The times that Rebecca’s friend is harking back to nostalgically were, in reality, a reaction to the darkness that preceded them. And, while much of the programming was “light-hearted,” it also reinforced sexist and racist stereotypes. When Jeannie appeared out of the lamp, she addressed the man who had summoned her as “master.” That about sums it up.
A long time ago
by Rebecca Crichton, Seattle, Washington
The soothing voice of the NPR commentator says, “The 1800s are a long time ago!” That comment is in response to the explanation of why America votes on a Tuesday, as opposed to a weekend day, which is when almost every country in the world holds their elections. It has to do with rural America’s farmers who needed to vote before coming to market on Wednesday. Back in the 1850s, that made sense. Yet again, what made sense almost two centuries ago, continues to affect how we live, vote, believe and behave today.
Using the past to provide framing for what we do, or choose to do now, has shown up in recent conversations that have me scratching my head.
“Don’t we all want to live in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry?” a new friend says rhetorically over dinner. We are discussing which TV shows we watch to soothe ourselves or allow us to escape. Another person has just reminded us there is a channel that plays only Star Trek shows. All seasons, all the time.
“I don’t want to live in Mayberry,” I say gently, not really caring that much, but just for the record. We’re on a roll. She admits she loves watching the classic shows from the 50s and 60s: Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie.
I get the basic pull: Gentler times, with a touch of nostalgia and magic. Humor, without irony or satire. Out and out fantasy. It’s all there to distract and reassure. There once was a time… In the good old days… Everybody got along and you could count on happy endings.
I want to say what this morning’s talk show host said: That was a long time ago. And then I think about what I watch to calm myself: The Good Space, Offspring, Good Karma Hospital. I don’t watch anything with too much blood, violence or what I consider psychologically harrowing. Those shows, and there are thousands of them, haunt my sleep, disturbing my hard-sought equanimity.
The shows we watch relate to the times we’re in, in the same way that our laws reflect what was ‘true’—for those who had the power to define that truth. Post-WWII, we watched shows that promoted the values of middle class, mainly White, America. They had both innocence and intent to bring us together, to have us laugh at the same things, to promote the mainstream values we needed and wanted to believe in.
That was, in fact, a ‘long time ago.’ Diversity, allegedly desired, but actually resisted for the most part, has ended all that. We can choose media that reflects a wide spectrum of cultures and belief systems. We can choose to watch things that do just about anything we want them to do: Inform, entertain, uplift, scare, rile, roil, rouse, roust. Each choice leaves it mark, has its effect.
We create the internal landscape we want to travel and we share those journeys with others who like the same path. We are always making the past relevant to the present. Which, of course, means the future will follow. And, right now, the most important thing we can do for the future is turn off our TVs and vote.