Songster Malvina Reynolds: It isn’t Nice

Singer-songwriter Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978), was a sensitive and powerful, straightforward singer-songwriter who wrote against the machine.  There are so many in this world, who are unaware or just don’t care enough, that we live in systems in this world.  Systems are created.  And for those people who do resist, a problem comes up:  the commodification and assimilation of resistance.

Writers such as Malvina Reynolds, understood this well, and sung against it.  Her songs have been sung by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and featured as a theme song for the hit television show “Weeds.”  She sings to Americans and their easy willingness to think of themselves as “individuals” and “free” when in fact, there is so many brainwashing and levels of control.  There are forces that control us—especially, the ways in which we think: the contours, the frames, the terminologies and “natural” ways in which we think we are in the world, are given to us by the cultures into which we are born.  When we benefit from what is there, we rarely think of this as being brainwashed, being privileged, or being stupid.  We think that we are “free.”

And often, when people speak and relate to each other, we think we are “free” individuals that are “freely” expressing “our” freedom.  So-called.

Think about it people.

We develop.

We are grown in a culture or cultures.

We are grown in certain particular ways. When we say “human” and “humanity” — what is it are we referring to?  Who has the power to speak for everyone?

And does our own morality become automatically better than others?  And if ours is “better,” then what hierarchies are formed?  What allows a person or group, community, institution, state or nation-state, to allow, to ignore, to make, to create, to change, to resist, to create that through which we work, play, relax, “have fun,” react, fight, cling, let go, hide from, jump into, speak against, speak for?

I also understand that those sensitive to democratic ideals, will understand what I mean here.  Others could care less about democratic ideals.  Those others only care about being right and above, looking down and being happy.  Or ignoring and being “care free,” silently colluding with those who are happy with other’s downtrodden or less privileged, or suffering positions.  It’s usually the individualists who often think that it’s “those others” who have brought on what they have brought on themselves.  It is truly sad that those people who think this way, do not understand the contours and histories and development of such an “individualism.”  And it’s made stronger by resources, beliefs, institutions and others who may reinforce and protect our ideology.  Yes it’s an ideology.  Whenever one is not willing to re-think the suffering of others, or our refusal to think, then we should question that thought as an ideology implanted in us.

Malvina Reynolds speaks to many of these problems.  I include one of her songs, via video below, entitled: It Isn’t Nice.

I also include the lyrics to her song: It Isn’t Nice.

This song is particularly interesting to me, since it was BANNED IN JAPAN.  It was banned only in the Japanese translation, but not in the English version. Hmmm….. and make no mistake, there were people arrested and jailed for singing and or passing this song around, in the Japanese language.  Japan’s “peaceful” quality–which so many people I know believe in, hides the tremendous violence of suppression and bullying and marginalization that the so-called “civilized” countries practice.  Japan is one of the most brutal.  I am interested in this because I was born and partially raised there, and have Japanese background.  This doesn’t mean I hate Japan.  I love it, like I love the US.  This doesn’t retract from the violences that the US perpetrates.  And what I mean by “the US” doesn’t just refer to “those others” in governments or elsewhere.

I know that many people have barely heard of any political issues in Japan aside from the Atomic bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pearl Harbor of 1941, or geishas and samurai and manga and anime.  Japan has been a country built, as all other powerful nations (yes all), on suppression.  Smoke and mirrors, violence and hidden truths.  It is no secret.  And hello– it is not “natural.”  Those of us sitting on sidelines and just making it “natural” and therefore focused only on personal “success” and struggling to free oneself from something, have bought into this game and are just as much culprits as the elites who govern and make the contours and choices that we choose from and call “free.”   But I am not “against” these material or capitalist freedoms.  What I am against is that we spend too much time on these things at the cost of real freedoms and liberations, and democracy.  Democracy has been founded on exclusion and violence.  Democratic ideals are a constant struggle that we live every moment, everyday.  Democratic systems and nations have been built on genocide and marginalization.

The system creates enemies within and without, in order to valorize it’s own system. The system itself, doesn’t care about people.  It is created for itself to survive.  A system is created by people who benefit from that system.  Can you see it? The system is not out there, we live through it and with it.  How can we make new systems while we live in our current ones?  It must be.  We can never be truly outside of it.  Anyone who claims to be “outside” can claim this position if they, again, develop a colonizing, missionary-style mindset of “those people should follow us–we are right”  kind of thinking.  It is ugly and ultimately cold.  There are those who are naive enough to think that everyone who joins “us” will be “good” and those others are “bad.”  Does this sound familiar?   This kind of thinking does not take diversity into account.  It assumes that their own cultural and historical ways of thinking and ordering reality, is universal, cancelling out difference.  In order to create new societies, there must be negotiation and dialogue and struggle together, with difference, not  in spite of it.

Powerful countries, the media and educational systems and now the internet, play a large part in how we come to believe in “our” democracy, event though as a people and nation, it is no such thing.  However, it becomes difficult because there are “democratic elements” in our societies.  We have to recognize these democratic elements and learn how to nurture and fight for them.

Make no mistake, there are reasons why people would want to harm.  They do not happen “by themselves.”  Society—all of us, in whatever circumstances, culture or nation-state we live in, play parts—both as victim and as perpetrator, in our system.  In order to now, deconstruct and re-evaluate, and re-think and respond in a changed way, acknowledging that it cannot be perfect but the path becomes slightly more clear, we must realize that it is a battle.

It’s not going to happen in safety, comfort, privilege, high morality, and laziness.

Malvina Reynold’s daughter’s website about her mother

Malvina Reynolds complete website

Lyrics to “It Isn’t Nice” below this first video.

Please visit YouTube to listen and hear her other wonderfully playful but serious songs.

It Isn’t Nice

– by Malvina Reynolds

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to carry banners
Or to sit in on the floor,
Or to shout our cry of Freedom
At the hotel and the store.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

We have tried negotiations
And the three-man picket line,1
Mr. Charlie2 didn’t see us
And he might as well be blind.
Now our new ways aren’t nice
When we deal with men of ice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

How about those years of lynchings
And the shot in Evers’ back?
Did you say it wasn’t proper,
Did you stand upon the track?
You were quiet just like mice,
Now you say we aren’t nice,
And if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
But thanks for your advice,
Cause if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

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One response to “Songster Malvina Reynolds: It isn’t Nice

  1. I knew that “It Isn’t Nice” in Japanese had been banned in Japan, but I didn’t know people were actually arrested. Do you have any more details? I am writing a biography of my mother and would like to find out more.

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