After the divide

Romancing the StoneImage via Wikipedia

I flipped on the TV the other day and up on screen came an old – early eighties  – movie: Romancing the Stone with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.

I watched for a little while out of nostalgia, remembering when it was a current release and I was a lot younger than I am today. Back then it was a big movie, and its success spawned a sequel, Jewel of the Nile.

Watching it again was curious viewing. It’s not that long ago really, and I remember so much of that time – the mullets, the new romantics, shoulder pads and West Coast Cooler – but in so many ways it seems so distant.

Michael Douglas, youthful in this movie and a big star of the era, now battles throat cancer. The little cultural touchstones in the movie so relevant to viewers of the time would now befuddle most Gen Y viewers (there is a scene when Douglas bemoans the Doobie Brothers breaking up – but who remembers them these days?). Even the film-making seems dated. It was a different time and looking back at it now from 2010 is like looking at a landscape through the wrong end of a telescope.

Earlier today I had a similar chat with a colleague. He mentioned in passing how he had sat down on his couch last night and watched Men Behaving Badly. When was that made – 10-15 years ago? I remember how it was popular; I remember in fact having a lifestyle that occasionally resembled the screwball lifestyle of the two stars. We talked a bit on it, smiling at the memory and laughing at the times recalled to us.

I don’t know if I am falling prey to the usual things were better in my day prejudice, but things seemed different back then. I don’t know if Men Behaving Badly would be made now. Romancing the Stone is every chance to be re-made in the way of Hollywood, but London to a brick it will be a very different film to the original.

Things are different and you say of course they are, time moves on, sand filters through the hour glass, things change. Fair enough, they always have and they always will. Mostly the change is smooth and incremental and hardly noticeable until you look back, like a wheel that keeps constantly turning. Sometimes things happen that shock us into a more radical, even momentous,  shift. In my mind something like that happened to us, to the west at least, so that from one day to the next the landscape we looked out upon had irrevocably altered, and with it our way of seeing it changed.

The day I speak of is 9/11. For all the obvious tragedy and terror of that event the lasting shift has been cultural. In time to come I think it will be marked out as a pivotal moment in history.

Every so often on TV I’ll catch a documentary going back through the eons and sifting through the geological strata to a time dinosaurs ruled the earth. Almost always the sage scientists and palaeontologists will speculate on what happened to the dinosaurs. Often they’ll dig through the strata of ages, layer upon layer of earth representing thousands, millions of years of change. It’s a fascinating sight to look upon the varying layers of compacted earth in shades varying from one epoch to another, through ice age and regrowth. Then they’ll stop and point to the dark seam of blackened earth that seems out of place. This, they’ll say, is when the meteor hit, this is when the age of the dinosaurs ended.

Perhaps what I am speaking of is not as graphic or obvious as that, and the earth itself has survived 9/11 unscathed. Some things have been lost though, and one of those things is a kind of innocence and a sense of idle frivolity. That black line runs through the lives of the society who were witness to that momentous event. Things seem much less fun now than they were before 9/11.

I’ve lived long enough to gain a kind of perspective on the times I have lived through. Some things are obvious. For whatever reason the Gen Y’s, for example, are distinctly different to the X’s I belong to. And for all the ebbs and flows in society the great divide for me is 9/11, before it, and after. Is it really a surprise if the times we live in now are more serious and solemn than they were? Not really, I guess, though unfortunate. Our time is more conservative, less fun.

Things will change again. Though sometimes I wonder, I’m enough a student of history to understand that everything old is new again, and that we live through cycles even as we press forward. And I know that at some point the pendulum reaches its nexus and starts back again; that society, tired of the status quo reacts and turns the other way. As it ever has been.

I don’t hark back to times before – they were far from perfect – but there are elements worth remembering. Right now a little bit of decadence, fun, and sheer tomfoolery would go a long way I reckon.

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