opinion

The more things change…

When I was a kid, we watched a lot of television on the weekends, and this being the time before cable television, the stations filled the air with things like cartoons and old movies. I watched a lot of old movies. This pandemic (COVID-19) made me remember a scene from one of those old movies not too long ago. I think it was a Bowery Boys movie, or it could have been East Side Kids. They were pretty interchangeable, I mean, they had quite a few of the same actors and all, so yeah.

Anyway, the scene went something like this: A bunch of the “boys” or “kids” (they were all in their late teens or early twenties at least) were gathered in an alleyway, reading the obituary of a woman who had just passed away from either being caught in the crossfire of a gangster shootout or from consumption (tuberculosis). She might have been a mole and gotten shot for her efforts. It was forty years ago, dear reader, I don’t remember why she died in the movie, the important part was that she was dead, and one of the boys was reading about her death in the paper. So the one guy has the paper and the others are gathered around him — you have to assume that the one reading is the only one who can read, this being the late 1930’s early 1940’s. Anyway he states the cause of death as, we’ll say, “…shot in a spray of gunfire.”

One of the other boys interrupts and says something along the lines of, “That isn’t true, she died of consumption. I heard it from my own grandmother.”

It’s in the paper, it’s gotta be true!
Photo by Adam Ciesielski from FreeImages

The first one taps the paper and claims “They wouldn’t put it in the paper if it wasn’t true.” and there’s a general consensus that this is, indeed, true. He goes on to read that the woman (whom these boys have known all their lives) was a “kindly woman who helped orphans” to which another boy exclaims: “That broad wouldn’t help her own son if he paid her!” And the first boy once again says: “They wouldn’t put in the paper if it wasn’t true.” This goes on for several minutes where the first boy reads out the virtues of the woman who passed, while one by one the others disclaim them. Which causes the first one to double down with It’s in the paper, it’s gotta be true. But here’s the thing, y’all, I know people in my life who were/are like those boys in the movie. The news is never wrong, no matter what else they know to be true.

Which is why COVID-19 brought up such an old and trivial scene from a near-forgotten movie of my childhood. Because it occurred to me, dear reader, that we’re not much different from the people of nearly 100 years ago. We haven’t changed much at all. Just the technology has changed. Instead of: It’s in the paper, it’s gotta be true. the people of today have their own battle cries. I mean, people are dying all around us with this pandemic, and others are denying what they know to be true with what they want to believe. Just as those boys knew what the paper said was false, but they wanted to believe in the integrity of the news reporters. This isn’t a new thing, I can bet money that it’s been around for as long as humankind has existed. Someone, somewhere will deny what they see for what they want to believe. That doesn’t justify the behavior — far from it — but it gives me hope, dear reader. Why? Because the human race isn’t growing more deprived as we evolve, despite what some people think. We’ve always been this way — well not just deprived, we’re hella kind as well — and we’ve survived, because that’s what we do. The human race will be just fine. There are certain individuals who can just fuck right off, but the human race as a whole, I think we’ll be good.