Thoughts in a blue can

Over Christmas in front of the fire after I decided that I like Planters Cocktail Peanuts more than Planters Redskin Peanuts I also decided that Planters Cocktail Peanuts aren’t as good as they once were.  At first I thought maybe it was just Christmas nostalgia as I was eating the peanuts and fondly remembering Christmases past and the cuts I received when the metal band slipped off the key while opening the blue can (being forced to finish the opening process by pulling the razor sharp metal band off the can with a pair of pliers made one aware of the risks that were willingly taken to enjoy those peanuts).  It may have been the cuts that brought back memories but the fact is the old version of Planters Cocktail Peanuts was oilier and saltier and that made them taste better (but then an enlightened someone, somewhere decided for us that there was too much fat and salt in our diet and that was that, the peanuts had to change).

There is no arguing that things change whether through improvements made possible by the work of individuals or through the enlightened actions of our betters or just because some people cannot seem to follow the rules. When things do change the new or new and improved becomes the standard, the known.  Before long we don’t remember that there was ever anything different: our memory as a society is erased.  What percentage of our population remembers a time before color television?  What percentage of our population remembers a time when money wasn’t dispensed from a machine? What percentage of our population remembers a time when there wasn’t such a fear of violence in the streets?  What percentage remembers a time when common courtesy was the norm and language and behavior were not as crude and vulgar as today?  Whatever the percentage is it will be smaller tomorrow as we grow into a society which expects to hear crude language and see vulgar and violent behavior as part of everyday living. In addition to forgetting how people should behave we are also growing into a society where we have learned to not criticize horrible behavior out of fear of seeing a label attached thereby making ourselves targets of the very verbal abuse and violence we abhor. Sometimes it seems that the trash, filth and bad behavior that are being hurled our way are being hurled our way simply to create a reaction which allows us to be labeled and then silenced.

And it’s not just the violence and the vulgarity that has downgraded society. We pay the cashier and receive no thank you with the change (as the cashier runs an accusatory counterfeit detecting  pen across the currency we, the customer, present to make sure we are not passing counterfeit bills). We see hard plastic seats on the city buses and know that is how it has to be because it is assumed that padded seats will be cutup in acts of vandalism. We see the drivers of those buses attacked and then hear calls that spending tax dollars on installing cages around the drivers is the only way to prevent the attacks. We learn that the graffiti which ruins the appearance of our cities is actually art and that criticizing that “art” will earn us a label.  We see these things and wonder what happened.  We wonder if anyone else is noting this same steady decline of society, does anyone remember the way it was, the way it should be.  We seem to be alone because the learning process is almost complete.  Those who do remember remember to keep their mouths shut and those who don’t remember know nothing different—they don’t remember when Planters Cocktail Peanuts tasted better.

The BBC television series, Downton Abbey, has become a huge hit. The period drama is set in the years around the First World War and tells the story of the changes in English society and how those changes affected all of the people associated with an aristocratic family living on an estate in the English countryside.  The characters are interesting, the stories are well written, the sets and the costumes are beautiful but there is something more.

While looking for a Christmas gift for my wife I came across the Downton Abbey soundtrack and listened to it on Spotify an internet music streaming service which allows you to listen to millions of songs with royalties paid to the artists from commercials which run after every fifth song.  The music is beautiful but the loveliness of the music was shattered after the fifth piece when a commercial for Trojan condoms or a snippet from the latest album of some rap star was played. Class versus no class.  The contrast, I believe, is part of the reason for the popularity of the series.  This is not to say that Victorian and post-Victorian society did not have problems and issues which needed to be addressed but there was an expectation of civility and standards that is sorely missing today. Those who remember civility would like to see a return to the decency depicted in the program and, I expect, those who do not remember may see something new that is attractive to them.  There is a realization that the stench of modern society shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be there.

People at least say that they want to raise their children in a safe, strong, civil and polite society. The fact that the family structure in America is not as strong as it once was does not mean that people don’t recognize what a strong family can mean for their children and their children’s futures.  The fact that the foul language, vulgarity and violence on TV and in the movies is as prolific as it is doesn’t mean that people have given up on wanting a better and more decent society for their families. The problem is that the memory that there was something better is disappearing and it will be hard to create a desire for something which is foreign to the experience of so many.

This is where the laziness and the financial focus of Hollywood comes in.  Take a look at the movies and television programs which are being produced and what you see is a constant rehash of the same story lines or remakes of old TV shows or movies.  Sequels, remakes and prequels seem to be all that are released because Hollywood wants as much of a guarantee of success as possible on its investments and they seem to think that their best chance of getting that guarantee is copying what has worked in the past.  Now look at the show Downton Abbey and its popularity over the last few years. It takes place in the generally unknown and untapped entertainment time period around World War One. Following Hollywood and TV’s pattern of copying success we should expect to see new movies and TV series developed around other turn of the 20th century and World War One era storylines.  Maybe those stories will reintroduce the nation to the type of behavior which made families strong and the country great. Maybe the characters will show how people should behave and what they can accomplish when they are free to live their lives in a civil society without fear. Maybe Hollywood and TV’s chasing of the dollar by copying storylines from a more decent and civil time period will have an unexpected consequence.  Maybe we will learn to remember or discover for the first time that it can be better.

I wonder who will play Queen Victoria, Theodore Roosevelt and the Wright brothers?  I wonder if there is a chance Planters will bring back the original Cocktail Peanuts?


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