May 23

RBG

This biography highlights the life of Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  It shows a variety of archive footage from her early years as a law student, law professor, and lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court in the 1970s.  You see clips of her as a grandmother, clips of her long time love and husband, Martin, and you hear funny interviews with Ginsburg’s children recounting their mother’s lack of cooking skills and calm demeanor.  She has become a cultural icon among the young and old, much of it coming from her opposition to the Court’s conservative opinions that gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, made George W. Bush president in 2000, and allowed for religious reasons why a company can refuse to pay for birth control.

Image result for rbg   Image result for rbg

Questions:

  1. How is Ginsburg’s story a typical American success story?  How is atypical?  Explain.
  2. What kinds of discrimination did Ginsburg face in her earlier career?  Do you think things have changed much since the 1960s for women in the legal profession?
  3. How has Ginsburg act as a champion for women’s rights throughout her career?  Explain w/ specifics.

Due by Monday, June 4 by class.  

February 2

Blog #109 – Antebellum Speed Dating

Maybe you’ve met your soul mate, maybe not.  Either way, I hope you had fun learning about the people of this time period.

Please answer the following:

  1. What did you learn about your person?   What motivated them to do what they did?
  2. Which other reformer / religious leader was your favorite person to meet and why?
  3. How does this lesson act as a different way to learn about a topic than what we have traditionally done throughout the year so far?   Explain.

Due Tuesday, Feb. 6 by class.  350 words minimum for your total answer.  

Image result for antebellum reformers

January 22

Blog #108 – Andrew Jackson – Hero of the Common Man or Dictatorial President?

Now, since we talk about shades of grey here in APUSH, a question like this – Andrew Jackson, Hero of the Common Man or Dictatorial President? – should be harder to answer than the either/or options that I have given you.  Chances are, Jackson is both the hero of the common man and acted dictatorially as president.

Image result for andrew jackson

Using the article that you read over the weekend, “Andrew Jackson: Flamboyant Hero of the Common Man”, please answer the following questions:

  1. Argue the side that Jackson is the hero of the common man.  Use examples from the article and your text / PPT.
  2. Argue the other side that Jackson was a dictatorial president.  Use examples from the article and your text / PPT.
  3. Which side do you think the author, John Marszalek, came down on?  Do you agree w/ him?  Why or why not?

Total words – 400 – due Thursday, January 25 by class.  

January 15

Blog #107 – The Post

 

I really hoped that you enjoyed the movie, The Post, this weekend.  I think we got to see some pretty smart acting, decent writing, and a slice of 1971 politics and newspapers.  As we saw, the Washington Post was trying to become more than just a regular, “local paper” as they called it, when Katherine Graham, the publisher played by Meryl Streep, looked to sell stock in the company and raise $3 million to hire 25 new reporters.  At the same time that this stock offering is getting ready to go, the New York Times began publishing the opening series of the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000 page report detailing American involvement in Vietnam from 1945 – 1967.  Ben Bradlee, the editor in chief for the Post, played by Tom Hanks, wants those papers too, since he sees the Times as his paper’s biggest competitor.  Image result for the post movie reviews

Please answer the following questions:

  1. A lot of the movie tries to be faithful to the 1971 time frame – pay phones, newspapers, teletype, black and white TVs, the clothes, etc.  How has life changed since then, and is this movie glorifying an age (the age of crusading newspapers) that may never come back?  Why or why not?
  2. Examine how the film portrayed Katherine Graham as the lone woman in a sea of powerful male players – lawyers, bankers, etc.  Provide specifics from the film as it shows her growth from socialiImage result for the post movie reviewste publisher to powerful player.
  3. The film’s reviews – many have made the case that this film is timely and completely relevant to today.  Freedom of the press is something that must be fought for, again and again.  You could see that Nixon had tried to muzzle the press with the injunctions against the Times and the Post, but the Supreme Court had rescued the press w/ its 6-3 decision in U.S. v. New York Times.  With what’s going on w/ the media (“fake news”) and other issues, how do you see this film as relevant and timely?  And why is freedom of the press so important?

