January 30, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

That was then, and this is now

Cynthia DewesRecently, I watched an old movie called Grand Theft Auto.

It was produced in the early ’70s and was the first feature film directed by Ron Howard.

With this film, he graduated from his Opie and “Happy Days” personas to becoming a great film director, later adding gems like Apollo 13 and the new Frost/Nixon to his credits.

Grand Theft Auto is a hilarious tribute to adolescent male humor. It is full of car chases and crashes, teenage lust, a raft of goofy characters and a slim-to-nothing plot. I know it is a gem, having had a number of expert adolescent sons who adored such things. Secretly, so did Dad and I.

As we watched, we lost count of the cars destroyed in countless ways: crashing into each other, flipping upside-down, hurtling over obstacles and, sometimes, exploding into flames. It was mindless, but it was glorious.

Naturally, not one character was hurt during these events, either driving or observing the chaos. It was not “reality” TV, after all.

Now, I can hear criticisms looming even as I write these words. What about the ecological implications of these wrecks, the waste of fossil fuel or, for that matter, carelessly using fossil fuel at all? Worst of all, how can we find the “message” of such a movie not only funny, but implicitly OK?

Well, my answer is: That was then and this is now. Get over it.

Which brings me to my conviction that there is no virtue in beating ourselves up over the past. It doesn’t change what happened or what it led to. It doesn’t make us better or worse people. It just was.

My opinion was verified in a different way lately in an essay written by Ginia Bellafante in The New York Times Book Review. Titled “Suburban Rapture,” it concerned Phyllis McGinley, a popular poet of light verse during the 1950s. She was religious, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a happily married suburban wife and mother. Her verse reflected all these qualities.

Bellafante’s article makes the point that McGinley was an unrepressed, cheerful and fulfilled woman of her time. Although she was later “dismissed” by feminist leader Betty Friedan as “one of the ‘housewife writers,’ ” McGinley was respected professionally. Like me, she did not feel thwarted or claustrophobic living in the culture of those times, which makes me wonder about bitter women like Friedan.

Still another historically revisionist attitude about times that I am familiar with is the continuing criticism we hear about dropping the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Some of the self-appointed experts claim it was a display of arrogance by Americans or at least an immoral and unnecessary act when an Allied victory was already assured. Some blame it on President Harry Truman or powerful and mysterious government “forces” which remain unnamed.

Well, all I can say is that every principled and authoritative person I knew or heard of or read about at the time agreed that dropping the bomb was both necessary and morally obligatory to end slaughter on both sides. Those of us who are still around continue to claim this.

All this is not to say that we bear no responsibility to make correct moral choices in life. We are obligated by God to do so.

But we must remember also that we can use only the information and abilities that are available at the time. Hindsight always seems better, but that doesn’t make what happened earlier bad foresight.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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