My column in the Daily Beast: “Not Much Passes the 100-Year Test. Will Trump?”

In my time running SundayMagazine.org, it’s become increasingly apparent to me and my readers just how few of the most prominent people, places, and things from 100 years ago are still well remembered tgoday.

What does this insight reveal about who and what from this era might still be well remembered 100 years from now?

My prediction: despite how big the biggest people, places, and things seem to us at the moment, almost nothing and nobody lasts 100 years in the public’s consciousness.

Will Trump? Will Obama? Will 9/11? Will today’s technology? What about the biggest movies or songs?

I tackle these questions in my new opinion column for the Daily Beast: “Not Much Passes the 100-Year Test. Will Trump?”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/not-much-passes-the-100-year-test-will-trump

 

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Written by Jesse

June 4th, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

The League and the Washington Conference

As the first multinational arms control conference in history approached in fall 1921, this preview article asked:

Will the spirit that defeated the work of Mr. Wilson [the U.S. Senate’s failure to ratify the country’s entry into the nascent League of Nations] also defeat the plans of Mr. Harding? After the disillusionment and reaction that followed the armistice [which ended World War I], can public opinion once more be raised to a level of clarity and strength that will make partisan issues and personal interests subservient to the welfare of the whole human race?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, was yes. Or rather, it was yes… for a time.

The Washington Naval Conference would be attended by representatives of nine nations — Belgium, Britain, China, France, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Portugal, and the U.S. — and result in three major arms control treaties.

However, the treaties were not renewed and ultimately expired in 1936. World War II started in 1939, with U.S. involvement beginning in late 1941. It’s unlikely that the treaties would have prevented World War II even if they’d remained in effect, though, since Germany was not a party to the agreements.

 

The League and the Washington Conference (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 18, 1921

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Written by Jesse

September 17th, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Bored Americans Abroad

After World War I had ravaged the continent for several years, the summer of 1921 finally brought American tourists back to Europe.

While the war had ended in November 1919, summer 1920 tourism had still not quite recovered to the pre-war level, as this September 1921 New York Times Magazine article described.

Various reasons besides the high cost of transportation have kept him [a typical American tourist] mostly on his own side of the ocean since the end of the war. He was weary of Europe; there was a blight on its romance and a blur of its picturesqueness. He had discovered the unparalleled holiday charms of his own continent. He did not hanker for the dangers and discomforts that might beset him on the worn and shaken highways of unsettled lands.

But now he is back.

And how exactly did the post-war travel experience compare to pre-war?

The war has not really changed the quality or variety of Europe’s attractions for the tourist… but we seem just now rather difficult because Europeans have suffered hardships on so universal and overwhelming a scale that the little discomforts that annoy us are the happy accompaniments of normal times to them. When one gets out of the American track one sees at once how much less exigent are other travelers.

Without this resumption of American travel to Europe, the plots of The Da Vinci Code or Spider-Man: Far From Home could have never taken place.

 

Bored Americans Abroad (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 11, 1921

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Written by Jesse

September 9th, 2021 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Travel

Next in Power to Harding

Ironically, this 1921 New York Times Magazine profile called Charles G. Dawes “the most powerful man, excepting the president, in Washington today” four years before he actually became vice president.

At the time, Dawes was the first director of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Budget, now known as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). No, he wasn’t the Treasury Secretary, a position which itself would raise some eyebrows if called the second-most powerful position in D.C. He was the head of a bureau within the Treasury Department.

Of course, it wasn’t Dawes’ position which merited him that superlative, but the man himself.

In part, the power Mr. Dawes has achieved is due to his own robust courage and vigor. He came reluctantly from a bank presidency to what he term “an ossified haymor,” and he came on the express stipulation that what he said had to go. President Harding agreed to that condition, and has stood by the agreement with a mild persistence which even his admirers had not suspected before he took the Executive chair.

(A haymow is the part of a barn where hay is stored. Presumably that word was much more commonly known back in the comparatively agricultural days of 1921.)

Dawes, this article claims, helped balance the federal budget.

As a result, the United States is now living within its income, and is spending actually less than Congress has authorized. Within three weeks after taking office Mr. Dawes was able to announce a saving of more than a hundred millions of dollars out of the appropriations… It is not necessary to set down here a detailed catalog of his economies, but some of the things he has done may be chronicled as indicating the remarkable power he wields. They indicate power, because Washington said at the outset they couldn’t be done.

