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Recently a young woman was telling me about how she had once worked in a certain business establishment but left because the men were gaslighting the women employees and even though it was my first time hearing of gaslighting I knew what she meant; I had seen the movie. However, my friend had not; Gaslight is from my generation, not hers. Indeed, she had barely heard of the movie. Gaslighting was simply the word everyone she knew used to describe such circumstances. The following day, watching a news program on television, a woman reporting on sexual harassment in the work place spoke of gaslighting; it has become an ordinary word.

Gaslighting is similar to but stronger than the phrase I heard from the 1960s-70s generation, something like “he’s messing with her mind.” In the past, people certainly thought about such situations but had no vocabulary for reifying and contesting them. It was assumed that men would dominant women and pushing a woman around psychologically was considered normal, if not nice. Gaslight is from that past, from the 1940s. It was a time when, quoting from this excellent film site, a large number of noir, gothic, melodramatic movies had the theme of a sheltered woman who is menaced, threatened, or at least frightened by a deranged man. The 1940s was early for me but I saw a number of the movies later, in the 1950s, when I was in my twenties, including Jane Eyre (1943)Rebecca (1940)Suspicion (1941)Laura (1944), The Spiral Staircase (1945),  And, of course, Gaslight.

Not many films have their title enter the language in such a socially significant manner.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 2017, Ben Yagoda wrote that the American Dialect Society, while choosing the Word of the Year, selected to gaslight as winner in the category of “Most Useful/Likely to Succeed.” They defined to gaslight as “to psychologically manipulate a person into questioning their own sanity.” Yagoda continues in the article to give a history of how, beginning in the 1950s, gaslighting has been used by various public personalities in print and on television.

In the December 10, 2016 issue of Teen Vogue magazine, in an article, “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” Lauren Duca wrote that since the rise of social media, of smart phones, Facebook and its imitators, of instant communication, gaslighting has been the word of choice for teenage girls and young women when describing how ex-boyfriends have tried to mess with their heads, and she continues with a discussion showing that from the time when Donald Trump began his campaign for President, and was elected, the use in the media of the verb to gaslight has increased enormously. She states that Trump won the Presidency by gaslighting the public and supports her point with examples and an analysis of the consequences.

An article in a technology and science magazine accuses the food industry of gaslighting the public on the harm of heavy use of sugar.

Returning to The Chronicle of Higher Education —  In 1951, Solomon Asch, social psychologist, conducted a series of experiments in which a person, the Subject, sat in a room with other people. The Experimenter showed them four lines – Line A and a set of three other lines, one of which was the same length as Line A – and asked them all to identify the line among the three that matched line A. The Subject chose the correct line but the other persons, having been primed by the Experimenter and part of the experiment, all agreed on one of the incorrect lines as being the same as Line A. Of the 50 Subjects who did the experiment, 37 decided that the others in the room were correct. Most admitted afterwards that they had not agreed with the majority but had gone along to avoid being ostracized. To understand the Subject’s motivation:  “Suppose you go to a fancy dinner party and notice to your dismay that there are four forks beside your plate. When the first course arrives, you are not sure which fork to use. If you are like most people, you look around and use the fork everyone else is using. You do this because you want to be accepted by the group and because you assume the others know more about table etiquette than you do.” The Subject was being gaslighted, and most of the Subjects conformed to the group but did not lose their grip on reality.

In other such experiments, if just one person agreed with the Subject, he could resist conforming to the majority. This, I think, is encouraging. It shows the importance of having an ally and of getting information to people in a way that is relevant to them. Of course, an emotionally disturbed individual with no friends is vulnerable to a single negative influence, but that is another matter.

A small number of the Subjects in the experiments were truly convinced by the majority that they were seeing incorrectly. These are the individuals at great risk for serious gaslighting and psychological damage. In the real world “ … (The) victim must be somehow emotionally cathected (deeply attached) to (the bully). Thus a beloved husband can gaslight his wife; thus a charismatic dictator can gaslight many of his subjects. By fostering insecurity, by loudly asserting as truth various “facts” and narratives that make no sense, the gaslighter gains a kind of emotional access that will eventually trump his victims’ reasoning. … ” (no pun intended)

A Hotline is available in the U.S. to victims of domestic violence. A national organization of highly trained experts on the sort of violence that can happen in the home, mostly against women and children, keep a telephone service that anyone may call at any hour to receive useful, helpful information and advice.

Returning to the movie –  A British Gaslight, based on a stage play, was released in 1940 but the 1944 Hollywood version, directed by George Cukor, starring Ingrid Bergman  and Charles Boyer became the box office success and it won Oscars.

Touches like this add to the 1944 Gaslight: The set decoration is by Paul Huldchinsky, a German refugee who borrowed elements from the German expressionist style to make the house cluttered and stifling and give it a claustrophobic jail-like atmosphere. The movie received an Oscar for interior decoration. For depicting the broader Victorian period environment, the 1940 version is considered more effective.

I saw Gaslight many years ago, so I watched it again on-line. Obviously, the atmospherics are much better on the big screen, but Gaslight is a good movie, and even without the current interest in its title and theme, the story and the acting still would have engaged me.

How could Paula, played by Bergman, be so easily and seriously gaslighted? The answer lies in her vulnerability as an inexperienced and isolated young woman. Moreover, she had fallen in love with a charming, clever, authoritative father-figure of a man considerably older than she, and he, by hiring particular household servants, constructed an environment that he alone controlled. Her vulnerability began when she was still a child, about twelve years old, and her aunt, her guardian and only family, was murdered in their London home. Paula heard but did not see it happen. She never recovered from the trauma she suffered from the event. Her isolation began when she was sent, immediately after the death, to live in Italy under the protection of a kindly, elderly maestro whose responsibility it was to train her as an opera star. Unfortunately, she doubted her talent and she lacked motivation. The story is set in a time when and in a place where girls did not venture out into public without family. (I wonder about the social status of a woman opera singer in that era but that matter is totally ignored.) Paula had wealth but no family and, apparently, no friends or companions. Not until the end did she have that one essential ally.

