Thursday, June 28, 2007

Times Change

Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that memory can be unreliable. I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to get a sense of recent history.

Where we live gets closer to Calgary every day. When we drive to the city and go to Country Hills Boulevard we shake our heads, knowing we’ve been married longer than those stores have existed. Whole communities, hundreds and hundreds of homes, have sprouted up over time, and still the building continues, creeping north. They’re working on a big mall now, apparently one that will outdo West Edmonton Mall. It’s outside the city boundaries, but it just may mean that in the next few years, we can reach a chain bookstore in 20 minutes.

Am I the only person who finds it hard, geographically, when dealing with recent history in writing? Something I’ve been working on has had me scratching my head, wondering, “When did that theatre shut down?” and “What was the name of that restaurant before the new owners bought it?”

In the midst of pondering all of this a friend sent the following. Personally speaking, there are a few that really ring true, so I thought I’d share. I actually remember kids getting the strap at school… Wonder what year that was banned?

SCHOOL 1977 vs 2007

Scenario 1: Jack goes quail hunting before school, pulls into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.
1977 - Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.
2007 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario 2: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.
1977 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
2007 - Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario 3: Jeffrey won't be still in class, disrupts other students.
1977 - Jeffrey sent to office and given a good paddling by the Principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2007 - Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario 4: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car and his Dad gives him a spanking.
1977 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2007 - Billy's Dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their Dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has affair with psychologist.

Scenario 5: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.
1977 - Mark shares aspirin with Principal out on the smoking dock.
2007 - Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario 6: Pedro fails high school English.
1977 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.
2007 - Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario 7: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed.
1977 - Ants die.
2007 - BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario 8: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.
1977 - In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
2007 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.


JamesO said...

That's so close to true it's frightening - at least if you go by what's in the papers or on the news these days. I've not been in a school in a while, so I don't know how bad it really is.

I'm not quite sure when we started to lose all common sense, but I think it was around the time we started believing that everything that happened to us was someone else's fault.

Sandra Ruttan said...

And I'm sure it's worse in some countries.

I've been meaning to ask, James, if you find it challenging writing about Edinburgh when you don't live there? I know when I go back to a place after a bit of time I'll look and think That's different somehow but then I have to think of how it's different. Do you ever wish you could just go check out a street/area and make sure you've got it current?

Kevin Wignall said...

Sandra and James, I think we're all old enough to remember when political correctness first started sweeping US universities in the early 90s. At the time, op-ed pieces were saying this would change the way we all lived. It just seemed too outlandish to be true, but reading these makes you realize how far we've descended.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Scary isn't it Kevin? Of course, there were certain global events that contributed to how extreme it's become.

Man, I remember being in Berlin, watching the wall come down in '89, thinking we were on the threshold of a whole new world. One big step toward peace, but things never really changed. The dividing lines just shifted.

JamesO said...

FYI, Sandra, I have an Edinburgh street map and my memories. I try not to use named places unless I'm certain they're still there. Instead I create places that are amalgams, or half copies. Some of the pubs are real - they'll never change, and things like the Assembly Rooms and St Giles Cathedral, the castle and Holyrood.

But I honestly don't worry too much about it. If someone comes up and says to me 'that's not right, they closed that place down ages ago,' I'll just politely point out to them that in the real world there aren't African demons possessing people and causing them to do all sorts of nasty things.

On the other topic, I think it's deeper than political correctness gone mad. We've gone from a litigious society to one where we can no longer accept the concept of 'accident'. There is no longer 'act of god' - someone has to take the blame. So likely targets - teachers for instance - have to be wrapped in protective layers of legislation, and anyone in any position of authority has to make certain they have taken every possible precaution to defend themselves from the inevitable blame throwing when something does go tragically wrong.

The problem is that if you are constantly trying to second-guess the accident around the corner, you probably don't notice the one that's right in front of you.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, that's true James. It has gone pretty far.

Probably a fair strategy re: the city. But when the book comes out make sure you put a disclaimer in about fictionalizing part of it. Some people do get bent out of shape.

Christa M. Miller said...

The striking thing to me is that all of those examples are male....

As for playing the blame game, I think our society mirrors the dysfunction of a family affected by substance abuse. There's denial, codependency, blame... what are we addicted to, then? Entertainment? Shopping?

norby said...

In 1983-84 I was 7th grade (I'll save you the math, I'm two months younger than Sandra) and my history/geography teacher had a paddle he called "Hector the Corrector". I hated the prick for other reasons, but I have a feeling that ol' Hector retired long before Mr. MacElroy did.

The same year, my English teacher would give you "love taps" on the head with her pen if you displeased her. Fortunately for me and the other girls it was usually the boys who were on the receiving end of her love.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Christa, I wonder if we are addicted to entertainment? Maybe. And interesting about the examples all being male. Maybe women are as sweet and innocent as ever?

Norby, I had a grade 8 teacher who used to fling snot at the globe. It was a form of abuse if you were in the vicinity...

John McF said...

Okay, 1977 was actually my last year of high school (I didn't graduate, but I didn't go back). I don't have many fond memories of the good old days.

That whole shaking hands after a fist fight thing? Sorry. Getting a couple more guys and finishing it right, more like it. One spanking and he never did it again? Come on, really?

Sometimes I think political correctness started when people tried to make the whole society into polite suburbs like we saw on TV, that being so far from what we actually lived.

I think you could just as easily do this kind of list in reverse, the 1977 horror story and the 2007 improvement on it.

But I'm probably just showing my age...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Actually John, I think you're right to a degree. Of course, from the girl equation, for me anyway one time getting the strap was enough.

It's #3 and #6 that really resonate with me. Well, and #8.

kris said...

The liberals in Australia can't understand why the conservative government has been in power since 1996. The reason is that political correctness got WAY out of control in the early '90s. People just don't want to return to that.

Poltical correctness is a nice idea that just doen't work in practice. It forces people to walk on eggshells and drains the humanity (and fun) out of life.

Eileen said...

But while you make the 1970's sound good you've forgotten the fashion horror. I had a bowl cut, a Mr. McGoo t-shirt and plaid bell bottoms. THat alone was damaging.