(Michael Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 10/24.)
My friend Dave thinks pickled pigs' feet are racist. Well, not precisely. But I took Dave, a gifted young writer whose real name of course isn't Dave, to see the current Broadway revival of You Can't Take It With You, a play in which an African-American character, sent out to buy dinner-party food, returns with a big jar of pickled pigs' feet. Dave enjoyed the production overall, but found this joke stereotypical and demeaning. I explained to him that the joke was actually on the stuffy white dinner guests; I said that in reality, pickled pigs' feet were relished by people of many ethnic groups. I even sang him, in my inimitably off-key fashion, a few phrases of Bessie Smith's "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer."
It was all no use. Dave belongs to a generation of artists determined to combat the specter of ethnic stereotype wherever it appears. Historical works that don't meet his standards must either be laundered into political correctness or deleted from the playlist. His case, passionately argued, is hard to disagree with. Fundamentally, I don't really disagree. Nobody in the arts, especially in our blue-shaded sector of America, seriously thinks that any ethnic group, religion, nationality, or gender category deserves to be demeaned. Bigotry is widespread enough without our adding fuel to its fires.