Sunday, June 22, 2014

Women Forged Before the Fall

Recently, my college graduating class had its 50th reunion.  In preparation for this momentous event a memory book was created, featuring auto-biographies of many of the students and brief descriptions of the lives of the few who had died.  At the time, our college was for women only, although there was a male college located conveniently in the same Kansas town.  The ladies were known collectively as The Mounties, the men as Ravens.  Both schools were Catholic institutions, operated by the Benedictine Order; they have since merged.

The Class of 1964 graduated sixty-eight women.  Ours was the class to experience the election and assassination of John F. Kennedy.  We would see the beginning of the United States’ exploration of space as well as the deadly Vietnam conflict that would later divide the nation. The struggle for equality and civil rights began in earnest while we were students.  We welcomed the Beatles to America.

We were members of “The Silent Generation.”  Most of our lives have been spent in the shadow of the vocal, self-absorbed “Baby Boomers.”   We grew up in times of stress, our parents entering adulthood during the Great Depression.  World War II, the Korean Conflict, Hiroshima, the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War painted images of uncertainty on the canvas of our young minds.  We were not raised to feel “entitled” nor did we believe ourselves “special.”  The battles of the ‘60s and ‘70s—Civil Rights, Vietnam War Protesters, and Flower Children—announced an adulthood that would be inspiring, confusing, and sometimes frightening. 

The Women’s Liberation Movement began more than a decade after our Commencement. Had we really been suppressed, undervalued, and oppressed?  Had our “literature” been neglected?  Were men our natural enemies?  Were we finally to become EQUAL?  Oh my, once we had been thought to be not equal, but better!  She stoops, not to conquer, but to be equipollent—hence commenced The Fall.

The situation for women before Women’s Lib was not by any means idyllic.  Few were encouraged to seek professional careers in STEM areas, although the Mounties can claim a few. Employment was not an equal opportunity experience.  My own experiences illustrate the times:  1) In an interview at a large bank I was told, “I can’t hire you—although you’re fully qualified—because you are a woman, a Catholic, and engaged to be married.  You will get pregnant and quit to raise a family.” 2) At an even larger bank recent college graduates were hired for the management training program.  Men were assigned time in major departments where, after a month or two, they would write up their impressions and what they had learned before moving on to the next department.  Women trainees were assigned as needed—on Mondays we opened mail and tallied lock box payments, on other days women would be assigned to fill new check orders or to some other menial task.  3) I topped out on a programmer aptitude test for another large company, but was discouraged from accepting the training position because the interviewer stressed all the negatives, including the necessity of coming into the downtown in the middle of the night whenever problems occurred and being constantly “on call.”  None of these scenarios appealed to a soon to be newlywed. It was 1964 and it was legal.

Before The Fall women were often encouraged to go into teaching, nursing, and other social welfare professions because it was assumed that marriage and children would employ most of our lives.  Our class memory book records the career satisfaction of thirty-three teachers and about a half dozen social workers. Most of our classmates, no matter their careers, were stay-at-home moms for at least part of their lives.  And moms we were—with a total of 185 children, 278 grandchildren, and the total of great-grans mounting. Of the seventy-one women who are listed in the memory book (about a dozen did not graduate from our college), sixty-three married and only eight divorced.  Six chose to remain single, having equally fulfilling lives, devoting their talents to fulfilling professions and volunteer work with animals, social services, and religious projects.

Despite the inequities of the ‘60s Mounties got on with their lives.  My classmates seem never to have been cowed by men; they have not pined for “liberation.” Most of their married lives reflect a loving partnership with their spouses. Although nary a bra was burnt, we managed to obtain thirty-one master’s degrees, four PhDs, two JDs, a Registered Pharmacist degree, and several Medical Technician certifications. Two had successful military careers.  We even had a Nobel Peace Prize winner!

The Class of 1964 came from farms, small towns, large cities.  Our class included women from as far away as Japan and Kenya.  A few were from affluent families. Several had to work to earn their way sometimes interrupting their studies for a year or more to pay the yearly $1000 tuition, board, and fees. Many had campus jobs. Almost all found summer and holiday employment.  We worked and sacrificed to achieve our educational goals AND we have used that education for the benefit of our families, communities, and selves.

We were diverse; we were so alike.  The stories of our lives record our successes and failures, sorrows and joys. Our families, communities, and faith ground our very being.  The ladies of the “silent generation” had unshakeable values, inculcated from the cradle—sometimes missing a GI dad—and our schools which stressed responsibility and respect along with the basic 3Rs.  We were honest, hardworking, and considerate.  We cared for others above self: we were intelligent, but not proud:  we were tough but never crude.  We could wait.

The Class of 1964 was imbued with the Benedictine Spirit of SERVICE.  Equality meant the Other not the self.  The Mountie Honor Roll of Volunteer Service is long and varied.  The stories related in the memory book reveal an appreciation for the gifts of love, trust, and learning so liberally bestowed by parents, teachers, families, friends.   Mounties acknowledge those gifts when they actively participate in their communities. The needy are fed, clothed, and sheltered: the ignorant educated: the abused and aged protected.    Military families are supported: youth receive structure and guidance: animals are respected.  The Class of 1964 has given its all in a way characteristic to women forged before The Fall—without resentment or regret, without ego or self-aggrandizement.  Each life story teems with contentment and satisfaction. For the Class of 1964, the road taken—the paths well signposted by faith, families, and the “silent generation”—has “made all the difference.”

