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October 29, 2003

Sid Says: Men Can't be Geared Up—Unless They Are Cheered Up

The second Siddall essay from Sid Says deals with the workplace, and were it not for the writing style one could not tell whether it appeared 80 odd years ago, or yesterday.

I was going to research more on John M. Siddall today at the UNC libraries, but a server crisis pulled me out of the shower this morning. By the time everything had settled down it was after 10, and neither diamonds nor pearls will buy a parking spot at Carolina after ten on a weekday.

I tell a lie. There are pay spots available in downtown Chapel Hill, so diamonds and pearls will buy a parking space. But since they are in Chapel Hill, it takes a inordinate amount of pressed carbon and solidified shellfish spit to use one for an hour.

So I worked from home today. In place of careful research, I'll offer the introduction to the book, written at the seventh hole* of the Dunwoodie Golf Club in Yonkers, New York by one Robert H. Davis, who seems to have been at least a little bit drunk as well as a good bit racist, on July 27th, 1917.

Introducing John M. Siddall

John M. Siddall was born in Oberlin, Ohio. His father and mother, realizing the necessity for supplying the boy with the right kind of ammunition in the campaign of life, loaded him up at Oberlin College and tamped the charge down at Harvard. From that intelligence armory young Siddall stepped into the reporters' room of the Cleveland Plain Dealer; from there to the Chautauquan Magazine; thence to the editorial staff of McClure's Magazine, and finally to The American Magazine, of which publication he became editor-in-chief in 1915. A swift journey from Oberlin to the main battery of opportunity.

Along the road he had been gathering powder and shot with which to fire upon readers. He had passed through every rank in the grand army of experience and knew what he was gunning for.

One perfect day he loaded the old-fashioned pumpgun of ambition which never explodes prematurely or dislocates one's shoulder, took deliberate aim, and let fly his first slug of "Sid Says." A regiment of readers fell under this fire of wisdom, poured into the trenches of doubt. The battle raged fiercely from week to week. The campaign was conducted by a gunner directing his fire from a revolving chair against the central powers of mediocrity, detonating his batteries with the spark of genius.

Conceding the justification for all twelve-inch ordnance fired in the name of democracy, and with the sincere hope that the parliament of man in the federation of the world is not far remote, let us now observe what "Sid Says" in the following pages, confident that they will continue to serve, long after the world is disarmed, the excellent purpose for which they were written.

I now resign to your hands this White Book, from the pen of a white man, guided by the white light of experience.

--Robert H. Davis


Men Can't be Geared Up—Unless They Are Cheered Up
By John M. Siddall, Circa 1917

I used to know a man who was a wonder at taking the heart out of those who worked under him. He was the original killjoy—a paragon of pessimism. He would roll over on anyone who showed enthusiasm, and flatten him out until he looked like a punctured toy balloon. I don't think he intended to do all the damage he wrought. He simply did not know any better.

His specialty was criticism. The minute you approached him with a suggestion he got out his instruments and amputated your new idea. Then he bathed you with an antiseptic wash of gloomy words calculated to render you immune to the development of any fresh outpouring of inspiration. If someone did a good job in the office, this man, who happened to be the boss, would come around and cheer him up by telling him how it could have been done better. He never even admitted that a good job had been done at all, but immediately set about to point out imperfections in the work. In his line, which was criticizing, he held the world's championship. If he had been present at the creation of the earth, which is said to have been put over quite cleverly in record time, he would have hinted that the thing could easily have been done in five days instead of six—and possibly by Friday noon, or in four and a half days, if certain precautions had been taken and if the work had been more efficiently laid out with a view to speed.

The man about whom I write this heartfelt tribute is dead. While he lived he was about as popular as the hives. Nobody derived any benefit from him. But when he passed away he left behind him (in other minds) a thought. Here it is:

If you have people working for you, one way to encourage them to do more and better work is occasionally to pick out instances where they have shown signs of ability, and commend them. Any worker, particularly a young worker, is likely to be unable to discriminate between his good work and his poor work. If you are his boss it is up to you to help him distinguish between the two. It is also up to you to take the young man in hand and explain to him why the good job is good and why the poor job is poor. In the first instance he will be hearing something pleasant and inspiring, and in the second instance he will be in a better mood to listen to you. You can also depend upon it that the man who is intelligently praised for a good piece of work will try to duplicate that work so that he may earn more praise.

