More than an “s” differentiates the Boris Vian novella I Spit on Your Graves from both schlock movie versions of I Spit on Your Grave. Nor does the former serve as source material for the latter pair.
Book and movies arrive from distinct places.
Vian’s 1946 tale is an oozing helping of exported Americana strained through culture, news, music, and propaganda into France. While the United States and Soviet Union won World War II, it would take Stalin’s death and Khrushchev’s admissions of the deceased commissar’s criminal excesses before the workers’ paradise gleam assumed a rightfully heavy tarnish.
Until that happy day America alone occupied the whole ambivalence spectrum.
Each movie follows one simple arc. A damsel in distress turns tables on her tormentors and becomes Ellie Mae Clampett on meth. It’s carnage deluxe.
Graves is much more involved all the way around. Vengeance is the book’s theme, licentiousness the engine. Its subversion fits the era snuggly.
A black man passing for white descends on a Southern town intending to avenge a pernicious case of racism by inflicting himself on white womanhood. Aware of United States racial history, the last sentence just wouldn’t have inflamed great segments of readers, prospective readers, and those page-skimmers who discuss books as if they’ve read them. That last sentence would’ve enraged them.
Even in fiction did white womanhood need defending? No matter how much the purported victims enjoyed it? (Temple Drake, anybody?)
Any miscegenation angle ought have frightened deep segments of that era’s white community. Today gazing back clearer eyed, I think the reaction erupted from majority guilt rather than any “preservation of honor.”
Dual-toned carnality may’ve only been exceeded by the mid-century’s other big bugaboo: world communism. Yet unlike Soviet agents skulking among decent people, predatory black men were an ever-present visible threat. Okay. Not really. But the powers that were then held wild-eyed fallacies for rock-solid truths. Especially after the Second World War’s cut-and-dried end introduced new ambiguities upon Western minds with Soviet subjugation of Eastern Europe and mistaking outbreaks of nationalistic self-determination for Moscow-directed uprisings.
Those brown and yellow people wanted freedom from paternalism. They didn’t want to be just like us because while the West’s treatment sounded noble, in truth much of it ran along lines of owners and pets. Guess who held the leash and who wore the collar.
Laughable as it should be, the fear of comrades in boxy suits and bad shoes who cued in lines for consumer goods like soap and potatoes before planning global domination by depriving democracies, pardon, “the free world,” of abundance, frivolity and selfishness, clouded the general view. So, yeah, the idea of strangers among polite society, behaving impolitely, could’ve gotten a rise. Surely it might’ve been regarded as a menace in no time.
Initial French readers were misled into believing Graves had been written by a black American author. Truth compounded its subversive nature. Boris Vian, who wrote under several pseudonyms, was a white Frenchman. He enjoyed American culture, jazz especially, without having visited the United States. When reading I Spit on Your Graves I was reminded of Franz Kafka’s novel Amerika. The Czech narrator’s description of arriving in New York certainly enhanced the Golden Door. Now that was Fun City.
Kafka’s was an America heated and condensed from speculation and fantasy. As was Vian’s.
Besides Graves‘ sheer gall, is how it splattered upon public awareness. At first the book landed with a thud. However, in the best Hollywood noir tradition, a sordid crime propelled the book into a must-have, if not must-read, property.
While investigating the scene, Paris detectives discovered a copy of Graves. The perpetrator had highlighted plenty of its more lurid passages. Basic thinking naturally coupled the deviant’s depravity with the depraved writing. Or as any publisher will see it, publicity that couldn’t be bought!
Having learned how I Spit on Your Graves reached its main readership, I wondered whether the same sort of hot moist atmosphere could be recreated here for my e-book Reveries (http://www.amazon.com/Reveries-ebook/dp/B004H8G1KO/). Although the four stories comprising Reveries are provocative, none should cause the righteous to froth from any statehouses or pulpits. Not that today’s legislators or clerics are more circumspect, just less erudite.
Besides, given our own short-attention span society, even terrorism has lost its quality to scarify. Only pedophilia might grab some lengthy attention and no way I’d want even peripheral contact with those fiends. Let them be priests.
On a slow news day, maybe a twisty sex thing involving someone morally upright commingling with a casual partner who’s physically supine. I could hear spoken excerpts from Reveries prefacing their salacious behavior.
I know I’ve done it.
Preferably the couple’s shenanigans would be captured digitally on some new-to-market device. Hey. The more hype, the more hype feeds on itself and expands.
With overbearing morality there is obstinacy. Despite being caught red-handed, pants down, engaged and tumescent, the bold name bowed under such a virtuous reputation would demand a court proceeding. Nothing the public prefers slavering over than celebrity sexual entwinements. The higher the prominence, the greater amount expectorated.
Throughout that sweaty legal heaving and thrashing, I’d figuratively kill to have the three-way from the fourth Reveries story, One Above and One Below, read into the record. It would yield publicity that can’t be bought!