My daughter and I had an argument the other day.  Honestly, we often have arguments.  This particular argument was about a movie we had seen.  “Sweet Charity” from 1969 starring Shirley MacLaine.  Spoiler alert- I am about to give you the basic plot of the movie, so be forewarned in case you ever want to dig back into the archives and watch it.

“Sweet Charity” takes place in NYC in the sixties.  It is based on a Fellini Film our night in umbria or something like that- I’m too lazy to google the actual title.  Charity is a woman roughly in her 30’s, who is a dance hall hostess, meaning, men pay to dance with her at a club.  She has spent her youth  giving her heart to men who are very undeserving of her love, or of anyone’s love.  She meets a respectable, honorable guy and falls in love.  They plan to get married…she quits her job…guy decides not to marry her because she has had too many lovers and he can’t get past it.  She is sad for a tiny bit, and them she is literally singing in the park.

My daughter and I saw this film as a part of film festival honoring women in NYC who were tough and uncompromising and heroines.  Other titles in the festival included “Working Girl” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.  Whenever possible, I try to expose my daughter to film, art, books, etc that feature strong, positive, female characters.

Ok- I know you all want to know about the argument.

Was this movie really about a woman who overcomes adversity?

Daughter: She’s basically a prostitute.  Her job is to look attractive and get men to dance with her.

Me: She wasn’t having sex with them.

Daughter: but she was still in a subservient position to men, and her only way out was to get married

Me: Yes.  But first off- you have to take the film for when it was made.  This was probably revolutionary in the sixties.  She doesn’t marry the guy and she tries to make the best of it. (she was probably relentlessly positive actually)

Daughter: You can’t appreciate something “for the time it was done”.  You have to appreciate work in the context of the time you are watching it.  Does it hold up?

And there is todays questions:

When you are watching, looking, reading something cultural, do you interpret it from the perspective of 2018, or do you look at it through the lens of when it was created?

Is it possible for my 16 year old (or any young person) to look at something and not view it through the eyes of the feminist world as it stands now?

What does it mean for something to stand the test of time?

When I am watching a movie, or reading a book or looking at art I always try to remember the context of when it was created.  I put things in historical perspective. I think things need to be looked at contextually. Is this the wrong way to approach something?

We all know I am never wrong, but in this particular circumstance, am I less than right?

How do you approach something greater than a decade old?  Appreciate the craftsmanship, or think of it through 2018 eyes?

Discuss….sd

 

 

 

59 thoughts on “Out of Context

  1. I would say it’s not about right and wrong, it’s about developing understanding. I suspect we all come to books and films to begin with from the perspective of our own lives and culture. Criticism requires an understanding of the context, and we teach it to children not to diminish a text or film but to bring greater understanding and foster depth in thinking.

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  2. I like a good story. Context helps with uncomfortableness. But good stories hold up. I could still identify with Charity. If you dont have college degrees the working world for a woman is a bitch. Men w/o diplomas,college degrees get hired in construction,etc. They get paid nicely. They “have a family to support”. The woman in the same situation has to beg for a job flipping burgers. She is paid dinky wages because”she’ll probably get pregnant &leave”. She is seen as a less worthy investment. In my work life I’ve been a pizza cook,dietary aide/cook,sales clerk,taxi dispatcher,&can recycle center employee. And all for the lowlow pay of $400 a month. The end of Sweet Charity still gets to me-her heart is broken but shes putting on a brave(smile honey!)face. It always feels as if the upper classebs dont see us as human. To your daughter :want to know a great woman of NYC-Dorothy Day.

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    1. I know what you mean about charity. She knows no matter what, she will survive because she’s a survivor. I thought it was an affirming movie about resilience…but then we started to debate and I didn’t know if I was less than right….but you make excellent observations

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  3. You are not wrong!

    Maybe there are levels- as in, no matter who you are or how old you are, something like Casablanca stays great because there is a universal story of love and loss. That said, Sweet Charity can’t lose relevance bc of the time it was made. Imagine if we discounted Gone With the Wind or ET for “outdated” special effects or An Affair to Remember because the dialogue is old fashioned…even Clueless with the now “crazy” fashion was a super important movie for the mid-nineties- I could go on and on! And I hope we do at our next meet 🙌

    The point is, as intelligent as your daughter is, this is a moment that reflects 16 years. In 10 or 20 years, she’ll look back on music or movies or books that are changing things now and say “this holds up” and there will be a teenager rolling their eyes at her…to your delight!