I like this bright, witty review and it’s many photographs from the movie.

In this review, also with photographs, the two film versions of Gaslight are discussed and compared. It is excellent and a good read.

It did not occur to me, seeing Gaslight in the 1950s, that this man’s bullying of his wife was a theatrical expression of a fairly common pattern of behavior, one we could more easily recognize and act on after it had a name. It took psychotherapists to first name it and today’s young women to bring the word into our vocabulary. I wrote here, toward the end of the essay, about the teenage stage of life as a fairly recent social phenomenom, of the rise of women in public life and of the social revolution we are experiencing. The invention and widespread use of a word like gaslighting is yet another instance of how our world is changing – both in private life and in the way we perceive, think and talk about our societies’ leaders.

After watching Quartet, this movie title caught my eye, and with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the cast, I decided to watch it. I am musically illiterate but do enjoy listening to a string quartet. Besides, most critics fell in love with the movie. Roger Ebert’s review for the plot and appreciative remarks on the acting are here.

The story is of four musicians, members of the Fugue String Quartet, a world-famous ensemble based in Manhattan. They are an affluent group, living stylish lives.

 Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Robert, second violinist; Catherine Keener is Juliette, who plays the viola; Christopher Walker, Peter, is the cellist; and Mark Ivanir is Daniel, the first violinist. Alexandra, in her early twenties, is the daughter of Robert and Juliette and she is played by Imogen Poots.  (Here for fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman who are saddened by his untimely death.)

The music we hear is performed by the Bretano String Quartet, and Nina Lee, the cellist who takes Peter’s place in the Fugue quartet, is a real member of the real quartet. In a flashback we see Peter’s wife as he remembers her in their home, standing at the piano, singing. The image we see and the voice we hear is of a well-known mezzo-soprano, Anne Sofie von Otter. The wonderful Indian actor, Madhur Jaffrey, plays the doctor who diagnoses Peter’s Parkinson’s disease. Among her many accomplishments are her cookbooks, two of which I’ve used for decades. Wallace Shawn, who is unforgettable in My Dinner with Andre, does a cameo role.    

The movie’s Fugue String Quartet has been together and performing in major venues for twenty-five years. Robert, Catherine and Daniel are in their mid-forties. Peter is a generation older and teaches in a music school as well as performing.

Here for knowledgeable comments on both music and musicians in the urban, urbane elite social circles depicted in the film.

In another review, Yuron Zilberman, the Director, is reported as saying he made the film about his own neighborhood, his studio having been near Central Park and the adjoining musical zone on Manhattan’s West Side. A large number of working musicians lived in the area and resembled the characters in his film.

This opens onto a map of Central Park to give an idea of where Manhattan’s West Side neighborhood is located. Robert jogs in the park and often encounters a casual friend there and talks with her about music.

Bridge by Calvert Vaux

Daniel and Juliette meet on a park bridge, having known this place since they were students together. Peter and Juliette may have walked across Central Park to the Frick Collection, an art museum in an old mansion on 5th Ave., where Peter comments at length on Rembrandt’s self-portrait. The massive, wonderful Metropolitan Museum of Art, where their concert takes place, is north of the Frick. The Julliard School of Music is on Broadway, near where the quartet people live, west of the Park. Sotheby’s auction house is east of Central Park, near the East River.

Zilberman originally intended to write about family, in both a literal and a metaphorical sense, within a fictional chamber group. But his story, he quickly realized, could only be told around Beethoven’s 14th string quartet. “The music influenced the storytelling; it was part of the initial concept,” he said. “Opus 131, one of five late Beethoven quartets, is a long piece, played in seven movements without a break. It brings a turning point for the oldest member of his group, the cellist. The other musicians have issues of their own. But the intricacies of Beethoven’s work, one of his last, come to stand for what joins them, what separates them and what they have achieved in a professional lifetime together.”

A Late Quartet received more than the usual number of reviews and most were highly positive, as in this one — “A Late Quartet cleverly dramatizes its central message, which is that some combinations of people are much greater than they could ever be on their own or in another group. This is an anti-individualistic film, a picture that prizes co-operation and self-sacrifice over personal ambition. That’s a rarity in cinema — and virtually unknown in a Hollywood product.”

American culture is individualistic but it also places a heavy emphasis on teamwork. I was most aware of this when, on the first day in my M.B.A. program, even before we began classes, the professors had us organizing ourselves into teams. It amazed me that these young men and women, mostly men, could immediately assemble teams, each team composed of one person with a finance background, another from marketing, a computer guy, a recent graduate who majorized in economics, etc, etc. They were drawing on their experience with team sports and continually used metaphors from football and baseball, a vocabulary I often had to request be translated for me.

I see the four musicians as a team creating something they could never create as lone individuals, something widely appreciated, and they derive deep satisfaction from working together and from the success of their efforts. However, teamwork takes a toll on the players’ individuality, on some of them more than on others, and unless attention is paid, the temptation is always there for the lesser rewarded to change roles within the team or to leave.

In an orchestra the first violinist is the leader. He (rarely she) usually carries the tune or the melody of a particular piece of music, while the second violinist provides the harmony. The first violinist usually does the musical solos. It is the more prestigious role but a violinist can enjoy playing the harmony, without which the music lack richness and is incomplete. In the Fugue Quartet the first violinist, Daniel, is intense, technically brilliant and totally invested in his music. He collects books on composers and knows their musical philosophy; he makes the team’s bows, strings them with horse hair from (I think) Siberia, is a highly demanding teacher, and one of his pupils is Alexandra. He is the quartet’s musical leader but Peter is its center. Juliette regards Peter as a father figure and they all defer to his word. Practices take place in his apartment, in a brownstone we see in a few scenes, including when he stands for a moment looking down from his balcony, perhaps tempted to end his troubles by falling to his death below. Parkinson’s disease is overtaking his body and he will soon be unable play the cello.