400 words minimum for all  three questions. 

Due Monday, January 29 by class.  

NYT review – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/21/movies/the-post-review-steven-spielberg-tom-hanks-meryl-streep.html

Variety review – http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/the-post-review-tom-hanks-meryl-streep-1202631640/

 

December 6

Blog #106 – How Revolutionary was the Revolution?

One of the primary themes that I’ve wanted you to consider over this unit on the American Revolution was the concept of whether or not it was a conservative revolution (people trying to keep powers/rights that they already have been exercising for years) or whether it was truly a radical revolution (people striking out on their own by overthrowing an existing political or social order and creating a new one).   American historians have been debating the very nature of the American Revolution soon after it ended.

My attitudes about the Revolution have changed over the past seven years since I’ve started teaching APUSH and have become more nuanced.  What I mean by that is that I used to believe what most of you have probably been taught – we were right and the British were tyrants, and it was just a matter of time that we asserted our unalienable rights by breaking away from the British empire to become the greatest nation in the history of the world.

The more I study the Revolution, the more I see numbers like the taxation issue (Brits were taxed 26 shillings to the colonists’ 1 shilling), and I wonder what the big deal was.  Parliament wasn’t asking the colonies to pay the debt of 140 million pounds sterling that the empire had accrued during the French and Indian War – just 1/3 of the 100,000 pounds that it cost for the soldiers to be there to protect the Indians on the other side of the Proclamation Line of 1763.  Part of me sees the Stamp Act riots as an overreaction, the Boston Tea Party as vandalism not patriotism, and that the Revolution was about how indebted the wealthy were to the British.

Bancroft 

The pre-Civil War era (1840-1870) was filled with historians who saw the Revolution as a quest for liberty, and the most important scholar was George Bancroft who wrote a ten-volume History of the United States.  Bancroft felt that the Revolution was a “struggle between liberty and tyranny… represent[ing] one phase of a master plan by God for the march of all mankind toward a golden age of greater human freedom” (Bancroft 13).   Bancroft represented a national historian who told America’s epic story in an ultra-patriotic way.  After the Civil War, however, historians wanted to reassess the Revolution in light of the country’s amazing industrial growth.

Imperial and Progressive Schools 

The Imperial School believed that political and constitutional issues brought on the Revolution.  Britain’s colonial policies were not as unjust as Bancroft had said.  There were benefits and burdens with the Navigation Acts, and the colonists benefited under Salutary Neglect too.  Also, Imperial School historians felt that the British were justified in taxing the Americans b/c it was British blood and treasure spent during the Great War for Empire 1754-63.  American colonies were moving in the direction of more home rule which, in essence, was revolutionary, by nature.

The Progressive School emphasized that it was the economic split caused by the competition between the colonies and the mother country.  Not only that, but the Progressives placed a great emphasis on class conflict, so this Revolution was actually two revolutions – external against Britain and internal between social classes (which social class would rule America after the British left?).  Historian Arthur Schlesinger noted that usually conservative merchants played a key role in kick-starting the Revolution b/c they feared what would happen to their positions if the lower classes won the internal Revolution.

Consensus Movement

Historians in the 1950s, the consensus school of history, feel that there wasn’t class conflict during this time period, but that a “shared commitment to certain fundamental political principles of self-government” was what bound the colonists together (Bailey 140).  It was these ideas – liberty, voting, representative government, trial by jury, habeas corpus – that bound Americans together.  The leading historian of this movement was one of my favorites, Daniel Boorstin.  It was these grand, shared ideas that bound the varied colonial interests together and minimized the social and economic

Image result

conflicts that could have torn the colonies apart.

