Here is the last of the auxiliary images from a road trip I made with Teresa to harvest the town signs of Clay and Lyon County.
A word about the tri-state marker. There is only one place in the United States where 4 states come together at a common point. Those states are Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Also known as future Big 12 Country. Probably.
There are 62 tri-points in the United States. 38 of those tri-points are on land. The rest are in water. Where Iowa-South Dakota-Minnesota all meet is the only one in Iowa that is on land. Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota, Iowa-Missouri-Nebraska, Iowa-Minnesota-Wisconsin, Iowa-Illinois-Wisconsin, and Iowa-Illinois-Missouri are all in water.
The tri-state marker used be in the middle of the road, but apparently a big concrete obelisk in the middle of the road kept getting hit. Who could have seen that? The marker now is technically in South Dakota. There is a pin in the middle of the road that marks the actual spot, but I didn’t get a great picture of it.
The next time we hit the open road to look at auxiliary images from THE TOWN SIGN PROJECT, we will visit Sioux and Plymouth County.
This is more of an archive than I expect anybody to read it. It really isn’t even mine. I’m just putting it here so I know I have a copy of it when I decide I want to read it again and again.
Here are a couple Christopher D. Bennett Fun Facts. When it isn’t college football season, Saturdays are for NPR. If you are in the car with me on a Saturday, you can lock in that at 9 AM, the radio dial we be on 90.1 and I will be listening to “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”. Followed by “It’s Been a Minute”, “This American Life”, and “Snap Judgement”.
The other Christopher D. Bennett Fun Fact is that I have probably 3 or 4 or 5 movies that rotate as my favorite movie. PSYCHO (1960), MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (although the shine is off this one a little bit due to the way the filibuster is actually used today), KING KONG (1933), INHERIT THE WIND, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
Of these A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is the movie I use to judge people. If they don’t love A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, are they really worth knowing? I think we all know the answer to that.
In fact, the one time that somebody agreed to watch it, without me in attendance they called me about 5 minutes into it wanting to quit. But they were troopers and finished it. They even claimed to have like it. I assume they were telling the truth, cause how could you not like it?
Last Saturday, my love for “This American Life” and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE collided as they did a story on the infamous missing chapter. If you don’t know, the last chapter of the book was omitted when published in the United States. The rest of the story, I’ll let this transcript from “This American Life” tell the story.
Act 3, “Never Hear the End of It.” So we close out today’s show with this story that is very on point with everything we’ve been talking about till now from Sean Cole.
This is one of my favorite stories to tell. I tell it at parties or to anyone who will listen. And since we’re here talking about the nature of people and whether they’re mostly good or mostly bad, I figured I’d tell it to you. Have you ever seen A Clockwork Orange, the Stanley Kubrick movie– guys running around in bowler hats and jockstraps on the outside of their pants, committing acts of, quote unquote, “ultraviolence?” It’s one of the most iconic films of the 20th century, set in a dystopian near-future where teenage hoodlums speak this stylized, Russified slang. It’s also intensely violent and deeply misogynist in ways I don’t think I understood when I first saw it and obsessed over it. I was in my teens then, the same age that the main character Alex is supposed to be.
There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim. And we sat in the Korova Milk Bar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening.
The thing is, the meaning of the story, what it says about the inherent goodness or badness of people, has been largely and grossly misunderstood, or at least the meaning that was originally intended by its creator, Anthony Burgess, the guy who wrote the novel the movie’s based on. He talked about this a lot in his lifetime.
Although Kubrick made an interesting film out of it, the film wasn’t quite accurate. He didn’t follow the book as he should have done. He cut out the final chapter, for one thing.
The final chapter, chapter 21. The film is actually really faithful to the book until that last part. But that last chapter radicalizes everything. If you know the movie, you know the movie. But if you don’t, you at least need to know the plot of it for any of this to make sense. I’ll try to summarize it as quick as I can.
So Alex and his three droogs, meaning friends, they spend their nights getting hopped up on drug-infused milk and hurting people. They beat up a panhandler, steal a car, and run other cars off the road. There’s a pretty famous rape scene, which incidentally was inspired by Burgess’s first wife getting assaulted, though not sexually, by a group of American soldiers. About a third of the way through, Alex accidentally murders someone during a break-in and goes to prison. And after serving a couple years, the government chooses him for a new experimental type of aversion therapy.
They give him this drug which makes him basically allergic to violence. Any time he so much as pictures hitting someone, he’s overwhelmed by nausea and dread, also whenever he hears the music of Beethoven, but that’s another thing. Then the government does this presentation where they trot out the new forcibly reformed Alex, subject him to insults, injury, sexual temptation, and in response all he can do is gag and retch. Then a priest in the audience leaps up to object with the operative word–
Choice! The boy has no real choice, does he? He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.