It’s unclear how much this was actually Dawes’ doing. According to historical statistics from the OMB, the federal government ran a deficit in 1917, 1918, and 1919 during World War I, but then it ran a suplus in 1920 — the year before Dawes took office.

Dawes would go on to become the ostensible second-most powerful person in Washington in 1925, when he served as vice president for Calvin Coolidge. During the next four years, Dawes and Coolidge became increasingly distant, even publicly taking opposing stances on a farm bill. Coolidge didn’t run for president in 1928 and neither did Dawes, though he did serve for that year’s eventual winner Herbert Hoover as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.

 

 

Next in Power to Harding (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 4, 1921

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Written by Jesse

September 2nd, 2021 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Politics

Is the New Woman a Traitor to the Race?

In 1921, women were becoming more educated, getting married at later ages (or not at all), and having fewer children. Some considered this a crisis, though all three of those trends would become far more pronounced by 2021.

Getting together a variety of statistics which deal with the biological results of the higher education of woman, her growing economic independence and the wide range of activities from which she can now select her career, Professor Holmes [University of California zoology professor Samuel J. Holmes] scans all these closely and finds as the result that about 50 per cent. [sic] of college women remain unmarried, that the date of marriage among educated women and among those who are economically independent tends to grow later and later and their families smaller and smaller.

Holmes concluded, “There can be no doubt that the race is losing a vast wealth of material for motherhood of the best and most efficient type.”

If Holmes was merely concerned back then, he would have been horrified now. Let’s take each of those three trends in turns:

  • About 50 percent of college women remain unmarried. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people who are married has perpetually declined for the past six decades, to record low levels around now. The biggest drops haven’t been among the educated, though, but among the less-educated.
  • The date of marriage among educated women and among those who are economically independent tends to grow later and later…   According to the Census Bureau, the average age of first marriage has gone up significantly. In 1920, it was about 24.6 for men and 21.2 for women. By 2020, it had risen to 30.5 for men and 28.1 for women — both record highs.
  • …and their families smaller and smaller. The average number of people per household has been declining for literally 160 years. In 1920, it was 4.34. In 2020, it was 2.53.

 

 

Is the New Woman a Traitor to the Race? (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 28, 1921

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Written by Jesse

August 26th, 2021 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Debate,Life

Coming Era of Vegetable Supremacy (article on human population trends)

In 1921, a University of Wisconsin professor predicted that circa 2021, people would look back a century in time to that era’s immigration as the cause of America’s decline.

E. A. Ross, professor of sociology in the University of Wisconsin, with his study of the immigration problem in which he says:

“Not until the twenty-first century will the philosophic historian be able to declare with scientific certitude that the cause of the mysterious decline that came upon the American people early in the twentieth century was the deterioration of popular intelligence by the admission of great numbers of backward immigrants.”

Oh, and don’t forget about women.

Others have drawn alarming conclusions on the rise of the feminist movement, believing that its withdrawal from matrimony of thousands of the most intelligent women will greatly hasten the breeding out of the desirable types of citizens, while the undesirable continue to multiply and replenish the earth at top speed.

Actually, within a few decades, it’s projected that basically no type of citizens will “continue to multiply and replenish the earth at top speed.” The same New York Times which once published the above quotes is now publishing articles about how both the U.S. population and world populations have declined to their slowest growth rates ever, and will soon begin to decrease outright.

The great decline of the U.S. also didn’t quite happen. The U.S. is still the most powerful nation in the world militarily, culturally, and economically. (Although China’s economy is currently projected to overtake the U.S. in approximately 2028.)

Nonetheless, that satirical 1921 article projected a future world in which vegetables overtake humans as the primary source of earthly intelligence. That hasn’t happened yet, although it may happen on October 22 when this movie comes out:

 

 

Coming Era of Vegetable Supremacy (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 21, 1921

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Written by Jesse

August 23rd, 2021 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Future

Book Reviews — Signed or Unsigned?

A relatively recent trend was emerging around 1921: reviewers appending their names to their reviews.

It is only in this twentieth century that the newspapers of New York have chosen to declare the authorship of their reviews of books, of plays, of pictures and of music…. [But] even now, a certain proportion of the book reviewing, even in the best of our newspapers, is anonymous; and it is very properly so, the works of salient importance being dealt with by experts whose names are given, while the less significant volumes are briefly considered by a competent office staff.

