Sunday, November 13, 2005

The turn of the tide

Watching "The Wizard of Oz," I can't help noticing both the quality, and the optimism, of the production. The dialogue is effortlessly, casually, scintillating. This wasn't supposed to be a high-brow production; yet the scripting is first-rate, economical, clever and humorous.

The movie reflects, also, an optimism about the future, and a confidence about the culture that it represented. It is produced by a society that -- without any aggression or threat -- believed itself to be humane, sophisticated and accomplished. It looked forward to the future to come.

The film is utterly unapologetic about advocating virtue and opposing vice. No falderall about "respecting alternate points of view" -- it believes virtue is something everyone wants to acquire -- and should!

There is an innocence about the film: the filmmaker feels no need to depict sexual tension between, say, the Tin-Man and Dorothy -- or, for that matter, the Lion!

Here's what I think: I believe our American culture was on a rising trajectory, until the 60s -- then it hit the skids. We've had some upticks since then; we've had some good moments in music, a few bright spots in literature, and our film industry is still capable of great things (and awful things) -- but I think our culture, as a whole, reflecting the society -- has not yet gotten back to where it was.

I may simply be reflexively nostalgic. I may be wrong. I am not fatalistic -- I don't buy the "inexorable decline" way of thinking -- I have no idea what lies ahead (I veer between optimism and pessimism and am not insightful enough to know which is more probable).

But I do find old movies an eye-opener. Do you?


Jacob said...

I like old movies as well. Of course, the one of the best old movies I like is 'Ben Hur'.

Todd said...

Skids after the 60's? Perhaps it was when our government began to be exposed for not always being the good guys. Civil Rights, Vietnam, and Watergate have altered things from the late 30's, and let's just say our national leadership on boths sides of the ideological divide have failed these lessons.

Dad29 said...

Even "Guys and Dolls" was a morality play.

It WAS the 1960's--following, by no co-incidence, the "alleged" vision of Pius XII wherein it was prediced that Old Scratch would have his way for 100 years.

Cdl. George has been very openly vocal about this--and his own thought is that it will get MUCH worse for Roman Catholics in the near future, even here in the USA.

Fr Martin Fox said...

dad - you're certainly right about "Guys and Dolls."

I'm unaware of what Cardinal George has said. Can you point me toward anything particular?

TS said...

Old movies are surely an indication of how much things have changed. My dad says it all goes in cycles, like a pendulum (the 20s bad, the 50s good, the 60s bad, etc..).. I wonder sometimes if we're making "lower lows" though, when we swing downward.

I'm not a fan of the Wizard of Oz in particular though. Amy Welborn put it well here.

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

TS, it strikes me that blaming "The Wizard of Oz" for the disillusionment of the 60s and 70s is like blaming "It's a Wonderful Life" for Oregon's physician assisted suicide law. In the 60s, good people got assassinated and the U.S. became mired in Viet Nam.

The Warren commission's report on the Kennedy assassination satisfied almost nobody, and there was no official effort to fill in the gaps. The Eisenhower commission on the causes and prevention of violence, appointed by President Johnson, critiqued the heavy handedness of the Chicago police, but the Kent State and Jackson State massacres happened just the same.

President Nixon's plan to end the war in Viet Nam was a joke from practically everyone's point of view, once they saw it play out in reality. It was the greatest disgrace America suffered in modern times.

That's why people became disillusioned with their leadership in the 60s and 70s. "The Wizard of Oz" had nothing to do with causing it, though people may have pointed to it in characterizing their disillusionment.

Our collective disillusionment followed a period of comparative naivete in the 50s. Today, we're still somewhere in between. IMHO, most people who exercise their right to vote today do so from a position of incredible naivete, and some politicians seem to be quite skillful at exploiting that naivete, and cynical enough to do so without compunction.

"The Wizard of Oz" shares this with the parables of Jesus: it didn't open up people's eyes when they first saw it, but it helped them to deal with reality when it hit them in the face.

Kelly Thatcher said...

I love the Wizard of Oz!

TS: I generally agree with Amy but that was about the silliest thing I ever read. I expect she was joking.

Anonymous said...

It is too tempting to look back and say "those were the days." I look back at the eighties and think it was better. The fact is all times are bad, and good. People were sinning just as much then, whenever that is, as now. The past is over, we have to take the values and traditions of yesterday, apply and make them relevant today.

Anonymous said...

Father Gearhart, movies are a reflection of our culture. America has come a long way from the time of "Its a Wonderful Life" and "The Wisard of Oz" to almost anything produced today. Politicians are also a reflection of our culture and always have been. We want to hear lies and so they give us lies because truth causes us to have to change and sacrifice.
However, your litany of events which in your mind caused us "becoe disillusioned with their leadership in the 60s and 70s," does not wash. Having spent a lot of time reading about history, I can tell you that if there was ever a time to be disillusioned, it would have been after WWI and the depression with the collapse of the stock market. Yet, we had a culture of everyone helping others and our movies reflected a love of others. People were poor, but they kept together with families and faith. When WWII happened, millions went out and volunteered and fought for years without seeing family or home.

Where things started to go wrong was when the greatest generation wanted to raise their kids so they did not have to suffer or sacrifice. They wanted to create a place in the burbs where there was no crime, no worry, and no sacrifice. Thus when the boomers came of age in the 60's, we said no to sacrifice when things got tough. We wanted people to lie to us rather than say we had to pay a price. We wanted everything without any personal responsibility. Our word was no longer our bond and we decided we needed a bunch of lawyers. We did not want to feel pain so we spent any price for pills. We did not want to get old so we wanted plastic surgery and became plastic people. Our Church made the mistake of saying we could not have sex without responsibility and so we ignored them and when we did this we decided we could have our faith without sacrifice and the peace and love group became leaders of the Church. We wanted sex without strings so we began the explosion of pornogrpahy and out of this came all that we have today. And our movies tracked our progress and our politicians gave us lies.
We burned buildings and threw rocks at people and when troops were called in, were shocked when people were actually shot. We want our police out there to wallow in the trash day after day, but if they make a mistake we want to hang them. When terrorist strike, we can hardly wait to hang someone for not having some kind of a crystal ball. We yell about winning a war on terror after 9/11, but if there is a price to pay, we quickly look for the easy wide road. We complain about leaders in companies and politics, but we do not get involved to even trully understand the facts. We say we are Catholics and against abortion but vote for those who give us abortion with flimsy excuses about poverty. Catholics could end abortion with voting if we all voted for only candidates that would end abortion. We throw away our vote and see ourselves as doing the right thing voting for someone with no chance to win and then post we did not vote for the winner if things get tough.
And of course we all have our words for priest that give us peace and love sermons worried about butts in seats more than our soul, but too often do not let them know that we appreciate it when they make us squirm in our pew as we hear about the log squarely in our eye. I wonder how many think about John the Baptist before a sermon? I wonder how John would do today as a priest? I wonder what he would worry about, our soul or our attendance?

Jennifer said...

Father Martin,

It's hard for me to articulate how much things have changed--and in what ways they have changed--even since my childhood in the 1970's.

The recent Wizard of Oz prequel is said to not measure up to the original as it is lacking in the sense of simplicity and innocence. I can't bring myself to see it, though! So I can't really say...