Nathan Fleshner (University of Tennessee, USA)


“Little Boxes,” from the album Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth (1967), formed the
theme song for the first season of the Showtime program, Weeds (2005-2012). Coining the phrase “ticky tacky,” the song represented a protest against the pedantic conformity and predictable nature of suburban society and its infiltration of American youth. Weeds utilized cover versions of the song, a new one for each episode, performed in a wide variety of styles by different artists. As such, the song’s versions formed a theme and variations across the corpus of the show.

This paper explores this theme and variations and expands the notion across Reynolds’s
entire album to demonstrate larger-scale variations on sociopolitical topics, variations addressing recurring themes from the 1960s still resoundingly important today, such as climate change, systemic and individual racism, anti-intellectualism, and religious extremism. An exploration of issues and the cultural barometer of anxiety in the U.S. in the years surrounding 1967 reveals the uncanny prominence of present-day issues still relevant 53 years later. This paper correlates these topics from Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth with current events, demonstrating continued relevancy and the sometimes-shocking repetitions present in history.

Finally, this paper addresses the album’s title, “…Sings the Truth,” and the murky
meaning of truth within the post-truth era of Trumpian politics. It looks at the U.S. political landscape around 1967, specifically the Johnson administration, finding parallels between Trump and LBJ’s character, personality, mannerisms, and questionable use of truth that also bridges the 1960s and present day. It explores the current political climate as variations on themes established near the release of the album in 1967 and reveals “Malvina Reynolds…” as a political album as relevant today as it was in 1967.

Selected Bibliography
Burgess, Alexis G. and John P. Burgess. 2011. Truth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Duberman, Martin, et al. Winter 1967. “What’s Happening to America? (A Symposium),” The Partisan Review, Vol 34, No. 1.: 13-81.
Hitchens, Christopher. December 2008. “Suburbs of our Discontent.” The Atlantic.
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Hofstadter, Richard. 1962. The Rise of Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. New York: Vintage Books.
Jacoby, Susan. 2008. The Age of American Unreason. New York: Vintage Books.
Jacoby, Russell. 1987/2000. The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe. New York: Basic Books.
James, William. 1909. The Meaning of Truth. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.
Leslie, Naton. Fall 2003. “There are Green Ones and Yellow Ones.” Fourth Genre: Explorations in Non-Fiction, Vol. 5, No. 2: 82-88.
Levitin, Daniel J. 2016. Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era. New York: Penguin Random House.
Levitin, Daniel J. 2016. A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics: A Neuroscientist on How to Make Sense of a Complex World. New York: Penguin Books.
Manabe, Syukuro and Richard T. Wetherald. May 1967. “Thermal Equilibrium of the
Atmosphere with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity.” Journal of the Atmospheric
Sciences, Vol. 24, No. 3: 241-259.
Pidcock, Roz. June 7, 2015. “The most influential climate change papers of all time.” Carbon Brief: Clear on Climate. Accessed May 20, 2019.
Reynolds, Malvina. A Spoonful of Sea Water. Unpublished autobiography.
Silver, Nate. 2015. The Signal and the Noise: Why so Many Predictions Fail-But Some Don’t. New York: Penguin Books.