In modern times, the largest outlets for book reviews don’t publish anonymously. Neither the New York TimesWall Street JournalWashington Post, nor New York Review of Books does so, at least not that I can find.

However, anonymous or pseudonymous reviews abound on websites like Amazon and Goodreads.

 

Book Reviews — Signed or Unsigned? (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 14, 1921

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Written by Jesse

August 15th, 2021 at 10:01 am

The New High Art of “Ad. Writing”

In 1921, the writing in advertisements was getting better than ever.

It looks as though the “renaissance of American literature” would come through the advertising columns of our great newspapers and the pages of our magazines. Today some of the best-written matter that is printed in America introduces a new shoe, a new automobile tire, a sale of clothing, a new alarm clock, a rubber heel, or life insurance. The strongest and most powerful pens compete to focus your attention on the advantages of investing your cash in a certain company or to rouse your imagination to the sticking and buying point in the matter of food and socks and sealing wax.

These days, not so much. Advertising has become immeasurably more visual in the past century, on everything from broadcast television to highway billboards. It’s also become immeasurably more “quick hit,” so you rarely if ever see advertisements with this much copy anymore:

Vintage Beauty and Hygiene Ads of the 1920s (Page 8) | Vintage advertisements, Old advertisements, 1920s ads

 

The New High Art of “Ad. Writing” (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 7, 1921

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Written by Jesse

August 7th, 2021 at 11:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Playing the King

In 1921, as monarchies in several other nations had recently fallen, a New York Times Sunday Magazine article noted the curiosity that the monarchy in England remained. And it still does.

Of the surprises that have followed the war, one of the strangest is the fact that, with the three great Emperors of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia driven from their ancient and solid thrones, there should remain the King of England, still firmly established in his sovereignty.

The final Russian emperor, Nicholas II, abdicated in 1917. The final German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, abdicated in 1918. The final emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, Charles I, was dethroned in 1919.

The Throne has ceased to be international. With the collapse of royalty in Germany and Russia it is, indeed, isolated. It depends wholly upon the British Commonwealth of nations. And yet it continues.

It continues, indeed. Although the last time that the English monarch actually refused to give “royal assent” to an act of Parliament was Queen Anne back in 1708.

 

Playing the King (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 31, 1921

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Written by Jesse

July 29th, 2021 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Overseas

Wall Street’s Heel on the Prodigal Movies

A 1921 article predicted that the era of large movie budgets was over. Let’s just say that didn’t turn out to be the case.

The final hour of profligate spending draws near — of million-dollar salaries and two-hundred-thousand-dollar sets. For the motion-picture-producing companies are putting their houses in order for the inspection of the bankers. These companies have incorporated and have issued stock, and now they are trying to interest the bankers in underwriting that stock. The banker is a conservative. Profligate spending does not look good to him on the payroll.

Thus enters the giant baby industry on the second lap of its journey — a journey suddenly grown staidly practical. The romance of the industry passed with 1920.

About that. Even adjusting for inflation, the list of most expensive movies of all time are all — not just “mostly,” but all — from the 21st century. (#1, if you’re wondering, is 2011’s Disney sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.)

And rather than production costs being curbed by stock, as was apparently occuring in 1921, if anything it’s the opposite today: production costs are soaring precisely because of stock. Entertainment companies’ fortunes are increasingly tied to their nascent streaming platforms of the past few years. Production costs have soared for original programming on those services, to entice new customers and subscribers, which in turn helps the parent company’s share price.

Forbes box office analyst Scott Mendelson put it best in a recent column: “A Wall Street mindset…values $1 in profits earned from streaming more than $5 in profits earned from [theatrical] exhibition.”

 

 

Wall Street’s Heel on the Prodigal Movies (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 24, 1921

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Written by Jesse

July 25th, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Business,Movies

An Officially Independent Afghanistan

100 years ago, in 1921, Afghanistan gained its independence from Great Britain.

A New York Times Magazine article that year portrayed the newly-independent nation as something akin to Atlantis, a land of mystery, as so few Americans had ever set foot there.

Not more than one American in ten years has ever gone up the Khyber Pass and off the map into Afghanistan. Twenty years ago, an American dentist went up to Kabul to attend to the teeth of the great Amir Abdur Rahman Khan; in May, 1911, an American electrical engineer went up to build a power house for the late Amir Habibullah Khan at Jabal us Siraj, some forty miles from Kabul.

