Brittany Ashley

Thoughts About Today's Class:Films vs Reality

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Its interesting that Hollywood and the movies wanted to create and emphasize a sense of unity and inclusion. The goal of which to get all groups of people united and ready to fight for the American cause. Of realizing we are all part of the larger American family, and have a stake in winning the war. We all rally round the flag because we all care about that flag and our country. I realize and recognize this was pure propaganda as all movies during the war was. But I can't tell if this was an entirely cynical scheme on the part of executives and film makers to bring in (to an extent) racial diversity and warm and fuzzy messages of unity and national identity. Or, these executives/film makers were genuine about these messages and diversity. Or a little bit of both. 

But reading the lecture notes and thinking back on these movies of cinematic unity ring false and hollow. The nation was still entrenched in segregation and racism and the military was deeply segregated with no plans of integration. Depictions and representations of black people improved  some but there was still stereotypes and a lot of erasure of non-white people. Scenes with black and whites dancing together were cut from films to placate white audiences in the Jim Crow south. Japanese Americans were interned even though they were citizens and many (if not most) were loyal to the United States. I don't really understand why film makers put out this vision of the country and society when it was truly not the case. I know the government intervened in cinema content and there was censorship of negative truths or images or messages about the US. I get that. But beyond that, was there also a sense of wishing for a truly more inclusive and unified society on the part of those decision makers and creators?

The intro to this week's lesson says something to the extent that even though Yankee Doodle Dandy gets criticized today for obvious nationalistic propaganda, that was the appeal and charm of that movie. I agree and that's how I feel about the war/patriotism themed movies made during that period. They present a form and vision of a  rah-rah patriotism and symbolism that doesn't exist anymore in the culture and would not find in contemporary media. From my 2018 eyes, its curious and perched somewhere between naivete(?) and clear manipulation of the public. But what what I read and understand, people really did feel this way and really rallied around the country and each other (to an extend re segregation) for one singular cause. 

Victory.

Even for marginalized and oppressed people they shared (on film at least) the same patriotic sensibility and doing your part to win. This is something I don't understand and recognize looking at these movies from modern eyes. I know you can't project modern attitudes, mores, and perceptions onto history and culture of the past. 

Its quaint but calculating. 

Its really in the movies, specifically musicals that the stark difference between the 1940s and 60s was and how much the latter decade changed the way the culture people accepted and understood propagandist messages and patriotic imagery.

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I think the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement had a lot to do with changing people's outlook, especially on war. I don't know much about WWI but in WWII look at the numbers of actors and professional athletes that risked their lives and careers to join the military. How often does that happen now? Celebrities attend rallies and raise money for the causes they support, and as far as I know they still entertain the troops overseas. But could you imagine any of today's stars enlisting? 

And while I'm sure there were some anti-war or anti-military individuals back then, I don't imagine they were as vocal and outspoken as they were in the 60s and beyond.

It's called "The Greatest Generation" for a reason. :) I doubt we'll ever see the likes of them again.

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For the most part, films have portrayed non-white races in ways that are comfortable to white audiences.  This often involves stereotypes, whitewashing difficult truths and glossing over the realities of minority lives.  I suspect that "manipulation" worked both ways -- films were giving white America what white America wanted to see.  When was the first time we saw a three dimensional African-American character that was embraced by the African-American community?  Native-American?  Asian-American?  How often have we seen people of other cultures or races treated as exotic, and maybe we even liked it?

To some extent this is still going on today.  Look at the conclusion of Get Out.  I suspect that many white people (not all, but many) saw the end as a happy ending, whereas African-Americans saw it quite differently.

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6 minutes ago, BlueMoods said:

I think the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement had a lot to do with changing people's outlook, especially on war. I don't know much about WWI but in WWII look at the numbers of actors and professional athletes that risked their lives and careers to join the military. How often does that happen now? Celebrities attend rallies and raise money for the causes they support, and as far as I know they still entertain the troops overseas. But could you imagine any of today's stars enlisting? 

And while I'm sure there were some anti-war or anti-military individuals back then, I don't imagine they were as vocal and outspoken as they were in the 60s and beyond.

It's called "The Greatest Generation" for a reason. :) I doubt we'll ever see the likes of them again.

