hat a retro sort of week it’s been.
Back to 1934 to see on film a little girl who would grow up to be Queen playing around in a garden (quite a big one) and throwing a familiar straight arm salute to the camera.
Back to 1960 and the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird to re-assess a globally loved fictional hero of goodness – Atticus Finch –as Lee Harper’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was published last week, 55 years later.
Moving images, and eloquence, have both had the power – at the first encounter – to shock.
It is disorientating to have a cherished belief challenged.
It can feel like betrayal (as the grown up Scout, Jean Louise discovers) when a hero acts like a human. But that rosy glow is much more about our own needs than…reality.
1934 was the height of the Depression, the BBC wouldn’t exist until the following year, everyone went to the cinema at least once a week (so who wouldn’t have seen a goosestep?) Hitler became Fuhrer, and Bonnie & Clyde were caught and killed. What a complicated context.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, it was Scout’s friend Dill who was physically sick at witnessing the trial proceedings (it’s possible Dill was based on Truman Capote), Atticus only ever positioned himself as upholding the process of law – calling it a hopeless case – and defended Mrs Dubose, a character who was brutally clear about white superiority.
What a complicated context.
So our shock and disorientation must be about a need to believe in a simplified version of life and of people’s goodness.
I’ve just witnessed a similar wave of responses where a trusted founder of a small company has emerged as less ‘pure’ than previously thought. It does seem as if clinging to a rosy story doesn’t help anyone at all. Especially when that story is essentially rooted in a past that is only dimly perceived. Looking to what might make things better, which doesn’t need a hero myth, seems in my experience to be the more helpful place to be.
Alasdair Grey would often quote
‘ Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation’.
Exactly. So, onward…