Padre, these are subtleties.
Anyway, Alex gets out. A bunch of bad stuff happens. He tries to kill himself. The government sees the whole thing as a PR nightmare and gives him an antidote to the treatment, transforming him back to his evil, remorseless, smashing-things self. Also he can listen to Beethoven again.
I was cured, all right.
The end. It’s bleak with a point that it’s better to let people choose to be bad than to brainwash them into harmless robots, clockwork oranges, with no will of their own. But in the book, the final chapter that wasn’t in the movie, it changes the meaning of everything that’s gone before it.
In the final chapter Alex is back at the Korova Milk Bar with three new droogs, whole new gang. But this time when they go out to stomp on random people, Alex hangs back. Something’s eating at him. It’s like he’s bored with all the violence now, doesn’t enjoy any of this like he used to.
He wanders into a coffee shop where he runs into a member of his old gang, Pete, and Pete’s wife. They look happy, living the quiet life. And Alex thinks, maybe that’s what’s missing. Maybe I should settle down, have a kid, hopefully a son. “I felt this bolshy big hollow inside my plott,” he says, meaning his body. “Feeling very surprised too at myself. I knew what was happening, O, my brothers. I was like growing up.”
When I read that, it was like the top of my head blew off. Alex isn’t inherently evil. He didn’t just go back to doing all the bad stuff he used to do. And he didn’t need an experimental drug to reform him. He just needed time to get there on his own. I was in my early 20s when I picked up the novel, so some years after I saw the movie. And the feeling was like I’d unfairly underestimated someone for a long time.
It’s also an ending that comports more with reality. There’s research that shows a big reason people disengage from gang life is just that they get older, age out of it. But more than that, the two endings represent two completely different ways of looking at the world. One is saying that people can change, even the worst people, whereas the other is saying that evil is evil, irredeemably.
And those two worldviews, they’re baked into this ridiculous backstory about that final chapter. According to Burgess, when the book was published here in the States, the publisher told him they wouldn’t put it out unless they could cut chapter 21. This was way before the movie was optioned. It was still just a novel. They said the optimistic ending was Pollyanna-ish, naive, and bland.
They were like, we Americans are tougher than you Brits. We can handle a nihilistic ending. Some people are just beyond hope. That’s more realistic. Burgess needed money back then, he said. If the only way to sell the story to Americans was to lop off its conclusion, then so be it.
So now there were two Clockwork Oranges in the world with two different endings depending on where you lived. Burgess writes about this whole mishigas and how he felt about it in an introduction to a later edition of the book. I just want to read– this is probably my favorite part of what he says.
“Now, when Stanley Kubrick made his film, though he made it in England, he followed the American version and, so it seemed to his audiences outside America, ended the story somewhat prematurely. Audiences did not exactly clamor for their money back, but they wondered why Kubrick left out the denouement. People wrote to me about this. Indeed, much of my later life has been expended on Xeroxing statements of intention and the frustration of intention while both Kubrick and the New York publisher coolly bask in the rewards of their misdemeanor. Life is, of course, terrible.”
It’s funny, but it was also endlessly frustrating to Burgess. He wrote that he didn’t think the American edition and thus the movie was a fair depiction of human life. It’s as inhuman to be 100% evil as it is to be 100% good. The two need to coexist. He was unequivocal about that.
Further, when the film came out, there was a moral panic about it, both in the UK and here in the States. And it wasn’t just the violence people were upset about. It was the ending. An editor for The New York Times wrote in the Arts and Leisure section of the paper, “The thesis that man is irretrievably bad and corrupt is the essence of fascism.” I can’t help but think how all of this might have been different if that last chapter had never been cut.
And that, for years, was everything I knew. But then recently, as I was getting ready to tell all of this to you, O, my brothers, I thought I should actually do some research, make sure I got my facts straight. And as with A Clockwork Orange itself, it turns out there’s a whole other chapter to this saga, one that I didn’t know existed. To start with, that quote from Burgess I read earlier that ends with “Life is, of course, terrible.”
That’s a very entertaining account of the story. I think it’s inaccurate in various ways.
This is Andrew Biswell. He’s spent more than 25 years researching Burgess in part for his aptly titled book The Real Life of Anthony Burgess. It wasn’t always the easiest job.
He would embroider, and he would be more concerned with telling a good story than with sticking to factual accuracy. Now, I’d been going through the manuscript of A Clockwork Orange as part of my research into Burgess.
The original manuscript, the one Burgess sent around to his editors in England and America.
