Saturday, 28 July 2012

How did I fall in love with History?

Children reading in the Victorian Era
São Paulo, Brazil. Population: 20 million. (Not my city, by the way. I won't be revealing my city, since, in case you haven't noticed, this is the internet.) My parents, my sister and my soon-to-be-five-year-old self were on a trip to visit some family members living there and we took the opportunity to visit some of the touristic attractions in this enormous city. One night, there was to be a musical play directed especially for children about the discovery of Brazil. There is still some light to be shed at the discovery of Brazil, in 1500, and some unsolved mysteries are really fascinating. I, as a four-year-old, found myself as interested in that play as I was when my dad told me bedtime fairy tales set in the Middle Age, and that I later discovered reflected many aspects of that era. After the show, bewildered by what I had just seen, I asked my dad to tell me more about the story. He, seeing an opportunity to interest his daughter on a highly productive hobby, stimulated my passion for history as much as he could: He bought the CD for the musical play we'd just seen, he bought history books for children, he made my grandfather, an amateur art historian, talk to me about what he knew. Perhaps I was a little overwhelmed as a child, but as time went by, I discovered a passion.
Later on, from the time when I was about 10 years old, I already distinguished myself in history in school. In fifth grade, I met a fascinating history teacher, who was only 20 at the time, and his classes were absolute heaven to me. I could picture everything he was saying because his approach to history was highly cultural and sociological, rather than spouting facts at our faces. I had the pleasure of being taught by this amazing man for three years and we remain good friends, sharing our love of history whenever we can. 
Lovely darlings sunbathing on the beach in the early fifties

It was then when I became an admirer of the twentieth century. I love how crucial it was to the world as we know it today and I love its cultural richness that fits virtually every taste. As I deepened my knowledge on it, I became particularly fond of the thirties, forties and fifties, especially the post-second world war period. It was a period of social revolution, standard-dropping and economic growth. I started frantically exploring its music, falling in love with early rock'n'roll and blues. Fashion came later as I reached my teenage years. Finally, movies from that period fascinated me like a whirlwind. 
Some of the positive sides of the late forties and early fifties include: First, its mainstream media was far more careful than it is today. Things that were smashing hits in those decades have survived the test of time and remain very very good. Today, we don’t experience the same care and trashiness has taken over. This also reflects in one highly commented aspect of the post-war society: female submission. Seeing today's male-oriented media deteriorating female image into self-selling sexual objects makes one wonder how much we have evolved since the Lucy Ricardo housewife ideal, who I'm positive respected herself 100% more than the half-naked chick on the beer commercial. 
Secondly, it was a time when love and companionship was more valued than sex. Of course, it was also a time when some topics were perhaps less discussed, but honestly, I don’t think sex is any less of a taboo today than it was back then in seeing that the fifties experienced advances in sexual openness and today people are more nosy and less polite. Love was put in a very high position in society and media, in comparison to sex. 
Thirdly, they were times that experienced a crucial revolution: The invention of the teenager. Young people, eager to change the standards of a segregated, prejudicial society. It was on the late forties and early fifties that youngsters kicked off their revolution culturally, forging an individual identity with their specific music, their specific clothes and their specific lifestyles. That quiet start would peak politically in the sixties' generation.
Fourthly, environmental, traffic and other problems that come hand in hand with overpopulation were almost non-existent, since overpopulation itself would be a thing of the future. On the contrary, it was a time of great scientific evolution and growth! The technological remainders of the war along with the West's desire to beat the East and vice-versa allowed for an enormous scientific rush, that gave medicine, physics, chemistry and pharmacy discoveries that we profit from today. 
Fifthly and most importantly, it was a time of great joie de vivre. War is over, we’re alive, let’s celebrate it. Labor unions were strong enough to lead the middle class of the day to a position of power and kept the economy strong. Of course that led to a series of problems including mass consumption and mindless "fun", but it did leave countless cultural contributions. 

How cute is Lucille Ball in this cigarette ad?
It is important, however, to not look at this time in history through rose colored glasses. To me, the worst aspect of it was the health of its people. Tobacco-smoking was widespread, not just a thing of the ladies, or a thing of the fellas, or a thing of the rebels: It was a thing of everyone. The effects of cigarettes on the human body weren't discovered and firmed until later on, so this deadly habit was all but a rule among the society of the forties and fifties. Drinking was also not regarded appropriately, but it was viewed as more detrimental than cigarette-smoking. All those endless packs of Philip Morris did lead to loads of cancer and, I regret to say, medicine was not so evolved back then. Treatments and diagnostics today are, thank God, far better. Nevertheless, it is true that the fifties' economic revolution, women's debut in the workplace and post-war technology allowed for an all-time high evolution in science, and consequently, medicine. Out with the Polio and in with the pacemakers, that non-healthy status changed by the second.

The other aspect of which I'm highly contemptuous is the high racial, sexual and social segregation. Despite financial inequality being less overwhelming than it is today due to the vivid economy of the period, whatever difference that did exist was made sure to be advertised, spoken of and prided from. Racism was disgusting in that era and it's one aspect that no love of history can sugarcoat. Gender roles were also a strong part of the average society, but much lighter than the racial hatred. Women were starting to take their place on the workforce and the media. Of course female scientists and business women were rare exceptions, but to say that the average fifties woman was stuck in a loveless marriage, taking care of children they didn't want, in a sad life altogether is clearly a rather common effort to make that time period look like hell in comparison to the current times and facilitate impunity to sexual inequality today. What most people overlook is that female repression is overwhelmingly present today as well, only it presents itself in a different façade: Reducing women to beauty standards, sexual objects, mindless dolls. If you think we are living much more differently then we did in the fifties, think again when you see the next internet article on Condoleeza Rice's new hairdo or the TV piece wondering where Hillary Clinton gets her youthful looks. Hell, think again when you see the next liquor commercial. 

All in all, the past is the best way to gather lessons from mistakes without having to make them yourself. Draw inspiration from the good sides of that period. Appreciate its culture, be glad to be alive, respect your body and your fellow man, be polite in your words and individual in your thoughts and you will be channeling the post-war society. Stay away from the bad sides. Be tolerant with the differences, stay healthy and independent as a female and you will be profiting from what's best of today. 

So long,


  1. Também adoro História, tanto que faço faculdade nessa área. Nossas trajetórias foram parecidas, também tive um professor especial na mesma época, do fim do ensino fundamental, mas infelizmente não mantivemos contato.
    De fato o século XX foi muito importante e você pontuou bem os prós e contras dessa época.
    Acredito que todos que se dispõem a ver filmes clássicos têm um gosto especial por História, não?

    1. Eu faço medicina, não tem muito a ver não hahah Com certeza, um professor muito bom altera a visão de uma pessoa diante de um assunto! Mantive contato porque ele é muito jovem, aí a gente conseguiu construir uma amizade legal :)
      Pra mim os filmes clássicos foram a última etapa da minha jornada com história, só faltava isso! E acho que um contribuiu para o outro: os filmes aumentaram minha paixão por história e vice versa!