Trevor Getz is a Professor in the SFSU History Department, member of the Longmore Institute Advisory Council, and friend and colleague of Paul Longmore. At the book launch party for Paul Longmore's magnum opus Telethons: Spectacle, Disability, and the Business of Charity, he shared some thoughts on Paul's impact and legacy, both as an individual and scholar.
By: Trevor Getz
Paul Longmore was, in fact, my very good friend. But I’ll admit we didn’t often talk about telethons.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, he’d tell me sometimes about his next book – this one in front of you -- and about his feelings about MDA and Jerry Lewis. But Paul was a fascinating and unorthodox scholar, and his work took him many different places. He was also an amazingly patient mentor -- once he knew that I had an ego that could match his, -- and I learned a lot from him. Fellow historian and close friend Trevor Getz shares some of Paul's antics.
He taught me about identity, and especially about the nation and how nationalism worked. I quickly found out that asking him to read a chapter about nation-building in West Africa meant that I would be barraged with two million suggestions about readings I should have done and concepts I had never heard of before.
He taught me about culture, and the way it operated. Not in theory, but in actuality, through observable events and shifting attitudes, both across the country and on campus, and on the TV….
He taught me about power. Paul could exert an amazing amount of ‘soft’ power just by showing up in some VPs office and chatting with the administrative assistants, or stopping a Dean to chat on the quad, and
He taught me about money, both in starting a departmental ‘development’ committee when most of us were allergic to the idea, and in ridiculing the stupid laws that restricted his ability to profit from his scholarship, a righteous anger that eventually became the act of rebellion in which he burned his book.
In a way, all of these matters are in the book that’s in front of you. What’s amazing is the way that it weaves together culture, identity, the operation of power, and the corrupting flows of money into a story that – ultimately – is about people and their subjugation to a system that claimed to be about them, but that was really about their objectification. In the end, that’s what Paul ‘s scholarship was about – people, the lives they lived, the societies they created, the experiences they felt.
It’s amazing, how many things Paul still teaches me, even now that he is no longer with us.