Monday, August 14, 2017

Social Media and Socialization

It's funny how we weigh the value of our online friends and acquaintances. Social media has become so ingrained in our daily lives, that it's a regular point of discussion how we should interact with others online, like which topics we should or should not publicly post. If it's ethical to post photos of other people online without their permission, including children. During the election, I saw dozens and dozens of Facebook posts from people who claimed they would block or un-friend anyone who posted anything in support of Trump. The rule that I have follow for my own social media management is "Does this person post things which contribute to my overall enjoyment?" If the person regularly writes things that are not interesting, or intentionally inflammatory, or go against my morals and ethics, then I simply unfollow that person. I have also used this logic to initiate or maintain online relationships. For example, there is a person on Facebook whom I knew only peripherally during high school, but she always posts links to articles that I love. The topics range from feminism and women's studies, child rearing, history, literature, pop culture. Anyone who has such a wide range of interests is someone I consider worth knowing.

One of her recent posts was an article discussing the recent exhumation of several bodies from the burying ground from an old Carlisle school. The remains of the three Native American boys are being returned to their tribe so that they can be honored and the proper ceremonies can be performed.

When I was earning my Master's in history, I took a course about gender and sexuality in Native American culture. I did my final paper on the Carlisle schools, so ever since I have tried to learn even more about the topic. Right now, I am making my way through a book about football legend Jim Thorpe.

I admit that I didn't even know he was until I visited the Football Hall of Fame a few years ago. The section dedicated to Thorpe is the one thing I remember, since I'm really not into football at all. It was there that I first learned about one of the most amazing athletes in American history; Thorpe is known for football, but he also played professional baseball and basketball and won Olympic gold medals in the  pentathlon and decathlon. He was the first Native American athlete to win a gold medal. 

His athletic abilities were first noticed at the Carlisle school he attended as a teen. He excelled in track and field, lacrosse, baseball, and even ballroom dancing, winning an intercollegiate dance competition in 1912.

Therefore, when I saw that there was a new book about this amazing man last year, I knew I wanted to purchase it for the school library. Even though I don't have much of an interest in football, the history of it IS interesting. The history of pretty much anything is interesting. If we were to watch a football game according to the original rules and traditions, it would be pretty confusing. Apparently, it resembled rugby at its most organized, and resembled a free-for-all fight at its least organized. Pads (which would have been home-made) were rarely used. Instead of helmets, the players simply grew their hair long-ish during the season to provide a minimal amount of cushioning to their heads; the lack of protection almost led to the Carlisle schools banning the sport since so many students were receiving serious head injuries.

The book is good for readers interested in football because it provides a good history of the sport and discusses plays and introduces readers to the early players and coaches that they might not know about. The book also illustrates the 19th century viewpoint of the "Indian problem" by stating the Carlisle schools' approaches to assimilating the Native Americans to white society. It describes how the schools chose new Christian names for the students, changed their hairstyles (often cutting the males' hair), forbade them from speaking their native languages and forced them to adopt Western clothing.

Tom Torlino, a Navajo, photographed upon his 
admission to the school and three years afterwards

Not every student may be motivated enough to read the entire book, but certainly portions of the text would be useful for a variety of content areas ranging from history and social studies to Language Arts (writing biographies) and of course  Physical Education.

It kind of makes sense that my Facebook friend, who displays such a diverse range of interests and and passions, would post an article related to a historical figure who exhibited such a range of talents.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Little News on Little Women

This morning on my Facebook feed, a terrible piece of clickbait appeared before me. The link to a post from Book Riot claimed that Beth doesn't always die in Little Women. I fell for it.

The article recounts a story from a bookstore customer who was reading the classic with her daughter, and she had warned her daughter about a very sad part in the story, but when they finished the book, the daughter didn't know what her mom had been talking about. Yes, Beth had gotten scarlet fever, but she recovered. And then all this other good stuff happened too, like Amy developing a bond with their cranky Great Aunt March, and Meg getting married, and Jo getting a story published.  .  .what sad part?

Yay, she's all better!

And the poor confused mother was left wondering, why didn't Beth die in this version?

Well, the answer is actually very simple and has more to do with the history of children's book publishing rather than the author's original intentions. The book we now know as simply "Little Women" was published in two volumes originally: the first in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. The Story of Their Lives. A Girl's Book. 