And just turning the pages and noting any annotations on the typescript. And I remember coming to this note in his own handwriting, which says at the end of chapter 20, “Should we end here?”
“Should we end here? An optional “epilogue” follows.” “Epilogue” is in quotes. Again, this was at the end of the second-to-last chapter, where Alex turns bad again.
And what did you think when you saw it?
I nearly fell off my chair. I was very surprised, because I’d grown up with the Burgess introductions and commentaries on his book. And up until that point, I’d been inclined to believe them. And this question, “Should we end here?” I was surprised by the level of doubt.
Surprised because Burgess publicly was so emphatic that he had been forced to cut the last chapter and that it was the wrong decision. And when Andrew looked into it further, he found that Burgess’s editor in America, Eric Swenson, never insisted on scrapping the last chapter. Yes, he thought it was Pollyanna-ish and, quote, “unconvincing,” but getting rid of it wasn’t a condition of publication.
Not only that, this guy Swenson said Burgess agreed with his opinion and that Burgess told him he’d only added the 21st chapter because the British publisher wanted a happy ending. Also Burgess wrote his own screenplay for A Clockwork Orange that ended at the same place Kubrick’s screenplay did, no redemption. And then years later, Burgess wrote a musical, yes, a musical version of the story, which reverted back to the longer redemptive ending and took it even further.
Alex goes off with his girlfriend, and they’re going to get married.
That’s right. Yeah.
Is she a character, or is she offstage somewhere?
No, no. She appears and speaks. She’s called Marty.
And then the play has a prologue in the Garden of Eden, where Alex and Marty play Adam and Eve. It’s very confusing. The whole thing is messy. It’s strange that he tries to pin this on other people, whereas the reality is that it’s like the good angel and the evil angel are dictating sort of different endings to him.
So in the end, which ending do you think that Burgess thought of as the better ending?
By the time you get to the 1980s and he’s making his stage adaptation, he’s coming down in favor of chapter 21 as the correct or the authorized ending.
And what does that say, do you think, about his worldview, like about what he believed about the true nature of human beings?
Well, the big thing that had changed in his life was that he had a son by his second marriage and a very wayward son. He was, I suppose, worried that this person should do well in the world. Yeah. I suppose Burgess in the ’80s, he’s much more of a protective father figure.
Which, if that’s the reason, makes so much sense. When you have a kid, especially one you’re worried won’t turn out well, you have to believe people can change like Alex finally changed, dreaming of his own son. It’s like they literally ended up on the same page, Burgess and Alex. One of them happened to have typed out that page while the other danced across it in a jockstrap and suspenders. They both grew up.
Funnily, Andrew Biswell says he prefers the shorter ending. Just thinks it makes for a tougher book, although he goes back and forth, he says. Depends on what day you ask him.
Me, I come down where Burgess ultimately did. I like believing that we can grow into better versions of ourselves. And besides all that, you get to see Alex walk off into the sunset. On the last page he says, “Farewell from your little droog.” Should we end here?
Sean Cole is one of the producers of our show.
Are you wondering where I come down on it. First of all, you never question Stanley Kubrick. He was the greatest filmmaker of all-time, and when people say that the movie can never be better than the book… compare A CLOCKWORK ORANGE movie to the book. Compare THE SHINING movie to the book. Perhaps the greatest upgrade, compare 2001: A SPACE ODDYSSEY movie to the book. You could even claim that LOLITA the movie is better than LOLITA the book, but that one… I mean the fact that he was even able to make LOLITA into a movie at all, at that time was borderline miraculous.
The short answer is, I think the ending of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE the movie is perfect. The last chapter is maudlin and doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the book at all. It sticks out like a sore thumb. It wasn’t needed and I don’t think it helps. Type of thing Spielberg would have thrown onto the end of it. (For the record I think Spielberg is a great filmmaker, but much of his stuff gets hokey. Even some of his best movies get hokey in parts. See the bookend scenes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.) It is a compromise where no compromise is needed.
If the question is, can we grow into better versions of ourselves? Of course I believe that and I see it all the time. I also see people growing into worse version of ourselves all the time as well. I don’t believe anybody is beyond redemption, but I don’t think that the path people walk is a straight line. They don’t constantly get worse or constantly get better. They go up and down. A couple steps forward. A step backwards. Sometimes several steps backwards.
I would also add that I’ve never considered the main theme of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE to be about whether humans can change or whether humans are evil or good? I’ve always considered the main theme to be if you remove choice from a situation does a human cease to be a human? Or if a person doesn’t have a choice and are forced to be “good”, are they “good” at all?
That is my Saturday night philosophy for you.