It is Robert who upsets the group’s balance. He enjoys playing second violin but resents Daniel not hearing him when he suggests even the slightest change in their mode of playing. He wants more spontaneity, perhaps a warmer style, an openness. When he joined the quartet, while still a student, he had intended to write music, not to become a performer. He may have joined the quartet to be with Juliette, whom he loves and adores. He accepted the group’s modus operandi, but with Peter’s leaving and his Central Park friend, his admirer, suggesting he needs to challenge himself, he decides it is time for him to play first violin. Daniel cannot imagine any change whatsoever in the quartet. He persuades Juliette to agree with him. She then tells Robert that, in essence, he is not a first violinist, which hurts him deeply and damages their marriage but does not change his mind. Daniel, in the meantime, has come to love someone other than himself for the first time in his life, a transforming experience for him, and that someone happens to be Alexandra, an individual with perspective on the four musicians. She has fallen in love with Daniel but wants, above all, for the quartet to survive.

I could not quite grasp the Juliette personality. Perhaps Zilberman and the writer, Seth Grossman, being men, were not comfortable writing a woman into the quartet. In most cultures, music is an exceedingly male dominated world, but in America this is changing. As violist, Juliette is the least noticed of the four musicians and her significance for the story resides in her different relationship with each of the three men. The conflict she deals with, and may not have resolved, has to do with being a wife and mother, not a musician.

The film’s denouement is quite satisfactory and very touching.

The story being told in Quartet is of strong, creative individuals not yet in the fourth stage of life but certainly approaching it. (I defined “fourth stage” in the previous post.) Six of the seven splendid actors playing the main characters were in their 70s while making the movie. Maggie Smith was 79. The characters are attractive and believable, and moreover, the extras who surround them, including a number who are shown being quite active, are of that age or older, and delightful to watch. All are residents in Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians, nicely filmed in a handsome Georgian style mansion, the Hedsor House near London, where a good number of movies have been filmed. The lovely grounds, with gardens, parkland, wooded areas for walking, and a small church are all used to good effect. With Quartet, at age 75, Dustin Hoffman made his debut as a Director.

The plot of the movie is given here, in Wikepedia.

The four central characters are opera singers many years out from having been on stage, from having been enormously successful in their long careers. Maggie Smith plays Jean; Tom Courtenay, Reginald “Reggie”; Billy Connolly, Wilfred “Wilf”; and Pauline Collins,”Cissy.” Jean was the famous diva and an international star, but all are still known to the public as a magnificent foursome who for years performed the Act 3 quartet (“Bella figlia dell’amore”) from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

The one actor in the movie who actually was a widely admired, much honored opera star, and who looks the part, is Gwyneth Jones as Anne.

Do go to this site for the Quartet’s wonderful soundtrack. I especially enjoyed the string quartets.

The reviewers did not enthuse over the movie. From Roger Ebert — “This movie will no doubt be pitched to the same audiences that loved “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” It even brings Maggie Smith along. But it lacks that film’s life, intelligence and spirit. It has a good heart. I’ll give it that. Maybe what it needs is more exotic marigolds.”

What did he mean by “a good heart?” Quartet tells a different story. Marigold is about people in the third stage of life with a small income and no obligations looking for and finding a place where they can live comfortably and interestingly within their means. The setting, in Jaipur, is photogenic.

The other major reviewer, A.O. Scoot of the NY Times, is only a little more favorable toward Quartet. I suppose not many younger adults will be intrigued by how artists, or creative persons of any occupation, reconcile themselves to the loss of capacity that comes with aging. The grand Jean is something of a curmudgeon, isolating herself, expecting her former status and privileges to continue forever. Cissy has dementia, but she is sweet and funny and becomes the person who brings the four together to fulfill the meaningful goal set for them by their community. Fortunately for the movie, Pauline Collins, whose mother had suffered from vascular dementia, knew from experience how to make Cissy’s behavior touching and authentic. Wilfie and Reggie look after and protect Cissy. The two men are life-long friends, Wilfie mischievous and unwilling to give up his Casanova inclinations, Reggie staid and conscientious, the two still fussing and complaining at one another.

A number of the minor characters, and even the extras, are special. Every one of them is a former musician Dustin Hoffman located and hired for the movie. They add depth, plus much of the music, to many of the scenes. At the end of the movie, in the credits, each actor in one of the smaller roles is shown in a photograph as s/he appears in the movie, along with a photograph taken in the past, from his/her days as a performer. The movie’s introductory scene is also remarkable. It is of an ageless, truly beautiful woman. The image of her at the piano is a pleasure to see and remember.

To me the movie’s story is about coming to terms with the loss of abilities and qualities that made for success in one’s public life, that of work and in the community. And of coping with the inevitable illnesses and disabilities. Jean, who had built her life around achieving the heights and being the best, grieves for the loss of her musical instrument and of her art. She seeks comfort in mementos of her past glory. Toward the end of the story we learn from a knowledgeable critic that Reggie had been a brilliant performer with a voice like Pavarotti’s but we are already aware of his having sacrificed career to the value he placed on living a full, principled personal life. At one point, as Jean and Reggie are working through their past together, he brings out a written statement on the nature of art he keeps with him and she reads it aloud. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the words sufficiently to reflect on them.

I watched the movie a second time, listening to and following Dustin Hoffman’s engaging, informative commentary. He meant for the movie to be the story of conflict and love between Jean and Reggie. He used his art and emotional intelligence to show the two overcoming past errors and continuing to learn and adapt and find meaning in an accepting and loving relationship.

 

Two years and some months ago I began a conversation with myself about an idea Ravi, my brilliant, charming husband, had presented to me when we were first married and he was still a graduate student newly arrived from Bombay. It had to do with a difference he had discovered on how Indians and Americans imagine the course of one’s life. He said Americans picture life as being on a trajectory beginning in childhood, rising to a peak in middle age, then declining into old age, and he contrasted this with the Indian view of a life lived in four stages. I set down here what he told me, with photos of him. (A photo of me in my fifties is here.) A traditional statement on the four stages of Vedic life, of Student, Householder, Post family and Sannyasa, is here.

