Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Careless People

The Human Condition

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby, 1925

I started off this blog more than seven years ago, in August 2010, writing about this issue of poverty, of the poor, and of how being poor pushes you to the margins of mainstream society. I wish I could say it has gotten better. But I can’t; it has gotten worse, and I believe much worse, not only for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, but also for those in the middle. The middle-class is not as robust as it once was decades ago; it is shrinking to the point where it might no longer be the dominant class in America. (see also here, here and here, where you can read the 2016 study by Pew Research Center.)

The wealthy (which includes the heads of large corporations, hedge fund managers and Wall Street bankers), for the most part, created this situation through political lobbying and campaign contributions, with the aim of reducing government spending and decreasing their taxes. Members of Congress, of course, are ultimately responsible for voting for such bad laws that favor only the wealthy, tossing aside and disregarding their mandate to represent the will of the people. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but this has gone too far, with undesirable and quite intentional consequences. Their “success” has led to large increases in the numbers of poor, including in the number of children who face food insecurity. 

This process of noticeable deterioration that began a decade ago (around 2006), based on decades before it of neglect (starting around 1980) has reaped what has been sown, including a lot of ill will, fear and loathing as well as hopelessness. The wealthy, who are admired primarily for their ability to acquire money, are good at influencing the lower classes to turn on each other. Moreover, what we have now in front of us is a social contract in tatters and a large portion of the population, including the common man and young people, who hold no hope of ever catching up to their wealthier classmates—even with a university education. College might not be the great equalizer, after all. Such unlucky ones, which is most of us, have the misfortune of not being born into wealth and privilege. 

America always believed in winners and losers, but some, perhaps only a tiny few, also believed in helping the less fortunate with abilities to achieve upward mobility. If the wealthy want to be remembered for more than just being wealthy, for more than making a magazine list of the privileged, they could use their influence and resources to help make America the nation it ought to be, for one, by joining people of conscience to reverse bad laws that unfairly and disproportionately affect the poor. But this is only a pipe dream, given the prevailing sentiment of the rich and influential. 

One wonders if they as a group are simply amoral, ignorant and insensitive. Are they simply like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, careless people, who could care less about others and who expect others to clean up the messes they make. Fitzgerald’s novel of Careless Capitalism is still a gem of a story. One wonders if the wealthy, deep in their being in their heart of hearts, realize that their overweening desire to save a few bucks, to further enrich themselves, has detrimental effects to society at large. Of course, only they know for sure.

A final thought to chew on. It is not about destiny or fate, but about knowledge and empathy. We are all marked by our particular childhood environments and our particular childhood experiences (think of Citizen Kane and “Rosebud”). When we get older, we appreciate these more and more. It is what we do as adults that tell us who we have become, who we value, and who we are.

Monday, January 22, 2018

One Froggy Evening (1955)

American Comedy

One Froggy Evening and Michigan J. Frog (the voice of Bill Roberts, a nightclub entertainer in Los Angeles in the 1950s).

I remember seeing this on “The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour” either in the late 1960s or the early ’70s, when it was on Saturday evenings at 5:30 p.m (CBC-TV; 1969–1975). That was the night that my mother made hot dogs and french fries. What a great evening it was for me and my brothers. You can read more  about this cartoon [here], which, among its many virtues, says that you can’t count on a singing frog to make you rich. At least this is not the case for the construction worker, a common man, who can only dream about obtaining some of it—a small slice of the pie. It is indeed fortunate that for now such dreams do not cost money. And, yet, I suspect that if they could be monetized, if a way could be found to do so by corporate interests, they would. (A smartphone in every hand, anyone; or better, still, directly connected to the brain?) Perish the thought: for some reason, now I feel like having some fries and listening to “Hello! Ma Baby” and “The Michigan Rag.”

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis: That’s Amore (1953)

American Comedy

Dean Martin sings “That's Amore” with Jerry Lewis clowning around in comedic form in the Hollywood film, The Caddy (1953), directed by Norman Rae Taurog; it also stars Donna Reed and Norma Bates. The song was written and composed by Harry Warren and Jack Brooks. The comedy duo of Martin and Lewis made 17 films between 1949 and 1956, which were formulaic and forgettable, yet entertaining and a nice diversion from everyday realities, one reason being the apparent difference in mannerism between the two men. Such is American comedy.
Via: Youtube

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Cliff Edwards: When You Wish Upon a Star (1940)

When You Wish Upon a Star from the Disney animated film, Pinocchio (1940)
Via: Youtube

This song has a dream-like feel to it. “When You Wish Upon a Star” was written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940). In this animated film, the character of Jiminy Cricket sings the song; the voice is by Cliff Edwards [1895–1971], “Ukulele Ike,” who went from vaudeville to Hollywood.

Other notable versions are by Louis Armstrong [here]; Julie Andrews [here]; Linda Ronstadt [here]; and Neil Diamond [here]. Making wishes, whether on a star or in any other manner, might sound foolish and a wasteful effort, one that will lead to naught, but, yet, this is what people with romantic and dreamy minds have been doing for ages.

So, wish away my friends. Forsake not those youthful dreams and hold fast to them. Focus on those wishes and you will forever stay young. Focus on the wrong things, as many do, and you will age very quickly. This is what worry will do. Childish dreams, however, will rejuvenate your mind and body. When you wish upon a star/Makes no difference who you are. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Julie Andrews: The Sound of Music: Opening Scene (1965)

Musical Dreams

The Sound of Music, by Julie Andrews, who sings the song from the 1965 film of the same name.
Via Youtube & Rodgers & Hammerstein

This is one of the most recognizable songs, from one of the most recognizable voices, Julie Andrews, ever produced at the hands of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, known simply as Rodgers & Hammerstein, one of America’s most famous song-writing duos. This might be quintessential American music, but it is a song that the world understands and appreciates and, most of all, enjoys. I have enjoyed it since my childhood at elementary school in Montreal, moments after the teacher first put the LP on the record player and out came this memorable song and so many others from this album. It was a time long ago, when unicorn dreams seemed possible and the hills were “alive with the sound of music.”