After the 1950s, historian Bernard Bailyn focused on ideological and psychological factors that drove the Revolution.  He had read hundreds and hundreds of pamphlets from the Revolutionary era and discovered that not only were the colonists extremely literate, they were very knowledgeable in political theory.  These American writers also grew suspicious (some say too sensitive) of conspiracies, and this hypersensitivity led the colonists to begin armed revolt in 1775 at Lexington and Concord.

New Left (1960s, 70s)

Another one of my favorite historians, Gary Nash, has examined the social and economic forces that moved the Revolution along.  He pointed out the increasing gap between the social classes and lack of social mobility before the Revolution, especially among the people who lived in the countryside.  Attacks by the poor (the Paxton Boys in PA and the Regulators in N.C.) on the wealthy before the Revolution are prime examples of the frustration and resentment that laborers felt at being left out of the rapid economic change.  Unlike the Progressive historians, the New Left historians like Nash don’t pin all of the conflict upon economic conflict but include social changes as well.

Not only have you gotten a lesson in historiography (the history of the history – of the Revolution in this case), you can see that history is not a static thing and changes over time.  The history usually reflects the political and social conditions of the writers / historians living at that time.

Using what you’ve read here and in chapters 4 and 5 (“The American Revolution”, pgs. 132-33), provide with me some insight into what you think our American Revolution was – a conservative revolution or truly radical one in nature.  Don’t forget the handout, “Conflicting Views” too.  Also, please provide some rationale for your answer from the ideas above and the Gary Nash article, “The Radical Revolution from the ‘Bottom Up'”. 

Due Monday, Dec. 11 by class time.  Minimum of 350 words.  

Sources:

Bailey, Thomas Andrew, David M. Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

Wood, Gordon S. “Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution.” The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States. London: Penguin, 2011. 25-55. Print

November 24

Blog #105 – Was Nixon a liberal, conservative, or moderate?

Using the 1970s’ definitions of liberal and conservative, I’d like you to figure out whether President Richard Nixon was a liberal, conservative, or some combination of both – a moderate.

At that point in the 1970s, a liberal is someone who believes in positive governmental action to solve societal problems and to ensure equality for all. Liberals also see the government as the guarantor of civil liberties and human rights.  Generally, liberals believe that government can solve society’s problems because sometimes they are too big to be solved by individuals, charities (non-governmental organizations), or private businesses.  Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to believe in limited governmental actions and spending, traditional American values, a strong defense, and a belief that capitalist free markets can solve economic inequality.  Conservatives want to empower the individual to solve his / her own problems and not rely on the government for help.  There is also a major divide about how much of the past / present should be preserved in order to benefit the future.  Liberals are willing to try new ideas or approaches to adjust to the changing times, while conservatives want to preserve working structures / traditions and carry them forward into the future.  Also, liberals tend to come from historically marginalized groups (think women, African American, etc.) while conservatives tend to come from the dominant groups in American society (white and male).

To make the case that Nixon is a liberal:

Nixon raised the minimum wage by 40% in 1974.  He also proposed a couple programs that never came to be but seem amazingly liberal – a guaranteed minimum annual wage for families (Family Assistance Program), and an expansion of Medicare / Medicaid so that everyone would be covered by a government health care program, in which all employers would have had to provide health care for their employees or make up the difference for those employees who couldn’t afford it.  “Herbert Stein, Nixon’s chief economic adviser, who once wrote, ‘Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon Administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal.'”  In 1971, Nixon imposed price and wage controls in order to curb inflation, and also took America off the Gold standard.  These price and wage controls, like Stein said above, was the most overt control of the American economy since FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression.  Nixon also signed the Clean Air Act and created the agencies, Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  Nixon also expanded the food stamps program from $610 million in 1970 to $2.5 billion in 1973.  Image result for EPA

This quote is taken from the National Review (a traditionally conservative magazine) in 2013: “In a 1983 interview, [Nixon] told historian Joan Hoff that his many liberal initiatives as president (from the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to his calls for universal health insurance) reflected his own background and association with the “progressive” wing of the Republican party.  In private, Nixon was scathing about conservatives ranging from Ronald Reagan (he considered him a showy “know-nothing”) to William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review.”  Nixon told this to an aide: “The trouble with far-right conservatives like Buckley,” Nixon told Whitaker, “is that they really don’t give a damn about people and the voters sense that. Yet any Republican presidential candidate can’t stray too far from the right-wingers because they can dominate a primary and are even more important in close general elections. Remember, John,” Nixon lectured, “the far-right kooks are just like the nuts on the left, they’re door-bell ringers and balloon blowers, but they turn out to vote. There is only one thing as bad as a far-left liberal and that’s a damn right-wing conservative.”