Over time and with some thought, I developed a version of the stages of life model that made sense to me: The first stage is for learning; one is a student. The second is for family and work, the third dedicated to the community, and in the fourth stage one turns inward for reflection and peace of mind. I discussed the four stages here, elaborated it further here, and explored the psychological aspects of being in the fourth stage of life here.

When Ravi and I entered what he would have considered our third stage of life, at age sixty-five, we returned to the U.S. and moved into a house down the road from his brother. I explain, here, in considering where an expatriate goes to retire, why we went to this place and not elsewhere, but once having decided, I again launched into the time consuming process of setting up house and home for us. We were coming from twenty years lived in Paris where Ravi had been an haute fonctionnaire in an international organization and from where I had worked on a consulting basis with UNICEF, WHO and other international organizations in the planning and evaluation of rural primary health care projects in Turkey, India, Indonesia and once in the States. Not only had we returned to live in a medium size American city, it is a Southern city and I am a Midwesterner. Regional differences in America are not as pronounced as in other countries, but they are nevertheless real and I felt them. Ravi and I began our third stage of life, what Americans call retirees or senior citizens, while settling into a non-home place. After more than twenty years here it is still not quite home, but in the fourth stage of life maybe that no longer matters.

For more than a decade, until Ravi slide into his prolonged dementia, described here, I was active with various citizen groups concerned with community affairs, but while caring for him became disconnected from them. Currently, nice people invite me to join one or another senior citizens group and I decline. Invariably, I am at least a decade older than even the oldest of their members. I tell them my age and explain that although I am healthy, I am not a senior citizen, which I consider the third stage of life. I am elderly, in my fourth stage of life, and have already lived five years beyond my life expectancy. Generally, an explanation fails to interest them, so I let it be. Besides, I now think I should modify my version of the fourth stage of life.

I’ve been thinking, too, that I might anglicize “stages of life,” return to my anthropology days and use the idea of age grades, a universal in societies at all times and everywhere, one of the two basic principles for classifying individuals, the other being gender. In every society, one is either male or female and of a particular age grade, either a child or an adult or an elder, and this held until recently when, in the 1940s, Americans acquired a new, additional age grade. Adolescence, the transitional phase from child to adult, was transformed into “teenage” and a person of that age became a “teenager.” I was in my teens at time, totally unaware of being anything other than a high school student. My girlfriends and I were not  “Bobby Soxers” mad for Frank Sinatra, the forerunners of girls going crazy over the Beatles and other pop singers, but by the time I became an adult the teenage phenomenon was universally recognized. In their film on the history of youth, Matt Wolf and Jon Savage begin with “teenager” being an American invention, a way of viewing adolescence as a definable period of life with its own characteristics and not simply an early phase of adulthood.

In an email to a young friend, a woman in her early thirties, I mentioned that “teenager” had been invented when I was in my teens and she responded that for her generation it is the “twenty-something” and the notion of quarter-life crises. She had read and was fascinated by the book by Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now.”

My friend wrote that it would be interesting to delve into the sociological and psychological/physiological underpinnings allowing the advent of both age grades, and I agree. I was mother to three teenagers and remember vividly what that meant, as well as watching Ravi cope with being father to teenage boys when he himself had never experienced adolescence as an age grade. In those years, in the late 1970s into the ’80s, the neurological sciences had not yet revealed to us that during the teen and early twenty years the brain is changing, developing and not yet mature. I should have guessed it, though, simply from anthropological studies. In many societies, adolescent boys (but not girls) are given free rein to behave in ways not acceptable for either child or adult.

I also have memories from a study I did in the 1950s of a Mexican-American community and from living and working in the 1960s and onward in Mogadiscio, Ankara and across India. I observed changing perceptions of adolescence, of adolescents being considered as young adults, then because of social and economic change, and growing knowledge of the adolescent brain, the gradual introduction of a new age grade into society. But this is too complex to discuss here. I’ll return to it later.

Traditionally, all societies had three age grades: child, adult, elder, but I once read, long ago, in a study of traditional Eskimo life, of a family and their dog sled on the move, father controlling the dogs, mother and grandmother walking alongside, two small children riding. Finally, grandmother could not keep the pace and they stopped, built a small igloo for her to lie in until her final days while the family, in mourning, continued on in their search for food. In extreme circumstances, survival is not for the elderly.

In more settled communities, however, and throughout history, a number of individuals lived on into old age, preserving and transmitting knowledge through the generations. I wrote in the previous essays about ancestor worship and the leverage that gives elders in the family and the community. Here and here for life expectancy rates when estimating how many old people were around in different eras.

This article on life expectancy in the Middle Ages is equally fascinating.  It gives the age and the cause of death of adult members of the royal family of Wales in the 1100s and 1200s CE. Considering only those individuals who lived into adulthood, who survived the high death rates for infants and children, the median life expectancy for women was 42/43 years, and for men, 48/49 years. Six of the twenty lived to 50 years and beyond, two of them into their 60s and one woman into her 70s. By contrast, for ordinary people living in the villages, archeological evidence from their cemeteries shows no one living past 45.

What can I say about childhood as an age grade?  In my urban lifestyle, childhood is the time for learning, for enculturation, for play, and school attendance ideally beginning early, at age four or five years, and continuing into adulthood, for girls equally for boys. In other cultures, at least in the past, children begin by age six actually working for the family and the community. By puberty they are being initiated into their adult roles. An excellent description of childhood in preindustrial Europe is here. At that time, and until the era of modern medicine, about one third of the population would ordinarily have been under the age of 14.

Religious ceremonies mark the individual’s transition from child to adult. I am familiar with the Christian First Communion.

In literature the phase, Coming of Age, is used to designate the social rituals and often the personally significant experiences that mark a young person’s transition from childhood to becoming an adult. We have the coming-of-age story, the bildungsroman novel, and the coming of age movies.