These gloom boys—like the one I have characterized above—keep an office so dark with their doubts that nobody can see where to go.

Next: A Great Ancestor Would Be All Right if so Many Outsiders Didn't Butt In

*It's a par 3. I hope he let the group behind him play through.

Posted by Bigwig at October 29, 2003 12:26 AM | TrackBack
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I’m not sure the introduction was all that racist. The term “white” used to mean something like “righteous” or upright or good or kind. The archaic expression, “that’s mighty white of you” doesn’t express the sentiment, “it’s what I’d expect from a KKK member.” Instead, it just means “thanks, that was kind.” I think Clint Eastwood used the expression in High Plains Drifter – “thanks, that was mighty white of you.” I believe it also may have been parodied in Blazing Saddles. The use of the term is neutral; it is like saying somebody lives in a white house, or issuing a white paper in favor of affirmative action. The concept “white” in this sense is part of the universal aesthetic proposed by Dr. Butler and Alexander Pope, in which they posited white = good; black = bad; red = lust or anger, etc. – not really thinking about race but rather in terms of semiotics for poets, sculptors and painters. You know, angels wear white, devils wear red or black, etc.

But now, in our racially enlightened times, the term “white”, especially when enjoined to the pejorative term “man” means colonialist imperialist running dog capitalist aggressor.

It must be noted that this use of the term “white”, identifying the entire universe of presumptively racist rapacious capitalist oppressors is improper. The correct term is actually “White” with a capital “W”, as in “George “W.” Bush is a presumptively racist rapacious capitalist imperialist oppressor.”

The capital letter is appropriate when referring to any self-identifying racial group, such as Latino/Hispanics, Blacks, Mexicans, Asian-Americans, Southwest Asian-Americans, South Asians, or Asian-American/Asian Pacific Islanders.

Given the rectitude and middlebrow scholarly leanings of the journal you keep citing, it’s quite likely that the use of the term “white” in that introduction wasn’t meant to identify Sid the Sexist as a member of the White race; rather it was probably used in to identify Sidwell as a “white” or good man.

Posted by: Blackavar at October 29, 2003 12:38 PM

I now resign to your hands this White Book, from the pen of a white man, guided by the white light of experience.

I'm aware of the interpretation, and it may just be that I'm over sensitive to that sort of thing.

How that could happen I have no idea. :)

It seemed to me that the variable capitalization within the sentence in question gave the "white=good" usage to the book, identified the race of the author, then used the term "white light of experience" in its accepted sense of "revealing."

It's a clumsy construction, which is one reason why I figured the fellow was imbibing at the time. The emphasis on the word "white" just makes me suspicious.

Given the era in which he wrote it, the repetition of the word, and my desire not to have Siddall inadvertently tarred by the brush of his introducer, I figured better safe than sorry.

To be sure, I'd have to find out more about Robert H. Davis, which I did attempt, but there's less about him out on the net than there is about Siddall.

I've found bound copies of the American Magazine in the UNC libraries, hopefully Davis will leave some clues within them.

I'm curious, though. What leads you to label Siddall as a sexist?

Posted by: Bigwig at October 29, 2003 01:01 PM

There's an adult comic book in Britain called "Viz Comics." It's like the Onion, except comics, and really truly profane.

It used to be really funny about 10 years ago. Now it's sort of lame, but occasionally good.

One of the recurrent characters, who is still kinda funny, is Sid the Sexist, a drunken Glaswegian lout who is as horny (and dumb) as a goat, who perpetually has a pint in one hand, a lit cigarette in the other. He's semi famous on that side of the pond as an underground figure, like Crumb. I just thought it would be fun to use the name.

And besides, if you can ever get the Viz issue where Sid the Sexist hooks up repeatedly with the Fat Slags (another underground strip... figure it out for yourself); well then, that's a doozy. It's a funny adult cartoon that asks the serious question: "Is there a medical name for vomiting during copulation?"

Posted by: Blackavar at October 29, 2003 01:24 PM

That reminds me... how long before Sliver Rights labels this post as a de facto, de juris Klan meeting? Giggle... Chuckle... snark.

Posted by: Blackavar at October 29, 2003 01:26 PM
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