Foreign policy-wise, Nixon was not like Reagan’s 1st term.   Reagan hated detente because he thought that the agreements like SALT I and II were immoral.  Nixon normalized relations with China and kicked Taiwan to the curb, even supporting their dismissal from the United Nations.  Nixon also left our ally, South Vietnam, in the lurch after signing a dubious treaty to get us out of the war.  Yes, we did make South Vietnam’s army the #4 biggest army in the world after we withdrew, but it wasn’t enough to stop the North Vietnamese from invading and seizing the country in 1975.

Nixon also famously said this in the groundbreaking Frost / Nixon interviews:

Frost: “Are you really saying the president can do something illegal?”

 

Image result for frost nixon interviewsNixon: “I’m saying that when the president does it, it’s not illegal!”

This sweeping interpretation of presidential powers is nowhere written in the Constitution, unless you widely interpret the President’s war powers.

To make the case that Nixon was a conservative: 

Nixon originally campaigned in 1968 during the chaos of that year as a “law and order” candidate, as someone who championed the “silent majority” who supported American values but didn’t protest the Vietnam War or burn bras or participate in marches / riots.  This technique tended to be something that conservatives would do – promote strong crime strategies like capital punishment, more prisons, and stricter penalties and prison terms (think of the the Willie Horton ad from 1988 Bush vs. Dukakis).  Nixon swayed white Southern Democratic voters away from the Democratic Party with his “Southern Strategy” in which he sought a fine line between integration and segregation.  To many younger voters and war protestors, he appeared to be an authoritarian figure who escalated the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia in 1970 and Laos in 1971.  Under his watch, the FBI also launched COINTELPRO, a systematic wiretapping and disinformation campaign that targeted anti-war and Civil Rights groups from 1965-1971.  Another one of Nixon’s programs, New Federalism, sought to push some programs out of the federal realm and into the states’ responsibilities.  He felt that it was more important for states to have control over some federal programs and be able to oversee how the money was spent – the idea being that the states know better what they need and should spend it how they want to rather than the distant federal government.

Also, Nixon nominated 4 Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Warren Burger (1969), future Chief Justice William Rehnquist (1971), Harry Blackmun (1970), and Lewis Powell (1971).  Nixon’s conservative influence would be felt for decades.  Chief Justice Burger was critical of the previous Court’s expansion of rights for criminals in cases like Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona.  Despite many conservative rulings, the Burger Court also included such liberal decisions like Roe v. Wade (allowing 1st term abortions to be legal), Swann v. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Board of Ed. (supporting busing to integrate schools), Furman v. Georgia (postponing all death penalty cases for four years), and U.S. v. Nixon (forcing the president to turn over his recordings in the Oval Office).

Why did Nixon do all of this?  Some historians have argued that he was poll driven, and because America had gone through a very liberal phase in the 196s0s (Great Society, Civil Rights legislation), he was responding to America’s demands for environmental laws, work place improvements, and the energy crisis / inflation.   Other historians have argued that Nixon was an opportunist who wanted to focus on his foreign policy in Vietnam, the Soviets, and China.  That Nixon was cynical enough to let the domestic agenda items pass in order to become the great foreign policy president that he strove to be.

Here’s the video of Nixon on Trial that we saw together in class.

