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Tag Archives: Steel Magnolias

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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Take A Good Look My Dear, The Old South Has Disappeared

Great Jehoshaphat, southern gentility is reported to be on the decline!  Perhaps you’re thinking that in these uncertain times, this news is hardly worth mention.  But if you believe, as I firmly do, that social graces are what separates us from the animals, you are nervous.

Gentility on a micro level makes our days less, something to endure and more, something to celebrate.  Having a door held open, versus slammed in one’s face, makes if not the entire day, at least a moment, less stress inducing and more gratitude inducing.  When a person moves out of the doorway (of an elevator, bus, train) they are communicating (for a split second) “I am cognizant of not living in solitary.”  It is our nature to want to be acknowledged, if even just physically.  No one wants to be ignored (as we learned from Fatal Attraction.)  At the root of boorish behavior is self absorption.  “The world exists to tend to my needs.”  It is not difficult to spot the trajectory of such a perspective.  If we scratch the surface of a political scandal or corporate malfeasance, wouldn’t we find this mindset?  I think we’d all agree that the root of any ponzi scheme is a desire to have the world attend to the orchestrator’s needs.  Most of us are not global economic leaders, but like recycling, don’t we want to do our small part?  Giving a pregnant woman your seat is the pebble in the lake of decency.

I am not entirely naive about the origins of southern gentility or how it can be quite manipulative.  It’s just that I’m okay with that.  Our culture is experiencing a political correctness frenzy.  We feel compelled to put preposterous positive spin on everything, no matter how misleading.  So why not employ that same smiley face/have a nice day rhetoric in being kind to strangers, or for that matter, friends?  I’m going out on a limb and suggesting that the old south is not familiar with the term “frenemies.”  Do you remember Melanie Wilkes referring to Scarlett as “spirited” bless her heart?  Scarlett had said unkind things about dear Melanie and was rabidly after Ms. Wilkes’ fiance.  What in the world would today’s Melanie post on Facebook?  I shudder to even consider.

Helping a tourist, complimenting a stranger’s scarf, holding an elevator door, making funny faces at a crying baby, demand a level of awareness.  It is hard to text, drive, drink from a sippy cup AND let someone merge into your lane.  It is equally difficult to talk on the phone, drink from a sippy cup, push a double-wide stroller, and notice the person in front of you has dropped a glove.  So if removing our plastic bubble as we go through our day is not realistic, how about doing so just when engaged in intentional social interaction?  Why don’t we start with remembering that social interactions, large and small, are not about the individual, they are about the group.  Throwing oneself a celebration (nuptial, birthday, etc.) means one is a host.  A good host makes his/her guests feel comfortable and welcomed.  A good (and even not so good) host does not invoice his or her guests and always expresses gratitude for their presence.  Like accessorizing, civility is what separates us from the animals.

 
 

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