The Women Forged before The Fall didn’t miss out on a thing.  Congratulations on fifty wonderful years.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Shout-out to the Bard

Welcome to WNTR’s “Middle of the Night Radio Shrink,” where pop psychology helps you make it through the night.  Tonight’s program which is in honor of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday features a penetrating analysis of Shakespearean characters and how they relate to YOU.  Night Radio Shrink thinks that when you admire certain Shakespearean characters’ qualities, you are really expressing your own personality quirks.  If you’d like to participate live, send your tweets to #WNutterBillsBday.
For you happy folks, we’ll start with the comedies. You’re on the air, Doc.

Rosalind, whom we all know is the heroine in “As You Like It” is an impulsive lady. She’s spirited and a meddler whose favorite color is forest green.  Her hobby is climbing trees and she likes to dress in men’s clothes.  Rosie’s ideal hook-up is any man she’s not supposed to marry.  The Buzz whispers that there was a lot more going on in the Forest of Ardor than we need to know.  Let’s Dish the Dirt:  Orlando and Ganymede—I tell you…

Portia is the poor little rich girl in “Merchant of Venice.”  She’s a quick witted, sympathetic, beautiful, and dutiful daughter.  Portia’s favorite color is lead because she knows that “all that glitters isn’t gold.”  She moonlights as an attorney while dressed as a man. (It’s a good thing her daddy is dead!)  This lady’s favorite hook-up is any John Doe in trouble with the law, or at least JD’s best friend.  The Buzz says that Bassanio is just another guy who slips off his wedding ring when he enters the bar.  Poor Portia!  Let’s Dish:  The whole casket thing was rigged.

Kate, is the title character in “The Taming of the Shrew.”  Choleric Kate is a headstrong lady who’s ripe for the plucking. Her high school graduating class voted her most likely to become a widow in ten years.  Kate’s favorite color is fire engine red.  Few people know that she moonlights as a marriage counselor.  This elder daughter of Baptista looks for a misogynist as her ideal mate.  The Buzz is that Kate wanted to become a nun.  Let’s Dish:  Her hubby said “ ’tis the mind that makes the body rich”—RIGHT!

OK, Fellows, wake up!  I haven’t forgotten you.  The History plays are just the things that dreams are made of for our gentlemen listeners… 
Richard III was not well liked.  This Prince of York carried one heck of an inferiority complex on his shoulder (the lower one, I think).  He balanced his complex with a strong streak of homicidal mania and insatiable ambition.  His color reflected the gold of the blazing sun of York, tarnished by the winter of his discontent.  Richard was relentless in the pursuit of his hobby, eliminating the competition.  Marriageable women with claim upon the crown really turned on this darling prince.  The Buzz quotes Richard’s mother.  She says, “my son was not a hunchback.  The boy just couldn’t be without his favorite dish, haggis, so he slung a sack of it over his shoulder (the higher one, I think) whenever he rode out to kill and cause mayhem.”  Let’s Dish: there are hints that, like Don Corleone, family meant everything to Richard. 

Henry V came after Henry IV (both parts) and before Henry VI (all three parts).  Like most middle children he liked to get in people’s faces and have a good time.  Number V was energetic and fun to be with.  He didn’t always choose his friends wisely, hence Sir John Falstaff.  In his family, purple—the color of kings—was the only color.  As a young man his favorite hobbies were drinking and wenching but this prince of the blood turned our pretty well.  He had a soft spot for French girls who happened to be included in treaties.  The Buzz tells us that “men are merriest when they are from home.” Poor Kate!  Let’s Dish, “we band of brothers,” come on!  Stephen Ambrose said that first.

And now, as the midnight hours pass into predawn, we’ll examine the tragedies.  Lord knows the ole Doc is depressed tonight.

Macbeth, Thane of Chowder and Oyster Crackers (just checking to see if you’re still awake), began as a loyal subject and fearless warrior. That is, until he met the three sisters, aka the weird sisters, aka the witches.  His ambition, as well as his lovely wife, Lady Macbeth, urges him on to regicide. This man is a very poor host. He is also superstitious.  Macbeth’s favorite color is said to be plaid.  As a natural scientist, Macbeth collects specimens like eye of newt, toe of frog, scale of dragon and tooth of wolf. His favorite hook-up is a murderous, insomniac with a hand washing compulsion. (To each his own.)  The Buzz is that his family told him not to marry that girl!  Let’s Dish:  “They” say that Macbeth has been seen wearing a skirt and daintily pointing his toes when dancing the Highland fling.

Hamlet, of course we have to talk about Hamlet, that broody, indecisive, arrested adolescent; talks to himself too.  Our prince’s favorite color is ghostly grey and he has been known to hang around graveyards, the morbid little twit. The lovely Ophelia just wasn’t his type, he’s Oedipal you know. The Buzz tells us that the family gets a large purchase discount on poisons.  Let’s Dish:  Uncle Claudius took  the fun out of dysfunctional.  Grow up, boy!

