Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bygone Eras Series: An Introduction or "Why I Hate Sweeping Generalizations Worse Than the Stench of Rotting Garlic"

Yes, I hate sweeping generalizations of any group of people, but recently that also extended to eras and places.

Some may recall my mention of a site called Underground Wellness in recent postings, and in my most recent interview with Kettle Whistle Radio. At Underground Wellness, they are dedicated to getting the word out about eating real food (in fact, Sean Croxton's acronym is JERF- Just Eat Real Food), and many guests featured on the Underground Wellness podcast have chose to adopt a more Paleo lifestyle (something I've done myself for the most part). Of course, everything has its critics regardless of evidence to back it up. Many of Underground Wellness's critics are those in the mainstream field who still seem to swear by the one-size fits all low-fat, low-calorie, high carb 'order everything "skinny"' way of eating complete with additives, aspartame, and who knows what else) despite the increase in obesity, cancer, and other dibilatating deseases being on the rise over the last 20-30 years. Croxton has stated that anytime someone tries to criticize his Real Food way of living as being unhealthy, he wonders aloud how all these old-school foods (as he puts it) is suddenly responsible for all these new diseases.

Not to long ago (I'd say a couple years ago), I was surfing YouTube late one night, and I came across one of the best videos I've ever seen. As someone who has spent several years within the Goth subculture, I've been privy to much of the prejudice against us; everything from us being devil worshippers who sacrifice baby animals to our horned god to being drug addicts to being suicidal for no reason to being the type that likes to push old ladies and small children out into the street because we're "evil goths" (and the talking heads of the mainstream media has done a lovely job with reinforcing these prejudices...yes, that is what they are: stereotypes and prejudices...imho, the mainstream media is the fuel to alot of our problems and just needs to go far, far away and let us all think for ourselves, but I digress). A YouTuber who goes by the online name, Leahmouse made this really well-thought and well-spoken video titled "What Goth is Not." And if you have about twenty minutes, I very much recommend checking it out and watching it:



Now, what is my whole point with those, you ask? Well, the fact that I am writing a book series in which the characters come from all walks of life, classes, and time periods led me to do the obvious: research, research, and more research. And I'm still doing research as the series continues. While I've had a basic knowledge of certain groups of people (e.g. the Roma, history of Ireland, Colonial America, the Victorian era, the 1920s, the Depression, the 1930s, etc) I wasn't an expert in any of them and therefore had to research what I didn't know. Now, I've always been one to question things beyond what we are being told. I've always been one to want to scratch below the surface. Typically, I have to read at least three independent sources before I will finally form an opinion on something. I always try not to allow my emotions get in the way of finding out the truth, and while we may not fully know what that truth is? I at least like to see how deep I can dig and what I can bring to the surface. This type of exploration has also made the Birthrite Series (and much of what I write) what it is for the most part.
And what does all this have to do with sweeping generalizations, you say? Plenty.
Goths aren't the only groups of people horribly misrepresented in the media. Many, many groups have been, even in today's time, including the Roma (or "gypsies" as they are often referred to as), the Irish, metalheads, Native Americans, Earth-based religions, some forms of Christianity, Holistic/Alternative Medicine, Agnostics, Atheists, along with many others. Leahmouse's YouTube video can apply to really any of the above and more. What she is basically trying to say is what I always say: there are douchebags and amazing people in all groups and walks of life. And yes, this has plenty to do with some prejudices against many bygone eras.
Recently, I've been involved with conversations regarding such things, whether I was discussing my book series or whether it was just a conversation, it seemed that the generalization of eras up until fairly recently was as follows:

"All men beat their wives nearly to death if she burned the chicken and everyone hated anyone who wasn't "white.""