I wrote a paper in a grad class about Hollywood 1944 because I pulled this topic out of a bag for a research class. I wrote about the variance between Hollywood's goal of inclusion and legitimate inclusion either in the movies or out. I ended up getting a B+, which in a grad class is an F.  My professor didn't take issue with my research or thesis, she said "it wasn't in proper MLA format and it is too political." It was in proper MLA format and it was political. I agree that Hollywood failed, but I don't think this sentiment is absent completely in the U.S. As noted, Vietnam, Watergate, and Civil Rights issues of today still keep the country divided, but I do think the ideals of the country are still embraced by all as is evidenced by underrepresented or minority groups continuing to fight for the rights denied. In that sense, the ideals and freedoms are still embraced in concept by most, I think. I also think that most, if faced with something as blatantly horrendous as Nazi Germany would come together to defeat an external evil.  An internal evil is obviously an entirely different matter. 

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18 minutes ago, BlueMoods said:

I think the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement had a lot to do with changing people's outlook, especially on war. I don't know much about WWI but in WWII look at the numbers of actors and professional athletes that risked their lives and careers to join the military. How often does that happen now? Celebrities attend rallies and raise money for the causes they support, and as far as I know they still entertain the troops overseas. But could you imagine any of today's stars enlisting? 

And while I'm sure there were some anti-war or anti-military individuals back then, I don't imagine they were as vocal and outspoken as they were in the 60s and beyond.

It's called "The Greatest Generation" for a reason. :) I doubt we'll ever see the likes of them again.

I can't think of any actors or athletes to volunteered for military service even in the Korean War and certainly none in the Vietnam War and after.

I just don't "get" what it was about the culture or society in the early 40s that made this kind of patriotism or made actors want to serve (does that make sense). And you're right, there was less voices of criticism and dissent at least people weren't willing to be outspoken about those views.

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I'm not in a position to defend Hollywood regarding the goals during WWII, especially since I haven't started watching the assigned films yet. Perhaps others will find this helpful, though. I always try to remember that the folks living through the world wars didn't have the luxury of knowing the outcome. What a terrifying, anxious time it must have been. Regardless of why patriotic movies were made, nobody forced the audience to buy tickets to see Yankee Doodle Dandy and Mrs. Miniver. People needed morale boosting, and who can blame them?

I'm a bit of a WWI buff, and Hollywood actors were very active selling war bonds (Mary Pickford for sure). I know Buster Keaton served at the end of WWI.

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31 minutes ago, Jim K said:

For the most part, films have portrayed non-white races in ways that are comfortable to white audiences.  

To some extent this is still going on today.  Look at the conclusion of Get Out.  I suspect that many white people (not all, but many) saw the end as a happy ending, whereas African-Americans saw it quite differently.

You gave me something else to think about, as a child of the deep South. I came of age in the 60s and 70s but my parents grew up in the 20s - 40s. And while my mother loved Pearl Bailey, Della Reese, Ethel Waters, etc., and my dad loved Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, It's unimaginable that they would have invited any of them over for tea or dinner. My husband and I saw the movie "Race" and it was appalling to me that when Jackie Robinson and his wife went to a banquet to honor him after the Olympics, they could not enter through the front door of the hotel but through the back way because they were black. 

As entertainers and athletes they were okay, because, I'm thinking, they were somehow "not real." But their version of reality was that the black race was an inferior race. They treated black people they interacted with courteously and respectfully to a degree (as in I never heard them use the "N" word or get involved in activities of the Klan, if you know what I mean) but in my parents' eyes they were just a step or two above a chimpanzee. So the way they were portrayed in most movies probably reinforced their sense of superiority.

I didn't see get out. I barely see one or two movies in theaters a year, if that. Most of them don't interest me, and of the handful I've seen in the last several years, most of them don't live up to the hype. I'll have to see if my library has a copy of Get Out or maybe rent it and see what you're talking about.