Adulthood is the central and longest age grade. For men, adult activities vary enormously. They are what we know and read about as history. For women, until very recently, adulthood meant children and maintaining the family. In societies before or outside of modern economies, from menarche to menopause the typical adult woman was either pregnant or lactating, which are states during which she did not menstruate. If menstruating, she was confined for days each month in a woman’s hut. When cloth became available a woman could make a pad to catch the blood rather than go into hiding with a few other women. I came of age in a time and a place where commercially made napkins were available to use during menstruation and available toilet facilities allowed a woman to participate in public social life. I was free and tried to ignore the snide remarks boys made about a woman who annoyed them “being on the rag.” Here for a video of bright and active girls discussing how they manage menstruation in their modernizing lifestyle.

Despite all sorts of change in technology, the economy, the social system in countries around the world, urban and rural, until very recently, the lives of women remained essentially unchanged, limited to family roles – marriage, giving birth, rearing children, preparing food, keeping the home, engaged in outside work only when compatible with those fundamental responsibilities. In the private realm of life, in the home, in the women’s world, traditional life continued. Outside the home, in the public realm of men, life evolved and changed while women raised the children, instilling in them the traditional attitudes and values they would carry into adulthood. Thus, fundamental aspects of the culture persists through the centuries, even millennia, despite larger societal changes, and this has to intrigue anyone who reads history. One of my favorite examples of the persistence of culture is of Roman soldiers reporting on the women of Gaul spending so much time and trouble on their appearance. It’s the same impression I had of French women, and of the importance of their femininity, two thousand year after the soldiers had left Gaul. Or of Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s writing about democracy in the young country, America, and how his descriptions of American culture are recognizably American, even today. ….

However, a technology invented and distributed in the 1960s is changing much of that, making possible one of the most profound changes in human history. The reliable contraceptive has made possible the opening of non-family roles to women, of women participating more fully in public life. I was in my early thirties when the Pill came on the market. I felt it was a revolution in the making, and it is happening. It seems, for example, that Twenty-something is mostly about women in their twenties. What I read on-line is about a lifestyle concerned with work, clothing and appearance, dating, thinking about when to marry and have a child. All this is another matter, one to be explored in a separate essay.

Is Senior an American age grade? Perhaps. It generally means age 65 plus. If so, I’ve gone through it. I’m an elder in my fourth stage of life, creaky, slower, less sure-footed, more easily tired, but still relatively healthy. I count my blessings from having come of age when America was entering its most prosperous period ever and when medical science had advanced sufficiently to give me advantages over women barely a generation older than I. When, for example, my son was six years old and had strep throat the doctor prescribed an antibiotic and the illness was cured. For a friend some twenty years older than I, antibiotics were unavailable when her son at that age was similarly sick and she had to keep her active, lively boy quiet, out of school and in bed for months to ensure he would not develop rheumatic fever and a consequent damaged heart.  Wherever we lived, in the different countries, I could immediately identify the medical facilities and personnel we just might need. Dentistry improved enormously during my lifetime, especially through periodontal care, and I still have my teeth. When I was in my early twenties, older women told me that each baby costs the mother one tooth, or more.

So I continue on with life and expect I will eventually move into its last stage – fragility — when what I want, what we all want, is an ideal and totally unachievable ending to life on this earth, to fall apart all at once, as in an old poem, “The One-Hoss Shay” that I discuss here.

Years ago, being practical and to protect my children from the expense and trouble of caring for me, I took out insurance for palliative care at the end of life.  I read articles, as here, about how I will think and feel at that time, in that situation. I wrote here of Ravi’s ending, of the romantic love that took us into marriage, of how that love continued. I am in tears as I recall his last moments but he was at peace and that comforts me.

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Last night I watched The Intern on television and decided to write about it because the story seems relevant to our time, the characters are attractive and the humor gentle, it has several nice subplots, and with one exception, never annoyed me. Robert De Niro plays Ben Wittaker, a 70 year old retired business manager working as an intern in a website business. Anne Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, his boss. Quoting a reviewer, here, “In Intern, She’s the Boss, but He’s the Star.” De Niro is masterful in the role, Hathaway is convincing and the young actors surrounding them are charming. Here and here for reviews.

The current meaning of “intern” is new to me. I’ve always pictured an intern as a recently qualified doctor in a hospital, fresh out of medical school, doing a year’s training in a medical specialty. Interns worked long, grueling, punishing hours for low pay, and hospitals depended upon them for cheap labor. For many years, movies and television dramas about doctors in hospital internships were popular with the public. I discussed one such movie here.

Now the internship is defined as job training for white collar and professional careers. From a study I did in rural Turkey, 1968 to ’72, I became familiar with traditional apprenticeships for trade and vocational jobs, the original internships. The boy in the photograph here is in an apprenticeship, as were boys in the butcher shop shown, and a boy in the photo of a furniture workshop in another essay on our apartment in Ankara. In the central Anatolian town Hasan and I studied, described here and in other posts, we observed boys working as apprentices, on the way to becoming a master, Usta, in various traditional crafts, such as blacksmith. Usta is a title of respect, like Bey (or Doctor) for a professional or learned man. In the mid-1970s, doing an M.B.A. in the Kellogg School (in my mid-40s), between the two years most of us did a summer management internship that was not directly related to future employment. (Mine was in the American Hospital in Paris, unpaid.) The current internship is a new institution. In my generation, at least in the early years, the tradition still existed of a business/industry doing its own training of the management staff and of its skilled laborers. Then came the vocational schools, the M.B.A., the professional Master’s degree preparing people for the job market. And now we have the intern as cheap, or free, labor while learning on the job, not too different from the apprentice, except the apprenticeship was more personal and the young person’s future was far more secure.

The movie begins with showing why Ben wants the intern job; it is a way out of the boredom that has overtaken him. He’s a widower whose children and grandchildren live too far away for him to be involved in their lives. He is in good health, has a good income, still lives in his proper bourgeois home, has many acquaintances, if not exactly friends, and is part of an upper middle class neighborhood. He knows this area of Brooklyn, even the building in which he will be an intern. Midway through the movie a romantic interest for him, a woman of about sixty, is introduced. It annoyed me that the two women his age are both made to look foolish and unattractive.

