Monday, October 02, 2006

American Hinterland

My next novel - which is coming along in fits and starts - draws upon my earliest childhood memories up to my early twenties. A kind of historical novel I guess. As background research I've been reading a lot of history on the fifties and early sixties. I need to make sure that the context in which the characters move is historically accurate.

But I also need to recall and evaluate my own personal history. What made me the person I am, what influenced me socially and culturally, what values fed my hopes and dreams. Fortunately the internet is a great way to research what was going on culturally at the time.

Books, of course, were a major influence. The major influence I guess. But so was televison. I watched a lot between the ages of six and fourteen or so. All in black and white of course. And when I look back at it now a lot of it was American and most of that was Westerns, a more or less forgotten genre. From Wells Fargo up to Wagon Train I watched them all religiously. How I admired the strong silent heroes that populated those weekly dramas. How I longed to inhabit their frontier worlds where every problem had a neat solution, where goodness always triumphed over evil, where you knew who your enemy was and what to do about him (you shot him).

Looking back I wonder guiltily if I was completely wasting my time spending all those hours glued to the box. Maybe I should have been reading the classics, studying Greek perhaps, certainly improving my mind. When I examine my own cultural hinterland now it seems a rather barren landscape. Why did I waste so much time? Why am I still wasting my time? I seem to have learned nothing with the passing years.

In my defence I don't watch anything like so much television nowadays. Well, they don't make decent Westerns any more, do they? And the cult of celebrity that has replaced that flickering, magic world proffers nothing but cardboard heroes upholding dubious moral values.

Clint Eastwood and his posse of sidekicks would have run them straight out of town.


  1. Yes, it was a comfortable world they presented, wasn't it? The evildoers always wore black hats, and you knew they'd be well perforated before the toothpaste ads came on. I've wondered if that moral clarity--presented to impressionable children with no hint that it might not be accurate--may not have rendered us susceptible to the moralistic hucksterism of Georgie et al today. Picture Marshal Dillon striding down the street in Iraq, hand poised over his tooled holster, ready to put the world to rights. Of course, before he takes three steps he's blown to ribbons by an IED, while his horse snickers at the rail.

    Welcome back.

  2. Thanks, jta, good to see you're still around. How's the poetry doing?

    Actually, what you said makes me wonder if maybe Georgie B didn't get HIS values from some of those programmes.

  3. That makes sense. In fact how could it be otherwise? Where else could he have come up with such a puerile, sanctimonious worldview?

    Bring on the toothpaste.

  4. Clint Eastwood? A stripling. When I was young I used to go to the local cinema on sat afternoons and watch (admittedly old, I am not "that" old) John Wayne and Dean Martin westerns. Loved them. I also liked Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart et al.

    But perhaps these movies would look boring now, with all the "action every 4 nanoseconds" that seems to go on? I am pretty insulated from it all as have been too busy for 15 years to watch TV or go to many movies, but I glimpse what the girls are seeing and get dragged to the occasional "Pirates of the Caribbean" (probably spelt wrong). Actually, that movie was pretty old-fashioned. I think Spielberg/Lucas probably kick-started the nostalgia boom in the late 70s early 80s with "westerns" like Indiana J and Star W, but they have come full circle and are now antiques viewed as cute anacrhonisms by our young 2000-generation compatriots.

    PS I said a lot in these comments becuase you've been closed for business for ages and I've missed you. Will be more decorous and restrained in future and will not over-run your blog any more, promise.

  5. Maxine, don't be silly. The "Comments" are the true intelligent heart of any blog. Especially this one.

    You write as much as you like here -what you say is always perceptive and interesting. Without in-depth feedback from people like you there wouldn't be much point in having a blog. It's a symbiotic thing, isn't it. I'm here to learn too.

  6. Anonymous11:01 am

    Bloody cheek! Butch and Sundance starting the party without Calamity!

    Me? I was always on the 'injuns' side. Ever the supporter of ethnic minorities, I made meself a couple of plaits out of old tights and refused to come out from behind the sofa until justice was done!

    And he's right Maxine, comments sustain the blogger and validate the post.

  7. Anonymous7:12 pm

    I am afraid I was emphatically not on the injuns side. I liked "the dam busters" also. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s that someone (a boyfriend I think) used "TDB" as the epitome of the absolute worst values, when I had this great moment of epiphany -- realised that it actually was not "on" to cheer when a dam is destroyed, killing hundreds of innocent people.
    I think you could call that my "I'm supporting the injuns from now on" moment.

    And thanks for the lovely comments, Pundy. I'm smiling and even blushing a bit as I write.

    and I am so glad you are back (interestingly, my fingers typed "black" then). I like your take on the world.