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20 minutes ago, MotherofZeus said:

I wrote a paper in a grad class about Hollywood 1944 because I pulled this topic out of a bag for a research class. I wrote about the variance between Hollywood's goal of inclusion and legitimate inclusion either in the movies or out. I ended up getting a B+, which in a grad class is an F.  My professor didn't take issue with my research or thesis, she said "it wasn't in proper MLA format and it is too political." It was in proper MLA format and it was political. I agree that Hollywood failed, but I don't think this sentiment is absent completely in the U.S. As noted, Vietnam, Watergate, and Civil Rights issues of today still keep the country divided, but I do think the ideals of the country are still embraced by all as is evidenced by underrepresented or minority groups continuing to fight for the rights denied. In that sense, the ideals and freedoms are still embraced in concept by most, I think. I also think that most, if faced with something as blatantly horrendous as Nazi Germany would come together to defeat an external evil.  An internal evil is obviously an entirely different matter. 

Your paper sounds very interesting! Why did you chose the specific year 1944?

I don't understand how your topic could not involve any politics? Considering we were at war? The federal government influenced, censored and controlled film content, like I said above. That is inherently political. 

I agree that these ideals (and they are ideals) are still with us.

And I liked what you said about an internal enemy is different and harder to deal with an the external and obvious enemy. There is a level of honesty, maturity, education, introspection and consensus that is required. I know Germany has dealt and is still working through their history of the Holocaust but the US is not at that point yet and probably never will be. I don't know why

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10 minutes ago, MStacey said:

I'm not in a position to defend Hollywood regarding the goals during WWII, especially since I haven't started watching the assigned films yet. Perhaps others will find this helpful, though. I always try to remember that the folks living through the world wars didn't have the luxury of knowing the outcome. What a terrifying, anxious time it must have been. Regardless of why patriotic movies were made, nobody forced the audience to buy tickets to see Yankee Doodle Dandy and Mrs. Miniver. People needed morale boosting, and who can blame them?

I'm a bit of a WWI buff, and Hollywood actors were very active selling war bonds (Mary Pickford for sure). I know Buster Keaton served at the end of WWI.

My husband is  WWII buff. I don't know why we didn't go see Dunkirk when it was in theaters. But if he's not watching sports he's probably watching anything about WWII on the Military History Channel. Korean War, Vietnam War and the current Middle East war not so much.

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5 minutes ago, BlueMoods said:

You gave me something else to think about, as a child of the deep South. I came of age in the 60s and 70s but my parents grew up in the 20s - 40s. And while my mother loved Pearl Bailey, Della Reese, Ethel Waters, etc., and my dad loved Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, It's unimaginable that they would have invited any of them over for tea or dinner. My husband and I saw the movie "Race" and it was appalling to me that when Jackie Robinson and his wife went to a banquet to honor him after the Olympics, they could not enter through the front door of the hotel but through the back way because they were black. 

As entertainers and athletes they were okay, because, I'm thinking, they were somehow "not real." But their version of reality was that the black race was an inferior race. They treated black people they interacted with courteously and respectfully to a degree (as in I never heard them use the "N" word or get involved in activities of the Klan, if you know what I mean) but in my parents' eyes they were just a step or two above a chimpanzee. So the way they were portrayed in most movies probably reinforced their sense of superiority.

I didn't see get out. I barely see one or two movies in theaters a year, if that. Most of them don't interest me, and of the handful I've seen in the last several years, most of them don't live up to the hype. I'll have to see if my library has a copy of Get Out or maybe rent it and see what you're talking about.

Are your parents still living? If they are, have you thought about asking them about that dissonance? It would be interesting to know what was going through their minds, looking in retrospect.

I think your point about these entertainers not "being real" is key. I guess if somebody is on screen there is an obvious difference. They are performing and are talented so talent is something anyone can like and appreciate. But since entertainers are just that-entertainers-are far away there isn't that touch of intimacy or humanity that there would be being in the same room.

Outside of race, this sense and view some people have  of entertainers as being these far away figures that aren't actually real, live people is baffling. I never understood how some dismiss actors as just entertainers who don't really matter because they aren't real to them.

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8 minutes ago, BlueMoods said:

My husband is  WWII buff. I don't know why we didn't go see Dunkirk when it was in theaters. But if he's not watching sports he's probably watching anything about WWII on the Military History Channel. Korean War, Vietnam War and the current Middle East war not so much.