In Jules we see a frantically busy entrepreneur running a business she loves, engaged in its every detail and on good, if not close relationships with her employees. We also see her aid-de-camp informing her that the company’s investors want her to step aside, to bring in a qualified CEO to manage the company more efficiently, and they have a number of men prepared to take over for her. Granted that she did create and build a very profitable business in eighteen months from nothing to hundreds of employees, she really is in over her head, isn’t she? So, all she needs to do now is interview the CEO candidates and select the one she prefers. In the meantime, as Jules struggles with this, she and her husband, who is a stay-at-home Dad to their adorable daughter, are having troubles.

Ben is tactful and observant. He becomes everyone’s friend, an advisor to the young men in matters of romance, and a helper with several management problems. His experience is useful, even in this world of changed technology, more casual dress and manners for young men, key positions held by young women, and certainly less hierarchy. He soon finds himself in a position to be Jules’ constant source of support, and they become friends. He respects both her and her business acumen.

This is an agreeably done story of an older person finding meaning in life by being involved with and helping younger people, of a modern woman succeeding in the business world if the man in her life accepts a blurring of traditional roles, and of friendship between generations. To think reasonably about it overall I had to check and set aside my thoughts on social reality and what someone with my background and frame of mind would have done in Ben’s situation.

Park Slope brownstones

The movie is set in Brooklyn’s Park Slope and part of the story is the setting — scenes of building facades and interiors, of the streets and of the parks where children play. The brownstone row houses are handsome.

Brooklyn Conservatory of Musid

I would like to have seen more of the public buildings, the way we saw more of Manhattan and Harlem in Jungle Fever,  the movie I discussed here, and included a useful map of New York City and its boroughs.

Azad, my adopted son, watched the movie with me and was surprised by the gentrification of Park Slope. In the 1980s he had gone into the area to look for a place to live but found it too crime ridden for his comfort. An image that stays with him is of a car on a main street sitting on bricks, its tires and everything detachable long gone. People in the neighborhood were poor, older working class, like the Irish and Italian, and Black and Latino people who had moved in as middle-class families fled to the suburbs. Finally, Azad rented an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, near the IRT subway stop, not far from the great St. George Hotel.

A notable feature of The Intern is everyone in the workplace, except for one woman, and in Ben’s neighborhood being standard of-European-descent White. In most movies and on TV these days, a more realistic ethnic and racial diversity is shown, at least among the extras. Since Ben had worked for forty years in a top managerial position in the remodeled building of his internship, he surely would have known a more mixed demographic as workers, more like the minority group women we see when Jules goes to the factory floor to show workers how to box items for shipping. Think of how Ben might have volunteered to teach in a vocational school, showing less privileged young people learning technical job skills how to development the management skills also needed for moving up the career ladder. That sort of engagement would have broken the boredom, but these people were not part of his community, of his reference group, and probably invisible to a man like Ben.  Oh well. At least the movie doesn’t stereotype minority group people; it just pretends they don’t exist.

Azad often chose to walk across the historic, magnificent Brooklyn Bridge to reach the Manhattan office where he worked. How I would have loved to walk on the bridge, to have had that experience.

Normally I would not write about a musical, but I saw La La Land with my son, Arun, a cinephile who writes about movies as well as politics, and walking out of the theatre, on the way home in the car, into the evening, we talked about the movie. I had seen it from the first scene onward as a drama and focused on the characters, on their relationship, and with a few exceptions, let the music and dance slip by as okay, some of it nice. Arun began liking the movie in its second half. The following day a friend phoned to tell me she and her husband had seen it and wondered why it was getting such good reviews. (Arun comments on the wildly different opinions people have of La La Land.) She compared it with Hollywood musicals from the past, and found it lacking, above all, in memorable songs. She listed the musicals she loved, including Carousel, which reminded me that in 1955 I had gone out of my way to see Oklahoma because Agnes de Mille had choreographed it. “De Mille revolutionized musical theatre (Broadway) by creating choreography which not only conveyed the emotional dimensions of the characters but enhanced the plot. Her choreography, as a reflection of her awareness of acting, reflected the angst and turmoil of the characters instead of simply focusing on a dancer’s physical technique.” In those years I followed modern dance and Martha Graham. De Mille and Graham were friends.

Both movie music and La La Land type Hollywood nostalgia are beyond my ken. I grew up with only junk music in my environment and although I loved to dance, paid little attention to the music (until the Beatles). Not until the 1950s, when I was in my twenties, did I think of movies as anything other than a way to pass the time, and then, from the mid-60s to late ’90s, lived as an expatriate with concerns other than cinema. Over the years I saw Hollywood musicals but didn’t pay attention to them. They were song and dance performed by singers and dancers, the plot lines were simple and the characters single-dimensional, remaining the same persons at the end as they were at the beginning. There was nothing for me to analyze. Still, I loved On the Town (1949), the adventures of sailors on leave in New York City. In West Side Story (1961), my favorite, which I’ve seen many times, the cast of characters is larger and more complex. I can describe the two sides, the Jets and the Sharks, and how the Romeo and Juliet theme is translated into the New York setting, love the marvelous dancing and the significant, truthful lyrics of the songs, but everyone already knows the story.

La La Land, unlike the usual Hollywood musical, is character driven and actors, not dancers or singers, play the main characters. For thinking about this musical, I read articles on the Fred Astaire musicals I missed and on the musicals I’ve seen. Additionally, I’ve been watching dance videos on-line. (again and again of Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights. oh my)

I like this review but disagree with —  “Emma Stone, in a luminous performance, is by turns plucky, furious, hopeful, distraught, and devoted, and when she sings the wistful ballad “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” she is every inch a star.” Obviously, this is the consensus but it escapes me.

I read that Damien Chazelle, director of La La Land, was influenced by The Umbellas of Cherbourg. Like Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, it is a musical in which actors, not professional singers and dancers, sing and dance. I didn’t like The Umbrellas… at all. Won’t bother with the Allen movie.

