Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Six or Nine * A Modern Fable

Six or Nine  *  A Modern Fable

Two people are leaving work and are in a hurry to get home.  They hear a young woman with a megaphone calling, "Don't miss the parade tomorrow.! Support the Graduates!!"  Both people are in a rush to get to their cars before the other employees fill the parking lot and clog traffic, and when they reach their cars, both grab the flier slipped under their windshield wiper and lay it in the seat without looking at what it says, not wanting a waste a second getting into the line leaving the parking lot.  When they get home, they each take the flyer they picked up into the house, noticing for the first time the cleaver design of graduation caps and diplomas in a circle around the time of the parade.  What a cleaver reminder, they both think to themselves.  The next morning, one of them tells everyone at breakfast to get dressed for the parade at 9 o'clock so they can get downtown to stake out a good vantage point for watching the parade.  The other person tells her family that this year the parade is at six, so that everyone can walk to the auditorium for the graduation ceremony as soon as the parade ends.  She tells them to be ready to go by 5:30, so they can get a parking place closer to the auditorium so they will not have to walk so far after the parade.

This blog is about how we see things.  Sometimes it doesn't matter.  Are sun rises more beautiful than sun sets?  Are dark blue basketball uniforms or bright red uniforms better.  Are chocolate bars better with or without nuts?  Everyone has a right to an opinion on things like that.

However, some things are not a matter of opinion.  In the example of 6 or 9, it matters.  Is it an evening parade or a morning parade?  There is a right answer, even if the flier was confusing.  If something isn't clear, we must take the responsibility of searching for more information so that we get it right.  Just showing the piece of paper to someone else isn't always going to give you the right answer, since their opinion is not necessarily going to be any better than yours, unless, of course, they have made a genuine effort to learn the correct time of the parade.  Just because we would prefer the parade to be in the morning, or because we asked someone else who didn't bother to consult a reliable source for the correct information, doesn't mean they can tell us what time the parade starts.

I know this is a silly example, but I do fear that many of us are becoming careless about the sources we rely upon for accurate information.  Sometimes we just don't want to get up early on a Saturday morning to go to a parade, so we figure out a way to be assured that the parade must be at 6 o'clock in the evening so we can sleep late.  We may even suspect that it really isn't an evening parade, but if we are willing to fool ourselves, we can enjoy a late morning in bed, and then blame someone else for the careless flier.  

Whether it is a six or a nine can really make an important difference.  It matters.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Do Traditions Matter Today?

Christmas at Grandmother's House

Does it matter that today many traditions are disappearing?  Before answering that question, it must be recognized that traditions have sometimes excluded others.  That may have been unintentional, although at other times exclusion may have been intentional, for a variety of reasons. Like so many things, it seems today that the line between traditions for positive purposes and traditions for hurtful purposes are sometimes challenging to distinguish.  I am not talking about ossification, where traditions are a way to exclude or hold back others.  I am talking about the positive use of traditions to reinforce values.

Families have traditions, as do communities, organizations, and countries.  Traditions can pass down unwritten values, can introduce young people to role models, allow opportunities for reflection, and pass memories through generations.  Traditions can be a way to welcome new people by inviting their participation in traditional events and stories.  It can be a positive way to pass beliefs from one generation to the next and to the next after that.  

 Many traditions are not written down, and the only way they are learned is through participation.  For instance, folk dances are often learned by joining in.  Family recipies, holiday traditions, family generosity are often learned by having participated.  Simple gestures of kindness, integrity, manners, and a work ethic are forms of tradition.

So, you may ask what the difference is between tradition and culture.  They may sometimes overlap, but Tradition is more about passing knowledge and values through generations, while Culture is about constant evolution and change.  As we adapt to differences, the culture must change.  We still stand upright and walk on two legs, but we are now able to probe into deep space, and while Culture has changed, Tradition helps us decide how to use that ability.  If culture changes too rapidly, we tend to forget the values, mores, and courtesies of the past.  By preserving our Traditions, we maintain our balance, and it is not just our personal balance but also our national balance.

It occurs to me that Tradition and Culture are a bit like driving a car.  You have the wheel, and culture keeps moving you down the road while tradition keeps you from going too fast or getting in the wrong lane.

Put another way, Tradition reinforces values, personal responsibility, ethics, faith, and integrity.  It gives you meaningful pause and opportunity for reflection, as well as role models to emulate and the sense of belonging and history.  Culture changes constantly, as it should, for as we learn we must change.

What is important is that simply because we can do something does not mean we should.  Generations have always worried about change.  That is nothing new.  However, traditions are the guard rails, the things that keep us grounded, and when we ignore traditions, it seems to me that we risk losing ourselves.  Every generation of grandparents has worried about what their grandchildren are doing--how they dress, how they talk, how they think.  I know that, but recently Culture seems to be outrunning Tradition...or is it just that now I am a senior citizen resisting change?


