What have we learned in the last one hundred years? Depends on who you ask. Politicians, media pundits and economists would like us to believe that society has advanced exponentially in that time. People are living longer. The standard of living is higher. And just look at all those technological advances. We’ve been to the moon and back, baby! We’re hot shit.
There is nothing that will knock the wind out of a blowhard’s sails quicker than to present proof that, when it comes to “forward thinking,” we haven’t changed all that much in the last few centuries. In fact, it could even be argued that some of the greatest advances known to humankind didn’t even take place in the 21st or even the 20th century.
Can the internet really be compared to the discovery of fire or the wheel? Could Einstein have broken the time and space barrier without the pioneering work of Galileo Galilei or Isaac Newton? And does an advanced degree in engineering really compare to the amazing feats performed in ancient Egypt when the pyramids were being built?
But that’s all large-scale stuff. The bigger picture. What I’m most interested in is how little people have changed when it comes to the concept of change. Change is inevitable. Without it, we stagnate. Some compare it to entropy. I believe those who use that particular argument are simply reacting out of fear, just as many of those who saw fire for the first time did. Or, hell, the way the Catholic Church has always reacted when it comes to advancements of any kind. Poor Galileo…
A lot can be learned about the place in which one lives, and the changes it went through, by going back and examining the records left behind by our ancestors. This is one of the very reasons I find history so fascinating. I believe that if we, as a society, paid more attention to the lessons of the past, we wouldn’t have nearly the scope of social problems we deal with today. Another big argument better saved for later.
Instead, I’d rather stick to the reason for my deciding to break with my regular method of output in this blog – that of reprinting articles I’ve written elsewhere, particularly when they pertain to the southwest – in favor of another fascinating personal pursuit.
To wit, I write a regular column for the Las Cruces Bulletin, in which I go back and review newspapers from 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago. Microfiche, mostly, which I realize is probably a foreign word to most people born after 1985. Look it up. In doing this research, I pull the more interesting stories and encapsulate them into bite-sized chunks that are easy to digest with one’s morning coffee.
Very old school, I admit, but this exercise has strengthened my acknowledgement of the old French proverb: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or, in English, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Especially when it comes to attitudes.
Sometimes whittling those stories down into 75 words or less is a challenge. This is particularly true when trying to capture the stylistic elements of the time, which can be a real kick, especially in the older newspapers. There was just a different way of doing things one hundred years ago. A different writing style that was florid and almost baroque in its bombasity. The facts were presented, but usually through the rose- or amethyst-colored glasses of the “reporter.”
Some of them are just too good not to share. There have been some real jewels, many of which I wish I had saved, but let’s not dwell on the recent past. Instead, I’m going to stick to the chronology of the column. It’s easier for my mind to parse things that have a pattern of some sort. What can I say, I’m anal-retentive. I own it. Moving on.
The first article I have here was published on the front page of the Las Cruces Citizen, on October 10, 1914. Exactly one hundred years ago today. Remember that New Mexico had just gained statehood two years earlier (don’t get me started on those boneheads who still believe they need a passport to visit) and many of the small towns were still being run as though they were territorial outposts. Las Cruces was an exception. At the time it was considered more cosmopolitan than many of its neighboring cities, including Albuquerque, Tucson or even El Paso, some 45 miles away.
Many of the articles that appear in the newspaper at the time extol the virtues of the Mesilla Valley, with its “magnificent roads, grand schools, rich soil, busy towns and industrious people,” or even better, agricultural and mineral resources ”far richer than the most roseate dreams of the prophets.” Seriously, I can’t make stuff like that up.
The hope at the time, and one trumpeted loudly by the Citizen, was that this “sunkissed, God-favored valley” would eventually become “the richest in the southwest.” In many ways it has. Las Cruces may not be the most cosmopolitan city in the southwest, but what it lacks in big city advances, it more than makes up for in cultural heritage, magnificent vistas and downright neighborliness. It’s a great place to live.
Ah, but there will always be those who decry the advent of change. Change is the great moral argument personified. Change is blamed for everything and anything we find ourselves disagreeing with. The older some people get, the more set they become in their ways and, thus, more resistant to change. They find themselves and their ways of thinking becoming obsolete and, as a result, shake their impotent fists at any signs of modification or advancement.
Nowhere was that more true than in newspapers at the beginning of the 20th, where frustrated poets and hopeful novelists languished, delivering sermons to an audience that, more often than not, depended on them for information. It wasn’t always objective, but it was certainly entertaining. Here’s one hundred-year-old example – a headline, not an editorial – that made me shake my head and smile with recognition:
Fools and Fashions!
Have you noted the tendency of men, old and young, and doubtful – to pose as leaders of fashion; to adapt the latest crazes of Parisian maniacs and flaunt the funny foibles of Philadelphia’s fashionable few? High hats, low hats, medium hats, bandless hats, beribboned hats; low-cut coats, high-cut coats, loose coats, high-heeled shoes, flat heeled shoes, pointed toes and bluchers – make up the odd variety. Years ago, if a man had the nerve to wear a red necktie, he was ostracized as a low-brow and a boob. Today a red tie is distinctive, lending brightness to a dark array.
Woman, with her license to startle us has set the bad example. It is a horrible example, but man, conscious that the female of the species is more deadly than the male, tolerates her oddities through chivalry or fear. Transparent skirts that are, apparently calculated to reveal the lines which nature molded and which men adore, with manifold ruffles designed to break the news gently – attract attention according to their grotesqueness and the extremity of their color madness. Hats that are a menace to the eyes and a fright-breeding spectre to children are worn with tilted noses and an air of strange superiority.
For the love of Mike, give us the old fashioned girl again. The sweetly smiling, tender, patient girl with sense in her head instead of visions of dreamy X-ray nether rags and fuzzy plumes that are better fitted for the hills of Sicily. For Heaven’s sake, let the girls show their ears instead of hiding them behind crops of horse mane brought at so much a switch. Forget the imaginary charm of slender waist and a small foot (which is usually decked with corns and bunions) and be able to hike a mile or climb a hill without heart failure, palpitation and headache.
For the men we have nothing to say. We realize the hopelessness of attempting to justify their idiocy or excuse their mental impotency.
Go to the limit. The worst is yet to come.
God help us!