So, in your own words,

  1. Tell me whether you think Nixon was a liberal, conservative, or moderate.  Back this assertion up with your own thoughts (and feel free to do some additional research and site it in your comment);
  2. Explain how this complexity makes Nixon seem more of a real person as opposed to a stereotype or two-dimensional figure.

400 words minimum total for both answers.   Due Wednesday, Nov. 29 by class. 

Sites consulted:

  1. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-a-liberal-and-a-conservative
  2. http://wp.lps.org/tnettle/files/2013/12/Liberal-vs-Conservative.pdf
  3. https://www.politicsforum.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=144044
  4. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/21/noam-chomsky-richard-nixon_n_4832847.html
  5. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/337447/nixon-100-was-he-americas-last-liberal-john-fund
  6. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2014/08/11/nixons-new-federalism-45-years-later/
November 20

Marshall – Extra Credit

The film, Marshall, is about a trial in the early career of the first Black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall.  He is also well known for having argued the Brown v. Board of Ed., Topeka, KS trial in front of the Supreme Court.  This particular case is like a famous novel by Richard Wright, Native Son, in which Bigger Thomas, a poor Black man working for a wealthy white family in Chicago, is accused of killing a young white lady.  In the film, it only focuses on one part of his long career as a lawyer for the NAACP, defending Joseph Spell from accusations by Eleanor Strubing of rape.

The power dynamic between Marshall (played by Chadwick Boseman – a.k.a. The Black Panther, also Jackie Robinson in 42) and Sam Friedman (played by Josh Gad) inverts the normal race relations of the time with white on top and black on the bottom.  Marshall is an self-possessed, extremely confident alpha male while Sam plays his sidekick (in some regards).  One of the things that the movie shows is that racism isn’t limited or secluded in the South; it’s all over the country, and when a white woman’s integrity is threatened by the big Black man stereotype, the ugly side of American racism comes out.

Questions: 

  1. How do the Marshall / Friedman dynamic resemble how minorities (Black Americans / Jewish Americans) were treated in 1941?  Provide specific examples.
  2. Why was (and what was) Joseph Spell (Sterling Brown of This is Us and The People vs. O.J.) so afraid that he would admit, under police questioning, to a rape that he didn’t commit?
  3. Do you believe that the judge in this case was racist?  Or extremely grumpy?  Something else?  Why did he limit Marshall’s scope in this case?  Explain w/ specific evidence.
  4. Why doesn’t Sam Friedman want to join this case?   What does he stand to lose?  Explain w/ examples.

Pick three of the questions and answer them in a minimum of 350 words.  

If you want this to go on the first trimester, please make sure your comment is posted by 11:59 pm on Sunday night, November 26.  

If you want this to go on the second trimester, please complete this by December 11 by class.  

November 1

Blog #104 – Chicago Convention as Symbol

Image result for 1968 chicago convention

Students protesting the Vietnam War in Chicago. The blue and red flag is supprting the Viet Cong.

 

 

After we’d watched the American Experience video on the Chicago Convention in 1968 on Friday, it struck me how much that the clash encapsulated many of the tensions in the 1960s.  The clash between students and police on the outside of the convention, and the clash between the Peace platform candidate, McGovern, vs. pro-war candidate, Vice President, Humphrey, both appeared to be like a symbol of how divided the nation was in 1968.   See this link for a day-by-day calendar of the tumultuous events of 1968.  For instance:

– The peace platform delegates and followers of Senator Eugene McCarthy (dove) who tried to be heard at the Democratic National Convention, but the old guard (Mayor Richard Daley) that supported Vice President Hubert Humphrey (hawk) and the war in Vietnam (and support of President Johnson’s policies in Vietnam despite their apparent failure);

– The class differences between Chicago’s working class police officers and the “spoiled brats” as U.S. Attorney Thomas Moran called the college students who had gathered in Chicago to protest the war that could directly affect any of these young men with the draft on either side of the riot line (though truthfully, the police officers were most likely to get drafted and not be able to a deferment from a doctor or university);

– the rise of violence, disorder and chaos in daily life that impacted the political process like the deaths of John Kennedy (1963), Malcolm X (1965), and Dr. King and Robert Kennedy (1968).  There had been riots in Watts, Los Angeles, Detroit and Newark, N.J., and across the country after Dr. King’s death in April 1968. 

