One summer, a sister and I were trying to convince our mother that not all movie stars and entertainers were divorcing.
“You know that Pat Boone will never get divorced,” my sister insisted.
“Well, if he’s not divorced now, I’ll give him six months,” our mother replied.
I, the little country music historian, piped up, “But Shirley Boone is Red Foley’s daughter,” hoping that attaching the Boones to a country star whom our parents liked would soften her attitude. It did.
“Well, I didn’t know that. Maybe that’ll help ’em.”
This exchange took place in the mid-50s. By the late ’60s I was courting my future wife who lived near Murfreesboro, Tenn., just south of Music City USA. It was reassuring to learn that her parents held values identical to those of my parents. Though hill people, they didn’t fully subscribe to “hillbilly” music — the precursor of country — nor did they like everything musical that came out of Nashville.
My father-in-law thought June Carter (the future June Carter Cash) was “a little forward” and “a little too silly.” His and my mother-in-law’s reservations about the Nashville scene extended to movies as well. Like my parents, they didn’t like what Hollywood had to offer, believing that much of it undermined morals.
Even so, shortly after we were married, my wife and I took her parents to see the innocuous “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” For days they talked and laughed about Julie Andrews’ character, a Roaring Twenties girl who goes to New York to achieve her “thoroughly modern” goal of getting a husband.
Somehow my parents’ jaundiced eye toward movies rubbed off on me. Their disdain for glamour (“You’re ’sposed to be yourself”), their views on nudity (“Didn’t God cover Adam and Eve?”), and their prohibition of profanity (“Bridle your tongue!”) all made sense to me.
Enter … explicit lyrics, R-rated movies, rap, desensitized young parents, cable television, and a sprinkling of young preachers who think a little pulpit profanity is cool, and we get a changed world.
Movies and songs are cultural indicators, however, so it’s wise to at least know what’s in them. As for movies, my wife and I did go see “The Help,” the movie about segregation. After the movie, as we got into our car, I began to weep and said to my wife, “That’s exactly how it was.” Thinking my emotions were vented, I drove toward the street, only to find I had to pull over and further collect myself. As a boy I had seen too much benign neglect and racial condescension to dismiss this movie.
But such emotional overload isn’t too beneficial, and that’s why I won’t be seeing “12 Years a Slave.” How productive is re-visiting the horrors of slavery? From the reviews and trailers I’ve seen, the brutality is gratuitous.
What is the value of viewing and viewing again the atrocities of an institution that we all know was evil? Movies that repeatedly re-visit such evil tend to perpetuate victimhood. They inspire guilt in those who are not guilty.
Who in America today would justify slavery? Who needs painful, visual reminders of it?
“12 Years a Slave” surely feeds the angry face and voice of MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, the Reverend who is neither reverent, nor forgiving. There are many black Americans who have eschewed victimhood and promoted freedom and justice without the hatred and invective: Dr. Ben Carson, Herman Cain, Star Parker, Professor Thomas Sowell, Professor Walter Williams, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, former U.S. Rep. Alan West and others. I’d like to see a movie about any of them.
As for musical entertainers, I’d also like to see some parents push back on Miley Cyrus, whom we are allowing to commit murder — murder of decency, grace, class, and beauty. Plato, who went too far in opposing music outright, wrote that music is “the barbarous expression of the soul, its primitive and primary speech.” Cyrus, Beyonce and far too many others are certainly validating Plato. Parents had better wake up!
But I’m glad my mother was wrong. Pat and Shirley Boone are still happily married, still setting the right kind of example for their children, grandchildren and the rest of us.
May their tribe increase.
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.