    It’s what I love about generational discussions!!

    This was a fun topic btw!! Clearly I responded just to you 🤣
    💛
    Kate Rose
    475.222.6256
    katerose.444@hotmail.com

    Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Xoxoxo. Thanks for having my intellectual back. I thought of it like you did…but then I wondered if I was wrong…if my thinking was outmoded…xoxo

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    1. I wonder if tech advances so rapidly now, that kids are unable to appreciate or understand basic things. I remember my first job and how people thought a fax machine was the greatest thing ever

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with you. You have to consider the “the when” of the thing you are watching, reading, etc. Appreciate the message in the piece as insightful, revolutionary, eerie in how it speaks about our world today…, praise the author or artist for their social awareness… but remember that they are working from the prevailing perspective of the time.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My daughter was making some compelling arguments…she kept saying “what about birth of a nation? Do you appreciate that.” And I really thought why was it a good thing to educate her and teach her to read and think….

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Haha! My youngest and I are quite like that. What I love about the compelling arguments I heard from her was the challenges she placed in front of me by her insightful comments. Now that she is an adult, we have continued in these conversations and I look forward to them so much. We talk substance and it is amazing to see the intelligence and social connections your kids form as they mature.

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      2. I know! I really do love the spirited debates and such. It’s a great way to move a relationship forward, the ability to talk to your kid on a different level

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh I love the conversations you have with your daughter! And this one has sparked such great discussion. I suspect at her age I would have thought similarly but with age comes perspective. Now I can watch movies or read books and appreciate them within their context. The historian in me also enjoys seeing those past attitudes. It’s a preservation of a particular one and way of thinking and allows us to see how society has changed.

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    1. That’s exactly how I see it…by looking at cultural artifacts we can see what was happening at a particular time in a particular place. Learn about how people lived

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Precisely. So yes, they do stand the test of time in that context. It is good to be reminded of how far we’ve come. Your daughter couldn’t have these opinions today if we hadn’t changed. We need to remember what came before us and appreciate what we have now… and how far we may still have to go. lol

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  6. I absolutely think about the historical perspective. Saying that something like Pride and Prejudice is bad because Lizzie and the other girls spend the whole book trying to get married completely ignores the historical and social context that Jane Austen was writing from– a woman of her time couldn’t simply go off and get a job in the city and be happy. This fact is part of the point, too: society snarked at women for being so obsessed with marriage when society itself gave them no other choice but to marry in order not to fall into poverty and disfavor.

    When someone says “I hate ‘Book X from pre-1970’ because the women are insulted all the time, but the rest of it isn’t so bad”, I want to point out the historical context of pre-1960 (I just watched a BookTube review where someone panned The Dragonriders of Pern, published in 1968, because the men in a feudal society treated the women badly, and it annoyed the heck out of me…). Books (and films and music and artworks) are a product of their societies. We shouldn’t ignore that because it requires a little extra thought to put it into the context of its time.

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    1. That’s what I think! I think what you said is spot on….it’s ok to say I hate that women had to get married then , but to lambaste a book for not being thematic to the year 2018? It’s silly. The problem was, my daughter was giving some compelling arguments, and I started to wonder if I hadn’t thought broadly enough about the topic.

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      1. And that’s why she’s going to be a great lawyer someday. 🙂

        But really, is it ever a good idea to take something out of context? Taking a book out of its historical context is doing just that.

        And besides. Doesn’t learning about the history of the era add more richness to the overall experience of reading a book?

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      2. I wholeheartedly agree. You have to see something for its situational value. Charity was a strong character for the sixties, like Litzy Bennett was a strong character for her time period. And yes…she is going to be a great lawyer…I can reasonably see no other profession for her other than annoying pain, but she doesn’t get paid for that once she’s an adult….

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  7. I love old detective/mystery stories both in books and movies/TV because of all the lack of technology. Sometimes I wonder if the kids make the connection. Like, having to go to a phone booth, and needing a coin, to make a call, and the stress/anxiety/hope that someone will pick up on the other end.

