Posts Tagged ‘Series’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

On the first day of all my history courses, I attempt to dispel my students’  romanticization of the past. This may sound strange to people who assume that “kids today” don’t respect the past, but I don’t find that to be the case at all.  In fact, I think most Americans, college students included, respect the past, or at least the past that has been constructed for them by pop culture, the media, and politicians.  Most of the time, Hollywood, 24 hour news old-daysprograms, and US Senators portray history as romantic, simplified, and heroic. “The Good ol’ Days” are lionized as a simpler, more understandable time that has been lost.  Through this lens, history appears to move in a negative, regressive direction.  Though this stance is most often associated with conservatives, the idea that history is regressing touches all political sides.   Everyone can discover a past Golden Age that fits their modern ideologies.

Most of my students don’t necessarily think in these political terms when it comes to history, but  the vast majority believe that society is regressing.  To them, times are worst than they have ever been.  Social levels of violence are purportedly unique; human communication is disintegrating; Americans are lazier than ever.  Though young themselves, these students interestingly see historical regression most clearly in “kids these days”.   I have had 18 year old students tell me that their 12 year old siblings don’t know how to form relationships because of cell phones and video games.  Obviously, 30 somethings similarly complain about college kids.  60 somethings say the same about 30 somethings.  And on and on we go.

If history is regressing, then it only makes sense that the past must have been superior.  I believe this notion reached its apogee in the 1990’s, when the so-called baby-boomers lionized their own parents, dubbing them the  “Greatest Generation” in pop-culture and mass media outlets.  The narrative went like this: “The Greatest Generation” was superior to all who came after not only because they fought WWII, and survived the Depression, but that they did so with nary a complaint.   They were marked by determination, resilience, and stoicism. Of course, it became inevitable to ask, “What happened to those who came next?”  How could American society produce the WWII generation, and then spawn these “kids today”?  By painting with such a broad brush, the creators of the “Greatest Generation” ideal simplified and heroicized complex individuals who fought, died, and experienced WWII, while also smearing those who came after.

But, wait a minute!   My reader may be thinking, “the WWII generation was more stoic than people today.  They did face hardships, and endured them.  Plus, in many ways, the past is superior to the present.”  You are correct on all counts.  No one could believe that history has not regressed in some areas of life. That is indisputable.  But, the problem is that lionizing the past in order to compare it to a supposedly distasteful present spawns historical tunnel vision.  We miss two important truths when we do this: First, the complex continuity between the past and present events, ideas, and movements is censured by this tunnel vision.  Second, lionization spotlights regression, while ignoring progression (of course, this depends on how we define both terms).  To ignore one for the other is  disingenuous. “The Greatest Generation” was most definitely patriotic; perhaps more so than “kids these days”.  For many, this is regression. That being said, “The Greatest Generation” also largely accepted their society’s racial bigotry and misogyny with little critique.  It was up to their hippie children to fight these injustices. For most, this is progression.  Forgetting such complexities leads to the construction of a falsified past composed of simplified Utopian heroes.

“Golden Age, Schm-olden Age” then, will be a series of posts that I will come back to now and again to display the continuities of the past with the present, and to expose such wrongheaded romanticized history.  In doing so, I will not be judging the past so much as critiquing domineering attempts to gloss the past as something far superior than the present.  I don’t know how often I will write these posts, though I hope they will be entertaining.

(Next Monday, First Installment: Ancient Roman Graffiti)

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I am the youngest in my family; I have four older sisters and two older brothers. Not enough is said about the remarkable love and friendship siblings share.lunt

Perhaps this is why I admire Jane Austen. She was a devoted sister, and her characters often display a profound attachment to their favorite siblings. Siblings are our first playmates, teachers, and tormentors. It is one of the great joys of my life that I can still spend the holidays with all six of my exceptional, magnificent siblings. We are all unique, but our shared history created a profound connection that surpasses any differences. Perhaps what I love most of all is the fact that we still love each other so well.

How can I enumerate all of the wonderful attributes my siblings possess? Naturally, the list could never be complete; our relationships constantly change and evolve with time.  The ways I interacted with my siblings (all older) in my youth were primarily dictated by who had time to spend with me. When I was quite young, my older sisters Betsy and Barbara were my affectionate caretakers. My brother Ralph drove me to the places too far away to walk (choir practice every Monday night for years—years!).  My brother Bobby taught me how to ride a bike in the church parking lot up the road. Margo and Theresa seemed perpetually busy with either sports or boyfriends, but I recall a tremendous amount of sharing, borrowing, and out-right stealing of belongings now lost to a refuse pile.

Many of the memories I cherish embody the lovable quirks of each sibling. My eldest sister, Betsy, was burdened in many ways by her role as the oldest of seven children; she was expected to be responsible, in charge. However, she can be wildly spontaneous. A favorite memory is the day Betsy, Theresa, and I “played hooky.”  I was in middle school. Theresa was in high school. Betsy was already out of college, a working woman.

Surprisingly, she decided we all needed a day off from our obligations (the paper-thin excuse was that all the towels were dirty). Skipping school was an enormously rebellious act in my family—the total number of school days I missed from kindergarten through graduate school is less than 20. But, on this strange and extraordinary day, Betsy wanted to rebel, so we did. We took her small car, the “little red Chevette,” which she drove uncommonly fast.  We cranked the radio and sang along. We were aimless; we drove to the park, to the lake. We bought every treat imaginable at a convenient store and sat and ate and talked. The day seemed to stretch out endlessly. We did literally whatever we wanted. It was a day of impossible freedom summoned magically into existence by my “responsible” older sister Betsy. I’ll never forget it.

To be continued. . .next up: Ralph’s sensitive nature and dreadful singing.