"They were completely chaste, hardly kissed prior to marriage, and likely had never heard of sex until at least two weeks after they were married." (of course, I'm exaggerating, but unfortunately not by much)

So basically, the general opinion seems to be that everyone from the eras of our grandparents, great-grandparents, and beyond were a bunch of hateful Neanderthals who were also so chaste they were bordering on sainthood. Huh? I'm confused.
Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that things like racism, and sexism didn't exist as they most certainly have since the beginning of time, dating back to the ancient tribes at war with one another (all of whom probably had a few choice derogatory words to describe the opposing tribe). But at the same time, we do have to be careful of sweeping generalizations.
Period pieces are among my favorites to read. But I have also come across many reviews on fictional period pieces that involve pre-marital sexual content, and almost all the time there is that one guy who gets all frazzled saying things like "OMG!!! How very dare you!!! They NEVER would have done that back then! This is SO not realistic! The author needs to do his/her reasearch!!!"
I even faced it with the Birthrite series. In the first book Descent (which takes place in the 1800s and the 1930s), the characters Gail and Dorothy are teenage girls in the 1930s who love to read. Gail is also a bit of a smartmouth and spitfire. Dorothy, while not the extrovert Gail is, is also someone who uses her mind to solve her problems. I did have someone tell me that Gail and Dorothy seemed too modern and that "wouldn't Gail have been smacked for some of her comments, and her boyfriend Reginald seemed too understanding and supportive of her endeavors for the era, women weren't allowed to read back then, blah blah blah."
I responded with this:
1.) Gail was actually modeled after the women in my family, meaning my great-grandmother and her sisters (from both my mom's and dad's side). They were all a bunch of spitfires and were basically like Sophia from The Golden Girls; always speaking their mind. Therefore (to bring in Sean Croxton's question model of how old school foods are suddenly making new diseases) if men of that era only wanted mousy women they could smack around, beat the shit out of if she burned dinner, and keep in the kitchen with their mouths shut, explain how women like my relatives (and others like them) were able to a.) find men who wanted to be their husbands, and b.) live passed the age of 30.

2.) If absolutely no women read back then, explain how there are many great female authors/writers/poets who not only date decades and even centuries back, but were also published either during or soon after their time (e.g. Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Bronte, Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, Emily Dickinson, etc.). They had to have been allowed to be educated enough to write some arguably brilliant poetry and works of fiction. Meaning, they had to know how to not only write, but also read. Not to say they didn't face some obstacles, but they were obviously very educated and intelligent women. So yes, women did read back then and also came up with some pretty controversial topics to write about, even if it was to the chagrin of some others.
Also as an added note on that, popular actress of the 1920s and 30s, Mary Astor was an avid reader according to her daughter and even wrote a few novels in her lifetime. And movies from those eras also show female characters reading a book in a couple scenes. And Mary Shelley (who wrote Frankenstein in the 1800s) also edited her husband's poetry (according to some sources). So centuries ago, her husband trusted her literally skills with his own works...

So is it really that unrealistic and far-fetched for Gail and Dorothy to have a hobby of reading and be something other than mousy?

And as far as everyone being sexually pure until recently, look up the Kama Sutra, the Marquis de Sade, the Victorian era brothels, the "free love" of the jazz age (1920s and 30s), and more. History is littered with premarital and extramarital affairs (Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, anyone?). There were even pro-doms and dominitrixes in the 20s. Even cross-dressing and drag shows go back alot further than many people think.

There have also always been youth and fringe subcultures in one form or another.

So in closing, what is my point?
I will use a quote from the character Tahatan in Descent (The Birthrite Series 1): "The powers that be try to push certain ideals, but in the end people are people."

It also begs the question of why bygone times are portrayed in certain ways, and why every last individual seems to be lumped into a single stereotype regardless of the person he or she truly was. And why is it difficult for some to accept that there were those in passed societies who did not subscribe to what was being pushed by the powers that be of the time? If anything, I would think people would take some comfort in that.

I will go into more detail with these and more in future posts in this Bygone Eras blogposts. I'm sure it might piss some off (who knows, perhaps this intro already has), but it is important to have the whole story on everything. Not just some biased view on it.

Call this the introduction. :)


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