After almost two full decades, under President Joe Biden’s orders, the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to end by August 31 — a move that former President George W. Bush calls “a mistake.”

 

An Officially Independent Afghanistan (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 17, 1921

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Written by Jesse

July 15th, 2021 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Overseas

Gandhi and British India

By 1921, a New York Times Magazine profile article about Gandhi already described him as a living legend: “In point of personal following, he is far and away the greatest man living in the world today.”

Though he’s now primarily pictured bald, as in his later years, at the time the 52-year-old had a full head of hair.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi [is] a dark little wisp of a man, who looks as if he could be picked up in one’s arms and carried off like a child. In point of personal following, he is far and away the greatest man living in the world today.

His mission: Indian independence.

With the passage of the Rowlatt act, he had laid aside his European dress forever. He had become a mahatma, a saint who has transcended the flesh and the world. For him, India had found its soul in the fiery furnace of the Punjab ordeal. By “soul-force,” India would purge itself of every vestige of the British and their “satanic” civilization, and would return to the ancient Vedic wisdom and the peace which antedated the British conquest. And if a purged and purified India should fail in the eyes of the North to progress, that would be its virtue, its proof that it is still sound and healthy at the core.

That mission culminated in success 26 years later, in 1947. The next year, Gandhi was assassinated by a man who considered Gandhi too accomodating to Muslims in the wake of India’s independence.

 

Gandhi and British India (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 10, 1921

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Written by Jesse

July 9th, 2021 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Overseas

College Sports and Motherhood

In 1921, some people argued, letting young women play college sports would make them worse mothers down the line:

The Victorian girl was a better mother than our modern feminine athletes. Every girl, it seems, has a large store of vital and nervous energy, upon which to draw in the great crisis of motherhood. If the foolish virgin uses up this deposit account in daily expenditures on the hockey field or tennis court, as a boy can afford to do, then she is left bankrupt in her great crisis and her children have to pay the bill.

Is there something in this idea, or is it merely a manifestation of the recurrent nostalgia for the Good Old Days (whether of edible mammoths, knightly jousts or genteel females), which no generation can escape?

A century later, Serena Williams, Lisa LeslieMia Hamm, Brandi ChastainChris Evert, Mary Lou Retton, and Bonnie Blair will tell you: it was the latter.

 

College Sports and Motherhood (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 3, 1921

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Written by Jesse

July 2nd, 2021 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Life,Sports

Thirty Years of International Copyright

The Chace Act of 1891 gave copyright to non-U.S. works in return for international copyright protections for American authors. On the law’s 30th anniversray, Brander Matthews wrote that he considered the law a smashing success.

It remains the least adequate [such law] now in force of any of the civilized nations; but, improvable as it may be, it marked a long stride in advance and it did what it was meant to do; it put an end to the despoiling of the foreign writer in the United States and of the American writer in foreign countries. In fact, it has accomplished its purpose so completely that the present generation of readers has no knowledge of the conditions which it terminated.

The law, nicknamed after Sen. Jonathan Chace (R-RI) and which had been lobbied by the likes of Mark Twain and Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, originally granted copyright to Great Britain and its colonies, plus France, Belgium and Switzerland. More than 10 other countries were added by 1921, including Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, the German Empire, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Spain.

Today the U.S. has reciprocal copyright agreements in place with most, though not all, other countries. Here’s a complete list from the U.S. Copyright Office: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ38a.pdf

Prior to 1891, though, the situation was quite different, as Matthews explained.

Before July 1, 1891, a book published in London or Paris could be reprinted by anybody or by any number of bodies in New York without the permission of the British or French author and without any payment to him. The novels of Scott and Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot, Hugo and Dumas, the essays of Macaulay and Taine, the scientific writings of Spencer and Huxley and Tyndall, the poems of Tennyson and Browning, passed out of the control of their authors as soon as they were put on sale in Europe.

It gets worse.

And the novels and lyrics of American writers were almost — although not quite — as unprotected in England. Hundreds of thousands of copies of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” were sold in Great Britain, for which Mrs. Stowe did not receive a penny. Thousands of copies of Longfellow’s poems were issued by English publishers; and I heard Lowell say once that all the reward Longfellow had reaped from them was the gift of a game pie, sent to him across the Atlantic by a kind-hearted and appreciative London published.

