Saturday, August 7, 2010

Learning from history

Understanding history is one of the most important tasks we can perform because it can have a big impact on how our lives unfold. After all, as the old saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Some dismiss that saying as just an old cliché. However, there is a lot of truth in it. Even though the generations come and go, humans are not that different than they were 100 or 1,000 years ago. The circumstances may change, but each generation tends to make the same mistakes.

I thought of this recently when my grandmother found some old magazines at her home. I was eager to read them because there is no better way of understanding history than by reading about the events of the day as they happened.

For example, a simmering issue on our current national landscape is how to crack down on illegal immigration. Arizona recently passed a law that it feels will help that state deal with this issue. Opponents of the law have denounced it as an example of racial profiling.

With this issue fresh in my mind, I found a story from the May 31, 1947, edition of the 'Saturday Evening Post' titled 'Why Mexicans Don't Like You.'

In a twist, the story did not deal with Mexicans coming to America. It dealt with the anger many Mexicans felt toward U.S. citizens when they traveled south of the border.

According to the story, Mexicans felt resentment because they felt Americans projected toward them a feeling of superiority and arrogance. They also were upset that U.S. citizens referred to themselves as 'Americans' because Mexico is also a part of North America, and they deserved that title, too.

Is the cultural conflict described in a story written 62 years ago playing a role in today's conflict? Probably, but a person would not know it based on how this issue is reported today.

Another article I discovered dealt with violent crime. Reports of rape and murder are common place today. When looking back at the past, we sometimes romanticize how tranquil life was back then.

However, concern about the growth of violent crime was addressed in the December 11, 1948, issue of 'The Post.' The article I read primarily focused on crimes done by adults against children.

In 1948, there was not a glimmer of an idea that our society would some day have technology like the Internet at its fingertips. Today, stalkers wanting to exploit children have a lot more resources at their disposal compared to back then. Despite this, the article understood that more aggressive steps were needed in dealing with these crimes. So, even though the circumstances were different then, people knew that this was an issue that was not going away.

On a lighter note, old magazines can remind us of the cyclical nature of pop culture. Today, the amount of information regarding life in Hollywood and in the music business can drown us if we are not careful. However, careers that seem unstoppable in these fields can go down within a matter of months.

For example, the November 6, 1970, issue of 'Life' magazine denounced the offerings of just about every major artist of that year. It called Bob Dylan’s recent album 'Self-Portrait' a self-caricature. It criticized Aretha Franklin's work for her new record label.

The magazine bemoaned the recent break up of the Beatles and Paul McCartney’s first solo album as lightweight. Even the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were integrated into what it called the 'Year of the Bomb.'

I guess 1970 was a bad year to be an artist.

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