I have just posted a set of articles on MagusInk, celebrating the creative genius born out of the Dust Bowl phenomenon in the USA during the 1930s - The Muse does some hardtravelin This set of stories looks at the contributions of writer John Steinbeck, photographer Dorothea Lange, and ‘The Dust Bowl troubadour’ Woody Guthrie.
Two aspects really struck me out of my research, first was the difference a little dignity can make to the degradations of poverty. It is bad enough to be cold, hungry and homeless, but adding social pariah status and blaming the victim makes breaking the cycle nearly impossible. The voices and images of this trio at least gave a human face to these victims.
The other revelation, to me at least, is that I’m not the only one to constantly fall between two stools, and into an odious pile of shit. Perhaps the only thing I have in common with Guthrie and Steinbeck, and it did help to relate better to them. Both had a strong social conscience, and neither was comfortable with aligning that with any particular fixed and organised group thinking.
Steinbeck in particular was reviled by the political right and left in the USA. On the other hand he attacked capital and labour organisations with equal intensity. If he, or Guthrie dallied with socialism and communism at times but was clearly incapable of becoming embedded with organisations.
Both he and Guthrie were really only at home with their subjects, the dispossessed and the grafters and showed little interest in ideologies and dogmas. Having to compromise or stay quiet for the sake of being part of a group was simply not in their DNA. Not that that stopped the right from labelling and attacking, especially during the McCarthy Era. However both seemed to take those attacks in stride and often somewhat humorously.
I guess the real point is that they could have made their lives a good deal easier in some respects, no doubt at the cost of being able to live comfortably with their deep passions. Sometimes the trade off is not worth it and thankfully that pair were never really tempted by it. Instead, along with Lange, they have left a valuable and instructive legacy.