Alcott wrote the second volume, titled Good Wives, following the success of the previous book. Her young readers were writing to her in droves, begging her to answer their questions about the fates of the four sisters, mostly, whether Jo and Laurie ever got married. So in 1869, readers were able to find out what happened to the March girls as they grew up. The second volume contains Beth's demise.

I think most book publishers reprint both volumes into one book with the abbreviated title Little Women, because most readers are going to want the entire story of the March family. However, it's certainly possible that some publishers choose to only publish the 'true' Little Women, meaning just the original volume. This is what led to the mother's confusion.

I'm glad that I fell for the clickbait though- it inspired me to blog, and I was overdue for a Little Women related post.

Speaking of which, here's a brief update on the two upcoming movie adaptations:

PBS Masterpiece Theater: Emily Watson is leading the cast as Marmee. Watson is an accomplished actress, with previous roles in Angela's Ashes and The Book Thief, among many others. I think she'll make a good Marmee. Also, Angela Lansbury is playing Great Aunt March. Even though the girls playing the daughters are young ingenues, with two strong actresses playing the older roles, I have high hopes for this adaptation.

Little Women, a Modern Movie: I feel like the reason this adaptation is modern is because they did not want to compete with the 1994 film. That's a wise choice I think, because that film has alot of loyalty. I don't have a problem with modern re-tellings of classic stories; in fact, I love them! After all, Clueless is a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Emma, and Bridget Jones' Diary is a modern retelling of the same author's Pride and Prejudice. And obviously, the 1996 Romeo and Juliet was very modern, even though Shakesperean dialogue was used.

And I have read a modern retelling of Little Women, titled The Little Women, by Katherine Weber. It took a bit of getting used to, but it wasn't bad. I don't think the movie will be based on that book though.

There's not a whole lot of info on this movie yet; the IMDB page is pretty sparse. The official Facebook page has photos of the actors and behind-the-scenes shots of the sets though. This seems to be the only photo that is from the film. It looks to me like it's depicting Chapter Two,  "A Merry Christmas".

I don't know of a release date yet, but the IMDB page says it's 2017, so we'll see. I guess I got my Little Women fix for a while.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hollywood Smiles

Given my long-time fascination with Old Hollywood and my more recent fixation on dentistry and its history and context, I knew buying this book was a certainty. I first heard about Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America on NPR, and I stalked it for a while on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, trying to see if it might go on sale or if I could find a used copy. But my wonderful godmother sent me a B&N gift card for my birthday, and weekends in August are Educator Discount days, so I bought it, feeling satisfied that I got the best price possible on a new hardcover book.

The book begins with a briefing on the state of dental care standards in our country; why so many people must go without even the most basic dental care and opens up the discussion of the premium we place on not just oral health, but the appearance of our teeth and our quest for dental perfection. It's not enough for us to have healthy teeth- they have be radiantly white and they have to be straight and there cannot be any spaces or overlapping or overbite or underbite or any other detractors.

Otto writes that dentistry and photography/film have a shared history and a symbiotic relationship. It's no coincidence that the first dental school opened in 1840, the same year that the camera was patented. The person who received the patent was Alexander S. Wolcott, an inventor. He was also a dentist.

Since then, we have used our photographed images to judge the state of our smiles. And we put a lot of time and effort into achieving the perfect smile because we want to look good in pictures. With the advent of Talkies in the late 1920's, there was much more emphasis on actors voices, and their mouths in general. In order to execute decent sound quality, the actors wore microphones, and had to speak clearly into them. It's difficult to speak clearly if you're missing teeth. And naturally, the films would be doing more close-ups on the actors' faces since they're speaking, and so their mouths not only had to produce good dialogue, they had to look good too.

Dentistry's role in the Hollywood machine is easily seen. For example, one of my all-time favorites was Shirley Temple. She became an icon at the tender age of five, and continued to make movies through her childhood and adolescence. And yet, she never lost her baby teeth.  .  .

Well, of course she did. She lost her baby teeth like any other kid. But the public never noticed, because every time she lost a tooth, the dentist would mold some veneers to cover up the space. Since she was losing teeth for years, she went through lots of sets of them.

