Friday, 24 May 2013

Friday Five: Looking Back

The most-hyped film of 2013 is due for Australian release next weekend. In the lead-up to Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic take on The Great Gatsby, there has been a general scramble to show appreciation of the jazz age. This includes many folk opining how much they would have liked to have lived in the 1920s, when glamour was de rigueur and showgirls were awash with champagne.

I’ve never really got this ‘born into the wrong era’ thing. For one thing, if you were lucky enough to be a Bright Young Thing in the 1920s, you had a great depression, another World War and the chilling spectre of fascism looming on the horizon. As for fashion, those dresses (not to mention those dances) aren’t at all becoming for larger-chested women. And women (aged 21 and above) did not achieve the right to vote until 1928 in the UK. (The Representation of the People Act of 1918 only enfranchised women over 30 who met minimum property requirements).

Herein lies much of the problem. When people look back longingly at bygone eras and imagine themselves in such times, they are thinking of the rich, the male and the white. Admittedly there is still a long way to go (and many of today’s young women are actually retarding the cause by assuming it is no longer an issue) but there has never been a better time to be a woman than right now in the Western democratic world.

I have the right to vote; to work; to be educated; to be healthy; to live how I want and love whom I want. So when people ask in what decade you would most like to live, I have to say now. Many people seem to like to wallow in nostalgia, and I have recently come across many examples of this, but I will not play that past is better game.

5 Examples of Moribund Nostalgia:
  1. The Hollow by Agatha Christie – I recently performed in this play which includes many lines about memory and going back to our roots. “The past is sometimes a very good place to live.”
  2. Midnight in Paris – fellow cast members had a discussion about this film, which illustrates in a surprisingly gentle way how even those who live in the so-called halcyon days don’t see them as such as yearn for something else.
  3. The Past and Other Lies by Maggie Joel – a book I was reading at the time of the run, which follows three sets of sisters in London from WWI until ‘now’ and includes this quote:
    “You were meant to get nostalgic for the past once you reached a certain age, but it hadn’t happened. And why would it? The past wasn’t somewhere any right-thinking person would wish to dwell. It contained far too much that you were sad had gone forever, and so much more that was just plain unpleasant. And it got no less unpleasant just because the years had passed. You just felt the pain of it less, that was all.”
  4. An article I read in The Word magazine by Rob Fitzpatrick about our attitude to young people’s music, in which he writes,
    “Don’t waste your life trying to steal back the past. But just as importantly, don’t try and trash the future either – because it’s not ours to trash. The people it belongs to don’t care what we think anyway.”
  5. “The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there” – the opening line from L.P Hartley’s The Go-Between, and a great quote.

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