But this does remind me of Guys and Dolls, back in the 1950s, and of Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons acting the lyrics, singing in their pleasing natural voices. Nothing in La La Land matches them or comes even close. (A review from 2013 is here) But Ryan Gosling is graceful, like Brando, and I enjoyed watching him in the nicely choreographed dance in the sunset. I’ve watched a part of it since, several times, on video. I was enchanted by the Griffith Observatory scene, by the grand building and by the couple in a ballroom dance, she in a long white gown, floating up into the planetary dome.

The opening scene of La La Land is fun and it lets us know we are in Los Angeles. I noticed that neither Mia (Emma Stone) nor Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) were out there dancing. Quite the opposite. Both remain seated in their cars, detached from the action and happen to aim their general annoyance at one another. Sebastian drives a convertible and is conspicuously different. Mia’s car is ordinary enough that I can’t identify it. Early scenes establish them both as serious artists. Mia shares living quarters and is friendly with other aspiring actresses but she keeps herself a bit separate from them. Posters on the wall of her bedroom are of Ingrid Bergman. It seems that Sebastian shares an apartment with his sister but she leaves, exasperated by his obsessive, single-minded, purist approach to jazz. From this review,  “Consider the scene in which Sebastian listens to a jazz record and tries to reproduce the pianist’s sound. It’s not imitation for imitation’s sake. He’s trying to get inside the head of an artist he loves. … ”

Both Mia and Sebastian are struggling to make a living and make it in their adored Hollywood (and in the beautifully photographed L.A. they wander through), she as an actress and he to own a nightclub where he can play and promote his beloved jazz. In early scenes it is established that both are beset with disappointing responses to their art, and in cleverly demonstrated sequences they are shown coming to appreciate and support one another as artists, all the while falling in love.

To compensate for my lack of attention to songs in the movie, I recommend this analysis of the plot. According to Nate Sloan, a musicologist, the song “City of Stars” collapses the film’s entire plot into 2.5 minutes. It is the movie in microcosm, using techniques borrowed from old Hollywood and from Romantic opera. About halfway through the film, jazz pianist Sebastian and aspiring actress Mia sing “City of Stars” and it establishes the bond between them. “La La Land’s narrative hinges on whether its lovestruck Angelenos will choose each other over their respective ambitions. This central question — of whether head-over-heels romance can be reconciled with the individualistic drive needed to succeed in Hollywood — runs through the lyrics of “City of Stars.” (Let it be said that individualist drive is required for top-of-the-field success in most professions/industries.)

La La Land’s answer to this central question is the first of its sort I’ve seen in a Hollywood movie. It’s a story of the relationship between a young woman and young man in different professional worlds, both talented and ambitious, who fall in love, and although Sebastian is the more giving of the two, respect the other’s work and support the other’s career. Gradually, however, the demands of pursuing career brings on discord and they come to an impasse that is implied rather than shown. Both reach success, but not together. And that is the drama, interpreted differently by every viewer of the film.

La La Land’s leading lady is certainly different. Mia is unapologetically career oriented, ambitious and she succeeds. Plus, she is presented as a likeable person.  In the few movies I know of with a career-oriented and professionally successful woman, the husband is a flawed individual, as in Funny Girl (1968) and A Star Is Born (1954). I liked the Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movies because in them she is a successful professional in a good marriage with an equally successful husband, but even there he asserts his dominance, and they have no children. One of their movies, Woman of the Year (1942) is about an international affairs correspondent who receives an award as “America’s Outstanding Woman of the Year.” Her husband is a sports writer, and they “encounter problems as a result of her unflinching commitment to her work.” The movie denouement has her giving up her professional ambition and happily accepting the humble role of traditional wife. The movie was financially successful, won awards for Hepburn and was made into a Broadway play. I wonder what Hepburn’s private thoughts were of it all. Other than for the money earned, they could not have been positive. I could do comments on movie versions of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, but – at another time.

I recommend the on-line discussion here of “The End of La La Land Explained.” The Comments are wonderful, some of them truly insightful. Most seem to be from young people who were caught up in the romance of the story. My perspective is different; it’s that of a woman in her late eighties with the particular, unusual history described throughout this blog. I viewed Mia and Sebastian as coming from and working in two different professional worlds; their love for one another has nothing to support it. She is in an industry where job descriptions are fuzzy and hiring is done by heartless individuals for whom the applicant is invisible as a person. Other actors do not give her camaraderie, certainly not support. Sebastian wants only to play jazz piano and make a living doing it. After a number of frustrating gigs, he has the good fortune of a fellow jazz musician, Keith, (R&B star John Legend) seeking him out and providing him with work that compromises him only a little in his art. Scenes of Sebastian after that are of him in his natural milieu, moving in a small society of people like himself who clearly understand and appreciate him.

Suddenly, we are presented with Mia as an internationally famous actor who has a home, a small child, a nanny to help her with motherly responsibilities and a husband who is, I assume, from her own world and can adjust his schedule to hers. She is in a happy marriage. This is followed by a dreamy fantasy vision of her and Sebastian together, both successful, married, with a child, of what might have been. We see that Sebastian has his jazz club but learn nothing of his personal life. And why should we? Most likely, along with success in a business compatible with his art, he has a wife who gives him children and a personal life. Mia had to chose the right husband for her to have it all. Memories of their time together and of the love they felt for one another will always be with them.

In the review by Manohla Dargis, one with great photographs:   “In his study “Pursuits of Happiness,” (the philosopher) Stanley Cavell writes that certain screwball films of the 1930s and ’40s involve the creation of a new woman or what he calls “a new creation of the human.” He sees these films as “parables of a phase of the development of consciousness at which the struggle is for the reciprocity or equality of consciousness between a woman and a man,” which is a nice way to describe “Top Hat” and the rather different “La La Land.”

Ah yes. The ancient dream of Abelard and Heloise — It may be more readily accommodated today than ever before but rarely for a lifetime.

Any woman with career ambitions or who is already in a career will find these articles interesting.

I rented and watched Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014) and will watch his Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009). Whiplash is excellent but I have enough problems with it that I’ll discuss it separately, in another essay.