    There is a woman who blogs whose husband loves the Bond movies. She can’t handle the way women were treated back in the 50s, 60s etc, refuses to watch them for that reason. Is mad at him for watching. 😉

    In books, detectives or cops calling secretaries ‘honey’…. (Mad Men style)….

    It’s interesting. But kids/teens probably lack the experience we have from time to perceive like we do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there is definitely a with age comes wisdom thing. Sometimes kids have been so immersed in “learning” they have t learned to think and apply their learning to other situations. And I love noir and detective stories even though they may have “flaws”

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  8. I was precocious in many ways at 16, but the deluded confidence I felt from those ways is embarrassing now. 🙂
    I agree with your commenters but also say that a mature 16 is still 16 in so many ways. Keep in mind that she hasn’t even felt the pressure (as Charity did) of having to work A JOB or starve, nor experienced the hormonal and emotional upheaval of multiple relationships.
    You’re a fun mom, by the way, to watch her assigned films with her.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re right! Maybe I should let my daughter have real life experience…😉. And one day she will say wow…how did I think that? (I see that now when she thinks about how she thought about things when she was younger)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. 😮 Ahh but what of ‘Holly Golightly’ in the wonderful ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Is she a good time party girl socialite, or actually a high class Escort (prostitute) with expensive tastes and rich (silly) clients? I love the film and lol do little else than trying to spot/glean whether Holly is party or prostitute because of course the context is back in 1961 the Director wasn’t allowed to say which…………………………and for what it’s worth I am 100% convinced Holly is a prostitute……..convinced lol………… though many will differ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And then there’s the difference between the book and the movie! I love that movie though. Next time I watch it I’ll give you a better escort/prostitute analogy!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 😀 Ahh you have an advantage I never read the book! You’re a film fan, I have a feeling you’d enjoy David Lean’s ‘Brief Encounter’ starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, a truly wonderful film.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oooh! My family ate all out tonight!! I’m going to see if that’s available on any of the thousand ways I can get movies in my living room!! Thanks! And read the book. I mean, it’s capote….

        Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a great post with insightful comments. Your daughter also sounds like an impressive young woman who speaks her mind and argues her point well.
    My feeling is even if art, books,or film seem cringeworthy now because we view them through the lens of time, we need to consider the context. On a related note, I’ve had several conversations in the last year of how do we separate the art from the artist as it relates to #MeToo or other things we didn’t know about earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great point. How do we treat things after we find out details of the artist? Should w3 separate work from artist. Love that. I’m going to over analyze that question…I hadn’t actually thought about that topic….and The cringeworthy…there are things I know are probably a little dated, but really, that doesn’t totally diminish them as works

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree that it doesn’t diminish the work.
        The example that has been ongoing for me is Woody Allen. I’m a big fan of his movies. So far, what I’ve read about his personal life and the accusations made against him haven’t changed that. Bill Cosby – I’m done.

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      2. But do you look at his work differently? See, in this case, I can watch woody Allen movies but I admit I look st them a little differently now. Like manhattan…now that I know about him, I view the film with a different lens

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      3. I suppose, and that’s a good example but with movies like Annie Hall, it still holds up or his more recent ones like Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine, and To Rome With Love where he’s the director but not in them.

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  11. Like so many things in life, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. To fully appreciate (or denigrate) a movie, book, or piece of art, it should be viewed through the lens of when it was created, what was the social and political culture of the time, and what is it saying. Then, view it also from the present day and think about where and how our culture has changed—often appreciating how far we have come, or, alternatively, how far we still have to go! You and your daughter have some wonderful discussions!

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    1. I wonder how much age has to do with perspective. Maybe because I kind of remember the sixties, I can appreciate the movie. But you’re right…it has to be viewed first as art/documentation of the time period, and then how it holds up to present standards

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  12. I think you do a story a disservice if you look at it only from the time in which you’re reading it. You need the historical background knowledge otherwise of course it’ll look like xyz. That’s the name of the game. There’s a difference between a personal opinion on something (lack of facts, more emotional) and criticism based on all the facts. To me, it sounds like your daughter is giving her opinion more than anything else. But her opinion is well informed for her age, I think. since I’ve never seen the movie, can’t say one way or another for certain— but it sounds to me like it was a rather revolutionary movie for the 60s. Women didn’t have many options for working let alone opinions for her own self. And classics I think have to do with universal themes that no matter how much times have changed, the audience can still relate. Look at Shakespeare and Dante and Homer for old examples. I think I said everything I wanted to say haha.

