Learn from history instead of losing time condemning it
By Jessica Berget, Editor-in-Chief
When we think of our past actions that we aren’t proud of, what do we do? I can bet most people think to themselves “I was young,” or “That was a long time ago.” We are quick to forgive ourselves, yet when it comes to some parts of the past, people are quicker to critique. While being critical of our history certainly has its place, I don’t think there’s any use in applying today’s standards of society on to things that have happened the past.
This is often something I hear when talking about old, classic films. “I love that movie, except for that one part.” “That one part” usually pertains to an offensively racist or sexist scene (i.e. Mickey Rooney’s depiction of an Asian man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Although I am not excusing the scenes of these films—they are extremely hard to watch—I do think it’s unnecessary to put the social standards of today onto things that happened so long ago, back when society was a very different time and place with totally different norms. It is important to recognize why it’s wrong, but we can’t be too upset at something that happened so long ago that it may have been before we were even born.
These films and scenes are a product of their time, and we should stop viewing them with a 2019 lens. The ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and hell, even the 2000s were a very different time and place than today. As such, they had very different—albeit outdated (at least by our standards)—societal norms and ideas. Although this doesn’t excuse these racist or sexist things, it does explain why and how they happened to be so normal and unquestioned.
Be critical of perspectives from the past, but do not disregard them completely or pretend they don’t exist—they can actually teach us a lot. I think media from the past is a good way to see previous human culture and what things were once considered funny or inoffensive. We can’t pretend that society was never racist or sexist, but we should be able to look at evidence that people from the past were. Current culture should be able to view the past with a dissociation that this is how people used to think and deal with big issues. Applying the current rules of society prevents people from seeing any value in learning from people in the past.
There’s no use of complaining over things that happened in the past—they’re in the past. In 10 or 20 years I’m sure we will be cringing at some of the things we do or say now, but we ourselves are a product of our time. Standards and societal norms are always changing, and only time will tell if any of the things we are doing now will be considered offensive in the future.