Friday, October 02, 2015

The Psychological Problems of the Comfortably Well Off

I have been reading Jonathan McCalmont's blog. It's called Ruthless Culture, and I keep misremembering the name as Cruel Culture. Anyway, a bright and thoughtful guy. He has almost convinced me that everything I have written in defense of science fiction and popular culture is wrong. However, his most recent post is about a movie titled 45 Years, which he very much liked. It's about a couple about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. In the course of the movie the wife discovers that her husband has been mourning for -- and obsessed by -- a former girl friend who fell into a glacial crevasse and died. This calls into question her entire married life and her life. I haven't seen the movie and don't intend to, but it sounds like a New Yorker short story from 50 years ago, back when I read The New Yorker. My question is, why should I care about these people and their problems? Why should the emotional problems of the educated upper middle class interest me at all? If I want nuanced exploration of personal lives I can read Henry James, and I have. I realize I sound like a philistine. But Captain America is dealing with the changes in America since WWII and with the realization that his beloved country has been infiltrated by Nazis, who are running the government. I'd call these real and serious problems.

When I was a kid, the real issues -- the ones under the Father Knows Best surface -- were McCarthyism and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Now the real issues are the war against terrorism and its witch hunting and global warming.

Finding out that your marriage is a sham is very sad, but chances are good that 19th century European novelists covered the topic.

I like murder mysteries that deal with personal problems. A dysfunctional family gets a lot zippier if you add a corpse and a question. Who done it? But murder mysteries with political content are even more interesting. Hammett and Chandler wrote about corruption. The more recent women writers have written about feminist issues -- if only by taking over the tough guy mystery.

Patrick has been reading Sinclair Lewis. Babbitt is about the psychological problems of a person who is financially comfortable, but it is also about how incredibly sterile life in Midwestern, middle class America was at the time. That is a point worth making.

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I've gotten enough critical feedback from this comment that I suspect I am wrong. I'm leaving it as it is, anyway, while I think more about the topic.

2 Comments:

Blogger Foxessa said...

You are probably not saying here that because the sterility for rich and even upper class women in the later years of 19th century was dealt with by Henry James, fairly not middle class and certainly part of the U.S. aristocracy despite not being rich himself, (what about Edith Wharton's poor upper class girls on the marriage market too?), that midwestern middle class was dealt with by a middle class midwestern male writer in the earlier decades of the 20th century, there is no reason to deal with them now in the earlier decades of the 21st? Back in those days there were local and world crises too, but people still get married, have families, who seem insulated from such crises ... until, of course, the crisis rises up and bites their ass. That too is an historical constant, not matter what time of the world and where in the world.

Perhaps you may be trying to say, which is a valid observation, that contemporary U.S. writers, writing after a very long historty of the novel, domestic, social commentary and otherwise, are not as good at writing as James, Wharton and Lewis? Ao their characters and dilemmas, as writers drawing on their own experiences and social observations, and their own talents of course, just aren't as good as those previous writers. Or, maybe not.

Patrick has been reading Sinclair Lewis. Babbitt is about the psychological problems of a person who is financially comfortable, but it is also about how incredibly sterile life in Midwestern, middle class America was at the time. That is a point worth making.

Love C.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Marc Fabian Erdl said...

Dear Eleanor,

"But Captain America is dealing with the changes in America since WWII and with the realization that his beloved country has been infiltrated by Nazis, who are running the government. I'd call these real and serious problems."

Really? And all the while I thought that the American government can get into real and serious trouble on their own, be it war (against terror or drugs), or racism, or poverty for the masses. They do not need German Nazis to help them to leave their country fubar. (What America might have as an moral and/or political advantage: they probably could get out of those issues on their own, if they wanted. I know, Germany had to be forced to behave civilised. I have not forgotten)

I thought "Captain America" was a hoax, an idiotic way of excusing the American audience and moviegoers from any and all responsibility for all the crimes and misdemeanors shown in the news reels, and make them feel morally comfy. "We Americans fucked up? Oh no, you must know, it's a Nazi Conspiracy in our Government, Heil Hydra, that's responsible for all this ugly stuff." Oh my. That's as ridiculous as Germans pretending that the Nazis were no part of the German culture but something else entirely, strange people, who kidnapped Germany and it's morally sound people. (In the vein of: "And let's not forget, Hitler was an Austrian" ladeedadeeda). America, like Germany, has the government it deserves, and the government the people think is good for them, at all costs - for anybody else. That's not always something to be proud of.

There was an interview with John Clute on the Coode Street Podcast from London last year (#199 or #200, I don't remember) that deals among others with the issues this Marvel Movie has. Strictly recommended.

And still, I love America. But every now and again this Home of the Brave drives me mad.

Kindest greetings,

Marc Fabian Erdl

3:39 PM  

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