I bought a really good graphic novel version of the jungle at Strands a few weeks ago. Winds up that the illustrator is Mad Magazine alum, Peter Kuper. Then on Saturday while tossing a stack of unread NY Times the Sunday Book Review slips out and there's an article about two new books on Upton Sinclair. The beginning excerpt by David Thomson: "A hundred years ago, an American writer hurled these words at the world: " 'Bubbly Creek' is an arm of the Chicago River, and forms the southern boundary of the yards; all the drainage of the square mile of packing house empties into it, so that it is really a great open sewer a hundred or two feet wide. One long arm of it is blind, and the filth stays there forever and a day. The grease and chemicals that are poured into it undergo all sorts of strange transformations, which are the cause of its name; it is constantly in motion, as if huge fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans were disporting themselves in its depths. Bubbles of carbonic acid gas will rise to the surface and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide. Here and there the grease and filth have caked solid, and the creek looks like a bed of lava; chickens walk about on it, feeding, and many times an unwary stranger has started to stroll across, and vanished temporarily." The substantive finish: "But the real thing about "The Jungle" is the way Sinclair saw the vicious link between "them" and "us," a dramatic paranoia straight from Dickens. If Sinclair were here today, I'd send him to the San Joaquin Valley, where vegetables fit for Hockney and every farmers' market are produced through dire exploitation. I'd urge him to go to Salinas, John Steinbeck's hometown, where the public libraries nearly closed recently for lack of funding and where the prospects for Hispanics who work the valley are expatriation, gang warfare, a broken back in the sun and the chemicals or . . . the American dream.
There was a period in this country, from the 30's through the 70's, in which government caring seemed to ease away some of the muck. We think of it as the Great Society, and we recall people and politicians who voiced hope for it without irony. It's clearer now that the middle class — the great force that made Dickens's England more benevolent — is in retreat. We are getting back to them and us, in a country that has earned little but shame in its foreign affairs. We are not liked, we are not trusted, we are not respected — and all those shortcomings are eroding our domestic souls. Katrina, that gust of nature, was the rehearsal for the revelation that "they" now have neither the means nor the intent of looking after us. We are on our own, and we may need to find our own Sinclairs." Here's a slide show from part of Kuper's book.Below is part of an imaginative hip hop high school report on the Jungle that I found on Google Video.