Unexpected Different Attitudes In Older Works

Casual racism, too many examples to begin to list.

“Save for the occasional use of cocaine he had no vices…" (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Yellow Face, referring to Sherlock Holmes)

In the mysteries of the Golden Age (1920’s and 30s), almost everyone is smoking. Here’s a line from Dorothy L Sayers: “Do sit down, and please smoke.”
And of course there are those 1940s ads with doctors smoking Camels.

Well, I’ll provide one, because it’s so eye-popping: the Agatha Christie novel which was actually entitled Ten Little N.

American publishers, possibly showing a little more sensitivity, generally used the title “And Then There Were None” (now universal, I think); apart from one which went for the anodyne (not!) Ten Little Indians. God help us.

Enough racism, on to fun pedophilia. Leslie Thomas (of Virgin Soldiers fame) was a writer of rather jolly and entertaining comic novels. I remember he was admired by Frank Muir, so there’s a recommendation. The novel His Lordship tells the story of a physical education teacher, hired at a girls’ boarding school. I can’t remember much of the detail, but I do remember that he impregnates a sixteen year old and spies on naked girls under sixteen.

I remember thinking this was unsavoury at the time; but back in 1970 it was evidently acceptable for a mainstream publisher to release a jolly romp of this nature.


If we’re getting into racism and sexism, we could be here all day. Which is presumably why the OP specifically excluded them.

But on pedophila, there’s quite an uncomfortable streak of it running through 1970s science fiction.

Not unique to 70’s sci fi. In the aforementioned Arabian Nights, it is forbidden to molest a free Muslim boy. Slave boys, however, are often described using the same language that is used to describe an attractive woman. (Lots of rhapsodizing about their soft lips and round thighs.) The pederasty always takes place offstage, but the hints about it are pretty strong.

WildaBeast writes:

> 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.

I think you misunderstood the point of that scene (which is this one):

The character (Melanie Mayron as Marsha) sometimes get hit on by her married boss. She doesn't meet anyone, customer or employee, at the car wash that she wants to date. They are too old, too poor, and not handsome enough for her taste. Then a guy (Tim Thomerson as Ken) comes in who meets her requirements. She doesn't date just any random customer. She accepts a date because this is a rare one who meets her requirements. As it turns out, when she meets up with him after finishing work, he didn't really want a date with her. He was just trying to match her up with a friend of his. The point is that a woman shouldn't accept a date with someone she's just met, regardless of how handsome, rich, or young he appears.

Though about 95% of that was Piers Anthony.

The most recent version used “Ten Little Soldier Boys” for the rhyme giving the clues, though the title is setted on And Then There Were None

There was a scene in John Varley’s novel Titan where two of the heroes were meeting a powerful alien and were asked if they’d like some refreshments. One of them casually asked for cocaine. The novel was written in 1979 and Varley apparently didn’t foresee that cocaine, which was enjoying a surge of popularity in the seventies, was going to have a backlash against it in the eighties.

Social change is very hard to predict. I remember reading a sci-fi book (I can’t remember the title, but I’m pretty sure it was written in the 70s or late 60s) set a few centuries were drug use was as common as alcohol and free love was the norm, but only for heterosexuals. Homosexuals were explicitly mentioned as one of the groups that leaving Earth for extrasolar colonies.

I don’t know if this counts as a racial example, but reading the 1939 novel The Drums of Fu-Manchu, it was rather hard for me to get behind the protagonists as they tried to stop the evil doctor from carrying out his fiendish plan to…

…bring about world peace by assassinating Hitler, Mussolini, and their key financial backers and weapons experts (different names were used in the book, but in that’s who they essentially were). I mean, sure, the guy runs a criminal empire, but racing to prevent WWII and the deaths of 50 million people from being averted?

Judging from movies, radio and from real-life accounts, hitchhiking was incredibly common in the 1970s and before - people could count on being able to travel by hitching and people passing by felt a social obligation to pick people up along the side of the road.

My belief is that until the 1970s, cars were still somewhat scarce and people felt that helping others like them out for a scarce good was indeed an obligation.