Here's a rare photo that shows Shirley Temple's natural smile when she was eight years old:

That picture is from the files of Dr. Charles Pincus, the dentist of the stars. Pincus is known as the originator of the Hollywood smile, but of course he was not the only contributor to this golden standard smile. Many stars used veneers and dentures to give themselves the smiles that Nature had not. 

I think anyone who claims to be a Judy Garland fan knows that she started out her career as homely little girl- Louis B. Mayer used to call her his "little hunchback." Part of her metamorphosis into a starlet involved fixing her smile, with sparkling white veneers, She used to keep them in a little box shaped like a piano when she wasn't wearing them. Photos taken near the end of her life, when the drugs and alcohol were showing their damage and when she didn't have much money, show her natural teeth:

While some stars used veneers to cover up dental imperfections, some used dentures because they didn't have any teeth. Clark Gable, the King of Hollywood, suffered an infection in his gums when he was a young man. His teeth rotted beyond repair, and he had full dentures by the time he was 32 years old.

I wish that Otto's book focused more on this time period; it's a sound thesis and she introduces it like it's going to be the focus, but the majority of the text afterwards discusses the shortcomings of health insurance, and how dental health is not included despite the fact that a person's oral health is directly related to his/her overall physical state.

She also discusses dental care in the contexts of geographic location (rural areas tend to lack dentists), race (black and Hispanic Americans have historically faced challenges trying to access dental care) and economic class (people who live in poor areas have a harder time paying for dental care, or even finding locations that offer it, since many dentists set up office in middle-upper class suburbs).

She also brings up the unique way in which we view tooth decay as an indicator of a person's morality- a person with bad teeth has failed to maintain hygiene, and is 'unclean', inside and out. We don't question hip replacements or even basic devices like eyeglasses the same way- a shortcoming within our mouth implies a much great problem with our intrinsic self. But, I already knew that. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

An Old Friend

When I saw this book on display in my local library, I grabbed it because I thought it was actually going to be a book about fairy tales. Like, fractured fairy tales that have been modernized and reimagined. When I read the inside flap, I realized that the title was a bit misleading, but I decided to give it a try anyways. I guess I'm at that age now when I enjoy reading amusing anecdotes about getting older, and failed attempts at recapturing youth and beauty and bittersweet recollections of "what could have been".

Most of the poems and stories were enjoyable, although they weren't as funny as I was hoping. Most of them operate on a very upscale Manhattan, type of humor that references Botox, nannies,  summer homes, and Ivy Leagues. And it's not a tongue in cheek poke at this way of living like in The Nanny Diaries or The Devil Wears Prada; it's written in a way that assumes the reader will relate. Like, instead of "We were running late this morning, so for breakfast my kid had a doughnut from the gas station", it's the nanny who can't prepare breakfast for her charge because they don't have anymore organic spinach for the egg white omelette, so she stops in at Dean and Deluca and buys him a toasted bagel with lox.  .  .Yeah.  .  .I hate when that happens.  .  . .

So I read the book and I appreciated the things I could relate to, like not fitting into the same size jeans anymore, or remembering with a very bitter taste in my mouth the moment when I first realized that there's a different set of rules for women.

However, towards the back of the book, I found an old friend. How old? Well, she'd be 187 this December, but I've only known her since I was a teenager.

 Well, it's not  really her, but it's obviously an homage to her. 

"A man with a scythe rang my doorbell.
I saw him through the peephole.
I said he had the wrong apartment.
He said he wanted me.
I told  him to go away.
He laughed and left.  .  ."

If you're not the biggest fan of Transcendentalist/Romantic writers (although honestly, how can anyone not be?), then I'll just tell you that Sheila Nevins took a page from Emily Dickinson:

"Because I could not stop for Death-
He kindly stopped for me-
The carriage held but just Ourselves-
And Immortality.   .  ."

Dickinson personifies Death as a gentleman caller, and the speaker follows the etiquette of the time period by agreeing to accompany him on a carriage ride, with a chaperone of course (Immortality). In Nevins' poem, the speaker is also greeted by Death outside her door, and she also follows suit with the behavior typical of a modern New Yorker- telling him to go away.

I think this chapter is the one that made me smile the most, because I imagined Emily Dickinson yelling at Death through the peephole in a thick New Yorker accent.
I wonder what she'd order on her pizza.  .  .