Great movie

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Just now, BlueMoods said:

My husband is  WWII buff. I don't know why we didn't go see Dunkirk when it was in theaters. But if he's not watching sports he's probably watching anything about WWII on the Military History Channel. Korean War, Vietnam War and the current Middle East war not so much.

I went to a 70mm IMAX showing of Dunkirk, and it was so loud the seats rattled the whole movie! Thank goodness I took ear protectors. The performances in the film are excellent, and I love some of the young up-and-coming actors (Jack Lowden, Tom Glynn-Carney, Aneurin Barnard, Fionn Whitehead) but since Christopher Nolan refused to use a lot of CGI, the beach scenes look very anemic as far as the numbers of men. Same goes for the ships and planes. I'm afraid your WWII buff of a husband might have been grumbling a lot! I'm not interested in war stuff for the battles and strategy, but I am fascinated by ordinary people surviving extraordinary circumstances.

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48 minutes ago, Jim K said:

For the most part, films have portrayed non-white races in ways that are comfortable to white audiences. 

This is the most important part. There is much more discussion and argument about race, diversity and representation now than in years past but this exact point and fact seems to be skirted around alot. Or is seen as unfortable and jarring to (some definitely not all) white movie fans even today.

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6 minutes ago, Brittany Ashley said:

Are your parents still living? If they are, have you thought about asking them about that dissonance? It would be interesting to know what was going through their minds, looking in retrospect.

 

No, they have both been gone for many years. I remember when I was in the 6th grade and we were stationed in Germany, living on an Army post. I had a good friend who was black and when my father found out about it, his reaction was "Be careful who your friends are, it will ruin your reputation." He made it sound like I was friends with the town drunk or something.

We got back to the states in 1969 and what was going on by then changed me forever. I tried a few times to have conversations about their perception of race, but it was so deeply ingrained from previous generations that to them Martin Luther King was just uppity and should have stayed in his place. After a few attempts I gave up for the sake of family harmony, and we never talked about it again.

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5 minutes ago, BlueMoods said:

No, they have both been gone for many years. I remember when I was in the 6th grade and we were stationed in Germany, living on an Army post. I had a good friend who was black and when my father found out about it, his reaction was "Be careful who your friends are, it will ruin your reputation." He made it sound like I was friends with the town drunk or something.

We got back to the states in 1969 and what was going on by then changed me forever. I tried a few times to have conversations about their perception of race, but it was so deeply ingrained from previous generations that to them Martin Luther King was just uppity and should have stayed in his place. After a few attempts I gave up for the sake of family harmony, and we never talked about it again.

Thank you for sharing these insights. 

Its funny (funny strange) that MLK was hated and perceived and called uppity and suspicious and un-American yet he and his legacy is lauded. Granted the history has been sugar coated, simplified and white washed

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I recently transcribed a bit where someone was talking about how society views black women as beautiful if they have some Caucasian features...skin not too dark, hair not so thick and coarse, blue or green eyes, dainty nose, etc. Maybe white audiences have a sort of twisted perception of people of color even today.

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9 minutes ago, Brittany Ashley said:

Thank you for sharing these insights. 

Its funny (funny strange) that MLK was hated and perceived and called uppity and suspicious and un-American yet he and his legacy is lauded. Granted the history has been sugar coated, simplified and white washed

A big part of the change in attitude towards MLK is the fact that my parents' generation is mostly gone and there are more of my generation that see him as a hero or at least a groundbreaking visionary than an uppity black man trying to upset the apple cart status quo.

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8 minutes ago, BlueMoods said:

I recently transcribed a bit where someone was talking about how society views black women as beautiful if they have some Caucasian features...skin not too dark, hair not so thick and coarse, blue or green eyes, dainty nose, etc. Maybe white audiences have a sort of twisted perception of people of color even today.

Unfortunately this is true. There is/was a reason why Lena Horne was "allowed" to be presented as the beautiful and glamorous star she was although, naturally, she faced discrimination and racism and there was a limit to how "far" she could go with that. She was dating Minnelli at the time and it was his idea to put her in the bathtub and just to show off her beauty and sex appeal. This was very problematic for the studio and he was forced to cut it. It was a problem to present a black woman-no matter her skin tone- as desirable to men and beautiful. Equal to similarly beautiful white stars like Joan Crawford and Lana Turner and Jean Harlow who all had scenes in a bathtub (though Jean was in a rain barrel; same difference) just for that reason. It could/would cause jealously among white women and arouse the lust of white men.  