But they felt no such connection with hippies. They saw them as privileged snots expecting handouts. And hitchhiking women were something new. It didn’t help any that the 70s were awash in hard drugs, also something new. The combination made hitchhiking very dangerous in a cultural blink of an eye. A lot of people who were used to the safety and ease of hitchhiking only a very few years earlier got blindsided by the change.

I blame Nixon, of course. Imagine a President sending out signals that it was perfectly okay to use violence against people you didn’t like. Couldn’t possibly happen today. :smack:

In one 1930s cartoon Popeye, mistakenly believing that Swee’Pea has been naughty, prepares to administer discipline by picking up a stout piece of wood.

That reminds me of this scene from Airplane!:


Some of the British movies from the 1930s and 40s (particularly some wartime ‘stiff-upper-lip’ productions like Mrs Miniver) just carry an assumption that the wealthy aristocrats are naturally in a superior position to the working class - and that the working class recognise that and accept it.

Not so much attitudinal as technological, though the two are ultimately entwined: before the advent of cell phones, the heroines of mystery/suspense novels would often, with formulaic predictability, find themselves trapped by the bad guy, who would attempt to murder them in a remote spot. Only the pluck of the heroine would save the day.

I recall reading that as cell phones became ubiquitous, there was actually a workshop at a mystery writers’ conference regarding “how to write a realistic climax in the cell phone era.” Because nowadays, if one is striving for realiism, all the plucky heroine has to do is whip out her cell phone and call for help.

Common solutions to this writers’ problem include lost phones, stolen phones, phones hurled into lakes or stomped on by the evil guy, lack of reception in a remote area, and so on. All of which are potentially plausible circumstances, but this is something mystery novel writers never used to have to worry about.

Interesting, that in a work presumably written a couple of hundred years ago and set at an even earlier time; Natty is shown as having some notion of nature conservation. (Am wondering whether it might be worth my giving Fenimore Cooper a try – notwithstanding Mark Twain’s scorn of him…)

In similar vein – though here, in a historical novel written in our era – there’s an episode in Patrick O’Brian’s The Surgeon’s Mate, involving a situation and sentiments on the part of Stephen (who is in advance of his times in a number of ways), re the Great Auk.

Thoughts concerning Ben Elton’s IMO excellent time-travel novel Time and Time Again: in which the protagonist travels back to 1914 in an effort to cause retroactively, a much more pleasant twentieth century: by preventing Princip from killing Franz Ferdinand – after which the protagonist moves on to Berlin and kills Kaiser Wilhelm II. It turns out that this is just one such achieving of these goals, out of of a fair number of same, by travellers from an assortment of alternative time-lines (the author sets up a McGuffin by which repeated “shots” at this 1914 feat are possible, and happen) – and in every such case, the time-line develops in a more ugly and horrific way than happened in “our” actual time-line, with its actual World Wars etc.

Could it possibly be that those in the 1939 novel who are trying to stop Fu-Manchu; have some inkling of a scenario, such as Elton’s as above?

As a person who hitchhiked in the 1970’s: this was pretty much true, but already becoming somewhat less so than it had been.

Cars were very common by the 1970’s, and even by the 1950’s; though the acceptance of hitchhiking may have been partially cultural leftover from the 30’s and 40’s. And certainly lots of people picked up hippies in the 70’s – including hippies with cars, of whom there were also quite a few, and many of whom would pick up hitchhikers more or less on principle.

Most hippies were taking marijuana and/or psychedelics; use of hard drugs was IME relatively rare. And in any case they weren’t a new thing – most of them had been legal over the counter earlier in the century, and some of what we think of as hard drugs now still were; codeine cough syrup for instance.

I don’t know how often women hitchhiked before the 70’s, but children certainly did, generally around their own neighborhoods of course.

I think what actually happened was less that hitchhiking became more dangerous than that news reports started to become more national. People heard of things which had happened all along, but without their knowing about them. The perception of danger increased. A similar thing happened with perception of children being kidnapped and/or molested – not an increase in frequency but an increase in perception.

Of course when the general cultural perception becomes that hitchhiking is dangerous, it does become more so, primarily for the hitchers: because if most people of good will stop picking up hitchhikers, the chances that any given ride being offered is an unsafe one to take increase.