioner to shut down

09:27

particularly shady businesses So rees is a great example of

09:31

an activist through his actions He literally cause social change

09:35

when's the last time an instagram celebrity did that But

09:38

are we going to talk this much about a photographer

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without actually looking at his photographs Of course not This

09:44

is a video that's like talking about twilight but not

09:46

actually mentioning vampires The first photo we're going to examine

09:49

today is called five cents a spot one of reasons

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most famous photos based on the title We can assume

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that each of these folks were paying five cents apiece

09:58

for their beds which even at that low price seems

10:01

hardly worth it that this would be many americans first

10:04

look inside of a tenement apartment and reason ensured that

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it would be an image that they would never forget

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then its roost is another classic photo from race published

10:14

back in eighteen eighty eight unlike five cents a spot

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which makes us feel sympathetic towards the poor bro's in

10:20

the tenement apartments this one definitely makes us feel a

10:22

little bit scared Those two g's up front look like

10:25

they're about to beat these up and the rest of

10:28

them looked like they'd happily lend a helping hand The

10:31

framing of this photograph contributes to this feeling of unease

10:34

to framing is the way that a photo or piece

10:37

of art draws in your focus Notice how the alley

10:40

stretches back into the distance behind the troublemakers making us

10:44

feel like we're being drawn into the alley towards whatever

10:47

creepiness lies at its center Okay okay we've got to

10:51

move on or else i'm gonna have a heart attack

10:53

The last photo will look at is called street arabs

10:55

and sleeping quarters Street arabs is reasons term for young

10:59

unemployed children which is super racist of course by calling

11:02

homeless kids arabs rees is implying that all our people

11:05

are unemployed slackers But hey we are talking about the

11:08

eighteen hundreds Casual racism was super hip back then Of

11:12

course this photograph is a total heartstring tugger Nothing gives

11:16

us the fields like sad children But now more than

11:19

anything this photo shows us how reads took his photos

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The kids do look posed and it does look like

11:26

daytime Not exactly when most people sleep How we've been

11:29

lied to nap Not really More than likely res help

11:33

the kids get into position for the photograph as he

11:36

did with much of his work after all Did you

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think that res just stumbled across a gang of young

11:41

thugs holding court in a scary alley Not likely This

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revelation doesn't invalidate Reese is work He was still documenting

11:49

riel struggles that were ignored by the rest of the

11:51

world And that deserves props That being said understanding how

11:55

res captured these photos helps us better understand them as

11:59

well as his unique role as an activist and thus

12:01

concludes our trip into the world of eighteen hundreds Activism

12:04

What did we learn Well we learned that maggie girl

12:07

of the streets exposed the suffering of irish immigrants even

12:10

if it did perpetuate a few unpleasant stereotypes of them

12:13

to the same could be said about jacob rees and

12:15

his photography although he certainly upheld the prejudice of his

12:19

era reese also did worlds of goodbye documenting the lives

12:23

of the oppressed even inciting riel social change We in

12:26

the protest ng business call that next level activism Now

12:30

i have to get going Big protest coming up a

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lot of powerful people trying to stop it And listen

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If you ever find pieces of me and a shredder

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just know that i went out sticking it to the 00:12:42.147 --> [endTime] man