The effects of the law were immediate. According to The Development of the International Book Trade, 1870-1895:
Tangled Networks by Alison Rukavina, “Before 1891, 70 percent of the books published in the United States were of foreign origin; after 1891, the figure was reversed, and 70 percent were by native authors.”

 

Thirty Years of International Copyright (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 26, 1921

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Written by Jesse

June 27th, 2021 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Books,History,Politics

Psychiatric First Aid for Fiction Writers

Walter B. Pitkin, a professor of feature and short-story writing at Columbia University School of Journalism in 1921, had an unusual piece of advice for how to write better love and romance stories: don’t fall in love yourself.

One young man, for instance, began by writing love stories as class exercises, and did them with such skill and lyric feeling that Professor Pitkin soon told him: “Young man, go your way in peace; I have nothing to teach you; you are a successful writer.”

A year later this same student returned with a bunch of rejected manuscripts — all love stories. To all, he said, he had given the best he had in him. He was in despair. He had sold his first three stories readily, and then came a string of failures.

“What on earth is the matter with me?” he asked his former instructor.

Professor Pitkin soon discovered that, within the year, the young man had married! He was living love stories and so could not write them.

“Psychology,” said Professor Pitkin, “explains that a certain type of person can express himself deeply only about those things he yearns for, not about what he understands or possesses.”

The professor then turned to the young man and asked: “Now what would you like most to do?”

“Oh, sail the South Seas and live the life of a freebooting pirate!” was the prompt answer.

“Then write adventure stories!” advised Professor Pitkin. The young man took the advice. Soon he began to receive checks again instead of rejection slips.

The bestselling romance novelist of our time, Danielle Steel, seems to have taken this “don’t stay in love too long” advice to heart: she’s been married and divorced five times. It gets crazier: her first marriage was at only 18, while another marriage was to a man who she met while he was in prison for robbery.

 

Psychiatric First Aid for Fiction Writers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 19, 1921

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Written by Jesse

June 17th, 2021 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Life,Literature

The Germans of Tomorrow

A 1921 article by Charles J. Rosebault predicted German youth would depart from their “obedience and reverence” of the past and could very well pave the pathway to world peace. Hate to break it to you…

The German youth, trained and drilled in obedience and reverence, has finally revolted against the mismanagement of the seignors. As might be expected, where all the traditions of the past have been suddenly thrown into the melting pot, there is consternation all around. The elders are upset and the youth are uncertain. The former are trying to pacify and the latter are disposed to experiment. As it is, the youth of today upon whom will fall the burdens of the morrow this condition ceases to be of merely local interest. It is the German youth who must meet the reparations, they who will determine the relations between vanquished and victor and hence the peace of the world.

At the time of this article, Hitler was 32. Did Rosebault consider that an example of German “youth”? Perhaps he did, considering that the actual German president at the time — Friedrich Ebert — was 50. Indeed, Hitler wouldn’t lead Germany for another dozen years after this.

Rosebault ended on a cautiously optimistic note:

In the turning of the young Germans from the works of their elders they may have discarded also the psychology which upset the world. Let us hope so.

Chilling words.

 

The Germans of Tomorrow (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 12, 1921

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Written by Jesse

June 10th, 2021 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Future,Overseas

The Prohibition of Laughter

Despite the Roaring Twenties nickname, journalist James C. Young diagnosed a phenomenon sweeping the country in 1921, in his article “The Prohibition of Laughter”: people intentionally seeking out sad forms of entertainment.

Returning players gather in little knots on the Rialto and repeat the same theme — people decline to laugh any more. Victor Herbert was one of the first men to isolate the germ of the new ailment, and even he could not prescribe a remedy. Apparently, people no longer visit the theatre to be amused, but, like the famous Louis of France, they want to be miserable together.

In the old times the typical Broadway theatre crowd came from home or restaurant dinner in a mellow mood, glad to escape the day’s trials and ready to join in the fun on the stage. But nowadays they are grim and glum. Their troubles come with them and they sit in critical state on the comedians’ efforts.

Perhaps it was precisely because times were good in 1921? World War I was finally over, as was the 1918-19 flu pandemic — which, by the way, was far worse than the current COVID-19 pandemic. Time and again throughout history, popular culture demonstrates that people seek out more upbeat entertainment to escape their troubles when times are bad, and are psychologically better able to withstand “sad” entertainment when times are good, whether for movies or television or music.

