Unexpected Different Attitudes In Older Works

One thing that’s fun in reading older books or watching older movies is seeing little patterns of thought that are different from today. Not things like ‘these medieval characters think like medieval people’, but ‘these spacemen from the future do things I’d consider really unusual and it’s not part of being a spaceman’ or ‘this medieval person seems to have a distinct 60’s mindset’. I’m specifically excluding things like racial and gender issues here, and I’m not thinking of the blatantly obvious, like ‘they didn’t have cellphones in this 1940s movie’.

One example from EE Doc Smith’s Lensman books:
There’s a scene where the main character Kim is in deep cover to infiltrate a criminal operation. He goes off on a day trip to have lunch and fish while making a drop for the criminals. As part of his day trip, he brings a packaged lunch in box, then when he’s done eating collects the trash into the box and drops it into the late. While he will comment when he does things that are out of character to maintain cover, dropping trash into the nice lake you’re fishing doesn’t even warrant a mention, it’s treated as the perfectly normal thing to do. I don’t think you’d have a squeaky-clean hero today who casually pitches his lunch containers into a lake without a second thought, but back then it was just what you did with trash.

Many English-language writers of the fairly recent past felt much more strongly about the acceptability or otherwise of men wearing beards than we tend to feel nowadays.

We generally think, a guy gots a beard, a guy don’t gots a beard, whatever, who cares. But not according to the juvenile-fiction author R. M. Ballantyne in 1863:

The humorist P. G. Wodehouse in the mid-20th century had an opposing viewpoint:

A few years ago I decided to watch the movie Car Wash, released circa 1976, just to see what it was like. I never expected it to be any sort of great masterpiece of course, but it was somewhat amusing, and it was actually a pretty good insight into the culture and attitudes of 40+ years ago. One scene that was unexpected for me was when a male customer goes to pay for his car wash, starts flirting with the young woman working the cash register, and asks her out on a date. Now every woman I know in my age group (I’m 39) who’s worked in the service industry has told me they find it extremely annoying when men try to hit on them while they’re at work and would definitely not agree to go on a date with a random customer. Maybe if the guy was a regular who she’s gotten to know over time, but certainly not someone she’s never met before. But in the movie, the cashier acted flattered and excitedly said yes to his request for a date. Later on in the movie she’s excitedly telling her coworkers that she has a date tonight. I genuinely found that surprising.

Also somewhat surprising to me, it seemed like disco was portrayed in the movie as “black music”. That is, all the young black characters listened to disco, while the white characters listened to rock and roll. I’d thought disco had more widespread appeal. Or did it achieve more widespread popularity later on? I’m obviously too young to remember the disco era.

The music in Car Wash was Funk not Disco.

In The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Frank Coghlan, Jr. plays Billy Batson. The actor was 25 years old, but the movie still describes the character as “a boy”, and presents him as a teenager. In a couple of scenes, Batson shoots bad guys. In one scene, he mans a machine gun and mows them down in droves.

In one scene, Captain Marvel is fighting a group of gangsters on the roof of a skyscraper. Cap grabs one guy and casually throws him over the edge of the roof.

You could not do that in a kid’s movie today.

I like reading old mystery stories in part because they’ve turned into historical novels, but written from the inside, so to speak. The author isn’t explaining the time and place to a modern day reader – you’re just dumped in there, because that’s when they were written.

I have a ‘mystery story’ example that’s rather like the OP - in a Dick Francis thriller that I have on my shelves, the hero is riding through a South African wildlife park, and someone starts to throw a plastic bag out of the window of the jeep. On being told bluntly not to do it, he then argues about it and asks for reasons (“because the animals would try to eat it”, in this case)

The idea that a grown man, and responsible professional, would need to have it carefully explained to him why you don’t throw out plastic bags in nature reserves is … very pre-70’s.

(The plastic bag, of course, having been emphasised, becomes a plot point later - our hero uses it to collect drinking water when he’s locked into an overheating car in the middle of the desert)

I had a good example in a Georgette Heyer mystery recently too. Character is trying to persuade the policeman that the cheque from deceased guy that he has in his posession doesn’t prove that he saw deceased guy on the day of the murder, because it was posted to him. Aha! says the policeman - but we haven’t found a letter from you acknowledging receipt of the money, so that throws doubt on your story, doesn’t it? Clearly expectations of timeliness and personal responsibility were high in the 1930’s

In The Day the Earth Stood Still, some Army doctors remark on the health and longevity of their alien visitor, while casually lighting up some cigarettes.

It’s 1979-1980 in a suburb of Detroit, junior HS( 7th and 8th grade ). My school is about 75-80% white, 20-25% black students and we have a little school paper. Black student writes short article attempting to educate the masses on cultural differences. In a local white tween/teen culture where “disco sucks” is a universal refrain( see the TV show Freaks and Geeks - almost identical time period and setting ), this young columnist notes how all her white friends would casually say “disco sucks” and then turn to her and say “no offense.” She then points out that there is a real difference between soul & funk and disco. She kinda thinks disco sucks too :p.

So yeah - it was very real cultural backlash attitude and anything that wasn’t good old standard rock like Foreigner or Bad Company kinda got lumped into the “disco” category by clueless white teens. At least in Michigan, in junior high at the end of the 1970’s.

