Monday, November 26, 2012

Nostalgia: A Rant

       I don't really love the current craze of superhero movies, but all of my family does, so I have seen many of them.  This is how I found myself being dragged to the theaters in July to watch The Avengers.  This is also I happened to rewatch the movie a few nights ago with my sisters.
       I absolutely love cultural history, so I have gotten in the habit of looking for things that relate a historical artifact or event to the time period.  A few weeks ago I went to a football game, which I practically never go to, and reflected upon what the expected behavior told me about the society, etc.  I give this as necessary background knowledge for the following analysis.
        While watching The Avengers I noticed something that I think is prevalent in modern movies-- romanitizing the past, especially World War II era America.  This is especially evident in the character of Captain America.  He is what many people assume the Greatest Generation were all like.  While I know there were many like him, I had a problem with this while watching Captain America.
This is not a war bond rally.
        In Captain America, things are idealized.  His team consists of an African American man, Japanese American, and I think a French and an English guy.  Also an English girl hangs out and commands American troops.  I realize that Captain America may have enough clout to get anyone he wants to join his team, but I would have liked there to have been a mention to troubles they had back home.  It bothered me that Captain America fights HYDRA.  What, are Nazis not bad enough?  Couldn't the Captain have freed some concentration camps or something?  Captain America is an idealized America, but wouldn't a perfect America be able to deal with its problems, such as racism or real threats like Nazis? (Side note pet peeve: those propaganda films Captain America makes and those war bond rallies, seriously?)
This is a war bond rally.  (Bob Hope)
     Nostalgia shows the past in only a good light.  Captain America shows the prominent idea that 'things were simpler back then'.  People had morals and just went and were united in the war.  Somehow I don't think so.  During and shortly after World War II, several movies came out that idealized a 'simpler time' that was about fifty years before.  Meet Me in St. Louis and Life with Father being prominent examples.
Since You Went Away
      The movies made during World War II were excellent, but they were also propaganda.  The self-sacrificing heroes and heroines of Since You Went Away and So Proudly We Hail were there, I'm sure, but so were jerks like Ernest Borgnine's character in From Here to Eternity and that random guy that insults Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives.
      Now I really do think the Greatest Generation was the best, but making them unrelateable doesn't help us learn from history.   Too often we compare the best of the past to the worst of the future or vice versa.  For example one of my grandfathers was a World War II veteran, came home married my grandmother, and became an alcoholic, abusive jerk.  Happily my grandmother divorced him and took her children.   On the other hand my brother one of the 'entitlement generation' volunteered for military service because he knows it is important.  He is in Afghanistan right now.  He left his wife and son and hasn't seen his second son yet in person.  He is a great man and one of the kindest people I know.  You can't make a sweeping generalizations about anything particularly about a generation you didn't live in.  Nostalgia is easy to fall into, but can also be dangerous.  If we hold those in the pasts either as gods or irredemable devils, how can we hope to be like them or avoid becoming like them?  But if we realize everyone has their faults perhaps we can understand how we too could intern Japanese-Americans or that we too could have fallen victim to Hitler's promises, then perhaps we can purge those qualities from ourselves and become better people.  Perhaps, we can also avoiding making those mistakes in our future history.

Wow, that was a random rant.  Hopefully it makes sense.  I also hope there are some interesting ideas.  But if there aren't this blog formally apologizes.  

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