Look at the highest grossing movies of certain years. During the great economies of the late ’90s and mid-to-late 2010s, Titanic was the top movie of 1997, Saving Private Ryan in 1998, American Sniper in 2014, Rogue One in 2016, and Infinity War in 2018. You don’t really see that same phenomenon of tragic movies dominating during “down” years economically, which might explain why the escapist Avatar dominated the box office in 2009, the worst year of the Great Recession.

Same thing for music. Researchers have found that a better economy correlates with chart-topping songs featuring slower tempos and more minor keys. But in 2020, one of the worst years in recent memory, Billboard‘s #1 song of the year was Blinding Lights by The Weeknd, among the fastest tempo chart-toppers of all time at 171 beats per minute.

That correlation holds true for the masses, at least. Among the (supposed) cultural elites, it’s a different story.

In recent years, professional critics and awards voters have seemingly grown to love the depressing and morose more than ever. That was perhaps never better exemplified than this past year, 2020, a year when we certainly could have used lighter films. Best Picture used to be awarded to comedies, from Annie Hall to The Artist. No longer, it appears. Bill Maher lambasted this year’s despairing Best Picture nominees in an April segment on his show Real Time.

This is one reason why Godzilla vs. Kong stomped at the box office last weekend and finally got people back to theaters: because it’s Godzilla vs. Kong, not Godzilla vs. Kong and his Crippling Battle with Depression.

It’s such an odd psychological quirk. I keep asking myself: why so many liberals have this seeming desire to want to be sad? Could it be because being sad allows you to feel like you’re doing something about a problem, without actually having to do anything?

 

The Prohibition of Laughter (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 5, 1921

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Written by Jesse

June 6th, 2021 at 10:01 am

Posted in Life

Democracy by Lot — A College Experiment

In 1921, Knox College in Illinois attempted a new way to break students out of their social comfort zones: randomly selecting the seating arrangements at the dining hall.

Here, in a dining hall seating 200 men, they come together three times a day, as a part of a deliberate plan for developing democratic spirit and avoiding the formation of cliques. Each man draws lots each week to determine at which of the twenty ten-men tables he shall eat with nine other chance comrades. In this way there is a general shaking up every seven days, and a different group of undergraduates is assembled at each table.

So, did it work?

“The system has had a good trial year and has met with complete success,” President McConaughy said in a recent interivew. [Note for modern readers: that’s indeed spelled McConaughy, not McConaughey as in the actor Matthew.] “It is supplying that intangible something without which no student’s education is complete, but which must be got outside the classroom. It brings all the men of the college together on terms of equality and fosters friendships which cannot be gained through any group association.”

If it truly “met with complete success,” one might think Knox would still do it today. But in my searching, I found zero references to a modern continuation. Still, it sounds like something that more people should try. Although one could argue that we have a global equivalent now, in the form of Chatroulette.

 

Democracy by Lot — A College Experiment (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 29, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 26th, 2021 at 8:51 am

Posted in Education

Mortal Actors and Immortal Film Faces

In theater, if a cast member dies, every actor or actress has an understudy who can substitute in the next night. In the early years of the movie business, though, a new concern emerged: what if a cast member dies in the middle of filming?
That exact situation happened for the 1922 movie Foolish Wives, when star Rudolph Christians died mid-production. Filming had already cost roughly $750,000 (about $11.9 million in 2021 dollars).

And so the country-wide search began for an actor who looked like Christians and who also could act like him — like that shadow of a man which had imprinted a personality indelibly upon a cool $750,000 worth of film. The agencies of New York and Los Angeles went to work. Pictures of the deceased actor were sent far and near. Established actors came scurrying to find a resemblance, since the prevailing inactivity of the regular producing companies made the opportunity of treble importance.

Many of them did look like Christians. But those that looked like him did not act like him, and those that acted like him did not look like him. And the camera is the one eye that strips off disguises. Yet they found a duplicate at last — in Robert Edeson. Not only do his features resemble Christians’s, more or less, feature for feature, but he was able to copy the dead actor’s mannerisms. With trick lighting to mask the camera’s eye, even close-ups have proven successful. The three-quarters of a million dollars is saved that for months hung in the balance.

Apparently, Edeson didn’t look similar enough, since in the final cut he ended up playing all of his scenes with his back to the camera.

