THE WALTONS, THE GREAT DEPRESSION, THE GREAT RECESSION, AND JOE THE PLUMBER.
I was home alone this evening, as usual, (forty-something bachelorhood offering plenty of opportunity to contemplate Divine Mysteries), and it came to me after about an hour and a half of contemplation that this Great Recession that we’re in (or are we coming out of it, we’re not sure?), has a lot of parallels with what went on in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Somehow I got to having a conversation in my head, in a stream of consciousness-sort of fashion, with a woman I know, about primitive-style painting from the eastern United States from the early 20th century, seeing that both of us are into artistic things. In our conversation she was showing me a primitive-style painting and asking me to identify it, which I did, in an accurate way. This steered our imaginary conversation onto where I obtained the knowledge as to how to be able to identify such a painting, and I told her, half jokingly, that everything I knew about primitive art, I’d learned from an episode of the ‘Walton’s’ television show from the 1970s.
This steered the conversation onto a new tack, regarding how I always found this show to be an incisive example of Americana, in the sense that the narrator, who was the ‘John Boy’ character, speaking of the Great Depression period from the point of view of reminiscence, views with hindsight how life on Walton’s Mountain, and in America in general was in a sort of period of slumber.
By this time, my imaginary conversation with this woman had turned more into one of my famous ‘running commentaries’, wherein my inner dialogue sort of ‘narrates’ an ongoing quasi-monologue, as if I were being interviewed on the radio or television, and the host only interjects briefly to redirect the flow of the ‘commentary’, as the need arises.
I began to expound about how I felt that this period of ‘slumber’ was like the restorative nature of human sleep of which humans partake, allowing the organism to repair and recuperate from a long and arduous period of activity. This ‘slumber’ is also characterized by a transformative process, somewhat like the caterpillar inside the cocoon, becoming a butterfly and spreading its wings and flying away to a new life.
It’s as if the Great Depression of the 1930s was a necessary period of ‘restoration’, ‘recuperation’, and ‘transformation’, and also of ‘gestation’ in the history of America. This is so, because one thing which always struck me about the Walton’s TV show was the constant references in the stories of each show, as well as in the narration, of how the old traditional order of the pioneers, based on old time gospel religion, traditional folk medicine, the extended family, rural life, folk culture, and old time morality, was slowly but surely giving way to a new social order, and that America was on the cusp of a radical transformation of its social and moral fabric, which would come, of course, with the Second World War, and the ensuing peace and material prosperity.
This of course leads me to today’s Great Recession. What, after all is said and done, have all of the radical transformations in the moral and social fabric of America wrought? After the war, the country became more materially prosperous than it ever had been in history, and reached the pinnacle as the world’s most powerful military, industrial, and political entity, overshadowing all of its competitors in the process.
But at what cost? Defeating the Japanese Empire deprived the people of Japan of their military capability, and therefore made them dependent on America for protection, and therefore forced them to channel all of their productive energies into the production of civilian goods, which flooded the American market, and undercut American products in price, and beat them in quality, while forcing America to spend a disproportionate amount of her industrial capacity on the production of armaments, to the detriment of civilian goods.
Defeating the Soviet Empire meant embarking on an almost orgiastic arms race, which included the now infamous SDI, or ‘Strategic Defence Initiative’ (AKA ‘Star Wars’), wherein the Soviets simply couldn’t keep up any more, much less produce the civilian goods to keep their people happy, and even less give them the individual freedoms they craved. In doing so, America had to drastically cut social spending, and scale back on its civilian social entitlements, thereby exacerbating the gap between the haves and the have nots.
So where does this leave ‘Joe the Plumber’? The recent election campaign in America which featured this erstwhile typical All American Average Guy, and his family, was quite amusing to watch. We all got to sit back in our armchairs and watch as the denizens of America’s neo-feudal corporate plutocracy fell all over themselves trying to persuade everybody else in the electorate, that they were the right candidate to defend and promote the interests of this fearless and upstanding example of a possibly propertied, post-modern plebeian peon, whose status as being amongst the ranks of the ‘middle class’ could only be described as something resembling ‘hanging on for dear life with my fingernails’.
Not to mention that the policies of both parties had contributed to getting Joe and his family to where he was in the first place, and had enabled their propertied interests to arrogate more wealth to themselves through their privileged access to the levers of government, the tax system, and the off shoring of jobs. So good luck convincing Joe, his wife and kids, much less the folks at home that you’re going to do diddly squat to improve his lot in life.
So what I see as the legacy of the ‘slumber’ on Walton’s Mountain, and throughout America, is a ‘primitive painting’, which blossomed into a renaissance masterpiece, but has since deteriorated into a state of decrepitude. Perhaps this new ‘great Recession’ is a new sort of period of ‘slumber’ wherein the great Renaissance masterwork which was the Great Republic, will have once again become the ‘primitive’ work of art of the illiterate woman from the eastern United States.
What will it take for a new ‘Renaissance Masterwork’ to emerge in the Great Republic? If history is to be the master of this lesson, I would think that the answer would be another world war, of an even greater magnitude than the first two, this time engaging the Arab-Muslim world, and the Chinese as adversaries.
It’s funny how when you turn the TV and the radio off, the conversations in your head and the ‘running commentaries’ come in and fill the void. I wonder if I’ll get a chance to speak with any woman any time soon to identify what type of painting I’m looking at? Do you think Miss Columbia would let me look at her prize painting in her private drawing room? Or am I just having another imaginary conversation with somebody I know in my head? God bless America. Amen.