Monday, July 11, 2011

Meeting of Minds

From Marjorie Garber, "Historical Correctness: The Use and Abuse of History for Literature," in A Manifesto for Literary Studies (2003), p.52 (footnotes omitted):
A memorable instance of this once-popular genre [i.e., dialogues of the dead] was offered by comedian Steve Allen's television show Meeting of Minds, which ran for four years on the American Public Broadcasting System. On one occasion Aristotle, Sun Yat-Sen, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning debated; on another a lively argument developed among Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Aquinas, Cleopatra, and Thomas Paine; a third panel featured Florence Nightingale, Plato, Voltaire, and Martin Luther; a fourth, Attila the Hun, Emily Dickinson, Galileo, and Charles Darwin. (Steve Allen to Galileo: "You know, it's most interesting. You sir, Miss Dickinson, and Dr. Darwin all had difficulty with domineering fathers." Attila: "My father, too, was no bargain." Or Karl Marx to Marie Antoinette, from a panel discussion with Ulysses S. Grant, Marie Antoinette, Thomas More, and Marx: "Did it ever enter your mind, Your Majesty, that...empty rituals and customs would in time destroy the people's respect for the monarchy?" Marie: "Nonsense, Dr. Marx, the people adored the rituals and customs!" Thomas More: "Yes, Dr. Marx,...rituals and manners aided the people to express their respect for royalty. I understand that in today's Marxist nations [sic] there is still room for pomp and circumstance.") These were not séances; actors played the parts. Allen's wife Jayne Meadows performed almost all the female roles.
I never saw Meeting of Minds. It's sounds mildly amusing, though I'm not sure where Steve Allen would have gotten the idea that Marx might think that rituals and customs destroyed respect for the monarchy of the ancien regime. His view of the French Revolution was a bit more insightful than that.

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