With modern-day CGI, they wouldn’t have needed to cast a lookalike. In the past few years, photo-realistic facial reconstruction visual effects have been essentially perfected, even recreating deceased actor Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

 

Mortal Actors and Immortal Film Faces (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 22, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 21st, 2021 at 9:13 am

Posted in Movies

The Future of the Novel

A 1921 article predicted novels would move towards action and adventure.

That happened… eventually. While the biggest novels of recent decades have been action-heavy, perhaps the least action-heavy classic ever — Ulysses by James Joyce — was published only the next year.

This is the age of the airplane, the wireless telegraph, of radium, of “relativity.” Very well! It is also the age of the novel. Perhaps the future will create a new literary genre such as no one can at present foresee, but for the moment the novel is the summary of modern life; and when people ask what the literature of the coming years is going to be, the question they really ask is: What kind of a novel is the public going to read?

Indeed, an explosion in novel formats has occurred in recent years and decades, from e-books to audiobooks to fan fiction to books written with serialized chapters online.

Which of these two types will the novel of the future… approach? Will we have more and more realism, as the tendency seemed to be in 1914? Or will we turn back to the old novel of adventure, of action?

The novel of adventure is becoming fashionable again in Europe. Not only are publishers accepting new books of this kind, but they are reprinting many stories that were written a generation ago, but had no success at that time — the heyday of the naturalists.

Particularly interesting, for instance, is the new vogue of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Continentals who had read “Treasure Island” in the years following the publication of that masterpiece of adventure could be counted almost on the fingers of the hand. Now Stevenson is all the rage.

In the last 30 years, the biggest authors have included J.K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, Suzanne Collins, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, Veronica Roth, and Michael Crichton. There’s still a place for realism in fiction, but increasingly that place doesn’t seem to be on the bestseller list.

 

The Future of the Novel (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 15, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 14th, 2021 at 11:31 am

Posted in Future,Literature

Enjoying the Presidency

A few months into office in 1921, Warren Harding had returned fun to the White House, resurrecting the Easter Egg Roll, the presidential tradition of throwing the baseball season’s opening pitch, and corresponding with letter writers on apolitical topics.

The Easter Egg Roll had been cancelled in 1918 due to wartime egg shortages, but President Woodrow Wilson hadn’t bring it back in 1919 or 1920 either.

It was characteristic, also, that [Harding] should order restored the ancient custom of staging an egg-rolling contest on the White House grounds on the Monday following Easter Sunday. He frankly enjoyed watching the children at play and observed the pleasure of the crowds obtained in the opportunity of viewing the White House at close range.

After William Howard Taft began the opening day ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910, it continued every year through 1916, but Wilson again suspended the tradition from 1917-20.

And [Harding] enjoys a baseball game — in fact, he may be called a fan. He agreed to open the American League season at Washington by tossing the first ball out upon the diamond, not solely because it was a thing which he was expected to do, but because he wanted to have a good time at the game. He even kept a box score, following each play and joining in the applause. He didn’t just hurry to the ball park, look on for a few minutes, and then hurry away. He stayed to the bitter end.

Harding also corresponded with letters writers who wrote him on less-than-serious matters. 12-year-old John D. Wackerman wanted Harding to attend a ball that would raise money for a local swimming pool. Harding deemed this worthy of presidential attention.

My dear John:

I received your letter this morning, saying that the boys were very much disappointed because they had heard I could not attend the ball in the interest of your swimming pool fund. I am exceedingly glad you wrote to me about this, John, because I do not want the boys to think I am not interested in their getting a swimming pool. I have used swimming pools myself, in my time, and there are one or two swimming pools in the creek out near Caledonia, Ohio, that I would like to get into again right now, if it were possible.

You tell the boys that I hope the ball will raise all the money that is needed to provide the pool, and that if some of you will come around to the White House with some tickets, I will buy some, whether I can attend or not.

Yours for the Swimming Pool,

Warren G. Harding

Sure enough, Wackerman visited the White House and Harding gave him a $50 bill — plus Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon chipped in an extra $20.

Others among the more “fun” national leaders have continued the tradition of responding to children’s letters on barely-political subjects, from Ronald Reagan’s note to a seventh grader who requested FEMA assistance after his mom declared his bedroom a disaster area, to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s letter to an 11-year-old girl who requested funds for dragon research.

 

 

Enjoying the Presidency (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 8, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 9th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life,Politics