Happy Independence Day!
Jean Shepherd was a very strong booster for the United States. In the 1960s, when there were many disparaging remarks being made about the country, Shep defended his country. Jean Shepherd loved the United States of America.
JEAN SHEPHERD’S AMERICA
Jean Shepherd’s wide-ranging creative works cover innumerable subjects about what it’s like to be alive in America. However, many would not recognize the special attention he paid to the customs, places, and general way of being of this country which he loved, defended, and sometimes criticized. Clues regarding his interest reside in titles of two major projects. As early as the late 1950s, he was working on the introduction and editing of his book containing humorous and satirical pieces by one of his favorite authors, The America of George Ade (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1960). The book cover’s subtitle captures some clues to Shepherd’s enthusiasm: “The Great American Realistic Writer who in the early Twentieth Century created Modern American Humor.” The other, better known Shepherd title, consists of nearly two dozen half-hour television episodes of his fragmentary, varied, and uneven, Jean Shepherd’s America (PBS series of 1971 and 1985). If, instead of just two dozen, he could have created upwards of two-hundred of these, they surely would have been the twentieth century’s Great American Epic of varied environments and common cultural customs.
(Folder cover for promotion material)
Certainly, many who heard Shepherd on the radio decry the likes of the Margate Elephant and the Leaning Tower of Pizza, recognize his frequent disparaging of the lowbrow mentality found in New Jersey (his sometime-symbol for the entire country). And on television, those who saw on New Jersey Network, as its newspaper ad put it, the “irreverent tour with New Jersey’s noted humorist, Jean Shepherd On Route One…And Other Major Thoroughfares” recognize his negative attitude toward the state just across the Hudson from his beloved Manhattan. Even Manhattan was sometimes the subject of his disdain, as when he would describe walking up 6th Avenue, “knee-deep in cigar butts.” On one radio show, just back from Europe and aware of some Europeans on the bus getting their first view of America, he said that buses in Europe were clean, and he deplored the debris on the bus into New York from the airport—“I wish somebody’d swept up before these guys came.” Yet Jersey, where he had for a time lived, and through which he frequently drove, was but a stand-in, a scapegoat, for country-wide customs at which he frequently poked fun. He laughed at the American taste which put on front lawns such “slob art”–a favorite phrase of his–as little statues of painted plaster Mexicans, and that ultimate in bad taste, pink flamingos. He did not suffer American folk art of such ilk lightly. He reveled in dumping on ever-proliferating junkyards, going so far in one of his television programs in his Shepherd’s Pie series, showing heavy duty equipment, piling up debris in elegant slow motion, accompanied by ironically juxtaposed, apparently synchronized, classical music. To repeat, “…this country which he loved, defended, and sometimes criticized.”
Stay tuned for Part 2