I used to think the past was sepia toned. Probably most of us did, as kids. At least most of us who are old enough to have grown up with framed pictures of grandparents and great grandparents, looking down on you from some wall.
My grandmother had a picture of her mother (to whom she’d been very close) on the wall of the upstairs family room, and I used to look at her, and try to trace a resemblance, and worry about whether she’d like me. But she was sepia. I mean, I knew there had been color in her day, but to this day I’m not sure what her coloration was. How could I know? the picture was sepia.
In the same way, the black and white movies of WWII made it seem like it happened a lot more than the 23 years before my birth. Those things, back there, in black and white, int he long distant past were not quite real.
Of course I knew that there had been color in those days. But it was an intellectual knowledge. I’d never seen it.
Which is why the colorized reels of WWI had so much impact. Suddenly these people were real, and many of them startlingly young.
And it’s why pictures like these are so startling and important. They bring the past to life in a way we’re not used to seeing it, and they make these people just people: like us. Human and alive.
It’s harder, or it should be, to dismiss who they were and how they lived and to think we have it the hardest evah now we see them in color.
Only of course, it’s not because these people viewing the pictures are so startlingly and innocently devoid of historical knowledge they think the shepherd boy in a sort of tunic is cross dressing. (No, seriously.) And the idiot who then said that dresses weren’t “female” till much later than that is only slightly better informed. Dresses for INFANTS were normal till just after WWI (so in fact just a few years past that.) regardless of the infants sex. But smocks were worn by males and females of the working class, for the simple reason that it took less fabric than pants.
I suspect until the far more prosperous middle years of the 20th century they continued to be worn in various places, and I’d not be shocked if they’d been work in the poorest and most remote villages of Portugal, either. (I lived in a cosmopolitan part of the country, me.)
To talk of “gender” or to imagine that someone of that time in a peasant village was crossdressing… dear lord.
Then there was the idiot who thought the woman making fringe to support her family should instead repair her dress.
This is your Marxist economics at work. She should fix her dress, and maybe make a better dress to herself, and then pay herself, and of course she’d be richer or something.
I was shocked none of them pointed out that the woman in elaborate Irish peasant dress was barefoot, and that there were many diseases you could contract that way. Or perhaps “weren’t her feet cold?” (My mother who grew up barefoot summer and winter says no, they weren’t. You just got used to it. I don’t know. I’m glad I live in better times.)
And of course — of course — they admired the thatched roof with grass growing on it, and talked about how they wanted one. By which time I was laughing my head off, because, you know… anyone who grew up with thatch or got to experience a thatched roof knows that by the time it “grows” things it’s thick with bugs and crawlies, and you’re going to get stuff dropping inside. The thatch needs to be renewed. (And no, I didn’t grow up with it. But some farmers had it for animal lodging and/or storage areas, so I got to see it/experience it in visits.)
I’m surprised they didn’t talk about how ecological and “green” it was.
Look, I get that it’s hard to convey to our kids how different, how PROSPEROUS a world they’re growing up in. A friend about my age and I were talking about it last week, and we realized that we can tell our kids till we’re blue in the face, but they’ll never understand the stuff like “you can’t buy veggies out of seasons, so the first tomato of spring is amazing, and old apples from the cold room are the sweetest things you get in winter.) They’ll understand it intellectually, just like we understood intellectually the deprivations of the people in the 30s (yes, worldwide. When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches pneumonia.) It’s awful, and long ago, and thank heavens we live now.
But now telescopes forever, just like in my mind it had been forever since WWII when it had been only slightly more than it’s now from 9/11.
The thing is that the schools and culture aren’t even trying. These people, some of them not much younger than I but raised in very different circumstances, go about believing that the past is just like the present, only less woke, and if only those horrible people their ancestors had only had access to the woke philosophy of the young people of today, they’d have been exactly like us.
Stuff like “that woman knotting the fringe might have been all that stood between her 7 children and starvation” will either go over their heads, or they’ll start praising welfare, completely unaware that even if people wanted to back then they couldn’t feed a lot of surplus population. Because there wasn’t a lot of surplus production.
It was only those “satanic mills” and the wealth they generated, which then got applied to other things which then generated wealth that has got us to where we are now, where people who have never had a day of hunger in their pampered lives can talk about what victims they are because someone laughed near them or looked at them funny, and they know it’s the inherent racism/sexism/ismism of the west.
Short of sending them back to see the past, all we can do is teach. But we must make sure we do teach. By means of textbooks if needed. By other means if possible.
Because when people think thatch is cute, we’ve come a long way baby. And the Gods of the Copybook Headings are revving up their engines to come and explain it again.