– The rights to free speech and freedom to peaceably assemble were directly challenged at this convention by the Chicago Police Dept. and the Illinois National Guard.  Furthermore, the indirect censorship of the TV coverage by not allowing more than one live feed from the city (infringement of freedom of the press) so that the TV news couldn’t cover both the convention and the protests at the same time;

– The differing tactics of the anti- war protesters as symbolized by David Dellinger and Rennie Davis (non-violence) vs. Tom Hayden (“by any means necessary”) and the outcome of the marches and even legal protests at Grant Park.

Questions:

1. Do you think the police used “reasonable force” when dispersing the protestors during the week of the convention?   When?  Why or why not?

2. Do you think the protesters crossed the line by fighting with the police?  Why or why not?

3. Do you think that the peace delegates / McCarthy’s followers would have been satisfied if President Johnson had allowed VP Humphrey to make some concessions over the Vietnam War? Why or why not?

4. How do you think that the images from this convention influenced the outcome of the 1968 election w/ Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace?  Why?

Blog due Monday, November 6.  300 words minimum for the total blog.

October 23

Blog #103 – What are you willing to go to jail for?

“I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.” – Martin Luther King, JrAutobiography

 * emphasis is mine.

Initially going back to the 5th Century, St. Augustine stated that “an unjust law is no law at all”  giving some theological weight / heft to earthly laws. Henry David Thoreau suggested that we obey our conscience when we decide to obey or disobey a law.  He went to jail during the Mexican War and wrote his famous essay on civil disobedience.  Gandhi used Thoreau as inspiration, and King used Gandhi as an inspiration.  Gandhi and King used religion to inspire and their followers.  Here’s a quote from Dr. King from a sermon in the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

… I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city. And we are not wrong; we are not wrong in what we are doing.

If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.
If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.
If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.
If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth.
If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning.
My friends, we are determined … to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Image result for women's marchBut we can’t necessarily have people going around disobeying laws that they don’t like.  There has to be some standards.  Right?  According to Dr. King, he stated that the difference is:

A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

He further elaborates on this and states that: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

Assumption: Since we cannot argue and fight with every law that we think goes against “the harmony of moral law” or disobey laws at whim (for instance, I might think that one day, the speed limit downgrades my personality, therefore I am going to take a principled stand against it by not obeying it), we have to assume that most laws need to be obeyed.

But what are unjust laws today??

1. Abortion?  Or restrictions on abortion?

2. Wars or other military actions?

3. Immigration laws like the one in Arizona or the Muslim Ban?

4. LGBTQ rights? Or restrictions on those rights?

5. Economic stuff like taxes?  Or lack thereof on companies, individuals, etc.?

6. Military draft (don’t worry, we don’t have one)?

7. Environmental damage?  Or lack of environmental laws?

8. Jobs or a lack of jobs?

9. Software and music / movie downloading -piracy?

10. Behavior / actions of an American company (sweatshops, illegally drilling, dumping, etc.)?

11. Police brutality or other injustices directed at people of color?

12. Women’s pay equality and other issues concerning women?

13. ????

Questions to answer:

a. Would you be willing to go to jail to protest unjust laws like the Civil Rights workers had done many times during the 1950s and 60s?  (Consider the ramifications of a felony or misdemeanor on your record, and its impact on your possible future career).

b. After consulting the list above, which laws would you be willing to fight against?  Why? (feel free to add to the list if you see any missing).

c. Do you agree with Dr. King’s reasoning w/ what makes a law just or unjust?  Why or why not?

350 words total for all three questions.  Due Wednesday, October 25 by class. 

