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Tag Archives: 1970s

Talking About A Revolution

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I spent much of my adult life certain that being born into an era of domestic assassinations must have affected my worldview. I often wondered why there weren’t studies of my age cohort. Did we grow up cynical and afraid? Did we superimpose targets on the backs of charismatic leaders? Did we think that dissent equaled violence? I assumed that my earliest civics lessons must have left a semi-dark imprint on my consciousness. And like most early assumptions, as time passes, I begin to see that I was wrong. In fact I would go so far as to say I was a complete 180 degrees wrong.

Unbeknownst to me I actually absorbed the other side of the coin all along. My worldview was shockingly optimistic. I grew up during a time and in a place rife with women leaders; Bella, Phyllis, Angela, Golda, Gloria; hallelujah. Ms. Magazine came to my house, that is until my mother felt her Erma Bombeck (with a smattering of Betty Friedan) brand of feminism was being dismissed. I came of age when access to birth control and prevention were an assumed right. For a small child there was nothing radical about Shirley Chisholm running for president. Nothing at all. I proudly wore my “Never Again In An Unratified State” button to school, not needing to explain the reference to the ERA and the DNC. It never occurred to me that I was experiencing a bubble. Just as it never occurred to me that; Joni Mitchell, Carole King. Judy Collins, Phoebe Snow, and Janis Ian should hire stylists, pyrotechnicians, back-up dancers and learn to simulate sodomy on stage. They appeared on stage in all their stupendously talented glory, no more or less spiffed, buffed, and polished than their male counterparts. This was my world as a child and teen. It never occurred to me that women were not equal to men.

In 2016 this worldview seems as grounded and realistic as Willy Wonka’s factory. I am continuously gobsmacked to discover how false my assumptions now are. The only realization more chilling than the severe backlash to feminism is how far reaching bigotry is today. In the 21st century. As children we made fun of Archie Bunker and his views on immigrants, gays, women, and people of color. He was a pitiful anachronism surrounded by an argumentative greek chorus on the side of right. It was his one loud voice versus the evolved masses. Something has dramatically shifted since then hasn’t it? I don’t mean to suggest that the 70s were all fun and games for underrepresented people. However, choose any group and you can find the ephemera of a movement. Migrant workers, “Chicano” and Black Power, Gay Liberation, and of course the ERA were in full force in the 1970s. Movements by definition are hopeful. People gather to make change because they believe they can. That’s a heady concept for adults let alone a 2nd grader.

Is it a handicap to grow up with such rose colored glasses? Does it lend itself to resting on one’s laurels and to missing the warning signs? Are we too tired and distracted to pick up the mantle? Is it no longer our problem? Has life just gotten in the way of our ideals? Is it all just too big, too daunting, too exhausting, too depressing, too deja vu all over again? I know my dabbling in protests, petitions and politics is not enough. But how does one muster the urge to fight after witnessing the erosion of progress? Isn’t that the very definition of insanity? Or is it in fact the very definition of the human experience? Do we keep trying regardless of the odds, regardless of the outcome, because to not try and right the wrongs is simply intolerable. Do we stop finding solace in raging with like minded people, and instead rage for change? When this whole world keeps getting you down it’s time to roll up your sleeves, slap on those protest pins and take to the streets, community organizations, polls, and elected office. It is not enough to tweet, Like, or blog. If it were, everything would be better by now. Today’s children are growing up with their own version of domestic assassinations, that on a personal level are far more terrifying than what my peers and I experienced. Is it not our responsibility to show them the other side of the coin? We have been there before; small people witnessing atrocities, we know the way out. We have been shown how to muster our outrage and hurt and create something liberating and good. We know that out of loss and pain can be growth and freedom. There’s no quick fix, but I suspect that if we can focus less on generalizations and surreal presidential campaigns, and more on specific issues, we will get somewhere. If we can focus on one or two issues and give them the kind of attention and passion they deserve, we might just start to move things. The thing about a movement is that once it starts it can really get going. But it’s got to start, it’s simple physics. So the next time a like minded friend engages me in conversation about the woes of the world, my response will be; “let’s do something about it.”

 

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2016 in Cultural Critique

 

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Political Sausage

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I admit it; I know very little about how political sausage is made. I actually don’t want to know how things do or don’t get done. Ten years of administrating in higher education is about all my soul can withstand. But the drawback of averting my eyes is I’m often left with so many things that make me go hmmm. The most recent of those hmmms involves the impending changing of the guard in New York City. The mayoral race, which at times seemed more like an energetic walk, spurred little enthusiasm. The two viable candidates are both relatively agreeable chaps (and yes, they were chaps, white Christian chaps.) But neither had the charisma, pedigree or star power to really excite. Of course who beside another billionaire (or perhaps a fourth reinvention of Alec Baldwin) could have captured the imagination of New Yorkers? Even forced reveals about private family issues failed to yield much public excitement. Let’s face it if you’re not a little man with a lot of money or a big man with a lot of media attention (and featured prominently in a reality show about Newark) it’s hard to enliven the crowd.

