Thenadays were not always better than nowadays

By Mike Shearer June 05, 2012 12:56 pm
Thenadays is a real word, as real as nowadays, but it has become archaic through disuse.This is odd considering how much people like to reminisce about “the good old days.”

But there really ought to be a cure for nostalgia.

Toni Morrison was talking on National Public Radio this week about the nostalgia for the 1950s, and her point was that the American dream we remember — homes in the suburbs, upward mobility, and cars flashier by the year — was really not available yet to minorities. 

Yes, Elvis was making white people feel groovy by crooning, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” and made himself millions of dollars, but black Big Mama Thornton, who had recorded the song four years earlier, remained relatively poor. 

Radio stations and air play were still segregated and controlled sales.

We tend to remember what we want to remember or are told to remember, and very few families were really as wholesome and innocent as those fresh-faced television families of “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” or “Leave It to Beaver.”

I thought about this as old-timers were gathering for local school and family reunions recently.

Nostalgia has us swaying to the Nat King Cole tunes, jumping to the Ray Charles tunes, or grooving to the Ella Fitzgerald tunes without bothering our collective memories with the grim facts that those entertainers were often forced until well into the 1960s to travel, eat, and sleep in separate facilities from their white counterparts. 

And it isn’t just issues of race that have been distorted when we look backward through the nostalgia looking glass.

We have also made little room in our wistful memory of the past for the belligerent intolerance of all kinds of variation from the norm. We remember when all products were “new and improved!” but forget the time when hundreds were blacklisted for alleged leftist leanings. 

And the “most hated woman in America” was Madelyn Murray, one of the few atheists in her day who was open about her doubts and was royally persecuted for it.   

Our memories have cozied up to the myth that anti-Semitism was a European problem that we stepped in to alleviate, when in fact in the United States anti-Semitism reached perhaps its highest levels in the 1930s and continued in the 1940s.

According to the Holocaust Project Group, “During the years before Pearl Harbor, over a hundred anti-Semitic organizations were responsible for pumping hate propaganda throughout the American public. 

Furthermore, especially in New York City and Boston, young gangs vandalized Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, and attacks on Jewish youngsters were common. 

Swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans, as well as anti-Semitic literature were spread.” 

Even here in the Grande Ronde, the Klan was a constant presence that must have given the few black and Jewish residents reasons to watch their backs.

I was taught very little in school about racism, anti-Semitism, McCarthyism, the general climate of intolerance that pervaded America in the early to mid-1900s, and I suspect those older than I were taught even less about those uncomfortable truths than I was. 

I think we see vestiges of that intolerance in lingering xenophobia toward foreigners. 

If older people want younger people to share their enthusiasm for their history, they need to make sure they’re not glowing in an inaccurate myth of a “back in the day” that really never was. 

And they need to remember our collective memories have been fed by each other, the kind of subjective history we were taught, and the barrage of mass media images we’ve lived with.  

Sure, there was a lot good about the “good old days,” but just having lived through them doesn’t mean we always have a clearer view of them than young people do from their objective vantage point of nowadays. 

After the nation was swayed to give women the vote in 1920, there were decades of nostalgia for those supposedly wonderful years when women had been women and men had been in charge. 

Male-dominated newspapers played a big part in yearning for thenadays.  

Many people are surprised to hear that many nations preceded the United States in giving women the right to vote, just as many nations beat us to the punch in lessening segregation of the races. 

There’s a lot wrong with nowadays, and all you have to do is read a few headlines on AOL News to prove that, but thenadays was only perfect through the hazy filter of our flawed memories.