Then and now, a matter of degree: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Before, I'd watched the movie from beginning to end twice. During this viewing, however, two particular scenes caught my attention and got me to thinking. The first scene was the soda shop scene where Fred Derry defends Homer Parrish from an anti-war "Americanist" who argues that the great personal sacrifices of World War 2, including Homer's amputated hands, were a waste, and worse, the result of a vast conspiracy. The second scene is in Fred Derry's apartment where Marie Derry, Fred's unhappy wife, leaves him after telling him off as a loser and proclaiming her own independence.
The two scenes got me thinking about how popular cultural archetypes have changed while the fundamental nature of American society has not. It seems that the anti-war radical was stubbornly vocal even during the patriotic World War 2 era. His successors have barely changed since then, except he was a disreputable fringe radical 60 years ago, but now dominates Ivy League political science departments, politics, and media punditry. The villainous archetype of the anti-war American 60 years ago, barely changed, is now viewed as a wise hero in popular and political culture.
Marie Derry is an ambitious, judgemental, materialistic and vain, proudly independent woman who leaves her husband, an honorable war hero struggling to find his way at home. Apparently, the self-centered feminist isn't a modern creation, either, except back then, she was presented as a selfish creature who betrayed her commitment to her honorable husband. Now, she's become a feminist heroine who owes nothing to anyone else and is right to do whatever is necessary to gain whatever she can get in life, regardless of the effect on her husband.
My conclusion? We wax poetic about halcyon days, but our society's fundamental nature actually hasn't changed that much since the Greatest Generation. We've just allowed our worse nature to get the upper hand. We'll never eliminate our weaknesses, nor should we, but what can we do to reassert our strengths?