“Season of the Witch” was so unlike Donovan’s generally optimistic, New Age-anticipating, romantic catalog that I always sort of assumed it was a cover (and I actually had a copy of his Greatest Hits growing up that plainly lists him as the writer). The song’s sense of dislocation and paranoia, of things falling apart, seemed a world away from “Mellow Yellow,” “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” or “Sunshine Superman,” even if you were never totally sure what the latter song was about. Nevertheless, I loved his version of “Season,” and I still consider it about the best out there.
The slideshow was an interesting one to make, in that I started seeing connections between things, such as witch hunts and anit-semitisim, eugenics and white power, Hair Furor and King Leopold, that I had never really thought of as having much relation before. I also had no idea James Garfield had such a way with words, at least until he was assassinated. I originally planned it as examination of anti-Semitism, but it ended up becoming much broader than that, for better or worse, which is really for you to decide.
I was interested in the topic of Anti-Semitism, in part because–although I was raised as a Catholic and have no Jewish relations as far as I know–it seemed as if at least once a year a complete stranger would stop me on the street and ask me if I was Jewish. Sometimes they accepted my slightly apologetic denials without further questioning, although occasionally they could be quite persistent, seemingly absolutely certain about their identification. I, after all, had only my memories, as well as my personal and familial experience, to go on; they had . . . what, exactly? Whatever it was, at least some of them seemed to have absolute faith in their ability to “divine” a Jew. I have to admit, it happened with enough regularity up until middle age, that I found myself wondering about what it was that they were reacting to? My hair (dark, but not stereotypically curly), my nose (big but not hooked), my glasses (I never had the impression that bad eyesight was an ethnic or religious signifier)? Could they be privy to some information about myself that had been kept hidden from me? Perhaps they wanted to invite me to some ultra-cool, ultra-exclusive party? Maybe they just wanted to put my name on a list for some mysterious future purpose, not necessarily a malevolent one, although I couldn’t help wondering a little.
I never really felt threatened, partly because these encounters usually took place on relatively populous, public streets, usually in the afternoon, and the tone of the questions usually came across as interested rather than hostile. Certainly, many people take pride in their ability to identify and “size up” other people, although I couldn’t escape drawing the conclusion that many such people aren’t nearly as expert at it as they seemed to think. I have no doubt they were right some of the time, but that isn’t really a very impressive trick of discernment. In any event, at about the time I turned forty, this annual ritual of mis-recognition evolved into a more benign form. Instead of being asked if I was Jewish, I started to be asked (again, by complete strangers) if I were Steven Spielberg? I quickly developed what seemed to be a convincing comeback for this: “No; he’s thinner, richer, and more talented than I am.” Rather to my disappointment, no one ever continued to insist that I was Spielberg in spite of my denials; my contention that I was overweight, not terribly rich, and not terribly talented was just so obviously, so empirically, so intuitively true, that they usually laughed, nodded, and walked away. No one, of course, ever asked who I was, but I have a feeling that this is not a question that gets asked much in modern American society, which may itself be symptomaic of the problems addressed in this slideshow:
Despite its rather bleak perspective on human beings, I hope somebody can take something positive out of it.