Friday, February 28, 2014

Party Like It's 1949... or maybe not.

by Brianna Arrighi

If you come to see Death of a Salesman, (read: when you come see Salesman) prepare to be transported back to 1949. Willy inevitably loses his mind over his incapability to provide for his family, but what external factors during that time pushed him over the edge? Let’s take a closer look at what was going on before the death of the America’s best-known salesman.

In terms of the entire globe, ‘49 was a very busy year…and not in a very good way. Mao Zedong declared China to be Communist (uh oh), South Africa implemented apartheid (not cool), and the Soviet Union successfully tested the atomic bomb (yikes). While those events are certainly a far cry from poodle skirts and soc hops, there was some peace activity, too. Twelve countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty following WWII, which promoted political, social, and economic cooperation amongst Atlantic nations. Britain finally recognized the independence of the Republic of Ireland and Truman started looking out for poor people with the Four Point program. That’s good, right?

 Well, maybe not so much in the United States. In 1948, our economy fell back into a recession-one like we hadn’t seen since the Great Depression. We were still in the thick of financial turmoil in 1949, and Willy’s fears concerning his ability to provide for his family mirror those of many Americans at the time. Morale probably wasn’t so high in Brooklyn after the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series and George Orwell’s horrifying glimpse of the future in his dystopian novel, 1984 scared the socks off of people.

It was the year that American writer William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature, as well, making it socially acceptable to use sentences that never end, and the mark of the first Emmy Awards show in history. Popular songs included “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” (no joke) and the ever-so-true jingle “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Ladies’ hemlines were longer after the fabric shortage during War ended, and waist lines were extremely cinched-in. Cary Grant was the Bradley Cooper heartthrob of the time, and any man in his right mind would have gladly crashed his Ford Lincoln for a date with Marilyn Monroe.

But let’s get back to Willy.

Divorce rates were coming down from a spike during war-time strife. Unemployment was around 3.8% and rising. Minimum wage was 40 cents per hour and the average salary was 3,600 dollars a year. Life expectancy was around 68 years on average, and suicide was the tenth leading cause of death, with over 38,000 known incidents in that year alone.

As you watch Willy’s struggle unfold, keep in mind all of the things that were going on at the time. Arthur Miller never wrote anything without purpose, and he was specific to set Salesman in the same year he wrote it. It is not a story about one man, but rather the story of many living and working and suffering through that time period. The year creates the extraordinary commentary on what it meant to achieve the American Dream back then, and still continues to do so today. History repeats itself. What parallels will you find?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On Biff and Balance

by Jessica Austin

Biff Loman, like many young and aspiring athletes of today, was promised a bright future as long as he kept up with football. What he didn’t do, and what many high school football players today also struggle with, is making it into the college arena.

Less than 5% of high school football players get the opportunity to play college football, and even if they do, the odds of eventually making it into the NFL are overwhelmingly slim. There are no concrete statistics out there, but a bit of math shows just how small the chance at pro football is. There are 115 colleges and universities with Division I teams each team having about 110 players, that makes more than 12,500 players – double that to consider all the Division II players – divide to get just the seniors, subtract a few due to drop outs, and you’ve got about 3,400 candidates for the NFL draft. Now, I’m not claiming to know how any of that works, but I do know that in the 2013 NFL draft, only 254 picks were made. A little more math and the odds are just over 7% that a college senior playing for a Division I or II team will make it into the NFL.

To put it even further into perspective, this means that 0.35% of all high school football players see their name on the roster of an NFL team. Really, Biff never had a chance.

But Biff Loman’s original problem is one that high school students of any century can likely relate to: a failing math grade. Math was never more than an annoyance for me in high school, but I can imagine that if I’d been any kind of athlete and had the pressure to excel at sports as well as school, I would’ve been doing much worse. The balance that many high school athletes have to strike between their grades and their sport is the downfall of many. Oftentimes, high schools set GPA minimums that athletes can’t fall below without getting put on academic probation and losing their athletic privileges.

Biff’s struggle to succeed in the adult world after high school football stardom was due in part to his father’s unrealistic, delirious expectations for success that run throughout the play, but also due to his failure to balance school and sport.


The moral of this blog post: math is difficult, football is difficult, and balance is everything.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Miller & Monroe

By Brianna Arrighi, Artistic Assistant

Death of a Salesman is one of the most successful plays of all time, sure, but it might not have the romance you’re looking for this Valentine’s Day. Fear not- playwright Arthur Miller makes up for it with his own love life, which was famously defined by his marriage to Marilyn Monroe.

According to an excerpt from Christopher Bigsby’s biography on the pair, Miller first met Monroe in 1951 on the set of As Young As You Feel, where the two were introduced and attended a party together a few days later. He praised her acting and encouraged her dreams of becoming a serious actress. Monroe was famously insecure about what people thought of her and his kind words drew her to the young writer. Miller, married to Mary Grace Slattery at the time, returned home “restless” after his brief encounter with the Hollywood bombshell. He grew increasingly distant from his wife, taking up cycling around Brooklyn aimlessly. Despite sensing the “darkness” behind Monroe’s radiance, Miller began meeting the icon regularly in 1955, after Monroe purchased a house in Brooklyn where the two would discreetly bike through Central Park together.

In June of the same year, trouble struck Miller in regards to his known rivalry towards the McCarthyism and the Communist Fear, which resulted in a subpoena from the American Committee to look into Miller’s inner circles. Monroe, at the center of his inner circle, quickly became publicly involved, and the rumors surrounding her relationship with Miller became quite scandalous. (Just to note Monroe’s stardom at this point: the Chairman of the Committee told Miller that he would waive the order if Marilyn would pose for a picture with him. Miller refused.) The playwright then announced in front of the same Committee of his intention to marry Monroe. “I have a production, which is taking the stage of England, of A View From the Bridge, and I will be there with the woman who will then be my wife,” Miller declared. It was a shock to Marilyn, but two days later, the pair was married in a civil service and again in a Jewish ceremony amongst friends two days after that.

For those of you who have seen the British drama, My Week With Marilyn, featuring Michelle Williams as the doe-eyed star, you know that things grew complicated from there. Monroe was a very complicated person, despite her fun-loving appearance, and her relationship with Miller was one that the author described as “destructive” at best. So maybe Miller’s love-life wasn’t so separate from the drama that is Salesman. 

Though in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we can just pretend.

For a closer look at the relationship between Miller & Monroe: check out this article!