Our final selection for the night is a little known Roman general,

Titus Andronicus.  Titus is a classic psychotic whose sole motivation is revenge.  When Ti is around there is sure to be buckets and buckets of blood and gore.  It should come as no surprise that this totally out of control madman’s favorite color is blood red.  His monomania is apparent in his chosen specialist field, tit for tat and hand for hand.  If the general had a preference I’d say that a nice girl like Medea would strike his fancy.  There is a rumor that Titus was nominated for Father of the Year, but his children all died before they could testify on his behalf.  The Buzz advises:  Stay Away From This Man.  Let’s Dish:  This play is GOTH-ick!

But seriously, if any of you listeners are the Titus Andronicus type, TEXT ME right now.  Let’s meet up because I’m sure we can get an afternoon talk show on TV.  This all night gig is wearing me out!

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare.  For earlier Bardolatry tributes click on the Shakespeare links on the left.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nebraska, Mostly Mean-spirited

Nebraska (the movie) is touted as one of the best movies of 2013.  Its star, Bruce Dern, was nominated for an Academy Award.  I concur with the second opinion and most definitely disagree with the former estimate.  This movie paints a dark and caustic portrait of the heartland of America. Its pallet, black and white—a metaphor for the attitudes the filmmakers insinuate. The color choice whispers old, faded, depressed, unimaginative, zero sum game loser. Nebraska is ungenerous and mean-spirited.

The story begins with an old, disheveled looking man walking along the highway.  He is Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern.  The character’s name evokes Grant Wood, known for his painting “American Gothic.”  Woody is determined to walk from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his magazine sweepstakes million dollar prize.  I’m sure everyone in America recognizes the reference.  Woody will not be dissuaded from his conviction that he is a million dollar winner.  His younger son David, ably played by Will Forte, agrees to drive his dad to Lincoln, Nebraska which is the headquarters of the sweepstakes company.  They set off, with Will trying to convince his father that the trip is a waste of time. The two agree to stop for a family reunion in Hawthorne, Nebraska. In Hawthorne, Woody’s home town, we meet various Grants whose chief occupation seems to be sitting blankly in front of the television.  When the town learns of Woody’s good fortune some try to tap into Woody’s million, citing imagined assistance extended to him when he lived in Hawthorne.  After Woody’s former business partner humiliates him in front of most of the town, Will decides to continue their journey to Lincoln.  This final plot twist during in the last thirty minutes of the movie keeps the film from being unredeemable. Remember, however, that the son was born in Montana.

Nebraska (the movie) reveals Hollywood’s contempt for “red states,” represented by Nebraska (the state). The film’s depictions undermine respect for the dignity of its elderly protagonist, denigrate small town rural America and mock its values.  Hawthorne—heartland, Christian, Republican archetype—devolves into a venal, small minded, sterile, hypocritical and mean spirited American Gothic still life when filmed through Hollywood’s distorted lens. All this from the folks who, in their movies and TV dramas, promote drugs, sex, and all things encouraged.  Hicks 0, Cool Flicks 1.

The lifestyle and characters portrayed in the movie are dull and irrelevant—Zombie-like families riveted to the television whose only recreation consists of heavy bouts of drinking in one of the town’s taverns and overblown reminiscences of youthful sexuality. The lasting image is of an old man propped on an upright chair placed at the side of the only road running through town, going nowhere, waiting for nothing. The movie’s cardboard characters are losers, used up, out of place in the ultra-liberal, tech savvy, connected world of Hollywood. Small town fossils with petrified minds only merit contempt clearly outlined in black and white. 

As for the plot, there is nothing funny about the elderly being duped by sweepstake or other types of scams.  As a librarian I have had frustrating conversations with older patrons trying to convince them that the unsolicited sweepstakes notification did not necessarily mean that they had won a major prize.  Guilt for wanting something for nothing (“I’d best order a couple of magazine subscriptions.”) was carefully balanced with the desire for self-esteem through good luck (“I’m the lucky winner!”) in their minds.  All the sweepstakes company wanted was their money.  Nebraska carefully sidesteps the morality of this one with a shrug and an “oh well.”  …there’s one born every minute.

Why do seniors in particular seem to fall prey to this gimmick? Like Woody, they are trusting; they are lonely.  They want to believe in this final chance at good fortune because of their penury and fear, because they hope that, in leaving a legacy to their children, they will be loved.  A significant prize awards them one final chance to feel alive, involved, and important. Does the movie temper its ridicule with the pathos of grey or an understanding ochre?  Not a chance. Woody’s not a likeable character and he’s a drunk. His quest is less Quixotic than querulous.

Nebraska hits ‘em when they’re down.  Even the semi-warmhearted ending conceals a final slam. I won’t be a spoiler and reveal the ending, but it doesn’t take much to fool some folks! This movie seems to ask when will somebody tell these “booze-addled” old fogies to pull the sod over their conservative, out of touch and used up lives, already long buried by irrelevancy.  Nebraska—no pity; just spite.