The election is over and this (predominantly) democratic city elected a democratic mayor. Bill de Blasio ran a campaign based on opposing several Bloomberg initiatives. It’s not clear if any of these talking points will result in actual change. (Somewhere there’s a doctoral thesis about how many campaign promises actually come true.) The most discussed of these initiatives involve: taxation, policing and education. There are concerns, stoked by de Blasio’s opposition that tampering with policies in any and all of these areas is tantamount to buying a one-way ticket to the 1970s. Without a crystal ball or a finely tuned sense of paranoia, it’s hard to say. Before I jump on the bandwagon, or perhaps more aptly; the Datsun B210, I need just a bit of edification. I don’t need to see the whole sausage in the making perhaps just the vienna sausage or maybe a snausage.

While it’s true that de Blasio opposes stop and frisk policing tactics, it’s not clear to me that there aren’t equally successful methods of crime deterrence. Many stop and frisks happen to people who live in less safe neighborhoods. Are there other ways, perhaps involving employment and community centers to deter criminal behavior? Nobody voluntarily wants to pay more taxes (unless you count those who play the lottery) but they do know that there is a deep economic divide in this city. If raising taxes can mean more affordable housing, many would happily grab their checkbook. But does it mean that? Or will higher taxes simply fill budget gaps left by business leaving or not being courted by a business superstar mayor? Funneling more money into the school system is a sentimental favorite; “it’s for the children!” But do increasing teacher’s salaries and/or extending the kindergarten day really improve education? Is that why so many kids graduate high school barely able to read and write? When did teachers’ salaries, which are the same as police officers in NYC, equate to teaching skill, meaningful curriculum and competent administration? Of course teachers (and police officers) should be handsomely rewarded for a job well done. Everyone should. But the notion that what is wrong with our education system can be fixed with higher salaries and longer kindergarten days is baffling. But it’s surely not as simply as that. Somewhere there are serious conversations taking place involving 10-point plans and advisory committees.

It’s very early days and if history is any indication many of these questions will be answered, as we get closer to the inauguration. All we know right now is that things will change and hopefully for the people who need it the most they will change for the better.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Education

 

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Kramer vs Kramer vs Consumerism

There are films that never lose their emotional wallop, despite how many times you’ve seen them. Steel Magnolias, The Color Purple, Stella Dallas and An Affair To Remember come to mind. There is no element of surprise in the viewing; in fact the memorized dialogue and outcome are part of the pleasure. But the way in which the stories are crafted pull the viewer in for the punch. Of course there are reasons to revisit a dramatic film besides an opportunity to use tissues and visine. Films can tell us an awful lot about how we lived or thought. A film is fantasy of course, but it is a reflection of a director, screenwriter or producer’s viewpoint. Attitudes portrayed about gender, race, sexuality and religion are often an accurate reflection of the time. A film shot in the early 1970s will not only look very early 1970s but sound it too. Women might be referred to as “girls” or “honey,” bottoms might be patted. Generally, if non-white actors appear it’s to make a point. The storyline probably has nothing to do with any of these details, but the details are telling nonetheless.

You might remember the film; Kramer vs Kramer. (For those who don’t; it was a cutting-edge tale of divorce and custody starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, set in New York City.) The emotional wallop of the film doesn’t diminish with time. Much of what will rip you to shreds is the incredible performance of (8 year-old) Justin Henry. You’d have to be made of stone to not crumble at the raw hurt and anger on his face. Meryl Streep’s eyes do most of her talking. She has perhaps twenty lines and expresses pages and pages of dialogue with her eyes. The viewer understands everything about these people and their anguish. But there is also (now) a story on the periphery of that story. The year is 1979 and times were decidedly different. The family is middle class (daddy works in advertising.) They are educated people living in a two-bedroom high-rise apartment uptown. The child attends a neighborhood school and they frequent Central Park. Sounds rather timeless, no? It’s what you don’t see that is so telling. The family (before they weren’t one) is living comfortably on one salary. There is no car, there is no private school and there is no luxury. The child’s bedroom has been hand-painted with clouds by the creatively frustrated mother. (In 1979 this was considered somewhat decadent.) However, there is no Pottery Barn kid’s furniture or matching bedding and window treatment. There are some books, some toys, and later a framed photo of mommy. The chaos that ensues with mommy’s departure is linked to the time period. There are no babysitters or nannies on call or even in existence. (Nannies were still for the posh or the British.) Daddy must master grocery shopping and food preparation as take-away was not ubiquitous and children did not dine out. Luckily for daddy there are no play-dates (there is only play) and there are no enrichment programs or team sports for a first-grader.

Now no one would suggest that the late 1970s were halcyon times. The demise of the marriage in question hinged on the fact that the wife felt marginalized. She left her husband and child to “find herself” (aka get some analysis and a job.) But had the marriage worked, and had she felt able to go out and get a job, their lifestyle wouldn’t be that much different. There’d be an after-school babysitter no doubt. But the minimalistic consumption wouldn’t alter. Sure, she might need some work clothes, but shopping wasn’t a legitimate hobby in the 1970s. New appliances would’ve only been purchased if every attempt at repair had been exhausted. There were no strollers being sold for the same price as a moped. In short, they would have had more money and more time (not running from expenditure to expenditure) than they would today. Something to contemplate while watching the film and choking back the tears

 

 

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