What Do You Do All Day?
(or "Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again")

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Sunday, October 13, 2002


Someone on a mailing list I subscribe to noted yesterday that people in majority groups (and I would extend that to say not just majority groups, but groups holding a majority of power, whatever their numbers) tend to see people in minority groups as lacking in whatever quality defines the majority group...not as people who are fully possessed of their own special, but "other," quality. Thus, for example, white people tend to see black folks as lacking whiteness, extroverts see introverts as lacking in extroversion, tall people see short people as lacking in height, males tend to see females as lacking in testosterone (or whatever defines masculinity these days), rich people tend to see poor people as lacking in financial resources, etc. To see just how true this is, try to imagine black people viewing white folks as lacking in blackness, introverts seeing extroverts as people who just weren't born with enough introversion, short people feeling sorry for those who lack enough shortness, females viewing males as lacking estrogen (or whatever quality defines femininity these days), and poor people wishing they could pat rich folks on the heads to make them feel better about their lack of modest income. Not our usual perspective. But, actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that if we could get everyone to think exactly like this for a few days, the world would probably be a much better place.

What I finished reading today:

Bab: A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart

I picked this up at an estate sale a couple of years ago (reading old books is often fun just for the tactile experience - old covers, old pages, the weight of a comfortably worn hardcover in your hands - as well as for the interesting historical perspectives they can provide). The copyright dates are 1916 and 1917, and my copy has a handwritten inscription inside the front cover: "In remembrance of the happy graduation days of summer, 1917....Paul E. Neuselaufer." (Someone later pasted a label over this, identifying the volume as the property of "The Orsatti Agency, 9121 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California, Oxford 1008" -- book archaeology, wondering about all the hands a volume has passed through, is fun, too.)

Anyway, although author Rinehart (1876-1958) was best known for mysteries and crime fiction, this story is a very light-hearted visit with a high-spirited 16-year-old girl, from a rather wealthy family, who chafes at always being overshadowed by her already "out" debutante older sister, is convinced her parents just don't understand her, and whose frequent flights of fancy and resulting elaborate schemes always backfire and get her into major trouble...before finally working out even better than they could have in her wildest dreams. It's generally a lot of fun, and an interesting read today for a couple of reasons.

First, the book is written in diary style, with more than enough intentional grammatical and typographical errors to convince us that main character Bab just doesn't have time to worry about such things. And it definitely contains echoes of more modern attempts at the same kind of thing, such as Bridget Jones' Diary. Of course, this book is squeaky clean in comparison (no sex or profanity), but it has the same breathless, ultimately hopeful yearning of the "Bridget" books, and the two heroines are definitely kindred spirits, separated only by about 80 years or so.

The second interesting thing about the book, for me, was that it revealed just how deeply modern teenage culture was already embedded in America, even in the days immediately preceding World War I. Bab yearns for her own car (and blows a year's allowance buying one and then hiding it from her father), assumes it's useless to try to express her inner feelings to her parents, and develops crushes on a variety of boys and men while remaining quite blind to the one boy - whom she assumes is in love with her sister - who's falling in love with her. But the most surprising note is that the term "slacker," used to mean exactly what it means today, appears frequently in the narrative.

"Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose..."

posted by Elizabeth 8:08 AM

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