Disco was soul music with the soul removed.

I’m around your age and from the whitest background possible. (So white, none of the TV markets I grew up in even had a station that aired “Soul Train”.) Still, even then I knew there were distinct differences between disco and funk. I was also aware disco was different from Philly Soul even though they shared similarities like lush string sections and slick production values. In retrospections of that era, these points are often forgotten.

To be fair; disco was a direct descendant of funk and soul.

It all started in the gay dance clubs in Manhattan (as all good things do, to hear my friend Reg tell it). The DJ’s would isolate the bass lines of funk songs. Speed them up a little (120 bpm was found to be right, and “coincidentally” is the same rate as the heart during sexual arousal) and maybe lay some electronic keyboards or some hooks from other songs over it. And stretch out what was probably a 3 min funk line into a 10 - 20 min dance track. The reason disco eventually got such a bad rap was that the ubiquitous clubs of the late 70’s and early 80’s took that recipe and ran it into the ground. the clubs would play what seemed liked the same song all night long and so it seemed to lose the “soul” of the original source material. And, of course, record companies had to cash in with a seemingly endless supply of disco “hits” for radio airplay.

Lesson and hijack over.

Have you ever read an unexpurgated, unbowdlerized version of Arabian Nights?

In English-speaking countries, we tend to have a romanticized view of the Bedouin, derived from Hollywood movies starring Rudolph Valentino or Peter O’Toole. The 1001 Nights stories were written by urban-dwelling Arabs. They viewed the Bedouin the way we view the rednecks in Deliverance. Uneducated, uncouth, and utterly untrustworthy.

Sexual mores are also peculiar. The medieval Muslims were not nearly as prudish as their modern descendants. Lots of things were forbidden, but there were lots of loopholes.

Premarital sex was forbidden. (But if, by the end of the story, you got her father’s permission to marry her, all would be forgiven.)

Extramarital sex was forbidden. (But if, by the end of the story, her husband divorced her, died of natural causes, or was executed by the king, all would be forgiven.)

It was forbidden to have sex with another man’s slave. (But, if he was a good friend, he would give her to you when he noticed your interest. :eek: [And, if you were a good friend, you would give her back when you were finished. :eek: :eek: :eek: ])

Attitudes toward homosexuality depended mostly on how good-looking the homosexuals were. If and old person, or an ugly person, or a person of low social status lusted after you, that was a calamity. If someone was young, good-looking, rich, and professed their love for you, nobody seemed to mind. The gay sex always took place offstage, but the hints about it were pretty broad.

Not quite the same thing but in the mid-90’s live action Disney Jungle Book movie Mogwai kicks a character over a cliff and kills him, granted it was in self-defence but I was still surprised.

This thread reminded me of something I was struck by while reading an American book published in the 1930’s where readers of a magazine wrote in about strange and unusual experiences which happened to them.

On more than one of the stories the writer casually stated that she was at home alone when a strange man knocked on the door, introduced himself as a friend or acquaintance of her husbands (who was away on a business trip) so she let him in to stay the night or until her husband returned.

This wasn’t the strange and unusual part and was presented as perfectly natural behaviour and not in the slightest bit unusual. They really were more innocent times.

The title character of the 1942 Henry Kuttner/C. L. Moore sf classic story “The Twonky” is a future machine whose purpose is to protect humans from all harm. It’s first action is to light a character’s cigarette.

Similarly, there must be a million stories in which the first reaction to someone being knocked out or otherwise injured is to give them a drink of restorative brandy, or a big glass of whisky when they’re back on their feet. This is also true for non-drinkers, who always accept the drink gratefully and never throw up as a result.

In one of James Fenimore Cooper’s novels, the leader of a new town is eagerly hoping to find a coal seam somewhere nearby, because the wood the town is currently burning for fuel is a finite and limited resource, but a coal seam would last forever.

The same novel includes a passenger pigeon hunt, where the townsfolk are all shooting as many as they can just for the heck of it, but at least Natty Bumppo is portrayed as being opposed to that.

A vital clue in Ellery Queen’s The Chinese Orange Mystery hinges on the fact that people would know something was very wrong if someone wore a suit jacket without a tie.

Edgar Wallace’s The Angel of Terror hinges on the fact that no one can believe a beautiful woman could be evil. Wallace was deliberately twitting that convention, but the characters – even when she is shown to be a psychopathic criminal – are willing to believe she’s really good because she looks so lovely.

“Thanks… I… needed that.”

Also said by the hysterical woman in a film noir, after being slapped or “had some sense shaken into her”.

NM, wrong thread.

Yes, YES, so much this! Brandy was THE panacea in every Hollywood action film, especially Westerns, from ca. 1935-1960. Only rivaled by screams for hot water when there was an instant birth. I recently saw “Drums Along the Mohawk” with Henry Fonda from 1939, which had a twofer: a difficult birth takes place on a prairie farm, hot water has been asked for and provided, and the doctor (who against all odds was available) steps out of the birthing room, baby screaming in the background, and shouts for : “Brandy!” Fonda (the lucky father): “Brandy? For the baby?” Doctor: “No, for me!”. So they kinda spoofed that meme early.

Too late to edit: I have to correct myself: The doctor’s answer really was: “Nor, for the mother!” :smack::smiley: