December 14, 1904 [The Strenuous Life; or, Anti-Race Suicide]

When Teddy Roosevelt's man-eating grin opens and words come out, one is never quite sure what to expect. He has called for Americans to lead a "strenuous life"—physical culture at its most perspiratorial, if I may coin a word; additionally, he exhorts the Anglo-Saxon races to avoid "race suicide"—who, TR is convinced, are procreating at a sluggish pace—or worse, interbreeding with lesser peoples. The bully pulpit has enjoined said races to go forth and multiply, four offspring for each purebred family. Now, I'll admit the strenuous life would be a great deal easier if we all had the musculature of Siegfried und Brünnhilde; unfortunately, those of us who lead, shall I say "cinematic" lives, are of necessity sedentary, and prone to allowing others to act, while we—well, watch. So it appears that my patriotism is endangered by not only heredity but a malady one can describe as cinematic decrepitude.

Porter combines these embarrassing (to say the least) Presidential exhortations to produce a light-hearted satire of the Trust Buster's assertive social program—while insinuating something deeper, perhaps even scorn. But far be it for Edison to overtly disparage TR; instead, we're given a comic view, in which the happy new Pater is awarded with first one, then two, then three, then four bundles of race-sustaining joy; but his literal weighing of their value (discomfiting in its evocation of the butcher shop; modest proposals, indeed) becomes a—we must admit—strenuous burden as he suffers the consequences of answering his Nation's call.

A good friend of mine is a strong advocate of eugenics. He claims that, with selective breeding, humanity in the future will have no need to cure congenital disease or infirmity. Such "faults" will simply, eventually, disappear from the species, resulting in a Utopia—for our bodies, at least. But I fear we will always be troubled by the "conditions of life," as Charles Darwin so blandly (and somehow also poetically) put it; and it's in the effort to fit into those conditions that we define ourselves. Beyond such physical inevitabilities, though, I'm troubled by the implications of "artificial selection" (Darwin again). Of Mediterranean stock myself, I wonder where I fit into Teddy's America. Perhaps not at all; better off eliminated—but imperceptibly, generations passing, until the tall and blond, the square-jawed and blue-eyed, stride manfully across a purified landscape.

I can feel myself getting angry, and perhaps I should calm myself. TR is in many ways a forward-thinking man, despite his unfortunate forays into social structuring—besides, Christmas approaches, and I'd rather not be troubled by the impurities of my less-ers, no matter how White their Houses.

Editor's addendum:

"An [1899] illustration from ... Harper's Weekly, ... [the] 'Journal of Civilization,' ... [showing] an alleged similarity between "Irish Iberian" and 'Negro' features in contrast to the higher 'Anglo-Teutonic.' The accompanying caption indicates that the so-called Iberians were 'believed to have been' an African race that invaded first Spain and then, apparently, Ireland, where they intermarried with native savages and 'thus made way...for superior races.'"

--from Michigan Today Online


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