Sunday, July 10, 2011

Super 8

When I was a kid my grandfather saved up his S&H Green Stamps to buy a Super 8 camera. With this new toy, and a smelly cigar clamped in the side of his mouth, Grandpa became our family documentarian.  Because of his efforts, I have a box of films in my closet that tell the story of our Italian immigrant family.  Each of the tiny plastic reels stored in that box provides a brief, tantalizing peek into the past.

The earliest movies in the box are 8 mm, taken in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950’s.  There’s my mom and her sister, newly arrived from Italy, walking down the street in their red lipstick and pill box hats.  In the mid 50’s, the family moved to Chicago and Grandpa’s camera continued to roll.  Thanks to him, me and my cousins can see our childhoods captured in two-to-three minute flickering image segments.  In reel after reel, we grow from toddlers to teenagers.  Whenever Grandpa turned on the movielight, I was there, jumping up and down in front of the camera, waving my arms. 

Grandpa wasn’t willy-nilly about what he shot.  Film was expensive. It cost money to have it developed.  He only rolled the camera when something was important.  Birthdays, Christmases, First Communions, trips to Brookfield Zoo, fishing on Lake Michigan.  He’d roll just long enough to capture a few moments of us decorating the tree or blowing out the candles or eating.  Lots of eating.  And there was no instant gratification.  You had to wait a week until Grandpa picked up the film from the drug store before you could see what you looked like and remember how it was. 

A few times a year, when the family was together, my dad would get out the projector and unfold the movie screen. We’d wait impatiently while he spooled the celluloid film through the spindles. Then we’d sit together in the dark, with the click of the projector providing the soundtrack, and relive these precious memories over and over.  The jerky images would remind us of things we used to do and of the people we used to be.  The films were always too short and they always left us wanting more.  

By the time I had my own family, video tape had come along. We bought a camera so we could take pictures of our babies. But video isn’t the same.  Video is cheap.  You turn the camera on and you let it roll.  There’s sound so you hear the background noise and people yelling at the camera. You end up with hours and hours of footage.  It’s no longer just quick peeks into rare moments from the past, but family life lived in real time. Unless you make the effort to edit it all down and get rid of the boring stuff, it’s impossible to sit through. We don’t have family viewings the way we used to.  Video doesn’t have the same impact because there’s too much of it.  With digital cameras, it’s even worse.  Every device can take pictures. Everyone is a documentarian. 

The digital age brings this same cheapness and expendability to the exchange of ideas. YouTube is filled with people creating their own statements, spouting their opinions. Music can be downloaded for free.  Anyone can have a blog like this one and say what they want.  We have Kindle and Nook and e-books.  At 99 cents per book, you can easily buy as many books as you want and carry them everywhere you go. 

I appreciate that this accessibility gives individual authors the ability to self publish their work. Writers can control the distribution and keep a greater portion of the profits. Digital publishing opens doors into innovative formats and interactivity.  I understand that e-books are our future.  But with everyone self-publishing and with so much material out there, the value of individual books and ideas are sure to suffer.  I hate to see that happen to the stories I love. 
What do you think? Does your family have home video nights?  Do you think the digital age will be a boom or bust for the written word?

Monday, July 4, 2011

What Makes Nations Flourish?

It’s an appropriate question to consider today, the 235th birthday of the United States of America.  We’ve spread our ideals and culture around the world.   We’ve created prosperity for our citizens.   
Is it wealth or the force of arms that makes our nation flourish?  Is it the prestige and success of its sons and daughters?

I think what makes our nation flourish is our ability to come together. In the past, we rallied in the face of war and national disasters.  We pooled our resources to build cities and to achieve far reaching goals, to preserve our national resources, to educate our children and give comfort to frail and weak.  We flourished because we had high ideals and we never questioned our ability to achieve them.

What makes a nation great?

In a speech on the eve of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt defined the ideals of democratic nations and called them the Four Freedoms:  Freedom of Speech.  Freedom of Religion.  Freedom from Want. Freedom from Fear.  For the decades that followed, we worked toward granting these freedoms to all of our citizens and made great progress toward that goal. We haven’t always lived up to these high standards, but we’ve moved forward and strived to do better.

If the nation is to be great, each of us must participate.  That means going to town council meetings.  It means running for office, or supporting a candidate, or at the very least, making our opinions known at the ballot box.  It means we’ll have to watch a few less football games or a few less episodes of Jersey Shore, or go on a few less picnics with our families.  If we truly want to be the great nation the Founding Fathers and Mothers conceived for us, we must take the time and do the work.

Our American ideals of liberty and justice are the envy of the world.  But for our nation to flourish, these ideals must be lived every day.  We can’t just drop them by the wayside when they conflict with our desires of the moment.  Our ideals aren’t just beautiful words we say on national holidays, they aren’t just the lyrics to songs we sing while we're setting off fireworks. Our ideals must be the way we conduct our lives. Only a nation that lives by its principles can truly be great.

There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.  ~William J. Clinton

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves. ~ D H Lawrence

 No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck. ~ Fredrick Douglass

Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong. ~ James Bryce

Our country, right or wrong. When right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right. ~ Carl Schurz

This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else. ~ Clarence Darrow

America is a passionate idea or it is nothing. America is a human brotherhood or it is chaos. ~ Max Lerner

Friday, July 1, 2011

Just Plain Hungry

On the Beach in Santa Barbara