 

October 13

Battle of the Sexes – extra credit blog

Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes

This fun movie focused on the real tennis battle between aging men’s tennis champion, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), and #1 women’s tennis star, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) in Houston, TX in 1973.  It was a huge extravaganza, with corporate sponsorships and huge prize money ($100,000 if King won, over 1/2 million in today’s money), possibly 90 million people watching at home and over 30,000 in attendance at the Houston Astrodome.  Their battle was a reflection of what was going on at the time period:

  1. Women’s liberation was making big headlines – part of liberation meant that women didn’t need men to be complete.  It’s one of the reasons why radical feminists burned bras, refused to follow typical Western beauty standards, and protested sexist American traditions like the Miss America beauty pageant.
  2. The Equal Rights Amendment had been passed by Congress in March 1972 which called for an end to all sexual discrimination.  By the time the match happened, 30 states had approved the ERA before the momentum stalled and approval finally expired in 1983.  A total of 35 states would approve the ERA, three short of the needed total of 38, and there was significant resistance from ladies’ groups and conservative politicians who saw the amendment as opening up the door to unisex bathrooms, gay marriage, and women fighting in the military (funny how we have all three of those things w/o the amendment today).
  3. The 2nd wave of feminism had made significant strides in getting women elected to high positions, leading corporations and unions, and pushing for wage equality, day care centers, an end to sexual harassment, and equality in education and sports (Title IX).

In a New York Times review of the movie, the opening line of the review was this: “Every so often an exceptionally capable woman has to prove her worth by competing against a clown.”  Maybe I’m a little biased, but this made me think of the 2016 Election.  Hillary Clinton was a very talented and experienced candidate for the presidency, but unlike Billie Jean, Clinton would not triumph over the clown.  Here’s a NYT article that finds parallels in the film.  It’s a wonder if the filmmakers made it this way intentionally.

Bill Pullman as Jack Kramer in Battle of the Sexes vs. the real-life Jack Kramer.

The film also really focused on the gender wage gap – using one tournament in particular, the men’s prize money was 8x that of the women’s prize money.  The reasons that Jack Kramer (pictured above) and his cohort gave were pretty lame and were easily shot down by Billie Jean and Gladys Heldman (played by Sarah Silverman), and Kramer finally settled on the weak reasoning that the men’s game is more exciting.

There was also the love stories in the film – that’s the one thing that surprised me the most about the film – was that there were three love stories going on: one between Billie Jean and Marilyn, another with Bobby and his wife Priscilla, and the third between Billie Jean and her husband.  Each has their own resolution with only Bobby and Priscilla ending up staying together.

One of the things that made me wonder was how accurate was the portrayal of Bobby Riggs.  Steve Carell does a great job of making him seem like a real human being w/ faults and flaws.  I also wondered how much of this challenge to women’s tennis players was real sexism, a gimmick, a chance to get back into the limelight, a way to feed his gambling hobby, or a combination of all of them.

Your job: Pick three of the questions below and answer them w/ specific examples from the movie. 

  1. How did the film portray the gender wage gap?  Do you think the women tennis players did the right thing?  Why or why not? 
  2. How did the film portray the love affair between Billie Jean and Marilyn?  Why couldn’t Billie Jean go public with the affair?  How have things changed since 1973? 
  3. What do you think Bobby Riggs’ true motivation was for the match?  Explain why you reached this conclusion. 
  4. After reading the article on the supposed parallels between the election of 2016 and the film, do you buy the author’s assertion that this was an intentional nod to the election?  Why or why not?  

Due by October 27 in class.  350 words minimum for all three answers.  

Works Cited: 

Fact vs. Fiction in the movie – http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/09/25/fact_vs_fiction_in_the_movie_battle_of_the_sexes.html

NYT Review – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/21/movies/review-battle-of-the-sexes-billie-jean-king-bobby-riggs.html?referrer=google_kp

Wikipedia page on ERA – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_Rights_Amendment

Comparison of Battle and 2016 Election – http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/09/21/battle_of_the_sexes_reminders_of_the_2016_election.html