Paul Bond and I collaborated on a fun segment for the first episode of the True Crime class video we’re working on. I’ll be polishing off and tightening up the final version of episode one this week, but I figured I’d share the rough cut lest I start believing this blog is about finished products.
Paul Bond was the genius behind this one. He had the idea for creating a boxing match-themed highlighting the Gallows confessions we read from the colonial period. You see, during the first two weeks of class we focused on Puritan execution narratives from the late 17th and early 18th century New England. Fact is, Gallows literature was a bonafide genre during that time featuring repenting criminals providing a litany of their perfidious crimes. The format was pretty consistent: list your sins, ask for grace, and then be hanged. It’s a pretty trippy genre because in the world of the Puritans God’s grace was never a given, so there would be an endless sense of uncertainty regarding whether you were to receive God’s grace or not. What I love about the Puritans is that despite how wicked or pious you were, who God grants the convenant of grace was unknowable in this world. While such a reality gives everyone hope no matter their lot, it also makes for the ultimate in existential uncertainty. And when you wrap all this up in a neat confession naarative delivered on the gallows immediately before one’s death, it packs a punch.
So, the idea was to setup two of the more intense execution narratives from the colonial period, for our pursposes those of Patience Boston and Esther Rodgers—what Paul terms “Lady’s Night” on the Gallows Poll. These two capital criminals go head-to-head to determine “Who’s more heinous?” Which of these women was more sinful? Whose confession was more steadfast and strong? [The consistency and lack of emotional vicissitudes were often telling for the Puritans because wavering was seen as a sign that God’s grace was not present.] Paul’s wife read from Esther Rodgers’s narrative and Martha Burtis read from Patience Boston’s narrative. We framed both readings with the playful, semi-personas “Pillory” Paul Bond and Jim “Gallows” Groom providing commentary and analysis. It was a blast.
Funny enough, after the students were so high on their own trailers and various segments they talked a certain amount of shit on Paul and I, suggesting it was too long and somewhat boring. Damn milennials! Fact is, we actually dealt with the literature and tried to wrap a fairly focused reading and analysis into a playful frame, they just ran around with pillows under their dresses and polka dot onesies. That is not scholarship in the same way the Gallows Poll is, we are professionals—there’s no real comparison. It’s like lumping Federico Felinni and Michael Bay in the same class of director. Amateurs! The full episode is coming soon, you be the judge!