Good-bye to Bali

This is my eighth essay on Bali, and it’s time to move on. For months, beginning with this essay, I’ve been reading, thinking, puzzling over Bali, Tabanan, Jatiluwihthe history of Bali, searching for the reasons why this peasant society is so different from other peasant societies, setting down in writing a good part of what I learned along the way and finally arrived here, at journey’s end. I remain as charmed as ever by Bali’s remarkable people and by the countryside Nehru described as “the morning of the world.” In my first letter from Indonesia to Ravi I wrote, “I love Bali.” Someone took photos of me in my first days at work in Bali, of me with the village development program team, walking with the health center staff and sitting with the volunteers at a ceremony, obviously happy to be in their company. I wonder if the people there noticed something that strikes me whenever I go through my photographs from Indonesia. Unlike in most other countries where I lived and worked, I am the same size as the women of the country.

Among the many images of Balinese society, such as the subak and banjar, I carry away with me is that of a highly cohesive community with each person’s place in it well defined and arranged into an interpersonal hierarchy so amiably and gently enforced as to be almost invisible to an outsider; I sensed the conformity, the importance of group over individual, but learned of the hierarchy through reading. I also remained unaware of the larger societal hierarchy, even though I had read of a Balinese class system that uses Hindu caste names and did encounter it once, briefly.

I have an explanation and diagram of the Indian caste system here

In outline for India, Brahmins were the priests, Kashatriya the warriors controlling government, Vaisya the craftsmen and merchants, Shudra the peasant farmers. Ranking below these castes grouping were, and still are, the outcaste peoples. The caste hierarchy is basic in Indian society, enormously complicated and crosscut by social class differences, levels of wealth differences, regional and rural and urban differences.

Portrait of the Buleleng king and his secretary

Portrait of the Buleleng king and his secretary

For Bali, Brahmin priests and Kastria/Kashatriya warriors from Hinduized Java moved into Bali with the Majapahit conquerors and set themselves up as a ruling elite over the various kingdoms that evolved during their domination. Men from India were among them.

A prince during the colonial period

A prince during the colonial period

The conquering men married Balinese women and established royal lineages. From what I read, Wesya/Vaisya lineages may descend from the Hinduized men from Java who served as administrators under the Ksatrias kings. Indian traders, who are Vaisya, may have been among them. (12% of Balinese Y-chromosomes are likely of Indian origin) I read that Balinese men did not do commerce. Women did the small, local trade. balinese-king-1597Chinese and Sulawesi men did the major trade. Eventually Chinese men brought in Chinese wives and established their own small, often affluent, ethnic communities. The vast majority of the people, the village farmers and craftsmen/farmers, were Shudra.

For descriptions of Bali’s caste systems, here and here.

My one encounter with the Balinese social hierarchy happened near Denpasar in 1978. I wrote about it in a letter to Ravi. “… After our formal interviewing, we stopped at a family gathering in an old temple complex with modern housing included. bali-girlsShe (my colleague) knew one of the women there, the mother of a school friend, and talked with her. Actually, we were on the site of an ancient royal residence, participating in the gathering of the king’s descendents for their annual ceremony. The head of the lineage, a very handsome man, lives in Denpasar and works in the Governor’s office. He speaks English. He, and many others, asked me to visit them. The hospitality is so easy and gracious. For the ceremony, women had brought food and it was blessed in the temple. This was also the day for blessing all knives and the kris. After we left my colleague told me her school friend is from this lineage, which is Kashatriya. The friend is a lawyer and married a lawyer who is Shudra. Her family disowned her, so the couple moved to Surabaya. The mother said the family still does not forgive the daughter for marrying below her caste. It is strange to hear the Indian caste names being used. … … ”

From another 1978 letter to Ravi and the children —

“I have just returned from a most wonderful day. A woman from the office, Dr. Inne, a lovely person, picked me up this morning at 7:30 and we drove in the office jeep to a village on a mountain lake, Lake Batur. bali-trunyan-village-on-lake-baturThe volcano is also Mt. Batur. The countryside is green, terraced rice fields with coconut trees. Temples are everywhere and the village houses are quite decent. People smile; children are bold and friendly. In the village hamlet I interviewed the midwife and program fieldworker. Next we went across the lake by a motorized ferryboat to a second hamlet, up a hill to talk with the village headman. We could see a steady stream of tourists, all Indonesian, climbing up, staring at everything.

“Both these hamlets are of the aboriginal Balinese, who are considered very different. The road into their mountain area is from only three years ago, and they have been further isolated by strong endogamy. They do not cremate like other Balinese; they put the bodies of their dead on the ground under a tree that gives off a sweet smell that stops the odor of decay. So there we were, older boys hanging around, just watching; me, through Dr Inne, talking with the headman and taking notes; skeletons lying in a clearing with rotting clothes and bowls of food offerings; old Chinese coins scattered around on the ground. I picked up three of the coins.

“By 4:00 pm we finished the interviewing and had a chat with villagers who wanted to know how village people in America do family planning. I put my notebook down and we just talked. Inne is a good interpreter. Rural people don’t often express curiosity about other countries. I did my best to respond in a way that would make sense to them.

“From there Inne and I went to a restaurant high on a ledge, bali-viewover the lake, facing the volcano. Then back to Denpasar, past temples and rows of women, each woman carrying on her head a colorful, carefully arranged stack of food, taking it to the temple to be blessed. I spent the evening talking with program people. Tomorrow I’ll write all day, must work hard.

(I have since learned the name of the village – Trunyan – here and here.)

“Two days later – These are country folk. People are up and moving by 5:30 am. It is now 7:45 and I am dressed, have had breakfast, reviewed some materials and am waiting for the office car. My room is one in a U around a small garden, one story. I’m told it is the first hotel in Bali, 1927 or so, and the plumbing and electricity reflect that fact. But I like the place. Last night a group of Japanese teenagers moved in. Wherever they move they have American pop music blaring. Why do teenagers like noise?

“I wrote all day yesterday. Hope the people at the office find the report useful. … …”

And now I move on to other parts of my life in Indonesia, always there for work and preoccupied with it but happy being with the people in this land of amazing, beautiful islands.