Fanfare for the Not-So-Common Humanoid

July-August 2000

Our culture has developed a real phobia about the simple word, "man" -- as well as words derived from it. For example, your typical male university professor who heads a department is afraid to call himself the "Chairman." Rather, he calls himself the "Chair" -- he'd rather be a piece of furniture than risk using the dread word, "Chairman." A lot is heard these days about "homophobia," but we don't know anyone who fears homosexuals, though we run across many people who fear using "man" in any of its forms. It's gotten so bad that we even hear presumably macho football announcers referring to "the people on the line" when every one of those people is a man. This fear of uttering "man" (or "men") is the true homophobia of our time -- homo means "man" in Latin.

In our March 1997 issue, Kenneth D. Whitehead mentioned the "classical-music personality who solemnly announced a performance of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Person." This is not just cravenness, but outright falsification.

On May 6, the San Francisco Symphony held a special family concert on the music of Copland. The opening selection was Fanfare for the Common Man. Well, the Symphony folks got the title right, but were clearly uncomfortable with it. So the printed Symphony Program provided an exegesis of the title. Thus we learn that Fanfare "honors 'the common man': ordinary women, men, girls and boys like you and me." Notice how common man is put inside hedging quotation marks. And how did boys and girls get into this? A man is not a boy (as in "Don't send a boy to do a man's job"), and so it's very unlikely that Copland meant to honor boys -- or girls. And what about women? Does "common man" as used by Copland include women? It could, but Fanfare was written on the heels of the Great Depression and the proletarian 1930s, and in that era "common man" was synonymous with "workingman" or "working stiff," and few women were in the work force. Had Copland meant to include women, he surely would have titled his piece Fanfare for the Common People ("common people" also being a resonantly proletarian term of those times).

It is a stubborn fact that Copland wrote Fanfare for the Common Man, and did not write Fanfare for the Common Woman, Man, Girl, and Boy. So why the knee-jerk impulse to "inclusivize" everything? And why stop with women, boys, and girls? Boy, imagine how UFO enthusiasts and animal rights activists would interpret Copland's title!


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New Oxford Notes: July-August 2000

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