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Are Traditions Disappearing?

 Recently I was watching the French Open and was rather appalled to see orange courts!  One of the players was wearing an orange T-shirt nearly the same color as the court itself and the other player was wearing a variety of colors.  So why did that upset me?  I suppose it was a matter of tradition.  Not that long ago, both men and women generally chose white tennis attire, and some courts required it.  I liked that.  Somehow it seemed to me to represent a respect for your opponent on the court.  Neither age nor wealth nor social status mattered, particularly if the match was on a public court, rather than a country club or private court.  Neither player was showing off.  It was all about the game, and when the game ended, the players traditionally shook hands.

Frankly, I like traditions...more about traditions in next week's blog.  But, for this week the traditions I will share relate to tennis itself.  We tend to think about Wimbledon and England when professional tennis is mentioned, but my research indicates that the roots are in 16th-century France with a game called jeu de paume that was similar to tennis.  It was played indoors, and the players wore white.

When the game moved to England, wearing white continued, probably because tennis was a game for the rich, and white signified privilege and wealth.  When the game became co-ed, women at that time certainly were not wearing shorts or trousers, so they were influenced by the lawn dresses of that time, made from lighter fabrics like linen and cotton, and often adorned with lace inlays and embroidery, in white of course.

The exclusivity of tennis for the wealthy continued for a while but eventually most towns had public courts, like the small public court in the park in Macksville, where my husband grew up.  I doubt that he had tennis whites when he played there, but after we lived in cities, he did.  Playing tennis was a good way to meet people and make friends, especially if you have a good game, and my husband did.

I played a little, but I have one eye that is near-sighted and the other is far-sighted, and that isn't very helpful when a tennis ball is coming straight at you!

Today, most professional tournaments have rules for players' attire, and some even have rules for those in the stands.  In general, the rules for players are "professional tennis attire," which today permits a great deal of color and imagination.  The rules also may prohibit T-shirts, casual wear, or general workout wear, but some players appear to stretch those limitations.  

In 2022, Wimbledon modified the rules for women to allow players to wear dark colored under shorts beneath their skirts or shorts, for personal reasons not applicable to men.  However, the rules regarding white remain traditional for both men and women, requiring attire that is almost entirely white, and excluding off white or cream.  The rule applies as soon as the player enters the court surround.  

Hurrah for Wimbledon!  I like traditions, when they are not used for exclusion or hateful reasons.  Watch for next weeks' blog about the purpose of traditions. 


Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Books, Movies, and Artificial Intelligence--Just a difference of Technology?


A dress and hat the Lost Lady might have worn.

    Those of you who have followed this blog know that I love the writing of Willa Cather, and that we often enjoy attending the Cather Conferences in Red Cloud, Nebraska.  This year, the book chosen to be explored was A Lost Lady, published by Alfred A. Knopf.  Knopf sold the film rights to A Lost Lady to Warner Brothers, and Cather was so dismayed by the film version that she resolved never to permit a screen adaptation of her work in the future.  

     As with many of her books, names of towns and people are changed, but the identities of people and locations are often identifiable, and that is particularly true in the case of A Lost Lady.  This past week, several speakers explored Cather's use of actual people in this particular book.  Were there reasons for the family to have been offended?  Was the identity obvious, despite changed names and other variations?

    This week's blog ponders the question of privacy.  Did Willa Cather invade the privacy of the people she used as inspiration for her characters, and did it matter that she waited until after their deaths to 'borrow' their lives?

    One speaker at the Conference observed that all writers of fiction rely on creating their characters from individuals they have met throughout their lives.  Most writers are good observers, catching expressions and mannerisms and countless other details with which they construct imaginary people for their stories.  When does that 'borrowing' go too far?

    In the case of A Lost Lady, Cather altered appearances, professions, and names, but she used descriptions of their home, their travel habits, and their uniqueness in that community which made it easier to associate those details with the couple.  Today, countless Cather scholars and fans like me have learned the identities of the real people Cather used in her books.

    Lately, I have blogged about AI and the ability to impose the features of real people to make it appear that they did or said things that they never did or said.  Was what Willa Cather did a century ago an early example of that, just done without the technology?    

    Will it matter if movies are made using the images of long-dead movie stars from the past as characters?  Should their descendants receive payment for using the images.  Should anyone have the right to object on behalf of the dead movie star if AI is used to impose nudity or vulgar language or to express opinions the person would never have held?  

    It seems ironic that Cather was so offended by the changes to her book in the film that followed that she refused to allow her other books to be made into movies, since she had altered the lives of real people to create characters in her novels. 

    The possible uses of AI have concerned me, as the questions raised in some of my earlier blogs have shown.  Was Cather's use of adapting real people's lives in her fiction  a forerunner without the technology to what is happening now?  Can it be stopped, and should it be?  Or is AI just a technical advancement of something we long ago accepted?