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    1. It was definitely revolutionary for the 60s. That was the part I was trying to get my daughter to understand. I get that she didn’t like the message, but for a woman to accept that she might not ever get married! That was big

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  13. I agree with your perspective. Your daughter is most likely a reminder of many of us at her age: 17: I believed the same. When my mom spoke of living in New York City and working for NBC studio, 17 magazine, in the 50’s, I made the mistake of thinking things would be the same when I moved there in the 80’s. And they weren’t. You need to appreciate the times and what they produce. New York of the 50’s very different from the 80’s and I am sure very different from 2018. I guess as you grow older, you can appreciate the differences more.

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  14. I do both. I know that sounds like I am not taking a side. I like to look at it in 2018 and see how things have changed or not since it was made/written/created. Some things are classics like sculpture for instance. I love historical fiction and reading things that are written now about a different time is not really the same, but then again I like to be entertained. Enjoy the movie or what it is.

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  15. My college education (liberal arts) taught me to at least consider the historical perspective. However, my independent warrior streak has a hard time with actually seeing it through the historical perspective

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  16. I get where your daughter is coming from. She’s 16/17, she’ll be off to college soon and she thinks that she’s all that and a bag of chips too. she’s in for an eye opener when she leaves for college and an even bigger one when she’s out on her own. you have the advantage of more learning years and more worldly experiences than she has. it would be interesting to see what she had to say if you discuss it 10 years from now.

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    1. Very true. I should put this post in a time capsule, along with a digital copy of movie, and let her reexperience it in ten years. I wonder what she’ll think then!! With age comes wisdom (I hope anyway…would like to be wise one day)

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  17. I think you have to appreciate the craft, in context. I mean if you compared an action movie today to one in the 60’s, I’m sure it would fail because of the advanced special effects today. You can always draw analogies to the present, and this movie is a good one for that. Society has changed. Roles have changed. I’m sure they’ll change more. They could even revert. The biggest lesson I learned was that despite all of my education is that I don’t know shit. Helps me keep an open mind 🙂

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    1. I try to go into everything with an open mind (emphasize try…) but I think you have to look at everything from different angles. There’s rarely black or white…it’s most often grey

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  18. I talked about this with my daughter, aged 18. A mishmash of responses:

    She said she can see your daughter’s point. I was perhaps less sympathetic.

    She was very upset when two years ago in a debate she tried to argue that Gengis Khan was not civilized and the opponent said “we have to consider the morality of the times.” She said, no we do not, not for an interpretation like this!

    However, for something like a quality story, she felt there are a lot of reasons why you should at least partially accept the moral beliefs of the time.

    Another background point: Federico Fellini. I do not accept his morals at any time. I was appalled by 9 1/2 and La Dolce Vita.

    The original movie upon which Sweet Charity was based concerned a prostitute. My daughter, thinking over the morality of being a taxi dancer or prostitute, pointed out that for some feminists, this is taking commercial possession of femininity.

    Well, you see, you post was very thought provoking, even if the thoughts were not particularly well ordered.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t care about the order…I just love the discussion and flow of ideas!! That’s always my point…talk about things… really talk about them, and formulate your own ideas on any subject!! Thanks for great commentary!!

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  19. I tend to think that a work of art is a product of its time and what came before it, so it is unfair to judge it by standards afterwards, except as a different question. I think that things with slavery and sex work and all that may have been accepted in their day but are still intrinsically exploitative, and yet it is important to see that even the thin edge of taking back one’s freedom has value, because life is not really in episodes where there is a happy ending or sad ending–it goes on. I think it is VERY unwise to just dismiss something because it seems dated or old-fashioned or *because you weren’t there*. A lot of smart things and bad things have gone on before and afetr my frame of reference, so I would be a fool to dismiss them as having possible value.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points. I think we have to take the time it was# made into account….it’s part of historical context. To start isolating things just seems incomplete….

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! I have conversations like this all the time. She gives some compelling arguments, but I try to explain to her historical context, and that not everything can be viewed through a lens of 2018. Interesting though

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