Also, you are correct about that twisted perception even today  

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I feel that the same issues we are having with patriotism and the American flag existed during the World War II era. In those days African Americans still felt that there was hope for equality in the future. At that time though Black people were still relegated to sitting in the balcony in some movie theaters. Great performers like Lena Horne still had to use back entrances. Many black entertainers worked on the Chitlin’ circuit so they could perform. Yet black people were out there waving the flag, selling war bonds, and filling those balconies to watch the newsreels and patriotic movies. Fast forward 70 years or more and we want people to be patriotic, but now we are more aware that some of the dreams haven’t been fulfilled. I enjoy watching the movies of the forties. That hope was there. I wish we could have that feeling of hope again.

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13 hours ago, jawz63 said:

I feel that the same issues we are having with patriotism and the American flag existed during the World War II era. In those days African Americans still felt that there was hope for equality in the future. At that time though Black people were still relegated to sitting in the balcony in some movie theaters. Great performers like Lena Horne still had to use back entrances. Many black entertainers worked on the Chitlin’ circuit so they could perform. Yet black people were out there waving the flag, selling war bonds, and filling those balconies to watch the newsreels and patriotic movies. Fast forward 70 years or more and we want people to be patriotic, but now we are more aware that some of the dreams haven’t been fulfilled. I enjoy watching the movies of the forties. That hope was there. I wish we could have that feeling of hope again.

You're right about that. That hope seemed genuine. I don't see any hope now and just in terms of patriotism and social issues. These are cynical times. Bleak times. There's a lot of dysfunction and darkness. There was definitely dysfunction and darkness in the forties but for all the segregation, inequality and social ills that existed in American society and even movies then, there still was a sense of hope and optimism. Among all races and classes. We have greater social equity and civil rights which is obviously a good thing but culturally we don't have anything that reflects the optimism and hope the movies of the forties did (well at least the earlier war years- the post war film noir stuff is a different story).

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I believe a lot of that particular generation, the 18-35 year olds were as patriotic as they were due to a few factors. First, they were raised at a time when the US was not the great power it is today. Most of these individuals grew up during the Great Depression when America was practically broke. There was only one way to get through it and that was hard work and sacrifice. When FDR was elected ppl began to see the light at the end of the tunnel but the society was still mostly agrarian. The movies helped them escape from their hardships for a few hours but there was a time when one had to leave the movie house. So when the country was more financially sound the ppl looked to the government for the reason for that. They felt immense gratitude so it is easy to understand how ppl would come to trust and believe in their government.

Secondly, young ppl of that era had an education steeped in the history of the nation. Education at that time consisted of learning and reciting from memory some of the great orators and writers of our countrys past who were often the most patriotic and heroic personalities of the time. WWI had only just ended, after the US had joined the cause and only little more than 25 years previous. There was also Teddy Roisevelt, the Battle of San Juan Hill and the Spanish American War to exite young minds. The History books of the time were replete with grand deeds by Americans. Is it any wonder it was so easy to convince the American public to get on board?

Yes, there was still a Jim Crow South, segregation and discrimination but I don't think the average white American at the time, especially on the coasts and the Midwest was truly cognizant of it as we are today. I recall talking about this with my mother who was a teenager at the time and she told me the two things she remembered best were the whites only sections of the movie houses and the separate drinking fountain. She told me she and her friends thought it wasn't right but felt there wasn't much they could do to change it. They could only treat ppl justly on a personal one-on-one basis. My father faced his own discrimination. He was Italian and Middle Eastern and had a dark complexion which only darkened more in the sun. So he was very sensitive to discrimination and was a champion of minorities for the remainder of his life. I share this to make the point that average white Americans weren't as oblivious or in agreement with these policies as some might think.

