After a recent orgy of old movies, it suddenly dawned on me that upon our innocent little hearts and minds, once again, a linguistic hoax is being perpetrated.
What’s the word this time? Diversity.
Diversity this. Diversity that. Pushing it. Legislating it. Lording over we poor fools who don’t use the word in every other sentence as if we are the moral equivalent of one-celled organisms who haven’t quite made it yet out of the evolutionary swamp.
What the High Priests of diversity are not telling us, though, is: Diversity as opposed to ... what?
First, let’s look at the word itself. According to my Webster’s New International Dictionary, diversity means: “to give variety to.” Some synonyms are: Mixture. Assortment. Variety. Multiplicity.
Which begs the question—since when hasn’t the United States of Assimilation, with our colorful cacophony of national, racial, religious, and ethnic (whatever that means) backgrounds not exemplified “diversity?” In fact, until its recent usurpation by this now-omnipresent word, we, as a country, used to celebrate the magnificent mishmash of our ancestries by referring to ourselves, much more poetically, as a “melting pot.”
Nice thought, melting pot. Put things in and they all nicely blend together. A little of this. A little of that. Lump one takes on the flavoring of lump two. Lump three take on some of lump four’s coloring. Lumps five and six get married, which horrifies lumps one and two, who promptly threaten to disinherit them. Then, lumps seven and eight – the grandchildren – are born. Who could despise their own grandchildren? Sweet little lumps who, in this great melting pot of ours, have acquired the flavorings and colorings of all previous and aforementioned lumps.
Ah ... America! Or ... oh oh. America?
Why is our lovely melting pot no longer good enough? Why are we being made to think that before the word “diversity” was introduced, we, as a nation, didn’t have any? Why are we being made to devalue the glorious cultural hodgepodge of previous generations who fled to our country in search of life, freedom, and opportunity? People who contributed everything to our culture, our national identity, our strength, and our exuberance.
Which brings me back to Old Hollywood. When I was growing up, I used to take great joy in reading the credits at the end of old movies, remarking to myself, “Only in America.” Singling out just one, let’s take a look at “Wuthering Heights.” It was produced by Samuel Goldwyn, born in Warsaw, Poland. Directed by William Wyler, born in the French region of Alsace. The costume designer was Omar Kiam, born in Monterrey, Mexico. Makeup was by Blagoe Stephanoff, born in Macedonia. The stars, too, were a wonderful casting-call of counties. Meryl Oberon was born in Bombay, India. Laurence Olivier, in Dorking, England. Geraldine Fitzgerald, in Dublin, Ireland. Granted that the screenplay was written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, born respectively in New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania, but their script was based on a book written by Yorkshire, England’s Emily Bronte, so that sort of evens things out.
Please keep in mind that this movie was produced in 1939. Before World War II. Before anybody had even conceived of the word “globalization.” When, as a nation, we were supposedly insular, narrow-minded, and xenophobic.
Other imports in this very partial inventory of A-List Hollywood movie stars include: Errol Flynn (Tasmania, Australia); Olivia de Havilland (Toyko, Japan); Charles Boyer (Midi-Pyrenees, France); Ingrid Bergman (Stockholm, Sweden); Hedy Lamarr (Vienna, Austria); Sophia Loren (Rome, Italy); Sessue Hayakawa (Chiba City, Japan); Sabu (Karapur, India); Ricardo, Montalban (Mexico City, Mexico); Paul Henreid (Austro-Hungarian Emprie). Sidney Poitier (the Bahamas); Audrey Hepburn (Brussels, Belgium). And the list goes on and on and on.
Quick. Off the top of your head. Think of a contemporary A-list actor or actress not born in an English-speaking country (admittedly, we have had a huge influx of Australians). There are: Salma Hayek. Antonio Banderas. Jackie Chan. And .. and ... and? Not a great showing.
Where are our Garbos? Our Dolores del Rios? Our Anthony Quinns? Our Carmen Mirandas? Our Louis Jourdans? Our Leslie Carrons?
Think, now, of the giants in today’s Hollywood, a land that gives great lip service to the concept of diversity. Whom are they casting in their films that project anything in the way of different-ness? Whom can we see on that wide silver screen that is intriguingly alien? Who challenges our sameness? Who gives us a breathless lungful of wonder? Of whom can we say: How exotic! How mysterious! How deliciously unique!
We have long known that those who most passionately proclaim their purity of intent (Honest John Used Cars and every single television evangelist who ever lived) have their sticky fingers pointed at our annual net worth. Now, however, we must include in our grab bag of ignominy those who, in principle demand “diversity,” but, in fact, are only interested in variations on a theme of their less than heart-palpitating selves.
I miss my melting pot. More’s the pity.