The last thing I'll say is that you must remember the way Americans felt about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many were leaving church or having their midday meal when they first heard the news of the attack. Most individuals had no idea of the building tension bc of the tariffs FDR imposed, of the years of Japanese buildup of their Navy. So it was seen as a sneak attack. A total betrayal by the Japanese. Remember how you felt when you first heard about the terrorist attacks on 9/11. You were probably like most Americans, scared and very angry. But we have CNN. MSNBC, FOX, social media and the internet now They only had newspapers and radio for information. Imagine how isolated and frightened they felt? And how very very angry they were. I think it is easy to understand the responses that followed, just and unjust. Ppl do funny things when they are both scared and angry.

I cannot speak of whether Hollywood heads were sincere or mercenery or a combination of the two. I'm speaking solely on the reality of the American ppl of the time and the reasons they felt and reacted the ways they did.

 

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11 hours ago, CynthiaV said:

Yes, there was still a Jim Crow South, segregation and discrimination but I don't think the average white American at the time, especially on the coasts and the Midwest was truly cognizant of it as we are today. I recall talking about this with my mother who was a teenager at the time and she told me the two things she remembered best were the whites only sections of the movie houses and the separate drinking fountain. She told me she and her friends thought it wasn't right but felt there wasn't much they could do to change it. They could only treat ppl justly on a personal one-on-one basis. My father faced his own discrimination. He was Italian and Middle Eastern and had a dark complexion which only darkened more in the sun. So he was very sensitive to discrimination and was a champion of minorities for the remainder of his life. I share this to make the point that average white Americans weren't as oblivious or in agreement with these policies as some might think.

This is pretty important. It really is hard to understand and get inside the mind of the average white movie goer in the context of where they lived geographically and who they might have been individually. Its tempting to lump groups of people together retrospectively but the reality is, there is and was nuance of individuals and what they actually thought about those surroundings.  

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On 6/12/2018 at 12:02 PM, CynthiaV said:

Remember how you felt when you first heard about the terrorist attacks on 9/11. You were probably like most Americans, scared and very angry. But we have CNN. MSNBC, FOX, social media and the internet now They only had newspapers and radio for information. Imagine how isolated and frightened they felt? And how very very angry they were. I think it is easy to understand the responses that followed, just and unjust. Ppl do funny things when they are both scared and angry.

 

This is an important point to remember.  News and the distribution of information was quite a different animal then.  We are inundated with information.  Too much information and much of it useless.  The news outlets and journalists in the 1940s had to be much more concise with their reporting.  Facts without all the opinion and spin.  Today, they feel that they have to give all the extra because they need to fill 24 hours.

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On 6/12/2018 at 12:02 PM, CynthiaV said:

Secondly, young ppl of that era had an education steeped in the history of the nation. Education at that time consisted of learning and reciting from memory some of the great orators and writers of our countrys past who were often the most patriotic and heroic personalities of the time. WWI had only just ended, after the US had joined the cause and only little more than 25 years previous. There was also Teddy Roisevelt, the Battle of San Juan Hill and the Spanish American War to exite young minds. The History books of the time were replete with grand deeds by Americans. Is it any wonder it was so easy to convince the American public to get on board?

 

4

CynthiaV, that's another great point.  (In an extremely insightful post.)  History is not taught the same way now.  It wasn't even taught the same way when I was in school 30+ years ago.

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On 6/11/2018 at 7:48 PM, MotherofZeus said:

I wrote a paper in a grad class about Hollywood 1944 because I pulled this topic out of a bag for a research class. I wrote about the variance between Hollywood's goal of inclusion and legitimate inclusion either in the movies or out. I ended up getting a B+, which in a grad class is an F.  My professor didn't take issue with my research or thesis, she said "it wasn't in proper MLA format and it is too political." It was in proper MLA format and it was political. I agree that Hollywood failed, but I don't think this sentiment is absent completely in the U.S. As noted, Vietnam, Watergate, and Civil Rights issues of today still keep the country divided, but I do think the ideals of the country are still embraced by all as is evidenced by underrepresented or minority groups continuing to fight for the rights denied. In that sense, the ideals and freedoms are still embraced in concept by most, I think. I also think that most, if faced with something as blatantly horrendous as Nazi Germany would come together to defeat an external evil.  An internal evil is obviously an entirely different matter. 

I guess we're about to find out.

 

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